Africa’s future belongs to young Africans

The Business & Human Rights Program was pleased that BHRP virtual team member, Abbas Gassem, was invited to participate in The President’s Forum with Young African Leaders; read on for his account of the event.

In early August, I was invited to participate in The President’s Forum with Young Africans Leaders held in Washington, D.C.  President Obama held a town hall meeting with forum delegates, while Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton personally gave a welcome address. The two and a half day summit included sessions on access to capital, freedom of expression through new technologies, youth involvement in democracy and governance, and advocacy.

This year is a monumental time for Africa with 17 countries celebrating 50 years of independence.  And the democracy bug is fitfully catching on. By the end of this year, a score of sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries will have gone to the polls for an assortment of local, regional, and national elections.  This is a big year for African voters.

Africa is at a major junction, with colonialism and the fight for independence truly behind it. Yet Africa faces many challenges over the next 50 years.  These challenges are no small feat with poor governance, lack of opportunities for good education, and corruption holding back the rise of Africa. Despite all this, Africa is a continent full of potential. With sixty percent of the African population under the age of 25 and the growth of technology, it is time to break down old barriers.  The FIFA World Cup hosted in South Africa was a success and provides a platform of extraordinary promise for the future. The winds of change are blowing in Africa, driven from within rather than from the outside.  There is an aspiration for better governance, change from old tribal based society to one where ideas win over loyalty, and to be part of global economy that will all bring rapid and foreseen changes in Africa.

During the summit, I met fellow Africans who are eager for this change and who want to take charge of their own destiny.  America has the opportunity to support these aspirations and empower the African youth by supporting education, getting grassroots networks of young people connected, and helping spread technology to remote areas that have little opportunity for their voices to be heard.

I also had the pleasure to facilitate a session on freedom of expression through new technologies.  It is impressive to see how young people are using mobile technology and social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, to share their thoughts.  Technology will be a platform to deliver this change which should not be led by foreign governments or international institutions but rather by the people and for the people.  The more Africans who can bypass the gate keepers with technology, the sooner these aspirations will be realised.

An example of this is the Ushahidi crisis management platform, built by young Kenyans to map reports of violence after the election of 2007, and currently being used as a digital tool for social change across the world.   Another example is the telecommunications firm Safaricom’s highly successful mobile money transfer service, M-Pesa.  Mpesa (”money” in Swahili) is a mobile transfer solution that allows money transfers to be done by mobile customers who do not have a bank account. The service has facilitated over $4B in transactions in Kenya since its launch in late 2007 – and that’s in a country with adjusted annual per-capita income of under $1,700.

Despite all one hears about Africa with the corruption, famine and fighting, the future looks promising.  If you would like to connect with the Young African Leaders Forum, here is their Facebook group.

Abbas Gassem is a Senior Product Manager at Yahoo! Europe and the founder of InsideSomalia.

For more information on the Young African Leaders Forum, visit their website:

http://www.america.gov/young_african_leaders.html

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