Category Archives: African Diaspora

On the Question of Identify….

…Does it really matter whether you are an African-American, African, African Immigrant, or simply You?

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. – Confucius

Most recently, it seems that we have either become obsessed with identify, or maybe it is just becoming more annoying now. Here is a few of my thoughts as recently published on ElleAfrique.com….

About a month ago, I was browsing the net and found an article by a Nigerian (or for the sake of correct identification, a Nigerian-American) on why Africans in America should start identifying with “African-Americans”. Generally, I read these sorts of articles with disinterest; but this time, I read with the hope that there would be an enlightening discussion on the “why” of a subject that has been prevalent in black communities for the past couple of years. By the end of the article I was unmoved and started listening to music and eating my fried chicken drumsticks from the KFC in Nairobi.  A couple of hours later though, the article resurfaced in my mind. Again, I started thinking of the African-American identity dialogue that we have had oh so many times. In fact, I got to a point where I was simply upset because, after going back and forth with this issue of identity, I came to the conclusion that there is no compelling reason to ask African immigrants to identify with African-Americans and vice-verse, unless someone wants to.

We cannot castigate an entire population in one sentence – there are Africans who embrace an African-American identity and vice versa. But for those who don’t – that is their choice. There is nothing in this world that should force one to accept an identity that they don’t want. If two brothers can be from the same parents and one chooses to play football for Ghana and another one for Germany, who is to say which Boateng boy made the right decision? Likewise, Africans in America can choose their identity and roll with it. Barack Obama is Kenyan if he chooses to be and African-American if he chooses to be. He can also be Caucasian – if he chooses to. Where you land your feet does not necessarily translate to your identity.

In 2012, I tried to take a crack at this issue in a previous article. In this article, I identified the similar struggles that both African-American and African immigrants face in the U.S. But looking at this issue on a global perspective, I wonder if we are obsessing over it a bit too much. It still stands that while both African immigrants and African-Americans have different cultural identities and practices, they face similar struggles with economic independence and social mobility in the U.S. These two groups, who face the same types of discrimination based on the color of their skin and their broken relationships, are ineffective forces in both political and economical affairs nationally. Yet, I think it is time that we give ourselves permission to be who we choose to be, and not simply who we’ve been grouped together with based on the similarities aforementioned.

What I see is a lot of guilt being passed around in the name of “unity”. Let’s not be quick to guilt or force identities on people without understanding that maybe they are better off forging their own identity. The truth of the matter is that whether Africans are in America or in their respective countries, their struggles do not end. Whether they are in America or not, they will go back to their home countries and still face unemployment issues, life in the “ghetto”, and, for the unlucky ones, they will still die from a bullet, shot by someone who deemed them undeserving of life. All this to say, Africans in America face their own struggles and have burdens to carry, including having ties to, and responsibilities in, two different continents – expecting them to take on an identify just because of the color of their skin is a step too far. Not to mention that most of this demographic are still aliens in America trying to make the “American Dream” work.

But lets add another dimension to this. The world has become a global village. Truly unique in that our identities have become fluid. More than ever, in this day and age, we need to rethink the way we embrace race, color and identity. Identity, or the lack thereof, define and shape ones thinking. We need to open ourselves to the idea of this fluidity. Look at half of France’s National football team, Les Blues; they are both African and French. They chose their identity, for better or worse. In his recent interview with the Daily Nation, prominent Somali novelist Nurriddin Farah talked about how identities are inclusive. As he points out, “The world is a richer world because of the differences that are there in our lives.”

And here I am: a Burundian, a Kenyan, an American, an African – and I am a better person because of all these identities. I celebrate all of them and have earned the freedom to pick the battles I choose to fight.

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We Are Generation G

April is Genocide Awareness and Prevention month. Genocide, ethnic violence, political tribalism: poison by any other name remains just as fatal.

On this day in 1994, the plane boarding Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira and two of his ministers was deliberately shot, killing those on board, and sparking a nationwide genocide. To Rwandans and Burundians, April 6th is a bloody and indelible day in our collective memories; it was the beginning of the end for our people, which ostensibly led us to a path of no return.

