What if Africans Were Their Own Advocates?

What would it look like if Africans were their own advocates? What would it look like if young Africans believed- and truly believed- that the future of Africa was in their hands?

by Divine Muragijimana

These were the questions that I was asking myself while I was working with ONE in Washington D.C. During that time, the organization was heavily involved with schools and there were chapters all over the country all connected to the mission of the organization, and very active. It was inspiring, but then I realized that the African youth were not involved in these campaigns. I didn’t ask why, but a couple of years later while working with a group of Africans putting together celebrations for “Africa at 50″- I saw the same void. Young Africans were spoken of but not heard of.  This is when I decided that something had to be done. As a CUNY student, I saw a large number of young Africans who seemed to want to be engaged with matters relating to their communities and Africa and did not know how to do so.

It was not long after that I met my co-founder Okenfe Lebarty at an event for students at City University of New York.  I spoke of my desire to create a platform where young people could engage with each other, get resources for their career and academic advancement and mostly importantly contribute to the ongoing development in Africa. Three hours later, we had decided that we needed to plan an event that would kick off this platform and with the blessing of CUNY’s Vice Chancellor for Student Relations Dr. Frank Sanchez, the CUNY Young African Leadership Symposium (YALS) was born.  As one would say the rest is history…

Except we just began. At the core of CYAL’s vision, mission and objective was the truth that any engagement with the youths of Africa had to involve both the youth in the Diaspora and those in the continent. If two heads are better than one, then surely, thousands of united young African voices were better than fragmented voices across continents. Thus CYAL became committed to make its way to Africa. We were convinced and still are convinced that our skills are our best assets. We would therefore use these resources to partner with youths in Africa in capacities that would involve exchange of skills for greater human capital development.

So here we are. After three years of programming in the US, we are finally making a dream come true for us. We are headed to Africa. The trip to Cameroon is monumental for us. With near misses, and a lot of work into finding the right partners, we are finally moving beyond that fear of failure, and aiming for success. This trip is really about partnering with young people to move Africa forward. If we have to do it block by block, we are rolling our sleeves up and dedicating our time to make sure this becomes a reality. In the coming years, the program that we are implementing in Cameroon will be adopted across the continent. We hope to bring more people into the program to participate in the exchange- in the nearby future.

I am particularly excited for the third day of the conference where it will be all about sharing ideas. Even though I will be involved in most of the training sessions, it will be exciting to hear about the ideas of the participants. CYAL will be able to work with individuals to help them formulate their idea, and one lucky person will get some $$ to help them realize their dream. To see that what Okenfe and I envisioned is becoming a reality is a blessing

I have always believed that anyone brave enough to be in a leadership position is crazy. Thankfully, I am in good company! I have been there since the beginning and have seen the organization grow.  I am really proud of the CYAL team, and particularly honored to be working with young people who believe in our vision, and are dedicated to carrying out our organizations mission.

We invite you to join us for our journey to Cameroon: http://www.gofundme.com/8hs62o

CYAL Team - Cover-3


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BE AWARE: World Cup Season Has Arrived

This is a rewrite of long-standing list of rules that were created by men for their significant others. Now its reversed to cater to the needs of women who are football fanatics.

Dear husband, partner, boyfriend,

1. From June 12 to July 13, 2014, you should read the sports section of the newspaper so that you are aware of what is going on regarding the World Cup and that way you will be able to join in the conversations. If you fail to do this, then you will be looked at in a bad way, or you will be totally ignored. DO NOT complain about not receiving any attention.

2. During the World Cup, the television is mine, at all times, without any exceptions. If you even take a glimpse of the remote control, you will lose it (your eye).

3. If you have to pass by in front of the TV during a game, I don’t mind, as long as you do it crawling on the floor and without distracting me. If you decide to stand nude in front of the TV, make sure you put clothes on right after because if you catch a cold, I wont have time to take you to the doctor or look after you during this month.

4. During the games I will be blind, deaf and mute, unless I require a refill of my drink or something to eat. You are out of your mind if you expect me to listen to you, open the door, answer the telephone, or cook….It won’t happen.

5. I WILL NOT COOK. Therefore, it would be a good idea to have plenty of food in the fridge at all times, and please do not make any funny faces to my friends when they come over to watch the games. In return, you will be allowed to use the TV between 12am and 6am, unless they replay a good game that I missed during the day.

