Archive for africa – Page 2

A Witness to Four Wars, Columbia Graduate Now Focuses on Building Peace

The following story was put together by the Public Affairs Office of Columbia University.  Monique, the student featured, is graduating from SIPA today.


Monique Tuyisenge-Onyegbula, 27 years old, has already witnessed four wars in Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq and Afghanistan. It has been a long journey for Tuyisenge-Onyegbula, who is graduating with a master’s degree from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs this month. Her goal: To help bring peace to communities affected by violence.


Monique Tuyisenge-Onyegbula (center) with her brothers and cousins in Kigali, Rwanda

Image credit: Monique Tuyisenge-Onyegbula

At the age of 11, Monique and her family were forced to flee from civil war in Rwanda, where she spent most of her childhood, and then lived as a refugee in Cote d’Ivoire, which was also affected by conflict. Years later, she was able to return with her brother to the U.S., where she was born, and served in military operations supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a member of the U.S. Navy.

“It took me four wars to understand; war is not the answer, machetes are not the answer,” said Tuyisenge-Onyegbula, who earned a bachelor’s degree in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University in 2007. “If we don’t sit down and discuss what we were fighting about we will not be able to keep the peace.”

Born in Michigan, where her parents were students at Andrews University, Tuyisenge-Onyegbula moved back to Rwanda with her family in 1984, when she was a year old. In April 1994, the country descended into a brutal ethnic war between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority. More than 800,000 people were killed in less than six months.

Her family fled without passports to Goma, a border town in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then known as Zaire). They lived with two other families in a one-bedroom apartment near a hospital that was overwhelmed with victims of the war in Rwanda.

“I consider myself lucky,” she said. “Although we had to stand in line for food aid, we did not have to live in the refugee camps for long, which became dangerous… But I hit a very low point in Goma, and I lost all hope there.”

As conditions deteriorated, Tuyisenge-Onyegbula’s father arranged for her and her brother, Jeffrey, to travel to Cote d’Ivoire and enroll in a boarding school. Without passports, it took three years for the siblings to establish their U.S. citizenship. Max Church, a close family friend in Michigan, helped secure their birth certificates and establish their American nationality.

For much of this time Tuyisenge-Onyegbula received no communication from her family in Goma and feared the worst. As political tensions in Cote d’Ivoire escalated, she and her brother received their passports and arrived in the U.S. in January 1998.

For two years they lived in Ohio with Church’s son and his family. In 2000, Tuyisenge-Onyegbula was reunited with her family in Delaware—they had escaped to Kenya and passed through Haiti before arriving in the U.S. After completing high school, she enlisted in the navy to put herself through college, and served until January 2006 as an engineering machinist on the U.S.S. Wasp, operating and maintaining steam turbines and reduction gears used for ship propulsion.

During her service, she shared her experiences in Rwanda with her shipmates. “I would literally shake for hours just talking about it, and the shaking would last beyond the conversations,” she said. “I was still bitter.”

After leaving the military, she completed her studies at George Mason in Virginia. While there, she attended an event where she witnessed the first conversations she had seen between Hutus and Tutsis since leaving Rwanda. Deeply moved, she committed herself to working for peace in the region where she grew up.

“I want to help create an instrument of change that can help break the cycle of violence in the Great Lakes region of Africa,” she said. “Ethnic identities are a major cause of the problem. They are mere labels that hinder our conversations. I want to help create peace.”

At Columbia, she studied international security policy and served as president of the SIPA Pan-African Network, coordinating events such as the African Diplomatic Forum and African Economic Forum. Tuyisenge-Onyegbula and her husband are currently expecting their first child. She hopes to return to the workforce after her baby is born, to focus on foreign policy issues with a U.S. government agency, an organization in the Great Lakes region, or a multilateral organization such as the U.N.

“I survived for a reason, I believe. I suffered, but I was spared for some reason too,” she said. “Many friends of mine died from violence or from starvation. I want no child to go through what I experienced.”

