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.

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