Meet Usha Pitts, Diplomat-in-Residence

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For just over a decade, the City College of New York has held a privileged position among New York-area universities by hosting the Diplomat in Residence (DIR). Sponsored by the Department of State, the DIR spends two years on campus imparting their specific knowledge and experience as foreign service officers to students interested in foreign or civil service jobs, as well as various fellowships and internships through the State Department.

In addition to meeting with students for one-on-one advising and hosting informational sessions in the NY region (CT, NY, NJ, PA), the DIR also teaches a masters level class on foreign diplomacy exclusively through the Colin Powell School’s International Relations program.

Meet Usha Pitts, our incoming DIR. Here she introduces herself to the CCNY community, talks a bit about her foreign service career, and her new role as Diplomat in Residence. Connect with her on Facebook to get updates on scholarship applications, appointment hours, and events in your area.

You’ve lived in many countries in your adult life; where are you from originally?

I grew up in Acton, a middle class town outside of Boston. Even though it was the suburbs, we had enough land to raise chickens and goats. I also had a bunch of parakeets. My parents were an interracial couple, which was unusual in the 1970s, and especially for a town that was 98% white. I never felt uncomfortable in my home town, but I did start traveling at a young age and left high school early; I needed a bigger playground.

How did you come to work in the Foreign Service? Can you talk about your path to becoming the New York Metro Diplomat in Residence at City College?

Even though I look African American, I was named after my Mom’s friend, an Indian woman. I had never met “the real Usha,” so when I was 11, I traveled alone to India to meet her. That was a big trip for a sheltered girl from America’s suburbs: I saw street kids, polio victims with shriveled legs, beggars… I also caught some kind of tropical virus and was sicker (and closer to death) than I have ever been in my life. Well, when you’re 11, experiences like that can be more exciting than scary.

A few years later, when I was 16, I spent the summer building latrines in rural Mexico. And from there, I was hooked. I never stopped traveling. I took the Foreign Service Exam when I was 22, but didn’t pass, so I just kept traveling, working and studying until I eventually got in.

By then I was 28. In fact, most Foreign Service Officers are in their late 20s or early 30s when they join. The age requirement is only 18 years old, but most people need to get some life experience under their belt first. That’s why I always recommend that people join the Peace Corps or spend a few years in a professional career before joining the Foreign Service.

Where has your career with the Foreign Service taken you?

I’ve been a Foreign Service Officer for nearly 18 years, posted to Panama, Russia, Cuba, Italy, Austria, and most recently Brazil. I’ve had a different job in each country, from reporting on human rights abuses to promoting English education to helping Americans get visas for their adopted babies. The Foreign Service is a great career for people with short attention spans, because you change countries (and jobs) every couple of years. On top of it, you have to bumble your way through yet another foreign language.  You are constantly learning, always adjusting–and so is your family.

How do you approach your role as Diplomat in Residence? What most excites you about this role? What priorities are you setting for your time here?

In the past, the Foreign Service was a bastion for privileged, educated, east-coast men.  Even when women started joining the Foreign Service in greater numbers in the 1970s, they still had to resign their jobs if they got married. Things have changed, but we can do more to diversify our ranks.

These days, the State Department has 16 Diplomats in Residence scattered around the country. We work hard to reach people who wouldn’t necessarily consider joining the Foreign Service–Native Americans from the Midwest, Latinos growing up in Miami, Chinese-Americans from the West Coast, first-generation children of immigrants–people who didn’t necessarily grow up with a silver spoon in their mouths. We recognize that a good diplomatic corps has to represent the United States, and we can’t do that if we don’t reflect the diversity that makes our country great.

I cover New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, but I rarely have to leave Manhattan–or even City College–to find the kinds of people we want to attract to the Foreign Service. After so many years abroad in weird situations, I feel very privileged to be here in New York with City College as my new home.

Partly in appreciation of City College, I would like to see one of our seniors or alumni get accepted to the Rangel Fellowship program this year. This fellowship offers $90k for graduate school, plus a five-year stint in the Foreign Service. The application deadline is February 3, so anybody interested in this fellowship should come see me!

What can students gain from working in the Foreign Service? 

There is the very obvious benefit, in that you get paid to see the world. (That’s why I wanted the job.) You also get free housing, good schools for your kids, and a pretty lavish lifestyle, given that an American salary goes a long way when you’re living abroad. As I got older, I also came to better appreciate the intangible benefits–serving my country, promoting American values, bringing attention to important global or local issues, and spending time with interesting and even courageous people. Few careers can offer that kind of fulfillment.

