Professor Terri Barnes, History, and Gender & Women’s Studies
Report on the conference, “Innovation, transformation and sustainable futures in Africa,” Dakar, Senegal, June 1 - 4, 2016


Professor Barnes (right) with illinois student Momar Ndiaye (left) and Alumna, Katrina Spencer in Dakar, Senegal

Organized by the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the African Studies Association (ASA), Codesria, and the West Africa Research Association (WARA)

I was fortunate enough to attend this conference. It was my first trip to Senegal. I’d been a member of the ASA Board of Directors and we had pushed hard for an ASA-cosponsored conference on the African continent and here it was. Very exciting.

Here are some brief daily impressions of the conference.

May 30

Urbana-Champaign to Washington, to the shuttle, to Dulles (very ‘60s architecture), to Paris, to Dakar. I watched movies all the way―very easy now and a big selection. Meeting Ed Liebow of AAA, with whom I’d exchanged many emails, at the Dakar airport. Seeing the big sign, “Leopold Senghor International Airport.”

May 31

Ibis Hotel in Dakar―the room’s windows don’t open! But there’s a nice shower. Figured out not to drink the tap water. Everyone just drinks local bottled water, called “Kirene.”

June 1

At the Ibis―delicious breakfast with wonderful mangos and coffee, baguettes to die for. City tour on a big bus in the morning, pictures at the massive African Renaissance Monument. Ugly sand painting, made with beautiful sand but each painting was the same. Is tourist art like tourist dances?

Evening reception at WARC, a place about which I’d heard so much. Enormous amount of great finger foods. Tried baobab drink―thick and creamy like a milkshake. Wonderful band―their first number was Clapton’s “Cocaine” and they carried on in that vein.

June 2

Stuffy, mildew-smelly, airless room getting more irritating with the beautiful sea view and breezes just on the other side of the wretched window that won’t open.

Attended the best panel of the conference―Amy Swanson about Senegalese dancers; Damon Sajnani, the rapper who I’d met at ASA previously; Amotayo Jolaosho from Nigeria who studies South Africa and began by singing a South African song; Beth Buggenhagen with a paper about Omar Victor Diop, the Senegalese photographer who stages historical dioramas of himself always holding a soccer boot. Chaired by Lanisa Kitchener from the Smithsonian whom I’d met on the bus. Dazzingly good and interesting panel.

Bravely took a taxi by myself to a restaurant called Chez Loucha. Found a colleague there with a Haitian friend of hers, so I ate with them. Heard the story of how the friend’s mother by chance had not died in the Haitian earthquake by talking on her phone just as the grocery store she was about to go into totally collapsed.

June 3

Irritated by some anthropological trivia at one of yesterday’s other panels, I revised my talk for the roundtable on “African Futures.” After getting President Killeen’s email warning of looming disasters due to lack of state support for the UIUC budget, I went for a more direct approach. “We are only barely keeping our noses above the level of ‘the natives and their quaint customs’ and ‘the vultures are coming home to roost,’” I said. It felt like I was taking a risk especially since the other panelists were the executive director of Codesria, the co-director of WARC,and the most distinguished and senior anthropologist on the faculty of Cheikh Anta Diop University. My talk went ok. People laughed at the punch lines and a few I think heard my warnings about how US academics are going to start behaving badly due to severe budget cuts and the restructuring of our academic enterprises.

In the evening we had a very expensive dinner at a beach restaurant. One of the women at our table ate the devil hot pepper by mistake thinking it was a tomato. Quelle horreur!

June 4

Turns out it was possible to do the Goree tour in the afternoon, and WARC workshops in the morning, which I wanted to do because it seemed that people had put real work into the workshops but it wasn’t clear that anyone was planning to attend them. Best decision I made. I ended up as the volunteer chair of a combined discussion of several different workshops, all having to do with media, communications, and technology in some way: community cellphones and public radio informed by pre-Wikileaks and pre-Twitter developer music/art/tech guy from Madeira and his Ugandan software engineer, plus a virtual reality Swede who lives in Ghana and demonstrated Google Cardboard, plus the political dimensions of social networking skeptics from France, plus Alex from the NY Public Library and Lanisa from the Smithsonian on reaching out with their collections, plus Julienne the public health person who said that in her work in Guinea “the cellphone is my enemy” because people use it to spread bad rumors. We had a great conversation.

