Africa will be unrecognizable in the next 15 years with a young vibrant group leading the continent, says the United States’ most senior diplomat in Africa. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, visited Cape Town over the weekend and experienced first-hand the sorrow of the country’s past and the excitement about its future.
On Saturday she visited Robben Island with Teddy Taylor, U.S. Consul General in Cape Town, and on Monday she had coffee with some of the city’s most promising young leaders at iKhaya Le Langa. “I have told other big leaders in Washington that I am so optimistic about Africa after I have interacted with young people like you from across the continent,” she told the group of YALI fellows.
The YALI 2014 fellows were full of praise about their recent trip to the U.S. They returned in August after a six week visit and a meeting with President Barack Obama. YALI fellow Andrew Gasnolar said to see some communities in the U.S. experienced similar challenges to South African communities was the most informative for him. “In west Baltimore – you can equate some communities to Manenberg – there are abandoned homes, failing schools, crime and drugs. But one of our best interactions as a group was interacting with youth in that community,” he said. “We shared our stories and learned from our shared experiences.”
Another YALI fellow Danielle Manuel said it was important for young leaders to listen and work together. “The next tier of leaders is not necessarily the most specialized engineer, but it’s about who can work collectively and collaborate with each other,” she said.
Thomas-Greenfield said the great part of YALI was the interactions between fellows and the opportunities they had to share ideas with their counterparts from the rest of Africa. “The best is to learn that your experiences are not a whole lot different from the experiences of young people in the United States and elsewhere in the world,” she said. She agreed many young people in the United States go through the same experiences. She said it was up to young people everywhere to start thinking how they would be leaders of their countries one day. “It takes a lot of courage to be a president or senior leader in a country – and you guys have shown that courage,” she said. “I am very optimistic about Africa’s future in spite of everything we are hearing and seeing around the continent, in spite of the devastating effect of Ebola in countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. “This continent will go through all of this over the next 10 years and we will see an Africa rising that will be nothing like what we have experienced before and I hope I will not be too old to enjoy it.”
Thomas-Greenfield said the next generation of leaders in South Africa had to accept the burden and responsibility to take South Africa forward.