The McGill African Students Society (MASS) annual 4th Africa Development Convention ended this weekend. This year their theme was « Africa » Interrupted: Switching the Channels of Development Discourse. With five events over three days spanning a broad range of issues, the convention aimed to deconstruct the idea of « development and underdevelopment » and offer an alternative space to discuss art, media, literature, performance and African knowledge production as means and ends of development.
Since it was founded, the aim of the convention has been to create spaces for Africa-centered development discourse as well as to propose non-hegemonic/
This year’s convention organizing committee was made out of six remarkable students women of colour who took it upon themselves to create this much needed space. It was refreshing to see women of colour taking and owning their place, despite the historical erasure of women of colour’s activism.
These six women are Marilyn Vergis, Nyasha Chidzero, Jackie Bagwiza, Sedi Soga, Shana Tanyaradzwa Musimbe and Jingla-Fri Tunteng.
Today we are introducing Sedi Soga!
SAYASPORA: Can you please introduce yourself?
SEDI: I’m Sedi Soga, and I am currently majoring in International Development and minoring in African Studies at McGill University, and I’m interested in politics and foreign affairs. I am a project manager for the MASS Education Portfolio. My family is from Ghana, but I was born and raised in Canada. Outside of school I am interested in dance, media, literature and popular culture.
SAYASPORA: Is Africa really “underdeveloped?
SEDI: Economically, I would say that many African countries are underdeveloped in the sense that many citizens struggle to provide for themselves, and there are little means in terms of infrastructure and government assistance that is there to help. Furthermore there is high income inequality and many citizens live below the poverty line. However, I think it’s inaccurate to paint all of Africa as underdeveloped as it ignores the differences in situations among the African people and African countries. “Underdeveloped” and “developed” should not be seen as a dichotomous concept, because it oversimplifies the local realities of both countries that are considered “developed’ and countries that are considered “underdeveloped”.
SAYASPORA: What were your motivations in getting involved with the Africa Development Comittee (ADC) ?
SEDI: I got involved with the ADC because I wanted to have a closer connection with the other Africans at McGill, while also being able to educate other students on development issues that are particular to Africa. As a development student, I started to become more critical of current development models, because I felt like most of the models of development that we were learning were strongly rooted in western ideals of development and often ignored local realities. I hoped that participating in this convention, I would have a chance to interrogate these western hegemonic models of development and their effects on development in Africa.
“ I don’t really view leadership in the conventional way, where you take control and have followers. For me, leadership is about inspiring others around you through your actions. To be a leader, you do not have to have followers, it’s more important to stay true to yourself by following your own path and putting on a good example that can help inspire other people to live the same way.”
SAYASPORA: Can you tell us more about the panel you were responsible of organizing and its importance in our development in the African context?
SEDI: The panel I was responsible for was called “Seeing Success: Media, Content Creation and the Aesthetics of Growth.” The aim of the panel was to discuss the influences of Africans and members of the diaspora taking space online and self-representing themselves has on the development of the continent. I thought the topic was important because often times the news you hear about Africa in the West does not come from Africa. Africans owning their own stories will lead to accurate representations of their struggles and successes, which I believe can help in more localized forms of development on the continent. Due to the lack of representation and African voices, development models in Africa tend to follow a one size fits all form. However, Africa is an extremely diverse continent, and in order to combat the singular narratives of Africa, which are normally perpetuated by Western countries, it is necessary for there to be more modes of self-representation so that Africans can be in charge of their own images.
SAYASPORA: What were you hoping to get out of the convention/what is the message we should take out from the convention?
SEDI: I hope that the message that is taken from the convention is that we should be more critical of the knowledge we have on Africa, where it come from and its effects on development in the African context. Often times at McGill, we discuss Africa in way that is very “othering,” so hopefully by prioritizing African voices, the convention can combat hegemonic views of development in the African context, and attendees can learn about development from an African point of view.