Workshop Trip to Liberia

The following entry was composed by Nora Gordon, a second year MIA student concentrating in Human Rights.  Nora spent Spring Break, and an additional week in Liberia participating in her SIPA workshop.  She is back now but wrote this while she was away.

I am currently working in Liberia with my workshop team on improving vocational training programs for youth in Liberia.  We are here for two weeks conducting trainings in vocational training centers about market assessment.  Our goal is to help staff and participants learn how to use a market assessment toolkit that was produced by a SIPA workshop team in 2008.

Here are a few quick notes from the trip so far . . .


We went to work on Saturday morning for a quick meeting with our supervisor.  Our project involves making a short film and other training tools for people working on job training programs for youth. We will get to visit 4 Youth Employment Program sites throughout the country.

The idea is for us to help local programs figure out market needs and shape their training accordingly.  When we finished our work meeting, a Liberian guy walked into the office singing “In the jungle, the mighty jungle…” We all laughed.  He gave us a giant, gummy smile and told us his name, McNeal.  “I’m the IT guy,” he said.  We told him about our video and he was excited to be on camera.  Then we tried to find out some details about the local culture.

“Do people dance a lot in Liberia?  Where do people dance?”

“Whaaaaaaat?!!  You ask me this?!!  How you gonna ask me if we daaaaance?!”

We laugh.

“A typical Liberian will never answer a question,” McNeal explains.  If you ask “I hear in Liberia you don’t answer questions. Is this true?” We will say “Where did you receive this information!?”


I’m finding some similarities with other places I’ve worked, like Rwanda and oddly even more with East Timor.  Maybe these are just commonalities for conflict/post-conflict zones.  But, for example, there are chips of broken glass cemented along the top of the walls surrounding residences.  There are lots of locks on every door, 24 hour guards, and in our compound there are a bunch of bars on all the windows.  We have 24 hour guards and a curfew.  We’re not supposed to even walk ten feet outside by ourselves after dark (6:30pm). I’m feeling very protected/restricted.


Today we did our training in the field, which involves introducing a “Market Assessment Toolkit” for vocational trainers and youth.  There was a 14 year old boy named Morris in the class who asked “Why is it called a toolkit?” Good question. I’d explained earlier that it was like tools in a toolbox- like a hammer, but for your brain.

So one of his teachers explained that metaphor to him, and I thought, “This is great, let’s put him in our film!”  We’re making a film as part of our project in order to help make sense of the toolkit.  As class went on, though I realized the boy was quite cross-eyed, and I thought “Ugh, now if I put him on film, it will be so stereotypical, ‘Oh look at this poor little cross-eyed African boy’ and people will just focus on that instead of what he’s saying.”  Or else mean people might laugh.

But then I thought, “It’s not fair to discriminate and not put him in the video because of a physical condition.”
So I had this idea to pull him aside later and have him talk to the teacher so he would be looking at the teacher not the camera, and it wouldn’t be so noticeable.  It worked out nicely and is great for our project.




The SIPA Pan-African Network (SPAN)

Abibata Shanni Mahama, a second year student from Ghana, contributed the following post.



The SIPA Pan-African Network (SPAN) is a student group at SIPA. It is geared toward the professional development of its members. It creates an informal community and provides a platform for students interested in the economic, political, and social development of Africa and its Diaspora.  It represents SIPA students from a variety of interests and disciplines (economic and political development; human rights; economic policy; environmental policy; security policy; and media to name a few), as well as from a variety of ethnicities and countries from around the globe.

SPAN hosts programs aimed at improving and building the African continent throughout the academic year.  Apart from these activities SPAN also holds social events such as parties outside campus twice a semester, mostly in downtown New York where students are able to partake in the nightlife of the city.  Some of these parties and events occasionally involve the African Business Club (ABC) from the Columbia Business School and the African Law Students Association (ALSA) from the Columbia Law School. This demonstrates how SIPA students are able to interact with other students from different fields who may even come from the same countries. Networking is a strong element in working with these clubs. Apart from entertainment, SPAN also does the following:

– Organizes the annual flagship event the African Economic Forum held in the spring, exploring various themes in the economic, political and social development of Africa.

