Praxis Internship in Tanzania Leads to International Conference in Europe
After working last summer through the Praxis Internship Program, as a research assistant at the Nyrere Center for Peace Research in Tanzania, Bridget Rhinehart ’12 was invited last month to present her findings at an international conference on criminal law in Africa at the Max Planck Institute in Freiburg, Germany. Rhinehart was the only undergraduate invited to present at the gathering of international scholars. She recently responded to questions about the internship and the conference for the Gate.
Gate: Can you describe your Praxis internship in Tanzania?
Bridget Rhinehart: I focused on two main projects: 1) research and writing for a book on Hissene Habre, the dictator from Chad (1982-1990) and the prosecutions against him internationally for human rights abuses committed during his regime. I was asked by the three authors of the book (including my supervisor) to write a chapter in the book on the political history of Chad and the Hissene Habre regime. I completed the chapter in September upon my return to Smith and I am continuing to work with my supervisor with research assistance on the rest of the book. And 2) indexing African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC) decisions for conflict analysis, from 2004, according to country and topic. This will be published in a book on the African Union PSC. After completing this I began work on a short conflict analysis for the country of Libya in relation to the PSC decisions from 2004. This will be published in 2012 with other country analysis.
Gate: How did you become interested in Africa, and in Tanzania?
BR: I first became interested in Africa in high school through work with the Darfur movement and a job shadow with the department of Refugee Services in Portland, Maine. At Smith I am an African Studies minor and I have been taking Swahili since my first year. Swahili is primarily spoken in East Africa, and this is what led me to decide to study abroad in Tanzania. During my study abroad program I studied at the Nyerere Center in conjunction with my program. I applied for the internship through Praxis, and the work I have been doing is a result of the needs of the center at that time. I am particularly interested in peace and security studies and hope to work in conflict resolution some day, so the work with Hissene Habre and the AU PSC fit directly with these goals.
All of the subject matter I dealt with this summer related to African politics, development and society. I found that my studies in international politics and international law also helped me greatly in providing perspective and a wider context for my work. Additionally, I found that the accumulation of research and writing that I have done at Smith was invaluable. I found I was more qualified to do the writing and research than other coworkers my age.
Gate: What was the focus of your presentation in Freiberg?
BR: The focus of my presentation was on the research and writing I did for the book on Hissene Habre. At the conference I presented the facts of each of the legal cases against him. I presented my own analysis of how this case study is an example of a failure to find a solution within Africa to an African problem.
Gate: What does it mean to you to be the only student invited to present at the international conference?
BR: It has been an incredibly humbling and honoring experience. I was in the midst of doctoral candidates, lawyers, UN professionals, professors and people from the African Union and the International Criminal Court. I felt under-qualified but realized that the information I was presenting was knowledge that not many people had. I looked at it as providing information to the conference participants who may then put it to practical use in their everyday work.
Gate: How important was the Praxis Program in enabling your research in Tanzania?
BR: Praxis was absolutely critical to my ability to pursue this project. Prior to last summer I had not been able to ever go abroad or pursue an internship because I had to work and make money to pay my tuition. Praxis allowed me to pay my tuition contribution and do work that was truly meaningful and invaluable to my education and career aspirations.