Stories are important and crucial in the enterprise of knowledge creation about Africa, as Donna Haraway shows in Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective with the unmasking of “the doctrines of objectivity because they threatened our budding sense of collective historical subjectivity and agency and our ’embodied’ accounts of the truth.”
It is with this informed reasoning that we are creating a new direction of flow of ideas emanating from reflective inquiries into personal understanding and representation of African realities.
In this first piece, Oumarou Abdoulaye Balarabe discusses his “African dream.”
I was born and raised in Malanville, a small city in northern Benin. Both of my parents are immigrants from Nigeria. My late father, a farmer and a trader, had to work hard to meet the needs of my entire family. Coming from a low income family, life has not always been a crystal stair, for I have consistently been through many challenges, which had helped shape the person I am today. Despite the persistent daily challenges, my parents, against all odds, were resilient about my education, which to a large extent inspired me to be more focused in school and take responsibility for my own personal life. That upbringing, I must confess, helped infuse in me key values, such as respect, social responsibilities, and hard work.
Right from a very young age, I understood the value of education. Even though none of parents had the opportunity to attend school, they made a commitment early in my life to do everything within their power every single day to instill in me the love of learning and the understanding of the value of hard work, dedication, and commitment. Due to my parents’ sacrifice and support over the years, I have been able to consacrate adequte time and energy, which was crucial to my academic endeavor although financial issues have always been a challenge in certain ways. My schooling offered me the opportunity as well as the priviledge to become the first and the youngest person in my family to make it beyond high school, thus achieving what has been a long-term goal for me and a dream for my parents.
In 2009 when I obtained my high school diploma, for the first time I had to leave my family to further my studies at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin, majoring in Anglophone African literature and civilization. The freshman year was very tough for me but through hard work and perseverance I was granted a merit-based government scholarship to continue my studies for the next three years. After graduating from the University of Abomey-Calavi with a first class honors degree in African Studies, I sought a scholarship support to study in the United States at the Master’s level, another dream which came true thanks to the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship generously offered to me by the United States Department of State. Obtaining the Fulbright scholarship allowed me to become the first person ever in my family to get a scholarship to study abroad.
The day I received the Fulbright grant constituted a milestone in my life not just because of the achievement it represents, but also because of how I prepared myself to get there. For instance, when I was a child, I entertained the dream to go to the United States to pursue my studies. That dream had always been my inspiration to work hard. To assure that my eyes are kept on my goals, I wrote them down on a piece of paper that I would revisit almost every now and then, as this was the only way for me to stay focused and motivated in order to work constantly toward the achievement of my objective. The Fulbright scholarship has truly been a life changing experience in that it has given me the opportunity and the privilege to not only be educated in this “magical place” called the United States of America, but also to belong to the great family and network of Fulbrighters.
Given what I have accomplished so far, I believe that I represent endless possibilities.
For with a great amount of hard work, discipine, perseverance and most importantly faith, nothing is out of reach. I have always had an unshakabe belief in the possibilty of an “African Dream” despite the numerous social, economic, and political problems present in my beloved Africa.
The belief that every African child, regardless of his or her geographical location or social class in Africa, should be able to strive and rise to greatness so as to take full responsibilty for his or her personal life despite the enormous challenges facing the mother continent.
The complex concept of the “African Dream” comes to mind when one looks at the plight of the current African youth in many African countries. The youth, for the most part, is uneducated and lacks appropriate support. The question of education is essential to achieving the “Pan-African Dream.” It is, in my view, difficult if not impossible to imagine the emancipation of the youth without a solid foundation in education. There is the need to massively opt for the instruction of the current generation of the African youth. It will take an enlightened, devoted youth to be able to realize their potential as contributing members to the sustainable development of the African continent. This education should focus on training the youth about the importance of engaged leadership, patriotism, and good governance. Empowering the present African youth with the values mentioned above will prepare and render them capable of assuming the continent’s future leadership.
Believing that there is indeed such a concept as an “African Dream” which makes full sense, it is my intention to proudly take the practical and theoretical knowledge from my graduate program back with me to my country to further my career goals as a university professor, practitioner of good governance and community development. Also, I will continue to apply the same diligence to my graduate program as I have to this point, making education and service to others my top priority. Morever, I plan to work closely with the youth in my country so as to inspire them to action with the knowledge, skills and leadership abilities gained through my graduade studies, promoting early education with a special focus on girl child education. Knowledge is nothing without praxis.
Oumarou Abdoulaye Balarabe is a recipient of the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship and currently the president of Fulbright Scholar Association at Ohio University. He is currently pursuing an MA in African Studies at the school’s Center for International Studies with a special focus on Education and Development in the Third World Countries.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Africa@OHIO or the African Studies Program of Ohio University.