Amini Kujunju, President and CEO of The Africa-America Institute, delivered a keynote address at Applause Africa’s Second Annual African Diaspora Awards on December 8, in New York City.
THE SECOND ANNUAL AFRICAN DIASPORA AWARDS
KEYNOTE SPEECH DELIVERED BY
AMINI KAJUNJU, CEO&PRESIDENT OF THE AFRICA-AMERICA INSTITUTE (AAI)
Good evening. It is such a pleasure and honor to be here with all of you tonight at Applause Africa’s Second Annual African Diaspora Awards to celebrate extraordinary Africans who are excelling in their careers and contributing towards the advancement of Africans in the Diaspora and on the continent, as a whole. I’m honored to deliver tonight’s keynote address on “The Imperative Role Young Diasporians Play in the Advancement of Africa”.
Firstly, before I begin, I would like to congratulate the organizers of The African Diaspora Awards and editorial staff of Applause Africa for putting together such an important event. I was fortunate to have been introduced to Applause Africa magazine during the Africa-America Institute’s Awards Gala this past September. I’ve been so impressed by the ingenuity, passion and commitment of young people in the African Diaspora who are working to build stronger ties with the African continent and are making a real difference in communities in Africa as well as the United States. Kudos to you!
The theme of tonight’s keynote address could not have come at a more significant time in our history. Indeed, Africa is a continent on move. The continent boosts one of the world’s fastest growing economic regions. Six of the 10 fastest growing markets in the world are in Sub-Saharan Africa. And Africa’s fast emerging middle class now comprises over 300 million people. Yes, the African continent stands poised to compete in the global marketplace.
And it doesn’t hurt that one of the most influential African Diasporians — President Barack Obama – is in the White House!
With enormous progress taking root across the continent, young Diasporians are uniquely positioned to contribute to boosting the economic growth and prosperity in Africa. The African Diaspora is not a monolithic group – some of you were born and reared in the United States and many came to the States at a young age. My personal story is that I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We came to the US when I was 10 years old. Then we left to live in Liberia when I was 14 years old. Then I came back to the US to attend college. No matter how you arrived here, as Diasporians, you bring a distinct perspective to the discourse on Africa because in some way you have experienced both worlds – Africa and the United States – and can serve as a bridge in fostering greater understanding between the continent and the Western world.
The organization that I lead, The Africa-America Institute, or AAI, has served in a very similar role for nearly 60 years. AAI’s core mission is to promote engagement between Africa and America through education, training and dialogue. Our focus has been on education for Africans, and about Africa. Young, talented Africans have always been central to this mission.
As African nations were gaining independence from colonial rule, AAI was founded in 1953 to build human capacity on the continent. With funding from the U.S. State Department, AAI assisted African students in pursuing academic degrees at top universities in the United States. After receiving their degrees in the U.S., more than 90% of our alumni returned to Africa to become business and political leaders, entrepreneurs, scientists, health care professionals and educators where they contributed to strengthening the foundation for African development.
With 23,000 AAI alumni worldwide, we proudly count prominent alumni such as Wangari Maathai, the late Kenyan environmental and women’s rights activist and Nobel Laureate; Prime Minister H.E. Nahas Angula of Namibia; and President Joyce Banda of Malawi; among other African leaders.
Today, we offer non-degree education and professional training programs to women and men from across the African continent who exhibit talent and leadership in key fields – ranging from business and entrepreneurship, to agriculture and natural resource conservation to health – and who display a deep commitment to advancing to Africa’s development.
Through AAI’s programs, we are building an educated and skilled workforce of African professionals and playing a vital role in bringing a new generation of Africans into a knowledge-based global economy.
So, what can YOU and I do for the advancement of Africa?
Firstly, young Diasporians can bring their talent, energy, skills and technological know-how to furthering economic progress in Africa. Explore opportunities to invest in and launch successful African-led businesses and enterprises in Africa to create well-needed jobs and spur economic growth. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s newly launched “Doing Business in Africa” campaign presents a tremendous opportunity for Diasporians to deepen economic ties with Africa through trade and investment. The campaign is helping American businesses to tap into African markets and take advantage of the trade and investment opportunities on the continent. Americans from the African Diaspora need to be aware of how to access resources in the U.S. to expand trade and investment on the continent.
Secondly, Diasporians can help shape U.S. foreign policy priorities and international policy. Since many in the African Diaspora have still maintained strong connections to the continent, Diasporians can help shape U.S. foreign policy priorities by offering informative analysis of on-the-ground realities in African nations and sharing underreported success stories of progress taking place, as well as the challenges.
Most importantly, we need to expand and strengthen a constituency for Africa in the United States. We hope all of you will become engaged in forums and other events hosted by AAI and others to weigh in on critical issues impacting Africa.
Lastly, young Diasporians can help dispel myths and stereotypes about Africa to change the storyline about the continent. All Diasporians can serve as “brand ambassadors” to bring a new vision and inspiring ideas for Africa. It’s hard to believe that in this day and age many still hold very negative perceptions about Africa – but it’s true. You can become the face of a “new Africa” – young, educated, optimistic, and actively working to transform and shape Africa’s future. Applause Africa’s mission to celebrate, empower and connect Africans in Diaspora is doing just that. You are a new generation of African leaders. Oh, the possibilities of what you can do!
Thank you again for this opportunity to speak to you this evening at such an uplifting event to celebrate leaders of today from the African Diaspora who have made a difference in African communities worldwide. Congratulations again to all of tonight’s distinguished honorees.