2018 YALI Impact Symposium: Remarks by Ambassador Peter Barlerin

[as prepared for delivery]

  • Distinguished Guests,
  • Dear YALI Fellows,
  • Dear participants,

Good morning.  I am truly delighted to be here in a hall full of young people from all 10 regions of Cameroon.  Your positive energy, exuding hope and determination, is palpable!

For the second consecutive year, the Mandela Washington Fellows Alumni Association of Cameroon is bringing together close to 500 young Cameroonians from around the country to discuss how you, as young leaders, can better shape the future of Cameroon.  Although I have only been in Cameroon for a couple months, I have had the opportunity to visit several regions and to appreciate first-hand the beauty of your country and the dynamism of Cameroon’s people, especially the youth.

While I look forward to visiting all 10 regions, I am grateful for the opportunity to meet many of you here today.  I’d like to thank Elvis Ndansi, the President of the Mandela Washington Fellows Association, for the invitation and the very warm welcome.  And congratulations to all the members of the Association and all of the young audience members for being selected to participate in this important and meaningful symposium.

It is always a huge undertaking to organize an event like this.  And just the fact that this symposium is underway is evidence that members of the Cameroonian alumni of the Young African Leaders Initiative, otherwise known as YALI, are living up to their potential as rising leaders.  This YALI Symposium is yet another example of the dedication, creativity and motivation of the growing network of YALI alumni in Cameroon.

It is often said that Africa’s future belongs to its youth. Africa is without a doubt the continent with the highest percentage of young people.  Approximately 70% of Africans are under the age of 35, and in Cameroon the median age is under 20.  Based on current trends, Africa will be the most populous continent by the year 2050.  This is a major challenge – in terms of meeting the economic needs of a burgeoning youth population – but it also presents a major opportunity for economic growth.

That is why the United States is working across Africa to help empower young people to chart their own course in life through adequate training and enhanced partnership opportunities.  To this effect, YALI is one of the United States’ flagship exchange programs.  It provides a comprehensive toolkit for young leaders, equipping them with the skills to be public servants, innovative entrepreneurs, and dedicated civil society activists.  Since YALI’s inception in 2010, seventy-two young people from all regions of Cameroon have participated in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Program.  An additional two hundred others have attended Regional Leadership Center sessions.  This summer, another group of young Cameroonians will join young leaders from across Africa for the 2018 Mandela Washington Fellowship in the United States. I hope some of the participants in this symposium who applied for the Fellowship will be selected to join the network of YALI Fellows from Cameroon.

Through each component of YALI, the United States is making a direct investment in the next generation of African leaders, with the hope that they will become agents of change and contribute to transforming their communities and the entire country.  I am pleased to see that all of the YALI Fellows – from the Mandela Washington Fellowship Program and the Regional Leadership Centers – are committed to sharing his or her knowledge and experience, and are working to improve the lives of other members of their communities.  They are doing this through civic engagement, exemplary public management, and creative business and entrepreneurship activities.

Almost every week, we hear of activities led by YALI Fellows around the country and across borders.  Whether you are sharing your experience with students at your Alma Mater, leading a “YALILearns” session, or training a vulnerable group of citizens, you are making a positive impact in your community.

Let me just mention a few of the remarkable activities some YALI Fellows have been involved in recently:

Charlie Wandji brought a team of members of the American NGO Legends Treks to Cameroon for a week-long health campaign that provided free eye care to thousands of inhabitants of three remote villages of the West region of Cameroon.

Fellows Joseph Bainamndi Daliwa, Bertrand Bobeto, Parfait Narcisse Guybolo and Ibrahim Djagra carried out training and sensitization activities in some of the most violence-stricken localities of the Far North Region. At the peril of their own lives, they worked to provide hope and encourage peaceful coexistence among various segments of the population of this area.

Olivier Madiba is the CEO of Kiro’o Games, the first video game development studio in Central Africa. Through this platform Olivier creates games and develops activities that showcase African culture and educates African youth while also entertaining them.

Through her foundation, Hope For the Needy, Christelle Bay, the former President of the Mandala Washington Fellows Association, continues to empower and provide hope to thousands of vulnerable persons, especially women and the girls in the northwest region. It is no surprise that she was recently recognized as laureate of the African Dream Achievers Award.

To the YALI alumni here today, let me commend you for achieving and exceeding the high expectations set out for you. You are taking concrete steps to shape the future of your communities, the future of Cameroon, and the future of the world.  I hope that you all will take advantage of this day to learn from one another, discuss your common challenges, and seek ways through which you can be engaged in spurring the development of your country Cameroon.  For you to make a difference in life, you need to think positively and act rationally.  You need to continue to take advantage of all available opportunities to enhance your skills and be at the service of your community.

The United States’ partnership with Africa, and our commitment to its continued growth and success, is unwavering. We look forward to deepening engagement, through programs such as YALI, in support of mutual prosperity and the security of our peoples.  I assure you that the American people are – and always will be – with the people of Cameroon in your quest for a brighter future.  On est ensemble!  Thank you very much for your kind attention.