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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

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