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First annual Africa Summit heavy on symbolism

With institutional help from Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, students successfully launch first event focused on continent.
Friday, May 17, 2019

With institutional help from Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, students successfully launch first event focused on continent.

By Poornima Apte for Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies

It’s not every day that Achie Gebre ’20 gets to talk about peace and conflict resolution in Africa. But that’s exactly what the Princeton University junior studying operations research and financial engineering did as she moderated a lively discussion on the topic as part of the first annual Africa Summit held April 5 - 6.

Featured guests on the panel included the Akuei Bona Malwal, South Sudan's United Nations ambassador and Ephraim Isaac, founder and first professor of Afro-American studies at Harvard University.

The “Peace and Conflict Resolution” forum was but one of many discussions that were part of the Africa Summit, whose goals — “Translating Vision into Action” — were nothing short of ambitious. Another popular discussion featured Almaz Negash, founder and executive director of the Africa Diaspora Network, who tied the African American experience with the experiences of African migrants and how the two communities have worked together.

The all-student steering committee, consisting of co-chairs Delanyo Kpo and Bunmi Otegbade and co-directors Mofopefoluwa Olarinmoye ’20 and Blessing Jegede ‘21, designed the summit to be interdisciplinary, addressing issues related to youth, gender, peace and development.

Noting that Princeton could use more Africa-related programming on campus, Otegbade, a Nigerian graduate student at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, decided to explore the idea of a conference specifically to discuss issues related to the continent. Understanding that the blueprint for such a summit would still need to conform to Princeton’s institutional parameters, Otegbade reached out to leaders of student organizations who might engage in the conversation and know how to get things done. Kpo, president of the African Graduate Student Association, and Jegede, a sophomore majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering, were instrumental in expanding the scope of the summit among the student body, Otegbade said.

When Jegede heard from Otegbade, the timing could not have been better. As president for the Society of African Internationals, she had been looking for a way to increase programming about Africa on campus, and the Africa Summit seemed like a strong fit. “We wanted to do something that brought the students together across the graduate and undergraduate programs but that also had some sort of faculty and administrative involvement to have some deep conversations about Africa,” said Kpo.

The students also realized that they needed an institutional home for any funds raised: this is where the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS) came in, Otegbade said. “PIIRS was just phenomenal in helping us see the vision for the Africa Summit all the way through,” Otegbade said. “They came on board formally and helped us receive money, set things up with organizational procedures, helped us with that learning curve in hosting an event of this magnitude.”

While students designed and implemented the Africa Summit, they received valuable feedback from Emmanuel Kreike, professor of history and acting director of the Africa Studies Program, and Isaac. Kpo thanked Kreike as being “a supporter of this endeavor from the beginning and gave us the additional institutional backing to make this happen.”

Tim Waldron, manager of global initiatives and the Program in African Studies and Kreike agreed that institutionalizing such an event will ensure that it lasts for a while so graduating students can pass the baton on. Elections for student leaders for future editions are underway and PIIRS will continue to be involved.

“I was very enthusiastic when the students came up with the idea of the Africa summit,” Kreike said. The role of the Africa Studies Program, under the aegis of PIIRS, “is to provide a backstop and support and encourage the summit with a lot of administrative support,” he added. The students, Kreike stressed, were keen that the summit, attended by close to 140 people, be forward-looking and not strictly an academic exercise. “[I] expect the summit to address more contemporary topics such as the rise of digital democracy and also China in Africa in the future.”

The Africa Summit was cosponsored by the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination, the Julis-Rabinowitz Center for Public Policy and Finance, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, and the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education.