Margret Chu is a former P.A. at UNA-NCA. She holds a B.A. in French and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
On August 12, 2014 UNA-NCA and IREX partnered together to host a follow up event featuring a panel to reflect on the first ever U.S.- Africa Summit and YALI, the Young African Leaders Initiative. The African leaders Summit and YALI are President Obama's initiatives to improve relations between the US and African countries. The summit brought together the largest number of heads of states ever convened in Washington at the same time. YALI brought approximately 500 young African leaders to the US to study at various universities across the country, do internships and gain professional experience, and to participate in the summit.
The panel featured a good balance of perspectives to summarize the summit, featuring Jon Temin, the Director of the Africa Programs at the US Institute of Peace, Nulu Nuluyombya, a Washington Fellow from Uganda, and Honorable Robert Joseph Mettle-Nunoo, former Deputy Minister for Health for Ghana. The event was later joined by the special adviser to Honorable Daniel Yaw Adjei, Ghana’s former Ambassador to the US and Brazil. The discussion was moderated by Elizabeth Latham, Academic Exchange Officer. U.S. Dept. of State. These panelists and moderator brought an academic, outside perspective of the summit and its outcomes, opinions from a youth perspective, a voice from a head of state point of view, and finally a U.S. government representative.
The great thing about having these different points of view is that it gives many facets of the summit, resulting in a more comprehensive overall picture. Of course everything is relative to perception and this variation of perceptions is beneficial to understanding the expectations and outcomes according to different actors and points of view.
Nulu began the panel by speaking about her experience as a YALI fellow which consisted of classes, an internship, and the summit. Nulu was a great joy to listen to, and reflected a desire to be a catalyst for change through her description of the university portion and summit portion of the initiative. She spoke highly of the classes that she took and people that she met, making cross continent connections with other YALI fellows. Nulu admitted that when she first arrived in America she was focused on her girls in her non-profit Success Chapter Uganda, which develops entrepreneurial and leadership skills for young people and especially young girls. Through her classes she was able to broaden her interests in economic development, public health and managing an organization, all which are key to the sustainable success of her own non-profit organization.
Nulu's ability to identify some of the key roots of problems with African development and her recommendations to remedy them were quite remarkable. She unabashedly pointed out that Africa had a large problem with mistrust of the youth, stating that the African heads should stop looking at the youth of their nations as enemies who might topple them from power and the presence of corruption or poor governance. The fact that Nulu was able to identify these problems and speak out against it leads us to believe that the youth of Africa are ready for profound change in their countries to bring development to a continent that has been neglected. This is frankly brings a breath of fresh air to the aspect of Africa's governance and its role in its development. This is not to say that it is the only thing affecting the development of Africa, but it is certainly a major and fundamental issue that must be addressed before any progress can be made.
Mr. Mettle-Nunoo also brought some candid opinions of the worlds' perception of Africa and what can be done to move pass this rigid stigmatizing of the many countries. He agreed that there are those who are too comfortable in their homes to do anything, who are comfortable with that power and that is a problem.
He recommended that Africa get chances to get their economy running, through exports and imports and less outsourcing. His role as the former Deputy Minister for Health of course has shaped his stance on medications and drugs in Africa. He made the point that drugs for African maladies should be made by Africans for Africans because it is they who suffer from them. This could be a big economic boost for the industry in Africa, but also a step in eradicating disease, something that plagues African countries even in today's world of major medical advancements. This would address some major aspects in the development of Africa, the economy, capacity building, and health.
The Director of the Africa program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Jon Temin was a necessary part of the panel as well, bringing an outside, academic perspective. He chose to lay out his thoughts in a big picture way, outlining 3 things that went well, and 3 things that could have been better. Firstly he expressed the first positive of the summit, that it happened at all. He noted that a summit of this magnitude was quite a feat, convening the most heads of states in one place at the same time, ever. It took a lot of planning, coordination, security measures, and people to pull this off. Secondly, he applauded the fact that democracy and governance, an ever delicate subject, was at the top of the agenda. Some people attribute certain failures of African states to lack of strong governance and fair democracies and given that the very heads of state and officials who may be responsible were there to discuss shows a victory in tackling this major issue. Thirdly, Temin remarked on the active participation of the private sector who play an important role in boosting the African economy. Their engagement could bring a lot of investment to Africa, helping them create jobs and gain investment, promoting further development.
Three things that Temin found could have been improved were the celebration of certain heads of state in elaborate manners which promoted a continuation of the disparity of wealth between the people and officials, and in a sense, the corruption that the summit sought to tackle. Temin also felt as though there was not enough discussion on pressing, destabilizing conflicts on the African continent, such as that in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These conflicts often spread into other countries, destabilizing them as well, and interrupting advancement in development. Thirdly, Temin found that the media coverage of the Summit was terribly shallow, and complained more of the traffic jams it caused than the issues discussed. Given the amount of people the summit affected and the goals it was trying to achieve Temin felt as though major outlets could have given much more time to the Summit. Temin gave a good round up of the good and bad but of course, the summit was just the first test run and like he mentioned, African leaders didn't know what to expect from this Summit either. Temin said that there was likely to be another one, which hopefully will take those aspects that wren't addressed to the fullest extent, into consideration.
My questions rest in a remark that the former Deputy Minister for Health made concerning the youth and their tendency to adhere to a Western model and the Western model in relation to Africa and the rest of the world. In a world where countries are ranked by first world, second world, and third world in terms of development, and those first world countries are the creators of that "Western model", how will Africa be able to reach that level of development if there are heads of state unwilling to follow that model? While Mr. Mettle-Nunoo has well founded hesitation of losing tradition and culture to the Western models' tendency to homogenize, where is the middle ground that allows for development without losing culture and tradition? Is that true core culture and tradition destined to become a part of the history that also sustains it, with no role in the future, say a century or two from now? And what of the youth who turn to that "Western model" and who will be the future of Africa? How will the African heads of state use the youth energy when it seems to conflict with their discord with the "Western model"?
This summit was the first of its kind, and a huge undertaking. It wasn't perfect, but it was a start for positive change on the African continent and African relations with each other and the rest of the world. Despite the seemingly impossible challenges that the African leaders face, the young fellows showed incredible initiative and reflection. Upon encountering these brilliant youth, I have confidence in Africa's future.