April 6th also hits incredibly close to home for me and countless others. Genocide is the reason for my being in the cold of Canada today; it is the reason I have never met my extended family before my first 19 years of life; and being one of two ministers present on the plane that unforgettable day, it is the reason my father is no longer living.

Questions from the families of the victims regarding the matter has yet to be investigated by the Burundian and Rwandan governments; to this day, there has been zero accountability or reparations made on behalf of these states.

However, I am less inclined to discuss who is to blame for the past, being that I am first concerned with who will be held accountable for the future of our nations; there is blood on my hands, albeit I have never held a machete in my life. Nonetheless, it is unmistakably our duty to secure the future of our nations and its civil population. Those with the ability and the courage to speak without fearing persecution have the responsibility to address the issue at hand. Those with diplomatic skills and accessibility of information are not unarmed nor frail. And if you dare not to acknowledge the elusiveness of a prosperous future for these war stricken nations, you have nothing to fear but fear itself.

We are Generation G – the generation of people directly or indirectly affected by genocides. Burundians and Rwandans must recognize all genocidal victims – Hutus and Tutsis alike – and express our demands for stabilized nations and the transparency of polities. Especially with recent talks of renewed ethnic violence in Burundi resulting from President Nkurunziza’s unconstitutional and widely contested reelection, a united ethnic front is as important now as it should have been over two decades ago. For this reason, we must agree to be the last of Generation G and work towards the abolition of incessant and politically (i.e. not ethnically) induced violence.

But in spite of its presence within the continent, Africans are not the sole claimants of Genocide Awareness and Prevention month, since genocide is one of many evils that will not discriminate. Europeans, such as the Christians of Armenia and the Jews of Germany, know this all too well. It is therefore a global issue, as opposed to just another African problem. This month is dedicated to the memories of the fallen casualties of genocides, irrespective of racial or cultural identities. This month is a dedication to peace, unity, and the heterogeneity of nations.

If there is one thing to remember in dedication of Genocide Awareness and Prevention month, it is that,

We face neither East nor West: we face forward.

– Kwame Nkrumah

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by | April 5, 2016 · 10:09 AM

Delivering letters of acceptance to girls in Ashanti region

After meeting the Accra students, I returned to Kumasi to deliver acceptances to students at Esreso D/A2 and St. Augustine’s Anglican Primary. While all the students were happy to be accepted, Fauzia of St. Augustine’s was especially emotional. Following introductions, students were informed of their acceptance. I was mid sentence explaining that selections were based on academic record, familys’ indicated financial need, and leadership potential when Fauzina lifted her hands to cover her face. She began crying. I asked why she was crying and she said she had never been given a scholarship before. After a minute or two she stopped and thanked me.

Also impactful was meeting Hamdalatu. Hamdalatu was a last minute addition to the first class. I was informed by her teacher of her intelligence (she’s been consistently in the top of her class since elementary school) and the hardship her family faces to support her. The teacher said, “she won’t be able to go to secondary school if you/GEIG doesn’t help.” Hamadalatu has been paying for her own school fees since she was in class 3. She earns all of her money for school by selling water or acts as a servant to her guardian’s first-born. She does not see her mother often.

In her interview Hamadalatu mentioned wanting to be a nurse when she grows up, hoping to work her way to eventually become a doctor. She also mentioned feeling frustrated when she sees friends spending money on treats and food at school, and she can’t afford any of it, as all her money that she earns goes to her schooling – to her, “life becomes dull.”

Unfortunately, students with stories like Fauzia’s and Hamdalatu’s are not uncommon in Ghana. I’m hopeful that in the years to come GEIG can support many more deserving students.

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Where Are Leaders Like Dr. Elie Buconyori?

Burundi is burning. And we are watching it happen. Again.

It is a strange thing to fall in love with one’s country only to be disappointed over and over again. There was a time where I would dream of a great Burundi- a place where I would return and establish all these dreams and hopes.  There was a time where I felt that even though my country and countrymen had rejected my citizenship, made me a refugee in this world- that despite that I would go back home and see a Burundi changed.  But now I am not so sure, because it seems the more talent the country harnesses, the quicker it makes sure they don’t stay.

Your see, leaders like Dr. Buconyori made that belief possible. They were true to their mission, and true to their faith.  But who was Dr. Buconyori?

