THIS group of young people are bonded to enhance the lives and future of young Africans in war-torn countries. The project earned them the Team of the Year awards at The Future Awards held recently.
What made your group to win The Future Awards Team of the Year?
The judges would be in the best position to answer this question, considering the fact that all other finalists have also carried out brilliant initiatives. Having said that, it is noteworthy to say in 2009 AFYUCh was able to carry out change projects in three countries (Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi) in spite of our very busy schedules. This could only have been possible through the synergy of committed individuals that make up the team.
Have there been changes since you won?
There have been immense changes since we won the award. There is the attendant media attention as well as opportunities to scale up our projects through collaborations that have come our way.
Would you have continued with your quest for change had your team been disadvantaged in that category?
I would not like to see our not winning the award as being disadvantaged; to be shortlisted alone is significant. We are committed to our projects in-spite of any seeming challenges and would have continued with our initiatives regardless of the outcome of the judges. We are, however, encouraged by the award to do a lot more.
What does African Youth Unite for Change entail?
AFYUCh is basically a group of young professionals from different backgrounds. We have as focus, the building of leadership potential among young people in post-conflict African countries to enable them improve their personal circumstances as well as become catalysts of the accelerated development of their countries. We also aim at building platforms to engage young professionals across Africa to exchange ideas on conflict prevention, resolution and post-conflict reconstruction.
Where did the name come from?
AFYUCh was originally called ‘African Youth Unite for Liberia (AFYUL)’ at inception, because we set out to bring together young professionals from different African countries to contribute to Liberia’s reconstruction. We decided to change the name to ‘African Youth Unite for Change (AFYUCh)’ after our successful outreach to Bong County, Liberia in March 2008. The name change was to allow us extend the project to other post-conflict African countries.
You will agree with me that the word ‘Change’ is becoming a cliché these days?
The wind of change is rapidly sweeping across Africa with young people spearheading significant change initiatives. We can’t have too many of change initiatives because there is a lot to be done.
What makes your organization different from others?
We have very strict guidelines that guide our diplomatic disposition, when on our missions. This ensures that we portray Nigeria and Nigerians in very good light to our international publics. AFYUCh also maintains very close ties with LEAP Africa, which has oversight of our activities and allow us to use their proprietary modules and youth empowerment models.
It is perceived that a group of young people below 27, passionate about resolving other people’s conflict cannot be devoid of conflicts in this pursuit. What is your take on this?
We definitely have slight conflicts in the course of our activities, which are quickly resolved amicably. We have learnt to put aside personal preferences for the common good.
What significant change has your interaction with these young people brought?
We have been able to empower about 300 young people who were either victims of gender-based violence, forced co-option as juvenile combatants or those rendered vulnerable by conflict. The participants of our training programmes have also been encouraged to start change projects to impact their local communities.
If you were to paint Africa based on what you’ve seen in the places you’ve been, what would you draw, what colour will you use, and why?
I would paint Mother Africa green. In the lyrics of TY Bello, the land is indeed very beautiful and green with opportunities. In spite of our differences, we have what it takes to become the greatest continent in the world if we can overcome the issues of corruption and establish credible democratic structures.
Why would a set of promising guys be interested in a cause as this, while their mates take romantic trips to glamorous locations abroad?
Many of us are widely traveled, but still agree that Africa has some of the greatest locations to visit in the world. We, however, sacrifice our leave times and funds to impact on the lives of our brothers and sisters, who are not as privileged as we are.
How do you source your fund?
It’s from members, our family and friends. We also have a very supportive advisory board, which includes Dapo Odojukan of Rosaab International; Ms. Ngozi Obigwe of Leap Africa; and Mr. Foluso Phillips of Phillips Consulting.
Who are the key members of AFYUCh and what’s the structure like?
In Nigeria, we have a central working committee with members such as Joseph Mojume, Damilare Adeyeri, Lekan Akanbi, Esohe Okhomina, Tina Ugbebor, Oare Ehiemua, Aramide Abe, Usman Imanah, Vremudia Irikefe, Ismoila Alli-Balogun, Idonreyin Effiong, Kunle Odeyemi, Elizabeth Oghoro, Seun Adelusi and Akin Rotimi
What personal experiences or joint experiences that kick-started this undertaking?
AFYUCh (Then known as AFYUL) was inspired by the moving testimony of Baysah Corvah, a Liberian youth who experienced the war first hand and one of the 101 Young Africans that attended the African Business Leaders’ Forum in Accra Ghana in October 2007.
Would you say it’s worth the pains?
It has been marvelous to be part of this team. I have learned vital skills and exposed to continental issues, which I bring to bear in my personal life and career.
How would you assess the developmental process in Africa?
The comparative economic and human development indices are still not very encouraging. I am in support of the view that Africa’s development depends on Africans. We can do a lot more by establishing platforms for greater collaboration among African countries, especially developing strong trade ties. The emerging order is seeing African nations, urging western countries to establish trade ties with us and not just providing developmental Aid. We are, however, still being slowed down by political instability and corruption that’s why the advocacy for credible elections and good governance is gaining momentum. When we have the right leaders in place in Africa, the continent will develop faster.
