The ALU Debate Society participated in the Pan African University Debate Championship last year December in Tanzania. This article presents reflections of two different students who were at the Championship.
Phokoane Khoarai, Year 4, Lesotho:
When I joined the ALU Debate Society early last year, I didn’t really know how big a commitment I was making. It was a decision that would demand a lot of time, motivation to learn and courage. We had two, 2.5 hour sessions of debate training per week for the Pans. We got critical feedback from Lunga after every single session, and I personally battled some anxiety before every single speech because somehow in the past three years I have developed stage fright.
So even pre-pans, I was experiencing tremendous growth. I had to manage my time wisely in order to show up to all the training sessions, which I had signed up for and wasn’t allowed to miss without a valid excuse. I had to swallow my pride with every debate I lost and accept feedback from Lunga and the rest of the team and ensure I came back better to the next session. I also had to work on overcoming my anxiety and building the courage to speak in front of these smart people every day, on topics I had sometimes never before reflected on or read enough on to formulate strong arguments, for example, The Sharia law, issues of the LGBTQ community and Side B Christians, antinatalism. The list is long. Needless to say, I have learned a lot just from being a committed member of the ALU Debate Society.
One thing I have learned about debating is that it requires skill, wit and it requires guts. You need to know your current affairs, know your history, know how to structure your speech such that it flows and you fulfill your speaker role. You also have to be able to think fast in your 15 minutes’ prep time and throughout the debate in order to come up with striking, critical POIs and rebuttals. Finally, you need the confidence that will captivate the house and ensure your speech remains in the adjudicators’ thoughts way after you’ve spoken. These are the things I was able to learn before and during the Pans from my ALU teammates and the other debaters I was so fortunate to get to debate with, to watch and to adjudicate over. These are skills we all need to learn if we are to look at our societies critically and understand their problems better, if we are to frame solutions for them better and if we are to encourage other people to buy into our visions. Not to mention the deep conversations we are better positioned to contribute greatly towards because we’ve either debated on them or discussed them in our training sessions.
Taking part in the Pans was definitely one of the greatest highlights of my 2018. I met such incredible speakers, people I listened to and actually thought to myself, ‘I want to speak like that guy.’ I have grown so much from this experience and in true ALU fashion, I have reflected a lot on my growth areas and I look forward to dusting myself off and preparing to fly the ALU flag high in Ghana this year.
Simiso Shabangu, Year 4, Eswatini:
Attending PAUDC allowed me for the first time, to think consciously and practically about Africa and her growth. At ALU, we talk a lot about how we need to master leadership principles so that we can liberate the continent from poverty, corruption and under development. However, we seldom think about how we can implement these great ideas that we have learned from class. During the debates at PAUDC, we assumed the role of government and made decisions on comprehensive sexual health for children, economic development and feminism amongst other things while being fully cognizant of the African context and culture. Having an opposing team made me realize some of the concerns that some citizens might raise even when the decision being made seems to be noble. This then led me to think about how leadership calls for the making of decisions that do not discriminate against minority groups. Leaders also need to tolerate people who might hold a completely different view from what is proposed. To me, this was a true learning and preparation board for all the challenges that might come with leading the African continent.
For someone who is shy, attending PAUDC was an opportunity to be freed from the shackles of fear and lack of confidence. I did not just get to listen to how other people were able to structure their thoughts and present their speeches confidently, but I also had a full 7 minutes in every round to myself, to get that right. The level of confidence and being comfortable got better with every round I went through until I was ranked as the Best East African Debater. This made me happy not just during the debates, but also because I know that the art of persuasion and public speaking is one that transcends the debate arena. These are skills that I can apply in my everyday life and future career. Being a debater already means my presentations at work will not suffer from a shaky voice. It also means I will be able to persuade other people to invest into ideas that are well explained and beneficial to others.
Participating at PAUDC also got me the opportunity to meet other debaters from different parts of Africa which was a great networking opportunity. After ALU, PAUDC is probably the most diverse platform for young people across Africa. Through the debates and informal interactions, I got to understand how things are done differently in other parts of Africa. Such opportunities that allow young people to forge cross-regional relationships are exactly what an Africa that has ravaged tribalism, cultural conflicts, and political turmoil needs. If I understand the culture of other people, for example, from Cameroon, then I am least likely going to make decisions that will endanger the lives of Cameroonians in future. I am less likely going to criticize or mock what they consider as precious to their culture. Understanding and appreciating the cultures of other people is a result of continuous interaction with those people which is what attending PAUDC allowed me to do.