His mission was for the youth of Burundi, and to that end, he will be remembered as the man who inspired young Burundians to harness their skills and gain a competitive edge in the global market. He was a man who fought for the poor, and worked even harder to alleviate them from poverty; working to increase their access to such services as education and healthcare. Thus it was with sadness that Dr. Buconyori passed away on Easter Sunday, March 31st, 2013. His death came as a shock to many, and was mourned by the entire nation. In the Aftermath of the Burundian Civil war, Dr. Elie Buconyori moved back to Burundi and with him was a vision to build schools and clinics- no small feat in a post-conflict environment. A couple of years later, he had not only built the hospitals and schools, but he had seen the nation of Burundi through a tough period of transition to peace. In many ways than one, Dr. Buconyori was the father to many young Burundians- a mentor and their greatest advocate. No one has affected so many lives in Burundi as he did. He will be remembered as a man who turned a tragic history into a hopeful future. In the late 1990s, there were tens of thousands of Burundian refugees in Tanzania. With a vision to not only give them a place of belonging when they returned back home, he was on a mission to equip them with an education that engaged their minds to meet the realities of building a nation that had been ravaged by wars. He believed that “Africans, given the right opportunities, can compete on the world scene.” Returning to Burundi, he founded Hope Africa University, a vision that the school would have an opportunity to serve a dense population of Africans who had been affected by the wars in Central Africa. Serving more than 4000 students, Hope Africa University is still the largest private education institution in Burundi. In recognizing his work, in 2011, Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza awarded a Presidential Award to Dr. Buconyori recognizing his entrepreneurial achievements and his work with young people. The same year, he became the first Burundian to be elected as chairman of the Interuniversity Council of East Africa. As a nation-builder, he was a mentor to many, and a father-figure to many more. Dr. Buconyori  was as man who lived by his conviction that to raise up a nation, one must take on the great task of empowering young minds and nurturing them.

But all that seems to be gone. Look where Hope Africa University is now. Where his legacy has been left in the hands of “leaders”who value money over the youth, and those who enjoy the glamour and party life that is afforded them by their positions.

It seems that Burundi is doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again- where the sins of our fathers become the sins of this generation. And I wonder, will God forgive us for watching our country shed more blood?  Was a third term to protect mineral/oil interests, money, land grabbing etc worth the many lives that have been lost? Is this Tusti-Hutu dichotomy worth the pain and suffering we are causing each other?

I have more questions than answers…. and even if it is 2-3 of them, I wish we truly had leaders willing to stand up for our country once more.

 

 

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Sometimes, Family Is what You Make of it…

Looking back at 2015, and thankful for some of the folks who have made my year. Here is a glimpse of one of those people, published earlier on ElleAfrique….

 

My mother has taught me to live life with open hands. To be a custodian, rather than the owner, of my blessings.

1. Don’t change who you are to fit other people’s molds of you

I saw it. Over and over again. I would see family, friends, colleagues and community members abuse my mother’s generosity. Maybe it couldn’t be helped. She is that type of person who goes out of her way to help people no matter the circumstances. I guess that would explain why I now have three adopted siblings. While my reaction to seeing this was always outrage, my mother always responded by saying, “if they are taking advantage of me, let God deal with them. It is not my place to judge their motives.” As a young girl, I didn’t think highly of such an attitude, especially when she would get home (often very tired) with yet more work that needed to be done. However, as I grew up, I saw the wisdom in her words. My mother knew that if she allowed people’s actions to change who she is, then she would spend her life reacting to people’s ideas of who she is and what she should be doing. Despite our large family, she stays true to herself. As her daughter, the “let it be” attitude concerned me; now I’m told that I have become quite like her. It took me several years, but I finally learned (first hand) that the best way to journey peacefully through life is when you get to determine the terms of the journey and which roads you are willing to take.

2. Life is precious, don’t waste it

It might have been the combination of a civil war and an exceedingly hectic family life, but my mother thought it important to never let me forget that life is short. She would always ask, if you died today, how will people remember you? At 15, I didn’t consider myself “memorable”; a couple of good grades, extracurricular activities and a penchant for trouble. My mother understood that she was blessed and smart and she made sure I knew that, as her daughter, I was to carry her mantle. She instilled in me the value of hard work and making sure that whatever I did, it counted for something and that I tripled the talents given to me. Yes, the parable of talents was quite popular in my family.

