Yale hosted its fifth Undergraduate African Development Conference over the weekend, an event that highlighted keynote speeches and panels by some of Africa’s most influential leaders and thinkers.
The conference, which was organized by the Yale Association for African Peace and Development and drew hundreds of students from across the East Coast, aimed to help students and professionals recognize the ways that governance, education, entrepreneurship and entertainment overlap in African development. The weekend’s docket of events included panels on African popular culture and media, social justice, women in government, educational reform and innovative entrepreneurship.
The theme of this year’s conference was “ubuntu” — a call for collaboration.
The conference opened with a keynote address from Ibukun Awosika, chair and board member of First Bank of Nigeria Limited, Nigeria’s largest bank. The first Nigerian recipient of the International Women Entrepreneurial Challenge Award after being nominated by the U.S. Department of State in 2008, Awosika is also the founder and CEO of the Chair Centre Group and chairs the boards of a handful of corporate and not-for-profit companies.
“My task here this evening is to have a conversation with you on ubuntu,” said Awosika in her address. “Ubuntu means ‘I am because we are.’ It is a simple but very powerful word which generally refers to the fact that not a single one of us can go the journey that we want alone. It’s just impossible.”
YAAPD is a student organization that strives to promote African peace and development. Its mission is to develop awareness among students and professionals about the issues facing Africa and to create a space in which students can discuss solutions for these issues.
The event also featured keynote speakers Donald Kaberuka, former president of the African Development Bank, and Hakeem Belo-Osagie, a Nigerian entrepreneur and philanthropist, in addition to a series of panels and talks. The conference also hosted informal opportunities for conversation, an African night market and various meals over the course of the two-day conference.
“Africa is so misinterpreted, misrepresented and misperceived in a way that you can’t make the right decisions concerning Africa because you’re already starting from a place of disadvantage,” Awosika said. “The world sees Africa as a block continent. People talk to you about Africa as if they’re talking about England.”
Friday’s night market, held in Kroon Hall, offered a variety of African products from regional distributors, such as backpacks, jewelry and clothing, and a sampling of free food from across Africa. The nighttime event included music, dance performances and a fashion show organized by Yale students.
Shalair Armstrong, owner of Boston-based store Diaspora Africa, said the conference highlighted the forward-thinking and compassionate nature of Yale students.
“A lot of college campuses are closed to events about this, so this is a school that is really open to being progressive and inclusive within the community,” Armstrong said.
Saturday’s “Women in Government” panel discussed the role of women in an Africa rooted in traditional patriarchy, the necessity of women in governmental positions and the obstacles they face. Panelists in this talk included Mathilde Mukantabana, the Rwandan ambassador to the U.S. and the nonresident ambassador to Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, and Samira Bawumia, the second lady of the Republic of Ghana.
Another panel, focused on social justice, aimed at exploring the methods of fighting for human rights and social justice in Africa by highlighting case studies such as the #ThisFlag movement in Zimbabwe, Malawi’s efforts to combat child marriages, and activists fighting for equality, freedom of expression and tolerance.
“Some prefer to have our own African advocacy groups or organizations, but, for two reasons, I think this may not work,” said panelist Zelalem Kibret, a scholar-in-residence at the New York University Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.
Kibret noted that resource constraints and the dangers of advocacy often deter people from activist work in Africa. He added that, while it is important to have “indigenous” African human rights advocacy groups, it is safer to work on an international scale to push for the same improvements.
Swarthmore College freshman Ibrahim Tamale, who attended the weekend conference, noted that this event represented the vibrancy and connectedness of the African community.
“It’s nice to see so many people of African descent coming together from various places,” Tamale said. “It’s really good to get people to think about different things, meet new people, have fun, chill and do all sorts of crazy things.”
A general admission ticket to the conference for non-Yale students cost $45.
Correction, April 18: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Obiageli Ezekwesili and Hlomela Bucwa were among the speakers at the conference, when in fact they did not attend. The article also incorrectly referred to the conference as Sankofa54. The event was called the Ubuntu Conference.