Wednesday, April 11, 2012

African Diaspora, Student Groups Could do More

Author: Mohamed Toure

Speaking with love, as a sibling member of the African diaspora family, I must share a thought which may or may not be well received by my siblings… my African brothers and sisters. My thought is born of the notion that the African diaspora has demonstrated an ample potential to become a major contributor to Africa’s well being, and to that of its respective home countries outside the continent. The thought is simple; the African diaspora, with its faculties and resources, could do more to live up to its full potential.

“If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success,” opined the great late Malcolm X. This observation was made more than four decades ago; yet, it is timeless because it hits the nail on the head. It so happens that in order for observers to issue critical opinions about our endeavors, they must first take notice. Being the authors of our efforts, we are the first to know ourselves, and for this reason we must become our first critics.

Throughout the United States and Europe, Africans who left the continent in search of opportunity several decades ago managed to settle in the best way they could. For some, the journey has covered stops in multiple countries. Many often, these experiences were written in hard manual labor, and long hours at menial jobs. Others found their way through academia and professional environments, where they did better for themselves than they could have back home in their countries of origin. My family’s experience has been a mixture of both, and we have all learned a great deal in the process.

African immigrants in France
How much have they sacrificed?
With solemn applause, we must congratulate the sacrifice of these adventurers who went in search of a better life and means of livelihood, for themselves and for the relatives and communities they left behind. However, it is in their children (ourselves), who have now come of age, that we must observe and measure the relationship between potential and future success.

In my attempt to form a self-critique of my dear African diaspora community, I find it appropriate to focus on professional, academic, and communal bodies made up predominantly of Africans. I am sure that one may come up with several examples of bodies that fit such description, but for the sake of this piece, I choose student groups made up of African diaspora students.

There are several factors that justify this choice. Firstly, African student groups are housed on college campuses, and college campuses are the gatekeepers to professional, financial and consequently, social success in most modern societies. In addition, these student groups are usually formed with an understanding that they will serve to advance the academic and professional interests of its members and the community at large. Finally, by means of physical proximity and institutional affiliation, members of African student groups on college campuses have better access to practical knowledge, resources, and networking opportunities.

The next point of observation then becomes the issue of potential… the future promise of the African diaspora. How is this potential understood? As early as 1996, the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reported that African-Born U.S. residents were the most highly educated group in the United States. A decade and a half later, the African diaspora has laid down solid roots in Western countries. Africans and their children are now more educated. Through the advances in telecommunication technologies, they are as connected to the motherland as ever. As if academia were a sporting competition that we long ago mastered, in the second decade of the second millennia, African immigrants continue to lead all other groups in the United States in terms of education attainment. In fact, we even surpass Asian Americans, a group that is stereotypically looked to as the model-minority in education. Similar trends are also becoming noticeable throughout countries in Western Europe.

In a world where achievement in higher learning is viewed as a solid indicator of intelligence, discipline, and work ethic, there is little room left to doubt the potential of the African diaspora. Several questions follow these praiseworthy facts. Do Africans earn the highest incomes? In praise of western meritocracies, are Africans beginning to occupy the highest positions in their fields, as their superior qualifications would call for? Do African immigrants lead in percentage of business owners? More questions come to mind than can be printed on an entire ram of paper. The answers to these questions are to be decided collectively by the African diaspora.

Students at the Harvard African Business Conference '12
To drive the point home, African student groups throughout the US, the UK, and other countries are close to the discussion tables where answers for the aforementioned questions are to be found. In fact, many of these groups have found new vitality in recent years by showcasing Africa. African fashion and talent shows take place many often to showcase a mixture of traditional African art and culture, infused with other influences from around the world. African business conferences take place now at least by the half dozen to convince their audiences that Africa is now open for business and that great things are happening in the motherland. Harvard hosts one regularly, which I have attended in previous years. Columbia University has one as well, which I attended once. MIT has one. Oxford University hosts a Pan-African conference this year to discuss building capacity and youth leadership in Africa. Several other schools host similar events with the commendable efforts and coordination of their African students.

Including the aforementioned schools, African student bodies are all over the place now, with a variety of wonderfully motivational events taking place. These events are packed with bright young students and professionals eager to be reminded that their dear mama Africa truly has potential after all, and that if they are innovative, driven, and persistent, they too can finally realize the dream that their parents once left behind. These events are no fairy tale, but it should seem so. Rock star professors, authors and activists, and African politicians make frequent appearances at these events now. Business owners and company executives also find the time to speak to our dear African students. In the end, attendees exchange business cards, shake hands, and leave the events star-struck… a fair return on investment for their ticket price, which often costs them the price of a brand new textbook. Sometimes, the proceeds of these events are used to donate books or medicines in Africa. Other times, they are used to fund more on-campus activities. These activities are all very nice, provided that they lead to more.

Admittedly, I have found myself in auditorium seats at these conferences many times. I have met many like-minded friends there. I have learned many interesting facts, and my resolve to involve myself in the growth of Africa has hardened. I find it regrettable however, that not once did I leave one of these daylong, or two-day conferences having gained a single tangible skill. To what extent do I benefit from hearing about cool new innovations and trends if I am not given access to the resources or knowledge that would permit me to jump in the action immediately, even minimally?

African Diaspora Club in 2010
Towson University, Baltimore, Maryland
Then there are the galas and college parties hosted by African student groups, all in the name of humanitarian fundraising. The proceeds of such events have a one-time-use value, and fail to establish long-term solutions. African student groups should devote their energies to lobbying more aggressively to get aspiring African students in top schools with the necessary funding to cover tuition. Business and finance members of these student groups would help the African diaspora community by organizing to help small business owners grow their operations… and maybe this growth will warrant the creation of new positions within these businesses waiting to be occupied by young Africans. Perhaps on-campus consultancies could be organized to offer the expertise of African students to major corporations in all sectors of the economy in their host countries, respectively. The ideas are endless once we adopt the notion that we are not doing enough.

Essentially, I am not saying that we are not doing anything as African students. Rather, I am suggesting that we need to do more, a lot more. We need to be less timid, and more assertive. Ambition requires no apology, and other continents, nations, communities, and ethnic groups are not waiting. As Abraham Lincoln put it “things may come to those who wait, but those things left by those who hustle.” I hope that my fellow African students in the diaspora will join me in exploring this issue, for the sake of our collective interest. Long live Africa and its diaspora.

Mohamed L. Touré is the editor-in-chief of SEADiaspora. He is currently a business professional based in Maryland, in addition to serving on the steering committee of Alliance Guinea, an organization focused on human rights, democracy, and justice in Guinea. He is an associate at the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance. Mohamed graduated from the University of Baltimore with a B.S. in Business Administration and a concentration in International Business. He is a Guinean-Italian, who holds dual citizenship and resides in the United States. His belief in sustainable development as the way forward for Africa is rivaled only by his commitment as an A.C. Milan fan.

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