President Ali’s appearance is the most recent chapter in the storied Howard-Guyana relationship.
On Thursday, September 14, nearly 70 members of the Howard University community – including Howard University President Ben Vinson III, PhD – gathered in Frederick Douglass Memorial Hall to welcome Guyana President Mohamad Ifraan Ali to campus. Ali visited the United States to attend the United Nations Assembly in New York City on September 18 and 19.
The Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center joined with members of the Caribbean Student Association in receiving Ali to the University. Tonjia Hope, M.A., director of the Bunche Center, said Ali’s presence on campus exemplifies Howard’s historical reputation within higher education to host global and diasporic leaders. The Bunche Center is celebrating 30 years of service in 2023.
“We must provide a multitude of perspectives, but also understand the perspectives of the countries that are not in the limelight all the time,” Hope said, as the University also welcomed Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock that afternoon. “It was important for the students to hear from different heads of states. It gives them a different understanding.”
She continued, “Visits from the president of Guyana, to celebrate the history and relationship between Howard University and that country, we must do more of this to celebrate and uplift each other.”
In Vinson’s opening remarks, he recalled the longstanding relationship between Howard and Guyana, as well as the University’s function as a world leader since its founding.
“Our relationship with other parts of the world, namely Latin America and the Caribbean islands, is arguably just as important to the history of this beloved University,” Vinson said. “Guyana specifically has made an indelible footprint on this campus and our greater Howard family. Our first enrollee from the country, Julius F. Braan, came to the University in 1875, just seven years after our chartering. Cheddi B. Jagan, a 1930s alum of our University, co-founded the People’s Progressive Party, the party [to which] I believe Ali also belonged.”
According to Howard’s Institutional Research and Assessment division, the University has nine Guyanese students currently enrolled for the 2022-2023 academic year: Lakeisha Henry, Ryan Duff, Ozioma Scott, Keith Cort, Aliyah Anthony, Moriah Hamilton, Kaeyla Vanderstoop, Kayla Forde, and Amir Ince. All were in attendance to welcome Ali, who warmly greeted and posed for photos with the scholars of his home country.
Hamilton, a sophomore civil engineering major, said Ali’s visit is valuable representation for Guyana as the country possesses a niche identity amongst the African diaspora.
“We’re in South America, but we don’t identify as South American, we don’t speak Spanish; we speak English and identify as Caribbean,” Anthony explained. “Just to be able to represent in this American space… and be the face of Guyana is great. A lot of people don’t know what Guyana has to offer.”
Ali has served as Guyana’s president since 2020. During his keynote, Ali addressed the student body as the next generation of leaders that will tackle prominent world issues such as artificial intelligence and goals for net-zero gas emissions.
Ali also discussed climate change from Guyana’s perspective, as rising sea levels threaten to consume their coastline capital city of Georgetown. Nearly 90% of the population currently lives nearly six feet below sea level. Georgetown is also dealing with the depletion of its oil conserves – also another climate-related issue – as Exxon fights to continue oil drilling from the coast. If conditions do not improve, climate experts estimate that, by 2030, Georgetown will be completely underwater.
“We cannot address energy security without addressing food security, and we cannot address either of the two without addressing climate security,” Ali said. “We believe that the world must find balance. We cannot have a conversation on climate security by locking investors of oil and gas out of the room. We believe everyone must build a team and contribute to this debate.”
After his remarks, Ali participated in a question-and-answer session with attendees such as Sydney Davis, an international studies major at Howard. Davis inquired about Guyana’s plans for reparations regarding Guyanese descendants of slavery given Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.
In response to Davis’ question, Ali highlighted Guyana’s membership in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) before presenting the organization’s 10-point plan for the 20 CARICOM countries to receive reparations from European governments. CARICOM’s 10-point plan includes an Indigenous peoples development program, addressing the diaspora’s public health crisis, African knowledge programs and other rehabilitation practices.
“We need a comprehensive approach to this matter,” Ali said. “It cannot be an apology, because their families, they still live off the wealth of CARICOM, their inheritance that came from the slave trade, they still have their resources. We have to be careful that we don’t allow…an apology to be what we’re seeking.”
Ali ended his campus visit with a final photo on the Yard, in front of the Caribbean flag tree where students hang their respective countries’ flags around its base.
Cort, a junior mechanical engineer major from the Guyana’s capital city Georgetown, took immense pride in the moment, expressing that he found representation and inspiration in Ali’s appearance as he and his fellow Guyanese students matriculate at Howard.
“Over the last four to five years, you see that significant spike in [Guyanese] interest to come to Howard and that directly links with more and more Guyanese students coming here and being proud and prideful of where they’re coming from, but also recognizing you can go into any space and be amazing.” Cort said.
“When I got here, a lot of people back home started asking, ‘How did you get here? What is the pathway to Howard?’ They see that it’s a real transition that you can make out of Guyana and that we can be successful,” Cort concluded.
Source: The Dig at Howard University