During the USA-Africa Leaders' summit which took place on the 4th-6th August 2014 in Washington, one of the shared commitments outlined by the United Sates (U.S) and African governments is to increase investment in the next generation; investment in Africa's youth. This was in line with the theme of the summit 'Investing in the Next Generation', which focused on ways of stimulating growth, unlocking opportunities and creating an enabling environment for the next generation.
The summit came a week after the U.S president Barack Obama met with 500 young African leaders on the 28th of July under his Young African Leaders Initiative (now named Mandela Washington Fellowship) which was launched in 2010. This analysis reflects on this Young African Leaders Initiative and the need for home-grown initiatives of this nature.
It is true that Africa cannot always rely on outside help for its future prosperity. At the same time this does not mean that the continent must not welcome outside assistance that claims or seeks to help Africans to build a better and prosperous future. Although one of the biggest challenges about non-African nations offering assistance to the continent is determining the motive and interests behind such assistance. The question is; do they have Africa's best interest at heart or are they opening more channels for influence to secure their own interest while exploiting the continent. This is an on-going debate within Africa from different levels and the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is no exception to this concern.
Critics of this initiative have expressed scepticism about the declared intentions of the US government, arguing that programmes like these could only serve to give Washington more influence in Africa. However this can also be proven through time. Others have criticised the decision to host a fellowship for young African leaders in the US and not in Africa. Basically, these criticisms relate to concerns that the United States is seeking to use this initiative to secure and strengthen its dominance in Africa by creating more platforms which will be favourable to its interests in future.
Nonetheless, contrary to these concerns, it is of paramount importance in terms of capacity building to recognise the positive aspects of the Mandela Washington Fellowship. It promises to support Africa's young leaders as they assume the responsibility of shaping the future of their continent as part of the United Sates commitment to invest in the next generation of African leaders to enhance leadership skills, bolster entrepreneurship, and connect young African leaders with one another, with the United States, and with the American people. This is a positive form of capacity building which creates platforms for the African youth which will expose them to professional development opportunities, networking, training and seed funding to support their ideas, businesses and organisations in their respective African countries.
This is what African governments should strongly advocate as it is already stipulated in the African youth charter. One of the aspirations of African youth charter is to ensure equal access to young men and young women to participate in decision-making and in fulfilling civic duties, and also institute measures to professionalize youth work and introduce relevant training programmes in higher education and other such training institutions. So since the African Union has declared 2009-2018 as the decade for youth development and since most African nations are plagued with challenges of limited financial resources, initiatives such as the Mandela Washington Fellowship can positively contribute in harnessing the future of African youth if they are well coordinated with the African Union, irrespective of where the initiative originates. On the other hand it is preferable if these initiatives are undertaken in Africa, at the national, regional and continental level.
Ultimately, the future of Africa rests in the African youth which needs the support from African governments. Despite the commitment made by the African Union Commission during the U.S.A- Africa leaders' summit, "to redouble its effort to advance educational opportunities through the Pan-African University and to carry forward the African Youth Charter by urging Member States to consider the African Youth Decade Plan of Action as a road map for implementation", it will depend on the readiness of African states and governments to carry their youth along in policies and programmes that affects their lives. So far a number of African States committed themselves to implement the African youth charter in supporting opportunities for the youth. As a result, more focus on the youth is needed from the African governments to cater the youth and create opportunities that will allow young African men and women to take charge of their future.
Mr. Kenny Dlamini holds a BA Hons in Political & International Studies from Rhodes University and is a research assistant at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD