Conference to celebrate Malian peace

Robin Poulton (left) and Patricia Cummins (right) are two VCU professors who helped organize the Women, War and Peace Conference.

Zachary Stapel
Contributing Writer

A two-day conference held this weekend at VCU will celebrate a West African country’s struggle for peace.

The Women, War and Peace Conference will celebrate Mali’s National Day and be held from Sept. 20-21 in the University Student Commons. The event is hosted by the Virginia Friends of Mali, the Richmond Peace Education Center and the Richmond Sister Cities Commission.

It has been one year since a coup d’etat thrust Mali into war. The conference will explore role of women in the war, how it affected them and their efforts to bring about peace, said Patricia Cummins, Ph.D., a VCU French professor and one of the organizers of the conference.

Cummins said the way we discuss various groups of people is changing.

“The traditional American view has been a melting pot, but now we talk about it more as a salad, where you can distinguish the tomatoes and lettuce and cucumber and instead of having everyone melted into one thing,” Cummins said. “Africa is kind of the final frontier.”

Friday kicks off the conference with a series of films looking at the conflicts and the long road to peace in Libya, Mali and West Africa facilitated in large part by the women of those countries.

The event that day will be “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” part of the 2011 PBS documentary series Women, War and Peace that inspired and shares the name of the conference, Cummins said. The documentary follows the plight of the women of Liberia, focusing on the actions of Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and peace activist Leymah Gbowee, who helped to bring about peace in their country.

The film viewing will be followed by an address from its critically acclaimed producer and documentarian Abigail Disney. The day will close with a concert on the Commons Plaza featuring the pounding beats of Malian artist Cheick Hamala Diabaté.

Other featured films will include, “La Nuit de la vérité” (“The Night of Truth”), “The Manuscripts of Timbuktu” and “Hijos de la nubes: la última colonia” (“Sons of the Clouds: the Last Colony”).

The Malian Ambassador, Al Maamoun Baba Lamine Keita, will speak about the peace that has been brought about in his country during Saturday’s luncheon.

The day will also feature the recognition of UN medal peace activists Youssouf and Zakiyatou Oualett Halatine, as well as discussion panels featuring experts from Harvard, Duke, Columbia and scholars from two universities in Richmond’s sister city of Segou, Mali.

The Richmond Sister City Commission, with the help and support of the Virginia Friends of Mali,  in 2003 succeeded in joining Richmond and Segou as sister cities.

“A large part of Africa brought over to Richmond came from the kingdoms that fall within modern day Mali,” said Robin Poulton, Ph.D., a research professor in French West African studies at VCU’s School of World Studies.

Cummins said the conference wants to further peacebuilding in Africa, but will also focus largely on community engagement and the healthcare of the region.

Students will also have opportunities to talk to potential employers in the field of human development, she said.

The conference is paid for in part by the French West Africa Project grant awarded to VCU by the U.S. Department of Education. Admission is $5 and free to students with a valid VCU ID. To register for the conference go to www.vcupeace.com.

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