From last Thursday to Saturday, the Yale African Students Association hosted Africa Week, a series of events meant to foster discussions and celebrations of the continent.
This year’s theme, “Think. Contemporary Africa” centered around the growing global influence of African countries. Events included a dance workshop with the Yale African dance group Dzana, a documentary screening and panel discussion about HIV stigma in Swaziland and a debate hosted by the Party of the Left on whether African states should nationalize their resources to further development. Speakers included Zimbabwean fashion designer Farai Simoyi, former Tunisian tourism minister Jamel Gamra and Kenyan photojournalist and activist Boniface Mwangi.
“This year, we made more of an effort to collaborate with other student groups on campus so that Africa Week is both a way for Africans to talk about issues related to the continent and also a way to make the continent more visible to the larger Yale community,” said Houriiyah Tegally ’16, YASA publicity chair and member of the organizing committee for Africa Week.
According to YASA President Khalid Attalla ’16, Africa Week’s annual theme is shaped by the speaker list. This year, YASA members wanted to showcase the influence and character of contemporary Africa, and were able to do so partly through the guest speakers, with whom they had been in contact since the beginning of the summer.
“The speakers are self-made people with a lot of influence who showcase the excellence of the continent,” Attalla said. “There’s a narrative of Africa as a continent that needs help, and the speakers we chose show that we don’t need saving. We have the capacity to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” Attalla added that Africa Week is more than just a series of events; it is also a message to the entire Yale community about intercommunity engagement.
On Friday afternoon, Gamra gave a presentation about the history of Tunisia and its relationship to the continent as a whole. He explained some of the challenges African tourism faces, such as high poverty rates and low employment, as well as the areas in which it has potential, including natural resources. Gamra added that tourism in Africa is increasing overall and that African countries have some of the greatest growth potential in the world. He also credited the Tunisian Revolution in 2011 with allowing the country to gain the democracy and freedom to innovate and promote tourism.
Malak Nasr ’19, who is originally from Cairo, Egypt, said she was interested in Gamra’s talk because tourism rates following the Arab Spring have also been an issue in her country.
“Even if you’re not from the region or don’t have a personal stake in it, it’s important to educate yourself,” Nasr said. “One of the most valuable things at Yale is that you can learn about things that are completely foreign to you.”
As the week’s final speaker, Mwangi discussed the challenges he has faced as a photographer and activist, emphasizing the importance of not conforming to the majority. He advised students to find a cause they believe in and devote themselves to it, adding that it is essential for everyone to tell their story.
Mwangi also played several videos of news clips, interviews and footage from protests he has been involved with, many of which concern government corruption and violence.
“Don’t conform at this age,” Mwangi said during his talk. “This is the age of believing you can change the world.”
Nodumo Ncomanzi ’16, who is from Zimbabwe, said she admired how this year’s Africa Week, as well as those of years past, portrayed Africa in an authentic way, rather than just presenting the public perceptions of the continent.
YASA was founded in 1966.