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  • Locations: Online, United States
  • Program Terms: Spring (Online)
  • Budget Sheets: Spring (Online)
  • This program is currently not accepting applications.
Fact Sheet:
Fact Sheet:
Type of Program: Faculty-led
Program Description:

Africa Zooms Ahead: African-Led Development, African Solutions to African Challenges 

Online, Winter/Spring 2021

Africa Online SCHAR
A traditional study abroad course could never visit all of Africa, but students in this special virtual program can “tour” the continent, learning and engaging with Africans leading the charge to see how the drive for “African solutions to African challenges” is playing out across this complex and fascinating continent.  In keeping with the theme of this virtual study abroad, almost all speakers and required readings will be African voices on Africa, offering not only a unique view of what is happening on the ground, but a view into how Africans see their own development. 

Course Highlights

This course is designed to enable students to explore their own views on African-led and people based development, gain insights into how Africans perceive international development and their own development efforts, and find ways to close the narrative gap between how the Global North perceives Africa and how Africans see themselves.  
  • Hear from leaders in government, private sector, and African institutions on the sweeping African-led developments that will not only transform African nations but could create major changes in Africa’s place in the globalized world.  
  • See the future of Africa through the eyes of young Africans, from activists to innovators and entrepreneurs, who are modernizing Africa at a rapid pace.  
  • Experience modern African culture through exchanges with African artists, writers, filmmakers, and others, and understand the political and economic contribution of the African creative economy.   
  • Compare and contrast African-led development and political views with international development norms and understand the political underpinnings of people-based development.

    Students in this virtual study abroad will have an unprecedented opportunity to hear from top African thought leaders and visionaries, including senior policy makers, academics, cultural leaders, innovators, artists and activists, and more. The program will allow participants to hear first-hand about the vast changes happening throughout Africa and to truly understand African-led development from an African perspective. 

    The COVID-19 pandemic has created an interesting opportunity for Africa. This is a crisis that came from outside of Africa, and by the time it began making inroads on the continent, the usual development partners were inundated with their own health and economic crises. Throughout Africa, there was a growing realization at all levels that they were largely on their own. However, this crisis comes on the heels of more than a decade of empowerment narratives, like “Africa Rising,” and a drive for African solutions to African challenges.  Governments sprung into action, with some shutting down even before they had an index case; the private sector in many countries came together to fund relief efforts and repurpose factories to produce PPE’s, sanitation gel, and ventilators; innovation hubs worked on issues around connectivity for all, and African presidents across the continent began collaborating, jumping on zoom calls to share experiences and solutions.  

    The changes seen in Africa today didn’t start with the Coronavirus, but COVID has served to accelerate the pace. As Africans prove to themselves and the world that the “Africa Rising” narrative is a fact and not just aspirational, will it make them a little bolder?  Could a growing confidence spur them to negotiate differently with the US, Europe, China and others?  Will awareness of the risks of concentrating manufacturing in one country result in Africa enlarging its manufacturing footprint? Could the quick and decisive actions by many African governments potentially strengthen the fragile compact between government and the people? Could this all add up to becoming a pivotal moment for the continent? 

    In looking at African-led development, it is important to understand how we got to a point where a country leading its own development becomes newsworthy. Why don’t we talk about American-led development, European-led development, or even Brazilian or Chinese-led development? Narratives impact development. Portraying a country as needing help or constantly showing stories of foreigners as saviors has serious economic consequences, as it is difficult to attract investment, but it also affects individuals and how they feel about their country and government. Against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter shining a light on racism and U.S. domestic policy, we look at how racism and preconceived notions has driven international development policy.  


This program is open to all undergraduate and graduate students, including students who do not attend George Mason University.


Students will be registered for one 3-credit course during the Winter term.

