By Kemi Osukoya
August 8, 2014
Civil society, climate-food security initiative, health, combating wildlife trafficking and addressing gender inequalities in Africa were the focus of a series of panel discussions and forums that kicked off the first day of the three-day U.S.-Africa Summit taking place this week in Washington D.C.
How critical is civil society’s capacity building to Africa’s future success?
Building a stronger, participatory civil society engages the governments. The civil society helps in monitoring and maintaining the confidence of the government but foremost, the governments have to recognize certain basic underlining rights- the freedom of expression, the freedom to gather freely and the freedom of the press- as an essential universal rights of any civil society and look at civil society as a complement to the government rather than a hindrance.
“Civil society is the lifeblood of democracy, this is not hyperbole. No democracy can survive without the active and intense participation of its people,” explained U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during his keynote speech to a room filled of African civil leaders and representatives.
“The truth of the matter is that the same is true in [America]. A civil society cannot exist or function absent of certain basic universal rights,” Vice President Biden told the audience. “The future of Africa depends on every bit as much on those of you in the civil society as it does the leaders whom the president and I will meet tomorrow. You, [Africans], the leaders of civil society, you power your society to succeed. You are the lifeblood of your society, no man can survive without blood coursing through its vein. No democracy can survive without the active participation of its citizens.”
The vice president urged the audience to become active participants in the society and use their participations as access to help solve some of the pressing challenges – such as health crisis, climate and food security, corruption and governance-that their communities and countries are facing.
Biden said the U.S. is prepared to work with Africa “if you want us to and to the extent you want our help, we will stand by you, support you. We are not perfect but the examples of what we can do is that we have these systems in place, a set of rules that we follow” that have allowed the U.S. to succeed as a society.
Prior to the vice President’s speech, his wife, U.S. Second Lady Jill Biden announced that the U.S. government, through its USAID’s Feed the Future, will provide scholarships to more than 1,300 individuals, mostly African women, for a degree program and long-term training opportunities that harness scientific innovation and technology in agriculture and nutrition in African countries.
This agriculture professional training will contribute to climate smart-agriculture and help reduce global hunger, poverty and malnutrition in African countries.
The U.S. government also pledged a new $23 million commitment through its USAID to address emerging priorities in reproductive, maternal, and newborn health.
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