In the afternoon―took the ferry and tour of the island of Goree. Wow. I took lots of pictures. It was really moving. I loved being squashed in the “Maison des Esclaves” with busloads of schoolkids. The island is very picturesque complete with a real Audre Lorde-ish “master’s house”―a French governor’s decaying mansion which I couldn’t get a proper picture of. A lady named Maguette sold me stuff at too high a price but oh well. She called me her big sister and I was deftly taken in, smiling, by this. Will my husband wear a big purple shirt?

All the kids were at the beach having fun in the sun before Ramadan started the next day. Our guide herded us to the ferry, where I met and chatted so amicably with Maguette again and was taken by her again! Anyway it was fun.

In the evening, I tagged along with colleagues from the boat trip, back to Chez Loucha where I ate half of someone else’s dinner by mistake.

Last night in the airless room.

June 5

Last delicious breakfast with fabulous mangos and coffee. So yum.

Overall, the conference was extremely well run and everyone was very anxious to make it a success.  AAA and ASA worked very well together―which surely doesn’t always happen with big national associations. It bodes well for the future, and I hope there will be more conferences like this one. Although this was a fairly small conference there was a very encouraging percentage of presentations about women and gender and these did not seem at all like last minute additions or window dressing, which is often the case.

My main suggestion for the future would be to try to make connections with local academics. We saw the venerable campus of Cheikh Anta Diop University, about which one has read and heard so much; but we didn’t get out of the bus or visit any classrooms. One of the administrators was at the conference, and I think he said, if I’m not mistaken, that CAD has 100,000 students. We need to learn from them how they are managing this! It would be wonderful to make such connections.

Lucky me, UIUC grad students Momar Ndiaye and Katrina Spencer were both in Dakar at the time, and the final days in the city were spent hanging out with them and with the local family of my colleague Mauro Nobili, and meeting the brilliant sister of our own Maimouna Barro. Dakar was wonderful and I hope to return!


Professor Emeritus of Anthropology Alma Gottlieb speaks to CAS Interim Director, Maimouna Barro



After thirty years as Professor of Anthropology and African Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Professor Emerita Alma Gottlieb retired in spring 2016. During her time at Illinois, Alma also served as an active member of our core faculty. We are honored to have her speak about her experience at Illinois and forthcoming projects.  We at the Center for African Studies are greatly appreciative of all Professor Gottlieb has done over the years to support our work and our students, and to help advance the study of Africa. We wish her a happy and productive retirement—or, as she prefers to term it, “re-wirement!”

We are also happy to share an interview recorded by Dallas Tatman, former MA Student in Religious Studies and CAS FLAS Fellow: https://storycorps.me/interviews/prof-alma-gottlieb/, which Professor Gottlieb graciously took part in for AFST 522: Development of African Studies, Spring 2016. It is titled, “Thinking about Our Shared Common Ancestry―Pausing to Reflect Back on My Career as an Africanist.”

Barro: How or why did you choose to specialize in anthropology in general and African anthropology in particular?

Gottlieb: Coming of age in the 1960s in New York, I learned early to question everything. Structures of male, white, wealthy privilege seemed odious to many in my generation, and we eagerly sought alternatives to the Western empires that wreaked havoc around the world in our names. 

As with many of my peers, one offshoot of my political discontent was an adventurous spirit. I found in anthropology a discipline that could lead me to discover the many worlds that we humans have created beyond those of my immediate surroundings. A Ugandan proverb might have been my mantra: “The cow that has not explored the pastures does not find the fat grass."

In junior high school, I spent a year reading about utopias, both imagined and enacted. While provocative food for the discontent soul, these idealistic communities were all either imaginary or frustratingly short-lived, and I set about globe-trotting in the library.  In college, I read about native peoples in North and South America; my graduate studies expanded my readings to New Guinea and south Asia, until I finally settled on Africa as the space for my life’s research. 

