Introducing New CIHA Blog Co-Editor, Hekima’s Toussaint Kafarhire Murhula – Part I

Interview conducted by Angela Okune

It is with great pleasure that we introduce our newest Blog Partner, The Hekima Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations (HIPSIR) under Hekima College (Nairobi, Kenya). Representing HIPSIR, Father Dr. Toussaint Kafarhire Murhula joins us as our newest Co-Editor of the Blog and we look forward to having him and his students as active members of the blog team. In this first post of a two-part interview, we get to know more about the work that HIPSIR does and a taste of Father Kafarhire’s research interests. In the second post from the interview, which we will publish next week, we dive deeper into understanding Father Dr. Kafarhire’s background, motivations, and why he is excited to be part of the CIHA Blog team.

  1. Please could you give us a brief summary of the work that HIPSIR does?

The Hekima Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations (HIPSIR) falls under Hekima College, a Jesuit school of theology in Nairobi, Kenya that is affiliated with the Catholic University of East Africa (CUEA). The College opened in 1984 mainly as a seminary for Jesuits studying to be ordained as priests. Twenty years later in 2004, HIPSIR was opened. The initial rationale behind the founding of HIPSIR was recognition by management that there was a particular [skewed] way that Africa was/is depicted in international media that may not be helpful when actually tackling the everyday challenges faced by those on the ground. Those of us actually working in the African context encounter people every day who are facing unique challenges: wars and conflicts, refugees and migration, poverty, etc. In order to better listen and address these promptings, we decided to start the institute of peace studies and international relations.

The work we do at HIPSIR is basically academic: train men and women who can meet the needs of the world that we encounter daily in Africa. The goal of the Institute is to equip these men and women with intellectual tools to do the profound critical analysis that they need so as to understand the root causes of many conflicts and wars and hopefully address them in a proper way. By proper, I mean not as a veneer/quick fix solution, but how do we as Jesuits/Africans/scholars, move toward addressing the root causes of our issues?

Besides the academic work of teaching the Masters of Art (MA) program in Peace Studies and International Relations, HIPSIR also offers seminars, organizes conferences, and short courses to dialogue with social actors on matters of great importance and urgency. We believe we have created a space that allows different actors to come together, meet, share ideas and begin a platform of dialogue. I think these forums build on the incredible diversity of our student body who hail from all over Africa – Francophone countries/Anglophone countries/different religious backgrounds/denominations. This diversity in and of itself allows people to begin overcoming stereotypes, bridging communities and learning to be together and create a space of peace.

We have also been conducting trainings in peace building in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania that target community-based field workers, leaders, mediation teams, Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) and youth groups. The trainings have generally focused on conflict transformation, mitigation and dialogue, peace, security and national cohesion.

Of course, as a Christian and a Catholic institution, we draw our vision and inspiration from the Catholic Social Teachings. If I can say a word about this Jesuit tradition, I would summarize it simply with the concept of “cura personalis”; that is, the concern for human dignity, [but also] the respect for all that makes up each individual. As Jesuits, however, we are also open to other faith traditions as well as the teachings and wisdom of other religions. Given, our context and “situation,” we integrate African cultural and religious vision in our approach to peace building and reconciliation.

Finally, I would like to say that we strongly believe in collaboration with others such as other academic institutions, governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as religious institutions involved in the search for peace in Africa and around the world. I believe such collaboration fosters dialogue and understanding that is necessary for peace and justice. For this reason, HIPSIR is also in the process of establishing a Centre for Research, Training and Publication (CRTP) to provide a space for research and dialogue between scholars, practitioners, and social activists, with a view to addressing current issues affecting the African continent in the area of socio-cultural, political, environmental and economic development and peace. This way, we hope to generate raw information on significant current issues for both academics and practitioners through the Centre for Research, Training and Publications (CRTP). Hence, we are working toward developing a database and documentation center on conflict management and peace studies in Africa and around the world.

Which courses do you teach at HIPSIR?

I teach three courses:

  • “Theories of International Relations” in which I introduce students to the IR literature that exists (Realism, liberalism, constructivism, and other theories to understand issues that are shaping international relations throughout history).
  • My “Foreign Policy Analysis” course consists of a thorough analysis of issues pertaining to foreign policy decision-making process. In this class, we look at different interventions of foreign policies (e.g. health, development, China’s presence, etc.) to try to understand the motivations lying behind and the beneficiaries of these interventions.
  • In my course on “African Cultures and Conflicts,” we explore the categories of Africa, culture, identity, and the various levels and sources of conflicts in the African context. Here, students acquire tools from postmodern and postcolonial theories to highlight the correlation, if any, between power, culture, and political violence in Africa.
  1. Please could you explain to us a bit about your own research topic/work?

As a Jesuit priest, poet, and social scientist, I should say that it is my thirst for abundant life – with dignity and respect – that led me to my quest for God as well as the studies I did. I have maintained my interests in philosophy, theology, and the social sciences. Let me begin with the last item.

