Africa must eradicate practices that inhibit the full development of women so they can participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives, a panel of five Mandela Washington Fellows told the U.S. Congress on Thursday.
The panelists, all interning with Howard University, said traditions that disadvantage women were still rife in many African countries, adding it’s time for the continent to adopt progressive policies.
They also urged young people to desist from violence, especially during elections, and instead fully engage in advocacy to achieve their desired outcomes.
The fellows, who are part of a contingent of 500 promising youths drawn from various sub-Saharan countries, including Zimbabwe, were invited to Congress to discuss youth, governance and leadership in Africa.
“In South Africa I see progress,” said Hlanganani Gumbi of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, responding to a question on the role of African youth in electoral processes.
The youth, Gumbi said, were increasingly taping into the power of social media to facilitate and promote engagement even with their political leaders.
While South Africa enjoys a stable political system, Gumbi added, he was troubled by events in neighboring Zimbabwe, which is reeling from years of sustained economic decline and political bickering.
“I’m concerned about the political situation in Zimbabwe,” he told VOA Studio 7 after the panel discussion. “I’m concerned about rulers who stay in power beyond a certain period of time.”
Another panelist Pamela Kanora from Tanzania, said democracy can never be complete without youth participation, hence the need for young people to fully engage in all democratic processes.
Her views were echoed by Eric Besong, a health professional from Cameroon.
The other two discussants were Ghanaian Mary Ashinyo and Kennedy Mwikya from Kenya, who urged President Barack Obama to address the issue of good governance during his visit to Kenya and Ethiopia this month.
Fatu Ogwuche of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Nigeria touted the recent power transition in her country as a good example for other African leaders.
“The opposition party, which is now the ruling party, won the elections and there was a peaceful transition,” Ogwuche told VOA.
“Most people thought everything was going to go haywire after the elections… so I think other countries in Africa have a lot to learn.”
The Mandela Washington Fellowship was established by President Obama in honor of former South African president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela to “invest in the future of Africa.”
Fellows are currently undergoing an intensive six weeks training in executive leadership, networking and skills building.
They will cap their program with a summit in Washington D.C which will be adressed by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.