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Student Life

Scholarship Recipient Hopes to Change Africa’s Narrative

By Patrick Bradley

SIS senior Biggie Tangane


As a boy of 11 years old seated in front of his family’s television in Botswana, Biggie Tangane didn’t like what he saw.

“Watching an American series I’d see happy people, then the next thing is CNN,” where he recalled witnessing only hopeless images of starving children in his native Africa. “I always wondered as a young boy why things had to be like that—why I had to have that story when my American counterpart had another.”

In pondering those questions, Tangane set himself on a course that would take him across oceans, countries, and hemispheres on a mission toward bettering his home continent through bettering himself.

“I wanted to develop my mind,” he said. “I thought I could use that to actually make a difference, to change the story of Africa.”

Now a senior in AU’s School of International Service, he stands ready to graduate, ready to better his homeland—and all this due in large part to the recently established AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship, or AU EGLS. He was the first to receive the prestigious honor, which is reserved for one international student per year and comes with a full ride to AU.

Mutual Admiration

Tangane describes his hometown of Gaborone—Botswana’s capital—as a sleepy town, a less frenetic version of Johannesburg in neighboring South Africa.

“There’s traffic once in a while,” he explained. “It’s a place you’d go to retire, if you want a nice peaceful place with good infrastructure.”

He grew up there, the youngest of five children to a businessman father and social worker mother, but for high school, he set his sights abroad. Tangane attended Johannesburg’s African Leadership Academy after being selected as part of an incoming 100-student class from a competitive pool of 2,500 applicants from all across Africa.

Before long, his college choices narrowed to one place—American University.

“I looked at the campus life, the student life, and what current students were saying about AU before I applied. That’s when I was sold,” he said. “I liked the international vibe of the campus, and it’s got students from all over America; so it’s a very diverse community.”

Tangane’s interest in AU proved to be mutual. In fact, having just written the terms of the EGL scholarship, director of international admissions Evelyn Levinson found the young Batswana’s application more than compelling.

“Biggie is the vision I had in mind when I wrote the scholarship,” she said. “He has a quiet dignity about him. There’s so much maturity there.”

Per Levinson’s vision, the scholarship targets students that demonstrate commitment to leadership, volunteerism, community service, and to advancing the needs of people in their home country. Additionally, applicants must hold a high school GPA of at least 3.8 or be in the top 10% of their graduating class.

Essentially, she was looking for Tangane.

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Since coming to AU, Tangane has made the most of opportunities both on and off campus. He recently interned at the historic U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, and he’s gained experience through time at the World Bank.

As part of the African Students’ Organization on campus, he sought out African connections in the Washington, D.C., community through the NGO Friends of the Congo and a regular gathering of young African expats at a café in town.

“I’ve taken a lot of classes that have sharpened my skills,” he said. “AU has also helped me with internships.”

Though already studying abroad here in the U.S., he took a semester to explore another continent: Europe. He participated in AU's European Union in Action Program in Brussels that looks at how the E.U. began and how it supports member nations. Tangane has lobbied for an AU study abroad that looks at economic development in Africa, hoping to peak others’ interest in the positive changes he plans to support.

Combining his family background of business and social work with his international education as an AU EGL, Tangane looks to alter Africa’s narrative, just as he decided to do almost a decade ago as a young boy in front of his television.

“A lot of young Africans are changing the system,” he said, “and I see myself being a part of that, changing the story of Africa.”