6. Please, please, please!! If you see me upset because one of my teams is losing, DO NOT say “get over it, its only a game”, or “don’t worry, they’ll win next time”. If you say these things, you will only make me angrier and I will love you less. Remember, you will never ever know more about football than me and your so called “words of encouragement” will only lead to a break up or divorce.

7. You are welcome to sit with me to watch one game and you can talk to me during halftime but only when the commercials are on, and only if the halftime score is pleasing me. In addition, please note I am saying “one” game; hence do not use the World Cup as a nice cheesy excuse to “spend time together”.

8. The replays of the goals are very important. I don’t care if I have seen them or I haven’t seen them, I want to see them again. Many times.

9. Tell your friends and colleagues NOT to have any events or any other child or gatherings that requires my attendance because: a) I will not go, b) I will not go, and c) I will not go.

10. But, if a friend of mine invites us to their house on a Sunday to watch a game, we will be there in a flash.

11. The daily World Cup highlights show on TV every night is just as important as the games themselves. Do not even think about saying “but you have already seen this…why don’t you change the channel to something we can all watch?” because, the reply will be, “Refer to Rule #2 of this list”.

12. And finally, please save your expressions such as “Thank God the World Cup is only every 4 years”. I am immune to these words, because after this comes the Champions League, Italian League, Spanish League, Premier League, FA Cup, etc. Thank you for your cooperation.


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A River Blue Bringing Hope to North Uganda

For a society to move forward, reconciliation and forgiveness are integral in building a future for any society that has faced conflict. Sometimes, justice is not about punishing the perpetrators, but in the ability to rehabilitate the society as a whole.

This is a lesson that the communities in Northern Uganda are learning well. After more than 20 years of conflict, the community is coming together to rebuild and restore their society.  Invisible Children might want to catch Kony, but the people of Northern Uganda want to rebuild their lives. Community members have established grassroot projects using resources available to them in order to socially and economically empower the community.


One such project is “ A River Blue” – ARB, which is one of the most innovative projects that aims to empower the internally- displaced persons camps in Northern Uganda through the arts.  A River Blue is entirely run by community members who came together in order to restore hope for their children and save their future. North Uganda has faced years of turmoil, and the communities have been caught in between politics that have left them devastated and emotionally wounded.  While punishing perpetrators is important, it has become even more important to rehabilitated the young children who were caught in crossfire and forced to fight a war that was not their own.  The children are the future of Uganda. While they have endured some of the worst hardships imaginable, they have the ability to survive, to overcome, and to succeed.


ARB began in 2006 when Barefoot Workshops launched A River Blue Arts Festival that included music, dance, drama, and art. The festival was hugely successful and it gave birth to the development of A River Blue Vocational Training and Rehabilitation Center in Alebtong in Northern Uganda.  Recognizing the need for vocational training, and the power of the arts in the process of healing, ARB’s center offers a hybrid curriculum that mixes counseling, tailoring, agro-forestry, agriculture, animal husbandry, painting, MDD (music, dance & drama), English and basic business.  To foster continued development and growth for young people across North Uganda, the program sponsors about 30 youth who are either in secondary school, or in various vocational training programs.

With the help of international donors, the ARB team has been able to provide economic empowerment for young girls, some of them young mothers who had no place to go. In some instances, it has been as simple as teaching the girls how to sew, and providing them with a sewing machine.  In other instances it has been the simple act of providing a safe space where these young people can speak about their past and express this through the arts.  In either case, A River Blue has become instrumental in fostering community growth and giving young people an alternative to violence.  Furthermore, the program has provided a model that many post-conflict regions in Africa can adopt and implement in building their communities.

NOTE:  This article was published on ElleAfrique. http://elleafrique.com/revisiting-hope-and-justice-in-northern-uganda#sthash.3WOgWoi4.dpbs

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The Baton Has been passed- Our Journey Continues


Our generation will never again see and know a man like Nelson Mandela. He was our hero. Indeed, we have been blessed. He paved the way for us to hope, to dream, and learn that we must fight for the future we want.

Like many of you here, you probably have a personal story as to how Nelson Mandela influenced your life. In 2000, when my country- Burundi- was in the middle of a 7 year old civil war, Mandela took it upon himself to bring the two warring parties on the table for peace negotiations.  I owe him my future in a country where we have learned to look beyond our ethnic divide and learn to live with each other in peace.

My country owes him our peaceful future.

Beyond reconciliation, he taught us to forgive each other.If there is one thing that we should all remember about him, it is that He believed in that we all have good in us. He believed that if we could see the best in others, instead of the worst in them, we would live in a much peaceful, and better world.

