COE International Symposium

Multidimensionality of Displacement Risks in Africa

Opening Speech


Dr. Mitsuo Ichikawa

Director of the Center for African Area Studies, Kyoto University

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is our great pleasure to welcome all of you to Kyoto, and to the International Symposium on Multidimensionality of Displacement Risks in Africa.This symposium is organized by the Center for African Area Studies of Kyoto University and the African Cluster of COE (Center of Excellence) program, which is sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.

The Center for African Area Studies was established in 1986, some 16 years ago, as the first center devoted to African area studies in Japan. However, the history of African area studies at Kyoto University dates back to the late 1950s, when the founder of the Center, the late Professor Junichiro Itani made a preliminary ecological and anthropological research in eastern and central Africa.  Earlier studies at the Center were ecologically oriented, with particular interests in the evolutionary history of humanity, or the basic human nature represented by diversity of cultural forms.  Gradually, research has expanded to other fields, including inter-disciplinary approaches to contemporary issues, such as rural development, sustainable use of the environment, and socio-cultural problems in multi-ethnic African societies.  This shift of interest is understandable because most of the problems that our contemporary world is facing, such as environmental destruction, poverty or North-South disparity, and ethnic or regional conflicts, are concentrated in Africa.  And, human displacement, the theme of this symposium, is one of such serious problems on the continent.


The COE, of which this symposium forms a part, started in 1998 for establishing a strong base for Asian and African Area Studies at Kyoto University.  During the last four years, we have been working on a research project entitled "Making regions: Proto-areas, Transformation and New Formation in Asia and Africa."  We are now in the fifth and final year of this program.  Before concluding the current program and launching a new COE program called "The 21st Century COE program on Area Studies," we wanted to organize an international symposium.  The idea of having this symposium on various issues of displacement in Africa came from Dr. Itaru Ohta and Dr. Yntiso Gebre, who are the actual organizers.  Dr. Ohta has a rich experience in anthropological research on the pastoral people in northern Kenya and refugee camps situated in this area.  Dr. Gebre is also an anthropologist and a specialist on the refugee and displacement issues.  Currently, he is a COE research fellow at our Department of African Area Studies. They will explain the aim and background of the symposium in more details.

I hope this symposium will improve our understanding of the displacement problems that the African peoples are facing.  I would like to thank all of the participants for their interest and efforts in helping us organize this symposium.  And particularly, I want to express my appreciation to the participants who have traveled a long distance and taken their valuable time to attend the symposium.  Thank you.



Dr. Itaru Ohta

Co-organizer of the Symposium


Good morning!  Allow me to address you, as one of the organizers of this symposium.

I think this is the first opportunity to hold an international symposium in Japan that focuses on displacement in Africa, and attended by prominent scholars from around the world.  For most of the Japanese people, Africa is very far not only in geographical terms but also in a historical sense.  Consequently, only little is known about the African continent.  I think this symposium offers a wonderful opportunity to deepen our understanding of the African continent in general, and the displacement risks that the African people are facing in particular.

All the scholars who will make presentations in this symposium have broad and deep knowledge of human displacements in Africa.  Most of the speakers also have various experiences of working in international agencies, such as the UNHCR, the World Bank, and USAID.  They have been involved in activities aimed at addressing displacement problems, and have rich experiences to share with us.  I am sure that this symposium provides exciting opportunities to exchange ideas and broaden our scope.

This symposium would not have been materialized without the help of organizations and individuals to whom we are indebted.  First of all, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the participants.  We have thirteen speakers in this symposium; nine speakers from overseas and four from Japan.  I am very grateful especially to foreign scholars who made a long journey all the way to Kyoto from different places of the world.

Financially, much of the fund for this symposium came from the COE program, as Dr. Ichikawa has mentioned.  Apart from this, we obtained financial support from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the Japan Association of African Studies, and the Japan Association of Nilo-Ethiopian Studies.  We are very grateful to these organizations for their contributions. 

Now, let me introduce to you Dr. Yntiso Gebre who has organized this symposium with me.  He is now working as a visiting researcher in our Center for African Area Studies, Kyoto University.  Thank you.

Dr. Yntiso Gebre

Co-organizer of the Symposium


Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen!  Welcome to our symposium!

I am honored to address you at the opening of the Center of Excellence International Symposium on "Multidimensionality of Displacement Risks in Africa."  First of all, I would like to thank Dr. Itaru Ohta for inviting me to co-organize the symposium with him.  Indeed, it was a privilege to work with him.

When we started planning for this meeting, our first challenge was identifying the right topic.  After a series of informal discussions, we came up with two topics: (1) population displacement and (2) drought and food security, both of which are issues of current relevance.  We agreed to focus on displacement.  The decision to select this topic was partly dictated by our recent research experiences with people affected by displacement processes.  We were also aware of the fact that population displacement is a global problem.

Africa in particular has the highest share of displaced people in the world.  It has been estimated that 30% of the world's refugees and 60% of the world's internally displaced persons are found in Africa.  Today, in Africa alone, more than 17 million people are displaced, and more people will be displaced in the future.  In addition to war and civil conflict, there are other significant causes of displacement.  Development programs, urban renewal, natural resource conservation programs, and natural disasters will uproot many African people in the decades to come.  In view of these facts, we thought it was important to make displacement the focus of this symposium so that we may share research experience, broaden our perspective, and discuss how academic knowledge may be translated into policy language.

We did not want the symposium to be too broad and less focused.  As you may have noticed from the program, however, we are still dealing with many issues and types of displacement: refugees, development-induced resettlers, famine-induced relocatees, host populations, conservation-related relocation, and reintegration of displaced people, including demobilized soldiers.  It is important to note that all these deal with population displacement.  In the literature, these different forms of displacement are usually treated as compartmentalized fields of study.  Researchers working in these fields hardly communicate with each other, as evidenced by limited cross-referencing.  In recent years, attempts have been made by some scholars to break the walls separating these related fields.  For this symposium, intentionally, we invited scholars from a wide range of fields to promote cross-boundary communication. 

We wanted this symposium to be an important meeting; a meeting that is loud enough to be heard outside of this conference room, outside of Kyoto, and outside of Japan. To achieve this goal, we decided to invite prominent and distinguished scholars from around the world.  Identifying internationally-recognized researchers and securing their consent to prepare papers for a symposium on Africa to be held in Japan was the scariest step to take.  To our delight, all of the presenters here expressed interest and kindly promised to take part in our symposium.  We are honored to have them here with us today.  Without their time and commitment, our plan would not have been materialized.  On behalf of Dr. Ohta and myself, I would like to express our deepest thanks and appreciation to all of them.


Today, we are in the last, and the most important, phase of the symposium.  The fate of this meeting is now in the hands of the presenters and the general participants.  It is time for all of us to take charge and responsibility.  We are expecting intellectually stimulating presentations and active participation from the audience. 

According to the program, there are four sessions.  The first three sessions are devoted to presentation of individual papers to be followed by questions and discussions.  The fourth session is a forum for open discussion and debate.  To set the ground for the roundtable discussion, we have asked Dr. Michael Cernea to present a synthesis of all of the papers at the beginning of the last session.  I would like to take this opportunity to ask other presenters and participants to identify during the symposium some key and common points for discussion in the final session. 

Although the symposium is being held in an academic environment, hopefully we also might come up with a collective message and policy recommendations.  Let us hope that what we are discussing here in Kyoto, today and tomorrow, will make a difference in Africa and beyond.  Thank you!