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Student Spotlight: Fatjon Kaja

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Fatjon Kaja is, by all counts, an exceptional student here at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. Furthermore, his good humor, sensitivity, and commitment to service for the public good have made him a trusted peer among the school’s students and fellows.

Kaja, a recent immigrant to the U.S. from Albania, is enrolled in the B.A./M.A. program in Economics and has a second major in Pre-Law, with minors in Italian and French. He is a Legal Scholar in the Skadden, Arps Honors Program in Legal Studies, the Co-founder and Vice-Director of the Guidance for the Legal Empowerment of Youth (now the ACLU Chapter at the City College of New York), and Deputy Policy Director of the Economic Development Policy Sector of theRoosevelt Institute at the City College of New York. He was a Partners for Change Fellow in 2013-2014 and has held numerous leadership roles in other campus offices and activities, including student government.

In his free time, he likes to explore New York City, listens to classical music, and plays soccer with his friends and relatives. In this interview with Neighborhoods and Nations, we ask Kaja to describe his path from rural Albania to Harlem. Along the way, Kaja offers insight into why he believes Colin Powell School students have an edge as they pursue civic and global leadership roles after completing their studies at The City College of New York.

What brought you to City College? 

When I started applying for college, I only had been living in America for two months. Despite the fact that I possessed a strong application package, I applied only to the City University of New York due to its affordable tuition rates and because of its alumni roster, comprised of numerous self-made men and women who rose in prominence in the highest ranks of their respective professions. The idea that I could emulate such persons remains the cornerstone of my American dream.

What experiences growing up in your home country shaped your academic interests?

I was born and raised in Peshkopi, a small city in northeast rural Albania. Located between mountains, Peshkopi is the poorest district in Albania with a high unemployment rate. Growing up in such an environment was tough: educational resources, justice, and meritocracy were hard to find, while corruption, disorder, and nepotism thrived. These factors pushed me to focus my studies in two interconnected fields, economics and law. Specifically, I am deeply interested in exploring the impact of law on economic processes and outcomes, and the reciprocal influence of economic conditions on legislative acts.

How do you relate to your fellow students within the Colin Powell School? Do you feel you’ve found a community? If so, what do you think brings you together?

One of the things that I share with my fellow Colin Powell School students is our eagerness to learn about new material. I think the majority of us are children of immigrants or immigrants ourselves, and many of us are striving to integrate ourselves into American society. Additionally, we all have the desire to better ourselves, which in turns encourages us to expect more of each other. As students of the social sciences, all Colin Powell School students are interested with issues regarding the role of the state, civil rights, economic development, social movements, or global issues. What brings us together is our belief that social and political ideas need to be debated extensively. In my classes, I have found a community of eager scholars, who have aspirations to become leading public servants or executives of Fortune 500 companies. I feel like this is where I belong.

In addition to your demanding academic and extracurricular load, you applied for and received a Partners for Change Fellowship, which had its own stringent demands. How did the fellowship serve your professional development, and how did it complement your academic work?

My academic work is mostly focused within the fields of law and economics. The majority of the courses that I’ve taken offer a deep, insightful analysis of theoretical concepts. As a Partners for Change Fellow at the Colin Powell School, I had the opportunity to complement my academic work with empirical research and service in the field of economic development, financial literacy, and leadership in the community. I attended weekly seminars about financial institutions such as banks and credit unions, gained industry knowledge about their respective structures and services, and learned about the role that financial literacy plays among college students in the United States. Through close collaboration with other fellows and our Leader-in-Residence, I implemented a survey on campus to test the financial literacy of City College students. The results were incorporated in a research project that is being developed further and will soon be published. Part of the fellowship is the component of the internship, where I was assigned as a Business Development intern to theCommunity League of the Heights, a nonprofit organization in Washington Heights. There I worked on a number of projects that helped develop the structure of the organization and increase its value to the community. Through this fellowship, I honed my ability to make good decisions, plan and organize my time, work well on a team, and developed sound interpersonal, oral, and written communications skills.

Have you had mentors who’ve helped you during your time here?

