On the margins of the historic U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit taking place in Washington, D.C., the Head of the Liberian Delegation, Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, Sr., on Monday addressed a forum organized by the humanitarian organization Mercy Corps on the theme of “Empowering Africa’s Youth – Lessons from Liberia”.
The Vice President later addressed a luncheon gathering on transparency in the management of Liberia’s natural resources, organized by the Open Society Foundations chaired by Billionaire George Soros.
According to a dispatch from Washington, at the Mercy Corps event, Vice President Boakai shared Liberia’s experience in empowering its youth. The other panelists were: Alexander B. Cummings, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of the Coca-Cola Company; Earl Gast, USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Africa; and Allison Huggins, Country Director of Mercy Corps-Liberia.
Rick Little, a member of the Board of Directors of Mercy Corps, welcomed the panelists. The program’s moderator was Andrea Koppel, Vice President for Global Engagement and Policy at Mercy Corps and a veteran CNN journalist, who sought the perspectives of the panelists on how to empower Africa’s youth.
In his presentation, the Liberian Vice President reflected on the country’s decade-long civil war and its impact on the country and its people, particularly the youth, who he said became a part of the “lost generation” due to the conflict. High unemployment, high incidence of illiteracy, and lack of basic skills are among the factors that make young people vulnerable and manipulated, Vice President Boakai said.
He said the government of Liberia is developing and implementing many youth development initiatives and interventions to address the challenges young people face, and that an accelerated learning program is at the core of interventions targeted at the many former combatants, adding the program gives motivation, self-esteem, and hope to such young people.
The Vice President said that the government of Liberia has, over the past years of leadership, developed key programmatic interventions to include investment in technical and vocational education, improved teacher training programs, the youth employment skills program, and the economic empowerment of adolescent girls and young women program, among others.
Vice President Boakai assured international friends that the recent violence at the operational facilities of ArcelorMittal was not an indictment of Liberia as a risky nation for investment, and he invited American investors to Liberia as the country pushes forward with its development agenda.
“We are making interventions that will seek to fast-track the country’s recovery process and ensure the development of the economy, investing in infrastructures, provision of needed skills to young people, and sustaining a peaceful environment for national growth and development,” Vice President Boakai stressed. He concluded by calling on Mercy Corps, the organizer of the forum, to prioritize a plan of action that elevates young people to higher heights.
Panelist Alexander Cummings of Coca-Cola stressed that youth empowerment and employment is critical to its operations. He spoke of his company’s involvement with this important constituent, pointing out that it was actively working with the youth demographic not only in Liberia but globally.
Earl Gast of USAID, who earlier expressed empathy with the Liberian people over the horror of the recent Ebola outbreak, indicated that the rebuilding of the educational system in Africa must include the training of teachers, to ensure greater opportunities for empowering young people in Africa. For her part, Allison Huggins of Mercy Corps-Liberia confirmed that youths have been placed at the center of Liberia’s development agenda, and advised that policy makers involve young people in the development of programs and processes that concern them.