Scotland welcomes a cultural infusion

October 24, 1997


THE FOUR-DAY Commonwealth heads of government meeting nestles within a dazzling array of celebratory events at Edinburgh University that began in June with a lecture from Commonwealth general secretary Chief Emeka Anyaoku, and will continue until December.

This month alone sees 14 lectures, exhibitions and conferences, offering a broad picture of what higher education can bring to Commonwealth debates. These include the overtly educational, with Dr G. K. T. Chiepe, minister for education in Botswana, arriving this week from a meeting of African education ministers to give the Commonwealth Education Council lecture and report on July's Commonwealth education ministers' conference.

More general concerns have been covered by a conference on sustainable communities, looking at the work of the Commonwealth Human Ecology Council and the United Nations commission on human settlements, and lectures by three recent major players on the Commonwealth stage.

Former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind has lectured on the costs of international peace-keeping, with former New Zealand prime minister David Lange speaking on proportional representation, and former Australian governor general Sir Ninian Stephen speaking on the war crimes tribunal.

"The university is significantly involved because of its long-standing international commitment, not least to a whole string of countries in the Commonwealth," says Edinburgh's principal, Sir Stewart Sutherland.

"We are part of the great Scottish contribution in the 19th and 20th centuries to the development of various countries that are now members of the Commonwealth. The role that our graduates played, whether as doctors, engineers, missionaries or administrators, is significant, but beyond that, the appreciation of the culture of many of the countries is very strong in the university, and informs our teaching and our research."

The university's centres of African and south Asian studies are particularly prominent in the programme. African studies this week held a conference titled "Running, Researching and Reporting Africa: Lessons Across the Commonwealth", and has also presented lectures by Julius Nyerere, former president of Tanzania, and David Western, director of Kenyan Wildlife Services.

The university's Talbot Rice Gallery is mounting an exhibition of new art from South Africa in collaboration with the University of Wi****ersrand. This is complemented by an exhibition in the university library, entitled "GallimAfrica", a portmanteau word meaning a gallimaufry or hotchpotch of Africana. The exhibits from Edinburgh's collections range from historical musical instruments to the death mask of an African hanged for murder in Scotland in 1847.

The library has also produced a new guide for researchers investigating the British empire and the Commonwealth, highlighting the richness of Edinburgh's resources.

"It also points to other places with significant collections, such as the Commonwealth Institute and the Royal Commonwealth Society library," says librarian Peter Freshwater.

The centre for south Asian studies has joined with the music faculty to host the annual conference of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, on music in the post-colonial world. The centre's lecture series includes Rosalind O'Hanlon of Clare College, Cambridge, speaking on gender and history in South Asia, and Sasanka Pereira of the University of Colombo reporting on women's experiences in "post-terror" southern Sri Lanka.

Other lectures mark the 50th anniversary of Indian and Pakistani independence, with Krishna Kumar of Delhi University looking ahead to Indian education in the 21st century, while Mushiral Hasan of Jamia Milia University in New Delhi will speak next month on "Muslims in India: Legacy of a Divided Nation", followed by Sunil Khilnani of Birkbeck College on "The Idea of India".

The university's closing event is its Commonwealth lecture in December, given by the high commissioner for India, Dr L. M. Singhvi, on Indian democracy 50 years on.

Most of its events are open to the public, and Bill Gilmore, professor of international criminal law, says one reason for the programme is to give people the opportunity to find out more about the Commonwealth and make up their own minds about its value.

"My personal prejudice is that a significant part of the general public don't need to have their awareness raised about the nature and relevance of the Commonwealth because of the frequency with which one runs into people who have some connection with Commonwealth countries," says Professor Gilmore, who formerly worked in the Commonwealth secretariat.

"One of the advantages of having a CHOGM in the United Kingdom may be to help raise the awareness of our politicians of the fact that there is a wider world out there than the member countries of the European Union."

The university itself must maintain a balance between recognising the growing importance of the EU without losing sight of Britain's existence in a global community, he says.

Two hundred young people, including students, from more than 50 Commonwealth countries, are taking part in the Commonwealth Youth Forum, supported by the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council and the Scottish Community Education Council.

Leonard Mulenga, a Zambian postgraduate in the University of Wales College of Cardiff's city and regional planning department, is a facilitator for the forum's debate on education, training and employment.

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