Experience & Lessons learned at the 2012 Africa Emerging Leaders’ Conference

Every generation should pursue development without compromising the ability of the next to pursue its own; this is sustainable development. Sustainable development in the United Nation terms understood to be an overarching concept of development and human rights including social, economic and environmental areas of focus. The human person is the centre of all concerns for sustainable development; the very end of sustainable development is to serve the human person’s needs. 

A little less than one hundred African Youth, many of whom are making strides in their varied spheres including the academia, politics, civil society and the corporate world; drawn from across the continent (including Nigeria, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, Gambia, Tanzania, Liberia, DRC, Cameroon, South Sudan among others), gathered at the two day conference held at Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi, Kenya from the 29th-30th August, 2012. The key facilitators of the discussions were Prof. Kiama Gitahi from the Wangarai Mathaii Institute, Dr. Luis Franchesci from Strathmore University, Prof. Henry Thairu- Vice Chancellor of Ioonero University, Mrs. Njeri Rionge, a renowned African Entrepreneur and a group of young pro-lifers from New Zealand among others.

The discussions at the conference underlined the unmatched significance of the human person in the efforts towards sustainable development. The begging question was how Africa would pursue sustainable development without compromising the worth of the human person.


Attempts to answer this question dwelled on the fact that the world’s greatest resource is the human person- the potential, the capacity as well as the creativity for innovation and invention inherent therein. For this reason, more than any other resource, it is the human person who should be protected, by all means, so that sustainable development fosters both the human person’s survival and well being. More so, Africa ought to take advantage of the fact that her population is youthful. With the comparative advantage that comes with youth regarding the human potential, the continent must tap in such ingenuity to generate means and ways of sustaining its population as means fostering sustainability in development.

Moreover, part of the development challenge in Africa is neither that there is overpopulation. While appreciating that there may be some demographic challenges in Africa, population, if understood basically to mean the total inhabitants living in an area, is not an obstacle but a force of development. Well put by the young & pro-life group, the problem is not that there are too many people; the problem is that there are so many people without access to food, to clean water and sanitation, to healthcare, to education and to economic opportunities, just to mention but a few basic needs. In this regard therefore, Africa’s solution to the development challenge is not to reduce its population, but rather to invest in its population so that it can unearth the solutions that each person potentially holds, especially the young, dynamic and bountiful population.

Nor is the population in itself in Africa the cause of the alarming levels of environmental damage; relative to the industrial activities in more developed countries. Yet it is Africa that is the most vulnerable continent regarding the consequences of climate change.  The solution for Africa is mainly to adapt: to create technologies to mitigate the impact of climate change, to seek more environmental friendly pursuits of development, in addition promoting responsible environmental stewardship by all.

There are so many ways to tapping this potential in order to foster sustainable development. One way, as suggested by Professor Henry Thairu, is for Africans to draw their own pathway to development – home-brewed and tailor-made. This can be achieved if deliberate efforts are made to cultivate synergy between education institutions, research institutes and between these two institutions and both the business and government sectors. As he asserted, part of the problem in Africa is that there is little, if not no knowledge transfer partnerships; such that universities and research institutes barely produce products or services which are useful by both government and the corporate sector in addressing the development challenges. There is immediate need for frameworks within education and research institutes to generate solutions to problems and frameworks between these institutions and the private and public sectors to transfer such technologies for real life application. This can essentially nurture ‘knowledge-driven’ economies across the Africa; economies which not only innovate products that respond to the unique needs of the African people, but also those that process their resources, exporting finished and high quality ‘made-in-Africa’ products for the world market.

Mrs. Rionge concurred with this thought, adding that Africa ought to embrace the entrepreneurial mind-set. One way of achieving long-lasting development, according to her, is to promote the culture of entrepreneurship through innovation.  Hence, she challenged the youth present at the conference to be innovative, creative and daring enough to take initiative and establish businesses, instead of sitting back and waiting to be employed. This is as good as part of their contribution to achieving sustainable development.

However, the conference recognised that such efforts are but vainly ambitious, if there is no leadership, in its varied forms, especially political leadership, to govern and drive the development agenda into desirable directions. As emerging African leaders, the greatest investment they can make is to invest first in their self, building the character that is attributed to the indispensable values of magnanimity, humility, collegiality, prudence and justice. Such is the leadership that the continent desperately needs.

Conclusively, the conference left the youth inspired, motivated and challenged, as it reinforced the WYA Declaration on sustainable development; reaffirming the dignity of the human person. It is the human person that drives development, and it is the human person for whom all efforts of development are aimed. Africa’s best bet is its unstinted youth, the continents emerging leaders in whom lies the ingenuity to drive and achieve sustainable economic, social as well as environmental development.


MA (Development Management) Student- IEE of Ruhr University Bochum & School of Government, Uni. of Western Cape
BA (Political Science) University of Malawi, Chancellor College