In the late ‘70s when I was completing my graduate training, most countries in Africa had recently thrown off the yoke of colonialism, and the continent brimmed with excitement and optimism. Although some felt skeptical about anthropology because of earlier anthropologists who had cooperated with colonial European institutions and governments, others remained intrigued by the possibilities of ethnographic research for understanding people’s lives. I entered Africanist anthropology aware that my status as a white American would probably close some doors, but hopeful that the discipline’s powerful methods of ethnographic research could serve progressive causes of furthering social justice. 

Although I don’t specialize in political or economic anthropology, every course I taught at UIUC, and every book and article I’ve written, has been motivated by the aim of arguing for the shared humanity of our species, and the necessity for sharing the planet’s resources with that in mind, while simultaneously teaching tools for understanding difference and advancing tolerance. In terms of its wide-ranging issues, perhaps my favorite course that I taught at Illinois was “Images of the Other.”

Barro: When did you first come to the University of Illinois, and what position did you hold then?

Gottlieb: I taught anthropology and African studies as a visiting assistant professor from 1983-85 and accepted a tenure-track position in 1985. During my 33 years at Illinois, I created many new courses, developing from my own passions as a scholar. In anthropology, I created a series of methodological courses that I wished I could have taken in graduate school—Research Proposal Writing; Fieldwork Methods in Qualitative Research; Ethnographic Writing; and Dissertation Writing. In African studies, I developed courses on Religions of Africa; Kinship/Culture/Power in Africa; and New African Migrants in the New Europe. In all these courses, I brought my training as a humanistically oriented social scientist to the syllabi I crafted, but I always encouraged students to pursue their own interests in developing research papers.

Barro: What have been your biggest challenges and joys as a scholar working on/about Africa?  Do you have achievements or memories you are especially happy to share?

Gottlieb: Living for long periods in small villages among the Beng people of Côte d’Ivoire—learning a language with no cognates shared by other languages I knew, learning new ways to think, new ways to eat, new ways to live--has provided me with the gift of seeing life with new eyes. That gift of the anthropological lifestyle is a deep one that has a lasting, personal impact on one. From studying child-rearing practices in Beng villages, I rethought what I “knew” about raising children (see http://www.cambridge.org/aworldofbabies); from studying Beng family and community structures, I rethought what I “knew” about how to organize society. I no longer accept daily habits as inevitable.

My research in Africa has mostly been a family affair—my husband (writer Philip Graham) and, later, our two children (Nathaniel and Hannah) have mostly accompanied me on my research trips to Africa. Yet, living and teaching in the US, and being responsible for the lives of two other human beings, meant that I couldn’t travel to Africa as often as I would have liked. The ongoing civil conflict in Côte d’Ivoire also made travel to my earlier research site too dangerous for many years. I’ve deeply missed our African families that adopted us in Beng villages, as I’ve spent years away from them. Today, I am in touch with some Beng people on social media—a wonderful development!

As it became clear that returning to Côte d’Ivoire was increasingly problematic, I developed a new research site in Cape Verde, and with the Cape Verdean diaspora in Europe and the US. This new research, in which I am now actively engaged, has given me an exciting new set of issues to explore.

At the same time, Philip and I recently created the Beng Community Fund, an NGO to benefit the Beng community in Côte d’Ivoire (see http://almagottlieb.com/research-publications/bcf/ and https://www.facebook.com/bengcommunityfund/?ref=bookmarks). It’s one of my many projects, post-UIUC teaching.

Barro: How have you seen the field of African studies change in the course of your career? How has your personal trajectory intersected with or been affected by these wider trends?

Gottlieb: African studies as a discipline has changed in many ways over the past 30+ years! For one thing, it’s now a legitimate discipline with an institutional history. Many campuses in the US and elsewhere have African studies majors, or at least minors. Our own campus has an MA program in African studies—created during my lifetime at Illinois. Many US campuses offer study abroad programs in Africa, and students across many different majors often find themselves drawn to these programs, even if Africa is far from the focus of their studies. The Princeton in Africa program, for example, attracts students from many different backgrounds across the US. Happily, African studies is no longer the monopoly of Euro-American scholars; many African scholars are now studying their own as well as other African societies. And African studies now engages issues of pressing concern not just to the continent but globally—from urbanization, economic development, and global trade to children’s rights, women’s rights, and educational reform.

