Abdel Dicko’s road to Rhodes

Internship at UNHCR during the pandemic added ‘eye-opening experience’ to a passion for human rights

Abdel Dicko’s passion for human rights is palpable. A U3 Joint Honours Political Science and African Studies student, Dicko was recently selected as a 2021 Rhodes Scholar, joining the ranks of 146 other McGillians who have received the prestigious award since its creation in 1902.

Dicko hopes to complete an MSc in Global Governance and Diplomacy while at Oxford, followed by a Master of Public Policy in his second year. While his future is undoubtedly bright, his road to Rhodes is paved with experiences, both in and outside the classroom, that have fueled his determination to contribute to a better world.

Building blocks of a bright future

Born in Côte d’Ivoire, Dicko was witness to the devastating effects of the country’s political crisis at the time. “I observed firsthand the impact that poor political decisions, colonial legacies, and an entrenched culture of impunity could have on people’s lives,” he says. At the same time, however, Dicko looked up to leaders like Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Thomas Sankara or Kofi Annan for inspiration. “These men—also sons of Africa—were able to defy all odds and break systemic barriers to achieve their full potential and leave an indelible mark on the world,” he notes.

When Dicko was nine years old, his family immigrated to Canada, initially settling in Montreal and then Ottawa. As a self-described third culture kid—a term used to describe children who grew up in an environment that is culturally different from those of their parents—Dicko’s move from Côte d’Ivoire to Canada helped shape his career aspirations.

“Growing up, I tended to compare and question outcomes and living conditions in the various places that I considered home, and I grew to realize that law and politics were important factors to consider,” he says. “I thought that, through a career in public service and law, I could have a positive impact on people’s lives and provide my humble contribution to building a more just, fair and equitable world.”

Leading by example

Dicko was initially attracted to studying at McGill as he was eager to return to Montreal; it has always held a special place in his heart for being the first city he discovered upon moving to Canada. As a McGill undergrad, Dicko led by example in various leadership positions on campus, including in the Black Students’ Network of McGill, the African Studies Student’s Association, and the Desautels African Business Initiative. “If I can give one piece of advice to future McGill students, it is to get involved on campus—it will truly enrich your university experience,” he says. “Getting involved made me grow as a person and complemented my classroom studies.”

A series of internships helped him get involved beyond the Roddick Gates as well. After his first year at McGill, he interned with the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the Canadian House of Commons: “Growing up in our nation’s capital, working on Parliament Hill was like a dream come true,” he says. His second summer internship—offered through the Arts Internship Office—was with the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice of Ghana. With the generous support of the Carol and Lloyd Darlington Arts Internship Award, Dicko was able to move to Accra, Ghana, to work as a human rights research intern.

Last summer, he was chosen from a competitive pool of applicants to intern in the Protection Unit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Canada Branch Office in Montreal.

Photo of Abdel Dicko

“Gaining experience within the UN system before graduating was a major goal for me,” he says -- one he was able to achieve through the support of the Arts Internship Office and the Allan A. Hodgson Arts Internship Award. “Working for the UNHCR, especially during this unprecedented and traumatic year, was a truly eye-opening experience,” Dicko notes. “Working within an organization that strives to protect the rights of some of the world’s most vulnerable populations—during a pandemic—made me realize the crucial importance of working together to build bridges from ignorance to empathy, from despair to hope, from division to a recognition of our shared humanity: Ubuntu.”

Destination: Oxford

Although Dicko is thrilled to be part of the 2021 cohort of Rhodes scholars, he admits his studies aren’t the only reason he’s excited to be moving to the UK: he’s a lifelong football (soccer) fan—and a former competitive player. “As a huge English Premier League follower and Chelsea F.C. fan, I also hope that I will be able to watch a live game at Stamford Bridge before wrapping up my studies,” he says.

Dicko aspires to use his Oxford education to amplify marginalized voices. “I look forward to furthering my studies at the intersection of international relations, conflict studies, human rights, and public policy, with a particular focus on the African continent,” he says. After Oxford, he hopes to enter law school and go on to a career in international law and diplomacy.

Photo of Abdel Dicko speaking in front of a classrom

While Dicko sees his Rhodes scholarship as an immense privilege, he also sees it coming with the important responsibility of “fighting the world’s fight”. “This means a lifelong commitment to public service and striving to make justice, dignity, happiness, and equal opportunities a reality for as many human beings as possible,” he says. “Winning the Rhodes scholarship is a reminder to never forget where I come from, to never compromise my values, and to always dare to dream big!”

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