- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Focus on Africa: Transitions and Relationships

  • Nicholas Sung
| Spring 2022

Featured in the Spring 2022 Newsletter »

This Spring, the Belfer Center launched a new event series called Africa in Focus to examine the many factors driving political transitions and geostrategic relations in Africa.

This workshop series, directed by Natalie Colbert, Executive Director of the Belfer Center, and three graduating students, Hadja Diallo, Kadija Diallo, and Nicholas Sung, aims to center African voices and perspectives in policy discussions at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). Ultimately, this team hopes to kickstart an initiative that intentionally recruits more African policymakers and experts to discuss African politics and affairs with students, staff, fellows, and faculty.

The first event of the series, moderated by HKS graduate and development professional Awab Elmesbah, explored the role that civil society and populist movements have played in shaping demands for political transition in Sudan and Ethiopia, both past and present. 

The second event, moderated by  Zoe Marks, Lecturer in Public Policy at HKS and Belfer Center Board Member, delved into political and security drivers of the recent coup d’états, with a focus on the complex nature and history of civil-military relations in West Africa.

The final event, moderated by Colbert, focused on the nexus of political and economic interests between African governments, China, and the United States, as well as how African governments craft their foreign policies with an eye toward maximizing choice in partnerships with external actors.


The impetus for this initiative comes in part from the students’ observations that there are few events, panels, or classes on African politics at the Kennedy School.  

Sung noted that discussions on African affairs at HKS only occasionally feature panelists or speakers from the continent. “In my experience, American and European policymakers are usually spotlighted as speakers for panels on African affairs. African perspectives are in the room, but they are in the audience and only get to speak during the ‘Q&A’ portion of events. So, it is exciting that the Belfer Center is starting the Africa in Focus series to center African voices in these policy discussions.” 

Hadja Diallo echoed a similar sentiment: “As it was intended, the series helped start addressing the absence of discussion and integration of African politics and policies at HKS. The amount of support that the series has received from the Harvard community and the Belfer Center – from the very first conversation I had with Natalie Colbert about creating Africa-focused programming – reaffirmed the need for and importance of Africa in Focus.”

Additional programming on Africa topics is still in the initial stages of development, but the team is already planning for the next semester.

“We are exploring ways to advance conversations around topics including the security, economic, and political impacts of climate change in Africa, as well as current trends and innovators in Africa’s tech ecosystem,” said Colbert. 

The Belfer Center is excited to continue these efforts in the next academic year. As Kadija Diallo said, “Africa has one of the largest and youngest populations in the world, so the future of the world is going to be the future of Africa. So, it is important that Harvard creates space to have conversations about the continent with people from the continent.” She added, “it’s encouraging to see the Belfer Center lead in creating spaces for these conversations.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

“Focus on Africa: Transitions and Relationships” Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School. (Spring 2022)

The Author

Nicholas Sung