Through guest speakers, performers and a visiting African scholar each spring, the five-year Pomona College "Africa Initiative" will highlight the continent's ever-increasing importance, its emerging economies, and the vital role the region plays on the international stage. Among the guests will be former U.S. assistant secretary of state of African affairs Johnnie Carson, New York Times West and Central Africa bureau chief Adam Nossiter, Senegalese hip-hop artist and political activist Malal Talla and Cameroonian author Célestin Monga. In the spring, Samba Ka, from Dakar, will be the first visiting African scholar, teaching a course on the political economy of reform in Nigeria, Senegal and Zimbabwe.

Pomona College Prof. of African Politics Pierre Englebert believes the College's concerted effort to further understanding of the continent is an imperative.

"Whichever way you look at it, Africa is of growing importance to the United States and the world.  If we are to train the leaders of tomorrow, it's essential to prepare them better to deal with Africa, its politics and political economy.  It takes a lot more than a few hours of classroom exposure to these topics to begin being able to make a difference, and to get competitive for graduate programs and work opportunities in the field," says Englebert.

Englebert, who is a coordinator of Pomona's International Relations program, notes indicators of Africa's significance—for instance, it provides 29% of U.S. oil imports (more than the Middle East), and is the new breeding ground for anti-U.S. terror movements, including Al Qaeda, Al Shabab in Somalia and increasing Islamic activism in Kenya. Over the course of the last decade in particular, the U.S. is paying more attention to the region, Englebert says, pointing to examples like the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003 and continued and expanded democracy-promotion efforts. Moreover, some of the fastest-growing developing countries are now in Africa.

With those realities in mind, Englebert and a group of 10 students shared in the development and implementation of the Africa Initiative, knowing that to help affect change in areas of poverty, injustice and conflict—and to better appreciate African nations as change-makers themselves—they need to be better informed.

International relations major Kara Freedman '14 has had an interest in the developing world, particularly Africa and Latin America, since high school and her interest was further stoked during her internship in Liberia, where she practiced journalism. For her, the series is important because Africa is one of the most misunderstood regions in the world, particularly by Americans. She says she knows that her classmates will be among the movers and shakers in the world who will impact long-term development in regions such as Africa, and it is crucial that they gain more nuanced outlooks.

"I hope that by bringing in more speakers to focus on the region, and especially by hosting a visiting scholar each year, Pomona students and faculty will have the opportunity to learn something new and perhaps even reverse entrenched perspectives," Freedman says.

Jared Kalow '15, a public policy analysis major concentrating in anthropology, said that just as his own perspective of Africa as a hopeless cause has changed, other Pomona students will have opportunities to have their views altered, too, through this initiative.

"I hope the Pomona College community learns that Africa is not just one giant continent of war and poverty," Kalow says.

"Discussions on Africa are often marginalized to particular history and politics classrooms…I hope the College community will learn more about the diversity of Africa, its richness in history, culture and innovation, its importance in global politics, and the beauty, dignity, intelligence and strength of its peoples," Kelebogile "Kelly" Zvobgo '14 adds, an international relations and French major who is one of 12 international students from Africa on campus.

Pomona College President David Oxtoby says increased attention to Africa is a must, especially since historically, the College has focused on Latin America and East Asia.

"In the modern interconnected world, we need to have ties to every continent.  I am excited to see the increasing numbers of students coming to Pomona from Africa, the growth of study abroad and internship opportunities there, and the number of speakers and visitors who work in or come from the region.  Pomona's Africa Initiative will help to further these connections in many ways."

The 2013-14 schedule for "Africa Initiative: Voices on Africa" Series is as follows:

Oct 30

Jessica Piombo, Naval Postgraduate School: "Non-Traditional Security Challenges in Africa" —noon, Carnegie 109.

Dec. 9

Adam Nossiter, West and Central Africa Bureau Chief for the New York Times: "Covering Africa for the New York Times: Journalism from the Bottom" —5:30 p.m., Frank Blue Room. 

Feb. 6

Lise Rakner, Chris Michelsen Institute (Norway): "Are Multiparty Elections the Best Way to Promote Democracy in Africa?"—noon, Carnegie 109.

Feb. 25 & 26

Malal Talla, Senegalese hip-hop artist and political activist (member from "Y'En A Mare" group that mobilized against former President Abdoulaye Wade when he tried to stay on against the constitution): concert on Tues., Feb. 25 at 8 p.m., Doms Lounge (Smith Campus Center); lecture on Wed., Feb. 26 at 5:30 p.m., Frank Blue Room.

March 11

Ambassador Johnnie Carson, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (2009-2013): "U.S. Foreign Policy in Africa"—5:30 p.m., Frank Blue Room.

April 1

Célestin Monga, Cameroonian author, pro-democracy activist and macroeconomist at the World Bank: "Governance and Economic Growth in Africa: Rethinking the Conventional Paradigm"—noon, Carnegie 109.

Speakers tentatively scheduled for next fall are Nestorine Sangare, minister for women's affairs in Burkina Faso and Mahaman Tidjani Alou, director of the LASDEL Research Center (Laboratoire d'Etudes et de Recherche sur les Dynamiques Sociales et le Développement Local) in Niger.