Roughly 200 students from across the East Coast convened Friday and Saturday to discuss prospects for peace and conflict resolution in Africa as part of the inaugural African Youth Empowerment Conference at Yale.
Organized by the Yale Undergraduate Association for African Peace and Development (YAAPD), the conference aimed to create a network of students interested in Africa’s political and economic development, according to YAAPD Secretary-General Akua Agyen ’14. Student ticket prices for the conference were $30 for early registration and $35 for late registration. Though Agyen said organizers faced financial and logistical challenges while planning and running the conference, she called the initiative an overall success and said she hopes it will become an annual Yale-hosted event.
“It was really inspiring to hear just how much the participants enjoyed the conference,” Agyen said. “I can’t tell you how many times different people came up to me [after the conference] saying ‘This isn’t just this year, right?’ and ‘You guys better do this next year.’”
Organizers initially struggled to secure funding for the conference, Agyen said, since many departments said they viewed the initiative as a “pilot project” — a type of effort Agyen said the departments are not allowed to support financially. Agyen called the departments’ response “disappointing,” noting that Yale is one of few Ivy League schools that did not already host a conference dedicated to examining development issues in Africa. Harvard, Columbia, Brown and Princeton universities all hold conferences addressing African development, she said.
Rodney Cohen, dean of the Afro-American Cultural Center, which provided financial and administrative support to the effort, said in a Friday email that he thinks the conference is important because it “sheds light on the many global issues involving Africa” and “provides a critical platform” to host a variety of African students and scholars. He added that he expects the Afro-American Cultural Center will continue to support the conference in future years.
The conference also received funding from groups including the Yale Law School and the Council on African Studies, while several residential colleges donated housing and meal swipes.
Events at the conference focused on politics, education and business in Africa, Agyen said. Students attended panel discussions and workshops on topics such as education and entrepreneurship in the country, and were invited to a film screening of “Motherland” by M. K. Asante, who also spoke at the conference.
While organizers invited scholars and professionals to speak at the keynote ceremonies — including Asante, University of California, Riverside, professor Chris Abani and entrepreneur Magatte Wade — Agyen said the organizers also recruited student speakers for the event.
“We think it’s really important to showcase that we’re not too young to start doing things now,” she said. “Our age isn’t an excuse. People are doing big things now and we can all take inspiration from these people.”
Zachary Enumah GRD ’12, who attended the conference, said he thought the event “really created dialogue” and exposed participants to a wide variety of issues affecting Africa today. He added that he found the student speakers inspirational and thought they helped attendees understand how they could promote African development.
The diverse group of speakers sent a message that there are “many different kinds of media” individuals can use to promote awareness and action for African issues beyond working in international organizations such as the United Nations, Enumah said.
All proceeds from the conference will go to CAMME, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to help children in the Congo.