You’d think that living in big city Houston half the year I’d not be surprised by what happens in small town Maine but such is not the case. Again and again I am surprised and impressed by the quality of events that occur in my part of the midcoast.
A great example is the Camden Conference held annually in February, planned and coordinated by committed volunteers. The topics are timely and the speakers excellent resulting in an audience of nearly 1,000 attendees from various parts of the country. No sooner is one conference over than work begins on the next.
This year’s topic was The New Africa with subjects ranging from economic growth to governance to corruption to security challenges addressed by impressive speakers, all of whom were either native Africans or had considerable experience there. All presented an interesting perspective on this continent about which we really know so little.
I’ll not attempt to recap all that I heard but for that which left me with food for thought.
- 70% of the population is under 30 meaning that youth is the future of Africa making it imperative for educational opportunities to improve. On a continent of one billion fewer than 5% have more than 7 years of schooling.
- To move forward, the continent must see itself as a whole rather than 54 separate countries with different agendas. Considering all the tribes and the multitude of languages, that is a monumental challenge.
- More competent leadership is a must in Africa. Historically, leaders have not served their people well resulting in their leaving in droves for lack of opportunity.
- Africa has become a continent of consumers rather than producers which makes it a great market for other countries but does not allow internal economic growth.
- 73% of the food is imported, an astonishing amount for a continent that is hugely arable.
- America needs to treat Africans as equals, not as recipients.
Certainly, there were many other important points, but these are ones I heard reinforced by most of the presenters who I felt were very realistic in acknowledging the challenges that Africa is facing. What was a little disappointing is that the so called power elite are not looking as much to America as to China and South Korea for their development models. This seems to me another indication of the diminished global influence of the U.S.
Having visited Africa and feeling a kinship with the place, I found the conference made me more mindful of the real issues this huge continent is facing. Additionally, it gave me increased appreciation for those who have the benefit of education staying in their countries, meeting the challenges and attempting to make a difference.
Should you be interested in learning more about the new Africa, these titles are recommended: Love is Power or Something Like That, The Brightest Continent, Emerging Africa.
And, if you have an interest in current subjects, consider a winter visit to Maine’s midcoast to attend the Camden Conference.
i so appreciate your visit and especially the comments you leave behind