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2013-11-16 14.28.04

I went to the 2nd day of the African Society of Georgetown’s (ASG) annual pan-African conference today.  Amazingly, after almost three years in DC and the numerous events I’ve been to, this was my first time ever making it to something on Georgetown’s campus.  I’ll have a few posts up on the conference, readers with policy interests may be particularly interested to know that Rwanda’s Ambassador to the US was the keynote speaker, look out for my posts on her remarks Monday.

Before I get a bit more serious in my coverage, a few superficial observations on the racial demographics of the event and the behavior of Voice of America presenter Jackson M’vunganyi.

1.  The event was pretty good and it was obvious that ASG had put a fair amount of effort into planning, so I was saddened by the low turnout.  One of the ASG board members (a Nigerian) pressured me very heavily to sit on the third row of the auditorium rather than allowing me to spread out on the 4th as I wished in order to give an appearance of more bodies.

Aside from the speakers, most of those present were Georgetown students of African descent.  I spoke briefly with another ASG board member, also a Nigerian.  There were numerous women of African descent wearing skirts or dresses cut above the knee, a handful of white guys with a somewhat preppy look, and amazingly, given the demographics of Peace Corps, study abroad programs in Africa, and the think tank events I go to, not a single white female student (I didn’t see one at least) at the conference representing the stonewashed jeans tucked into knee high boots look (as seen above).

I’ve rambled somewhat controversially before on racial demographics of Africana events in DC.  The complete lack of female non-African representation at this event, particularly in light of how many white female students have an interest in Africa was stunning.  I hope this says more about Georgetown in particular than anything else.

2.  Jackson M’vunganyi, a Rwandan native and the host of the VOA show Upfront Africa was one of the speakers and the only one that particularly irked me.  I believe there were 3 white males in the audience (myself included) when he opened his remarks by noting that Africans often know of VOA programming while Americans do not.  He then pointedly asked one of the white males in the front row if he was familiar with the VOA, the student replied no, to which M’vunganyi noted that as their taxes fund the show, the VOA ‘should interest any American in the room.’

I was very disturbed at this tactic of highlighting an individual to make this point and I know that if it had been me, I would have been furious (so why not do a solid for the poor Sophomore student and write what I would have had he singled me out?).  For the record, while serving in the Peace Corps, I spent quite a bit of time listening to shortwave radio, and I found VOA programming to be much inferior to that of the BBC.  Given the lack of racial diversity and small size of the gathering, I was particularly pained at this belittling of a student who made an effort to attend a conference on a Saturday morning.

Emblematic of the substance of a critic I recently read about ‘Afropolitans‘, M’vunganyi contrasted ‘vibrant urban youth’ with mere ‘rural youth’, deserving of no such adjective.  He also represented an aspect of youth that was particularly frowned upon when I was raised, by wearing a hat indoors.

I happened to sit behind him after he made his remarks and his behavior in the audience also represented something that is frowned upon with youth – a short attention span (those who are charitable will undoubtedly chastise me for misrepresenting multitasking).

Playing on his phone:

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Playing on his tablet:

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Doubling down on both:

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