Course Options

  • GOVT 398: Study Abroad
  • ITRN 702: Special Topics in Study Abroad

Program Dates*

Winter term program dates 

Much of this class will take place over winter break, specifically concentrated over the MLK long weekend. The remaining sessions will be covered with one an additional meeting each month throughout the spring semester. This virtual program goes where no study abroad trip could ever go: the grand tour of the continent, seen in all its vibrancy, and an opportunity to see Africa as Africans see themselves. In the Global North, Africa is often defined by non-Africans. This has contributed to a large gap between how the world sees Africa and how Africans see themselves. This course narrows that gap, understanding Africa from an African perspective and allowing students to experience Africa in a way that is often completely missed by outsiders.
This virtual study abroad program will include a mix of:  

  • Visits via zoom with well-known African visionaries who are leading transformative initiatives across the continent, for them to discuss their work and Q&A with students  

  • Debriefing sessions after each virtual visit to discuss the initiative and broaden the scope to look at related issues and other programs throughout the continent  

  • Cultural exchanges with small groups of young African activists, innovators, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, filmmakers, and others.  

  • Introductory lecture and wrap-up with a development expert who was one of the early architects of African-led development.  

Later in the spring, if possible, the program might include visits to African Embassies and cultural centers to add to the immersive experience. This will depend on GMU policy and CDC recommendations due to COVID restrictions. Please note, the following program is a draft and subject to change according to scheduling. 
Session 1: Introduction - African-led development, Narrative and the Eritrean Case 
Before embarking on our “journey” to meet leading African voices contributing towards African-led development, we will first look back in history. “People-based development” and similar terms are frequent buzz-words in development today, but it was not always looked on so favorably. In the early 1990’s, a new African nation, Eritrea, shocked the development world when it refused structural adjustment, instead opting to do development on their own terms. They were roundly criticized but two years later, after having posted remarkable development achievements, the case for people-based development and country ownership was made. Today, almost every development program calls for country-ownership. The Eritrean case is unique, but African-led development can be traced back to community-focused cultures across the continent. It’s essential to look at why these efforts were not considered a part of the post-WWII development programs. This introductory session will cover the beginnings of African people-based development in Eritrea and throughout Africa, lay out the framework for understanding African-led development, the essential community element, and the difficulties countries have had when asserting their rights to drive their own agendas, and discuss narrative and the impact on development. The last hour of the session will be a special zoom chat with members of George Mason’s African Student Union to hear how they view African-led development and how narratives on development have impacted their lives. 
Session 2: Zoom Visit - Creating the Largest Trading Block in the World 
Africa is made up of 54 countries, each with its own borders, customs, tariffs, currency, visa procedures, and trade regulations. Historically, it was easier and cheaper for a country like Uganda to import produce from Europe that had been grown in Kenya rather than import it directly from their African neighbor. In 2018, African governments signed the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA), making it the largest single trading block in the world, with over 1.2 billion people. In signing the CFTA, countries commited to wiping away intra-African disincentives to trade, harmonizing procedures, and potentially even creating a pan-African currency and passport in the future.  Leading the charge for the CFTA is one of Africa’s most powerful institutions, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), whose CEO says he believes proudly in “Africa First.”  Dr. Hypolite Fofack, Chief Economist for Afreximbank, joins us via zoom to discuss how the CFTA – and entirely African-led initiative – has the potential to completely transform the continent and Africa’s engagement with the rest of the world. Group debriefing discussions will also cover previous pan-African visions and the power of unity. 
Session 3: Zoom Visit – Responding to COVID 
