Have you seen A New Light in Harlem?

Do you know a young person who wants to be a leader in public service? Get access to world-class preparatory coursework and field experience without amassing piles of debt? Are you a scholar, educator, or community organizer looking to break down walls between the Academy and the surrounding community? Who knows that in order to find better answers to pressing questions of the 21st century, we need to hear more voices? Watch and learn more about the mission of the Colin Powell School—”A New Light in Harlem.”

Our original upload to YouTube got over 600 views in just a matter of days! We had to do a *tiny* bit of clean-up, so we uploaded a new version (click below).

The film features interviews with General Colin Powell, Dean Vince Boudreau, and faculty, students, alumni, and board members, spotlighting the amazing community we have up here on the City College campus.

Do you know a young person who wants to be a leader in public service? Get access to world-class preparatory coursework and field experience without amassing piles of debt?

Are you a scholar, educator, or community organizer looking to break down walls between the Academy and the surrounding community? Who knows that in order to find better answers to pressing questions of the 21st century, we need to hear more voices?

Watch and learn more about the mission of the Colin Powell School—”A New Light in Harlem.”


The Public University: Seeing the Whole Picture

Vince Boudreau, Dean

by Vince Boudreau, Dean, Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

What does it mean to be a public university? For decades, there were two distinct definitions—so bound together that when they became estranged, nobody seemed at first to notice.

On the one hand, public education referred to a finance model in which citizens and government officials pledged support for those working in its schools, and so allocated money from public coffers for that purpose. Students in public universities could expect to pay less for their tuition, and people living in states and cities anticipated supporting that education through their tax expenditures. Continue reading “The Public University: Seeing the Whole Picture”

Breathing Easier in Myanmar

Vince Boudreau, director of the Colin Powell Center, and a specialist in social movements and transitional regimes, especially in Southeast Asia, assesses the differences between a trip to Burma under Than Shwe’s repressive regime in 1998 and this summer, when he returned to Myanmar to deliver a talk on the transitional experiences on other Southeast Asian regimes to military, government, and civil service personnel.

Monks Protesting in Burma
Monks protest for democracy in Burma in 2007. Photo by Robert A. Coles/Creative Commons.

By Center Director Vince Boudreau

The first time I went to Burma was in 1998, traveling on a tourist visa despite the fact that I was intending to conduct research about the country’s bloody 1988 democracy protests.  An old friend had set up interviews for me, as well as a program of visits to tourist spots (where I was to wear loud Hawaiian shirts to assure authorities that I really was just a tourist). Establishing that I was a tourist, he said, was essential—not for my safety, but for the well-being of the brave women and men who agreed to talk to me.  And then he told me the following story:

All of the universities in Burma had been closed for several years. Students are an important political force in Burmese society, and when things got restive, the soldiers simply shut down the campuses and sent everyone home.  In this way, the decades following 1988 produced lost generation after lost generation—young people who came of age when schools were closed, students who went to jail and remained there for decades, and in consequence of both, a society without a reliable strata of educated youth. Continue reading “Breathing Easier in Myanmar”

Keeping the Dream Alive — But Not Waking Up Yet

President Obama’s new immigration policy will give young illegals a form of amnesty, but leaves much to be desired.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, June 15, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)

Many undocumented students and workers–called DREAMers– now eagerly await more details about a new immigration policy that could alleviate their perpetual fears of deportation. News of the policy is a victory worth celebrating. But it still does not fulfill their hopes of becoming permanent residents or citizens in the country they call home. Continue reading “Keeping the Dream Alive — But Not Waking Up Yet”

Coming to Terms with Calderón’s Crackdown on Cartels

To claim that Mexico faces a stark choice between acquiescence, on the one hand, and a continuation of Calderón’s mano dura (“tough hand”) militarism, on the other, is wrong.

felipe calderon president mexico war drugs
Some claim that Mexico must choose between acquiescence to drug cartles and a continuation the “tough hand” militarism of Mexican president Felipe Calderón (left). Photo: Agencia Brasilia / Creative Commons

This article was originally published by Dissent magazine on May 11, 2012.

