Human rights lawyer and geographer to visit as Distinguished Africanist Scholars


Kenyan human rights lawyer Maina Kiai will speak at the IAD seminar on Sept. 27.

The Institute for African Development (IAD) welcomes two leading thinkers as its Fall 2018 Distinguished Africanist Scholars. Maina Kiai, a human rights lawyer from Kenya, will be at Cornell from Sept. 26 to Oct. 3. Sophie Oldfield, a geographer at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, will visit from Oct. 11 to 25.

Distinguished Africanist Scholars engage with the Cornell and Ithaca communities through public lectures, performances, group discussions, classroom visits and other activities. They also collaborate on training, instruction and research with Cornell faculty and students.

“This is a great opportunity for the Cornell community to engage directly with some of the most pressing issues in African development,” said IAD director Muna Ndulo, Cornell Law School professor. “The presence of Africanist academics at Cornell enriches African area studies immeasurably and enhances the intellectual vitality of the university.”

Kiai and Oldfield will speak as part of IAD’s fall seminar series, “Sustainable Development Goals and the Challenges of Inclusive Growth.” Kiai’s talk on Sept. 27, “Human Rights and Constitutional Reform,” will take place at 2:30 p.m. in G08 Uris Hall. Oldfield’s presentation, “High Stakes, High Hopes: Creating Collaborative Urban Theory,” will take place on Oct. 19 at 12:30 p.m. at Becker House. It will also be part of the department of city and regional planning’s CRP Colloquium Series and is cosponsored by Becker House.

Kiai was the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association from 2011 until 2017. A lawyer trained at Nairobi and Harvard Universities, he has spent the last 20 years campaigning for human rights and constitutional reform in Kenya. He gained a national reputation for his advocacy against official corruption, in support of political reform and against impunity following the violence that convulsed Kenya after the 2007 presidential elections.

Kiai was nominated for the Distinguished Africanist Scholar Program by Aziz Rana of Cornell Law School, where he will also give a lecture.

Oldfield was nominated by Neema Kudva in the department of city and regional planning. An internationally recognized expert on urbanization, she is co-editor-in-chief of the journal Urban Forum and served as co-editor of the “Routledge Handbook on Cities of the Global South” (2014).

“Professor Oldfield’s deep interest and commitments to collaborative knowledge-building in southern cities makes her work central to ours in the field and profession of urban planning,” Kudva wrote in her nomination letter. “Of particular interest to us is Professor Oldfield’s track record of excellence in collaborative research practice, challenging how academics work in and between ‘university’ and ‘community.’”

Previous IAD scholars include the late poet and activist Dennis Brutus, who also spoke at Ithaca High School on restorative justice, forgiveness and his imprisonment on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, and Pumla Gobodo Madikizela, senior research professor in trauma, memory and forgiveness at the University of the Free State in South Africa and author of “A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness.”

Jonathan Miller is associate director for communications at the Einaudi Center.