While the legacy of colonialism in Africa has left divisions between countries with official European languages, the evolution of common markets and globalization are bringing them closer together, Amini Kajunju, the executive director of the foundation supporting the International University of Grand Bassam (IUGB) in the Francophone West African nation of Cote d’Ivoire, told Global Atlanta.
“The great thing about IUGB that we figured out 12 years ago is that bilingualism is going to be an asset,” she wrote in an email from Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire’s capital, where she and the dean of the IUGB’s School of Business presented case studies for African businesses at an e-Learning conference. “All of our classes are conducted in English. Since our students are bilingual, it makes it easier to find a job in both Ivorian and American companies.”
She also said that pan-Africanism appears to be on the rise on the continent as the activities of common markets expand. “Everyone is interested in closing the gap between Francophone and Anglophone Africa. I see it in universities and businesses. I like the new trend and I am glad to be part of it,” she added.
IUGB’s forward looking curriculum can be traced back to an unusual link between Atlanta-based Georgia State University and Grand Bassam-based IUGB and the relationship between Alassane Ouattara, Cote d’Ivoire’s president since 2010, and Andrew Young, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, former mayor of Atlanta ad the U.S. congressman from Georgia.
Aside from Mr. Young’s public service, a critical development to establish the relationship between the two institutions was the official naming of Georgia State’s public policy school as the Andrew Young School of Public Policy.
Georgia State educators joined their counterparts in the Cote d’Ivoire who in the mid-1990s planned a university where classes would be taught in English and modeled on American educational practices. Mr. Outatara had received both bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in the United States and encouraged the development of an institution in his home country modeled on U.S. studies.
“The IUGB curriculum and administrative structure come from Georgia State University,” Ms. Kajunju said. “In the early days of IUGB, we worked closely with Georgia State University.” That link remains strong as recognized by the 2017 visit of Mr. Young to visit IUGB’s groundbreaking for its new campus. But IUGB has expanded its relationships internationally, Ms. Kajunju said, by joining the Global Liberal Arts Alliance, which includes universities from around the world.
IUGB’s evolution is to be celebrated at a luncheon to be held at the Atlanta headquarters of CARE on March 20 where Mamadou Haïdara, Cote d’Ivoire’s ambassador to the United States, will provide the keynote address.
At the luncheon former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia is to receive the Destiny Impact Award; CARE, the Destiny Humanitarian Award; Zain Asher of CNN, Destiny Media and Communication Award; Nell Diallo, formerly with MedShare, the Destiny Champion Award and Sarran Deigna, the IUGB Trailblazer Award to our IUGB/Georgia State University alumnae.
The full interview with Amini Kajunju follows:
Global Atlanta: Please describe the current state of IUGB: number of students, where they come from, the sorts of courses they study, etc.?
Ms. Kajunju: We have approximately 803 students at IUGB. Although the majority come from Cote d’Ivoire, we have 22 countries represented on campus. Many of our students come from west Africa. Students can receive degrees from six subjects including mechanical engineering, computer science, mathematics and political science
Global Atlanta: How do IUGB’s curriculums differ from most African universities and why are they important for future relations between the African continent and the United States?
Ms. Kajunju: The curriculum is tailored to meet the needs of the country. As we grow, we will continue to make decisions about our curriculum based on the marketability of our degrees. IUGB is modeled after the American higher education system. The IUGB Foundation was created to maintain strategic partnerships with American institutions. We think America is crucial to our success.
Global Atlanta: Georgia State University has had a particularly close relationship with IUGB. Please briefly describe how this came to be. Does IUGB have such ties with other universities around the world?
Ms. Kajunju: IUGB curriculum and administrative structure come from Georgia State University. In the early days of IUGB, we worked closely with Georgia State University. IUGB has ties with many universities around the world including recently becoming a member of the Global Liberal Arts Alliance.
Global Atlanta: Do you know how many students from IUGB have studied at Georgia State? Please describe how these graduates have been able to apply their educations?
Ms. Kajunju: We have had over 1000 students who have studied at GSU. The students have been quite successful. Even when they have faced challenges, they have gotten through them and stayed focused. I am impressed that the students are steadfast and focused on their goals. They are in America to work and to study. They do not let anything stand in their way.
