Ever feel like you’ve been thrown into a frying pan? You have to think fast, be creative and do what it takes to get the job done.
Magnify that about 20 times, and you’ll know what it feels like to participate in the Southeastern Model of the African Union (SEMAU)—a realistic, three-day simulation that recreates the gathering of African heads-of-state. Students debate issues of critical importance and make decisions that could be adopted by real governments, impacting the lives of millions.
Senior psychology major Zykeria Jones of Warner Robins was one of 11 students from Georgia College, who attended the 23rd annual SEMAU conference in November at Kennesaw State University. She won SEMAU’s Leadership-in-Committee Award.
“I had to learn quickly how to conduct myself in the moderated and unmoderated caucuses, if I wanted to be taken seriously after the first day,” Jones said. “I went back to my hotel room and researched all the rules to be better prepared for the rest of the conference. By the last day of the debate, finally, I found my voice.”
“I was honored to be seen as a good leader,” she said.
Next fall, SEMAU will be hosted at Georgia College. The event’s based on the national Model of the African Union, held every year in Washington D.C. Dr. Eustace Palmer, an English professor who retired in May after 25 years at Georgia College, chaired the university system’s Africa Council for four years. He played a big role in organizing SEMAU and continues to support students at conferences.
“They’re getting knowledge about Africa and African affairs, experience in conflict resolution, conflict management and dealing with other people,” Palmer said. “They hone their diplomatic skills, negotiate and adopt resolutions. That’s the benefit. They have to think on their feet.”
African heads-of-state meet yearly in Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia. They discuss African affairs and make decisions that affect all African populations. SEMAU copies this. Georgia College students have participated in the conference every year since its inception. In the past, they’ve represented the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Somalia, Liberia, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, the Sudan and South Africa.
This year, students represented Nigeria—Africa’s second biggest economy and one of the world’s largest oil producers. It’s the most populated nation in Africa, too, but little of its abundance trickles down to the people.
SEMAU isn’t done for class credit. Nor do students get a break from coursework to study African affairs. Everything’s done during free time. It’s extra. Students get only weeks to prepare—research their country, study issues of importance, learn what delegates do and how they act—before they’re dropped into a realistic arena and expected to perform professionally with students from other Georgia and southeastern universities.
The action revs up fast and feels heart-poundingly real.
Students must quickly adapt to rules and protocols that SEMAU takes seriously. When addressing a board chairman, they say, “Your Excellency” or “Honorable Chair.” They stand when speaking and must gauge the proper time to address motions. No one speaks, unless they first call out, “Point of Inquiry.”
Students must know their country well and be able to adjust to changing situations. This involves learning the country’s policies, attitudes and history. When representing issues and leaders, students must ‘stay in character’ and role play, Palmer said. They may be Americans, and they may oppose things that are being done in Africa. But they must forget that—internalizing attitudes, policies and behaviors of the country they represent.
Jones was on the Economic Matters Committee, determining issues of food sustainability in Nigeria. They tackled the problem of water deprivation and agreed to fix contamination, in order to keep crops thriving.
This real-world playacting makes SEMAU a transformative experience beyond-the-classroom, said Dr. Charles Ubah, professor of criminal justice and SEMAU advisor.
Jones is grateful Ubah “pushed” her to participate. It was her first conference and debate. Before this, Jones didn’t like group work or speaking in front of people. She didn’t like sharing her ideas, because she thought someone else would always have something better to say.
Being at SEMAU was also difficult, because Jones was one of few women on her committee.
“I struggled to assert myself and get other delegates to see my resolution as important,” she said. “Especially because most students there had done this before, I felt really overlooked. This experience taught me that I have to learn to speak up when I want to be heard. This has really helped me with my people skills.”
Paige Overmyer of Atlanta is a senior criminal justice and sociology major, minoring in global health. She already knew a lot about African geography but had to quickly learn its politics and history, as well. Junior psychology major Kaylyn Kniery of Marietta was on the Executive Council, dealing with issues of national crises, like recent bombings by the terrorist group Boko Haram. She had to think of problems in a broader context, seeing how political events in one country affect all Africans. Public health senior Jaylan Sanders of Macon was interested to see how malnutrition and lack of clean drinking water impacts public health. And Leari-Jenee Jones, a senior criminal justice major from Savannah, was glad to get government legislation experience for her future as an attorney.
On the final day, student heads-of-state voted on resolutions. Copies of their decisions were sent to African Union headquarters, where some may be adopted and put into action.
“It will get to the desks of presidents in Africa. So, you can see the impact of what we are doing,” Ubah said. “What we’re doing here in Georgia is real.”