Africa Week zooms in on culture, new possibilities

This past week, the Yale African Students’ Association (YASA) hosted its annual Africa Week — six days of speakers, movie screenings and cultural shows on campus to celebrate a lesser-known face of the world’s second-largest continent.

The theme of Africa Week this year was “Africa 360: A Panoramic Perspective of the Continent.” The week — which lasted from Nov. 11 to 17 and featured speakers ranging from the founder of news outlet Africa.com to the king of the Akyem Abuakwa traditional area of Ghana — aimed to promote a new perspective on African life, said Ameze Belo-Osagie ’16, vice president of YASA.

“Often when we have discussions about Africa on campus, they are usually related to development,” Belo-Osagie said. “We talk about security and corruption, but we don’t talk about culture, literature or history. We really wanted to make the point that there are people making interesting contributions in a lot of different ways, and we wanted to put that on Yale students’ radars.”

The week’s events were geared toward the rich culture of Africa, rather than focusing solely on politics, said YASA President Metabel Markwei ’15. For example, she said, one of the most popular events of the week was the talk given on Nov. 11 by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan writer and former visiting Yale professor, who Markwei called one of the “pioneers of African literature.” Other events included film screenings by famous African filmmakers and a discussion about the complicated identities of Africans compared to African-Americans.

Beyond highlighting African culture, another goal of the week was to facilitate conversation between the various African interest groups on campus, Markwei said. Although all the events were planned and executed by YASA members, YASA invited other organizations to contribute as well. For example, the Nov. 15 discussion about African versus African-American identity was moderated by Patricia Okonta ’15, president of the Black Student Alliance at Yale.

“Through Africa Week, we were trying to connect the dots to Africa on this campus,” Markwei said. “The question for me was, what were the needs that we could meet on this campus, and what are the gaps in the conversation about Africa that we can have? We reached out to other groups of interest to see if they wanted to contribute to the creative process of coming up with that discussion.”

Okonta said she was happy to join in the celebrations, as she felt a personal tie to the topics discussed, despite not being directly involved in YASA.

As a first-generation American from Nigerian parents, Okonta said, she knows that Africa holds hope and a promising future.

“The events YASA offered around Africa Week and throughout the entire school year show ways in which the continent of Africa and its people both in and outside the diaspora are thriving and excelling,” Okonta said in an email to the News.

YASA members said they hope that the discussions prompted by Africa Week will raise greater awareness of how much the study of African life has to offer. In addition to acting as a “signpost” to promote YASA and the events it hosts throughout the school year, Belo-Osagie said, she wants students’ newfound awareness to prompt them to consider taking an African Studies class.

Even within the walls of the University, there is much room for growth in African Studies, she added, explaining that Yale does not offer as many resources as she would like in order to fully engage in African issues.

“Discussion on Africa is not as common as it should be, given the position Africa is taking in the world and how literally everybody has a stake in Africa,” Markwei said. “We as African students don’t feel like enough African diversity is represented in Yale’s African Studies Department. That’s a gap that Yale can fill when compared to other universities in the U.S.”

However, Markwei also expressed hopes that Yale is moving in the right direction, and believes that Yale will make great strides in the very near future. Belo-Osagie said she is glad the theme YASA chose for the week worked well in conjunction with University President Peter Salovey’s recent initiative to extend academic ties with African institutions.

“We are so excited to be at Yale at a time like this, so that we can push the African frontier,” Markwei said. “I think more of the effects of Africa Week will be felt by people coming to Yale five years down the line. These are the beginnings of what I feel is a huge wave of interest in Africa. It’s an awesome time to be a part of it.”

The week concluded with a cultural show on Sunday.

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