Global Atlanta: Do most of the graduates return to the Cote d’Ivoire or do they find jobs in the U.S.? Do U.S. students study in Grand Bassam? If so, how do they apply their experiences there to the U.S.?
Ms. Kajunju: We have a mix of situations. Some stay and continue to succeed. Others go back to Cote d’Ivoire. Either way, they become professionals or entrepreneurs. It has been a pleasure to see them thrive.
Global Atlanta: IUGB’s teachers conduct their classes in English. Does the students’ facility in the English language help them find jobs once they graduate?
Ms. Kajunju: The great thing about IUGB is that we figure out 12 years ago that bilingualism is going to be an asset. All of our classes are conducted in English. Our students are bilingual. Since the students are bilingual, it makes it easier to find a job in both Ivorian and American companies.
Global Atlanta: What will be the future of the Anglophone and Francophone regions of Africa? Do you find that there is a growing pan-African mindset developing and does the curriculum at IUGB help prepare the students for a pan-African future?
Ms. Kajunju: Yes. I do. Everyone is interested in closing the gap between Francophone and Anglophone Africa. I see it in universities and in businesses. I like the new trend and I am glad to be a part of it.
Global Atlanta: The economic development of the African continent seems to be a low priority of the current U.S. administration. Some African countries have even been excluded from the ability to apply for immigrant visas to the U.S.. Are such policies a hindrance to the future of the IUGB’s association with U.S. universities.
Ms. Kajunju: We hope not. We will continue to create partnerships between the two countries. Globalization has its benefits. One of the benefits includes the collaboration between people and countries that has increased. It is a good thing.
Global Atlanta: At the “Shared Destiny Celebration” luncheon you will be honoring a number of people including Mamado Haidara, the current ambassador to the U.S. How do you feel about relations today between the Cote d’Ivoire and the United States? What is the best outcome that you can imagine from this exciting program that also will focus on the role CARE has played in Africa, former Sen. Johnny Isakson, Zain Asher and Sarran Deigna.
Ms. Kajunju: The best outcomes are three-fold. First, we hope to get those who celebrate the work of our honorees to come and see them receive the awards. Second, attendees leave the award luncheon with a better understanding of Cote d’Ivoire and third, we raise enough money to fund our scholarship program for the next 24 months which means we will need to raise $100K.
Global Atlanta: What do you think Mr. Haidara will learn during his visit to Atlanta? Do you have any specific insights that you would like him to take away back to Washington?
Ms. Kajunju: I want Ambassador Haidara to see that Atlanta is the international capital of the South. It is a vibrant city with lots of business opportunities for Cote d’Ivoire. Also, Atlanta is a cultural and educational hub as well.
Global Atlanta: What do you think are the greatest challenges facing IUGB at the moment, and what is the best way that they can be addressed? IUGB is facing many challenges like other universities.
Ms. Kajunju: The challenges are the rising cost of education, the need to align education with career opportunities and the ever-changing role of technology in education and in the world of work. One of the best ways to address these challenges is through partnerships. The private sector and educational institutions need to work closely together.
Global Atlanta: Cote d’Ivoire has had a 7 percent growth rate for a decade or so. What opportunities specifically does such economic development provide for IUGB students?
Ms. Kajunju: The growth rate is important. What is even more important is political stability. When there is political stability, citizens can plan for the future and economic development can be sustainable.
Global Atlanta: Do IUGB students benefit from “online courses” made available by Atlanta-based universities such as Georgia State, Georgia Tech or Kennesaw State? Are there any specific courses of this sort that you would like to see developed for IUGB students?
Ms. Kajunju: I am sure they do. But I am not aware of any formal arrangements between IUGB and these universities. It could be an opportunity to consider.
Cote d”Ivoire has a presidential election coming up in October. Is it possible that the country will be destabilized again due to this election? Are you optimistic about the Cote d’Ivoire future? I am very optimistic about the future of Cote d’Ivoire. I am certain that if everything goes well with the election, Cote d’Ivoire is poised for greatness.
For more background about the ties between IUGB and Georgia State, click here.
For a profile of IUGB/Georgia State graduate Sarran Deigna, click here.