With Mexico’s presidential elections just around the corner, questions about the country’s future—and its bloody war on drugs—hang heavy in the air. The new issue of Foreign Affairs features a brief argument from Robert Bonner addressing this uncertainty, and offers a spirited defense of Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s fight against the country’s narcotraffickers. Bonner, former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency and commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is hardly a stranger to the drug-fueled violence and corruption ravaging Mexico. The effects have been devastating: anywhere between 45,000 and 67,000 people have been murdered since Calderón’s efforts began; the country’s alphabet soup of local, state, and federal security and judicial organs have been largely crippled by graft; and the power of the so-called “Mexican cartels” seems to have metastasized within and beyond Mexico’s borders. Continue reading “Coming to Terms with Calderón’s Crackdown on Cartels”

An Opportunity to End the Conflict in Somalia

Members of Somalia's hardline al Shabaab rebel group ride on a pick-up truck north of the capital Mogadishu. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

When the Somali Islamist Group, al-Shabaab withdrew from Mogadishu last week, the move presented an excellent opportunity for the Somali government, and the African Union (AU) to consolidate their forces, and strengthen the defenses around the capital. Much more than that, it presented an opportunity to unify a country devastated by over 20 years of conflict, and to extend the now emboldened transitional government’s authority to other parts of the country.

Continue reading “An Opportunity to End the Conflict in Somalia”

Is Democracy Possible in Africa? The Case of Nigeria

An election poster is pasted on an electric pole along a road in Nigeria's commercial capital of Lagos. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

13 down and 12 more to go! That’s the number of presidential elections that have taken place and are still coming up on the African continent (including the islands) in 2011. Although the “Arab Spring” has ineluctably branded the year as a year of revolution in Northern Africa (and the Middle East), it is the less-publicized events in sub-Saharan Africa that will fundamentally reshape the notion of democracy on the continent, for better or for worse.

The recent upheavals in countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, and even Burkina Faso, have made many reconsider the effectiveness of democracy in facilitating development in Africa. Some still believe that it will someday work. After all, it has worked in other countries, and there is clear evidence that democratic nations tend to have accountable governments which is key to ensuring growth. Others have dabbled with the idea that democracy is just not fit for Africa. They support their opinions by citing the long list of rigged elections and post-election violence that seem to have further weakened the prospects of ever achieving a functioning form of democracy.

Personally, I am more in line with the former group. Obviously we can’t categorize every single African country because each political situation is different but there are positive signs of change in the political dynamics of certain key nations. There is a growing popular demand for accountability and social justice throughout the continent by a population that, empowered in part by the events in Tunisia and Egypt, is becoming even more defiant. If you had asked me five years ago what my biggest fear was concerning politics in Africa, my answer would have been that it was the feeling that people had become so inured with their inadequate and often oppressive governments that they had lost the zeal to engage in politics. So to hear about mass protests and increases in voter turnout in certain nations, I am encouraged and reassured that the goal of democracy is still an achievable one.

Let’s take Nigeria for example. If I was to describe, in a nutshell, Nigerian politics prior to the April elections, I would probably refer to it as an ethno-religious game of musical chairs between North and the South but with members of the Southeastern region excluded from key positions. The fact that there hasn’t been a president from the Southeast of the country since its independence makes the election of President Goodluck Jonathan a very significant turn of events. Also, in a country with a tradition of military regimes and rigged elections, knowing that the elections were deemed the most transparent in decades by national and international observers marks a new beginning in the electoral politics. These are good signs for democracy in Nigeria for two reasons. The first is that it mounts pressure on the current administration to address the underdevelopment and marginalization of the Southeast, especially in the oil producing areas that have been neglected by the federal government for over 50 years. But more importantly, it provides the opportunity for the new administration to forge a government that is truly representative of the ethnic plurality within the nation.

It is with cautious optimism that I write this though. Having a president from a minority group does not in itself signify change, it only opens the door for the opportunity to effect that change. And although the past elections might have been credible, the results depict an even more polarized nation with a vast majority of the North voting for their regional candidate Mr. Buhari and the South voting overwhelmingly for Mr. Jonathan. This leaves the president-elect with the daunting task of reconciling the South with an especially angry North. He must now answer to previously marginalized groups in the South without alienating the voices of those in the North (and the rest of the country as well). Achieving this will require him to team up with Northern leaders (perhaps even collaborating with Buhari, if possible) to attempt to appease public dissent with his presidency in the North. And with the ongoing riots and an opportunistic Boko Haram (a Muslim sect hostile to democracy and anything non-Islamic) taking advantage of the chaos to reap havoc, President Jonathan has a very difficult presidency ahead of him.

But that’s democracy, isn’t it? Nobody said it would be easy but it’s definitely not impossible. No country today with a functioning democracy achieved it without conflict so the recent upheavals throughout the continent shouldn’t be used as an excuse to lose hope in democracy. And with an increasingly globalized world, it is becoming much more difficult to cover up repression. Leaders now have to be accountable to not just their citizens but to the watchful eyes of the international community. Civil society is burgeoning throughout the continent and the youth are becoming a lot more vocal. Widespread democracy in Africa is probably still decades away, but strategic incremental steps towards it are being made.

Chukwudi Onike is an alumnus of the Colin Powell Fellowship program. He graduated with a BA in International Studies in 2010 with a focus on conflict resolution.