Omiyi: A continent beyond its struggle

In a recent article, the News noted that there are not many students from Africa enrolled in Yale College (“Admissions officers travel to Africa,” Oct. 21). In the diagram of Africa highlighting the number of students from each country, there was a “2” superimposed on the West African country of Nigeria.

I’m one of those two.

I remember coming to Yale. Like most eager freshmen, I was blown away by the tradition and opportunity that it presented; I filled my schedule with Master’s Teas, film screenings and lectures.

But as time went by, I began to notice a trend. The dance party “Around The World” was sponsored by a number of cultural organizations, but the African Students Association wasn’t one of them. An international film festival had films from all over the world, but none from Africa. Extracurricular programming abounded, but Africa was missing. It was almost as if someone had cut the continent — my continent — out of the world map.

When I looked specifically for people discussing Africa, I only found lectures named “The Crisis in Sudan/Congo/Somalia” or classes like “African Poverty and Western Aid.” Africa’s only place on campus was as a place of turmoil and discord that the Western world was trying desperately to save from itself.

I wasn’t, therefore, too surprised that people knew little about Africa. It had only taken a couple of months in the U.S. to learn not to respond with a blank stare when people commented, “Wow, you speak such good English!” (English is the official language of Nigeria.) I’ve stopped being shocked when people wonder if I live in a hut or a tree, have cars or televisions in my country. But it was troubling to see that only a few people at Yale were particularly interested in an Africa that wasn’t bloodied and war torn. The Africa I knew growing up, and that I am still in the process of discovering — a continent with a rich history that is crafting for itself a modern identity — is not the Africa that I was being presented with. And it still isn’t.

While it is true that Africa is currently dealing with a lot of conflict and political strife, it is also a continent with an identity outside of our struggles and suffering. And while this turmoil shapes us as people and nations, it isn’t our defining characteristic. Africa has a rich history dating back at least 3,000 years B.C. (Before Colonialism). And after we gained our independence, our culture has continued to grow and evolve into a distinct voice in the global discourse. Africans today are making contributions in all areas: names like Kofi Annan, Fela Kuti and Nelson Mandela are part of common discourse, but there are also many you many not have heard of — Kimmie Weeks, Chimamanda Adichie, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Morgan Tsvangirai to name a few — whose work keeps the continent moving forward along with the rest of the world.

Africa is not a problem to be solved but a continent rich with untapped opportunity. The rest of the world’s representation of and involvement in Africa should focus not on disaster and charity but on progress and partnership. Given the countless obstacles we have faced and overcome, it should be obvious to everyone that Africa is not ‘fragile’ and ‘frail’ but resilient.

This week was Africa Week — an annual celebration sponsored by the African Students Association. Our theme was “Africa Rising.” Africa has been rising for a while now. It’s about time we paid attention.

Angela Omiyi is a senior in Saybrook College. She is a member of the African Students Association.

Comments

  • Kwabena

    “Africa is not ‘fragile’ and ‘frail’ but resilient.” Well put!

  • Ivy

    YESSS!!!! Thank you for saying the things we’re all feeling.
    Hopefully now people will stop sponsoring events and talks (and parties?) and leaving the very vibrant African community out of them.

  • Hmm…

    Author notes that she is one of “2” students from Africa.

    Author then is surprised–and complains–when a) a dance party was not sponsored by “the African Students Association.”

    If surprised, then that implies that author is not a member of said org, hence, has little interest in said org, hence, really has no right to complain. If author feels otherwise, one wonders: “where were YOU?”

    Author goes on to complain that an international film festival had “none from Africa.” One again wonders: if it is so important, “where were YOU?”

    Not all things are to be handed to you by others; indeed, one of the (supposed) distinguishing marks of a Yalie is a “go getter” attitude, an entrepreneurial spirit. When this was made clear–where were you?

    Lastly: I would not have bothered to opine had you not slipped in the cliched “Before Colonialism” meme. I don’t see Africa doing much good on its own “Post Colonialism.”

    If you cannot find the time to do other than consume and complain–rather than create–exactly why should I be surprised that the most privileged and, one assumes, talented Africans do little to better “their continent” on their own?

  • kudos

    Very insightful. Wonderful op-ed!

  • Rahma

    Indeed. There is a need to show the Africa that that is not weeping or eating itself up.

  • John_D

    Good points, well said – we need to hear more on the positive side.

    In recent years, a number of African countries have seen substantial economic growth (especially in trade with China), and several have made progress on governance – although there is a long way to go on that front.

    I notice that Chimamanda Adichie (also from Nigeria) was mentioned in the the article. I’ve been reading her book, “Half of a Yellow Sun”, and was pleased to see that she recently went to Yale for a Master’s degree (don’t know if she is still there).
    Africa may yet surprise the pessimists.

    Yale has a lot to gain from recruiting talented students from Africa, and build on what it has been doing.

  • @Hmm

    If you had bothered to read before you decided to “opine”, you would have known that the author said she was one of only 2 students from Nigeria, not Africa.