3. Don’t let your circumstances determine your outcome

As long as I can remember, my mother has always championed other women. As a child I would accompany my mother to her meetings with women in the community as they provided a place for support for each other. Often I would accompany my mother to these meetings and listen to some of their discussions as they shared recipes, advice on how to handle a family matter and take part in community service projects.

Mom 1

It was no secret how society viewed a woman’s role. It was taught to me in school and reinforced at home and in the community. However my mother made sure I understood that I had options.

One day, she came home with a recipe for a butter cake. We had no oven and no measuring cups or spoons; however, she said “we will improvise”. And we did. After we had made a makeshift oven with sand and coals I opened, what would become, my first “business”. I baked the cakes and my mother would sell them for me. At that time it seemed so insignificant, but now I realize just how much that meant to me. I didn’t end up owning a bakery; but I never, and will never, lack options. She made sure that I knew that my choice on the outcome of my life was guaranteed, no matter the circumstance I would find myself in.  (Now only if she could stop worrying about me being single at 30…..).

4. Above all, have faith

If faith could move mountains, my mother has moved several. I am the daughter of a bishop and pastor. Faith, in this instance, seems “guaranteed” – the obvious choice. As a young girl, it was easy for me to follow my mother and father to church and do what every minister’s daughter does – follow instructions with blind obedience; but eventually rebellion set in.

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Even through those years when I found myself lost, in so many ways, and trying to figure out where I fit in this world, my mother refused to give up on me. She would call, email me and keep asking me to have faith. I spent many years “riding” on my mother’s faith – that belief, without doubt, that ALL will work out. It is that faith that she passed to me, even while I was figuring out how to grow into myself, that I never forgot. I will always remember that just a bit of faith carries one a long way.

If I could be half the woman that my mother is, I would count myself lucky. My mother has taught me to live life with open hands. To be a custodian, rather than the owner, of my blessings. Because of her strength, I have found my own. In many ways, she has allowed me to be “heard” in a society that believes that women should just be seen.

– See more at: http://elleafrique.com/what-my-mother-taught-me-about-the-value-of-being-a-woman-championingwomen/#sthash.bsNcByUI.dpuf

About Funke Michaels…..

I will never forget meeting Funké. It is the kind of meeting that you replay in your head, over and over again, wondering if you dreamed the whole encounter. During my time as Editor-in-Chief of Applause Africa, an online magazine dedicated to showcasing innovation and success within the African Diaspora, I took a team of three to cover the first installation of the MIT Africa Investment Forum in 2013. I saw her before she saw me, and it was not until a colleague introduced me to her that I realized I had found the woman I wanted to be when I ‘grew’ up. By then I had already read her bio and, given her accomplishments, I instantly assumed that she wouldn’t bother speaking to me. So I was shy to approach her; but, to my surprise and immense relief, she hugged me warmly during our first encounter. Not only did she make me feel welcomed but we also spoke extensively about our mutual interests. I could not believe that a woman of her caliber found the time to listen to, advise and even champion my causes. For a while I thought I was an exception, but then I saw her do the same over and over again. The rest, as they say, was history; that day I learned that Funké was a novelty in the realm of successful women.

Nigerian-by-Birth and Kenyan-by-Marriage Funké Michaels is co-founder of The Pro-NICHE Network, a not-for-profit organization that provides free concept incubation, niche-networking and consulting services for African startups. She started this venture after spending over 19 years in managerial positions with brands such as Coca-Cola, Peugeot, Rothmans, Heineken, Subaru and Samsung. She has spent her time in the corporate circuit as a cross-functional resource for African, Caribbean and North American governments and multinationals in various consulting capacities.

With three children, two of whom were born while she was finishing her MIT Sloan Fellowship and preparing for her Mason Fellowship at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government, Funké inspires one to have the audacity to chase their dreams. You will often hear her call her women colleagues “Rock Stars”- a phrase that I have since borrowed from her.