When COVID began spreading throughout the world, the predictions for Nigeria were especially dire.  As Africa’s most populous nation (20% of all Africans are Nigerian), it was clear that the healthcare system would quickly be overrun. The Nigerian private sector came together to form CACOVID, the Coalition Against COVID, and soon almost all the major companies in Nigeria were donating funds. Using their procurement expertise, they got testing kits, PPE’s, and other medical supplies. They built hospitals and isolation centers all over the country, sometimes in as little as 10 days, and to address the economic crisis, they bought food from farmers and used it to feed the poorest 10% of Nigerians. Several other African countries built similar coalitions, though CACOVID is perhaps the most organized. Zouera Youssoufou, CEO of the Dangote Foundation, the largest investor in CACOVID (or her representative), will talk about the work of CACOVID. Group debriefing discussion will also cover how the private sector in Africa is a major player in African-led development. 
Session 4: Zoom Visit - Building a Healthcare Infrastructure  
Prior to COVID, African government leaders and other elites went abroad for serious medical issues. With COVID, they were forced to stay home, many times experiencing for the first time seeing and experiencing the dilapidated condition of their hospitals. Laboratories were too rudimentary to perform many necessary test, ICU beds were in short supply, there was little in strategic stockpiles, most countries had just a handful of ventilators, and while there are a vast number of trained African doctors, the majority live and work outside of Africa. The pandemic has shown countries how essential it is to build healthcare systems, from primary healthcare to major hospitals and national laboratories. Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa CDC (or representative) will talk about the work of the Africa CDC (an institution that was only 3 years old when COVID broke out), creating a medical supply platform for Africa, and building a healthcare infrastructure that can serve everyone. Group debriefing discussion will also look at the importance of building African institutions, government responsibility and service delivery. 
Session 5: Zoom Visit - The Youth Buldge: What Does 70% of Africa Want? 
The average age in Africa today is 20 years old, and 70% of all Africans are under 35 years old.  By 2050, one-quarter of the entire world’s youth will be in Africa. The “youth bulge” is considered a benefit as it is a huge potential labor force and a young, strong, energetic population in the prime of life can contribute in many ways. However, it is also a risk, as any population bulge taxes resources for that age group.  Above all, Africa’s youth bulge needs jobs, and educational opportunities that lead to jobs.  A discontented youth can cause political instability, but beyond jobs, what do African youth want? We visit via zoom with Ivor Ichikowitz, CEO of the Paramount Group in South Africa, and an activist in the anti-Apartheid struggle. His foundation recently conducted the first-ever survey of youth across the continent, The African Youth Study 2020, which is now a yearly survey. Ivor will discuss the survey and how the findings show just how much Africa is changing. Group debriefing discussions will also cover engaging African youth in change as well as the need for more data from Africa. 
Session 6: Cultural Exchange - Young African Change-Makers 
Having heard the numbers in Session 5, we now engage via zoom chats with dynamic young Africans changing their communities, countries, and continent. Through a series of zoom chats, we meet with: Activists on the key issues they need to address and how they are pushing for change; Innovators at Innovation Hubs in Nairobi, Kenya and Lagos, Nigeria, to learn about innovations they are working on to meet critical needs while dealing with challenges like low connectivity and limited electricity; and Entrepreneurs who are developing new industries, providing critical goods and services, and above all, creating jobs and opportunities 
Session 7: Zoom Visit – Building a Productive Sector 
Africa is the wealthiest continent on earth, with more natural resources and arable land than any other continent. How could there be so much poverty in the land of plenty? Colonialism was built on extraction of Africa’s wealth , but since independence most of Africa’s resources are sold as primary goods, which trade at a fraction of the cost of those same commodities as they move up the value chain. Financial wealth lies in manufacturing and processing, but until recently, there were few African-owned companies of any size. In 1981, Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote started a cement business. Today, he is the wealthiest black man in the world and his well-known conglomerate, The Dangote Group, works across the continent in agriculture, mining, energy and more. The African Development Bank (AfDB) and other institutions see developing industry and creating and growing more African-led businesses as one of their highest priorities. Dr Mukhtar Abdu, Director for Industrial and Trade Development, African Development Bank (AfDB), and previoiusly the Chief Strategy Officer at the Dangote Group, talks about developing a generation of African heads of industries. The debriefing discussion will also look at government assistance and hindrance in building the private sector, regionalization, moving SME’s up the value chain, and other topics affecting the ability of the private sector to florish. 
