African Center and UW- African Studies Program Present Africa TalksBridging the Diaspora

Africa Talks

Sarriang Ceesay, Community Programs Manager, Africa Center (l-r), Tanika Apaloo, Assistant Director, UW South Madison Partnership, Ama Mohammed, Community Outreach Coordinator, African Center and Adetunji Lesi, President, African Center Not Pictured: Dr Aleia McCord, Associate Director and Dr. Olayinka Olagbegi-Adegbite, Assistant Director, African Studies Program

By Jonathan Gramling

Like many communities in Madison, Madison’s African community often experiences a “town and gown” divide. The UW-Madison African Studies Program contains a plethora of information and scholars focused on the continent of Africa and its 54 countries. The Madison area has an abundance of talented and community-focused people from Africa or have spent extensive time there. But they remain relatively isolated from each other.

“UW-Madison is home to the oldest and arguably the best African Studies program in the nation,” said Dr. Aleia McCord, associate director of African Studies. “We’ve been around since 1963. We produce some of the premier scholarship on the continent. We have a long, storied legacy. We have a lot of professors who have had international recognition. We’re really proud of that legacy. And so we think the best way to celebrate that legacy moving forward is think of ways like this where we can make all of that amazing scholarship and knowledge available to more people in celebrating the Wisconsin Idea and keeping the Wisconsin Idea vibrant and alive by sharing this knowledge with folks off campus.”

The African Studies’ Africa at Noon lecture series, which has happened every Wednesday for the past 50 years, is a prime example of the isolation.

“The African noon series is open to the public, but in reality, it is just campus community members who show up at Wednesday noon for that program,” said Dr. Olayinka Olagbegi-Adegbite, assistant director of African Studies. “We’re looking for ways to be more involved and to have more African community involvement in what we do in the African Studies Program.”

One initiative that has been developed is Africa Talks, a monthly get together kicking off in September that will include a speaker and a meal at the Atrium in the Villager Mall. It is a joint initiative of African Studies and the African Center for Community Development.

“We thought, ‘Why don’t we take ‘Africa at Noon’ off campus and call it something else, Africa Talks,’” Olagbegi-Adegbite said. “We can bring scholars from campus, advance graduate students who are doing amazing work in Africa to the community so that the community would learn about what they are doing and maybe there would be an opportunity to collaborate with the researchers on campus. That was our original idea. Then we talked about how we would do this and who we would call. And then we thought about the African Center and the fact that they are already here established. We reached out to them and they were so generous. They said, ‘Yes, this is great. We can do this together.’ And that is how Africa Talks came about.”

“I saw Africa at Noon when it was online,” added Ama Muhammed, the African Center’s community outreach specialist. “I enjoyed it. I always thought about the opportunity of bringing it to the community. When the opportunity came up to partner with the UW-Madison African Studies Program, we jumped on it. We had our first meeting here at the UW South Madison Partnership Office. UW South Madison Partnership has been very generous to provide us space for this lecture series.”

Adetunji Lesi, the president of the African Center, feels Africa Talks will be very beneficial for the Madison community — and very enlightening.

“One of our goals is actually to bring the university to the community,” Lesi said. “I am glad this is happening. There are 54 countries in Africa. If we are talking about diversity, that’s where diversity comes from. We have so many languages and so many people. It’s projected that by 2050, one of every five people on Earth will be an African. The population is growing and it is a vast continent. Everyone wants to have a piece of Africa at the present time, including the culture and the languages, not to mention the food and architecture. One of the things that we think we will be bringing to the city of Madison would be the archeological developments in Africa, all of the discoveries and so on. We want to expose all of us to all of those ancient things. We do have visitors to the university from African countries and universities in Africa. We want all of this knowledge to be shared with the community here.”

The series, to be held on the last Wednesday of each month, will kick off with a program about the political situation in Zimbabwe, which has hit the mainstream news in recent months.

“Tinashe Hofisi is leading us off,” McCord said. “He comes to us from the law school. He’s going to be talking about the 2023 elections in Zimbabwe. Tinashe is an expert on constitutional law on the continent. He has worked in multiple countries in Southern Africa. But of course, in this talk, he is going to focus on Zimbabwe. I think it will be a great way to kick things off. It will be a current discussion of politics and law on the continent. He’s going to help us understand where Zimbabwe is headed.”

And then in October, his talk will be followed up with a program about gender and sexuality in Kenya.

“Mwita Muniko is from African Cultural Studies,” McCord said. “Mwita’s expertise is in gender and sexuality, specifically conceptions of manhood in Kenya. He’s going to be talking about Manhood Today is Money: New Conceptions and Interpretations of Masculinity in Western Kenya.”

The African Center and African Studies staff see Africa Talks as the first step in a long-term collaboration that will bring town and gown together.

“We have close to 100 international students from the continent on campus every year,” McCord said. “That’s not many. It can be a little isolating for those students. One thing that we are very excited about is having a forum where we can make sure we’re giving our students from the continent the chance to connect with our local Diaspora community. And that is really important. We’re also super excited to hear from our community members and what they can share with us both in terms of the research and collaborations that might be generated and in terms of mentorship opportunities that might emerge from this as well.”

Uniting the African town and gown communities will have great benefit for not only the African community, but also Madison’s greater community. Africa Talks is a wonderful step in the right direction.


African Studies took a step in that direction last year.

“We have this welcome event that we launched last year,” Olagbegi-Adegbite said. “It’s called The African Nations Welcome where we welcome all of our new students and faculty who identify as African or African American to campus. Last year, we had it at the Memorial Union. This year, we’re having it at the Great Hall in the Memorial Union. We invite the students, faculty and community members. I remember Mr. Lesi gave a welcome speech last year. And we have other community members who came. Church organizations showed up. It’s getting bigger, so hopefully it will be better than last year. The Welcome is another way to introduce the students and the faculty to the community when they first get here.”