09/26/2014 05:32 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Continental-Wide Financing Needed to Strengthen African Universities, Ivorian President Says at AAI Awards Gala

In accepting the AAI Lifetime Achievement Award from The Africa-America Institute (AAI), H.E. Alassane Ouattara, President of the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire, called on AAI to launch a continental-wide effort encouraging African countries to pool together their resources and establish a fund to support the organization's work in strengthening African universities and expanding skills training and professional development for African youth.

"The Africa-America Institute has done a lot for many of us in Africa," said President Ouattara, an alumnus of AAI. "I think it's our time to share our contribution." Ouattara was a recipient of AAI's African Graduate Fellowship Program (AFGRAD) in 1972, where he received a PhD at the University of Pennsylvania.


Alassane Ouattara, President of the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire

AAI is a U.S.-based international education and policy organization dedicated to strengthening the human capacity of Africans and promoting the continent's development through higher education and skills training, convening activities, partner engagement, and research.

The Ivorian president said that although African nations are often faced with budgetary constraints, "we'll find ways to contribute to a fund to help African universities through The Africa-America Institute. This is a proposal I'd like to make," said President Ouattara.

Ouattara delivered the remarks on September 22 at AAI's 30th Annual Awards Gala at Gotham Hall in New York City. At the Awards Gala, President Ouattara was honored with the distinguished award for his achievements in working towards creating socio-economic progress in Africa by promoting regional and global partnerships throughout his lifelong career as a public servant.

Held during the opening week of the United Nations General Assembly, the AAI Awards Gala is one of the most high profile Africa-focused events in New York.

Hosted by CNN International anchor Isha Sesay, nearly 400 U.S. and African leaders and top diplomats gathered for the annual black-tie affair celebrating African achievement. Legendary South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka inspired guests with a spectacular musical tribute to 20 Years of South African democracy.

The Awards Gala theme, "Powering Africa's Future through Regional and Global Partnerships", drew attention to how education empowers African youth to reach their full potential while being catalytic in society's socioeconomic transformation through regional and global partnerships.

"Africa is the most youthful continent, and will represent 41 percent of the world's youth by 2030," said Amini Kajunju, President and CEO of The Africa-America Institute. "We believe that the youth are Africa's greatest asset. If young people are offered prospects and opportunities to develop skills and talents and earn a living wage, their potential is limitless."


Amini Kajunju, president and CEO of The Africa-America Institute

An experienced banker and international business lawyer, Vivienne Yeda, Director-General of the East African Development Bank (EADB), accepted the AAI 2014 Business Leader Award for her over 20 years of leadership in practical and comprehensive development banking, finance and business in Africa.

Under Yeda's leadership, Anne Kabagambe, Chief of Staff and Director of Cabinet in the Office of the President at the African Development Bank, said EADB has invested in companies that have become blue chips, boosting the region's economic growth.

"Today, East Africa is among the fastest growing regions in the world," said Kabagambe, who presented the award to Yeda. "A great deal of this success is due to efforts made by individuals like Vivienne."

In her acceptance remarks, Yeda pressed for African countries and partners like AAI to forge ahead in developing African youth because "they are our future." "I know you've been in the sector for 60 years, but I think there will be more work coming now that you have 41 percent of the world's youth to train," said Yeda. Global statistics estimate that in fewer than three generations, 41 percent of the world's youth will be African.

"It's an opportunity not just for Africa, but for the rest of the world. If we're able to train African youth to be productive and effective members of society, then the whole of the global community will stand to benefit," Yeda said.


Vivienne Yeda, Director-General of the East African Development Bank

Thandika Mkandawire, a leading scholar and researcher on African development, was presented with the AAI 2014 Distinguished Alumnus Award. Mkandawire was the first person to assume the position as Chair of African Development at the London School of Economics and has served as the Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.

"I'd like to, once again, express my gratitude to AAI for the award, but also for giving me a chance as a young person to come to the U.S. to study," said Mkandawire. The AAI alumnus received a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Ohio State University with an AAI-administered scholarship.

Mkandawire applauded AAI for its long-term investments in higher education for African students. "In the 80s and 90s many institutions lost interest in higher education in Africa. There was a theory that higher education didn't yield as much returns as primary schools. Many funders simply withdrew from Africa, but AAI kept up the fight for higher education. And I'd like to convey our deep gratitude to the leadership."


Madhen Bonetti, founder of African Film Festival, and Thandika Mkandawire, London School of Economics

General Electric received the AAI 2014 Corporate Responsibility Award, for GE's commitment to building Africa's sustainable future through education and employment of Africans in senior leadership positions, and promoting trade and economic growth.

Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Dana J. Hyde presented the award to GE. Hyde noted that GE made a commitment to investing $2 billion in facility development, skills training and sustainability initiatives across Africa by 2018, during the White House's historic U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in early-August.

"At the U.S. government's Millennium Challenge Corporation, we know firsthand about GE's commitment to Africa... For us, GE has been a key ally in advancing shared values," said Hyde. "So, when we signed a nearly $500 million investment to transform Ghana's power sector last month during the summit, GE was there to support us."


Dana J. Hyde, Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and Jay Ireland, President and CEO of General Electric Africa

Jay Ireland, President and CEO of General Electric Africa, who accepted the award on behalf of GE, said multinational corporations should not solely focus on selling products, but also in invest in "building our economies".

"Most importantly, we need to expand the base case of economic development and most of that will be through skills building," Ireland said of GE's corporate social responsibility efforts. Through the GE Kujenga sustainability program, Ireland said, GE is dedicated to skills-building to develop strong workforces, curriculum development of universities, and providing scholarships and internships to African students. Kujenga means "to build" in Swahili,

"We're going to leave a number -- and a growing number -- of skilled African workers, African leaders and I look forward to that day as Africa continues to grow," said Ireland.

The evening's program featured a Conversation on Africa, moderated by VOA "Straight Talk Africa host Shaka Ssali, on the gala theme, "Powering Africa's Future through Regional and Global Partnerships" with gala honorees Yeda, Mkandawire, and Ireland.

This year's Honorary Co-chairs are The Honorable George Monyemangene, South African Consul General; Ambassador Alice Dear of A.M. Dear & Associates; Somi, A Rwandan singer and songwriter; Malaak Compton-Rock of The Angelrock Project; Nuno Santo, Global Marketing Director at Pfizer; Actor Jeffrey Wright; and South African Singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka.

This year's major gala sponsors are Chevron, General Electric, Norton Rose Fulbright, World Cocoa Foundation, Ambassador Alice M. Dear, Arik Air International, Devevoise & Plimpton, Dentons US LLP, ExxonMobil and GoodWorks Internaitonal.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka's performance was possible with support from Princess of Africa Foundation and ShockRA Entertainment.

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