To her, Funke familythere is no greater instrument for change than that of women who are united together with a common goal.“Women are like the proverbial broom. As individual broomsticks, we can achieve little. But bunched in a strong bond, we become the instrument of change: sweeping out systemic laxity and preparing our communities for the future. Women hold society together, we hold our families together. It’s time to actively hold our sisters together. We are more effective when we work in solidarity, “ she told me.

Funke Grad

More often than not, when she is not speaking on entrepreneurship and education, her favorite topic is women and their advancement politically, socially and economically. You will not hear it from her, but she has fought for women’s inclusion in various dialogues and often has funded women leaders all over Africa to attend conferences on the continent and in the United States.

Despite all she’s already accomplished, Funké continues to mentor young women, offering support and, at times, adopting them as her own “daughters”. One day I had to ask: why? Why do you do what you do? Why do you continue to fight for women, when sometimes the easiest route is not to? Her answer? “The most precious natural resource we have is our women. It’s the values that our women teach, that have helped us to survive so well with so little. Imagine what we could achieve if every girl got a sound education and the resources needed to excel in her chosen field? Just imagine what the following generation of Africans could be?”

I am inclined to believe her because if women were empowered to excel, we would see a different Africa than we see now.

 

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Attend: 2015 Young African Leadership Symposium

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CUNY

The Council of Young African Leaders (CYAL) will host its 5th annual CUNY Young African Leadership Symposium (YALS) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, New York. This year’s themeTransforming Africa through Partnershipswill focus on the importance of public-private partnerships (PPPs) and explores ways the African diaspora can engage with the Continent in the areas of development thought PPPs. This year’s program will feature keynote addresses by Ms. MacDella Cooper, CEO of MacDella Cooper Foundation and Ms. Bisila Bokoko, Businesswoman, Entrepreneur, Speaker, and Philanthropist among other high profile speakers and panelists.

“If you are in the New York area on November 6 and 7, you do not want to miss the 2015 CUNY-YALS because it is a unique opportunity to be part of the conversation about Africa,” said Loukman Lamany, YALS’s 2015 Chairperson. Similar to a Town hall Debate…

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Bisila Bokoko and MacDella Cooper to Deliver Keynote Addresses at the 5th Annual Young African Leadership Symposium in NYC

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Bisila Bokoko

The Council Of Young African Leaders will host the 5th annual CUNY Young African Leadership Symposium (YALS) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, New York. This year’s theme Transforming Africa Through Partnerships will focus on the importance of public and private partnerships, within the African community and abroad. The Young African Leadership Symposium gathers students, leading businesses, professionals, influencers and entrepreneurs to discuss many topics affecting Africa and its various countries. This year’s program will feature keynote addresses by Ms. MacDella Cooper, CEO of MacDella Cooper Foundation and Ms. Bisila Bokoko, Businesswoman, Entrepreneur, Speaker, and Philanthropist among other high profile speakers and panelists.

MacDella_Cooper

MacDella Cooper

 According to the African Development Bank, Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) have emerged over the last decade as one of the best ways to foster development. Similar to a Town hall Debate, the symposium is designed to be engaging, encouraging speakers, panelists, and the audience to discuss the most pressing African issues and how they can be solved through partnerships. Discussion will feature:

  • African Diaspora’s Assimilation vs Acculturation 
  • Social Enterprise; Funding an African-Driven Development
  • Ebola Lesson Learned from a Deadly Epidemic
  • ICT and African Development 
  • How to successfully implement PPPs in Africa and the Role of the Youth and Women

“This symposium is a unique opportunity for African students and young professionals to get involved in the pressing African issues,” says Loukman Lamany, Director of Programs and YALS Chairman. “In order to accelerate Africa’s development, collaboration between all the stakeholders, the public and private sectors, Africans on the continent and in the diaspora are needed for a greater collective impact.” Due to the steady rise of youth participation in both the private and public sectors, Africa’s youth are proving to be crucial players in social, political, and economic changes on the continent.

The CYAL is proud to partner with the CUNY University Student Senate on this symposium to provide a platform for African youth to lead the way in formulating Africa’s solutions.

Registration and program Open: http://www.yals.info

#YOUTHLEADAFRICA

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