Never again will we see a man like Nelson Mandela. As we celebrate his life, our generation should not forget his struggle.
He has completed his long walk to freedom, and he has passed the baton to us.

Each generation has a mission to fulfill- and our generation has been tasked with the mission to assure that Nelson Mandela’s legacy and fight for peace, Justice, forgiveness, equality and reconciliation lives on. He has left big shoes to fill, and while we might never achieve as much as he did, we must try. We must make sure that we keep walking and fighting for a better Africa, a better world.

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When 96% of Africa Became Insignificant…or the Means to being Awarded

It has been months. Yes- Months since there was a blog written. But to be fair, a lot was going on.  I have made some transitions in both my personal and professional lives. I am seating on my new desk, in my new home office, and thinking of all the things that could be packed in this one blog.

But first things first…. I am so excited for what can only be termed as ingenuity-yes the word is OVERUSED.  I am currently listening to a song by Zambian Artist JK- his new single is out, and I can’t get over it. In one song, his producer, a young Ghanaian Genius, has been able to produce beats that are what I can only term as “afropolitan”- yes, that word that is slowly being used by every Tom Dick and Harry who thinks they have become experts on Africa.  Anyways, I love these collaborations! Ghana and Zambia, Congo and Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Somalia…. yes, it’s finally happening.  We just might find that as Africans, we don’t have to tell the one story that is trending.

As I see budding stories of collaborations among Africans across the continent,  I can finally put away my anger about Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s words at this past Harvard Africa Business Conference where she had the audacity to say that “If you are not in Nigeria, you are not in Africa”.  Off course, the rest of us non-Nigerians who were in the room sank in our seats a bit more trying to figure out just how offended we were-but let that be a story for another time.

This past Sunday, I sat in a cafe and I did the one thing that was overdue- go to brunch with a book in hand and completely ignore the rest of the world while I inhaled pancakes and eggs, with loads of tea.  At that moment, I felt I was back- and to that was the accompanied sadness in what I was reading- AMERICANAH.  What a disappointment! I had thought that maybe for the first time, we had a female literary figure who could really capture people’s imagination without falling to simplicity- but alas there goes the “danger of a single story”.

This single story is being told, the only catch is that – now its about Africa’s glass being half full instead of being half-empty. Meanwhile, while some mighty people are playing with Africa’s coffers, the Diasporan Africans are happy to seat and accumulate awards, speaking engagements, world travels, and having what can only be simply termed as meaningless conversations. – Don’t worry, I am guilty of this also.  It seems, that those of us who do not end up returning home to become a problem, or a solution , have become masters of how to claim Africa, without really trying. We have become do-gooders, we have mastered the art of celebrating ourselves, patting ourselves in the back on all the good work we do. We have even developed some sort of recipe on how to appropriately talk about Africa as the new “it” thing without realizing that this New Africa is shiny glossy representation of a minority. I am all for being hopefully, but COME ON! We are now perpetuating that “single” story, where Africa is hopeful, and instead of the glass being half empty, we think that saying that Africa’s glass is half full justifies our false presentation of Africa, and the people who are living with the everyday realities of the continent.

We have forgotten that maybe Africa is a continent- not a country. We have forgotten the basics- Collaboration, process over outcome, and in its simplicity, liking ourselves as Africans. Because really, at the end of the day, we really don’t like each other.  At the end of the day, those of us who are in the Diaspora have decided to ignore the fact that the there is a very large percent of those who reside in Africa that still live in pure, terrifying poverty.  So we forgot about them, but we are happy to seat and think of all the wonderful things we are doing for Africa, happy to collect the awards, and feel really good that we are the “new Africa”- the Saviors of Africa.

As I said, I am guilty too. For the last couple of days, I have wondered though-, how can we change the conversation.  OR even, better, does the conversation on Africa, and African countries specifically, need to change? It might be that we are comfortable with where we are in which case, I’m just a frustrated African woman who just needs a good reason to vent.

