20 December 2012

Africa's Future Is With Youth, U.S. Ambassador Says

Washington — Dozens of youth leaders from across Africa gathered in Kampala, Uganda, December 14 to present ideas for innovative solutions to some of the continent's pressing problems.

With the theme "Our Moment," the event showed how youth are harnessing their energy to create a new future for themselves. The gathering was organized by TEDxYouth@Bukoto with the U.S. Embassy in Kampala and the State Department Office of the Special Representative to Muslim Communities and the Office of Global Youth Issues. Bukoto is a township within Kampala, Uganda's capital.

Eleven young African change-makers told those attending the conference what motivates them, explained how they apply their ideas for social good, and articulated their visions for the future of Africa. Each speaker has been empowered by a State Department program to take on local challenges, according to a department press release.

Uganda's Emmanuel Bukenya, for instance, spoke about developing efficient and low-cost fuels for cookstoves that are good for the environment. Diana Mpyisi talked about being a professional journalist in Rwanda, and Edward Tagoe shared his experience starting an Internet company in Ghana.

Amara Igboegwu described the weaving project she started in Nigeria in which women use discarded pieces of cloth to make colorful rugs. Precious Simba talked about the girls' empowerment initiative she started in Zimbabwe.

"You can become agents of the change you want to see," U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Scott DeLisi told participants at the end of the day-long meeting. He noted that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton created the Office of Global Youth Issues to help integrate young people's concerns into U.S. diplomatic and development efforts. U.S. embassies and consulates around the world are inviting young people to share their ideas. "We believe youth can be our best resource in cutting through stale thinking and old obstacles," DeLisi said.

The ambassador challenged the 100 young business and nonprofit entrepreneurs at the conference to be willing to lead.

He said the challenges Africa's youth face include the threat of pandemic disease, environmental degradation, climate change, diminishing amounts of farmland and constant competition for water.

Conference participants shared their views through social media. "As an African we need to take responsibility [for] our continent!" Eskedar Aderajew tweeted to TEDxYouth@Bukoto.

"Take the risk in trying something new. There is no shame in failure," DeLisi challenged the group.

MUSLIM YOUTH DEVELOPMENT

In Kampala the following day, DeLisi, Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farrah Pandith and Special Adviser on Global Youth Issues Zeenat Rahman addressed the second annual Muslim Youth Development Conference and attended the launch of the Muslim Youth Leadership Institute.

The theme of the conference was "Youth Economic Empowerment and Interfaith Cooperation: A Game Changer in the Next 50 Years." DeLisi told the group that the United States encourages interfaith dialogue and partners with Muslim groups on community service projects and to "counter narratives that contribute to conflict and violent extremism."

"Muslim leaders in this country, like their counterparts in the United States, are at the forefront of promoting human rights, interfaith dialogue and respect for diversity," he said.

"These principles and values which unite Muslims and non-Muslims alike are central themes of our common pursuit of justice, progress, tolerance and respect for the dignity of all human beings," he said.

Pandith encouraged the young people to "put your voices and your new stories out there. Support one another as you break the stereotypes and change the global conversation. The world needs to focus on change makers like you and not on the stereotypes and misperceptions about Islam and Muslims."

Started in 2009, TEDx is a series of independently organized forums that grew out of the TED forum, which presents "ideas worth sharing."

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