On Wednesday, Face2Face Africa was invited to Washington, D.C., to cover U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech and roundtable with the exceptional youth of Africa. Afterward, a few of Africa’s leaders spoke to us to find out what impacted them and why.
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MRS. OBAMA QUOTE:
“The roots of my family tree are in Africa. As you know, my husband’s father was born and raised in Kenya and members of our extended family still live there. I have had the pleasure of traveling to Africa a number of times over the years, including four trips as First Lady, and I have brought my mother and my daughters along with m whenever I can. So believe me, the blood of Africa runs through my veins, and I care deeply about Africa’s future.”
F2FA: What do you do back home?
Adebayo Alonge: I distribute medicines in rural communities in Lagos, and I use a cross-subsidy model that sells at competitive prices to urban clinics and hospitals and then uses the profits to sell at discounts back to the rural communities.
F2FA: Tell me about your experience here.
AA: It has been fantastic and transformative. At the heart of it, what Obama said, Michelle, as well as what John Kerry said is, African youths are responsible for transforming the continent, and the good thing we should know is that we have the strength of the U.S. behind us as well as all of the resources to go along with it to achieve our objectives. I think that is the heart of the learning this week.
I am also realizing the various work my other fellows are doing, that Africa has reached a new point, a new course of change where young people are no longer waiting for the government. They are taking on the responsibility themselves and driving the change through, and increasingly, they are beginning to return to Pan-Africanism and driving in to African trade.
And the orientation shouldn’t be toward the West alone; it should also be focused on how Africans can trade more with one another and become self-sufficient while also of course still retain an open door to the world.
The focus should be more on trade and on more what the private sector can do with one another to move resources from places of abundance to places of deficit.
F2FA: When you talk about Pan-Africanism do you also mean politically?
AA: No, the focus should be more on trade and on more what the private sector can do with one another to move resources to places of abundance to places of deficit.
It is just about market efficiency.
You have, for example, places with a scarcity of rice in Nigeria, and there is a surplus somewhere in Cote D’Ivoire.
Africans don’t know that.
Previously, we would want to go to South East Asia to import the rice, but that’s not good, that’s not sustainable, plus you are transferring wealth outside the continent. So that’s what I’d like to be looking at in terms of trade. At this time, politically, the European Union is not even united politically, but they have a common trade union and their markets are open and free.
And that’s what we want: the political space in Africa to enable the private sector, or even beyond that, the private sector players across the continent. To realize that opportunity and leap frog their governments in driving trade whether or not their governments or political systems are ready for that.
The private sector has to be the one driving the change in terms of trade on the continent, and this program has enabled that realization among all of us.
Face2Face Africa: What do you do back home that qualified you to be chosen as a Mandela Washington fellow?
Rachel Kalipi: I was selected out of the 50,000 people who applied for the Washington Fellowship. I’m an accountant by trade but I do a lot of community work, mentoring people to
start up businesses, and that’s the main reason why I’m here.
F2FA: What has impacted you the most during the summit?
RK: I don’t even know how to explain it. The academic experience, the experiential learning, the networking, meeting people really pays a lot and I’m ready to go back home, and I can share everything that I have learned during the six weeks I have been here.
F2FA: What have you learned here?
RK: What I’ve learned here the most is networking, personal branding, and leadership. I think in the African culture, we are very conservative; we do not really go out and talk, especially with other women, but in the six weeks, I’ve actually been taken out of my comfort zone to inspire more women and more people in my country.
F2FA: Whose speech inspired you the most?
RK: I enjoyed the President’s speech and the First Lady’s speech because she hit it on the head on what is currently happening with women all over the world, and I’m truly inspired and I’d like to follow in her footsteps.
F2FA: How has the Mandela Fellowship experience been for you?
Afua Prempeh: It’s an amazing experience because we tend not to communicate too well as Africans. We don’t trade among ourselves. We tend to go outside. It is easier for us to go to Europe rather than travel to places within Africa, and so this is a very good experience to work with each other and make the future.
F2FA: Tell me a little bit about what you do?
AP: I work in Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency, and I’m very passionate about inspiring people to do things on their own, rather than waiting on other people to do it. They have the power and potential to do whatever they set out to do.
F2FA: Who inspired you the most?
AP: Michelle inspired me the most [because she spoke about] the men in her life supporting her. It’s important the men in our lives understand that we are not threats [as Mrs. Obama said]. We are more than wives, or mothers, or sisters. We are more than people that comfort them or spur them on to do great things. It is important they understand that we have something to give as well.
“And while I have great respect for cultural differences, I think we can all agree that practices like genital cutting, forced child marriage, domestic violence are not legitimate cultural practices, they are serious human rights violations and have no place in any country on this Earth. (Applause.) These practices have no place in our shared future, because we all know that our future lies in our people -– in their talent, their ambition, their drive. And no country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.”
Watch part of FLOTUS’ speech here: