Six Pan-African studies students are embarking on a journey to Howard University in the nation’s capital for the National Model African Union Conference, where they will be transformed from CSUN students into Ethiopian delegates of the African Union.
“This is a good opportunity to see what others think about Africa and also get my opinions out and input in helping with African issues,” said Onyinyechi Egeonuigwe, a senior PAS major.
Egeonuigwe is among the six student delegates that include Jan’eacute;e Hoffman, Olivia Njuki, Donnella Collison, Chanelle Briggs and Christina Kiflom, who will be representing CSUN at the conference.
The students will be traveling to Washington D.C. for the four-day conference, scheduled for Feb. 28 to Mar. 2. The conference is a simulation of an actual AU conference, and will involve discussions, debates and resolutions tailored specifically for the African Union and the country they are representing.
“This year we chose Ethiopia because it’s the oldest African country and because of the problems it has gone through for the last 13 years,” said PAS professor Dr. Eleazu Obinna.
The students have been preparing by attending class twice a week, followed by out of class work that includes intensive research, and staying up to date on the current events of Ethiopia and the rest of the African continent.
“It’s not like you can (use cliff’s notes), you have to be prepared to converse on all topics and convince them that your ideas are valid,” said Hoffman, a sophomore double-majoring in French and English.
Validation for CSUN delegates includes getting their four resolutions passed and implemented by their host nation, Ethiopia. The delegates have developed four resolutions of promoting intensive peace in African conflict areas, enforcing protocol on the rights of women, reforming education for children-workers and increasing food security.
Developing resolutions for the conference required careful deliberations as to what was realistic in the host nation in its present social, political and economical climate.
“The first time we did the resolutions it was completely wrong?but I just became more determined for the next time to get it right and I didn’t give up,” said Olivia Njuki, senior PAS major.
In creating and presenting the resolutions, the delegates have the opportunity to meet with the Ethiopian Embassy and discuss the potential, if any, of the resolutions actually getting passed and moving to the actual AU Forum.
Past CSUN delegates have been successful at passing their resolutions and getting them embedded into AU doctrine and culture, said Obinna.
The AU’s role is similar to the United Nations. The difference between the two organizations lays in its members and objectives. The AU’s members are all countries within the continent of Africa whose focus is solely on African topics and issues.
The National Model AU was created to increase the awareness of the organization but also emphasize the social, political, economical and security issues facing its member’s countries.
CSUN first participated in the model AU in 1982, when the organization was known as the Organization of African Unity. For the next 15 years, the model AU would function as a faculty driven activity with no CSUN students participating in the conference, said Obinna.
Finally in 1997, the university was able to incorporate students in the model AU and developed a corresponding course.
Hoffman said she had never really learned about Africa in classes and many of media portrayals perpetuating stereotypes of Africa and its inhabitants. She said taking the course and becoming a delegate has enriched her.
“I got into this to learn about Africa and to expand my knowledge base and to a extent it has been accomplished,” said Hoffman.
In 2009, CSUN will become a western regional center for the Model AU and will host mini-conferences, workshops and projects related to Africa.
The model AU has been continually funded by the university, a gesture that has garnered gratitude from the students and faculty that benefit from the program said Obinna.
She also said the class and activity will continue to thrive in years to come because of its impact on the students.
“Like the model UN, it will always go on?we have funding, teachers ready to teach and students ready to participate,” said Obinna.
Michelle McDow describes her experience as a delegate as a lesson in diversity and networking. She said the course explored the diverse and complex dynamics of Africa that going beyond the ever-present topics of starvation and AIDS.
“The conference is very realistic, you have to be clever and strategic in getting you resolutions passed,” said McDow.
McDow said the conference was also a source of networking, where you are able to meet ambassadors and other embassy officials.
“I met with the Ambassador of Egypt and till this day I still have his card,” said McDow.