Courtesy of the Yale African Students Association

From Nov. 7 to 13, the Yale African Students Association hosted Yale Africa Week, one of the organization’s flagship events.

Focused on raising awareness about contemporary Africa on campus, the week offered a series of in-person and online events introducing various aspects of the continent — such as its cultures, art, sports, history and politics. This year’s theme was “The New Road Home: Me, Myself & the Motherland”; YASA members aimed to recreate their home on campus when the COVID-19-related travel restrictions made their homeland feel even farther away.

“We are very aware that we are in a unique time; pandemic hit people differently,” explained Chibuzo Enelamah ’23, YASA board president. “We were unable to have Africa Week last year and some of our [international] members were unable to go home, so we wanted to place an emphasis on reconnecting with home and channel out the sense of belonging.”

Enelamah, who is an international student from Nigeria, said YASA wanted to be “inclusive” in terms of who can attend the event, so that everyone in the Yale community could learn about and connect with the continent. 

“We also encourage people who do not have a connection to Africa to attend,” Enelamah said. “People contribute to the African continent in different ways. This week is a time of celebration, but it’s also a time to reflect on the roles [attendees] are playing or not playing.” 

YASA started planning this week’s 11 events in May 2021. One of the major events of the week was “Journey through Africa: Cultural Bazaar,” held at the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale. Every African region was represented at this bazaar, and members from each region were given the chance to showcase their homeland’s unique history and culture.

Other events included “African Moonlight Games,” where participants played games from different countries in Africa, “Addressing Democracy Decline in West Africa,” a speaker session in collaboration with the Yale Macmillan Center and “Taking Up Space,” in which YASA members performed African music and dances in front of Sterling Memorial Library.

This year, YASA was able to host experts including Semhar Araia, the Africa & Middle East Diaspora policy head at Facebook, and Amini Kajunju, COO of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development.

The Afro-American Cultural Center, Council on African Studies at the MacMillan Center, Office of International Students and Scholars and the Yale Schwarzman Center sponsored the week. 

Jennifer Newman, associate artistic director at the Schwarzman Center, said that this year’s theme focusing on belonging was “powerful.” She added that YASA did an “incredible job that [moves] the community forward in a positive direction.”

Eddie Mandhry, the director for Africa & the Middle East at the Yale Office of International Affairs, said this year’s theme is “fitting.” Mandhry is also responsible for spearheading the Yale Africa Initiative and is an advisor of YASA.

“It serves as an opportunity to draw inspiration and strength from the nurturing, comfort and revitalization that can derive from home, however we define it, wherever we locate it,” Mandhry said. “Over the last 18 months, the pandemic has wrought unprecedented disruption in our way of life. For many around the world, the upheaval has resulted in losses in life, in separation of families and dislocation from the activities, norms, rituals and communities that help sustain us.

Africa Week did not only inspire a sense of belonging for attendees — Ifeoluwa Adeogun ’23, the YASA board vice president, said that organizing the events was itself a community-building process.

“YASA is one of the few communities I feel at home with on this campus, and being able to contribute to organizing a week like this to celebrate our community and expand it to those who had not yet engaged with Africans at Yale or in general brought me so much joy,” Adeogun said.

Adeogun added that she hopes the Yale community will continue to learn more about Africa by staying involved with YASA, even if they are not African.

“Africa, Africans and Africa Week are not just one-stop shops to engage with only when people want to admire our cultural dances, fashion and food,” Adeogun said. “We want people to learn about our culture and engage with it in the same way we so readily engage with many other continents [such as Europe].” 

Enelamah shared Adeogun’s sentiments about Africa Week’s role in educating the Yale community about the diversity of the African continent. 

“We recognize the value of solidarity and collaboration between African states, but we must also understand that Africa is not monolithic, Africa is not undifferentiated, Africa is made of different regions and parts with their histories and own cultures,” Enelamah said. “[Africa Week] is time for us to remind the Yale community that … we are diverse and we are wonderful.” 

TAMAKI KUNO