  • I research how multinational interests are transforming our identities as national citizens, leaving big numbers destitute while only the veneer changes. Neoliberal ideals have affected and changed the way we think about ourselves; organize our societies; produce and exchange goods; and create meaning. As a result, with the study of neoliberalism, I also study power, especially that of multinational corporations in this era of globalization. My PhD research for example focused on the role of US multinational pharmaceutical industries in the development of a global health policy to fight HIV/AIDS, mostly in Africa. In my study of the power of multinational corporates, I began to recognize how corporates were overtaking basic rights that previously, every citizen would have claimed as their basic rights from the government. But Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), basically a form of charity based on the whims of the donors rather than the needs and rights of the recipients, has been eroding social claims that citizens would put to their government concerning their basic rights.
  • I am also interested in the democratic paradoxes inherent in neoliberal reforms thrust on African countries. While neoliberalism (a topic of long-standing interest to CIHA Blog, e.g. this three-post series) claims to empower citizens, its results have been the opposite. By neoliberalism, I simply understand the subtle shift that started occurring in the 1970s, but which became full-fledged after the end of the Cold War. In neoliberal social, economic, and political arrangements, there is an illusion about responsibility and freedom which multinational corporations forged and bestowed on us. By studying the global politics to access antiretroviral (ARV) treatment in developing countries, I realized how the HIV/AIDS plight is blamed on Africans and their backward sexual behaviors and how access to health care has become the object of Western charity instead of a social right that citizens ought to demand from their governments.
  • This is a seismic change of which we haven’t fathomed yet the far-reaching consequences. Paradoxically, while neoliberalism put an accent on individual freedom and private responsibility, it undermines the basis and foundation of democracy in Africa where state institutions were still fragile, due to historical trajectories proper to us, as small groups of people and/or powerful bands with connections to the international financial structures, have hijacked entire populations in their respective countries. Because citizens are unable to obtain their welfare (including social and physical security) from their governments, they turn to the global space and the international community to demand these basic rights. Hence, the migration in search of greener pastures…
  • There is an observation I am making about recession from serious political engagement by citizens, if not for quick enrichment. In Africa, politicians are the only ones – along with business people – who can afford material security. Hence, a handful of politicians with strong ties to the business industry maintain their grip on the political institutions and bar any meaningful change, as long as they can milk the state, or instrumentalize it for their own selfish interests. I believe it is obscene that a few people should sit on millions of US dollars in their bank accounts while the rest of the citizens are suffering and dying from hunger. It’s immoral. It’s unacceptable. Which has also triggered my interest in understanding the paradoxes of the democratization process in Africa. Neoliberalism offered to empower people and the civil societies against dictatorial and totalitarian states. Yet, the pauperization of the people is greater and greater and with it, their frustration, their disillusionment, and their disempowerment. So, I continue my research on the Congolese politics, the social justice and human rights in Africa, and the impacts of neoliberal ideas, reforms, politics, and infrastructures. I have especially used the Negritude movement and African literature as a methodological approach to the study of African politics.
  • The Congo is a model of a country that has been globalized from the beginning. The Berlin Conference Act of 1885 created the modern Congo as an international property under the custody of king Leopold II, unlike other African colonies that belonged to individual European states. Understanding the historical processes that led to the creation of the Congo as well as the institutional legacy of the past explains how this rich country has been impoverished not because poverty is a natural calamity but because of the policies that were set in place for the sake of continuous plunder and exploitation. Until we debunk and dismantle these structures of exploitation, we will only reproduce the same colonial outcome. If in fact democracy isn’t taking off in many African countries, despite all the money invested into reforming the political systems in Africa, it’s partly because reclaiming sovereignty by the people over Africa’s wealth collides with international vested interests. I refer to this paradox in a forthcoming article in a collective book on the Encounter between Protestants and Catholics in Africa in the 19th century.
  • My interests in philosophy are on Hermeneutics VY Mudimbe, Michel Foucault, and Patrick Heelan. I try to blend all these ideas with my interest in African theology and attempt to bring the Catholic Social Teaching together with the theology of liberation.
  • In the same vein, I am researching on how the SACCOs (Saving and Credit Co-Operatives) can become a sustainable model of self-funding for development, to break with the dependency on FDIs or the old western model. SACCOS have been in existence since the early 1980s and are continuing to further expand and develop in many countries in Africa. The idea behind the SACCO is that a group of workers or citizens can come together and begin to save some money together. Create capital and invest it so that these different members of SACCOS can have opportunities to get loans if they have any project ideas. So comparing this model of self-empowerment vs foreign aid model (conditional, etc.) or foreign direct investment which follows other criteria which are not to the advantage of Africa… We may need to go back to the idea of re-defining the idea of development. Is it just developing the infrastructures we see by bringing in Chinese companies? But when these things begin to collapse and crumble, you don’t have Africans who can take responsibility of fixing them. So Africa will be running to US or China… so that is still so paternalistic. Keeps Africa still in minority mentality. Not standing up to/for oneself.
  • What preoccupies my mind the most, is to find ways for Africans to regain their self-esteem, pride, and human dignity that continue to be eroded by what Mudimbe has called the “colonizing structures” and, instead, “decolonize the mind” as Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʼo has called for.

Stay tuned next week when we share more from this interview with Father Dr. Kafarhire and learn about his background, motivations and why he is excited to join the CIHA Blog team.

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