Posted on December 06, 2015

Pan-Africanism’s most recognized and celebrated international activist and statesman was the focus of a recent Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) Faculty Research Colloquium which featured Dr. Harry Verhoeven in a discussion of original research, titled: “Nelson Mandela and Changing Agendas of Pan-Africanism: African Liberation Politics from 1950 to the Present”.

The GU-Q Colloquium is where colleagues from Georgetown and other universities in Doha, the region and around the world present and discuss current research. And in this lecture, which was moderated by Dr. Afyare Abdi Elmi from Qatar University, the GU-Q professor drew from a chapter he authored in the forthcoming book titled: "Nelson Mandela’s Decolonial Ethics of Liberation and Servant Leadership", to be published in honor of the 2nd anniversary of Mandela’s death.

Georgetown faculty discussion [].jpg“The focus in analysing Mandela’s political thought, actions and legacy has mostly rested on his domestic achievements in South Africa, namely the mobilisation against Apartheid and his personal journey during imprisonment as a moral example for post-1994 national reconciliation in South Africa,” he said. But instead, Dr. Verhoeven went beyond South Africa’s borders, reviewing Mandela’s journey to mobilize ANC support for South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, a campaign that took him across the African continent, to Ethiopia, Algeria, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana and others.

Drawing on copious research and the key points in the soon-to-be-published book chapter, he traced the trajectory of an accidental activist whose views on race, politics and power were formed throughout his rise to leadership in an ANC which did not always reflect his own philosophies.

“Throughout his efforts with the ANC, Mandela tried to be a unifying figure. However, on closer inspection, he is actually a very polarizing figure. But he had a fundamental pragmatism and willingness to disagree,” said Dr. Verhoeven. “The big problem with the Pan-African movement today is the refusal of learning from Mandela. They have turned Mandela into a symbolic patriarch. This is maybe the most important lesson as we look back today.”

Dr. Verhoeven was invited to contribute to the book as a result of previous work on the region. “When I was at the University of Oxford, I led a project looking at South African foreign policy and ideas and practices of intervention. I spent a month in South Africa with many in the ANC leadership and South African bureaucracy to deepen my understanding of their thinking.” Published by Africa World Press, the commemorative book will also feature a chapter by former President and Vice President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, prominent ANC figures, as well as several other South African and non-South African academics.

Aleesha Suleman, a senior majoring in Culture and Politics, and a participant in the colloquium discussion, said: “As a student, the major benefits of this research colloquium  is the intimate setting where both students faculty and staff interact. So rather than a large auditorium or class, it gives an atmosphere of intellectual engagement.”

The Faculty Research Colloquium meets every week or two during the spring and fall semesters with the central goal of furthering GU-Q faculty’s research by providing a platform both to present their ideas and to learn from other’s ideas.