Student Research Exhibits Collaborative Solution-Building at Zaha 2021

Our annual Research Symposium, newly renamed Zaha, a Malagasy word meaning to explore, examine or research,  produced an impressive catalogue of research projects earlier this month. This year’s conference saw over 40 students present their research in one of four research courses: Creativity Research, Humanities Research, Scientific Research and Model African Union (MAU) Research. 

Dr Athambile Masola

The event opened with a keynote address by Dr Athambile Masola, lecturer, researcher and cultural historian from the University of Pretoria. Dr Masola shared with the community her insights on what it takes to be an African researcher on the continent. Her sentiments were summarized as follows: In order to explore, examine or research we must grow new eyes and see things anew so as to move Africans from historically being subjects of research to being African researchers. In addition, part of the burden of being an African researcher is to think about the politics of access to historical data and resources and how you will make your research accessible in order for it to have meaning. Lastly, the joy of being African researcher is grappling with asking the right questions, as simple and banal as “why?” or “how?” as it relates to your research.

As opposed to students simply submitting their research projects for grades, the symposium provides a platform for all members of the community to examine, engage and discuss topics that are of most interest to our students. The conference setting breeds knowledge-sharing, critical thinking and collaborative solution-building to some of the continent’s most pressing issues.

This year’s conference included a few new and exciting elements from earlier years. For one, while 2020’s symposium was entirely virtual, this year students safely convened in person on campus joined virtually by other members of the ALA community. This hybrid meeting allowed for a larger audience, including parents, alumni and partners of ALA to engage first-hand with our young leaders on their research projects. Moreover, a new ‘think tank’ panel was introduced to both the MAU and Humanities Research courses. This was a necessary addition according to Writing & Rhetoric faculty and conference coordinator Maya Schkolne: “The suggestion to add this exciting panel came out of Moroccan Marouane El Bahraoui’s ‘19 research project, which is to specifically analyze think tanks in Africa. We decided to pair him with South Africa’s Siya Hadebe ‘19 who is the Deputy Chair of ALAMAU 2021, whose role it was to connect the MAU research topics to each other. In some ways, she was actually functioning within a kind of ‘think tank’ space – the MAU research class – in that it is organised around interdisciplinary research with the objective of providing resolutions or advice on a range of policy issues.”

Here are a few of the most insightful topics presented by our students at the conference this year.

Scientific Research

Eden Bergene ‘19 (Ethiopia) presents Building life on Mars. This research focuses on examining the existing plans of building habitats on Mars in terms of architectural efficiency and persistence of the structures to be built. In this research, areas such as material efficiency, structural strength, building of a community, urban planning, and other essential parts of settlement on the red planet are analyzed, critiqued. Solutions are provided for challenges that are likely to be encountered.

Creative Research

Towela Tembo ‘19 (Botswana) presents FRAMED. FRAMED is a poetic documentary about the impact of the commercialization of African art and the impacts that has on visual and social discourse as it pertains to both African artists and artist audiences. It  evaluates the extent to which black African artists are repurposed as props in the art world. It suggests decolonization of art, space and audience for the development of African art and the restoration of agency in storytelling.

Humanities Research

Mohamed Omar Belghith ‘19 (Tunisia) presents The role of media during the Tunisian revolution. This research explains the transitional role of the media from before and through the Tunisian Revolution. It explains the struggles and the lessons that the media experienced throughout that period.

MAU Research

Kelton Giovanne Massinga 19 (Mozambique) presents Building Effective Communication and Defense Systems to Eradicate Extremism. The project aims to explore the main drivers of violent extremism in Mozambique and to find the common denominator, if any, with other extremist activities in the African continent. The research further suggests a range of potential solutions to alleviate terrorism in Mozambique and other African nations.