UNCTAD 14: Views from the Youth of Africa on Africa’s Development

The first ever United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 14) Youth Forum held in Nairobi, Kenya between 17 and 21 July 2016 was a momentous occasion. In his address to the youth UNCTAD Secretary-General Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi praised the youth and called on them to continue playing an active role in global affairs and politics, to hold elected officials and governments to account wherever possible and to ensure that their voices are heard long into the future. After all it is the youth of today who will inherit the world that current leaders are shaping. In this context, Ken Fullerton*, one of the 250 young participants worldwide selected to participate in the Youth Forum caught up with Mr Obed Kambasu, a young Ugandan who is currently completing a Master of Public Management degree at the University of Potsdam in Germany and is also highly interested in African and global development challenges. The focus of the interview was on the three core themes of the Youth Forum – more education, more and better jobs and state accountability.

Obed Kambasu

Mr Obed Kambasu

Raised in a small village called Mirami, located close to Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Obed Kambasu has had a rural upbringing. He says that he grew up “witnessing widespread poverty and hunger” but for him and his family his biggest challenges “were related to conflict and war” which meant that “sometimes, he had to live in internally displaced people’s camps”. Despite the struggles Obed has persevered and has already obtained a Bachelor and Master degrees and is now in the process of obtaining his second Master degree. He also currently works for a non-profit organisation focusing on the elimination of gender based discrimination and violence and is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Education, says Obed, is “the magic bullet that will lift Africa.” He believes that it can give a poor man or women’s child to “access great opportunities and for many Africans, it is the only way to get into formal employment.” However, he also acknowledges that there are currently many challenges to providing strong education to Africans across the continent. He believes that “many children are taught things they never get to use in life” and that, “apart from this, most of our education is not rooted in skills development and training.” He encourages vocational skills to be given greater priority and the revision of school curricula so they “suit local needs and respond to emerging threats like climate change, epidemics and conflict [and that] a lot more has to be invested in research too.”

Obed Doing Community Sensitization For Women In Rural Kenya

Obed doing community sensitisation for women in rural Kenya

Obed believes there is a direct link between the poorly designed educational systems across Africa and the ability of government and private sectors to create more and better jobs. He cites the “massive corruption on the continent” as a big hindrance to youth employment and believes that many young people just do not have the money to bribe themselves into a job. However, he believes that “youth employment will always remain key to any tangible development” and that if “we find a way of utilising the enormous potential of young people, we will have found the solutions to most of the problems on the continent.” While it is clear that more work needs to be done Obed believes that policies must not only be designed but implemented. He adds that the majority of Africans are young people, and that “these are the ones with the energy and creativity to work and develop the continent”. 

“I simply wish they were even partly accountable” says Obed of the majority of Africa’s governments. He laments that “the impact of corruption cannot be overemphasises” and says the fact that Africa loses more in corruption that it receives in development aid is a powerful indication that “corruption is probably the biggest cancer that has placed Africa in perpetual receivership.” For Obed solving this immense challenge requires a combination of different solutions. He believes that we require tougher laws and that begins with enforcing democracy and accountability.”  If leaders cannot be changed by the people or if they are able to manipulate elections to the extent that votes don’t matter, then the fight against corruption will remain a pipe dream he argues. Having the power to dismiss African leaders will result in greater accountability.

As a proud African, Obed strongly believes that “Africa has the potential to grow, but that we need to recognise our competitive advantages and also to invest in improving the quality of our human resources.” He cites Botswana and Ghana as examples of African countries that have made strides in the fight against corruption and from which we can learn but he ultimately believes that “engaging young people in the discussion [a key feature of the UNCTAD Youth Forum] is very important” as “we can’t continue ignoring the voices of the greatest majority of our population”. He certainly believes that global leaders need to take the youth more seriously.

*Ken Fullerton’s flights to and from Nairobi were sponsored by the University of Potsdam (UP) Transfer GmbH in Germany. UP Transfer was established in 1998 as a non-profit organisation. It exists to organise a modern and competitive transfer of knowledge and technology through the University of Potsdam. For further information visit the UP Transfer website. To contact the author, Ken Fullerton, email fullerton@uni-potsdam.de or contact him on Twitter using @KenFullerton.