Today, young leaders from about forty sub-Saharan countries gathered at a reception hosted by the Aspen Institute at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C. The event which brought together leaders from civil society and the private sector was to kick-off the 3-day Presidential Forum with young African leaders.
In an interview with some of the participants, they expressed their excitement and concerns as delegates selected to represent their countries. Bako Kantiok, who relocated to Nigeria recently after completing his Masters Degree in Communications Development said that he hopes to take home the shared experiences and skills acquired from President’s forum and inspire youths to contribute to their country. “There is no place like home, if you don’t fix it, you won’t enjoy it.”
Meanwhile, Isaac Amupolo, a Theatre practitioner from Zambia, said he was inspired to start up his “Ondangwa Drama Club” after a futile search for job. His cultural troupe has continued to use art as an instrument of entertainment and cultural diplomacy in his country. On the key things he hopes to take away from the event he said I hope to “connect, be in touch, share ideas and listen to other people’s point of view.” On the state of African countries celebrating their 50th independence anniversary this year, Amupolo said “It feels good…we hope the celebration pays off.”
Frances Marke, a delegate from Sierra Leone, sets a high expectation on participant’s sincerity to bring out real issues affecting Africa. “Africa should not just be a hub of ideas but real action.” she said. As a lead female activist in Sierra Leone, she hopes other young women in her country will be motivated to start participating in politics.
“African leaders should follow-up on the event and be keen about training young people” said Paul, a delegate from Zambia, whose area of interest includes good governance.
Adewole Taiwo, an environmental enthusiast from Nigeria said that his key message to President Obama is to focus on building partnerships with Nigeria to foster Technology transfer and renewable energy, as well as environmental remediation. Ruth Audu, another delegate from Nigeria also highlighted the need for Nigerian government to create a good political environment to engage youths. “Electorates should be able to interact with their representatives,” she said. On her expectation for the event, she commended the opportunity created by the US government to have an open dialogue with young Africa leaders but noted that “you cannot transform a nation in one day, but change is possible.”
President Barack Obama will host a town hall meeting at the White House with the young leaders to discuss their vision for transforming their societies over the next fifty years. Also, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton will address participants in the conference tomorrow, August 3, at the Department of State. This will be followed by delegates visit to different organizations within D.C. to acquaint them with first hand experience about active citizenship. Together with American counterparts and U.S. government officials, the participants will share their insights on key themes of youth empowerment, good governance, and economic opportunity.
Jen Ehidiamen is committed to exploring and using the media as an advocacy tool for youth development and empowerment. She writes a column called “Dis Generation” in The Nation newspaper and blogs at Youth Making Change. Jen is CP-Africa’s Features Editor.