April 2, 2007

Zambian Ambassador Speaks on African Crisis

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Last Friday, Zambian Ambassador to the United States Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika delivered the keynote address at Cornell’s World’s Fair.

The World’s Fair is one of the biggest cultural events on campus, attracting nearly 3,000 people last year. Organized solely by students and student organizations, the Fair’s goal is to foster unity and cooperation among Cornell’s diverse student body.

[img_assist|nid=22405|title=Moving forward|desc=Zambian Ambassador to the United States Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika speaks in the Straight Memorial Room about the future of Africa.|link=node|align=left|width=380|height=262]

As the World’s Fair Committee stated, “We strive to foster discovery, growth, scholarship and unity in an effort to make Cornell University’s diversity mission statement of ‘Open Doors, Open Hearts, and Open Minds’ a reality today.”

Mbikusita-Lewanika’s keynote speech addressed youth leadership, focusing specifically on the disease, poverty and unemployment that grip much of Africa today. Currently Africa faces epidemics of both AIDS and malaria, diseases that kill hundreds of thousands of people and consume valuable resources.

“One of the biggest challenges we have faced is AIDS,” Mbikusita-Lewanika said. “It comes with the challenge of orphans and a depletion of resources. We know that the youth are leaders and tomorrow will be 100 percent in charge, so what can we do about their leadership?”

Youth leadership is so important in African states like Zambia, where disease has drastically altered the make-up of the population. As of 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the life expectancy of the average Zambian at only 37.4 years old, one of the lowest measured. As the ambassador pointed out, nearly 60 percent of that population is under 25, unemployed and facing enormous challenges.

Mbikusita-Lewanika also addressed the issue of poverty in her speech, saying, “The figures about young people and employment are quite startling.”

Although Zambia has invested considerably in education, the country lacks jobs and has high levels of unemployment that cannot be fixed without increased levels of foreign aid, said Prof. Nicholas van de Walle, government, and Zambia lacks the resources it needs to develop further.

“The amount of aid the U.S. offers is criminally low,” van de Walle said, “giving roughly half the average of other wealthy countries. Young people and poverty are a flammable mixture, giving Africa great opportunities, but also great risks. Africa needs external investment and foreign aid and use it well to be more integrated into the world economy. Institutions are much too passive and should also play a more active role, opening doors to African students and cooperating with institutions in Africa.”

On campus, there are numerous organizations working to increase awareness about the problems facing people in Africa and around the world. Still, only about half the seats were occupied for Mbikusita-Lewanika’s address.

“I know that at Cornell, everyone is wrapped up with work and honestly, I didn’t go to a lot of these kinds of events last year.” said Sarah Mongiello ’09. “It wasn’t until I read a book about African history and I got the feeling that I need to look into this more. We need to make ourselves more aware about what’s going on around the world. It sounds so basic, but you can’t really start bringing about change if you’re not informed in the first place.”