Africa: YES Africa 2019 Summit - Interview with the U.S. Ambassador to Senegal & Iqbal Paroo from the USADF

28 June 2019

"So logic dictates that if you are preparing for a workforce 30 years from now, then you might want to invest in a place where the youth population is growing at a rate that will make it the largest share of the global workforce. And there is no question that place is - Africa" – Iqbal Paroo, U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) board member.

The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), in partnership with Citi Foundation and Echoing Green, organized the Youth Entrepreneurship Summit (Yes Africa 2019), which was held from June 25th-27th in Dakar, Senegal. Young entrepreneurs from 15 African countries gathered for two days debating the continent's biggest challenges. At the margins of the summit, Tulinabo Mushingi, the U.S. Ambassador to Senegal, Iqbal Paroo, a USADF board member, sat for an interview with the AllAfrica Dakar team.

Would you tell us the purpose of Youth Entrepreneurship Summit (Yes Africa 2019)?

Mr Iqbal Paroo: This summit is a follow up summit to the one we had in Nairobi last year, where we gathered all the YALI Mandela fellows. The fellows are entrepreneurs who are focused on a host of social issues that are challenges to Africa. These issues range from infrastructure to clean water, access to health and education and energy.
So we select these fellows and once a year we bring them together as an opportunity for them to network with each other and develop what we call "social capital." We also give them training. Today's training—and the next few days—will be about "how to access financial capital beyond grant taking." We also give them an opportunity to learn and exchange ideas, which we call "intellectual capital". Because each fellow has ideas and through the sharing of ideas, new synergies emerge. And finally, the development of the entrepreneurs themselves as future leaders is our investment in human capital. That's the purpose of the summit.

Why is the US investing more and more in the African youth?

Ambassador Mushingi: …We decided a longtime ago that investing in the youth is a worthy cause. For the last two or three administrations in the United States, investing in youth and women have been a main component of our policy toward Africa. Many of you might remember when the African Union (AU) celebrated its 50th anniversary. There was the question of whether we should go to Addis Ababa or whether we should celebrate it with everybody. And what we were saying was let's start something for the youth, and that was how the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) program was born. Now remember, people like Iqbal and myself, obviously, are from a different generation. But what we want to create is that bridge between the new generation and the old generation, because all that has to be tied together for African countries to develop. So for us it is a decision made by our government and the people of America to continue investing in the youth. One way we are doing that is through youth entrepreneurship. The second thing is that economic development for Africa is also part of our U.S.-Africa policy. Remember, the U.S policy towards Africa has three pillars.

One is increasing economic prosperity and shared prosperity for Africans and for the United States. Two is protecting the United States homeland and the American people against threats - security threats and health threats. Three is trying to find African partners who have a citizens-centered policy that is focused on taking care of their citizens and generating a return on investment.

So investing in youth is one of the things we do. If we are going to address youth unemployment, we must address youth development. If we're going to address all the aspirations of the young people, we need to invest in them. So for us it's clear. It's clear why we are doing it, because what helps Senegal, helps the United States. What helps the population of Senegal helps the population of United States and vice versa. So that's why we are investing in the youth. 

Mr Iqbal Paroo: Let me add this to what the ambassador said, which I alluded to in my comments earlier this morning. The demographics of the globe are completely predictable. There are countries that are growing and there are countries whose populations are declining. There are countries that are aging and there are countries that have an enormous amount of growth in the youth population.

So when you look at the picture of the globe in 2030 or 2040, not just Senegal, not just Africa, but the entire world, it is very clear that the world is going to need a lot of young people in the global workforce. And where is that global workforce going to come from? It's going to come from a place where the youth are growing in great numbers. So logic dictates that if you are preparing for a workforce 30 years from now, then you might want to invest in a place where the youth population is growing at a rate that will make it the largest share of the global workforce. And there is no question that place is - Africa.

So in some ways, for all the right reasons and for some selfish reasons, we all better invest in Africa for the sake of the world, because we are going to need Africa's youth population in the future to support the global workforce.

Helping the youth in Africa, is it a way to fight the big migration problems that we are facing now ?

Mr Iqbal Paroo: There are many facets to the migration problem. And again, I am going to turn to the ambassador quickly here, because there's a complex set of issues that lead to migration, right? And why people want to migrate. You know many of the people that are migrating are doing so because of economic reasons or because of security reasons? In Many parts of the world, there are different reasons why people migrate. But at the end of the day if you can invest in people, improve their livelihood,  if you create what I call the right enabling conditions for people to grow in their own environment, why would they need to migrate? So if there is economic reasons for migration, then we should create the right conditions. If there are political reasons or they are migrating because they're in a minority and they are feeling forced to migrate, that's a whole different solution which probably the ambassador has many more thoughts on. But from an economic perspective, investing in African youth is one of the ways to mitigate the problem of economic migration.

Ambassador Mushingi: Yes, I completely agree with you. Let me just start by saying, every time this issue of migration comes up, I just want to make it clear that we, the United States of America, are obviously a country of immigrants.

Look at the two us here talking to you. [Ambassador Mushingi was born in Kinshasa, Congo, and Mr. Paroo was born in Nairobi, Kenya]

For us, the United States government welcomes immigration - legal immigration.  Like any country in the world, we want to enforce our immigration laws. I am also the United States ambassador to Guinea-Bissau. Senegal enforces its immigration laws. Guinea-Bissau the same. The United States wants its immigration laws to be respected. So if you are a legal immigrant in the United States, the door is open. If you are illegal, the door is closed. It's just as simple as that.

Now obviously there are humanitarian needs and the United States as a country will continue to play its role—its moral role—of supporting immigrants. But again, I just want to make it clear that legal immigration is welcome in United States. The United States will keep its doors open to people wanting to come and visit or wanting to come and contribute to the fabric of the United States.
But quickly to your question about migration. Not long ago you saw what was happening in Libya [with migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean]. It was terrible. We all condemned what was happening there.

If you look at the history of the United States, you can see similar situations where Cuban and Haitian migrants were trying to make it across to Florida. Now if we invest in Cuba and in Haiti, the chances are those Haitians and those Cubans migrants, like Iqbal just said, will be happy to stay home too. So that kind of investment we are making not only helps the country but also the citizens,  because they want to stay home or they want to come and visit the United States and maybe then go home.

But if there are no enabling conditions locally, whether economic or political, obviously like you and me, we want to go somewhere else at any cost unfortunately. Now the Europeans are focused on this issue of migration. The United States is also focused on this issue of migration along with Ecowas and Cedeao. Everybody is focused on it. But we all have to work together and agree on what the problem is and how to address it. Now for us, investing in the youth in Africa, we think is part of the solution.

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