UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Africans on Africa

Photo by Scott Carter
Photo by Scott Carter

An audience of thirty predominantly female members sat attentively as four UMass students, one recent graduate, and two professors sat at a banquet table before them, and introduced a seven week seminar called “Africans on Africa.” Margery O’Donnell, the Administrator for Africa Programs at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies, came up with the idea for the class after the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) annual meeting in March 2006. “This is a class about Africa, as told by Africans,” said O’Donnell.

The eight week course will be moderated by O’Donnell, and taught by UMass students as well as a faculty member who comes from Africa. Denis Bogere, one of the five students participating in teaching the course, finds the program to have greater potential than just education. “What we do believe in is the best for Africa. Africa has witnessed a new wave, and I think it’s our role back here to make sure we get what is supposed to be done,” said Bogere, “the question is what is our role, the question is what we as Africans here in America, what can we do for our continent? And how can we get people like you to help.”

The OLLI was established for people fifty years and older, and is sponsored by McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies’ Gerontology Institute. The majority of the mostly female audience said they became interested in the course, and its format of being taught by Africans, due to their not having a great deal of knowledge about African culture and society.

This class’ candor did not shock Leah Moya, one of the day’s speakers and a recent UMass-Boston graduate, originally from Zambia. Leah was not surprised at Americans’ ignorance of Africa, and says things are not much different across the Atlantic. “With regard to how many Americans don’t know anything about Africa, I will tell you something very honest; not a lot of Africans know about Africa,” said Moya, “Even in school when you are growing up, you don’t read books by Africans, you read books by a Westerner who’s been and said what they think about Africa.”

Through the duration of the semester, the program’s speakers will discuss a wide-range of issues. The topics range from such intricate subjects as the “Management of Conflicts Among Diverse Tribal Groups” to the broader topic of “Poverty in Africa.” Professor Adugna Lemi, who teaches Economics and came to UMass-Boston from his home of Ethiopia, has been scheduled to come speak on October 26th about poverty in Africa, “We will be talking about the extent of poverty in Africa that you probably know about because of the news. But we try to link it to what is the cause of poverty? And try to relate it to the current events, like whether the World Bank and IMF are good or bad, and other international organizations, the UN, is it good or bad, and what are they doing to solve these problems?”

Professors such as Lemi will discuss Africa’s situation in an academic light, but others brought the discussion down to a more personal level. Many of the speakers discussed the outlook and ambitions they have for Africa and for themselves. A great many of the speakers talked about an eventual return to Africa, where they can utilize their UMass educations to the fullest potential.

“I am here as biology and political science double-major, and I’ve been in the United States for three years,” said Isabelle Ferrer, a UMass student who came here from Angola, “Once you get here you start missing home, and you get a great appreciation for what you’ve left. Angola is beautiful. I intend on getting my M.D. and intend on taking my political science degree to allow me to do humanitarian work whether it’s in Angola or elsewhere.”

“Africans on Africa” enhances one’s understanding of what Africa means to the its peoples. They come to UMass in search of an education to bring back home, yet continue to advance the cause of their homeland by teaching others while studying here.

As the recent UMass graduate Leah Moya said, “I think a lot of people who are here, a lot of Africans especially, have been trapped in this society for so long that in their minds it’s what they have left that is what they’re talking about. So you will stay here and say ‘at home there’s a lot of suffering going on, and a lot of problems in Africa, and people need to help.’ But until you go back you don’t realize that Africans are beginning to help themselves.”