UCLA Africa Studies Center Article

Issue August 2020

Her Excellency Ambassador Arikana Chihombori-Quao July 20th, 2020 Webinar available at:

https://www.international.ucla.edu/asc/event/14472

In Africa 101: The Wake Up Call, Her Excellency Ambassador Arikana Chihombori-Quao, MD uses personal anecdotes, her tenure at the AU, and historical references to highlight the struggle, discrimination, and violence Africans and their descendants have endured. From the consequences of the Transatlantic Slave Trade to the current need for the Black Lives Matter movement, Dr. Chihombori-Quao’s book issues a call for action and outlines plans for initiatives and a timetable for Africans on the continent and in the diaspora, along with friends of Africa, to dismantle stereotypes and end racism sooner rather than later.

Her Excellency Ambassador Arikana Chihombori-Quao. MD is the former African Union Ambassador to the United States. Since her departure from the AU, she has been finishing her forthcoming book and speaking about her work with the African Diaspora Development Institute (ADDI). Prior to her appointment as Ambassador, she practiced medicine for over 29 years, mobilized African health professionals to address healthcare needs, and advocated for the safety and well-being of all, specifically women. Upon the first impression of Her Excellency Ambassador’s book, my position as a first year student at UCLA prompted me to be intrigued, specifically by the refreshingly bold display of George Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” on the cover of her new book. Growing up within the midst of tremendous political upheaval, discourse and transformation, it’s rewarding to see someone of so much prestige and experience explicitly outline their progressive views for the whole world to take notice of. It allowed me, and hopefully the other 200 viewers present, to begin participation in her webinar with an open heart and mind.

Her Excellency began by outlining the main theme of her book, “Africa 101: Wake Up Call,” to serve as not only a reminder, but as a guide that we, as change makers, can lean on in the quest of freeing ourselves from the mental shackles of slavery and colonialism. It’s important to highlight the fact that I am not black, meaning I have never and will never have to face those shackles tangibly within any system that I freely navigate through, a privilege she thoroughly iterated having been granted simply from the fact that I do not “produce melanin” as Black people do. The passion Her Excellency shared with us about the core of the Black experience, from the foundations established at the beginning of history, was a testament to the true extent of how her book and the conversations we have today are not only just about tangible representations such as ink on paper, but they are about the principles and values that we the world chooses to live by. I recall learning about the Berlin Conference, within 45 minutes, during one period of my school day when I was a sophomore in high school. I can say with confidence however, that the information I received regarding the historic event, did not scratch the surface of what I learned from Her Excellency throughout this webinar. The framework applied to her insight of the Berlin Conference allowed for quite honestly, a wakeup call, about the true extent of how broken the foundation of Africa, the global economy, and the systematic limitations put on Black people dating back to the beginning of colonization, truly is. As we, a global collective, continue to participate in conversations like the Black Lives Matter movement, this framework is ideally a vastly important shred of truth that explains why Black people are continuing to face the same oppression and story day after day. The economic shackles on resources, legal legitimacy, and sovereignty, as well as the criminalization of Black skin, the force of the white experience, the silence of colonizers, and the manipulation of legal technicalities are just a few of the important truths highlighted by Her Excellency within her work.

It’s astounding how there continues to be debate about what the Black Lives Matter movement and Black voices are fighting to achieve. Her Excellency presented the simple yet profound explanation that the motive at stake is purely what is fair, in every sense of the word. “This world is ours, so let’s enjoy it as equals,” is the statement that carried significant weight for my experience as a participant. Her advocacy of these core ideals that are intended to serve as seeds for the future generations was refreshingly radical and provides hope for a new foundation of not only the United States, but of every global community, specifically Africa. Purchasing her book and being a part of the movements in front of us is one way we can further “unite under God and establish a powerful force.” I am grateful for the opportunity to have learned and gained insight from Her Excellency Ambassador Arikana Chihombori-Quao, for that, I thank her.

– A review by Cristina Williams, ASC Undergraduate Student Assistant

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