    And her go-getter, entreprenurial Yalie spirit is embodied in the fact that she wrote this op-ed, highlighted an important issue, and gave people something to think about. To answer your “where were you” questions, read the article again. It’s right there. She says she was a freshman, noticing these absences of an African student presence, and I infer that she got did something by joining and going on to lead the African Students Association in championing these causes.

    Context, my friend. Where was USA 50 years after her independence? Post-Colonialism, as you put it. Oh yeah, trading slaves with a civil war on the way.

  • jackie

    Thank you, Angela, for saying what needed to be said. Africa has so much more to offer than it is credited for. It’s a shame that a lot of people will never get to experience that.

  • Yale 08

    I focused on Africa quite a bit at Yale.

    Especially on how billions of dollars in international aide was a losing proposition.

    And why modern sexual norms destroyed Africa via AIDs.

  • Kwaku Osei

    To Hmmm:

    First of all, if you had read the article, you would have noticed that the author said she was one of two students from THE WEST AFRICAN COUNTRY OF NIGERIA. The Country…not the entire continent made up of 54 different nations. Secondly, you would also have noticed that the bottom of the article stated CLEARLY that Angela Omiyi is a Senior in Saybrook and a member of the African Students Association. In fact Angela is the immediate past President of the organization and is as much a ‘go getter’ as any one else.

    The issue with the “global” dance party is that it was organized independently. The African Students Association which is a thriving and vibrant group on campus was not approached to contribute. Even if the dance party was not meant to be a collaborative effort how does it make sense for a “global” dance party to leave out an ENTIRE continent. One fifth of earth’s total land mass just left out. Same deal with the film festival; Many countries in Africa have thriving film industries. (For more information, google the following: Ousmane Sembene, Nollywood). For an “international” film festival to have no single film from Africa is simply preposterous.

    Finally, I would not have bothered to comment if you had not made the following ridiculous comment: “I don’t see Africa doing much good on its own “Post Colonialism.”

    You are clearly lacking in knowledge so let me educate you:

    1. Of the top ten countries in 2008 with the highest real GDP growth rates, four of them were African – Angola, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea.

    My country, Ghana’s growth rate in 2008 was 7.3%. Higher than the UK, France, Canada, the US and the EU. Like the article says, Africa is rising.

    2. While developed countries like the United States are still struggling with gender equality in the government and in the work place, Rwanda has elected a majority female parliament, Liberia has elected a female president and Ghana has a female speaker of parliament.

    3. It may interest you to know Ghana Benin, Botswana, Senegal, Tanzania and Namibia have better governance indices than more developed countries like India and China. All of these countries are stable thriving democracies, free from conflict, have fast growing economies and are rapidly eradicating poverty.

    All these are things Africa has achieved ‘post colonialism’. People like you however are not interested in hearing these stories. All you are care about is stories of conflict, poverty, disease and devastation. These do NOT tell the full story of the continent. If you weren’t so cowardly as to hide behind internet anonymity to make outrageous statements we could help cure you of your ignorance.

    Thank you for revealing why this op-ed was necessary.

    Kwaku Osei (SY ’11). Current President of the Yale African Students Association.

  • Jen

    Great article Angela! I loved your shoutouts to Fela Kuti and Chimamanda Nozi Adichie!!!!

    Re: Commenter “Hmmm” You need to read the article again. Angela didn’t say that she is one of two African students, she said she’s one of two Nigerian students. A basic fact that you got wrong……Sort of devalues the rest of your arguments….

  • Kibet

    Amazing piece of work, but we have to acknowledge that still a lot of work need to be done in our beloved continent. Those problems being portrayed are real and while a few of us (and you) may have the opportunity of living in decent homes with good education, millions of people in Africa still dream of these fortunes. It is important that we acknowledge this.

  • white american yalie who was so glad to read this

    … and so very disappointed in comment #3.

    #3, your comment is a prime example of exactly the kind of ignorance this author is talking about. There’s not enough time to respond to everything you wrote, but for starters …

    Did you even read the article carefully? She said that she’s one of the two students from Nigeria, not Africa. Why did you put the African Students Association in quotes? It’s a vibrant and very real student organization! Also, what exactly bothers you about the phrase ‘before colonialism’? Are you trying to deny that colonialism happened or something?

    And your point about the go-getter attitude of Yalies is bordering on absurd. It seems like common sense that an international film festival would include representation of Africa, and I think the author’s point is that we all need to start being a little (a lot) more aware. Similarly, I think the point with the dance is that the organizers should have thought to contact the African Students Association about cosponsorship in the first place. Yalies might be go-getters, but we are not mind-readers who know about events before the organizers announce them.

    Finally, your implication that the author (and, in your last paragraph, all African Students at Yale) has had everything “handed to (her) by others” is incredibly offensive and not even remotely reality-based. Absolutely no one gets to Yale without working incredibly hard.

    I apologize if this comment is aggressive but I was really offended by what you wrote. And also really surprised (though maybe I shouldn’t have been) that an article which seems to express really well some of the challenges students from the African continent face at this school, as well as the significant lack of opportunity for learning and growth that our entire community suffers because of our one-sided way of looking at and engaging with African cultures and peoples (when we look or engage at all), would be met with so much self-assured derision.

