The Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the US in the summer of 2020 following George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis also sparked mass uprisings against systemic racism across Europe. These protests not only expressed solidarity with the American movement, but also called for European states to examine their own structural, race-based inequities, as well as their colonial pasts in Africa and the legacies thereof. Building on decades of anti-racism activism, Afro-diasporic and other activist groups in Europe have made demands ranging from the removal of statues of colonial figures and the renaming of public spaces, to the return of artifacts taken from African colonies and held in European museums, and financial reparations for the violences of colonization.
These demands have begun to yield fruits. In Belgium, for instance, a Special Commission tasked with examining Belgium’s colonial past in the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi was established in July 2020. And, in a major step in the contemporary fight against racism and discrimination in the European Union, the EU’s 2020-25 Action Plan, delivered in September 2020, asserted the link between colonialism and the perpetuation of stereotypes and discrimination in European societies.
As these movements against racism unfold across North America and Europe, what does examining them transversally — across geography, history, and domains of practice — make visible about present opportunities for addressing Europe’s colonial past in Africa and its contemporary legacies? How might actions in different countries and regions amplify one another? What mechanisms are available in and across the arenas of law, policymaking, community organizing, and the arts for obtaining redress for these harms? What lessons can be carried over from historical undertakings?
This symposium, convened by the Department of Anthropology at MIT, in collaboration with Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF), aims to provide a platform for scholars, activists, and policymakers from Europe, North America, and Africa to tackle these questions. Over the course of five half-days of virtual panels and roundtable discussions, experts in areas such as transitional justice, racial justice, colonial and decolonial studies will share their experiences in the development of anti-racist and decolonial movements in and across their respective contexts.
The present moment offers a historic opportunity to both investigate and support anti-racist and decolonial efforts across national contexts and arenas of practice. We warmly invite you to join us in this cross-disciplinary gathering. Please direct inquiries to conveners at email@example.com.
This symposium is organized by Prof. M. Amah Edoh of the Department of Anthropology at MIT, in collaboration with Avocats Sans Frontières.
M. Amah Edoh, PhD
M. Amah Edoh is Homer A. Burnell Assistant Professor of Anthropology and African Studies at MIT. Her work focuses on the production of knowledge about Africa, in particular on how “Africa” as a category of thought is produced through material practices across African and non-African locations. The questions Edoh’s research engages are informed in important ways by her lived experiences in the US, Europe, and West and Southern Africa as a dual Togolese and American citizen. Edoh’s research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation, and she has published work in the fields of design, material culture, and African studies. Edoh has been collaborating with Avocats Sans Frontières on the TACLE initiative on Europe’s colonial past and its legacies since September 2020. Edoh holds a PhD in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society from MIT, and an MSc in Population and International Health from Harvard.
Avocats Sans Frontières
Avocats Sans Frontières (Lawyers without Borders) is an international NGO specialized in defending human rights and access to justice. In Europe, Africa and South East Asia, Avocats Sans Frontières informs people about their rights, helps civil society and lawyers to provide them with better assistance, and promotes legislative reforms designed to increase respect for human rights.
Avocats Sans Frontières intervenes in several domains: transitional justice, international criminal justice, fight against torture, business and human rights, and the promotion and defense of human rights (including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights).
Following the Special Commission on Belgium’s colonial past, Avocats Sans Frontières launched the “Taking Action on Colonial Past and its Legacies“ (TACLE) initiative, which aims to :
– Document the work of this commission on the management of the colonial past and its consequences, and disseminate it within Belgian society, at the European level, and in formerly colonized countries.
– Support civil society efforts in the development of an advocacy agenda to national and international institutions on issues of colonial memory, reconciliation, and reparations.
– Create a dialogue between civil society actors and Belgian and European institutional actors on the implementation of public policies relating to the historical injustices of colonization.
Project lead: Liliane Umubyeyi, PhD
Liliane Umubyeyi holds a PhD in Social Sciences from the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan and in Law from the Université Saint Louis Bruxelles. She has a deep interest in understanding how societies respond to political conflicts, the institutions, practices, and mechanisms they put in place to restore the social fabric. Liliane’s work on the subject has been both scholarly and practice-based, and it blends sociological and legal perspectives.
During her PhD, Liliane has conducted research on South African apartheid victims’ demands for reparations through the South African and US judicial systems. As a research consultant for the United Nations Development Programme and the International Centre for Transitional Justice, she has also examined community mechanisms of conflict resolution in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Côte d’Ivoire.
Prior to joining Avocats Sans Frontières as Research Coordinator in 2018, Liliane Umubyeyi also taught Sociology at Sciences Po Paris and Political Sciences at Université Paris Ouest Nanterre.
- Dean’s Office, School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at MIT
- Department of Anthropology at MIT
- Avocats Sans Frontières
- French and Francophone Studies Program, MIT Global Languages
- MIT-Africa Program
- MIT-UK Program
- Department of History at MIT
Stephen Barnes, Chris Capozzola, Justine Dofal, Mariel Garcia-Montes, Kate Gormley, Abdellali Hajjat, Amy Hong, Ari Jacobovits, Graham Jones, Simon Mallet, Sakhile Matlhare, Charline Muco, Carmelle Nezerwe, Elisa Novic, Heather Paxson, Bruno Perreau, Romain Ravet, Zachary Rock, Nabeelah Shabbir, Amberly Steward, Bettina Stoetzer, Suresh Subramanian, our phenomenal translation team: Camille Coppée, Steven Kiely, Damien Léonard, Jessie Renshaw, and the valiant MIT Video Productions team: Dawn Morton, Rod Lindheim, Clayton Hainsworth, Tom White, Barry Pugatch. Thank you all!