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Africa’s young farmers take charge of land – and the agenda

Young Ugandan farmer Francis Arinaitwe Photo: ANA

Young Ugandan farmer Francis Arinaitwe Photo: ANA

Published Feb 16, 2017

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One of Ghana’s most accomplished statesmen almost pulled off a coup on “Young Africa” at the Mastercard Foundation’s Young Africa Works summit in Kigali on Thursday … but not quite.

There were no obvious signs that it was part of a carefully planned exercise but Sulley Gariba, senior policy adviser to the government of Ghana and the country’s high commissioner to Canada, certainly had the element of surprise on his side (as with any well-planned coup).

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Before he sprung a question (from the audience) about succession planning on one of the bright young things on stage anyone over 35 had borne the brunt of any generational finger-pointing. Until that point friendly tension between old and young at the summit had left the older folks looking a little ragged.

Later that same session, which was about how policies can better support young people to become engines of agricultural transformation, the moderator, Dr William Baah-Boateng, perhaps emboldened by Gariba’s surprise move, had pointed out to the same young gun, Ugandan Francis Arinaitwe, that he had been like him 25 years ago.

Sensing a small victory perhaps, he added: “In 25 years’ time will you be like me. What are you going to do?”

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Baah-Boateng, currently a senior research fellow at the African Centre for Economic Transformation, is on a sabbatical from his position as senior lecturer in economics at the University of Ghana. As a university lecturer he had perhaps felt more keenly than others the slight turning of tables at the summit, which seems to very successfully be encouraging young people take a bigger role in setting the agenda.

To be sure, the young man in question, panelist Francis Arinaitwe, the parish youth chairperson for Mayuge District in Uganda, had stuck his neck out, even perhaps put his head on the block for his generation.

He had started by calling on policymakers to “leave your office … come and conduct focus groups with us on the ground”.

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“It is your initiative and your responsibility to consult us on the ground!” he said firmly, adding that not all young people were educated enough to feel able to approach the offices of leadership.

It was Baah-Boateng who had come in strongly in support of the young farmer here, saying that leaders must be careful to not become armchair policymakers. In fact, except for the small challenge about succession planning, which he handled with aplomb, Arinaitwe had received nothing but encouragement from Baah-Boateng and Gariba.

The young farmer who is also a spokesman for many had very specific demands and requests for policymakers. His eloquence and clarity left none in doubt that he was ready for the raised profile he was seeking for his generation.

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Policies around financial access should be amended to make them simpler, affordable and friendly were his description of what was required.

He also called for action around policies about land ownership, particularly regarding equality for men and women.

There were a number of other specific suggestions but there was also a general request that seemed to speak to the more general handing over of the baton.

“It is high time you stopped thinking about us as beneficiaries,” he said. “It is time to make us participants.

“I know you were once a youth, but that was then,” Arinaitwe said, adding that it was time that his generation gave input into the policies that affected them.

African News Agency

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