Cross-disciplinary Cooperation Triumphs at the 14th Annual Model African Union

Research and Scholarship
JMU's team of student delegates pose outside the Namibian Embassy with their faculty advisor, Political Science Professor Dr. Ante Sane (far right).

SUMMARY: An interdisciplinary team of JMU students represented the country of Namibia at the National Model African Union Conference in Washington, DC.

By Kathryn Stephens (‘17) JMU Research & Scholarship

In early February, a team of six JMU students and two faculty members traveled to Howard University in Washington, D.C. to take part in the National Model African Union (MAU) Conference. Forty-two colleges and universities from across the country participated in the three-day event, and each team of students prepared to represent one of 49 different African countries. The JMU team attended as representatives of the Republic of Namibia, an arid country located near Africa's southern tip.

“When the students attend the delegation, they don’t attend as JMU, they attend as Namibians,” explained Dr. Besi Brillian Muhonja, Associate Professor of English, who served as one of the team’s two faculty advisors. “They weren’t even allowed to use the word ‘I.’ Instead, they were expected to start their statements with ‘we the people of Namibia.’ As a delegate of Namibia, it does not matter what you believe, you represent your country. For all intents and purposes, you become Namibian.” 

The very first thing the students did after arriving in D.C. was to travel to the Namibian embassy to be briefed on the current state of the country by the Namibian first and second secretaries and consuls. Though the students had already spent months studying Namibia’s culture, values, and politics on their own, this meeting was meant to help supplement their knowledge by offering actual interaction with Namibian representatives. 

Over the next three days, the students attended committee meetings modeled after those of the African Union. They were expected to advocate for policies that aligned with Namibia’s needs while also finding a way to work with the other forty-eight voices in the room. 

“I was part of the Executive Council, which was given a crisis situation that needed to be dealt with,” explained International Affairs student Kara Alice Burgess. “We had to take 50 different perspectives and bring them together into one document. When we finally passed a comprehensive document that the majority of the delegates were happy with, there was this amazing sensation in the room. Everyone jumped up and clapped.” 

The MAU was a triumph of cooperation, not only during the event, but behind the scenes as well. At JMU, cross-disciplinary and interdepartmental partnership was part of the process from the very start. The MAU team was comprised of International Affairs majors, Justice Studies majors, an English professor, and a Political Science professor—all with a shared passion for Africana studies. Additionally, the group received financial support from six different JMU entities:  Research and Scholarship, the Political Science Department, the Justice Studies Department, the Office of International Programs, the College of Arts and Letters (CAL), and the Office of Cross Disciplinary Studies and Diversity Engagement. Without the support of these various groups, the trip would not have been possible. 

“JMU offers so many opportunities for students, and professors truly care that their students get the most out of these experiences,” said International Affairs student Claire Elverum. “Things like the Model African Union give students the chance to work and collaborate with professors and other students who are passionate about the same things. This collaboration is essential to any and all work we will be doing with our future careers.” 

Faulty advisors Dr. Ante Sane (far right) and English Professor Dr. Besi Muhonja (second from right) and the team of student delegates meet with staff from the Namibian Embassy in D.C.
Faculty advisors Dr. Ante Sane (far right) and English Professor Dr. Besi Muhonja (second from right) and the team of student delegates meet with staff from the Namibian Embassy in D.C.

JMU has already applied to participate in next year’s MAU, this time as representatives of Kenya. However, they will have to continue to rely on the cooperation of many different offices and departments to make this opportunity a reality. Dr. Muhonja is optimistic: “We hope, because of how well it turned out, that the model African union is at JMU to stay. It’s a life-changing experience, it really is. These young people want to get involved in diplomacy and change the world. It’s truly beautiful.”Elverum’s teammate, Emilee Elizabeth Moye, agreed: “My experience at the MAU has greatly impacted my plans for my future career. The conference and the work in preparation revealed to me a love for policy-making. As such, I am starting graduate school this fall to learn more about policy-making in Africa.” 

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Published: Monday, October 17, 2016

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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