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Conference brings African leaders, MSU together

July 23, 2008

Ambassador of Zambia, Dr. Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika, talks with MSU faculty after a pre-U.S.-African Sister Cities conference tour reception Wednesday evening at Kellogg Center. The 17th annual U.S.-African Sister Cities conference will be held in Lansing for the first time.

Political and governmental delegates from five different African countries came to MSU on Wednesday to discuss issues such as agriculture development, education and health that will help to strengthen relationships with the United States.

Wednesday’s gathering came prior to the beginning of the three-day 17th annual U.S.-Africa Sister Cities Conference, held annually as a means for promoting peace and economic development within African countries.

The conference, which is being held in Lansing, brought delegates from Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and Nigeria. The delegates, along with MSU experts, spent the day touring MSU and discussing new ideas and solutions that can contribute to addressing some of the challenges facing Africa.

The conference was held in Johannesburg, South Africa last year and was awarded to Lansing for the 2008 conference, due to MSU’s continuing involvement in Africa said Matt Hund, communication assistant to the dean of international studies and programs.

“This conference holds unbelievable importance to us because it opens up new doors for better ways that we can help outside countries,” Hund said. “These discussions are fostering ways to improve economies across the world, as well as help to put MSU out there internationally.”

Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika, the ambassador of Zambia, said the collaboration between MSU and outside countries is unmatchable.

“Forming personal contact with people at MSU has been very valuable, and following up with the knowledge I have gained today will serve to make a difference not only in Zambia, but other countries as well,” Mbikusita-Lewanika said Wednesday evening.

In an effort to promote peace and development within Africa, several discussion panels were held Wednesday, concentrating on topics such as African food security, animal and human disease diagnostics and advancing food packaging materials, said Jeff Riedinger, MSU’s dean of international studies and programs.

“We have been involved with Africa for more than 50 years, and are collaborating with our African partners and leaders on topics that are going to strengthen the future of our world,” Riedinger said.

One discussion, which included MSU agriculture experts, was partially focused on choosing the correct type of legume that is best suited for African soil and would be most profitable for farmers to grow, Hund said. The discussions are needed to help strengthen African economies and advance their export sectors, he added.

Food security was one topic Daniel Karanja, a senior fellow from Kenya, said he was focused on during the discussions on Wednesday.

“With (Kenya’s) growing population, declining agriculture productivity and issues involving climate change, problems with food security are surfacing,” Karanja said. “We are not only looking at this as a problem, but an opportunity to explore ways to build upon these adverse effects.”

Delegates will spend time meeting with political leaders such as Gov. Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., as they continue find opportunities that can be beneficial to both the state of Michigan and the countries across the world.

“Things are being discussed here that have equal importance and learning opportunities to us as they do in other countries,” Riedinger said. “I think that shows just how important coming together in a setting like this is.”

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