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US Programs Empowering Emerging Young African Leaders

  • Tatenda Gumbo

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

With young people in Africa constituting nearly 60 percent of the total population, the United States through programs like President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders’ Initiative (YALI) is moulding emerging young African leaders hoping they return home to develop their countries.

In an interview with VOA, United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, David Gilmour, said his country is vested in merging young leaders of Africa and America.

Gilmour said the US is targeting Africa’s youth because they are the next leaders of Africa.

“We recognize that 60% of the population in African countries is under the age of 35 and so we recognize that the United States should reach out and get to know the emerging generation of young Africans,” said Gilmour.

YALI, launched by President Obama in 2010, offers examples of how the U.S. is trying to link African and American youth leaders.

Gilmore explained that the YALI program, now in its third year and boasting 500 participants under 35, also shows that African youth want to return to their countries.

“We rely on the young leaders who come and participate in this program to go home and give back and to mentor other young and up-and-coming leaders.”

For Zimbabwe youth, like many of their African counterparts, finding resources to move past their prevailing challenges has been a main issue.

In Zimbabwe, which has lagged behind in various sectors such as governance and economic growth, youth say programs like these assist them in networking and building resources to assist them in their professional careers.

Gilmour agreed, adding this year’s 30-participants from Zimbabwe are driven to be game changers.

“What’s reassuring for me is that there is a tremendous amount of talent in Zimbabwe and of course education levels are very high in Zimbabwe so candidates are really good. In particular in the business entrepreneur sector I’ve met so many young Zimbabweans who have tremendous ideas in business.”

He said given the opportunity to do so, these young leaders can make real sustainable changes in their home communities.

“This applies not only to Zimbabwe but all across the continent, the talent, the feeling and energy is all there,” added Gilmour.

The U.S. has pledged to continue supporting YALI and other youth, following their return home.

Gilmore said he is certain of Africa’s economic and social growth by youth, through their various programs, which also include Trade Africa, which facilitates trade between African countries, and global food, climate change and health initiatives

“There will be an ongoing program of engagements and we will work with them and alumni associations in their home countries to keep them connected to each other and offer opportunities of ongoing enrichment,” said Gilmour.

Gilmore dismissed claims by skeptics of YALI and other programs, that the U.S is only entrenching its interest in the continent. He emphasized that America is working through youth to build the continent.

As the Young African Leaders Initiative is slated to continue, young Africans are encouraged to continue to apply for the program. With a YALI network being opened up and the program expected to be expanded in the continent, the US said it will continue its support to youth with youth-driven organizations and networks.