African Identity: Home, Belonging and Togetherness – KAAD Africa Seminar in Weingarten, 30.11. – 03.12.2020

The question of identity(ies) and their meaning is of great importance for KAAD and its world-wide community. This time the topic was discussed with a focus on Africa and under the impression of the worrying events in Ethiopia (“Tigray conflict”). The particular danger of identity issues lies in tendencies of discrimination and ethnic violence. Globalization has not eased this problem on a world-wide scale and on the African continent but has even aggravated it. On many levels – academic as well as private, regional as well as national – the topic of the seminar is more up to date than ever. In Africa, it is particularly relevant that the young 54 nation-states have to live with state borders, arbitrarily drawn by colonial rulers in most cases, and yet harbor multi-ethnic societies. How these facts can be brought into constructive agreement and how an “African identity” is perceived not only in the diaspora but also on the continent was the content of many discussions in Weingarten.

The seminar was organized and led by Dr. Marko Kuhn and Miriam Rossmerkel for KAAD and Dr. Heike Wagner for the Akademie der Diözese Rottenburg-Stuttgart.

Like many events these days, this event was of course also influenced by the corona-related restrictions. The Akademie der Diözese Rottenburg-Stuttgart, host and co-organizer of this seminar, has developed a strong hygiene concept for its conference centers, which had to be adhered to during the whole seminar (e.g. continuous mask obligation, distancing in the meeting room, at meals etc.). In addition, Corona rapid tests were used at this KAAD seminar for the first time (at the beginning and during the seminar) and provided additional security to protect against infection.

Thus, 25 scholarship holders from 8 countries could participate in the event at the Conference Centre itself and 10 more via online access (Zoom). This was the first seminar in hybrid form at KAAD and it was evaluated very positively by the participants despite some technical hitches.

The program started with a workshop that helped the participants to come to a very personal level of reflecting on their identity – as personalities and as international students in Germany. The workshop was conducted by Ms. Flavie Singirankabo from Stuttgart, who as a systemic coach has a lot of experience in working on growth and development processes and therefore was perfectly suited to reflect on identity issues.

On the second day, two presentations by Dr. Pradeep Chakkarath (Social Theory and Social Psychology, University of Bochum) and Prof. Dr. Günther Schlee (Social Anthropologist, formerly Max Planck Institute, Halle/Saale) took up the topic again and continued with it on the academic track. Chakkarath focused on a more global level of cultural identity formation from the perspective of cultural psychology, while Schlee concentrated on African societies and the numerous factors of belonging and togetherness that are important there. The topic was rounded off by presentations given by seminar participants on identities and identity politics in their home countries (represented were Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Gambia, Ghana and Zimbabwe). These contributions of the participants gave rise to very lively discussions and, according to the participants’ statements, to diverse learning and insight processes, especially about the construction of identities on the levels of ethnic groups, families, clans and nations. The factors of language/dialect, but also food, clothing and traditions were examined in relation to their role in identity formation. The debate also focused on the importance of these identities for the psyche and one’s own well-being, seeing that identities are “only” a social construct that can unite, but also painfully divide. Furthermore, it was emphasized how identity formation is depending on the situation and how a national or an “African identity” is often perceived especially in a “diaspora” situation, in which the KAAD scholars live temporarily. Another special focus in the discussion was consequently put on regional integration processes in Africa and the pan-African idea, as well as on language as a significant identity marker, which is particularly illustrated by the search for a lingua franca in different regions of the continent.

On the third day, the seminar ended with an excursion to Lake Constance giving the possibility to get acquainted with the different identity matters of the bordering three countries, as well as insights into life and economy of this region. In the baroque pilgrimage church of St. Maria (Basilica) on the Birnau, the participants were able to worship together and come to rest.