Session 8: Zoom Visit – Infrastructure: Connecting and Powering Africa 
In the mid-2000’s, the World Bank decided to get back into infrastructure after having been out of it for more than a decade. Instead, the Bank and other major donor agencies focused on education, health care, and other social services, all of which are important, but development is not an either/or situation, as hospitals, universities, and other institutions necessary for development need roads and electricity to function properly. The gap between existing infrastructure and what Africa needs is so great that the AfDB estimates it will take investment of $130-170 billion a year to close the gap. In the absence of international donors, Africans began focusing their own institutions and setting up new entities, all aimed at closing that gap. Sanjeev Gupta, Executive Director of the Africa Finance Corporation, one of the premiere institutions focused on financing infrastructure projects across the continent, will talk about what it takes to get these massive projects off the ground. The debriefing discussion will also look at how infrastructure has driven public/private partnerships, and why projects that have the potential to be so enormously transformative can often take a decade or more. 
Session 9: Zoom Visit – ICT and Digitizing Africa 
As the world shut down from COVID, telework became the new normal, but in Africa, where connectivity issues plague almost every country, a remote workforce, online education, or delivering e-services were particularly challenging. Africa has for some time been the fastest growing market for cell phones, and the development of mobile apps in Africa has exploded. In fact, mobile banking and payment apps started in Africa and have now spread out across the world. However, COVID really showed that phones and mobile apps are not enough; there needs to be far more investment in online connectivity, particularly outside of the major cities. Alain Ebobisé, CEO of Africa50 (or representative), an infrastructure investment platform founded by the African states, will discuss the recent focus on increasing connectivity, new innovation projects aimed at developing local solutions, and initiatives to bring digital capacity to rural areas. The debriefing discussion will also look at how within Africa connectivity is increasingly being understood as not only a necessary element for development, but also as a human right, the political issues around connectivity and how it will democratize power relations, and how connectivity could enable African voices and viewpoints to be shared between countries in Africa and around the world. 
Session 10: Zoom Visit – Valuing the Creative Economy
The African creative influence is felt far and wide. We hear it in jazz and hiphop. We see it in modern dance and art, even in paintings by famous artists like Picasso. We taste it in foods, like corn bread or black-eyed pea stews. In Africa, markets are full of African crafts, music and dance are everywhere, and Nigeria’s Nollywood has become the 2nd largest film industry in the world. Creativity is everywhere in Africa, but until recently, its value was vastly understated. In fact, the creative economy is an important part of GDP, and with investment and support, it could grow to be far more so. It is also an essential element of engagement and creative diplomacy between African countries and beyond. Kanayo Awani, Director of the Intra-African Trade Fair (or representative), will join us over zoom to discuss the Creative Africa Exchange (CAX Africa), which was inaugurated in Rwanda in 2020, and is expected to be an annual event, bringing together investors and artists. She will discuss the increasing understanding of the creative economy’s value and efforts to increase support. The debriefing discussion will also look at using culture for nation building and diplomacy, as well as the issue of cultural appropriation vs. sharing of cultures.  
Session 11: Cultural Exchange – The Creative African Voice 
Having heard in Session 9 about the importance of Africa’s creative economy, we meet via zoom a group of Africans who are part of this vibrant creative community throughout the continent. Potential participants can include musicians, writers and poets, clothing designers, filmmakers, and even a chef bringing a taste of Africa to the world. Each of our guests will talk about their work and the importance of supporting and amplifying the creative African voice. Prior to the event, students will receive a digital packet that will include the list of guests and links to their creative work, a playlist, excerpts of writing and poetry, films, recipes for food and drink, and more to enable students to embark on a rich cultural event.  
Session 12: Wrap-Up - Presentations and Coming Full Circle  
Having traveled via zoom throughout the continent and having engaged with thought leaders and drivers of African-led development, we gather for a last session to talk through what we’ve learned and share group video presentations that show various African-led development initiatives addressing an important challenge. Finally, we will re-engage with members of the George Mason African Student Union to share experiences. 