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Pan-Africanism: The 50 years that Unite Us

As I sat down to catch up on news, it suddenly occurred to me that we have before an opportunity like no other. My brothers and colleagues at 54 Kingdoms have been diligent to emphasize the point of Pan Africanism to me- albeit I have always been hard of hearing on this subject.
But maybe I have seen the light? Yesterday in Washington, thousands of people marched in Washington to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. This is where the famous Dr. Martin Luther King jr. gave the “I have a dream” speech. Listening to Obama’s speech yesterday, I realized that African-Americans, just like Africans are celebrating their 50th Anniversary of “independence.” Coincidently, this is the same year that the African Union/OAU celebrates their 50th Anniversary. In 2013, we are finding that maybe those barriers that seemingly divide us as children of Africa are not barriers that cannot be broken. We find that after all, we have so much in common- that our struggles might not be identical, but they are the same. That maybe our paths to where we are were not so different after all.
What would happen if we as Africans came together for the next 50 years and forged a bond, committed to celebrating our communities, and progressing our communities and the continent? What would 2063 look like? Frantz Fanon said “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” 50 years ago, Africans leaders came together in a post-independence era and forged alliances to assure that our countries were secure. 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King jr. led thousands for a march that changed the nation. We might not have seen the entire fruition of their mission, and their efforts, but we can all agree that we have come so far. We are here because they came before us. President Obama talked about a renewed mission and finding a purpose for our generation. So what is that mission? To unify our efforts for progress, build stronger communities. Build a stronger Africa.
The question now is whether our generation is up to the challenge. Only time will tell.

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Are We Ever to Say “NO” to Handouts?

If you have not read it already, then allow me to recap a bit of what has been going on Malawi. Madonna adopted some kids and funded some schools- no surprise there.  She is one of many celebrities that have taken the route. Recently, Madonna landed in Malawi with a demand for VIP status. President Banda was not so happy with the visit that she made a remark criticizing Madonna and her red carpet moment. Turns out that H.E Banda did not actually say what the media seems to be quoting left and right. However whether, Banda said it or not, someone in her administration is pissed off enough to make a public statement about the presence of Madonna in Malawi.

 But more to the point is the reaction of many Africans on what is perceived a wrong move for Malawi’s leadership to criticize a do-gooder who came in to help the “poor” children. First of, lets congratulate the leadership for criticizing instead of welcoming Madonna on a red carpet like some of their western counterparts do when it comes to celebrity worship. The truly sad thing is that Africans seem to be okay with handouts. The whole mentality of “atleast someone is doing something” and “ everyone needs help” is detrimental to Africa’s progress. Yes, someone is doing something- but is it the right “something”, and it might be that everyone needs help- but what kind of help, and who is helping? These are the questions that these kinds of incidences should be raising.

Africans, whether living abroad, or living in the continent have become too comfortable with the idea of Aid, handouts, and being constantly perceived as “poor”. We are WAY comfortable with this whole idea that we cannot progress without having do gooders in the continent building a school here, a well there, a hospital here…etc. The problem with this, is that well, it is patchwork. If you have a big hole on a piece of clothing, the proper way to deal with that is either take it to the tailor and make a whole different outfit, or buy a new piece of clothing. If you place a patch, even if it might be similar in color, it ends up becoming a temporary solution because this patch will not last- not to mention makes the clothing less appealing. So imagine if you had more than one hole on the piece of clothing? Patches don’t just work, nor even become a viable option for you.

The same applies to Africa. There are gaping holes in Africa. Problems with no easy solutions, nor should they be. However, we as Africans have developed a mentality where it is okay to put patches, finding temporary solutions to problems, but never truly understanding nor fixing the root of the problem. Sometimes, we put a pretty flower on top of the problem when celebrities come in and attempt to solve the problems, but at the end of the day, the flowers die, and problems still exist.

You see the mentality of always waiting for a handout breeds other problem. It could be said that this might be the source of some of the problems where we don’t respect each other enough to pay for the services that are rendered to us by our fellow Africans. We figured, if Madonna is coming to our homes and giving us free education, then our fellow Africans should do the same.

But enough of that. At the end of the day- we need to start pulling ourselves out of this stump that we have put ourselves in by thinking that it is okay to accept aid in all shapes and forms. IT IS NOT OKAY! If Tom, Dick and Harry want to work in Africa, let them INVEST in Africa. We are past Aid- and the way forward is investing in Africa and Africans. So yes, if Madonna wants to invest in education in Malawi, let her do so. Because building a school will not do the trick- the problem at the end of the day is not the lack of schools.

One day, Africans will decide that they don’t need the pity of Hollywood, Nollywood, Bollywood, or any wood celebrities. Because unlike any sustainable development gimmicks in Africa, aid, or pity has long-lasting psychological effects that cannot be wiped out by a good deed. It cripples development. We end up becoming dependent- thinking that we cannot or should not try to progress without someone coming in our savior .

At the end of the day Africa is ours to build or destroy- and so far, we are not sure if we want to do either- but lets not kid ourselves that Madonna and Oprah will do the job for us.

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