Skip to content

The leader in the room

Elikya Bokanga, SSH’16, showcased award-​​winning diplomatic acumen and strong man­age­ment skills at the 12th Annual National Model African Union Con­fer­ence in Washington, D.C. last month.

As Zambia’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the Tech­nical Com­mittee on Regional Eco­nomic Com­mu­ni­ties, he ended a quar­rel­some debate over a pro­posal to estab­lish a uni­form African cur­rency before it divided the group. The com­mittee chair—a fellow student—responded by rewarding him with the team’s lone lead­er­ship award.

“I motioned to use the amendment to alter the language of the proposal, thus resolving the biggest point of contention,” said Bokanga, a third-​​year international affairs major from Nairobi, Kenya. “The committee chair most likely considered it the first display of lead­er­ship in the room and gave me the credit.”

Bokanga was one of five Northeastern students—and one of hundreds of under­grad­u­ates from more than 40 of the nation’s colleges and universities—who par­tic­i­pated in the four-​​day event. At the con­fer­ence, each student team represented a pre-​​assigned member state of the African Union, which was established in 2002. The pro­ceed­ings mirrored those of the AU, with students sitting on com­mit­tees and discussing, debating, and writing res­o­lu­tions on today’s most pressing issues in Africa.

The Northeastern students spent seven weeks preparing for the con­fer­ence in a spring semester course taught by Kwamina Pan­ford, an associate professor of African American Studies in the College of Social Sciences and Human­i­ties. It was not uncommon for them to spend sev­eral hours per week reading policy state­ments, con­ducting inter­views, and doing inde­pen­dent research on topics ranging from energy and eco­nomic devel­op­ment to democ­racy and polit­ical crises in places like Mali, Somalia, and the South Sudan.

The lessons learned in class and at the con­fer­ence fell into two cat­e­gories: the per­sonal and the polit­ical. “Stu­dents learn a lot about them­selves, team work, and how they per­ceive Africa,” said Pan­ford, an African cit­izen from Ghana. “They also learn how con­straining pol­i­tics, diplo­macy, inter­na­tional rela­tions, and gov­erning coun­tries can be.”

Abi­gail Oyeniran, BHS’17, rep­re­sented Zambia on the exec­u­tive council. She noted that her expe­ri­ence reinforced her desire to be part of Africa’s ascent to global prominence, saying, “I am very passionate about Africa and want to see it reach its potential.” As a case in point, the third-​​year phys­ical therapy major hopes to work on co-​​op at a health clinic or hospital in Nigeria, her family’s home country.

“The Model AU is not only about building resumes,” she said. “It is also about cre­ating real change in the lives of those who need it the most. Although this requires much prepa­ra­tion and unwa­vering ded­i­ca­tion, I plan to do more of this in the future.”

Added Bokanga: “It’s impor­tant that people start thinking about Africa as more than a poor place with civil wars. There is far more to it than that.”

– By Jason Kornwitz

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish