Africa in Our Lives: Anitha Quintin

Anitha Quintin graduated in May 2021 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, Political Science, and International Studies with an emphasis in Global Security. Her interest in internationally oriented politics finds its roots in her immigrant household’s unique cultural blend. She grew up hearing and speaking French and Kannada in her home, and later pursued studies in German and Korean. Through her language studies, she was exposed to new cultures and perspectives, and sought undergraduate fields of study which would allow her to use her passion for languages to effect tangible change. She continues to develop her language skills in the classroom and by volunteering as a French and Korean language tutor to both university and high school students. After graduation, Anitha will be going to South Korea on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.    

Anitha won the third annual $1000 African Studies undergraduate paper award for her honors thesis. She wrote her thesis in Political Science, entitled “« Moyens Forts» de Revendication: Understanding Malian youth protests 1992-2012” with the support of an Honors Senior Thesis Grant on the impact of youth protests in Mali over the past three decades.   

Congratulations on your award and graduation. Tell us about your thesis. What made you interested in this topic?   

“I have been interested in Francophone Africa as a region for a long time, but my interest in Mali began when I took a course on conflict in the Sahara-Sahel while studying abroad at Sciences Po. In the proposal I sent to my advisor, Dr. Scott Straus, I had originally wanted to study the 2012 Tuareg Rebellion in northern Mali, but after speaking with some experts on the topic, I learned of youth protests at the time whose role was understudied. This inspired me to look into Malian youth protests, and when I learned of their instrumental role in the advent of Malian democracy, I knew I had to focus my work on the subject.”

What was your research process? 

“My analysis relied on two types of data which I collected. To establish the context and patterns in Malian youth protests, I logged reports of such protests found in Nexis Uni’s international news database. I used the key words “Mali”, “youth”, and “student” to find relevant reports. Using the data I collected, I was able to paint a picture of Malian youth protests during this time—largely controlled by the Association des Eleves et des Etudiants du Mali (AEEM) and dropping off in frequency at the turn of the millennium.  

“To answer my research question of why Malian youth defaulted to protest as their primary method of advocacy, I interviewed former members of the student organization AEEM. Due to security concerns in Mali and the ongoing pandemic, these interviews were conducted virtually after securing IRB approval. The interviews were conducted in French and lasted 45-90 minutes, during which I asked the members to introduce themselves, to discuss their experience as a protestor, and to explain why they chose to protest. This experience of conducting interviews was incredibly rewarding, as I was able to hear and record the history of Mali’s pro-democracy movement and subsequent student movement directly from the movements’ leadership.”  

 What advice do you have for other undergraduates interested in learning more about Africa? 

“I would encourage any undergraduates who are interested in Africa to engage with their interests as much as possible. Africa is such a large continent with a myriad of cultures and histories; consequently, there are innumerable paths down which your interests can lead you. Whether you are interested in politics, history, culture, language, literature… reach out to professors at UW-Madison and other universities who study such topics and engage with them and their work.  

“Through my research, the political power which Malian youth hold became painfully apparent—it is not every day that a national government is so threatened by a student organization that it will stage a coup in the organization’s leadership. However, those whom I interviewed spoke of the lack of interest in their country and in its youth. This was incredibly difficult to hear, so I hope that those with an interest in any facet of African cultures and politics will continue to research and record these incredibly important topics.”    

What was the most impactful thing you learned from your research and work in African Studies?  

“Having the opportunity to speak with former AEEM members and record their experiences as a part of my research helped to build confidence in my work. As an undergraduate student living halfway across the world from Mali, I was still able to conduct original research and contribute to the broader understanding of Malian politics.” 

 What’s next for you? 

 “I am currently working in the Corporate & Legislative Affairs Department of CUNA Mutual here in Madison before leaving to South Korea as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant. I hope to find myself in a career related to international law and foreign policy in the future, but I am excited to spend some time traveling and learning about new cultures before attending graduate school.”

Produced by Carly Lucas