“You are the heirs of the independence generation that we celebrate this year. Because of their sacrifice you were born in independent African states, and just as the achievements of the last 50 years inspire you today, the work that you are doing will inspire future generations.”
This was United States President Barrack Obama in his address to young African leaders at the White House on August 3.
The participation of three Zimbabwean youths at President Obama’s forum with young African leaders has uncharacteristically and expectedly received its fair share of attention and criticism in the local media, some of it delusional.
I was one of the three Zimbabwean participants along with Sydney Chisi and Cleopatra Ndlovu.
Some commentators in the local media have labelled the forum a farce, and called us seeds of American treachery, overzealous young people who did not represent African values and who avoided asking President Obama tough questions.
Such posturing misses the import of the summit entirely and a flashback is necessary.
The whole purpose of the forum with President Obama was to share experiences from our different regions and gain invaluable insight to our varying contributions, in a small way, to societal change and development.
As the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs Bruce Wharton said, “it is an opportunity for America to see Africa through the eyes of the young people”.
Rightly so because the future of Africa is indelibly linked to its youths.
Granted, the prospect of meeting President Obama was in itself a lifetime opportunity, however when we were there it dawned on everyone that meeting the President of the United States of America, at the White House, is itself a distinctively momentous time. It was!
After being afforded the opportunity to have an unguided tour through the White House, we had a Town Hall meeting with President Obama, in the East Wing of the White House.
An energetic man, President Obama entered the room to applause from the participants, and in a moment of humour welcomed everyone to the White House, “including our friends from Ghana who beat us at the World Cup”.
The Town Hall meeting was preceded by an address by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department.
President Obama’s presentation was mainly predicated on the fact that 2010 is a watershed year for Africa as a whole as about 17 nations are celebrating 50 years of independence.
1960 was the year of Africa, and allowed Africans to shape their own destinies.
Yet as much as we are indebted to those who fought for our independence, the duty is upon African youth to further pursue the dreams and aspirations that our liberation fighters began.
In some African countries these ideals of freedom and prosperity have remained a pipe dream.
It is the time to further the struggle of job creation.
For the majority of unemployed African youth, it is time to embrace the struggle for an accountable and transparent state, the struggles of respect for the rule of law and the dignity of human beings, and it is time to fight the HIV/Aids scourge and promote the rights of women.
These are the struggles that young African leaders are duty-bound to pursue.
President Obama also juxtaposed the importance of the year 1960 in Africa to its importance in America; it was the year the idea of service to world by Americans was born, an idea which would become the Peace Corps.
The idea was mooted by the then President the late JF Kennedy. We also visited the Peace Corps offices and shared experiences of service.
In his address President Obama also spoke about the progress that Africa has experienced over the years; the story of Africa has been that of hardships, poverty and conflict.
But today Africa is on the move, Africa is ending conflicts. In Liberia, as President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said: “Today’s children have not known the gun and have not had to run.”
Tanzania is a country in progress, with sound agro-business, there is economic prosperity in Botswana, and significant democratic gains in Ghana. There is hope for the future.
The successful hosting of the biggest event, the World Cup, by South Africa is testimony to the capacity of Africa on the world stage.
The exhortation by President Obama that we “are the heirs of the independence generation that we celebrate this year, and because of their sacrifice, you were born in independent African states” was poignant and heart-rending, particularly for some of us who come from nation states which have been appropriated and turned into private fiefdoms by some of those who fought for our independence.
We still salute their efforts!
Yet as we celebrate independence and democratic gains in several African states, a lot of our people still suffer under the withering yoke of oppression, blanketed by tyrannical regimes; regime, which, as George Ayitte describes, “after independence post-independent African states did not dismantle the oppressive colonial structure, rather they expanded and increased its scope.
Gradually, a mafia state evolved, a state that has been hijacked by vampire elites, hustlers and gangsters, all who operate with their own ethic of self-aggrandisement and perpetuation in power”.
Those who accused us of not representing African values are in fact restricting progressive African values, relegating our systems to a politics of pangas, knobkerries and machetes.
They want to define African values in a framework where a brother tortures and kills a fellow brother because of political differences.
Their theatre of African politics is embedded in the idea of wrestling away power of governing from the civilians to vestiges of authoritarian enclaves in our midst.
They want to make us believe that African values are best defined by denying citizens access to information through plural media.
As a young leader, including the many young student activists I work with, I reject this notion.
Nothing could be as encouraging and fulfilling as the sight of our independence fighters at the recent Sadc summit in Namibia, the likes of Sam Nujoma, Kenneth Kaunda, Ketumile Masire and Joaquim Chissano who have embraced the idea of leadership renewal, and are now serving African people from without the corridors of state power.
God save Zimbabwe!
Masimba Nyamanhindi is Coordinator of the Students Solidarity Trust (SST). He is one of three Zimbabwean youth leaders that met US President Barack Obama in early August