October 19, 2021

African leaders visit, learn in Cortland

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Dr. Chisa Ugboaja of Nigeria gets a lift in a Cortland Fire Department ladder truck Friday as part of a diplomatic visit.

Twelve people sat Friday morning in the jury box in the main courtroom at the Cortland County Courthouse.

However, there was no trial or court hearing. Two people sat at a table on the left hand side of the courtroom, they were the defense, and two sat at a table on the right, the prosecution.

Judge Phillip R. Rumsey facilitated the matter, a mock jury hearing, to walk those in attendance through how part of the U.S. court system works.

The participants were 25 young African leaders representing their home countries. They visited the Cortland County Courthouse, the city fire station and other sites Friday as part of a program to learn about certain American customs and how they could implement them in their home countries.

The young African Leaders Initiative, part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, is run through the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. This is the fourth year the program has visited Cortland, said Catherine Bertini of Homer, professor of public administration and international affairs at the Maxwell School.

Bertini helped bring the program to Cortland after she was asked to do some guest speaking in prior years. She wanted to show the fellowship recipients how the system works in a rural area and what the countryside of the state is like.

Once Rumsey finished explaining to the group how jury selection and a jury works, he opened the floor to questions. One question he answered was whether judges in the United States are appointed or elected. Both, Rumsey answered.

“It (the court system) is very progressive,” said Thobisa Simelane, a senior legal analyst from Swaziland. The jury system does not exist in his country. Judges are also appointed, they are not elected, he said.

This year, About 1,000 young African professionals are attending the six weeks of study at host universities across the country. They’re split into three groups — public administration, business and civil. The 25 participants who visited Cortland were part of the public administration team.

The program is good for Africa, said Herve Magaribi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The program brings together future leaders and helps create a network, he said. “It helps us to build a bridge between America and Africa.”

After the courthouse, the 25 participants made their way to the fire station, where Deputy Chief Wayne Friedman walked the group through the daily tasks of the department and answered questions. “A question that has been common and they want to know is how the fire department is funded,” Friedman said.

Participants got to spray the fire hose into the road and went for a ride in a fire truck’s bucket ladder. Dr. Chisa Ugboaja, a obstetrician-gynecologist from Nigeria, had a smile on her face as she descended in the bucket on the ladder truck. “It’s an amazing experience.”

Ugboaja said she kept thinking how prepared the agency is to respond to a variety of calls, from medical emergencies to fires. Ugboaja said the fire service In Nigeria answers to mostly fires. “The response times are not as fast.”

After the fire station visit, the visitors continued on to the YWCA of Cortland on Clayton Avenue, then the Cortland Repertory Theatre Downtown on Port Watson Street, before they ended their Cortland County visit with a dinner at Bertini’s house.