In late September, the Africa-America Institute hosted its 30th annual gala during the United Nations General Assembly. This year’s theme was “Powering Africa’s Future through Regional and Global Partnerships.”
“Africa is the most useful continent and we will represent 41 percent of the world’s youth by 2030. We believe that the youth are Africa’s greatest asset,” Amini Kajunju, AAI’s president and CEO, said. “If young people are in this process and are continuing to develop skills, talents and earn a living wage, their potential is limitless.”
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara received the 2014 AAI Lifetime Achievement Award. Ouattara was a recipient of AAI’s African Graduate Fellowship Program in 1972 and subsequently received his Ph.D at the University of Pennsylvania.
The winners also included Professor Thandika Mkandawire, chair of African development at the London School of Economics, who received the AAI Distinguished Alumnus Award; Jay Ireland, president and CEO of General Electric, who received the AAI Corporate Responsibility Award on behalf of General Electric; and Vivienne Yeda, director-general of the East African Development Bank, who received the AAI Business Leader Award.
CNN International Anchor and Correspondent Isha Sesay served as the gala’s mistress of ceremonies. South African singer and humanitarian Yvonne Chaka Chaka performed a musical tribute to 20 years of South African democracy.
Some of the award recipients and guests shared their thoughts on the importance of regional and global partnerships, the importance of focusing efforts on Africa’s youth, what they see as the future of Africa and what work remains to be done on the continent. Check out what they had to say below:
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, recipient of the 2014 AAI Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Africa-America Institute has done a lot for many of us in Africa and I think it’s our time to directly share this contribution … we’ll find ways to contribute to a fund to help African universities through the Africa-America Institute.
Professor Thandika Mkandawire, chair of African development at the London School of Economics, who received the AAI Distinguished Alumnus Award:
AAI has really shaped pretty much everything that I’ve obtained … In the 80s and 90s, many institutions lost interest in higher education in Africa. There was a theory that higher education didn’t yield as much returns as primary schools. Many funders simply withdrew from Africa, but AAI kept up the fight for higher education … I would like to thank AAI and the many other institutions that fought for education.
Dikembe Mutombo, a Congolese American retired professional basketball player and founder of the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation:
We are not invested in our social development program. We are not building new schools, no universities and no hospitals. The continent of Africa is rising even in the population number. The prediction is that in 2050, Africa will reach more than 5 billion people living on the continent … why are we not building schools? Why are we not building hospitals? Why are we not building medical institutions or clinics?
Vivienne Yeda, director-general of the East African Development Bank, who received the AAI Business Leader Award:
By 2030, 41 percent of the world’s youth will be African, will be on the African continent. Forty-one percent of the global youth population is a very large number. So definitely it’s a group that we cannot overlook in terms of looking at the future of the continent. So in order to empower that generation, which is really the key generation for our future, we are looking closely at skills development — not just education but skills, getting the relevant skill and really preparing the African youth to manage the future … We know where the skills are and the big challenge is to get those skills to us in a timely manner, and one way of doing that is through partnerships and we do work with associations like AAI, we work with universities in the United States and other European countries to see if we can have joint, exchange programs and we see this as a quicker way of developing the skills that we need on the continent, rather than starting from scratch.