Archive for April, 2010

Addressing National Security Issues: Youth & Violence in Africa

Monday, April 19th, 2010

by: Giovanni Guerra*

Giovanni Guerra (right)

Through my studies of national security issues, I have come to the resolution that solutions and efforts need to involve more individual actors. Today, nations face numerous security issues ranging from poverty, hunger, health endemics, to wars and conflicts ( both internal and external). Although these issues seem almost impossible to resolve, I must argue that small changes, can greatly impact a nation’s effort to address various security issues.

For instance, let’s take a particular national security issue common within many African nations, civil conflict and unrest and how addressing the ‘youth’ issue may impact this security issue. According to a study  by Population Action International, there was a strong correlation between civil conflict within nations and the large number of youth populations (sometimes referred to as a youth bulge). 

This youth bulge is a relatively common phenomenon amongst many African nations. Unfortunately, it has been linked to instability within nations, especially in connection to starting civil unrest and thus making it an important national security issue.  As this civil unrest within nation’s increasingly foster criminal activities and violence within gangs and paramilitary groups amongst youth, it would seem that a simple way to address the issues is by decreasing the effects of civil unrest within nations.

The magnitude and severity of civil unrest requires multiple actors both large and small. For individuals stepping up to the challenge of addressing this issue, there is, I think, need to address the fact that youth involvement in criminal activity cannot be seen purely in a derogative manner. To me, many people believe that people partake in criminal activity and engage in violence simply because they are evil. But it is important to understand that in reality, individual participation in such crimes are simply part of the rational-choice theory in criminal studies. This theory states that people who participate in violence and criminal activity do so not because they are evil but as they see no rational alternative.

Using this logic, the best strategies to resolve the national security threat that youth in gangs and paramilitaries pose involves a holistic approach that not only addresses natural resource issues  resulting from urbanization and the ‘youth bulge,’ but also addresses social development within youths themselves. One such strategy is the creation of youth development programs as part of educational programs that stresses both conflict resolution skills and leadership skills. Finding and supporting educational programs are the simplest way for both individuals and states to approach and tackle such national security issues.  

There are positive side effects nationally, regionally and even globally, when focus is paid on decreasing the hostility and likelihood of civil unrest among communities by increasing both the leadership and the conflict resolution capabilities of its youth population.  So, let’s take a step in the right direction, support and become involved in youth educational programs that focus on conflict-resolution and leadership development; they make a lasting impact in nations and ameliorate the problems of national security issues.

*Giovanni was Leadership Africa USA’s Fall 2008 intern.

Building the Youth Leadership Paradigm

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Walker A. Williams

With 44 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population under 15 yrs (visit the Population Reference Bureau for more population data), there is little doubt that Africa’s youth will play a significant role in the region’s economic, social and political prosperity in the years to come. The U.S. administration recognizes the opportunity to be gained by stressing the importance of youth development in Africa. During his trip to Ghana, President Obama encouraged Ghana’s and Africa’s youth to be the force of change they can be.

“You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people. You can serve in your communities, and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world But these things can only be done if all of you take responsibility for your future .” (Remarks by President Obama to the Ghanaian Parliament, July 11, 2009).

 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton  during her trip to the Demcratic Republic of the Congo in August of 2009, called for the mobilization of DRC youth, especially girls, to speak out about the challenges, particularly in the areas of corrpition and violence, of DRC.  She called for the students to “write a new chapter in Congolese history”. Here at Leadership Africa USA, we recognize the importance of calling upon the younger generations to promote effective leadership abilities that can inspire change within a nation.

Leadership Africa USA’s mission is compatible with the U.S. Administration’s emerging Africa policy through our youth leadership programs in several African countries to empower African youth through leadership training; promote skills transfer; support peer-to-peer outreach; and implement proven character building exercises.

 I believe inspired African leadership is key to Africa’s sustainable development in this global economy in order to solve the poverty equation impacting African people.  Effective leadership training is empowerment.

 Leadership Africa USA recognizes that the Africa’s future is dependent on cultivating positive and effective leadership among today’s African youth. As such, we partner with African educators and government officials to promote middle school leadership training.   Our emphasis on always working with our African counterparts stems from our view that “Made in America” doesn’t work in 21st Century Africa.

 Going forward, my goal is to develop creative ways to increase the delivery of leadership training with additional strategic partners and appropriate use of new technology. Youth leadership training should be a more focused initiative of U.S. and African policy if we are to deliver on the promise of accessible quality education for Africa’s children, especially girls.