Program Cost

Winter/Spring 2021: $2,620

Included: Tuition for 3 credits

Program Payments

Students on MasonGEO programs must pay the advertised program cost in order to participate. This cost will be made in three payments (Deposit + First Payment + Final Payment). Students using financial aid can provide additional paperwork in lieu of deposit and final balance payments.
Application Deposit: A non-refundable program deposit $200 must be received by the application deadline. This fee is paid online through the MasonAbroad application system and is included in the program fee.

First Payment: A non-refundable payment of $1000 must be received by October 10. This fee is paid online through the MasonAbroad application system and is included in the program fee. Students who are using financial aid may have this payment deadline extended. See "Financial Aid" information below.

In the event that a student’s financial aid or VA Benefits is estimated to cover the entire costs of the study abroad program, the entire charge will be posted to their student account, since that is where the aid will be applied. In this case students do not pay their first payment through MasonAbroad. However students must submit their “Intent to Use Financial Aid” form by the first deposit deadline.

Final Payment: The final balance payment is due by November 20th. This is the difference of your Program Cost minus the $1200 you've already paid (Deposit + First Payment). Students who are using financial aid may have this payment deadline extended. See "Financial Aid" information below.

Financial Aid and VA Benefits: Students who intend to use financial aid or their VA benefits to fund their program fees (partially or in full) must have the "Intent to Use Financial Aid" or "Intent to Use VA Benefits Form" completed and on file with the Global Education Office by the First Payment deadline. The "Intent to Use Financial Aid" form is available in the MasonAbroad application system once you have started your application for this program. If you are using VA Benefits please contact your program officer to request the "Intent to Use VA Benefits Form."

Withdrawal and Refund Policy: All participants are bound by the Mason GEO Withdrawal and Refund Policy.

Application Opens:

Sept 15


Application Deadline:

October 10th


Application requirements:*

Course Selection Questionnaire: You will choose the course(s) you would like to be receive credit for on this program. Check the "Academics" tab to see what courses are offered on this program. If you need help selecting your course, check with your academic advisor.

Signature Documents: Read and electronically "sign" the documents regarding the acknowledgement of risk and your financial responsibility.

Intent to Use Financial Aid Form: For Mason students only. If you use financial aid, this form must be completed by your financial aid counselor and submitted by the 1st payment deadline.

Additional requirements for non-Mason applicants:

Official transcript: To be mailed or emailed to the Global Education Office at George Mason University.

Non-degree Contract Course/Admission Form: Please complete the form and upload it into the questionnaire.

* Additional application requirements may apply to individual programs. Once you open your application, you will see all application requirements.

Application instructions:

Academic Directors


The Honorable Gebreselassie Tesfamichael Carol Pineau

The Honorable Gebreselassie Tesfamichael is the former Minister of Finance and Development of Eritrea, where he oversaw the formation of the country’s National Development Program. During his tenure as Minister of Finance, Eritrea had Africa’s fastest growing economy. He later was appointed Advisor to the Executive Directors Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), addressing the needs and concerns of the 21 African countries in the Africa 1 Group constituency. He also served in East Timor as the Chief Advisor to the Planning Commission to help develop the nation’s first post-independence National Development Plan and he conducted a world-wide assessment of development in conflict countries for the World Bank. Mr. Tesfamichael is one of the few development and reconstruction experts working today who has first-hand experience as a frontline combatant, giving him an intimate understanding of the military, political and social aspects of conflict and development. Mr. Tesfamichael also has direct diplomatic experience, having served in the external relations department of Eritrea and participating in peace negotiations. It is this vast range of experiences at all levels, coupled with his work with most of the major multilateral agencies, that give Mr. Tesfamichael unique insights into development and creating growth throughout Africa.

Carol Pineau is an award-winning filmmaker and journalist with more than 20 years experience reporting on Africa.  Her groundbreaking film, Africa Open for Business, and the advocacy campaign accompanying the film, helped change the coverage in major media on Africa.  It was voted BBC Documentary of the Year and won several other awards. Additional film credits include Africa Investment Horizons and Kenya Stories. Ms. Pineau recently hosted and produced a pilot for a new current affairs program, Africa-USA Now, and she was the host and producer of a 10-part current events talk show, Africa and the Trump Administration. She is currently producing a podcast series for Foreign Policy titled Africa Moving Forward. Ms. Pineau has reported and produced numerous television news stories for major international broadcast media, including two postings in Africa: Nairobi, covering the 12 East African nations for Voice of America, and Eritrea for CNN covering the Eritrean/Ethiopian conflict. Ms. Pineau is the author of numerous articles as well as a book.  Her writing on Africa has appeared in major publications throughout the world, including The Washington Post and Foreign Policy.  

Schar Program Administrator

  Michal Malur
Name Michal Malur

Dates / Deadlines:

There are currently no active application cycles for this program.

This program is currently not accepting applications.