The Africa Working Group (AWG) was started in 2004 in the Department of Conflict Resolution Studies (DCRS) of Nova Southeastern University and has gone through several major phases. From the outset, the project was conceived to be a joint project between the faculty and students who are interested in the subject of peace and conflict studies on the African continent. It is guided by two critical principles: engagement and accompaniment. The initiating imperative was perceived deficiencies in the degree curriculums in the universities in North America in addressing the needs of the students from the South and this first came up in the Conflict Resolution System Design course taught by Dr. Tuso, during the summer of 2004. There were several African students enrolled in the course, and several issues emerged which indicated some dissonance between the content of the curriculum in the degree programs at DCRS, and the social realities in Africa.
Based on these observations, Dr. Tuso suggested that the group convene a brainstorming session to explore possible solutions. The first meeting was hosted by Austin Onuoha and Jacques Koko on June 26 2004 and the group benefited tremendously from the presence of two successful practitioners in the field of Conflict Resolution; Austin Onuoha and Joshia Osamba. Their experiences raised hopes that it would be possible to connect with conflict situations in the continent and make significant contributions toward developing new models to deal with conflicts in Africa. The new project was well received by the group which agreed on five major issues:
- to develop some mechanism to promote collaboration between students and faculty on research and publication.
- to support students on research and publication project.
- to collect information regarding conflict and peacemaking in Africa.
- to support each other in the social arena (having a fellowship on a regular basis).
- to meet once a month to refine and execute the above discussed plans.
There were subsequent meetings in member's houses and on the Nova campus during which the ideas were refined and developed.
In the Fall of 2004 two new faculty, who had expertise on conflicts in Africa joined DCAR: Dr. Mark Davidheiser, an anthropologist, with fieldwork experience in the Gambia, and Dr. Jean-Mathieu Essis of Ivory Coast, a political scientist, and Public Policy specialist. With their participation, three major goals were achieved including:
- the group was given a new name - Africa Interest Group, later changed to Africa Working Group (AWG).
- listserve for group was developed by the late Cody Smith.
- coordinating committees comprised of six persons (three faculty and three students) was formed.
The three faculty (mentioned above), and three students were elected to run the committees. In the winter of 2007, the AWG developed its own website, with the technical skills and time donated by Robert Keller. Following suggestions by Dr. Essis, the Africa Working Group was institutionalized and its activities incorporated into the functions of DCAR as part of its mission.
During the academic year 2005/06, the Africa Working Group sponsored guest lectures, faculty, and student lectures/presentations. The AWG began to co-sponsor other lectures and conferences initiated by other units within NSU. (Examples include; the conference on the genocide in Rwanda). There have been challenges in the life of the group, but the Africa Working Group has evolved into the most visible faculty/student joint project within DCAR, and it attracts attraction from audiences across academic disciplines and schools within NSU.