Review of a successful First ASAF General Forum
The African Students and Alumni Forum (ASAF) held its first pan-African event virtually last Saturday, 10 April. With around 140 active participants from ASAF, the African Union and the European Union, ASAF's first event of this kind was a full success!
“Today, it is both the culmination of a journey and a starting point for new challenges.”
(original quote in French: « Aujourd’hui, il s’agit à la fois de l’aboutissement d’un chemin parcouru et un point de départ vers de nouveaux défis »).
With these words, Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth,officially launched the First ASAF General Forum held virtually on 10 April 2021. In her bilingual opening speech, she further encouraged all present ASAF members by pointing out that “ASAF will help to build "the Africa you want".”
It was with these positive messages in mind that one of the network’s very committed ASAF members, Mohammed Baha Saidi (Algeria), presented the ASAF Strategic Document 2021-2023 to the attendees. Based on this document, which the ASAF Core Group has worked out together over the last year, not only previous successes but also goals until 2023 were presented. These include a close cooperation with stakeholders and policy makers in the field of Higher Education in Africa and ASAF Co-Ambassadors in all African countries.
After this first input with subsequent discussion, live music by the Cameroonian singer-song writer Melchi Vepouyoum (& Crew) brought entertainment and a lively atmosphere. Fiorella Perotto from the European Commission even described the musical interlude as follows:“L’Afrique et l’Europe ensemble font des merveilles. Great example of African-European partnership!”
This was followed by the presentation of 8 workshops in the framework of the so-called ASAF Open Fora which were offered in two rounds (both in English and French). Participants were free to decide between the following topics:
- ASAF Strategic Document
Participants had the opportunity to give their comments and feedback on ASAF's Strategic Document and the general ASAF strategy. The English session was moderated by Hanan Meckawy and Lina Mkoji, the French moderators were Anne-Eunice Botny Capel and Achile Dongfack (all four members of the ASAF Core group).
- Modern Pan-Africanism
In this session, moderated in French by Dr. Emmanuel Ndahayo as well as in English by Vivian Berhane, participants talked about pan-africanism in the context of COVID-19. They came to the conclusion that it is an ideology and unites people who suffered from slave trade and unites people for freedom. Pan-africanism faces political, socia,l and cultural challenges.
- International learning experiences: what for?
Attendees agreed that mobilities bring a lot of opportunities. International learning experiences allow us to connect with a new world professionally and enable us to create new things and be more flexible. However, they also bring challenges, such as language barriers and cultural discrepancies (e.g. culinary challenges). The moderators were Martin Boton (French) and Dayo Akinleye (English).
- ASAF Online Community
Participants who joined this session were introduced to the powerful tool of the ASAF online community, especially during the pandemic. The online community is divided into groups which foster and facilitate interaction among ASAF members. Elyes Zaoui (French) and Jens Wilhelm (English) from wiminno as part of the ASAF Service Provider facilitated the sessions.
- Professional mobility of ASAF
The theme of this session certainly was from brain drain to brain gain: A lot of Africans who have benefitted from European mobility programmes do not return to Africa. The overall aim in general and for ASAF should be to use the diaspora network and bring them back to Africa, or “at least” their capacities. ASAF members want to take the problem seriously. The English session was moderated by Dr. Pascal Doh and Dr. Cosmas Kombat Lambini, the French moderator was Dr. Leonie Schoelen.
- Online Fitness and Meditation
This session gave its participants the opportunity to take a breath and perform relaxing physical exercises. The time out was very much appreciated. Conclusion: We all need this type of exercice! Mariela Georg was our sporty moderator of the day.
- African Entrepreneurship
The moderator Mirriam Watae Muyoba (English) told participants about her own experiences as female African entrepreneur in her home country Zambia and stressed that opportunities for women and men are very unequal. Both male and female participant were eager to openly discuss this issue.
- ASAF Impact Survey
The session informed participants about the aims of the ASAF impact survey which will be developed and implemented by the end of 2021. The objective will be to investigate the impact of international mobility on ASAF members (professionally and personally) and how to make best use of these experiences to improve Higher Education throughout Africa. Martin Unger (English) and Agnes Marchand (French) from HIS – Institut für Höhere Studien/Institute for Advanced Studies as part of the ASAF Service Provider moderated the sessions.
The lively discussions showed the participants’ appreciation of the 45-minute stimulating and open sessions. An interactive Africa Quiz facilitated by two ASAF Co-Ambassadors, Mariam Heggi (Egypt) and Anthony Simbeya (Zambia) between the sessions provided a sense of entertainment and animation.
The African Students and Alumni Forum then had the honour to hand over to Hans Christian Stausboll, European Commissioner, Head of Unit "Regional and Multi-Country Programmes for Africa", Directorate-General for International Partnerships, for a closing speech. Among other things, Mr. Stausboll concluded that “Alumni have an important role to play in higher education on the continent and could be a technical arm for the implementation of Africa-EU policies.”
Especially the end perfectly rounded off the event by encouraging ASAF members with the following words: “Let me remind you that your engagement is key to build stronger, more legitimate, peaceful and democratic societies. Nous sommes de votre côté, we are your supporters.“
The culmination of this entirely successful event was embodied in the inspiring and encouraging closing speech by H.E. Prof Sarah Anyang Agbor, African Union Commissioner on Human Resources Science and Technology (HRST), which started as follows:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Education is the most important tool for equipping African people with the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to be able to drive aspirations of continental development agenda, the AU Agenda 2063 and the AU vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa […]”
In this context, she drew a connection to ASAF as Students and Alumni Forum and emphasised:
“The fact is we can’t over-emphasize the importance of the student voice being represented in education policy making and programming. Forums and Associations like this have been identified as effective tools for enhancing coordination and strengthening partnerships around common policy imperative and mutual interests.”
In this spirit, we want to thank all participants who took their time and attended the First ASAF General Forum and made it a successful pan-African online event. It was a shining example that cooperation within the African Students and Alumni Forum as well as between the African and European Union cannot be stopped, even in times of a pandemic.
We are already looking forward to further (online) events of this kind!
Germany, Cologne, 15 April 2021