When people say Rwanda, the word violence inevitably comes to mind. But professor Steven Livingston hopes the world will soon think of peace, reconciliation and coffee when the African nation is mentioned.
Livingston, a political communications professor and the interim director of the School of Media and Public Affairs, will be leading a trip to Rwanda to observe the politics, history and fair trade issues facing the country today – namely by studying the vibrant coffee industry.
“The objective is just to give interested parties … an opportunity to go away from stereotypes,” Livingston said.
Livingston witnessed first-hand the effects of the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed hundreds of thousands of people. At the time, he was doing research in neighboring Sudan. Since then, Livingston has spoken of his experiences and research to audiences, including United Nations representatives and various think tanks.
Livingston continues his studies of the land-locked country and “knows many of the key players” in Rwandan politics. “I have had a deep interest in Rwanda for several years,” he said.
His interests are especially focused on the study of transnational civil societies and fair trade, particularly with the growing numbers of Rwandan coffee cooperatives.
“I found that a lot of my students are interested in the same kinds of concerns,” said Livingston about his decision to open the trip to GW students.
Livingston has teamed up with Kimberly Easson, the founder and president of Java Ventures, a San Francisco company that organizes educational tours to coffee-producing regions, to organize the tour. Java Venture tours are usually geared toward taking people in the coffee industry to coffee-making countries.
Although the trip is not an official GW excursion, Livingston has opened up five spots for interested GW students to join the group and receive independent study credits for the 10-day tour.
“I think it will be beneficial for the students, too, to understand the opportunities and challenges that businesses face,” Easson said.
Lina Musayev, founder of the United Students for Fair Trade, encouraged students to take the trip.
“The best way to understand any issue is to see it with your own eyes,” said Musayev, a graduate student and presidential administrative fellow.
The trip, which starts May 26, has a current itinerary that includes an official briefing at the U.S. Embassy about Rwanda’s current situation, visits to farming communities and time to observe the coffee production process. Participants will also get a chance to see the famous natural beauty of the country, not to mention the mountain gorillas of Volcanoes National Park.