Unlike most aspiring world leaders at Penn, incoming freshman Amatullah Njoya has already had a lifetime of political experience.
She is the daughter of Adamou Njoya , the leader of political opposition party the Cameroon Democratic Union. He helped found the party along with her mother.
“I was surrounded by the political movement growing up,” Amatullah said. “I’m a really active part of the political party that they founded.”
Her unusual upbringing gave her a unique perspective on issues facing Cameroon and sparked her desire to follow in her parents’ footsteps. But it did have some drawbacks. “Growing up with political parents meant not seeing them very often,” Amatullah said. “[But] it also meant that we attended all these meetings and rallies and got used to seeing the crowds.”
The political situation of Cameroon has also added a certain “controversial” aspect to her involvement in the CDU, Amatullah said. Cameroon only became a multi-party democracy in 1990, and the Brookings Institute, a well known private policy research organization, questions the legitimacy of the country’s elections and the actions of current president Paul Biya, who has been in power since 1982.
Her parents’ roles as opposition leaders “taught me about determination and drive even if the society you live in isn’t fair,” she said. “They taught me you have to say what you think is right.”
Amatullah’s sister, Amirah, who attends Washington Lee University, agrees. “[Amatullah] has a very strong personality and she doesn’t let people trample over her rights. And when she believes something she won’t be shy to speak up,” she said.
Another issue Amatullah is passionate about is overcoming Cameroon’s ethnic tensions. “Cameroon is really diverse ... we are still struggling to integrate and for everyone to feel like they're Cameroonian,” she said. “That’s actually one of my goals: to make Cameroonians feel like Cameroonians.”
However, Amatullah is not just a political activist — she is active at her American school in Cameroon, which she attended from pre-kindergarten to high school. President of the student council, she is currently busy organizing senior prom. She plays both basketball and soccer and is involved in community service for the National Honor Society.
She spends her summers organizing a summer camp for more than 50 kids from her village with her sister. “There aren’t many activities to do in rural villages ... [so] we try and create activities for them so they can also have a good time during the vacation,” she said.
Amirah sees Amatullah’s natural leadership skills emerge during the summer camps they run. ”It really surprises me how she’s able to make the little children listen to her and learn what she tells them,” she said.
In her busy life, Amatullah says that music has always been her solace. “Music is the way for me to express my emotions. It’s just my thing and I feel comfortable when I play music,” she said. This year, she recorded a “mini-album” in the studio and hopes to be involved in music at Penn.
“I’ve always dreamed of coming to the University of Pennsylvania,” she said. For Amatullah, Penn represents hope not only for herself, but for Cameroon. ”[I hope to] really get all the tools I need to bring change to my country and the world, and I can’t wait until August.”