Mayor Honors BenAicha, Native of North Africa, With Citizen Citation

After receiving the Citizen Citation by Providence Mayor Angel Taveras for his leadership in the Mayor’s African Working Group, Tunisian-born Hedi BenAicha, director of RIC’s Adams Library, spoke passionately about the role of Africa in enriching American culture and economics. He said the table we sit at together ought to be big enough for everyone.

BenAicha was one of 10 members of the Mayor’s African Working Group recognized for being ”a voice for individuals and families of African heritage in Providence,” for promoting their interests, businesses and services and for serving as a source through which the greater Providence community may explore African history and its diverse cultures.

With more than 40 African countries represented in Rhode Island, BenAicha’s desire is that the greater Providence community have more than a remedial history of the African continent and that the educational and business opportunities for Africans in the state be broadened in scope and number.

This April the Mayor’s African Working Group will fund a trip for African middle and high school students to Washington, D.C. They will tour embassies, meet with the congressional delegation and visit such historic places as the National Mall, the White House and the Smithsonian museum. The goal, BenAicha said, is to build in African youth a sense of civic responsibility, help them understand the U.S. governmental body, educate them on the voting process and teach them to become change agents in government at all levels. 

BenAicha is also reaching out to Africans across the Atlantic through a Rhode Island organization he co-founded – the Rivers of Africa Institute (RAI). RAI’s mission is to build economic, educational and cultural exchanges between the United States and Africa.

“Historically, the United States has focused on China and European nations when forming economic and educational partnerships,” he said. “RAI’s mission is to promote partnerships between the U.S. and African nations. We’d like to create student exchanges, lecture exchanges, program exchanges and even book exchanges to generate awareness of the continent.”

BenAicha said that he chose the name Rivers of Africa Institute because rivers reflect Africa’s poetic history. He said, “Rivers are ever-flowing and have no territory. They go from one place to another. The sediment in rivers is filled with nutrients, enriching the land and the lives of those who use it. Rivers create civilizations, and Africans have built and enriched civilizations for centuries.”

He added, “Africa is also the most assimilative place in the world. Those who enter it do not conquer it but become absorbed by it.” 

RAI consists of five members – a member from Nigeria, the Republic of Cameroon, Tunisia, one of mixed race – Italian, African and Portuguese – and African American. “As professionals – through business, entrepreneurial and educational partnerships – we hope to bring Africa’s richness and resources to the table,” he said. African American History Month, which commemorates the contributions to our nation by people of African descent, is a fitting time for such table talks.

BenAicha recently announced that he will be leaving Rhode Island College after five years. His farewell reception will be held on Feb. 20, from 4 to 6 p.m., in the Fortes Room of Adams Library.