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Columbia University’s 9th Annual African Economic Forum a gigantic success

Columbia University’s 9th Annual African Economic Forum a gigantic success thumbnail

The coming together of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Business School,  Law School and Mailman School of Public Health in a show of unity and strength,  helped propelled the 9th Annual African Economic Forum (AEF) on April 13-14th, 2012 at Columbia’s campus in Harlem, New York to a gigantic success surpassing the organization’s other previous Forums.  (Photo: Columbia University’s African Economic Forum Membership)

Senior Committee Member and AEF’s Co-Chair Liberian-born Foday Soko Sankor speaking on the sidelines during an interview with African New Dawn Radio inside Columbia University Business School’s Uris Hall, Friday night at an AEF Mixer and After-Party  declared his delighted and gratitude for the massive turnout at the two day event but more importantly, he emphasized his recognition of unity and strength created by joining forces with other African student organizations from the Business School, School of International and Public Affairs, Law School and most recently with Mailman School of Public Health.

“Our theme this year is ‘Africa Reclaiming Africa,’ and one of the things that we tried to capture in this conference is how can Africans and Africa as a continent start to take the initiative and be at the driving seat of change where we are less dependent on other nations in terms of endless aid or remind others to empower our economies so we as the future leaders of tomorrow believed that we have to take concrete measures and graphic steps to stop what’s happening to Africa and Africans,” said Mr. Sankor.

This year’s Keynote Address was delivered by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria Mr. Mallam Lamido Sanusi – a career banker and ranking Fulani nobleman, and also serves as a respected Islamic scholar. Mallam Sanusi was appointed Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria on 3 June 2009. Mallam Sanusi is most notable and credited for successfully transformed Nigeria’s banking industry at the height of the global financial crisis debacle in 2009.

Columbia University Senior Leadership Committee from left to right: Arif M. Traore, Foday Soko Sankor- Co-Chair, Freda Yawson, Marilyn Balonga - Vice Chair, Zimuzo Azim, Ngowari Harry - Co-chair and Ola Obilana

According to published reports in the renowned global financial intelligence magazine, The Banker, published by the Financial Times, has conferred on Mallam Sanusi two awards. He has been recognized with the global award for Central Bank Governor of the Year, as well as for Central Bank Governor of the Year for Africa. The TIME magazine also listed Mallam Sanusi in its TIMES 100 list of most influential people of 2011. On November 28, 2011 Mallam Sanusi emerged as the winner of Forbes Person of the year 2011.

Offering some of the highlights at Friday’s event, Camerounian born Marilyn Balonga from Yaounde, an AEF Senior Committee Member and Co-Chair who is also a 3rd year student at Columbia Law School, where she is Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar (2010-2011) and a John S. Bainbridge Fellow was jubilant for the successful outcome of 2012 AEF.

“We are very happy about it, we just heard from our Keynote Speaker the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria – Mallam Sanusi flexing about 400 plus people, so that’s very exciting.  We think it is time for Africans at home, but also here in the US, London/England and elsewhere abroad to come together to talk about why we love our continent, how we can make it a little better and what can we bring to it,” explained Ms Balonga.

Friday’s events also involved a wide range of topics including: information revolution, peace and security, sovereignty, financial service and banking, green revolution, land reform, wealth funds, tourism, public health featuring Sierra Leonean born Dr. Marion Koso-Thomas.

Dr. Koso-Thomas who received her pediatric training from the University of Illinois in Chicago and the Georgetown University Medical Center graduated from the University of Sierra Leone with a Bachelor of Science with Honors (B.SC Hons) and Bachelor’s in Medicine and Surgery (M.B. Ch.B). She received her pediatric training from the University of Illinois in Chicago and the Georgetown University Medical Center.  She is interested in child advocacy, health policy and implementation science. She  serves as an expert resource on topics related to maternal and child health in resource poor settings, particularly with respect to sub- Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

More highlights from Friday’s Opening included  vendors displaying African Arts & Crafts,  prints of exquisite paintings, an African Fashion Show, and a Beauty Pageant won by Kadiatou Fadiga Miss Guinea USA 2012.

For an independent academic opinion on Columbia’s AEF 2012, I turned to Professor Charles E. Simmons- a Columbia alumni, class of 1970 and professor of English Language/Literature and Journalism Law at Eastern Michigan University.

“The discussion is limited to the financial relationships between the Central Bank and the other banks in Nigeria. What the Forum needs, from the perspective of the workers and small farmers, is an analysis of the overall economy from their point of view,” observed Prof. Simmons.  He also said “the measure of success should be the advance of the peasants, small farmers, local small businesses, workers, and professionals tied to local services rather than to the multinationals or the military. Look at the history of the financial and employment success of these groups since the end of colonialism?”

Nigerian students have a huge presence at Columbia University and a larger representation on the African Economic Forum Senior Leadership including Mr. Ngowari  Harry who hails from Calabar in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.  Mr. Harry is a Senior Committee Member and Co-Chair of AEF 2012 who is graduating in a few weeks with a MBA in Business.

Responding to a question about Nigerians negative reputation of scammers and corruption, Ngowari said “Gov. Sanusi  made some very important points here today during his Keynote Address; there are so many positive things going on in Nigeria and with Nigerians living in this country – America. He threw out a couple of key statistics – one, the high percentage of folks in this country that are Nigerians who are home owners, own their own businesses, and own their own medical and legal practices;

“Gov. Sanusi also talked about the high rate of education amongst Nigerians in this country.  Points like this just emphasize the fact that not everything you see in the news represents all there is to Nigeria and Nigerians.  It is my hope that as Gov. Sanusi mentioned today going forward this are the type of stories we will see more so of rather than Boko Haram news, corruption and things of that nature,” Ngowari remarked confidently.

Columbia University’s African Economic Forum 2012 will go down in history as the best and most exciting Forum since the event evolved almost a decade ago.

Dennis Kabatto, USA

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