By Sarah Geegan, Blair Helwig, Kody Kiser
For Fraternel Amuri Misako, pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky amounts to much more than enhancing his career. It represents his freedom to conduct his important research without the threat of political persecution.
A visiting scholar from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Amuri came to UK in 2010 through the Institute for International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund, an organization that aides scholars whose academic freedom and physical safety are threatened in their home countries.
He recently defended his landmark dissertation through a tri-national committee, consisting of two faculty members from UK, two from France and two from Congo, coordinated via videoconferencing.
Amuri's research, which focuses on rural populations, mostly young men, children as combatants, began long before he came to the U.S. However, in 1998, one week before Amuri was scheduled to graduate and receive his bachelor's degree in political science and administration, the Second Congo War erupted, postponing his graduation.
The subsequent conflict became the base of Amuri's research interests.
"From these events of wars, I got inspiration of doing my research focused on social movements linked to violence and religion in eastern Congo," Amuri said. "In particular, I was interested in militias called Mai Mai who were fighting the rebels supported by the Rwandan army. Those militias were basically rural populations living in isolated areas, poor and facing more challenges about the social problems like health care, education, economic problems related to roads, access to manufactured goods, and exploitation of minerals, and the security matters."
Amuri was unable to publish his research in the Congo, however, for fear of castigation from either the rebels or the government.
"How we could be dealing with the problem of academic freedom in the Congo," Amuri said. "During the war we couldn’t really be working as a scholar because everyone could just be aware of how the rebels were ready to kill."
However, in 2010, through the IIE Scholar Rescue fund, which provides matching grants for institutions to host a scholar for one year with potential for renewal, Amuri became a part of the UK Department of Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences. With his strong background in the social sciences and the interdisciplinary nature of his research, which combines the aspects of anthropology and political science, he began learning English and later teaching courses.
Amuri defended his dissertation on Oct. 20, via petition to the Université de Kisangani in Congo. The Université de Kisangani, long isolated from the global community because of the conflicts and politics in the region, agreed to this defense as a symbol of their desire to become part of the international academic community.
Live-streaming from Lafferty Hall, Amuri appeared in his cap and robe to over 150 of his family members and supporters in the Congo, and his sister sang a victory song in celebration of his achievement.
"I was not sure I could defend my Ph.D., from here, but I did it," Amuri said.
Amuri's wife and four children attended UK's Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 6, when he officially received his Ph.D.
"So this can help me really be mentally, psychologically speaking as a real doctor, yes," Amuri said. "And for my family it’s a big joy, a joy to see me working alongside other doctors."
Amuri will conduct his post-doctoral research at UK as well.
"I have to say honestly the University of Kentucky has chosen me and I accepted," Amuri said. "Now I can say I have chosen UK, but at the beginning, at the origin, UK has chosen me, and I am thankful."