OCHIENG: A true pivot on Africa

During President Richard Levin’s 20-year tenure, Yale made remarkable strides in creating a more international University. International initiatives during Levin’s tenure include the foundation of the Jackson Institute as well as a number of partnerships and programs in East Asia and Latin America. However, an examination of the University’s student body, course listings and career development offerings quickly reveals that this commitment does not appear to extend to Africa. Despite possessing the fastest growing population and economies in the world, Africa has been curiously absent from Yale’s agenda.

In his inaugural address, President Peter Salovey devoted significant time to addressing the need to expand the University’s commitment to Africa by “bringing scholarship and teaching about Africa at Yale into sharper focus.” I applaud him for this commitment, but we must ensure that Yale’s approach to Africa is not only targeted, but also inclusive.

We must renew our commitment to the African Languages Program. Currently, the only courses offered are Swahili, Yoruba and Zulu. Students who hope to take other languages may pursue the Directed Independent Language Study — but without credit. With Title VI — which partially funds language programs — in jeopardy due to the sequester, it is crucial for Yale to openly pledge to support African languages by expanding contracts for language instructors and course offerings for credit. Other languages that should be taught include Wolof, Twi and Amharic. If we want to truly engage with Africa, we must also speak her languages.

With 18 percent of Yale’s student body consisting of international students, Yale has long had a cosmopolitan character. However, its recruitment efforts on the continent have been sorely lacking. Only 95 to 100 students at the University are from Sub-Saharan Africa. It is time to recruit more Africans if we truly hope to create global leaders. The recruitment of African students must also extend beyond already over-represented countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa or Kenya and include a wider set of nations across the five major regions of Africa — especially in the North, Central and East. We must escape our dependency on feeder schools in a handful of countries to find the star students that exist continent-wide.

While Yale may fear that increased recruitment of Africa’s brightest minds will contribute to the phenomenon of brain drain, this line of thinking may very well be outdated. As Africa experiences her Renaissance and moment in the international spotlight, more Africans in the diaspora hope to return to the continent. They are eager to participate in the diverse range of business opportunities springing up with the help of new incubators and innovative companies across the continent. However, unless we can provide students with information and resources on these opportunities, Yale is missing a critical opportunity to more actively and directly contribute to the continent’s growth by producing future political leaders and CEOs.

We must push our Career Services to expand their network in Africa. The listed opportunities on the continent are few and far between and tend to focus on the NGO sector or on U.S.-based companies. Considering the recent flurry of investment on the continent, private sector opportunities must be dramatically expanded. While we can accomplish this through Yale alumni, Career Services must itself do some of the groundwork of reaching out to companies and organizations.

If the development banks, the newspapers and magazines are right, this is the time for Africa. Africa is rising, and it is time for Yale to make its mark. However, unlike the various existing initiatives across East Asia and Latin America, the Africa Initiative is the first to focus on a region of this magnitude. It is essential that we recall that Africa is a gigantic continent encompassing 54 countries with distinct cultures and histories.

As esteemed Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie GRD ’08 proclaimed in her highly acclaimed 2009 TED Talk, the age of the single story of Africa is over. Yale must resist the Western tendency to view Africa as a monolithic entity and engage with Africa’s regions systematically and inclusively if it hopes to turn its lofty goals into a reality.

Akinyi Ochieng is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at akinyi.ochieng@yale.edu.

Comments