The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Presidential Town Hall Summit held in Washington, D.C. this August brought together a dynamic gathering of Africa’s next generation of leaders.
The day was filled with thought-provoking conversations, serious debate on the Continent’s future, inspiration from President Obama, and surprise moments like Congressman Hank Johnson (@RepHankJohnson) channelling Drake and dropping, “started from the bottom, now we here” to loud cheers and laughter from an exuberant audience.
Here are 9 more not-to-be-forgotten moments that mattered from one of the summer’s signature events, #YALI2015.
1) Youth Is Served
“I think that if you’re old enough to make a conscious decision about your life, about your country, you should be old enough to be apart of the political process completely and freely.” — Hlanganani Gumbi (@HlangananiGumbi)
When 25-year-old South African Hlanganani Gumbi, a member of the provincial legislature of KwaZulu-Natal, was asked by New York Times journalist Lola Ogunnaike (@lolaogunnaike) whether youth is a hindrance to a political career, Gumbi challenged the United States’ age requirements for candidacy in Congress.
“What if the electorate doesn’t want some mature people? What if the electorate wants people who have a different agenda, who change things, you know? It was very mature and very senior people who held onto issues around slavery. It was very mature and senior people who held onto issues such as women can’t vote or black people can’t vote. Issues in 2015 which America is dealing with such as gay marriage, etcetera, those issues would’ve been dealt with some time ago if it was young people who say everybody in this country is of equal worth, everybody has something to contribute, no matter your race, no matter where you come from and everybody has the right to succeed.”
2) Ending the Brain Drain
“The question is not what is the United States doing to reverse the brain drain. The question is, what are your countries doing to reverse the brain drain?” — President Obama’s response to NG fellow, @SolaOwonikoko
But the ‘brain drain’ issue goes beyond the Continent’s educational systems. President Obama urged the young leaders present to identify the challenges and address each one to create an educational environment that will allow their peers to flourish, intellectually and economically,
“I say, look, if you put together the basics of rule of law and due process and democracy, and you’re able to keep peace so that there’s not conflict and constant danger, and the government is not corrupt, then even a poor country, you’re going to attract a lot of people who are going to want to live there because they’ll feel like they’re part of building something and are contributing something.”
3) Senator Markey Gives a Pep Talk
“You have to work hard every single day. You’re going to lose, and then you’re going to lose, and then you’re going to lose and then because you are willing to accept the losses you are going to win and you are going to transform the society.” — Senator Edward J. Markey (@senmarkey)
Senator Markey , a ranking member on the US Senate’s Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, called on the young audience to not get discouraged by any initial set backs but to keep building on the new opportunities they find.
4) Africans Are Telling Our Stories
“What can the international media do to help us rebrand Africa? Because I feel the local media in Africa is working hard in telling our own stories. The young Africans are working hard in using social media to tell our own stories.” — Patience Chisanga (@AtienceZambia)
Chisanga, a fellow from Zambia and an avid tweeter and radio broadcaster called on all young Africans to tell their stories, while questioning the need for international news organizations to provide this support.
Hlanganani Gumbi made his views on the need for Africans to tell their own stories and not allow outside, international media organizations to control the narrative about Africa even more clear,
I think media, all over world of course, tends to focus on what is negative, what is going wrong, the bad stuff. I think we [Africans] must get better and smarter at being able to tell our stories in a way which, it doesn’t leave enough space for those small events to take over as if they are the common trend.
5) Serenading The President
President Obama (@POTUS) turned 54 on August 4th and the YALI fellows, along with everyone else at the summit, greeted him by singing, ‘Happy Birthday’! So we can all check that off our bucket lists now.
6) POTUS reminding us he’s, ‘that guy’
“It was my fourth trip to sub-Saharan Africa, more than any other U.S. President. And I was proud to be the first U.S. President to visit Kenya, the first to visit Ethiopia, the first to address the African Union, which was a great honor.” — President Barack Obama on his many trips to and connection with Africa
7) A Promise Made
“Next summer, up to 80 young American leaders will join YALI and go to Africa to learn from you and your countries.”— President Obama
In his address to the fellows, President Obama recalled a letter he received from Senegalese fellow, Fatou Ba Ndiour (@NdiourF), who suggested young Americans need to visit the continent, “to learn from other societies, with humility.” Obama said he agrees and has plans to extend the YALI Network to include visits from young, American leaders starting next year.
8) Young African Men, It’s On You
“The best measure of how a country does economically in terms of development is how does it treat its women.”— President Obama
Other than the President’s entrance at the summit, this is the moment he may have received his most applause. President Obama’s strongest message to this generation of African men was he wanted to seem them, ‘creating peer pressure’ and using their influence as leaders in their communities to stop abuses against women.
9) E Go Happen (Yes We Can)
As President Obama made his way around the room greeting the young leaders, Nigerian fellow Grace Jerry’s (@graciejerry) official YALI tribute played in the background. You can watch the full video for E Go Happen here:
So with less than 18 months to go in Obama’s final term as president, what’s next? The President said, ‘sleep’ may be first on his to do list once he leaves the White House but he told the #YALI2015 fellows he intends to, “continue to create these platforms for young leadership across the globe, to network, get relationships, to work together, to learn with each other”, meaning more moments to follow in the years ahead.