July 3rd, 2013
09:58 AM ET

Young people must be center of U.S. Africa policy

By Zeenat Rahman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Zeenat Rahman serves as Special Adviser to the U.S Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues. You can follow her @zeenat. The views expressed are her own.

President Barack Obama’s just-concluded trip to Africa was focused on some of the issues you might expect from any presidential trip overseas: strengthening democracy, spurring economic growth, and enhancing peace and security. But with Africa’s emergence as a growing economic power, the president employed a strategy on his visits to Senegal, Tanzania, and South Africa that also seemed to recognize something that sets Africa policy apart – the need to engage with young leaders.

It is essential that we connect with – and invest in – the next generation of African leaders, and here’s why: on a continent of 1 billion people, more than 60 percent are under the age of 35. By 2050, one-quarter of the world’s workforce will reside in Africa.  And six of the top ten fastest growing economies over the last decade are based in Africa. To remain competitive in the global marketplace, America needs to establish partnerships with African countries and Africa’s rising young leaders who are helping to fuel the growth of these economies.

Part of the story behind Africa’s growth is an emerging cohort of young people that are tapping into the global economy both as consumers, but more importantly, as job creators. That is why the United States is reaching out to young African leaders as important allies for economic and democratic progress.

More from GPS: Why West is wrong about Africa

Private sector leaders have also recognized the increasing importance of Africa as an essential economic player, evidenced by the fact that the President is joined by a robust delegation of business leaders and investors.  To them, building partnerships in Africa is not about just about aid; it is also a strategic move in order for American companies to remain globally competitive.

As Secretary of State John Kerry’s adviser on youth issues, I’ve had a chance to meet dozens of these dynamic leaders.  For example, a 21-year-old man I met in Uganda started a business incubator giving budding startups access to much-needed resources.  Another young woman began a textile co-op, taking artisanal crafts to Western markets.

These inventive leaders, often with scant resources and in restrictive environments, are creating innovative solutions to persistent social and economic problems. Innovations such as mobile banking, clean burning stoves and renewable energy, driven mostly by young leaders, are having large scale impact on the continent, and we should tap into that entrepreneurial spirit and partner with Africa’s best and brightest.

Along with the significant progress on the continent to address global health issues such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and childhood nutrition, in which the U.S. has played an important leadership role, much work still needs to further the investment in young leaders.  Programs that promote training for careers, political participation, and improved access to education and technology are key tools in partnering with Africa’s 600 million youth.

This is why in South Africa, President Obama announced the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, an expansion of his Young African Leaders Initiative, a program aimed at bringing thousands of young Africans from across the continent to the U.S. for practical skills training in entrepreneurship, civic leadership, and public management.  They will meet business leaders and their peers, and deepen partnerships between the United States and Africa.

The United States has an unparalleled track record of innovation, investment and strategic partnerships.  We must continue that legacy of transparent, productive and mutually beneficial cooperation in Africa through our partnership with the next generation of the continent’s leaders.

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Topics: Africa • United States

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    The resource rich countries in Africa have to diverse their economy. The young population are their human resources, which need to be properly managed. Indeed Africa has a bright future. Yet much still needs to be done to prevent the continent to relapse into the old dark days.

    July 8, 2013 at 4:07 am | Reply
    • Aissata NGAIDE

      im 32 im nationality Mauritanian our ONG we have many activites but our activity now is the family planning programs are a win-win solution; well-being of every woman and children has improved, and the national economy and the environment in the benefits.

      April 7, 2014 at 11:22 am | Reply
  2. @Dickens24

    Africa has amazing potential in young people dyeing under the blanket cover of poor political practice currently dominant in the Continent triggered by the dictatorial thirst leadership system. This system affects countries like Zimbabwe, Uganda, Egypt, and looms in many other countries across Africa like Kenya among other Nations.

    There are a lot of fears on investing in young people around Africa because their emergence from grass-root to economic and political stability with great knowledge poses greatest threat to the power thirst leaders in the Continent. As we applause President Obama and the American Government for realizing this kind of potential in Young African's and committing to create a partnership that will propel the vision of these two great continents together, its also imperative that we run ahead of time and make rational decisions regarding this initiative before it turn out to provoke the political consent of African leaders considering the fact that transparency is like argot in their time context.