I have been blessed with numerous mentors. I’ve benefited a lot from great guidance and support from Professor Andrew Rich, who is my undergraduate thesis mentor. He has been a generous source of ideas and insights on my project since its inception. Dean Boudreau has always encouraged me to be rigorous and thorough in every aspect of my academic and professional life. I am grateful for his high standards and for his continuing influence on how I think about leadership.Professor Richard Bernstein is a superb source of good ideas, useful information, and helpful criticism. Professor Kevin Foster of the Economics Department has broaden my understanding of economics and its utility in our daily lives. AndGaslin Osias, Senior Admissions Advisor at City College, has always been available to look over at multiple drafts of my personal statement, resume, and cover letter and provide valuable feedback and interview tips. Outside school, I would like to mention my mentors at the Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP, who have always provided precious advice about law school and the legal profession.

Where do you see yourself in a year? Five?

In a year from now, I see myself completing my last semester of my master’s degree here at City College and waiting to hear from law schools. In five years from now, I aim to graduate from a top tier law school with honors. After graduation from law school, I would love to work for a few years in the banking group of a prominent law firm.

Other than tuition savings, why might competitive and ambitious students choose to attend The City College of New York for undergraduate or graduate studies over some of the more prestigious private colleges in the city? 

I think there are many advantages that CCNY students have over students attending NYC private colleges. First of all, City College is one of the most diverse institutions in the nation, with students representing over 150 countries and speaking more than 99 different languages on campus. This allows for us to engage in intellectual debates with people who hold fundamentally different perspectives about issues and offer competing viewpoints about the role of the government and public policy. It is extremely beneficial to engage in such debates because it makes us aware of things that we have never thought before and, for those who aspire to take on leadership positions, it is essential to take into account all opinions.

Another advantage that City College students have is the small class size, as it allows for the students and faculty to easily forge bonds. The professor has the opportunity to get to know you closely; he or she learns about your background and your academic passions. When one applies for professional schools, the professors are able to write a solid letter of recommendation, which in turn can be a determining factor of whether or not you get into your dream school.

Being a student at the Colin Powell School has allowed me to explore my academic passions under dedicated faculty such as Professor Marta Bengoa of the Economics and Business Department and Professor John Krinsky of the Political Science Department. Being part of the Skadden Arps Honors Program in Legal Studies and the Partners for Change Fellowship at the Powell School has been an amazing experience. Both programs have allowed me to pursue topics of interest and have challenged me academically. Besides providing me with a full merit-based scholarship, these programs have helped me get internships, offered research opportunities, and provided me with insightful guidance. They truly have pushed me to test the limits of my potential.

Marshall Berman: A Life Steered by Our Human Possibilities

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By Vince Boudreau, director of the Colin L. Powell Center

Marshall Berman was a distinguished professor at CCNY, a designation that, like associate and full professor, requires a formal review and recommendation process, including the review of his scholarly work, and testimonies to their significance.  A committee is selected to solicit reviews from appropriate scholars, but as a candidate, Marshall also was able to nominate reviewers, and add letters to his application file.

His application was immensely strong, and included ringing and warm endorsements from the very best and most established political theorists (a sub-field of the political science discipline) in the world.

But it also contained something peculiar, inserted into the file at Marshall’s insistence—an unsolicited “review” of Marshall’s luminous, expansive work, All that is Solid Melts into Air. The review was hand written, and crumpled—the pen having apparently been set to paper years before—and the note itself abused by years of residence in Marshall’s tumultuous apartment, or atop the crazed jumble of books and papers that always concealed his office desk.

Marshall called the letter a review, but it was, in fact, a fan letter, from a New York City construction worker. He had read Marshall’s book, and had decided that he would just carry it around with him.  It changed his life, he wrote, changed how he saw the city that he loved, and that he labored daily to help build.

The fact of the letter was striking enough.  We academics, if we’re attentive and good, sometimes do receive grateful notes from our students—telling us how a class, or an advising session made a difference in their lives.  And, if we write well and with insight, we sometimes are reviewed well.  But an unsolicited fan letter from outside the academy is rare—and I’d bet that very few of us are ever so honored.

More striking, however, was Marshall’s insistence that this letter should sit alongside the others, that it was important to factor the opinions of this New Yorker into his promotion decision.  In many ways, he was prouder of that letter than all the others combined.

