Changing the Narrative: Youth in Africa
For far too long, the continent of Africa has been perceived by many in the West as a place of conflict and dictators dependent on foreign aid. This was never an accurate picture, and it certainly doesn’t reflect the economic dynamism and social change taking place in Africa today. With seven of the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world, Africa’s growth is being driven by young people who are brimming with talent and energy. This is why the United States has made youth engagement central to our foreign policy on the African continent — identifying young leaders as important allies and collaborating with them for economic and democratic progress.
Throughout my travels across the continent, I have met young Africans who are challenging commonly-held narratives that Africa is stagnant and traditional. A young woman I met from Libya left her position as an architect to dedicate herself to shaping the future of her country as an election monitor and contributer to draft their constitution. In Uganda, I worked with a young man who was orphaned as a child, and as a teenager created an investment fund venture to help other struggling young Africans develop their own businesses.
President Obama launched the Young African Leaders Initiative in 2010, placing young African leaders at the heart of our strategic engagement with the continent. It has become a signature effort of the White House and demonstrates our commitment to helping Africa’s next generation of leaders grow and develop.
In addition, 25 of our diplomatic missions across Africa have established Embassy Youth Councils that connect U.S. diplomats to local young leaders. These Youth Councils not only allow young people the opportunity to meet and discuss their views with high levels of leadership from U.S. embassies and from Washington, but they also inform the development of programs that address local issues. For example, prior to the United Nations’ review of Cameroon’s human rights record, the Embassy Yaoundé Youth Council provided their views on the human rights situation in their country, which were shared with State Department offices focused on human rights. Youth Council members in South Sudan created an 11-point action plan that laid out their concerns with the national constitutional review process, adding their voices to the debate. Members from the Youth Council in South Africa crafted recommendations to improve the struggling public education system in their country.
The United States will continue to inspire young African leaders to drive the path towards democracy, peace, and prosperity for generations to come. This weekend, Secretary Kerry traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he participated in celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the African Union. In his remarks to African leaders, Secretary Kerry acknowledged that nearly all of the leaders are older than the African Union while the vast majority of Africans are younger than the African Union. Sixty percent of Africans are under the age of 30. For this reason, Secretary Kerry participated in a “Youth Connect” event with African young people on the issues that matter most to them. The event was jointly hosted by BBC’s “HARDtalk” at the University of Addis Ababa and will be broadcast by BBC News, BBC World, BBC World Service, and BBC 2 on May 28 and 29. We hope you tune into this thought-provoking discussion with the next generation of African leaders!
Zeenat Rahman is a Truman National Security Project Fellow. This post originally appeared in DipNote, the official blog of the U.S. Department of State.