Two young Batswana who participated in the Washington Fellowship, a flagship program of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) said the programme has changed the way they look at the Africa.
The charismatic Kabo Moseki and ideas man, Tumiso Mabusela are in agreement that what they learnt in world largest economy can be used at home and across the continent, which has been described by many as ‘dark continent’.
Mabusela, the co-founder of Ideas Expo told an Afena Capital Press Club he is an Afro optimist and would like to see more intra Africa trade following his participation in the fellowship programme.
“I came back a completely different man. What I learnt in the U.S is that you have to effect change,” said Mabusela.
He said Africa is rising at the back of it being described at the turn of the century as a continent known for poverty, conflict, and coups arguing: “but you have to see the progress that we are making”.
The two were part of the 15 participants chosen from Botswana after a rigorous country-wide recruitment and selection process, from a pool of 500 applicants in total.
“Everyone in the group was totally hopeful. All, despite challenging backgrounds, are hopeful of their countries and Africa,” added Mabusela.
Moseki, who comes from the NGO background on the other hand, praised America’s not for profit sector, which contributes 11 percent to the country’s GDP saying there is a lot Botswana can learn from the world’s largest economy.
In Botswana however there is a contradiction as there are no statistics to see how the sector contributes to the economy. “In order for a country to grow, you need to have a not for profit sector. We were being exposed to all these sectors and learn from them,” he said.
He advised that Botswana can learn from the U.S as it is the most prosperous nation in the world. “NGOs in the world can raise money. Here (in Botswana) when donors dry out, NGOs die. We want to see NGOs make business, make profit and plough back to the society,” he noted.
He said they will be looking to bring some of the ideas to Botswana to tackle various challenges in the country. “In the future, the U.S will want to stop donor money and they will want to do trade with us”.
Like Mabusela, he sees potential in Africa where resources are in abundance and 35 percent of the population being youth. However, he acknowledges there are still bottlenecks to doing business like registering a company, which still takes longer time compared to competitors.
Mabusela however admitted he was not sure Africa can be the next China looking the number of challenges the continent experiences. “Africa still has challenges. A lot of people still live below the poverty datum line and we still have to decide we can trade amongst ourselves,” he argued.
“Until we deal with corruption and support big ideas, we still have a long way to become the next China”. Intra Africa trade is still at 10 percent and African still shun products from other states. “Kenya has Uhuru, but how many use that tablet,” he asked.
He said what he learnt from the U.S also is that people are very supportive of entrepreneurship where there are Dragons’ Den type of real programmes. “Young people come to present ideas to these millionaires and it is not happening here; maybe it is the attitude we carry as people”.
The two bemoaned that the developing economies of Rwanda, Kenya and Liberia that are grappling with civil unrests and terrorism ‘are doing better than us’. Kenya has been touted as the next Silicon Valley and has the best mobile money service called Epesa, which is an online platform where you receive money and make payments. In Botswana on the other hand, people seem to be relaxed and doing nothing. “Epesa is a revolution”.
The two were part of a combined group of 500 individuals from across Africa, that travelled to top U.S. universities for a six week (in June 2014) academic and leadership institute in one of three areas: business and entrepreneurship; civic leadership; or public management.┬á These institutes included workshops, mentorship, and networking opportunities with recognized leaders in each field.┬á