Principia College’s 11th annual Pan African Conference (PAC), which was held this past weekend on October 22nd and 23rd, focused on the United Nations’ (UN) Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa.
The conference’s board, led by Executive Directors junior Daniel Tongori and sophomore Anthony Ackah-Nyanzu, worked hard on early Saturday mornings with the guidance of Advisors Bente Morse and Billy Miller, to organize the conference and host five diverse and knowledgeable speakers.
Each speaker addressed one or more of the MDGs, which are: to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.
The UN established the goals in 2000, and though their aims are vast, all of the speakers claimed that they are attainable. However, they also made the point that these goals are not a “cutoff” for 2015, but will continue to exist indefinitely to better the rich continent of Africa.
Emira Woods, the Keynote Speaker and Co-Director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, emphasized that Africa is rising and is rich in resources, but there is a disconnect between the developed world and Africa and a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, which have been hindering progress in Africa. However, she also conveyed a sense of hope: “Change has happened. I believe we are at a critical moment where we need to push a little harder,” said Woods, “Africa is this giant that has to reach its full potential.” She said that those best equipped to help accomplish this are visionary students with creative energy, like those on the PAC board, and that they only need to harness their power and push the necessary agenda to do so.
Speaker Camille Jackson brought the perspective of the State Department to the table. Her objective was to relay the current state of U.S. policy in Africa under the Obama Administration. Jackson said, “We need to make Africa relatable to the everyday experience,” and she restated what Obama said in his speech at the MDG Summit: the US government is committed to helping African countries with the MDGs, wants to decrease dependency on foreign aid, will measure progress with results instead of dollars and wants a long-term focus of exceeding the MDGs. However, her main point was that although the U.S. is willing to do all of this, to really accomplish the MDGs, Africa will have to do its part at the end of the day.
Dr. Mahabat Baimyrzaeva, a native of Kyrgyzstan with a PhD in Public Administration from the University of Southern California, did not have African expertise but provided a comparative example of what Africa should not do when working to sustain progress, in order to avoid retreating backwards as Kyrgyzstan did. She particularly focused on the need for clear goals in institutional reform of education in order for Africa to provide universal primary education. In an engaging teaching style, she discussed the uneven progress of education in Africa, caused by conflicts, money allocation issues, urban bias, limited amounts of teachers and supplies, and low teacher accountability. Dr. Maha, as she was dubbed, said the solutions to sustaining progress were to invest in higher education institutions, create an economic demand for education, make curriculums relevant to economic needs, and to have adequate teaching methods.
Beatrice Selotlegeng, who established the African Business Outreach Initiative with the help of the African Studies Program at Ohio University, gave examples of the best practices to help reduce infant mortality rates and increase environmental sustainability. In Botswana, oral rehydration therapies, pneumonia treatments, immunizations and insecticides helped successfully lower infant mortality rates. In Tanzania, national land policy and provisions of technical competence allowed women to own land, created community ownership of forests, and stopped illegal practices in the environment. Though the problems are complex, Selotlegeng said, “The key is to not lose hope,” but she would also agree with Jackson. “Africans need to solve African problems”, she said, “I think we should shift away from the blame culture now, and say, what do we need to do?” Above all, referring to it on all levels, Selotlegeng said, “Leadership is everything, in my view.”
Dr. Adotey Bing-Pappoey, who was the Director of the Africa Centre in London for 15 years, highlighted the need for a self-reliance program of development. Bing-Pappoey spoke out against the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, which make it hard for countries in Africa to develop new industries and for rich country rule-breakers to be held accountable and brought to order. He said, “It’s like a police force that won’t do anything unless someone fails, but then there is no fair trial or judgment.” He then proposed strategies for progress: acting on self-interest to create self-reliance, creating more regional integration within Africa, supporting local businesses, mobilizing internal and external resources as well as internal human resources to reverse the “brain drain,” or emigration of educated people away from the continent and improving governance and institution capacity.
Dr. Maha closed the Conference by saying that the two key problems that need to be solved are poor infrastructure and weak governance of institutions and systems, which lack accountability and are legitimized by the culture. Nevertheless, as establishing good governance is complex, Maha said it is a multi-sectoral issue, requiring the government, market and society to make it happen. According to Dr. Maha, the fundamental changes that need to be made are in rules and organizations, but for these to be effective, the change has to trickle down to social norms as well as personal, mental models.
Students who attended the conference learned a great deal from the speakers and got a lot out of these discussions. Senior Darline Ambugo said, “This PAC challenged me to think seriously about my role as a citizen and the impact of my actions on my fellow people.” She also said, “It consisted of well informed speakers, and I am sure that all participants felt the same way.”
Afterwards, many passed around the mic and shared with each other something that they were going to take away with them from the Conference at the end of the day. Sophomore, Erin Plum, said, “I loved learning what other people were thinking about after everything the speakers had told us…there were lots of ideas brought up that I hadn’t thought about!”
After the Conference, a presentation was given on one Christian Science school in Africa that has taken initiative in reaching all eight goals of the MDGs for the children attending it: the Ngochoni Petals of Africa School. The school in the Migori district of Kenya was once an area of conflict and violence between the Luo and Kuria tribes, but now the people of each work together in peace at the school. It began with only 6 students in 1997 and now educates 170 boys and girls up to grade 8, and is in the process of building a high school. In 2009, it became the highest ranked school in its district. Apart from its high academic achievements, there are boarding dormitories for children so that they do not have to travel from afar, children receive the nourishment they need in the dining hall, get clean drinking water from the school well and boys and girls get equal treatment. Anyone can sponsor an orphan, student or teacher, or donate to the school, and it relies on donations to exist. Many Principia College students have worked at the school, and the school hopes to continue to strengthen this global partnership. It has been a testament to the fact that all of the eight MDGs can be met.