  • YASA Member

    to #4

    you just got treated

  • Yale 09

    Thank you for writing this, Angela. It is a thoughtful, beautifully written piece that reflects the concerns of so many students interested in Africa at Yale.

  • FailBoat

    Ms. Omiyi attends college in the US, not in Nigeria.

    If you want to study Africa, I suggest you attend college in Africa. I certainly don’t expect Yale to set up a dizzying array of courses on my heritage — if I wanted to learn about those things, I would have stayed at home.

  • Ali

    Kwaku writes, “My country, Ghana’s growth rate in 2008 was 7.3%. Higher than the UK, France, Canada, the US and the EU. Like the article says, Africa is rising.”

    I do not think it is reasonable to compare developing country’s economic growth to economies of large, mature countries.

  • At number 13

    Your heart is bleeding all over my shoes. Jesus Christ, white guilt much?

  • FailBoat

    About a quarter of Ghana’s population lives on a dollar a day. I’ll take living in the US over Ghana’s growth rate.

  • #13 @ #18

    Eh, cute, but not so much. I was just trying to make the point that there are people who share (what I presume to be) the commenter’s privileged position, but not his or her ideology.

  • Let’s clarify a few things

    Ali, I’d like to point out that the media keeps harping on endlessly about the 8% growth of the Indian economy,yet very few care to point out the growth recorded in the named African countries; this despite the obvious fact that India too is a developing country whose growth as you say,”shouldn’t be compared to that of the economies of large, mature countries.”
    Failboat, Kwaku’s comparing the growth rates of the countries was not to diminish the standard of living of the wealthier countries. His focus is on showing that the African countries are rising in unprecedented ways that top those of the more established economies. It also helps to put things into perspective by reminding the reader the backdrop against which such a growth should be viewed; it would have been an entirely different case if the developed countries too had grown in percentages higher than the mentioned 7.3%. You also seem to be under the delusion that there is little need of one to know beyond his or her immediate surroundings. It is a shame to think that despite having been at Yale, receiving an all-rounded education, you are not able to see how very connected the world is today. Angela’s heritage affects her people, her country and its place in the world – all of which affects the realm of those in faraway countries in the department of “Foreign Policy.” Technology has made the world more interconnected – and staying at “home” or “coming to the US” only reflects a physical change, not a change in the ideas/issues discussed in the two places. And again, you might have noticed that efforts are made at exposing the heritage of other cultural groups here, and that the writer wondered why when she first came here the same was not done for her continent: are you suggesting then that all other cultural groups should also have stayed at ‘home’?
    Most Yalies go on to become influential people once they graduate, and it would be horrendous to think that an uninformed, prejudiced person would become the head of some organization/government department/multinational entity that pass decisions left and right, telling the developing countries what changes to undertake in the running of their national affairs and that all this authority, this influence would be vested in the hands of a person who has not the faintest inkling of the people whose lives (s)he affects. Enlightenment is key, and this sort of ignorance is quite frankly,unacceptable.
    #18 – You missed the point. There is no place for white guilt: no one is here to vilify any race, and to play that card reflects poorly on your own, I suspect, narrow perceptions.

  • MsBashua

    Firstly, I have to say that as an African, it is difficult to strike a balance between being patriotic and objective on the topic of the continent. I believe that while Africas troubles cannot solely be
    blamed on colonialism and slavery, the ‘hmmm’ s of this world must acknowledge that those were two MAJOR contributing factors in shaping the Africa of today.

    Second of all, the world is filled with the likes of the anonymous writer who cannot distinguish between a country and a continent. I always assumed before forming an opinion, an individual would at least attempt to inform themselves on the topic at hand.
    It is obvious that a person who cannot distinguish between Nigeria and Africa need not comment at all.

    Nobody is taking away from the fact that we ARE a troubled continent and that we ARE a flawed people, but @ FailBoat: Africans the world over are playing their part towards positive change. Many of us leave our continents and acquire western educations because in order for us to effect change, we must provide ourselves with the tools to do so. I dont believe Angela is complaining, she’s merely saying that if Yale is going to offer African inspired courses, then why not approach it from a more balanced point of view? Lectures in Nigerian universities (as far as I know) that are inspired by The United States do not only cover the barbarianism of slavery or the racial killings of the civil rights era, they encompasses all aspects of American ‘culture’ and history. Writers like Angela do their race, country, and indeed, continent proud by being at Yale and by being interested in effecting that change.

    To point out that no African coutry was represented at a film festival or any other event, is not a complaint, it is merely stating facts, and indeed, WHY should an international film festival not include a single African film? ‘Hmmm’ is repetetive with the “Where were you?” but I would be interested in knowing if other countries or other continents, had to request to be included. Nobody is asking for hand outs or requesting special treatment, all Africa and Africans are asking for is patience and equal opportunity.

    Oh yeah, are there REALLY only two Nigerian students currently enrolled at Yale? I would expect that as the most populous country on the continent of Africa, Nigeria would have a larger representation….or is it just that the majority of Nigerian students are registered under other nationalities???