    This evident fear controlled by the lackluster creed is nothing than shell of the landmine half covered on the sand to scare young and ambitious Africans from the exploring leadership opportunities in the continent. This kind of fear is also built around the folklore like in the case of Swaziland in Southern Africa where young people cannot come out against traditional practices and believes violating the Human Rights by use of attrition tricks.

    Am glad this partnership majors on knowledge sharing and idea development among the young people through an out-of-region experience fellowship. I think it will also please if part of the program includes mentorship and empowerment to the young political ambitious Africans.

    Leadership has no remnants.

    April 6, 2014 at 4:45 am | Reply
    • Monono Hans Manga

      This gives us a lot of awareness about the presidential trip to Africa and i strongly agree that Young people especially from Africa must me at the center of US – African affairs.

      April 12, 2014 at 11:32 am | Reply
  3. Marcellus

    Dickens24 Your reasoning is great but it alerts the African leaders of their falling temple.

    I think all we need at this point is to focus on how best we can play our cards secretively without creating any alarm to achieve our vision as Young Africans. We need some good financial plan and support from the Western World since most of us are denied access to funding opportunities in our respective countries.

    April 6, 2014 at 5:11 am | Reply
  4. mothupi kgopa

    Ghananian economist George Ayettey said it best "Africa needs the new generation of cheetahs who see every social challenge as an opportunity to start a business" As one of the semi-finalists in Washington Fellowship for young African leaders I see this programme as a stepping stone to expand on my ngo newspaper that gives career information to disadvantaged learners in South Africa and to start my business of private affordable schools with a touch of excellence. For me the dream of democracy and economic success starts and ends with education.

    April 6, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  5. Abebe liyew

    Ethiopia is the second largest African country and full of unexploited resoources. There has to be a means to use this resource fairlly. Who knows that Africa may have precious resources like Uranium which enables it to be center of allies. In fact, there are many problems in Africa still now. As one tool, Social entrepreneurship has power to turn down the social problems and up the social values. The social problems are dispersed through the social structures; so the social entrepreneurship should be strong and selective enough to avert the effect of social problems down. As the social entrepreneurship gear becomes multi-toothed, it can speed up the growth of social values and returns; with the same speed, social problems will be cleared. Therefore, African leaders’, social entrepreneurs and American partners should work to serve this mission, great AFRICA and great AMERICA!

    April 7, 2014 at 1:33 am | Reply
  6. Moses T. Dlamini

    Wrapped in the frightful African challenges are a plethora of opportunities for young African leaders to exploit and create a better Africa for all. However, this requires one to think out of the box and have a holistic view of the problems. Innovative thinking could help us to come up with never been seen solutions that are well thought-out and extensively researched.

    April 7, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  7. Tetenyo Kodah

    Let support our rural pupils to also benefit from a quality education that can shape their future. how we support them today determines how serviceable they will tomorrow.

    http://igg.me/p/715715

    April 7, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Reply
  8. Moses T. Dlamini

    If we could fully utilize our resources. Africa has the potential to feed the whole world. All we need is to make use of the natural resources we have. Plenty land lies in our rural areas, yet we run to urban areas looking for white collar jobs. It's time we wake up. Stop looking for job but think about how we can create not just jobs but sustainable one and grow our economies. The world over has given so much to Africa. I do believe that now is the time for Africa to start giving back. We have all that it takes to make Africa and the rest of the world food secure. All we need is to get up and do something about our concerns.

    April 7, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  9. Nwadiogbu Daniel Sochima

    Thats a good one. The Iniative is a welcomed development. President Barrack Obama is indeed a leader.

    April 7, 2014 at 11:54 pm | Reply
  10. Zawadi Kazungu

    CHANGE is the only GUARANTEE to the FUTURE. The best teachers or social entrepreneurs are those who SEE AN EXAMPLE, Do SOMETHING CHARITABLE Give what they can, be it time or money, to a good cause. Dont make money their primary motivation. Believe that you can make a positive change. Then go out and prove it. I try to be ENTHUSIASTIC about the success of OTHERS as i am to my own. My name is Zawadi Kazungu a global citizen from Africa my homeland is Kenya. http://www.facebook.com/HudumaPathfinders

    April 10, 2014 at 12:35 am | Reply
  11. MDGs in Africa

    Reblogged this on MDGs in Africa.

    April 13, 2014 at 11:15 am | Reply

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