And here one sees one of the truly precious elements of the moral and political commitments by which Marshall steered his life. He thought that we were all, in a radical sense, equal. We were equal not just in terms or our political or human rights, but in our ideas and in our minds.  Marshall was breathtakingly, dizzyingly smart.  He possessed one of the most agile, comprehending minds I’ve ever known.  But he carefully regarded every last idea that passed before him, threw up no boundaries to incorporating hip hop, graffiti art, poetry slams, and even the watery coffee of the student cafeteria, into his conceptions about human accomplishment and creativity.

As a rare, world historic intellect, Marshall had ample opportunity to leave CCNY.  He was recruited by Ivy League Universities, and by some of the brightest jewels on the west coast.  But he remained at City College, in part, because it embodied the wonderful and restless creativity of the city he wrote about, that he identified in his conception of modernity and traced through his stirring biography of Times Square, and that he viewed out the window of the Metro Diner, where he ate most mornings, and where he passed away, among friends, this past September 11th.

But he also stayed at CCNY because he was drawn to a commitment to the radical equality of human potential and thinking.  He could not abide the prospect that some young person, beginning to feel the first warmth of a new idea sprung to life, would lack support, or fail to gain an attentive hearing.  He was the most public man I’ve ever known, with the most public approach imaginable to what education should be.  And so, over the 22 years that I worked alongside this great man, I heard him repeatedly say, “I want to teach at CCNY until the day I die.”  And so he did.

From a Crossroads, a New Path

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On May 14, Partners for Change Fellow Jamiela McDonnough, served as one of two guest speakers for the Colin Powell Center’s End-of-Year Celebration. Jamiela, a senior majoring in biology with a minor in studio art, offered the following excerpted remarks to her fellow students, family members, Center staff, and guests.

It’s the end of another academic year. The Center is winding down for the semester and it’s my turn to graduate. Now for as long as I have been waiting for this moment, it feels different than I expected. I feel happy and excited, of course. But I feel a little sad and sentimental, things I thought I’d never feel at graduation. I’ve had my share of challenges at City College not unlike most of you. A little over a year ago, I would have sold a kidney to graduate early. But looking back on things now, I realize that everything happens for a reason. The rocky path I chose has led me to some great opportunities including being here to speak with you all. And I wouldn’t change that for anything.

For those of you who are not familiar with my story, I came to City College in 2007, where I enrolled in the Sophie Davis program. I loved the mission behind the school and what it might ultimately mean for me: a shorter cheaper way to becoming the physician that I wanted to be. I made friends, I was intellectually challenged, and at times I was even addressed as Doctor. But for all those positives, there were just as many difficulties, which led me to a crossroads during my third year. Ultimately, I resigned from the program.

To some of you this may not seem like the end of the world, but it was for me then. I was down and I doubted myself even though I knew I made the right decision. I wasn’t happy where I was and that had to change. So I took the next semester off and decided to go away and clear my head. I left for Peru in September of 2011 with my suitcase and a journal in tow. It may have been the greatest decision I’ve made to date. The country is gorgeous and diverse and people were so warm and welcoming. In Huancayo, I divided my time volunteering in a clinic & working with children. But of all the things I did there, my favorite part was trekking to Machu Picchu.

Now quick question, who here has ever hiked up a mountain?

For those of you who haven’t, imagine this; You leave early in the morning and its cold, so you have layers of clothes on and a regular backpack. It starts off pretty easy. But as you get higher, things quickly change. The air gets thinner and the lack of oxygen makes it hard to breathe, and the sun is getting higher in the sky making you extremely warm. Your eyes can see that your surroundings are beautiful, but you’re not even thinking about that because you’re so exhausted and sweaty. This backpack now feels like it’s full of bricks, your legs are tired, and your pulling the layers off until the climate change forces you to put them back on. Maybe just maybe, if you’re like me, you have to stop and ride the emergency horse for a little while. [My excuse is that my legs are short so I have to use more energy to keep up with the tall people.] And then you reach the peak, and you feel nothing but joy. Despite the weakness your body feels, your mind and soul are on a high that overpowers everything. Faith confidence and delight replace any doubts you’ve had about reaching that peak.

That is how I feel today. This past year has been the peak of my experience here at City College.

There aren’t enough adjectives in the world to describe how great my time in the center has been. I’ve been granted opportunities and experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. From the professional workshops, meeting Secretary-General Kofi Annan and General Powell, my internship, to seminar meetings with Shena Elrington, I’ve been blessed to meet professionals who have mastered their fields and inspire me to carve my own path to success.

