A continent’s burden on their shoulders – Wale Ajetunmobi reports on SYPALA 2013


For three days, some youths from various parts of Africa gathered at the Kabarak University in Nakuru County of Kenya to discuss the continent’s age-long problems. Why is Africa poor? Why is it underveloped? These and others were what they sought answers to at the international conference of Students and Young Professionals African Liberty Academy (SYPALA). WALE AJETUNMOBI was there.

Kabarak is a sleepy community in the Nakuru County of the Republic of Kenya. Serene, sedate and somnolent, it is an ideal environment for studies and academics. It hosts the Kabarak University, which youths from various parts of Africa converged on last week, spreading the gospel of liberty, entrepreneurship and prosperity.

As the youths in their numbers moved to the university’s campus, through Kiamuyu Road, residents, who stood in from their homes, watching, screamed karibu (Swahili for welcome).

The youths arrived with what they called message of “good news” for the international conference of Students and Young Professionals African Liberty Academy (SYPALA). Many of them are members of the African Liberty Students Organisation (ALSO) whose aim is to chart a new course for peace, liberty and prosperity in Africa.

The theme of the conference, sponsored by Atlas Economic Research Foundation (ATLAS), Washington DC, was Building today for a prosperous Africa.

The expansive Bethel Auditorium of the university, which was draped in ALSO banners and emblem, suited the mood of the occasion. Speakers from different countries charged the participants to take the “good news” message to rural communities in Africa.

Tom Palmer, Executive Vice President for International Programmes at Atlas, led the pack of speakers. There were also the Dean, Kabarak University School of Business, Prof Allen Katwalo, founder of Business Strategy and Service Marketing Consult, Ghana, Dr Kofi Bentil, Cape Town representative in Mayoral Committee for Economic and Environment Planning, Garreth Bloor and Adedayo Thomas, Director of Outreach, Africanliberty.org.

Others were Japheth Omojuwa, Editor, Africanliberty.org, Rejoice Ngwenya, a Zimbabwean Liberal Democrat, Deman Yusuf, a lecturer at the University of Dodoma, Tanzania, Olumayowa Okediran, a board member of Students For Liberty (SFL) and Brian Stout, a Master’s student in Netherland.

Palmer, who spoke on World financial crisis: How this is not the fault of capitalism, said the aim of the conference was not to feed the participants with dogmas of monotonous ideology but to nudge the youths to ask “hard questions” about the underdevelopment on the continent.

He said the forum was an opportunity for young Africans to open their minds to the challenge of creating institutions that make laws work, urging them to challenge claims and ideologies of political leaders on political economy to know the idea that could work to emancipate the people out of poverty.

With advancement of technology and advent of social media, Palmer believed the present African youths had a chance, which the previous generation did not have, to champion the cause of change in the continent and create better future for themselves and the coming generation.

“African youths must be able to think for themselves and not be told what they should think or what slogan they would have to copy. And one element of that is to embrace the element of indigenous African traditions of no-border for trade. What is African about stationing a machine gun at the border drawn by the British and French?” Palmer explained.

He said Africa has the worst trade barriers in the world, saying countries must pull down the border obstruction against trade to achieve economic prosperity.

He added: “Why is it easier for people in Nigeria to buy goods from Americans or British than people from Ghana, which is almost next door or Benin Republic? The reality is that if a Nigerian tries to buy goods from Ghana, he will meet security agencies with machine guns and have to pay certain amount of money without which the goods and service cannot move.

“It means that it is easier for an African to trade with somebody in faraway Oklahoma or Texas than someone in the country’s next door. This does not make any sense and that is a clear case of African governments strangling their own people.”

Palmer said his objective was not to figure out slogans that the youths would not be able to understand but to motivate them to ask hard question and look for evidence on the cause of the problem the continent and critically look for solutions.

Speaking on What history has taught us about development, prosperity and how to get it, Bentil, a Ghanaian, urged the participants to “switch on” their brain to question principles and ideologies that had retarded growth and limit freedom of people to prosper.

Omojuwa, a notable blogger, who spoke on New media tools and liberty in Africa: Perspective, charged the participants to explore the Internet and social media to promote freedom and entrepreneurship in Africa. Noting that 50 per cent of Africa’s population is made of youths, Omojuwa urged the participants to tap into the number disseminate the message of change to the people.

If Africa must develop, Thomas observed, the youths must take the lead by espousing liberty principle and spread the message on campuses. He said government must not interfere in the economic affairs of the people, saying the responsibility of the government remained to create a law that will protect the interest of the market. He explained various ways the participants could use reach out to a large audience of people in the African communities.

Mildred Akoth, a student of Kenya Institute of Management (KIM), Nairobi, described the conference as an eye-opener, saying the theme was catchy words that went in line with struggle of the youths on the continent.

“I didn’t know this kind of forum exists before now. I was just opportune to be part of this and I will spread the message to my friends and Kikuyu people,” she said.

Miriam Nulekenge, a student of Uganda Martyr University, Nkozi, said she was going back to her country with a message of freedom. The conference also featured a group discussion between participants, who came from countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Southern Sudan, Ghana and Zimbabwe.


WALE AJETUNMOBI in Campus Life The Nation newspaper

[Photo: Wale Ajetunmobi]

Nigerian journalist reports on SYPALA 2013