When academic departments in the US began dismantling area studies programs in the ‘90s, our Africanist colleagues felt panicked that all the previous gains in establishing Africa as a site of serious scholarly inquiry might be reversed. But the new configuration of joint area studies programs at institutions such as the Social Science Research Council in the end strengthened Africanist scholarship, I think, in putting Africanists into active conversation with scholars in other world areas. At Illinois, the joint area studies conferences of recent years have proven a great boon to African studies in showcasing Africanist scholarship for students and faculty who might not otherwise be exposed to it.

Professor Alan C. Hansen, Agricultural and Biological Engineering on "Appropriate Scale Mechanization in Africa"


One of the main causes for low agricultural productivity in most developing countries is the lack of appropriate machineries that cater to and suit the requirements of small-scale farms. Farmers in the developing world often have to rely on imported farm machines, which are difficult to access and seldom fit the requirements of their small farms nor the cultural and economic exigencies of their farming communities. This leads to reliance on human power, a burden that is placed heavily on women.

In much the same way that innovations in farm mechanization transformed the face of American agriculture, appropriate and affordable machineries hold tremendous promise in creating value in agricultural production practices and improving livelihoods of smallholder farmers across the globe. This is because such technologies enable the more efficient use of labor and inputs as well as more timely operations, and are mindful of the unique needs of female farmers who are increasingly taking on more farming tasks and farm management responsibilities.

The Appropriate Scale Mechanization Consortium (ASMC) based at the University of Illinois joins the global drive toward food security by facilitating the local identification, demonstration, and deployment of mechanized technologies that are technically, environmentally, and economically appropriate for use by smallholder farmers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, and Burkina Faso. ASMC is a four-year, $4.7 million project funded by USAID as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. The mandate: Intensify smallholder farmers’ cropping systems and on-farm operations through innovations in mechanization that are sensitive to social, economic, and environmental impacts, and focus on easing the burden on women.

Led by Dr. Alan Hansen, professor of Off-Road Equipment Engineering in the department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) at the University of Illinois, the ASMC is essentially a consortium of members with substantial institutional capacity and expertise in this field of work. The Consortium includes the Urbana, IL-based Archer Daniels Midland Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss, Tiller’s International, Michigan State University, Kansas State University, and North Carolina A&T University.

 “In Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, the focus will be on the development of sustainable mechanization practices with draft animals and small two-wheel-drive (2WD) tractors with an emphasis on zone tillage, seeding, weeding, and shelling technologies for maize that will be readily transferrable to other cropping systems, such as sorghum and millet,” Dr. Hansen added.

ASMC recognizes that in these target countries, farmers cling to traditional technologies that have been deeply embedded in their cultural ways. Cognizant of the multi-dimensional reasons behind why farmers do what they do, the Consortium has partnered with local universities in each of the four countries to set up innovation hubs that are charged with identifying and developing technologies appropriate to the agricultural and cultural surroundings.

These hubs, based at partner institutions, serve to collect information, develop resources, and provide training. They also act as the nerve center of their respective network of stakeholders. Innovation hubs are intended to create ecosystems of innovation by engaging various stakeholders—including smallholder farmers, faculty, students, and business professionals—in identifying needs, seeking solutions and resources, promoting/adopting/scaling technology and business development, and conducting mechanization-specific training and educational programs. The scope of ASMC activities includes prototype testing and evaluation, train-the-trainer sessions for local extension and technical service providers, and on-farm evaluation and artisan training for local manufacturing and marketing of technologies as well as tools and custom services.

ASMC plans to set in motion demonstration and research plots in each country to introduce appropriate sustainable technologies. These plots are now in Burkina Faso, and are at various stages of development in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Ethiopia.

Last year, Dr. Hansen and his team visited the four focus countries to get a first-hand feel for their stakeholders and the problems that trouble them that are amenable to mechanization solutions. Their needs assessment trip offered insights as to what technologies would be appropriate in each area. Based on this evaluation, the Consortium members identified steps to take that will result in the improved livelihoods of smallholder farmers at the end of the four years.

Prepared by Amy Frankel, Agriculture Communications Intern