The Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa commonly known as YALDA (University of Botswana) hosted its 3rd biennial international conference from the 18th-21st of August 2011. The conference was themed: “Spotlight on Africa: Youth Owning the Continent’s Development Wave” with over 164 delegates. Delegates from 17 countries, namely Angola, Botswana, Canada, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, UK, USA, Zambia and Zimbabwe represented their countries at the conference. In addition, 35 speakers provided excellent accounts on diverse issues relevant to youth, development and growth in Africa.

As the second largest continent in the world, Africa has the largest population of youth. At the dawn of a new era of economic revival, key stakeholders agree that youth participation is vital for Africa’s development. The cause for youth empowerment has become so imperative that the heads of states and governments in Africa recently gave special priority to youth development in July 2011 at the African Union Summit themed “Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable development.”

The conference organised by YALDA branches in Botswana, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and the United States of America kicked off on Thursday morning with the opening address by Arend van Wamelen, Partner at McKinsey and Company, South Africa.  McKinsey and Company inspired the theme of this conference from the Lions on the Move report that describes the exciting new growth prospects on the African continent.  As one of the co-authors of the report, Mr van Wamelen took delegates through a fascinating look at the report and went on to demonstrate what Africa must do in order to reach the predicted levels of growth.  Following, the address, and the arrival of most of the international participants, delegates went to visit Eden Health and Dee Zone Productions—both youth-run businesses.  As the day rounded off, delegates were treated to an authentic Tswana experience of a bush braai at the Mokolodi Game Reserve.  Delegates ate dinner around a bon fire, while artists entertained them with poems and folklore songs.  Moreover, they were able to make new acquaintances and network with the international guest speakers who were also present.

Friday saw the official opening of the conference at the Gaborone Sun Conference Centre.  Young people came together under one roof with top executives and other seasoned professionals, most of them for the first time, in 12 different panel sessions covering diverse topics that aimed to help young people understand how they can truly be both contributors and beneficiaries to Africa’s exciting growth prospects.  The Mayor of Gaborone City, Her Lordship Veronica Lesole officially welcomed the office of the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture to the conference.  Following, the Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Youth, Sports, & Culture gave a sterling keynote address on behalf of the Minister.  The Gaborone Central Member of Parliament, Mr Dumelang Saleshando then closed the official opening of the conference and thanked the Minister, the Mayor, the prominent speakers, sponsors and delegates for their participation in this year’s conference.  The day continued with various panels in which guest speakers shared their extensive knowledge on different topics affecting Africa’s growth as well as facilitating discussions with the young people present.  This year’s guest speakers spoke on topics ranging from business, health, entertainment, politics and conflict, and uplifting young women, to the role of education in helping young people contribute to Africa’s growth.  The speakers included Mr Neo Moroka (CEO of De Beers Botswana), Lorato Morapedi (CEO of NDB), Professor Yunus Ballim (DVC(Academic) University of Witwatersrand, South Africa), Jennifer Anderson (British High Commissioner Botswana), Momar Dieng (UNDP and Advisor to Minister of Planning, Liberia), and H.E. Mr Liu Huanxing (Chinese Ambassador to Botswana) to name but few.  The day ended with a fundraising Gala dinner attended by prominent and influential personalities in Botswana, including a keynote speech by Mr. Neo Moroka (CEO of De Beers Botswana).

The following day, Saturday, allowed young people to gain critical skills they will need for the development of Africa through interactive workshops at the University of Botswana.  The workshop titled, the Power of Presence: Being Heard by Your Peers and Elders, facilitated by Professor Lewa (USIU, Kenya), highlighted how youth across the globe experience difficulties when having to speak up and lead in their communities, regions or countries. The objective was to assist participants to identify better ways of engaging with their peers and elders so as to maximize the relationships they have and ensure peaceful and more productive means of tackling problems.  Another workshop facilitated by Maryam Mehrtash (President, Boundless Films Canada) titled: Maximizing the Minimal: Effective use of Resources, showed delegates how the effective use of available resources determines whether one succeeds or fails in their initiatives. Even with all the resources available to them, most young people still fail to have their initiatives materialize; resources in this sense goes beyond just monetary ones. The discussion assisted participants to acquire tools that will help them to gain more resources including guidance on how to start again if their initiatives do not work out the first time.  After a long day’s boot camp session preparing them to take charge in Africa’s new growth prospects, delegates went to unwind at the conference Cocktail Party at the News Café, where they had an opportunity to network with each other and other prominent professionals.

Finally, the conference culminated on Sunday with a keynote address by Dr Gbadebo Odularu (Director Fara-Africa Ghana) on Unity in the African Youth Agenda. Following Dr. Odularu’s address, the Awards ceremony took place during which all delegates and speakers were presented their participation certificates.  YALDA also awarded trophies to the most outstanding organising committee members, honouring their exceptional contribution to the success of the conference.  Furthermore, Barclays Bank (one of the Silver Sponsors), was honoured with the Most Supportive Sponsor Award for the advice and support the YALDA organising committee received above and beyond the monetary assistance.

Indeed, this conference would not have been successful without the advice and support from those who have a passion for the development of Africa’s youth and the continent herself.  YALDA would like to thank all of the guest speakers who travelled from all over the continent, including our local speakers who came and shared their valuable experience and knowledge with our delegates. Moreover, YALDA is humbly grateful to the event sponsors for providing us with the means and resources to host such a successful event.