I recently raved about the great night of entertainment that was Miss Africa USA in Silver Spring. While most of the contestants represented a wide range of African nations and a large swathe of American geography, a few, such as Carol Zigani, were local. Carol, who is based in Manassas, represented Burkina Faso and answered some of my questions on African politics, culture, and Africa in DC issues via e-mail.
Carol’s family settled in the US when she was 14. Growing up in Ougadougou (the country’s capital), she had been strongly attracted to American culture, but arrived in the US without knowing anyone and without significant English skills. Carol has just graduated with her BA in Global Affairs from George Mason and I detected a strong pan-Africanist sentiment in her responses. She is very focused on her goals, and I suspect that in several years, she will be making her presence felt in Africa in DC circles.
Carol will be entering George Mason’s MA program in Conflict Resolution in the fall. Following her studies, Carol plans to enroll in the Peace Corps (hopefully she will be sent somewhere she can get one of her favorite African dishes, jollof rice). This background should prepare her well for her preferred career at the US Agency for International Development, where she will utilize her knowledge of Africa and conflict mitigation skills.
Carol did not make it out of the first round, but would have performed a French poem (by a poet of Cameroonian an Senegalese descent) that she learned in primary school about an optimistic African future in the talent round. I was very impressed and heartened by the ‘Africa Rising’ narratives espoused by the pageant contestants (it sounds much more realistic in their mouths than in the pages of The Economist). She would have been accompanied by a live drummer and I suspect that her performance would have been another uplifting contribution.
Carol has quite an appreciation for the arts herself, citing the Francophone ‘pioneers’ of Negritude, Leopold Senghor and Aime Cesaire as personal inspirations. She also views Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso’s most renowned pan-African figure as “a great man [who] remains a great icon” (sentiments I agree with). I could not resist asking Carol about Blaise Compaore, a man who has governed Burkina Faso for her entire life. While she hopes for free elections, she suspects “in order for that to happen a lot of tumult will take place” (I also agree, though I am less optimistic about the possibility for free elections).
Until recently, Carol was the Vice-President of Act for Africa International, a northern Virginia non-profit engaged in development work in Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. Carol is now working independently to increase education opportunities for girls in Burkina Faso and to that end is fundraising to build classrooms, bathrooms, and wells in the town of Leo in Burkina Faso, near the border with Ghana. She says that not only has her participation in Miss Africa USA opened doors for her project, but it has increased awareness of Burkina Faso, which like most countries in the Sahel is often forgotten (unless they get taken over by Islamic fundamentalists).
If Miss Africa USA 2014 is held in the DMV, I encourage all readers to check it out and feel this passion first-hand.