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African Youth Leaders Leave US with New Hope

Invited African youth leaders shared ideas for change at the final event of their high-profile stay in Washington, 5 Aug 2010

More than 100 youth leaders from across Africa have wrapped up three days of high-profile, high-level meetings in Washington, with hopes for new action and plans to network for positive change on the Internet and at future gatherings.

The final event for the invited African youth leaders was held at the Newseum. It was called "The Way Forward."

One of the hosts, Charles Haynes, reminded his guests of the role played by young activists during the U.S. civil rights campaign. He gave the example of sit-in protests 40 years ago at lunch counters which did not serve African Americans.

"Who sat in and would not get up, would not leave even though they were spat upon, even though they were attacked and called names? It was young people who had the courage to go there and to do that," said Haynes.

One of the invited panelists and African youth leaders, Patrick Henrico Sam from Namibia, said he learned another history lesson by visiting the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in southeast Washington. Douglass was an African-American social reformer from the 19th century.

"Yesterday what I learned about Frederick Douglass - I did not know about this man - was somebody came up to him and asked him, after slavery is abolished, 'How do we push this agenda where we are treated as first-class citizens?' He says one word: 'agitate'. What? Agitate. What must I do? Agitate. And that is what I have learned by being here and that is what I would like to tell people: Let us agitate, let us push, a little shove. We are young; that is what we are known for," said Sam.

Sam organizes after-school projects in low-income communities.

During the question-and-answer session, there was talk of a United States of Africa, as well as breaking down established principles.

Mariam Diallo Drame said Africa's institutions should not be cut-and-paste models from those imposed by colonial powers. She said they should be adapted to Africa's values to be effective. Drame is the president of a women's leadership group in Bamako, Mali.

She also said that while African women are being emancipated, new laws are needed to help women in the workplace so they can balance work and being a wife and mother.

Student leader Jean-Felix Riva from the Central African Republic warned that without security, all U.S. investment to help Africa would be wasted. He gave the example of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army now running rampant in several countries, including his own.

After the event, other participants shared concerns about high unemployment and harder and harder drugs being consumed by Africa's youths in increasingly populated and chaotic cities.

The events, which included a meeting Tuesday with President Barack Obama, were held as 17 African countries marked 50 years of independence this year. Mr. Obama said Americans want to see Africans improve governance and their economies, and that the U.S. government wants to help forge new partnerships.

Bernard Akang'o from Kenya, a specialist in human rights, said it was important for Africa's new generation of leaders to take charge and be better than their predecessors.

"If we keep the momentum and try to apply what we eventually learned here back at home, then definitely there must be a difference, because this forum was meant to be an eye opener," said Akang'o.

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale closed the proceedings by promising another Africa youth leadership event, this time in Africa in early 2011.

She said she hoped many more African youth leaders would take part by having simultaneous events in many countries. McHale promised there would be more U.S. grants to support youth-driven projects in Africa. She also urged participants to stay in touch and continue to inspire and motivate each other in their respective endeavors.