The Colgate Scene
May 2006

Into Africa
From consumerism in Angola to elections in Mozambique, Anne Pitcher examines the political issues of developing nations

Children in rural Nongoma, South Africa. Inspired by her 2003 South Africa extended study trip with political science professor Anne Pitcher, Aubrey Graham '06, who took this photograph, traveled to Nongoma the following summer to research the social effects of poverty on education.

Anne Pitcher has a goal to bring 100 students to Africa, and through the South Africa extended study program, she is already halfway there.

"It's not an easy trip," said Pitcher, who has taken three groups since 1995. "But I think it is incredibly empowering to go to a place where people of color are in the majority but were oppressed, defeated the foe, and now are running the government. I think it is important to expose students to that; there is almost no way you can recreate that in the classroom."

The students couldn't have a better guide. Pitcher, professor of political science, has been researching the comparative politics of developing countries for more than 20 years, spending much of that time on work in several African nations including South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, and Uganda. Recognized as a prestigious scholar in the field, she was invited by the Carter Center, President Jimmy Carter's renowned human rights organization, to monitor the 2004 general elections in Mozambique. And more recently, Pitcher was invited to Angola by the U.S. Embassy in Luanda.

"On two different occasions, I have gone to Angola to speak about different experiences with privatization and private sector creation in Africa, looking at countries like Uganda, Mozambique, Zambia, and South Africa," Pitcher said. "People there were engaged, interested, and knowledgeable about U.S. foreign policy and very concerned about the effects of privatization elsewhere."

While in Angola last summer, Pitcher brought senior Aubrey Graham, a 2003 member of the South Africa extended study program, with her as a research assistant.


Anne Pitcher [Photo by Aubrey Graham '06]
"If going to South Africa sparks students, grabs them, and creates an interest, as it did with Aubrey, then by the time they're juniors, they can do more serious work," Pitcher said. From their research, Pitcher and Graham crafted a paper, "Cars are killing Luanda: Cronyism, consumerism, and other assaults on postwar Angola's capital city," which has been accepted for publication in a forthcoming book called Cities in Africa.

Despite its troubles, Luanda, the capital of Angola, is striking, Pitcher said. "Most people aren't used to thinking of African cities as beautiful or even old, but Luanda is four hundred years old. I'm drawn to it. The infrastructure is broken down. Garbage collectors don't show up, or maybe there aren't enough of them. The city was built to accommodate maybe a million people, but instead there are about four million," she said. "At the same time, there is a sense of history -- a structure designed by Eiffel, old colonial buildings painted various shades of mauve or rose -- real glimpses of beauty amidst the degradation."

Pitcher has her eye on returning to Angola to study the ongoing economic reform there. "For the most part, Angola has been behind the rest of Africa in enacting market reforms. But now that the war is over, my sense is that whether the government wants to or not, pent-up consumer demand will drive the transition to a market economy," she predicted. "Angolans have access to the Internet; they know what is out there and those with money want it. They want late model cars, fashionable clothes, computers, cell phones, iPods -- you name it. It is likely that the transition is going to bring many social problems with it. I'd like to study that process while it is happening."

Pitcher developed her interest in Africa in college. She attended Duke University, after growing up in the South during the Civil Rights movement. "When I got to Duke, I was very, very interested in people who seemed to have all the odds stacked against them," she said. "On a summer program in Oxford, I had a professor who was a South African exile, and when I got back to Duke, I took a course on African politics. We read about Mozambique's revolution. The liberation struggle there made a deep impression on me."

Pitcher went on to earn her master's degree and doctorate in politics from St. Peter's College and St. Hilda's College, respectively, both part of Oxford University. She has taught at Colgate since 1990.

"I decided that research was for me, and I see teaching and research going together," Pitcher said. "I like wrapping my mind around a problem and working through it, but I think that you don't really know a subject until you have to teach it. And you can inspire or encourage as many as, say, a hundred students a year to develop interests in other parts of the world."

As the 2005-2006 director of Colgate's Center for Ethics and World Societies (CEWS), Pitcher organized a set of programs and events exploring the theme of "Cities, Citizenship, and Modernity." The CEWS, which was created in 1998, facilitates discussion of issues arising from the interactions of different nations, peoples, and communities, with an emphasis on the ethical aspects of those issues.

She said she came up with the concept for this year's topic after noticing that cities and notions of citizenship, and what cities do for citizens, were becoming prominent topics in the academic literature, especially in geography and, to a certain extent, sociology, political science, architecture, and art. Pitcher was intrigued. "It really reached across the curriculum," she said. "One of the objectives identified by the strategic plan is to make Colgate more international in its orientation and to enhance its reputation abroad. The cities theme dovetails with that. First, it has brought internationally renowned scholars to campus. Second, its lectures and workshops have examined not only urban decay and revitalization in upstate cities, but also contestations over rights and citizenship from Sao Paolo to Moscow. Our students, many of whom come from urban areas, then get the chance to see the common challenges that cities face even beyond the United States." Pitcher said they are taking the lecture series in a new direction this summer by sponsoring the participation of several Colgate faculty members at an international conference in Italy, allowing them to showcase their work and meet European-based faculty.

Pitcher is also writing a book comparing the effects of economic reform in four African countries, which she began while on a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., a few years ago. Next spring, she will direct the 2007 Geneva Study Group, so she is not sure exactly when she will again take students to Africa or go herself. It is obvious, though, from the reverence with which she speaks of familiar African nations that she won't stay away for long.

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