I’m honored to have been part of the “Partners for Change” program under the impeccable guidance of Sophie Gray. In this short year, we as partners for change have interned and learned, mastered the literature review, and even made presentations to benefit our communities. This specialized program is more intimate because of its size but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. This group of peers is family to me. The friendships I’ve made and cultivated are what I value most. The trip to Washington, DC gave me the chance to bond with the two-year fellows and it was such a great time. On that trip, I think I had the chance to speak with most if not all of the fellows at one time or another and every conversation was so easy like we already knew each other. What we had in common brought us together despite our different backgrounds and majors. That commonality is our desire to make and inspire positive change in the world.

My wish for the new fellows is that you, too, embrace the opportunity to bond with the fellows within your program and in the others.

This fellowship is the best experience I’ve had in my years at City College and I’m sad to see it end. But from this, I know I’ve learned a couple of things that I hope you all can take with you. First, obstacles lead to opportunity, and second, the road to success is not on any map. Instead, you have to forge it yourself. And remember it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there as long as you do.

Thank you.

Volunteering in the Rockaways with the Clinton Global Initiative

Volunteering with the Clinton Global Intiative's Day of Action

By Simone Gordon

The hurricane’s appearance may have been short but its effects will be long-lasting. Approaching the Rockaways, one could already witness Sandy’s devastating impact: empty stores, marked-off houses designated as too dangerous for habitation, and signs attached to poles that read “FEMA, we need your assistance!” I felt like I was entering another country and became aware of nature’s unequal distribution of effects. My own community was largely unharmed by the hurricane. The Rockaways were not as fortunate.

Before going out to the Rockaways, I had spoken to some volunteers who echoed similar sentiments—regret at not being able to help earlier, frustration over the lack of accessibility to affected areas, the difficulty of connecting to an organization that needed more than just money, and the feelings of inadequacy in tackling the larger problems of recovering electricity and heat to families in need. The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Day of Action answered some of those frustrations. Arriving on site, volunteers had a choice between sorting, packaging and distributing food and serving hot meats, or pairing with National Guard units canvassing the community to assess conditions. I decided to join a patrol with the National Guard. We surveyed people block by block, house by house, asking if they had any immediate needs, including food, water, and medication, which could be brought to them later. We also asked if they had heat, electricity or gas, and finally, if they wanted or needed to be relocated.

Sustained Need
My experiences left me in two minds about what I had done. On one hand, it was great to let people know that they were not forgotten, and that aid would come. At the same time, I felt uneasy because I could not guarantee that assistance would arrive on a specific day, or even at all. In truth, I began to question the effectiveness of what I was doing since I would not see the results. Nevertheless, these feelings of uncertainty were short-lived—the positive response from the communities we visited were overwhelming. People were genuinely appreciative of our presence. Still, as we boarded the bus for home, I felt somber. I was satisfied for having helped, but sad at the prospect of the immense work that still needs to be done. It will be a long while before people’s lives return anything resembling normalcy.

Read more about Simone Gordon and our other contributors here.

Immigration Reform: A First Step Toward Elevating the Future

Elated students hug in response to President Obama's immigration reform announcement.

By Center Director Vince Boudreau.

Every spring, I spend several days lecturing at a retirement community.  Part of what drives Powell Center programming is a desire to more effectively connect the college’s activities to the public sphere, and by presenting lectures about international affairs geared to public audiences, I feel I am discharging that mission, if only in very modest terms.  I often talk about security policy, or international affairs in Asia.  But two years ago, on the heels of the Powell Center’s immigration conference, I chose to speak on immigration and the role of new Americans in this country.

The room, predictably, was sharply divided. Some of the people wanted to talk about their own immigrant stories, or tell how their parents or grandparents made their way in the United States.  Others wanted to talk about people they had known or admired who had come to America from elsewhere. But there were others in the room, people who thought that immigrants were hijacking something precious or distinctive in our society. They worried about jobs, but also a sense of cultural drift.  They told wildly inaccurate, improbable stories (one, about a secret highway running from Central America to Kansas City, inside our borders but outside U.S. jurisdiction, over which undocumented workers traveled to take American jobs). Some chided me because they believed that non-citizens were being handsomely rewarded to come to schools like CCNY and get a leg up on Americans of longer standing, who presumably deserved an inside track to success.

Profoundly American
Few of them, I think, believed my response—that we are prevented from awarding scholarship stipends to students with no legal status.  Many would not entertain the idea that America’s great danger is not that we will fail to find everyone work, but that we will drive critical skills and expertise away from our homeland and into other economies.  More frustratingly, few seemed capable of recognizing how profoundly American so many of our undocumented students had always been.

