Student Diplomats Negotiate at Model Afrian Union in D.C.

The challenges that regularly face members of the African Union often make those faced by their European counterparts seem like a stroll through the park. Last weekend, 14 Colgate students got to experience firsthand just how intense and frustrating, but also rewarding, facing those challenges can be as they participated in the annual Model African Union sponsored by Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Similar to Model UN conferences, Model African Union was a weekend-long mock conference in which college students representing numerous institutions and a broad range of disciplines — political science, economics, international relations and African studies, among others — formed delegations, representing each of the AU’s 53 member states. These students were able to take the reins in writing and negotiating for the passage of resolutions concerning everything from water rights to social justice issues. The participants even experienced the intensity of a simulated international crisis.

“It’s a chance for students to enact this whole process [of diplomatic relations],” Professor of Anthropology and Africana & Latin American Studies Mary Moran said.

Moran has advised the Colgate delegations for the past three years.

“It’s the best learning experience I know of,” Moran said, citing the numerous hands-on skills and increased confidence students develop as a result of participation in Model AU.

This year, Colgate students formed two delegations that represented the countries of Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Each team spent weeks in preparation for the conference, holding weekly meetings and researching its country’s political and diplomatic conditions in detail. Students then selected certain committee assignments, choosing from the economic committee, the committee on union government, the peace and security committee and the executive council. They then wrote resolutions related to certain agenda issues that fell within the parameters of their selected committee. At the conference, the students were given the opportunity to debate and defend their resolutions, which were voted on and either passed or rejected. Those passed went to the executive council for approval.

Senior Jana Bauerova, who sponsored a resolution together with junior Oluwaseun Ogunbamise, attested to the difficulty of the process.

“We had to learn to come to a consensus…pick up on things that other delegates might have problems with,” she said.

Bauerova and Ogunbamise’s resolution titled “Development and Management of Renewable Energy Resources as an Engine for Industrial Growth” was one of the few resolutions from their committee to receive approval in the end.

While this process took place, a simulated international crisis also unfolded, put together by the faculty advisers present at the conference. As a result, the executive council not only had to approve resolutions for passage, but also had the added responsibility of dealing with an ever-changing situation involving an escaped former dictator, refugees, and the peace and stability of several countries.

“It’s very intense,” Moran said of the simulation. “The students really have to stay in character and be well-researched.”

This was especially important, Moran explained, as the students responding to the simulated crisis were representing actual people who are in charge of actual countries, many of who could have differing agendas and opinions as to how a situation should be dealt with. The students were given the opportunity to learn firsthand exactly what their real-world counterparts’ priorities would have been through visits to their delegation’s embassy in Washington prior to the beginning of the conference.

Though the experience was intense at times, both Moran and Bauerova were of the opinion that this intensity only added to the real-life feel of the conference, thus adding to its educational value.

“The most fun thing for me is that the students really absorb the experience,” Moran said. “Countries on a map become people for the participants.”

Bauerova values her participation in Model AU, along with the many other opportunities she has had to learn outside the classroom at Colgate.

“It makes you grow as a person and helps to shape your world view and to forge connections with like-minded, diverse people,” Bauerova said.

This year, several students participating in both of the delegations from Colgate received awards, including sophomore Louis Mensah, who received an honorable mention for the “Outstanding Delegation Award,” a peer selected award; junior Leah Montre, who was also selected by her peers to receive the “Committee Leadership Award;” and senior Malik Wright, a three-time conference participant, who was selected by the faculty to be vice-chair of the executive committee.