Happy 10th Birthday AGOA

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Shehnaz Rangwala

One of the most obvious examples of how integrated the world has become is the rise in global trade. In 2007 just one percent of world trade was worth $199 billion – much larger(actually 4 times larger) than the total development assistance to Sub-Saharan African countries from G8 member countries that year.  Yet regions such as Africa still face considerable problems accessing the enormous benefits of increased global trade. These problems range from inadequate or antiquated infrastructure; weak regulatory environments; to insufficient local capacity.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), signed into law on May 18, 2000, was a response by the United States to provide an arrangement for African countries to bolster their trade opportunities with the U.S. with the end goal of strengthened free market economies and improved economic environments in these countries. Since its inception, AGOA’s impact on economic development in Africa has been significant - more than 300,000 jobs have been created in Africa; non-oil exports have increased by 340% and imports have grown by an equally impressive 51% from 2007 to $5.1 billion in 2008. In Kenya alone, the exports to the United States have more than tripled! Apparel exports in Kenya have remarkably increased from $111 million to $344 million in 2008 .  

The Honorable Dr. Timothy Thahane, Minister of Finance and Development Planning, The Kingdom of Lesotho,  during his remarks at the celebration of the 10th year anniversary or AGOA also extolled the benefits of AGOA to the Lesotho economy. He noted that small textile industries that were previously employing less than 10,000 women, currently employ about 50,000 women under AGOA. AGOA is having a lasting impact in many African countries.

The challenge of AGOA is in maximizing the benefits of the global economy and ensuring all people share in those benefits. There is a need to re-double efforts in building the capacity in Africa in order to exploit the full potential of AGOA.  These range from:

  1. Training entrepreneurs on the fundamentals of business proposal development, identifying the target market, and understanding the different regulations affiliated with exporting a particular product;

  2. Conducting targeted trade missions to highlight viable opportunities for U.S. businesses in African countries;

  3. Expanding access to information regarding available opportunities that exist through AGOA;
  4. To Establishing support networks for SMEs (small to medium enterprises).

Equally important for AGOA and beyond, is the need to foster an entrepreneurial spirit among Africa’s large youth population. African governments should focus on creating a generation of Africans who are ably equipped to tap into the vast opportunities affiliated with global trade. Leadership development training is one such means to prepare Africa’s youth to be leaders in the fields of business, education, science, politics, agriculture and the list goes on.

Who is the leader of your country? I don’t know ….

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Karelle Samuda

It is no secret that for a while most of Africa faced a leadership crisis, with coups, brutal civil conflicts, and dictatorships being more of the rule than the exception during the 1970s and up to the mid-1990s. (See a 2004 Foreign Affairs article (membership required) on the pervasiveness of despotic rule in Africa). However, the tide has drastically changed for most of the African countries, as young democracies have been emerging and slowly gaining stronghold in African societies (President Johnson Sirleaf & Steve Radelet note that in 1989 there were four democracies and in 2008, there are 18 democracies and counting). A new cadre of African leaders is determined to chart their countries and continent on a path where positive and effective leadership and rule of law are the order of the day (see Greg Simpkins’ blog posting on one such leader, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf).

Yet, I was reminded of the leadership challenges some African countries continue to face when Guinea-Bissau underwent yet another coup; and this is but one of Guinea-Bissau’s many problems. This time I was not sitting in the comforts of my living room in the U.S. watching the news, I was in Ziguinchor in Senegal’s Casamance region which borders Guinea-Bissau.  (Thankfully, there was little indication that the coup attempt would have negative repercussions in Ziguinchor). The general response to ‘What’s the latest on what’s happening in Guinea-Bissau?’ was, ‘I don’t know.’  Then it struck me, a leadership crisis, cripples the basic functioning of any group, organization and/or country. It breeds an environment of confusion (imagine the majority of Guinea-Bissau’s population responding  with ‘I don’t know’ to questions regarding the leadership of their country!) that is inimical to producing the outputs and outcomes needed to develop a country. Obvious, I know…. but something that is fundamental to understanding why promoting leadership development at ALL levels is critical. There needs to be a mindset that is fostered from a young age that positive and effective leadership is not despotic; dictatorial; and oblivious to rule of law.

The closest I could get to the Guinea-Bissau border the day after the coup attempt.