–  Ensures and shapes the presence of African Studies at Columbia through the ‘Moving Africa Forward Initiative’, by incorporating student voices in an on-going dialogue.

–  Works with the Columbia University administration to increase enrollment of students from Africa and the Diaspora at Columbia, and to improve the curriculum offerings for classes on Africa and its Diaspora.

–   Sponsors social and cultural activities, diversity awareness, and empowerment efforts around issues pertaining to and in celebration of the rich historical and cultural heritage of Africa and its Diaspora.

You can find the SPAN Web site here.

International Students at SIPA

The following was prepared by SIPA student Abibata Shanni Mahama, a second year MIA student concentrating in Economic and Political Development.


Prior to SIPA, my concern was mostly how to get adjusted to a new environment and culture entirely different from Ghana but little did I know that there were resources at Columbia University which could easily make me feel at home. This thought vanished right away after the International Students Orientation organized by The International Students and Scholars Office which is very resourceful in getting international students settled for classes. They touched on every bit of student life in a different environment from academic, expressions, language to social life.  As part of the orientation, they  planned  activities for International students to get accustomed to the City of New York and historical places in the United States. The interactions I got from my fellow students alone boosted my morale and confidence of studying at SIPA which is situated in the heart of New York City with easy access to transport and Broadway shows.

SIPA also has a  rich blend of Student and Faculty of different nationalities from all over the world representing all continents. Each year approximately 50% of the students at SIPA are international. In fact some students from different schools at Columbia University jokingly refer to SIPA as “Mini UN”. The diversity of rich backgrounds and knowledge make learning fascinating as we learn from each others culture aside academic work. I have particularly achieved a lot of understanding of global issues pertaining to policy by interacting with students from regions relevant to my research for deeper analysis of the issues at stake.

For example, before I came to SIPA I had a little knowledge of Africa until I took courses in Economic and Political Development where a wide array of topics are centered on the African Continent where development struggles to address the need of the people that are the targets of the projects. This has given me an insight into the problems and challenges of Africa in terms of development and also paved the direction of the processes to be followed in formulating and implementing policies in the most deprived regions of concern if I ever come across similar issues after graduating from SIPA.

International students at SIPA are treated the same as United States citizens. Every student is equally important and relevant. However, the grading system of SIPA is different from other schools. Therefore it is important to find out from respective professors on their grading pattern.

MPA in Development Practice Information Session

SIPA offers seven different degree programs and as a reminder, this blog focuses mainly on our two-year, full-time MIA and MPA degree programs that have been in place for decades.  However, SIPA also started a new two-year, full-time degree program this year – the MPA in Development Practice.

While the skills developed in the MPA-DP are similar to our other two-year programs, it also has a unique focus on development issues in Africa and the entering class is much smaller.  You can learn more about the MPA-DP program through attending an information session and by utilizing the contact information below.

MPA-DP Information Session

Date: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Location:  Columbia University, Morningside Campus, International Affairs Building, Picker Center Conference Room

Contact:  Catherine Q. Aldrich, or call 212-854-9610

RSVP:  Register Here

Event Description:

Speaker:   Glenn Denning, Director, MPA in Development Practice; Professor of Professional Practice, Faculty of International and Public Affairs; Associate Director, Center for Globalization and Sustainable Development, The Earth Institute, Columbia University.

The Columbia University Master’s of Public Administration in Development Practice (MPA DP) presents an information session for prospective students with Glenn Denning, Director, MPA in Development Practice; Professor of Professional Practice, Faculty of International and Public Affairs; Associate Director, Center for Globalization and Sustainable Development, The Earth Institute, Columbia University.  Open to the public.

For more information on the MPA in Development Practice click here.

Web Site:

Application Deadline for Fall 2010: January 5, 2009

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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