Two delegations of Hobart and William Smith students representing Nigeria and South Africa recently participated in the inaugural Model African Union (Model AU) regional conference at Colgate University where they joined undergraduates from peer institutions to address some of today’s most critical issues facing the continent.
The conference, which connected members of the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium, gave students a window to the structure and discourse of real-life international relations focused on Africa. Driven by thoughtful debate, critical thinking and consensus building, the students worked together to arrive at resolutions on issues ranging from economic development and gender equity to agriculture and security measures.
At the conference, Ato Bentsi-Enchill ’17, Donovan Hayden ’19 and Afrika Nora Owes ’16 formed the Nigerian delegation, and Teianna Chenkovich ’18, Mary King ’17 and Sam van Etten ’17 represented the delegation from South Africa. Each student also joined with delegates from other nations to convene subcommittees to deliberate on issues. For their efforts, Hayden and Owes each received a Model AU award for being an outstanding delegate.
“The Model African Union was invigorating,” Hayden says. “Standing up against the entire committee and arguing for Nigerian sovereignty was exciting. In the Model AU a delegate must know their country, represent that country’s issues, and find the most effective way to get those beliefs into legislation. It collected some great minds and opened a dialogue about Africa in and outside of committees. This trip left me with the realization that African issues at the core are the same as the issues that face African Americans.”
Owes says the conference at Colgate was the perfect opportunity to network with peers and discuss common academic interests.
“Participating in the Model AU was a great opportunity to learn more about a different country in Africa and connect with other students interested in African studies,” Owes says. “There were a few students from South Africa and Zimbabwe, and I recently returned from South Africa, so I was able to talk about South African music, politics and even speak a little isiXhosa. I was able to relive the excitement of study abroad through connecting with students who also knew about South African culture.”
Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology Christopher Annear, who served as the lead adviser on the project, says the Model AU marked an excellent opportunity for students to apply elements of their work in HWS Africana Studies to a firsthand experience off campus. Annear says preparing the students was a collaborative effort among Africana Studies faculty and staff colleagues.
Professor of Economics Alan Frishman advised the Nigerian delegations and Assistant Professor of History Elizabeth Thornberry served as the adviser for the group from South Africa. The Centennial Center for Leadership (CCL) Program Manager for Global and Community Leadership Programs Solomé Rose was the on-site adviser during the conference. Professor of Political Science Kevin Dunn and Assistant Professor and Chair of Africana Studies James McCorkle ’76 also offered their guidance.
Prior to this year’s regional event, Annear says Professor Emeritus of French and Francophone Studies George Joseph had routinely advised students for their participation in the National Model African Union Conference at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Annear says the conference facilitator, Mary Moran P’13, Professor of Anthropology and Africana & Latin American Studies at Colgate, spearheaded connecting the New York Six institutions for the inaugural event.
For Chenkovich, King and van Etten, their participation in the conference also served as a prerequisite for their upcoming study abroad experience to South Africa in spring 2016. In preparation, Annear says the students met several times ahead of the conference, focusing on issues from a South African perspective.
“I thought that the Model AU was a great experience,” van Etten says. “It was exciting to be surrounded by people who took the simulation seriously, and I found myself getting invested in how debates would play out. I had to fight to get my resolution passed, and the extra effort made it even better when the council voted to pass it.”
Bentsi-Enchill says: “It was a particularly enriching experience in which I networked with students interested in Africa and who want to work toward its development. As someone whose long-term goal is to positively affect Africa’s future, I was happy to build this foundation by learning more about the processes of the African Union and generate discourse with future leaders.”
The HWS delegates also have the opportunity to further apply their Model AU experience to the work they are doing at the Colleges, Rose says. For example, Owes is using her experience with the Model AU as part of her practicum for the HWS Leads Certificate Program at CCL.
“There are many reasons why this was a great experience for students,” Rose says. “First, it exposed students to African politics at large. Second, it provided exposure to real issues that people of the continent deal with. And, it also gave the opportunity for our students to interact with like-minded students in the New York Six.”
Participation in the Model AU compliments a number of other events happening this fall in association with the Africana Studies Program, including the “New Perspectives on African Literature” symposium hosted by the African Literature Association at HWS on Friday, Nov. 6, as well as an African Lecture Series presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 10, by Benjamin Lawrance, the Hon. Barber B. Conable Jr. Endowed Chair of International and Global Studies at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).