Elikya Bokanga, SSH’16, show­cased award-​​winning diplo­matic acumen and strong man­age­ment skills at the 12th Annual National Model African Union Con­fer­ence in Wash­ington, D.C. last month.

As Zambia’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the Tech­nical Com­mittee on Regional Eco­nomic Com­mu­ni­ties, he ended a quar­rel­some debate over a pro­posal to estab­lish a uni­form African cur­rency before it divided the group. The com­mittee chair—a fellow student—responded by rewarding him with the team’s lone lead­er­ship award.

I motioned to use the amend­ment to alter the lan­guage of the pro­posal, thus resolving the biggest point of con­tention,” said Bokanga, a third-​​year inter­na­tional affairs major from Nairobi, Kenya. “The com­mittee chair most likely con­sid­ered it the first dis­play of lead­er­ship in the room and gave me the credit.”

Bokanga was one of five North­eastern students—and one of hun­dreds of under­grad­u­ates from more than 40 of the nation’s col­leges and universities—who par­tic­i­pated in the four-​​day event. At the con­fer­ence, each stu­dent team rep­re­sented a pre-​​assigned member state of the African Union, which was estab­lished in 2002. The pro­ceed­ings mir­rored those of the AU, with stu­dents sit­ting on com­mit­tees and dis­cussing, debating, and writing res­o­lu­tions on today’s most pressing issues in Africa.

The North­eastern stu­dents spent seven weeks preparing for the con­fer­ence in a spring semester course taught by Kwamina Pan­ford, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of African Amer­ican Studies in the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties. It was not uncommon for them to spend sev­eral hours per week reading policy state­ments, con­ducting inter­views, and doing inde­pen­dent research on topics ranging from energy and eco­nomic devel­op­ment to democ­racy and polit­ical crises in places like Mali, Somalia, and the South Sudan.

The lessons learned in class and at the con­fer­ence fell into two cat­e­gories: the per­sonal and the polit­ical. “Stu­dents learn a lot about them­selves, team work, and how they per­ceive Africa,” said Pan­ford, an African cit­izen from Ghana. “They also learn how con­straining pol­i­tics, diplo­macy, inter­na­tional rela­tions, and gov­erning coun­tries can be.”

Abi­gail Oyeniran, BHS’17, rep­re­sented Zambia on the exec­u­tive council. She noted that her expe­ri­ence rein­forced her desire to be part of Africa’s ascent to global promi­nence, saying, “I am very pas­sionate about Africa and want to see it reach its poten­tial.” As a case in point, the third-​​year phys­ical therapy major hopes to work on co-​​op at a health clinic or hos­pital in Nigeria, her family’s home country.

The Model AU is not only about building resumes,” she said. “It is also about cre­ating real change in the lives of those who need it the most. Although this requires much prepa­ra­tion and unwa­vering ded­i­ca­tion, I plan to do more of this in the future.”

Added Bokanga: “It’s impor­tant that people start thinking about Africa as more than a poor place with civil wars. There is far more to it than that.”