All Speakers at the 2nd June Conference; ‘WW1 & Africa ; Legacies of Conflicts’ with Christine Locke, Diversity House CEO (3rd from right) and Rosemary Dymond , Diversity House Patron (next on the left) and Deputy Mayor of Swale, Cllr Samuel Koffie-Williams (centre).
Swale Borough Council in Sittingbourne came alive to the cries of the forgotten heroes – men, women and children from Africa who sacrificed their lives and experienced so many decades of instability as a result of their involvement in the First World War.
In a Conference recognising the great contribution of Africa and the impact of that war on ordinary Africans a century later, entitled: ‘WW1 and Africa: Legacies of Conflicts’ hosted by Diversity House in Sittingbourne on 2nd June, delegates from all over the world gained first-hand insights on the topic and the extent to which the repercussions of the war are still adversely affecting the continent today.
The Deputy Mayor of Swale, Councillor Samuel Koffie-Williams set the tone in his opening remarks when he noted that it was actually an African service man who fired the first shot in the earliest days of the war and that reverberations of that first shot are still being felt today throughout the continent.
Meanwhile Speaker, Dr George Njung from Michigan University demonstrated how his native Cameroon had been turned upside down and experienced years of political conflict and instability as a direct result of the war in 1914, creating a minority Anglophone problem and huge challenges to the ensuing process of nation building.
History Teacher and PhD candidate with Birkbeck College, John Siblon revealed how his extensive research on war memorials built after 1914 throughout UK showed how successive British governments had intentionally excluded the memory of African servicemen even though the memory of servicemen and women from the dominions were included.
It was left to Bishop Nigel McCulloch from the Royal British Legion to admit in his presentation that commemoration ceremonies by Britain had been neglectful and dismissive of the African contribution and pledged to reverse the practice in years to come. He gave a big ‘Thank you’ to all those Africans who had been ignored by successive commemoration services.
Much needed light relief and entertainment was provided by Soulamayne Compo and Wantunara Dance Ensemble at intervals. Participants were encouraged to dance and celebrate the memory of African servicemen and the one million men, women, children included as ordinary civilians who died as a result of the war. Even the Mayor of Maidstone, Cllr Malcolm Greer threw all formalities out of the window when he joined the dancing and tried his hand at drumming.
Mrs Christine Locke, CEO of Diversity House summed up the mood of the conference perfectly when she gave her closing remarks. She reminded the audience that “the Breaking the Myths project was not about recrimination but about giving a balanced and inclusive history of WW1 so that our young people can feel a sense of belonging and pride that their ancestors played their part and made sacrifices for the freedoms we enjoy today.”
Finally, Kat Francois, a performance poet, tasked with the role of rounding up the conference gave a resounding performance of the poem she had just created, “Remember Me” which resonated with the audience so much so they gave her a standing ovation and left the conference on a high note. It was a perfect way to conclude the discussions and reflections of the day.