Scholars of the Environment Arrive from Africa

This week, nine environmental scholars and activists from Africa are arriving to work with Brown professors and undergraduates under the auspices of the 2009 Watson International Scholars of the Environment Program. Brown Associate Professor of History Nancy Jacobs will direct the mid-career training program, using her knowledge of African and environmental history to help the Watson Scholars apply new theoretical perspectives and advanced technical training to real-world environmental issues.
Launched in 2001, the Watson Scholars program has alums in 40 countries throughout the developing world. This year, the scholars all come from NGOs, universities and governmental institutions in Africa. The new focus on Africa reflects the continent’s pressing environmental needs as well as its scholars’ strong participation in the Watson Scholars program since its inception.
The 2009 Watson Scholars hail from six African nations. Several bring on-the-ground environmental experience to the program, including:
    * Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji, chief executive officer of the Rural Africa Water Development Project in Nigeria;
    * Kawsu Jammeh, environmental education officer and project coordinator of DBD Programme of Work on Protected Areas in the Gambia; and
    * Cyrille Ngouana Kengne, director and environmental advisor at Cameroon’s Centre for Transdisciplinary Studies in Aquaculture, Environment and Development Support and Civil Society Organizations.
Other scholars will lend teaching and research perspectives to environmental issues, including:
    * Gaudensia Aomo Owino, research scientist at Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute;
    * Hilary Bakamwesiga, assistant lecturer at Uganda’s Makerere University in Uganda;
    * Mwangi Githiru, chief research officer in the Department of Research Development at Kenya’s Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology;
    * Susan Keitumetse, research fellow at the Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Centre at the University of Botswana;
    * Oluseun Sunday Olubode, lecturer at Nigeria’s Caleb University and;
    * Jane Nagayi Kalule Yawe, lecturer at Gulu University in Uganda.
The 2009 Watson Scholars program’s comparative focus capitalizes on this broad range of expertise, Jacobs said. Opportunities to forge a network with both African and American environmental leaders will enable Watson Scholars to apply strategies practiced elsewhere to their home countries, she said.
As in years past, the 2009 Watson Scholars program aims to help mid-career environmental leaders promote sustainable development in their home countries through the mastery of scientific tools and critical approaches to land use science and policy. For three and a half months, Watson Scholars will engage in courses taught by Brown professors and numerous site visits to NGOs, government organizations and research institutes in New England and in Washington.
In addition, this year Watson Scholars will explore new concepts in a historical frame. A cornerstone of the program will be a seminar on African Environmental History taught by Jacobs. The seminar will spur reflection on how political and historical processes, especially colonialism and global power imbalances, have affected the ways Africans interact with their environments.
“The global problems of climate change and resource scarcity have unique implications in a continent with Africa’s political, economic, and cultural history” Jacobs said. Historical study can improve understandings of environmental problems and of ways to address them. Ultimately, stepping back and adopting a historical perspective will help the Watson Scholars understand why some individuals in Africa have resisted environmental education and research. Program participants will in turn be better prepared to confront barriers to implementation of environmental programs, Jacobs said, adding that “history can help them understand everyone’s stakes.”
Throughout their semester at the Institute, the Watson Scholars will work closely with Brown undergraduates. Brown students will provide critical research assistance on scholars’ independent historical research projects and will further expose the Watson Scholars to the traditions of liberal learning practiced at Brown.
For Jacobs, the skills and perspectives the Watson Scholars gain at the Watson Institute will have a “huge multiplying effect” in their home countries. These individuals are “environmental leaders,” she said, for whom coming to the Institute “will make a big difference.”
By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Juliana Friend ’11

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