Diplomacy, African Politics and Hors d’Oeuvres

On Wednesday, February 20, a group of students left campus for Washington D.C. to participate in the 11th Annual National Model African Union Conference hosted by Howard University. The Model African Union (MAU) program at Colgate, which began as a group funded by the Africana and Latin American Studies Department about 20 years ago, has now grown and is offered as a half credit course every spring semester. This year, 20 Colgate students took the course and participated in the four-day conference where students from all over the country debated on issues affecting the African continent and its people.

Prior to leaving campus, students had conducted extensive research on the foreign policy of the country they were representing. This year, Colgate represented four African countries at the Model – Rwanda, Guinea, Gabon and South Africa. The embassy briefings, which were very informative, provided students with the opportunity to interact with ambassadors and diplomats in order to gain a clear sense of the country’s stance on hot topics like human rights, free press, the conflict in Mali, relations between African countries and China, and international trade and corruption. At the end of the briefings, delegates had a firm grasp on the foreign policy of the nations they were representing. 

A few hours after the embassy briefings we proceeded to Howard University campus, where all schools and delegations gathered for the opening ceremony. This perhaps was our first challenge as diplomats since delegates had to negotiate their way to seats or to find a spot because there was not enough room in the hall. The first meetings of the various committees and councils immediately followed. These meetings, though the rules were not being used, were still very important since this was the first chance that delegates got to form alliances and consolidate their resolutions. 

For the first time in the history of the Colgate MAU program, students had the chance to network with Colgate Alumni at a reception right after the conference’s opening ceremony. The reception was organized by the Office of Alumni Affairs and was hosted by The Brookings Institution. This institution is a public policy organization that has consistently ranked as the most influential, most quoted and most trusted think tank. Present at the reception was Colgate President Jeffery Herbst and numerous alumni from the Washington, DC area, including vice president and chief operating officer of Brookings, Steven Bennett ’90, who had briefed the Colgate delegation on the work and mission of Brookings right before the reception. It was amazing to meet wonderful and brilliant people who were more than willing to share their knowledge and stories with students. 

Debate on resolutions proceeded smoothly over the next few days as delegates, attempting to stay in the character of their country, tried to negotiate with each other to address the problems facing Africans. Colgate had three students, including myself, taking up leadership roles as officers at the conference. As a veteran at the conference, it was not difficult switching between roles of participating in debate and facilitating it. The conference was a very rewarding and educational experience as students had the opportunity to interact with their peers from different parts of the country. 

Colgate has distinguished itself as a leader at the Model and each year we receive awards for our outstanding performance. This year Paul Sirma, who represented Guinea at the Model, received an award for committee leadership due to his brilliant contributions to debate and his dedication to moving his committee forward. Our officers received lots of praise for their competence and command of the rules. Apart from honing their public speaking skills, this conference refined students’ interpersonal and teamwork skills because there were various characters present and one was forced to constantly adapt as situations changed in committees.