I have for 20 years taught students who were born to parents without U.S. citizenship or status, who came to the U.S. at an early age, and know no other home. They may speak Bengali in their kitchen, but know nothing of Bangladesh; they may be El Salvadoran without any memory of El Salvador.  Many come to City College, and to other campuses across the country, to place a down-payment on a hopeful future, knowing that their degree would not automatically open doors or secure employment—but betting everything on a more promising future in a world more open to them. Lately, it’s become fashionable to call these students “dreamers,” after the great and optimistic stock they all placed in the Dream Act, which would provide them a path to citizenship. But they were also, in that great leap of faith, in their inclination to make education a top priority, dreamers in a deeply American way: They dreamt in a tradition that reflexively expects hard work to find a reward, anticipates that things will get better over time, and trusts that our great institutions generally, if not at every moment, direct us toward justice and humanity.

The Value of Inclusion
The president’s recent announcement on immigration reform does not—as he is quick to say—replace the Dream Act in form or substance.  But in one day, it provided a chance to some of the very best students I have ever taught, and ensured that their skills, and energy—and their great American optimism—will be part of what we can claim as a people. We will be better for their inclusion, and we should not miss the chance to build from this temporary and limited measure a reform of greater scope, and power, and permanence.—Vince Boudreau

Vince Boudreau is director of the Colin Powell Center. Read more about him and our other authors here.

Beyond Cairo: Prospects for Revolution South of the Sahara

I am sure most of you are following events in Egypt with particular interest, especially those of us that are interested in Middle Eastern history and politics. We saw the downfall of Tunisia’s long time dictator, Zine Abidine Ben Ali after almost three decades in power. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was ousted amidst waves of protests that captivated audiences across the world. As these events continue to reverberate in the media, I cannot help but think about the possibilities of something similar happening in many countries in sub Saharan Africa. I came across a few articles alluding to this, and I thought I should share some of them with you all.

But before going further, the most important question to ask is whether it is feasible, even remotely that an Egypt/Tunisia styled revolution can occur in Africa, south of the Sahara. The answer to this I do not know, but thinking about it raised more questions in my mind, especially as the political situation in the Ivory Coast continues to deteriorate. Protests to get rid of their dictator who refuses to leave power even after losing an internationally certified election have all but grounded to a halt. Yes, I know the circumstances that led to these protests are different, but their respective populations suffer similar prospects, i.e. massive unemployment, economic stagnation, high food prices, and long time dictators refusing to leave power.

Here are some questions for you all to think about: What is the difference between the “revolutions” in North Africa, and the political crisis in the Ivory Coast (Some might argue that the situation in the Ivory Coast is not a revolution)? Why has the Ivorian “revolution” fizzled, resulting in the current stalemate? Does the ruthlessness of the dictator in power matter (i.e. Zimbabwe, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Angola etc)? How about the political awareness of the people? Are Africans making things worse by appeasing dictators with power sharing deals that never seem to resolve the structural and economic problems some of these countries face (i.e. Zimbabwe, Kenya)?

What is interesting though is that I am not the only one who feels this way. John Campbell, a Senior Fellow for Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations tries to answer some of these questions, and suggests why revolutions in Sub-Saharan Africa might not work. According to Campbell:

Sub-Saharan African leaders, particularly those with less than stellar records of accountable governance, are certainly wary of the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt. Some governments are all too willing to fire into crowds, and a weak national identity means people are not ready to die for their country. In other places, government is so weak, ineffective, or irrelevant to most people that they prefer to rely on their social networks as the state withers away…….

In an editorial from the popular Nigerian daily, NEXT, the editor went on……….

 The Ivorian military stands ready to kill its own citizens; the Tunisian army refused to shoot its own people. Many African leaders seem to have discovered this path to political eternity, by remaining in power only by stamping the lives of their subjects with poverty and misery.

However, is this always the case? In Guinea for example, the military gave up a bid to impose itself on the people after relentless pro democratic protests drove them to organize elections (though hundreds of civilians were massacred in the process). For those of you who are interested in sub Saharan African politics, I would really like to know what you think.

Mohamed Jallow is a former Colin Powell fellow. He graduated with a BA in International Studies in 2008, and currently pursuing and MPA at City College. He is a program associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.