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Youth leaders reflect after meeting U.S. President

September 8, 2010 | Harare
President Obama responds to a question from Sydney Chisi, YIDEZ Director (Photo: State Dept)

President Barack Obama responds to a question from Sydney Chisi

The President’s Forum for Young African Leaders (PFYAL) provided youth across Africa with an opportunity to discuss common themes affecting the continent, including climate change, entrepreneurship, HIV and AIDS, governance, empowerment and new information technologies as drivers of positive social change, according to Zimbabwean youth leaders who attended the Forum early August.

“The most common theme is that everyone was positive about the nations that they are coming from. They wanted to see change and wanted the best out of what they have today,” said Sydney Chisi during a Food for Thought presentation held at the U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Section auditorium in Eastgate, Harare on Tuesday.

Chisi, and co- speaker, Masimba Nyamanhindi, attended President Obama’s Forum for Young African Leaders with women’s rights activist, Cleopatra Ndlovu in early August. The Forum brought together more than 100 young leaders from civil society and the private sector representing 50 African countries.

Responding to a question from Chisi, President Obama said the U.S. would like to see Zimbabwe moving forward as "a multiracial, African democracy that can succeed on the world stage..."

The two youth leaders echoed this sentiment saying it was imperative for Zimbabwean youth to start getting involved. Chisi is the founder and director of the Youth Initiative for Democracy in Zimbabwe (YIDEZ), which runs an academy for 18- to 35-year-olds focused on developing leadership skills and empowering them to take action.

“Youth should be proud of the liberation of Zimbabwe and, indeed, the entire African continent. However, young people should not allow our liberation war generation to pollute the nationalistic and liberation war discourse.  They should claim that discourse for their emancipation and move forward the ideals of democracy, empowerment and non-racial societies that the struggle for independence sought to achieve,” said Nyamanhindi, who heads the Students Solidarity Trust (SST), a youth activist organisation working with student activists.

“For a 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,” said Nyamanhindi.

The two youth leaders said the Summit also looked at other issues and described as ‘refreshing’ insights from youth leaders representing other countries.  They especially valued the discussions on empowerment, climate change and the use of new information technologies to increase youth participation in democracy and other governance issues.

“The most amazing thing was the ability of young people, a good example being youth in Eritrea, to engage around the issue of climate change. They have done wonders around that, something that is a missing link in Zimbabwe,” said Chisi. He added, “as youth we need to engage in that because we are all going to be victims in the near future.”

“As youth, we are the leaders of today, otherwise tomorrow might never come,” Nyamanhindi.

The two youth leaders bemoaned the lack of youth participation in the current constitution making process being conducted by the Parliamentary Select Committee. Responding to questions from the audience, the two pledged, through their organizations, to intensify outreach efforts to other youth located in various parts of Zimbabwe.

“Youth have tended to do away with issues of national politics. For example, the constitution making process has indicated that youth are not participating in the process,” said Chisi.

“For us to achieve youth participation, this generation should use non-violent means to achieve our objectives. These objectives have not been carried forward after the war of independence was won,” he said.

Responding to criticism in the local media about their participation in the program, Nyamanhindi said there was a lot of hype about the fact that they met the U.S. President.

“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,” said the former student leader.

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