First Africa Day at UMass Boston

An introduction to the night gala portion of "First Africa Day." 

Wednesday, Feb. 27—the University of Massachusetts Boston hosted “First Africa Day” in the Campus Center, celebrating all Africans, debating issues and proving that academics and merrymaking can seamlessly blend together. The event included keynote speeches, two panels that debated current issues affecting Africa, and a night gala that celebrated the beautiful diversity of the African continent through music, performances, and food.

The first half of the academic part of the event began at 1 p.m. with a lunch buffet. Excitement permeated the third floor as guests who registered online were given their name tags with the Pan Africa image from the flyers. After being handed a brochure detailing the event, they found their seats. The guests then headed towards the steaming dishes that were catered by Cesaria, a Cape Verdean restaurant; the buffet included dishes such as Frango Churaco, Feijoada, and Garden Salad. Coffee and cookies were also served as light refreshments throughout the event. Green, red, and yellow napkins—Pan Africa colors—blanketed each table. “I was so excited to see African dishes,” Baby Lenga Kalemba, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a freshman on campus, reports.

While guests ate, the opening remarks were given by Jason McSparren, a PhD candidate; Yaa Opoku-Agyeman, President of the Ghanian Student Association; Professor Rita Kiki Edozie from the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies; David W. Cash, Dean of McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies; and Cheryl Nixon, Associate Provost from the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies. All the speakers mentioned their excitement that was the first time UMass Boston has held an event that celebrates all Africans; they also expressed their hope that they covered real African issues instead of “media Africa,” and their optimism toward future events.

The event then moved onto the first roundtable panel discussion that focused on the topic of “African Perspectives on Democracy, Security and Global Governance.” The panel consisted of Pearl Robinson from Tufts University; Sindiso Mnisi Weeks, Assistant Professor of Public Policy of Excluded Populations; Nada Mustafa Ali, Senior Lecturer of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies; Darren Kew, Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution, Global Governance, and Human Security; and Micheal Woldermariam, Assistant Professor of International Relations. All come from UMass Boston.

Audience members were also allowed to ask the panel questions by writing them down, and folding them into a basket. An audience member asked, “Is the African Union relevant?”

Dr. Woldemarium answered, “It’s not perfect—the AU depends on external resources—but of course.” In response to the answer, Dr. Robinson asked, “Does the AU have a policy to handle Islamic terrorism? The U.S. has a policy to keep us safe by building the largest missile base outside of the U.S. in Niger, and that has completely destroyed life for people in Niger.” Dr. Woldemarium answered, “There are policy documents and debates that have occurred on the peace and security council in the AU on this very issue, but there isn't a coherent policy that exists for terrorism.”

The audience members and the panelists then took a 15 minute break. Coffee, cookies, and salad were prepared as refreshments. Three students from Maine related that they had traveled “an hour and a half to make it to the event. We found the event worthwhile to attend as black students and really like the whole academic concept mixing in with fun.” When asked about her opinions on the event, Adesuwa Igbineweka, Career Services and Employment Relations Specialist from UMass Boston reported: “I think it’s a great event that is introducing Africans in an academic light. It’s not often you see African scholars speaking in an event specifically for them. These people are scholars who are black and sharing their take on issues—and that is powerful.”

The second group of panelists then took the stage, focusing on the topic “Beyond Neoliberalism and the prospects of Pan African Economies.” The panel consisted of Joseph Kweku Assan, Assistant Professor of International Political Economy of Sustainable Development from Brandeis University; Heidi Gengenbach, Professor of History from UMass Boston; Patricia Agupusi, Political Economy Scholar; Kwamina Panford, Africa Specialist; and Adugna Lemi, Associate Professor and Chair of Economics from UMass Boston.

One question asked was, “Why is Africa resource-rich and income-poor and what can be done about it?” Dr. Panford answered: “1923—Firestone [an American tire company] went to Liberia, where they leased 100 acres of land for six cents. Fast forward to 2005, and the Liberian government renegotiated for 50 cents per acre. Prior to that, Liberia had borrowed money from the U.S. government at the rate of 17 percent. Ghana has the worst oil—their natural gas is at three percent, and crude oil is at five percent. My point is, if African countries were getting together, they could've done something about the issues they faced.”

After the second roundtable discussion, PhD candidates and students took the stage for the “Student Flash Talks” part of the event where they introduced their research. Jason McSparren presented his abstract, “Pan African optimism: Framing the Africa Mining Vision within New Developmental Regionalism,” where he offers a “governance approach based on strengthening connections to the mineral value chain through existing global governance initiatives.” E. Busolo Milimu presented her abstract, “The Role of Sports Diplomacy in African International Relations,” where she believes that “sports as a soft power tool, when strategically employed, has the potential to influence relations and decisions among states.” Balkissa Diallo presented her abstract, “Migration from Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe: What factors lead migrants to pay for a deadly journey?” Her research “investigates the informal of Sub-Saharan Africa and how it related to the persistence of risky migrations.”

The event then moved to an entirely new location in the ISC for the night gala. Food was provided, and DJ Prince Kalu played music as guests filed in the atrium on the first floor. The Keynote Presentation was given by Zadi Zokou, an independent documentary filmmaker. After Zoukou’s speech, Afrobeat Dancers took the stage to wild applause and an excited crowd. Their performance was followed by one from Origination, a cultural dance group made up of African youth. The performances then led to an open floor with music from all over Africa playing. Slowly, guests began to trickle onto the dance floor, combining modern hip-hop with traditional dance moves. Around 8:40 p.m., the long day caught up with guests, and the building trickled out as people that met at the event began to snap photos, phone numbers, and hugs. When asked about the event as she was about to leave, Kalemba said, “I skipped two classes to go to this event, because for the first time in four years I actually felt as if I was in my space—I felt like I was at home, that if I fully belonged, finally.”

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