Lecture Series Brings in Expert on African Violence


Dylan Guss

Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madi­son, Scott Straus was invited last Thursday to deliver the second an­nual Peter C. Schaehrer Memorial Lecture on the trends of violence in Africa. At the lecture, he discussed why Africa is wrongly pictured as a “lump sum” but how there are areas of stability on the continent.

Straus has been recognized as an acclaimed scholar of the Rwandan genocide, writing multiple books and many journal articles on the subject. As a young man, Straus was a reporter who witnessed the after­math of the Rwandan genocide. Since then, he has done extensive field research across the continent. Straus is now an academic, and has been awarded numerous grants for his work from organizations such as the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the United States Institute of Peace.

The Peter C. Schaehrer Memorial Lecture was founded last year by Col­gate alumni who knew Peter Schaehrer ‘65, a civil rights activist. These alumni wanted to celebrate Schaehrer’s mem­ory by sponsoring an annual lecture series that focused on civil rights.

During the lecture, Straus in­formed the audience in Love Audi­torium of the misconceptions sur­rounding Africa. He articulated a trend in Africa’s violence, from large-scale wars to small-scale wars and referenced the fact that there have been eight to nine sub-Saharan con­flicts in Africa recently, though years following the Cold War had double this number. According to Straus, Africa’s conflicts have become “small rebellions” that are in “zones” rather than larger wars in particular coun­tries, citing Al Qaeda’s kidnapping operation in Mali as an example.

Straus concluded that violence has been at the core of Africa’s “post-colonial experience,” but that it is often overstated. He feels that “violence is the exception rather than the norm.” He also argued that Africa’s violence is not as prevalent as in other areas of the world, par­ticularly compared to Asia. Straus pointed to the “resilience” of Africa and how leaders have sought many “non-violent accommodations.”

Junior Andrew Pike reflected that, before the lecture, he viewed Africa as “doomed” to an unbreak­able cycle of violence, but that the lecture had inspired him to “hope” for a “brighter [African] future.”

Associate Professor of Anthro­pology and Peace & Conflict Stud­ies Nancy Ries was most interested with the “mechanisms of all levels actively intervening to prevent conflict situations.”

She suggested an answer to this phenomena that Straus lightly touched on. According to Ries, because of the “post- Rwanda situ­ation,” there is a higher degree of consciousness of the costs of vio­lence. Like Straus, she worried that the United States and other coun­tries do not understand how much effort African people put into “[re­solving] conflicts before they evolve to violence.”