Africa Week 2014 Showcases Inspiring Young African Voices

Yale African a cappella group Asempa! performs at the Africa Week 2014 cultural show. Photo Credit: Houriiyah Tegally '16

Yale African a cappella group Asempa! performs at the Africa Week 2014 cultural show. Photo Credit: Houriiyah Tegally ’16

“When you think of Africa, it’s very easy to hear about Kofi Annan or [Nelson] Mandela,” said Esther Soma ’16, President of the Yale African Students Association. “But this is a new generation, and the stories from that new generation have to be told.” This was the vision behind Africa Week 2014, an annual series of events aimed at exposing the entire Yale community to African culture and conversations about the continent. This year’s Africa Week was held between November 10th and 15th. The Yale African Students Association (YASA), which organizes Africa Week, chose the theme “Pambazuko: Voices Defining a New Generation.”

The week kicked off with a talk by Lindiwe Mazibuko, who, at 34, is the youngest parliamentarian on the continent of Africa. She is also the youngest black female leader in the history of South Africa’s Democratic Alliance parliamentary caucus. Mazibuko responded to questions about specific issues faced by her party, the Opposition Party in the National Assembly, and also spoke about her personal experience as a young black female working in politics in Africa, including the challenge of trying to gain respect in a culture that strongly associates age with wisdom. Ewurama Okai ’17, YASA Social Chair, was inspired by the way the young parliamentarian struck a balance between being part of the existing South African political system and working to change it for the better. “As someone considering entering the field, there is the cynical idea that if you become part of the system, you may get too comfortable and that change you previously saw may never come,” Okai said. “But [Mazibuko] was reassuring in stating that […] once you’ve proven yourself able to compromise, you have a better chance of pushing through the reforms you are considering.”

Africa Week continued with events ranging from the artistic to the practical, including performances, master classes, a career information session, and more inspiring talks.

The iDebaters, a debate team from Rwanda, gave a talk on competing in and teaching debate in a post-genocide generation. Their talk was accompanied by testimonies from a number of African undergraduates about their personal challenges. Nodumo Ncomanzi ’16 described her experience as an albino African. She talked about growing up aware that she could have chosen to pass as white if she wanted, yet consciously chose to express a black identity instead. Referencing famous albinos such as African-American model Shaun Ross, Ncomanzi declared that today, she is deeply comfortable with her appearance, and she seemed nothing but confident later in the week as she led a contemporary African dance master class with Dzana, Yale’s modern African dance group.

In a discussion that felt like an intimate conversation between friends, Sangu Delle, a Forbes-recognized entrepreneur and 2014 TED Global Fellow from Ghana, shared his personal journey to entrepreneurship, describing how he discovered his entrepreneurial instincts early on, through an arrangement he made with an elementary school classmate – exchanging tutoring for the student’s delicious homemade corned beef sandwiches. While acknowledging the great potential of entrepreneurship on the continent, Delle stressed that there is a fundamental need to boost employment through changes in policy and access to funding.

“That’s been my biggest critique of the microfinance movement,” he said, “the myth that every poor person is an entrepreneur waiting for $200 million. It’s important in an African context to just create jobs.” Delle encouraged the students gathered to consider returning to Africa to work, as he did. “I knew my destiny was tied to the continent. I wanted people to be able to say, ‘He died for Africa.’” However, Delle added, “We also need Africans to succeed globally.”

Yale African Students Association (YASA) Vice President Julia Jenjezwa '16 (left) and President Esther Soma '16 (right) at the Africa Week 2014 formal dinner. Photo by Houriiyah Tegally '16

Yale African Students Association (YASA) Vice President Julia Jenjezwa ’16 (left) and President Esther Soma ’16 (right) at the Africa Week 2014 formal dinner. Photo by Houriiyah Tegally ’16

At the contemporary African dance master class, a group of about fifteen people learned dance routines set to South African house music and soukous, a rumba-like genre originating from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “The whole point of the class was […] to bring something different to Africa Week, something other than a panel,” Ncomanzi, who led the master class and co-founded Dzana, a contemporary African dance group at Yale. “We thought there were so many genres of dance represented on campus except Afrobeat, which is modern, contemporary African music. This for us was a brilliant way to introduce the campus to African music and dance as we know it as young Africans.”

The week also featured a film screening of Mother of George, the critically acclaimed drama by Nigerian-born filmmaker and fashion photographer Andrew Dosunmu, which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. The film allowed students to explore the themes of defining cultural identity, balancing family responsibility, and the tension between tradition and modern life in diaspora.

Tara Fela-Durotoye, founder and CEO of House of Tara International, a major Nigerian cosmetics company, spoke to a largely female crowd about female entrepreneurship in Africa. Fela-Durotoye drew on her personal experience starting House of Tara while a law student at Lagos State University and growing the company to a firm with more than 20 branches in Nigeria. She described the process of crafting an authentically African brand and offered students advice on starting their own enterprises in Africa as women.

Several African artistic organizations on campus came together to produce a dynamic cultural show. The show opened with a performance by Yale’s African a cappella group, Asempa!, whose contemporary set included current African hits such as “Sura Yako,” a single by award-winning Kenyan group Sauti Sol. Male and female students participated in a fashion show featuring traditional attire from numerous African countries, from traditional men’s suits and tunics to women’s dresses. Dianne Lake ’16 presented a brief interlude, singing “Bamidele” by Nigerian-French indie pop and jazz songwriter Asa. The fashion show concluded with the models taking to the runway in contemporary styles, mixing bright African print scarves and accessories with black Western clothes. Opelo Matome ’18, a freshman from Botswana and member of slam poetry team Teeth Slam Poets, read an original spoken word piece. Dzana closed the show with a routine performed to a mashup of contemporary African songs. The short but energy-filled cultural show left the crowd calling for an encore.

Students celebrated the end of Africa Week with a formal dinner at the Afro-American Cultural Center. Guests, including both students and administrators, arrived in their African finest and enjoyed food from a variety of African cuisines. African musicians from the African Leadership Academy and the Berklee School of Music gave performances, and YASA President Esther Soma ’16 and Vice President Julia Jenjezwa ’16 made closing remarks. “Now that Africa Week has come to an end, it in no way means that our work is over,” Soma said. “How can we live to be the voices defining our generation? My challenge to us is to pursue excellence, to talk less and act more, and to be brave and courageous. But let us not feel that we need to do this by ourselves. We are a community.”

Source:Ifeanyi Awachie|Yale.edu

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