Last saturday I was invited at the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde (Cameroon) for the hearing of President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative Town Hall at the University of Johannesburg Soweto campus in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Acclaimed by the crowd singing and dancing “Shosholoza“, President Obama participated in a town hall with the Young African Leaders Initiative at the University of Johannesburg-Soweto, June 29, 2013. Shosholoza is a freedom song sung when Mandela was released from prison. Uncle Obama answered the questions of several lucky young participants also including young people from Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda who connected by satellite. And, even though we weren’t in the same room, I think all of us felt the amazing energy coming from this town hall. So refreshing !
The main subjects focused on youth empowerment and leadership with questions ranging from trade (also inner african trade), American foreign policy, education and climate and environment.
At the start of the town hall, President Obama announced a significant expansion of this initiative – a new program called the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders (YALI). This new program provides thousands of promising young Africans the opportunity to come to the United States in order to develop skills at public and private American colleges and universities. President Obama described the programs focused and invited everyone to apply :
“We’ll focus on civic leadership and public administration and business and entrepreneurship, the skills you need to serve your communities and start and grow businesses and run effective ministries. And you’ll interact with Americans from all walks of life, because our citizens — especially our young people — can learn from you, too. You’ll meet with leaders in business and nonprofits and government, including me. And I look forward to welcoming you at a summit that I’ll host in Washington, because I want to hear directly from you — your hopes, your dreams, what we can achieve together.”
Engaging young African leaders who will shape the continent’s future
In other words, what are our hopes, our dreams, and how can they participate in helping us achieve them. I think that only a President who had an certain level of africanity could know for a fact that african youth is capable of fulfilling great ambitions, and start such an initiative. Because, indeed, the best way to “help” young africans is, in stead of throwing them fish, to let them learn how to fish. Engaging young African leaders who will shape the continent’s future. This might actually be the legacy of Uncle Obama to the continent : Allow a better understanding of Africa, and the young africans to own their destiny.
Surprisingly, the majority who got the chance to address a question to Obama was made of young women. A strong message which means that women are in fact the backbone of our societies, empowering at the same time their place amongst it.
Inspiring youth with Role Models
My analyze is that young africans lack of role models of their own. Role models with “accessible” goals. Sometimes even people around us. Not everybody will be President of a Nation. That is why we should definitely learn how to raise these important figures into examples that will inspire them on a daily basis. Because each human needs to be inspired to be able to thrive. Uncle O. was inspired by Baba Mandela a great deal in his youth ! So it means that we shouldn’t neglect that sort of impact on our lives. Success, development, start in our heads before spreading to our acts.
That is why Obama pointed out not only Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu but young people such as Hector Pieterson (the 13-year-old boy who died during the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa), Fred Swaniker (started Biotech company in Ghana), Khadija Patel (fearless journalist here in South Africa), Jacob Jabari (HIV positive; he embraced it, he became a counselor) or Lebo Bogapane (built a crisis center in South Africa that’s helped thousands of women and children escape abuse).
Opportunities for an Africa that is intimately integrated into the world market
The hearing confirmed me that small and medium-sized business are the future, and that young africans should be led to bet more on entrepreneurship. Stop putting all your hopes in public administration. Because you have ideas that can grow into businesses and governments can’t recruit everybody ! So let’s exploit our resources and transform them in Africa, for Africa. Let’s create real value. For your information : 6 of the 10-fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa.
President says that America wants to be involved in Africa (and invite other countries to do the same), but not out of charity. Africa is a growing market and allowing africans to earn more money will allow them to consume more products. Simple and logic vision.
Barack Obama says :
“But everywhere I go in Africa, what’s very clear is people want to break out of a dependency trap. The idea is not that Africa somehow should be the ward of some other country. What we need is an Africa that is building, manufacturing, creating value, inventing, and then sending those products around the world and receiving products in return in fair terms of trade. And if we do that, then there’s no reason why Africa cannot succeed.
So part of what I’m trying to highlight during this trip is the enormous opportunities for an Africa that is intimately integrated into the world market. I want small and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs and startups here in Africa to see their potential not just in the local market, but to be able to sell goods and service all around the world and to bring those profits back to Africa and reinvest in Africa and hire Africans.
And so as part of that, we want to make sure that the United States is a critical trading partner. And, by the way, we’re not doing it out of charity. We’re doing it because if Africa is doing well, then now we’ve got a market of people who want to buy more iPads and — (laughter) — Boeing airplanes and all the good stuff that we sell, right? And Africa, by the way, is the youngest continent, which means that demographically this is going to be a larger and larger share of the world market.”
To conclude, it was a very energizing exchange, full of insightful lessons and promises, and part of these promises will have to be kept by US, young africans. Also, it is a great positive message from Africa to the Africa and the world regarding its potential. Therefore, I invite every african to read or watch the town hall, because I’m sure that each of us can pick some knowledge or wise advice from it.
By the way, two thumbs up to Nkepile Mabuse for a her hairstyle and charisma !
Nkepile Mabuse is a correspondent for CNN based at the network’s bureau in Johannesburg, South Africa.
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Read other articles from Céline Victoria Fotso
Also read : People : Michelle Obama goes nigerian fashion
More about Barack and Michelle Obama’s trip to Africa
Photo credits : Pete Souza
Source : The White House
The Young African Leaders Initiative launched in 2010 by President Obama supports leadership development, promotes entrepreneurship, and connects the next generation of African leaders with one another and the United States. Town hall participants included over 600 young leaders, ages 18-35, who are involved in public, private and civic organizations.
Visit the website.
The Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, the new flagship program of the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). Beginning in 2014, the program will bring more than 500 young African leaders to the United States each year for leadership training and mentoring. It will also create unique opportunities in Africa for Fellows to use their new skills to propel economic growth and prosperity, and strengthen democratic institutions.
– Engaging Young African Leaders Who Will Shape the Continent’s Future
– Taking Action on the Continent
– Committing Resources to Developing Young Talent
– Introducing the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders
Who was Hector Pieterson ?
Hector Pieterson (1963 – 16 June 1976) became the subject of an iconic image of the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa when a news photograph by Sam Nzima of the dying Hector being carried by another student while his sister ran next to them, was published around the world. He was killed at the age of 13 when the police opened fire on protesting students. For years, 16 June stood as a symbol of resistance to the brutality of the apartheid government. Today, it is designated National Youth Day — when South Africans honour young people and bring attention to their needs.