Prime Minister Pereira goes from Fresno State to leading West African Nation

by Akyia Westley


In May 1994, Domingos Simões Pereira walked across the stage at Fresno State’s commencement ceremony and received his master’s degree in civil engineering. Fast forward 20 years, and Pereira walked a much bigger stage as he was elected prime minister of the West African nation Guinea-Bissau.

It’s a challenge he has long dreamed of accomplishing — to help his country rebound from years of political instability and repeated economic shock by instilling a future of peace, human security and openness.

As Fresno State’s first alumnus to become a prime minister or president, Pereira is now in a position to make a difference in his home country.

“I remember taking a class on city planning and annoying everyone with my plans on how to transform my city back home,” Pereira says in a video message to the Central Valley.

“The first two years were tough, because of English, but also because the system was very much different from what I had learned before.”

Born in Farim, Guinea-Bissau, in 1963, the year power struggles began against Portuguese colonization, Pereira grew up in a humble family with his father (a teacher), his mother (a housewife) and his four brothers. After completing high school, he moved to the former Soviet Union, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1988.

Two years later, Pereira came to Fresno State to pursue a master’s thanks to a scholarship provided by the United States Agency for International Development and The Africa-America Institute.

After earning his master’s, Pereira returned to his home, where he served in such roles as minster of public works and the Portuguese-speaking secretary executive.

During this period, unrest and instability continued in Guinea-Bissau, and Pereira was eager to make a change. He called on his friends and colleagues to act, which eventually led to his victory in the 2014 election as prime minister, the highest-ranking government position in the country.

Pereira’s job as prime minister has been a busy one. As the Ebola virus epidemic spread throughout Africa and other regions in August 2014, Pereira decided to close his country’s borders in an effort to protect his people. Determined to transform Guinea-Bissau, Pereira continues to seek international support by meeting with different countries and bodies of the Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries and other countries and international institutions, including those in Fresno.

Pereira maintains his connection through Guinea-Bissau’s partnership with the West African Vocational Schools based in Fresno and Seattle. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to transforming the small country by providing post-secondary education in computer basics, auto mechanics, sewing and English, and offering job training that gives students skills that translate into jobs.

Chris Collins, director of West African Vocational Schools, met the prime minster in 2013.

“He is someone who is intelligent and stands out but also very calm with a quiet confidence,” Collins said. “He really knows his stuff.”

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– Akyia Westley is a student news assistant for University Communications at Fresno State.