Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin by saying thank you to Oumou Cherif and her team for putting such a fantastic event together. What makes it even more relevant is the fact that proceeds raised from this event will go to Kindea, Guinea, to support underprivileged kids whose potential can be honed by access to quality education.
When Oumou approached me with the request to address brilliant people like you, my first response was an emphatic “No!” I didn’t think I was qualified enough to lecture honorable men and women like you on the need to pursue excellence – this time, through giving back to the less privileged. Her insistence and belief in my ability reminded me of the many talents we lose due to lack of encouragement, support and most importantly education. If not for her unwavering demand, I wouldn’t be here today. If not for her unflinching desire that you show up at this gala, you wouldn’t be here either. If not for her persistent attitude towards a positive cause of giving back, the children in Kindea would not have much hope. I agreed to speak to you today not because I wanted to do Oumou a favor, but to remind all of us that we have a significant part to play in fashioning the future hopes and aspirations of the beautiful children in Kindea and other parts of Africa.
We are all good enough! We are all capable! We just need to create opportunities for each other.
As midnight struck on March 5, 1957 and the Gold Coast became Ghana, the first President Dr. Kwame Nkrumah reminded Africa of the need to be our sibling’s keeper. He said, “We are going to see that we create our own African personality and identity. We again rededicate ourselves in the struggle to emancipate other countries in Africa; for our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.” Pardon me to tweak Nkrumah’s independence message by asserting that, “Our success and our opportunity in the United States is meaningless unless it is linked up with the direct creation of educational opportunities for underprivileged children in all parts of Africa.
Again, let me remind you, we are all good enough! We are all capable! We just need an opportunity.
At the just ended 69th UN Assembly in New York, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda drew the world’s attention to the root cause of terrorism when he noted, “Terrorism is not caused by religion, or ethnicity, or even poverty, rather it is caused by bad politics.” I truly believe that aside terrorism, we can also attribute the root cause of the deplorable state of education on the continent to bad politics. Over the years, governments have not done enough to provide quality and accessible education to young Africans. In countries where accessibility is on the ascendancy, not much has been done to improve quality. This can be attributed to poor educational facilities, lack of qualified teachers, and most importantly, lack of relevant educational materials.
A recent study by The Brookings Institution through its Africa Learning Barometer found out that only half of the nearly 128 million school-aged children in Africa would have the opportunity to enter school and learn basic skills. To break it down:
These are astonishing figures, which serve as a reminder that Africa is at a high risk of losing talents and human capital to extremist factions. Referencing the point of President Paul Kagame, if African children are not educated and ultimately assimilated into nation building, we run a risk of losing these children to terrorism and other unproductive endeavors.
In order to build resilience to extreme poverty in Africa, young people must be given the highest level of education to think creatively. In order to eradicate the many preventable diseases in Africa, young people must be armed with quality education to invent breakthroughs. Above all, young people must be equipped to create a better future for the continent. In reiterating our commitment to be here today, I would like to remind you again that, the children in Kindea are good enough! The children in Kindea are more than capable. The children in Kindea just need an opportunity to become the next Mandela, Obama, Nkrumah, Bill Gates, Wangari Maathai, Ama Ata Aidoo and many more. In conclusion, I would like to remind you of the famous quote from the former president of Harvard University, Derek Curtis Bok. He said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”