The Center for African Studies (CAS) at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and the African Center for the Study of the United States (ACSUS), located at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, will hold a conference in February 2023. The conference will highlight how to teach students about the cities in the U.S. and in the African continent. (Courtesy Photo)

By DaQuan Lawrence, Politics Reporter,
Howard University News Service

The Center for African Studies (CAS) at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and the African Center for the Study of the United States (ACSUS) at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, are currently partnering with the Johannesburg Convention Bureau, North Carolina Central University and others to plan the Africa-U.S. Cities Conference

Between Feb. 15 and Feb. 17, 2023, academics, political leaders, business professionals, funding agencies, practitioners, members of civil society and students will convene at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. The conference will be a new endeavor and provide an opportunity to develop knowledge of cities within the United States and across the African continent. 

The convening is being organized with Sister Cities International (SCI) and is the preconference to the SCI Africa Summit – which will take place Feb. 20 and Feb. 24, 2023, in Cape Town. The Cape Town session will also be the first of its kind and is aimed at improving and increasing the number of U.S.-Africa sister cities within the SCI network. The summit consists of a week of engagements and activities and will include participants from the United States, South Africa and the rest of the African continent.

Sister Cities International is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization which serves as the national membership organization for individual sister cities, counties and states across the U.S. With over 2,000 partnerships in 140 countries, SCI is dedicated to promoting peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation and working to create a more peaceful world by establishing people-to-people exchanges and initiatives. 

Founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 at his White House summit on citizen diplomacy, the organization is a central resource for institutional knowledge and best practices in the field of citizen diplomacy.

Although the Africa-U.S. conference seeks to provide an opportunity to develop knowledge of cities within the U.S. and across the African continent, organizers believe the conference offers something for everyone, especially non-academics and first-time travelers. 

Dr. Bob Wekesa, the director of the ACSUS in Johannesburg and Dr. Krista Johnson, the director of the CAS in Washington, D.C. discussed their centers, February’s convenings, and how members of the international community can participate with The AFRO.

AFRO: What is the African Center for the Study of the U.S. at the University of Witwatersrand?

Wekesa: The ACSUS at Wits University is a hub for African-generated knowledge in the United States. The Centre was established in March 2018 out of the realization that there was no African entity fully dedicated to nuanced, analytical, and rigorous gaze on the U.S. as a nation, society, and global power. 

AFRO: What is the Howard University Center for African Studies, and how did they become partners with the ACSUS for the Africa-U.S. Cities Conference? 

Johnson: Howard’s CfAS is a Title VI National Resource Center funded by the U.S. Department of Education, which prioritizes building partnerships and promoting dialogue and cooperative programming with African institutions such as the ACSUS. Howard has the largest African studies and African languages programs in the country. 

AFRO: What are the origins of the Johannesburg conference taking place in February?  

Wekesa: “We held our first Africa-US cities symposium in April 2018, and in 2019, partnered with the Sister Cities International. In 2020, we agreed to serve as the Southern Africa Sister Cities secretariat. SCI had planned for its inaugural Africa Summit to be held in February 2022 in Cape Town, and we decided to host an academic conference at Wits University as part of the broader summit activities.” 

AFRO: Why is it important for young people in the U.S. to engage in international affairs, particularly in Africa? 

Johnson: “The issues and fields of work available to young people transcend borders and require engagement and cooperation with people from around the world.  African countries have an important role to play in addressing issues of health, migration, climate change, and energy production. As the continent with the youngest population, Africa will increasingly lead in technological development and population growth.” 

AFRO: Conversely, why is it important for young people in African states to engage in international affairs, particularly in the U.S.? 

Wekesa: “In some important respects, the vision of nations through borders is an artificial phenomenon. However young people hold the promise of breaking down these barriers in a globalized society. Young people in Africa and the U.S. yearn to learn about each other’s societies and culture, and to collaborate in educational and professional endeavors.” 

AFRO: Can you share your thoughts on Howard’s role in historic and contemporary engagement with Africa? “Howard’s engagement with Africa dates back to the 20th century when Alain Locke proposed the creation of an institute of African studies. In the 1930s and 1940s, African diaspora scholars critiqued imperialism, international affairs and racism, and in the 1950s and 1960s, Howard had one of the most international campuses in the United States.” 

AFRO: What are your thoughts about interested participants who have never traveled to Africa or who are looking to travel for leisure? 

Wekesa: “A conference on this scale is an opportunity for those who haven’t been, to make their maiden trip to Africa. South Africa has a wide array of tourism offerings and leisure travelers will be spoiled with choices.”

Johnson: “Attendees have an opportunity to develop and strengthen ties with African people, communities, businesses and institutions, and to work on common issues and opportunities confronting our nations and the global community”. Interested participants are encouraged to register or contact the conference’s organizers.

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