For a third year, The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, a flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), has successfully immersed a group of African scholars into six weeks of interdisciplinary academic coursework, cultural and civic engagement and service learning.
In honor of the completion of the program, fellows and guests gathered at the Howard University School of Social Work to host a forum titled “Africa, My Perspective,” with a purpose of demystifying stereotypes and providing solutions to promote African progress.
“Children of Africa, you have been privileged beyond measure,” said Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, African Union ambassador to the United States. “You owe it to go back home and share with those who have not been as fortunate as you have been. And remind them that in any use that you are going to be faced with as an African, refuse to be used to play other people’s dirty work. You’re smart enough. Take your time and understand the issues. Africa can no longer continue to be other people’s playground. We need African solutions to African problems.”
The opening remarks set the tone for a thought-provoking panel discussion focused on building Africa through entrepreneurship and technology while navigating through existing policy paradox.
“Africa is faced with quite a number of challenges, but it all starts with a realization that we, Africans, can do something for ourselves,” said fellow Angela Ameso of Uganda. “We do not always have to sit back and wait for the Western world to give us donor help, to give us support.”
The importance of self-reliance echoed throughout the panel discussion. Many of the fellows agreed that in order for Africa to progress, its people must seek “African solutions to African problems.”
According to the panelists, this sentiment will allow for Africans to be introspective and release them from reliance on outside resources.
“It’s a matter of inclusive development,” said Emmanuel Chisalu of Zambia. “When we have inclusive development, it means that we’ll rely less on donor aid. In fact, we’ll now look at how issues of how do we collaborate with the Western world. At the end of the day, the spirit of Ubuntu has to exist.”
Fellow Laura Targbeh of Liberia said education is an effective tool available to foster entrepreneurship and technology.
When aspiring entrepreneurs are aware of the resources surrounding them, they feel empowered and equipped to make a difference,” she said.
“People are learning about entrepreneurship even from high school on to college level,” Targbeh said. “And that is something that is not common [in Africa], but we are trying. … People are improving in the curriculum. If you have schools putting entrepreneurship as part of their curriculum, just imagine what’s going to happen. You can use your skills you learn in school to make your own business, start your own company, you don’t have to look for a job abroad and that’s the best thing.”
As the conversation centered on how Africans can join the fight for progress in their country, audience members questioned the role of African-Americans in the movement. The panelists said there is room for the diaspora in the movement, as long as those that are interested join with open hearts and minds.
“It all comes with the attitude you have once you come to us,” said panelist ” said Francine Ndong. “If you have the attitude of collaborating and partnering with us I think we know that we’re all coming from the same continent, we’re all coming from the same roots. So today once you choose to come back to us and once we choose to collaborate with you we have to make sure we have a certain attitude and make sure we’re not hurting anybody’s feelings and that we’re acknowledging where we come from.”
A spirit of unity was apparent as the evening came to a close with remarks about the impending rise of the continent of Africa, no longer to be referred to as the dark continent, but as an epicenter of hope and progress.
“Our hope is in you, the young people,” Chihombori-Quao said. “We are looking to you to make Africa what it needs to be. … I have no doubt in my mind that Mother Africa will always be calling on her children and that you will answer the call. Answer the call to build an Africa that is prosperous and united.”