Students win numerous awards at Model of African Union conference

Students win numerous awards at Model of African Union conference

G eorgia College students won awards in practically every category in November when the university hosted the 24th Annual SEMAU (Southeast Model of the African Union) conference.

SEMAU is like a mock trial or Model UN (United Nations), where students act as real delegates and heads-of-state to debate issues that affect African nations. The exercise demands lots of preliminary research, quick thinking on their feet, a readiness to compromise and work with others but, also, the drive to take the lead and solve conflicts.

“It can’t get any better than this,” said Dr. Charles Ubah, professor of criminal justice and SEMAU advisor. “This is, in my view, very important for any school but more important for Georgia College, because we are the Liberal Arts University of Georgia."

"To engage students in multiculturalism, learning beyond the classroom experience, experiential learning, internationalization of the university’s curriculum, diversity and inclusive excellence––all of these are enshrined in this exercise,” he said.

The event is a real-world simulation based on the national Model of the African Union, held every year in Washington D.C. Student delegates sit on committees for social matters; peace and security; democracy, governance and human rights; Pan Africanism and continental unity; and economic matters. They discuss matters of finance, food security, disease, immigration and war.

Each school comes to SEMAU with resolutions that are pulled apart and remade through two days of debates. On the final day, student heads-of-state vote to adopt or reject final resolutions.

Ubah co-directed this year’s conference with retired English Professor Dr. Eustace Palmer, who chaired the university system’s African Council for four years. He played a big role in starting SEMAU in 1997 and continues to support students at conferences.

Hosting the event helps Georgia College showcase it's concern for diversity and internationalization. The community as a whole becomes aware of what is going on in a continent that will have two billion people by 2050 and play an extremely important role in world affairs.
– Dr. Eustace Palmer

Five university system schools participated with Georgia College: University of Georgia, Georgia State University, Albany State University, Savannah State University and Middle Georgia State University. Advisors from Kennesaw State University and Fort Valley State University were in attendance, as well.

Dr. Carolyn Denard speaks with Mujahid Umar, Consulate General of Atlanta.
Dr. Carolyn Denard speaks with Mujahid Umar, Consulate General of Atlanta.
The three-day simulation began Wednesday night with Milledgeville city officials and university faculty and staff welcoming two African diplomats: Ambassador of the Republic of Togo Frederic Edem Hegbe and Ambassador of the Republic of Mozambique Carlos dos Santos.

Duties of state were interspersed with social and cultural activities, like African Night with a performance by the Atilogwu Dancers from the Atlanta Igbo School.

Georgia College students have participated in the conference every year since its inception. In the past, they represented the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Somalia, Liberia, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, the Sudan and South Africa.

This year, students represented Nigeria and Ethiopia. Nigeria is Africa’s biggest economy and one of the world’s largest oil producers. It’s the most populated nation in Africa, but little of its abundance trickles down to the people. Ethiopia, located in the Horn of Africa, has the second largest population but is fairly undeveloped and one of the poorest nations on the continent.

Dr. Charles Ubah stands by as a student delegate from Georgia State University speaks at the 2020 SEMAU conference at Georgia College.
Dr. Charles Ubah stands by as a student delegate from Georgia State University speaks at the 2020 SEMAU conference at Georgia College.

SEMAU isn’t done for class credit. Students don’t get a break from coursework to study African affairs. Everything’s done during free time. Students get only weeks to prepare––researching countries, studying issues of importance, learning what delegates do and how they act––before they’re dropped into a realistic arena and expected to perform professionally with students from other universities.

It is an exercise in international diplomacy. Students quickly adapt to rules and protocols of a real government committee. When addressing a board chairman, they say, “Your Excellency” or “Honorable Chair.” They dress in business attire and stand when speaking. No one speaks, unless they first call out, “Point of Inquiry.” No one leaves until meetings are “adjourned.”

The conference is the pinnacle of what our students study and prepare for. The real action begins with the students. They manage the committee meetings. Faculty members are there to advise and guide. But the students elect officers, and they run the deliberations.
– Dr. Charles Ubah

Senior Carson Shuler.
Senior Carson Shuler.
Senior criminal justice major Carson Shuler of Savannah won an award for his role as Nigerian president on the executive council. He also won honorable mention for chairing the committee on peace and security. Other students won delegate awards for Ethiopia and Nigeria in economic matters; Pan Africanism; and democracy, governance and human rights. They took honorable mentions for leadership in committees.

Shuler joined SEMAU to learn about Africa and meet new people. As a member of the executive committee, he researched the on-going civil war in Ethiopia. Other committees sent in resolutions on how to deal with this crisis. The committee on economic matters, for example, found ways to fund the end of the war and protect and provide for refugees.

In the process, Shuler said he became more self-assured.

“I noticed everybody here in the executive council––we’re all first time doing this. We were very nervous at the beginning, and we didn’t know the proper procedures or anything. We definitely got the hang of it. It was a learning curve. But we’ve got it now.”

Sophomore criminal justice major Rachel Locke noted an upswing in her confidence too. She joined SEMAU to practice her speaking skills. She came in a little nervous but left knowing more about Africa and the economic resources that can make a difference in Ethiopia.

These are big issues that could really affect someone’s life...
– Rachel Locke
As she offered solutions for shelter, medical supplies, food and water, Locke said it felt like she was presenting to a real board. People took her seriously and listened to what she had to say. SEMAU helped Locke build leadership skills she says she’ll someday use as a paralegal.

“These are big issues that could really affect someone’s life,” Locke said, “and we’re supposed to find a solution for it when we’re just college kids. There’s a lot of research involved, learning what’s out there and what can be done. It’s very exciting.”

Copies of final resolutions are sent to African Union headquarters in Washington D.C. From there, they’ll go to the yearly heads-of-state meeting in Addis Ababa, the capitol in Ethiopia, where some student decisions may be adopted and put into action. In the past, African leaders have referred to work done in Georgia by SEMAU students, Ubah said.

Potentially impacting the lives of real Africans is exhilarating. This real-world setting helps students acquire skills they’ll need in the workforce. Shuler wants to work for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. In the past, Georgia College participants have been inspired to work in Africa and build careers in international affairs.

“This has been a very rewarding experience because we’ve been able to meet new people, gain new connections. It feels really important, the work that we’re doing,” Shuler said.

“It feels like we’re making a real difference,” he added, “because we're making our suggestions, we’ve done our research, and they can decide whether or not to heed those resolutions.”