A July 21 op-ed in The Washington Post examined political turmoil occurring more than 7,000 miles away as the African nation of Burundi held its presidential election. Describing the months of escalating violence and unrest leading up to the controversial re-election of Pierre Nkurunziza in that article was none other than Mary Baldwin University Assistant Professor of Political Science Cara Jones.
A passion for the region, links with a network of scholars and development professionals, and an active Twitter account (@profcarajones) played a role in Jones’ emergence this year as an expert regarding Burundian politics for outlets such as The Post, Al Jazeera, Politico, Vox, and The Guardian.
Jones’ interest in the Great Lakes territory of Central Africa began in elementary school, when, as a fifth grader, she learned about the Rwandan genocide.
“I remember seeing stories on television at the time, and wanting to understand political violence and mass killing and why people behaved the way they did,” Jones said. “I ended up going to graduate school in political science, and wanted to specialize in mass atrocity and conflict prevention. I had an advisor who told me to go do some fieldwork there, and fell in love with Burundi the moment I stepped off the plane. I love the people, culture, land, and mostly everything about it.”
Much like Rwanda, Burundi also endured a civil war that saw bitter fighting between Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. Although the nation has experienced relative peace since the war ended in 2005, that reconciliation has been threatened with a coup attempt, assassinations, and violent protests since April when Nkurunziza announced he would seek an unconstitutional third term. The United States has characterized the election as “deeply flawed,” and international observers worry about the affect the unrest will have on the region.
Jones keeps up with news from Burundi by following Twitter news and connecting with friends and research assistants in that country. She also traveled to the region this summer. Her interest has spilled over to her work with Mary Baldwin students, who have enrolled in Jones’ courses in African Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, China in the Developing World, Middle East Politics, Latin American Politics, Civil Wars in the International System, and more.
“I try to draw on examples from my own work in the classroom — to show students how they can pursue work that is meaningful, relevant to what they are studying, and current,” Jones said. “We are in the early stages of planning a May Term [trip] to Rwanda, which students seem really excited about.”