What is your take on leadership in Nigeria?
We are still far from having the type of leaders that can rapidly improve the quality of lives of the generality of Nigerians. The starting point as I said earlier is credible elections. In a situation where we have a compromised electoral process, it becomes an exception rather than a rule to produce leaders, who have the interest of the people at heart. Another issue is civic participation in governance. The prevailing apathy of the generality of Nigerians to socio-political issues accounts for the reason a small fraction of the people, usurp authority, to do whatever they like. Leaders need to govern well, but followers also have a duty to hold leaders accountable and resist subversions of the constitution among other undemocratic moves.
In this part of the world we are faced with the problem of recycling bad leadership, how do these youths you’re equipping with leadership skills break through this political pipe to assert their destiny?
Young people all over Africa are indeed tired of bad leaders. There has been an upsurge in the number and variety of youth-led developmental initiatives across the continent in the last decade. The learned and shared paradigm within the vast network of youth organizations is that ‘youths are not leaders of tomorrow, but leaders of today’. This paradigm has also been our guiding principle in empowering participants in our programmes, we encourage them to be the change they want to see in their communities by starting a change initiative with what they have and where they are.
What is human relationship like in Rwanda, 17 years after the Genocide?
Rwanda known as ‘the land of a thousand hills and a millions smiles’ has recovered remarkably from the unfortunate genocide that occurred many years ago. The government and people have put in place veritable structures to mitigate issues that led to the violence. It might interest you to know that ethnicity has been outlawed in Rwanda in an effort to promote unity. This means that it is illegal to refer to someone as Hutu or Tutsi. The government of President Paul Kagame has also done very well in the development of infrastructure and creating conducive environment to attract foreign investment. The efforts of the people in rebuilding their country after the genocide has become a post-conflict reconstruction model all over the world.
Is there any re-occurring trend in the conflicts in all the places you’ve visited and why is that so?
Academics in the field of conflict analysis have identified significant conflict trends, especially in the Great Lakes region of East Africa . We can also see trends of conflict spread across geographies especially within the West African Sub-region. I share the view that some of the trends of conflict in many African countries can be traced to negative colonial imprints on our socio-political structure.
What are the lessons for Nigerians from your incursion into other African countries?
Nigeria needs to take conflict prevention very seriously. We cannot afford another civil war in Nigeria, though we seem to be dancing too close to it. Many families are still managing to cope with the negative effects of the over three decades ago war, yet we don’t take ethnic nationalities who feel marginalized seriously. Our leaders wantonly stoke religious sentiments among the masses for their own selfish gains. It is sad that 50 years after independence, we still have ‘conflict flashpoints’ in the country such as Jos crisis in Plateau State and the Niger Delta. Nigerians need to see our heterogeneity as a strong point and learn to live together peaceably.
What are the serious challenge(s) you’ve been faced with in your passion to unite African youths for change?
We have had such issues as language barriers in some countries. We have also had to scale down on some of our projects due to lack of funding.
If you are elected president of Nigeria, what would you do?
I would ensure the mainstreaming of youth and gender issues into every policy and programme including representation in various tiers of government. With a youth population of over 60%, Nigerian youths can no longer be ignored. The change would be replacing tired and compromised legs with dynamic and focused ones.
What will your manifesto look like?
A vote for me is a vote for you. Governance is a collective enterprise that involves both the leaders and the followers.
Do you agree with the axiom ‘what will be, will be’ to characterize the trend of problems plaguing the continent?
I agree to an extent because most African cultures encourage us to accept whatever happens as ‘destiny’. More people are, however, embracing the axiom that places the burden of determining our collective future at our own hands. This means that more people are taking responsibility for shaping our personal and collective destinies.
Where do you see Africa in 20 years time?
I see a continent that has begun to take herself seriously by taking proactive steps among her member nations, to ensure the development of her peoples. I see the end of violence as a means of conflict resolution and more importantly the economic advancement of most member nations.
Looking back 20 years from now, what would you be happy to have achieved?
I would be happy to have put in place structures that would ensure the continuity of the AFYUCh vision and to see our impact spread across geographies and thematic platforms.
Do you think enough has been done to overhaul the political terrain of Nigeria?
No, I don’t think so. The generality of political elite in Nigeria today are pseudo-leaders who are compromised even before getting to office. We are teaming up with progressive individuals/organizations to clamour for electoral reforms well ahead of the 2011 general elections in Nigeria . There are also several organizations like ‘The Future Nigeria’, ‘LEAP Africa’ and the ‘Nigerian Leadership Initiative (NLI)’ that we are affiliated to, who have as their primary objective instilling the right values and orientation for potential leaders.
For those who wish to take this same route as yourself, what advice would you give?
You would meet several challenges along the way, which would make you question the need to sacrifice for the common good or remain in your comfort zone.