She may have a famous brother, the US President Barack Obama, but Dr Auma Obama’s true claim to fame is the success of the work she is doing with her not-for-profit Sauti Kuu Foundation, of which she is Founder and Director. What’s behind her thinking, and what will she discuss when she takes to the stage at the Africa Forum on Business and Security?
You will feature in a session on education, skills and training alongside Dr Bakary Diallo, Rector of the African Virtual University, Lieutenant General Andrew Graham, former Director General of the UK Defence Academy, and others. Why are you particularly drawn to this theme?
I strongly believe that the education and training of children and youth is the backbone of every society. Although parents are desperate for a good education for their children, too often we as a nation cut corners when it comes to investing on a national level in the right kind of education and training for our children and young people. With the misconception that all that really counts is the grades one gets, the impetus for success lies heavily on the shoulders of the young people. That should not be the case. Education is about all-round learning, about personal development and ultimately about employability. The promotion of all these components needs to be enforced in equal measure in all institutes of learning.
What are the main barriers standing between ordinary Africans and access to comprehensive education?
The biggest barrier is tuition fees, and with tuition fees I mean all fees that are associated with formal learning, be it school fees, extra tuition fees, uniforms, extracurricular activity costs, contributions to school construction projects and the like. In our experience working with children and young people, any one of the above listed can result in a child being sent home from school for non-payment – something that, in my opinion, should not be allowed to happen.
What role does education play in the attainment of stability and economic vitality?
Basic education is key to a country’s prosperity, especially in Africa. Only a small percentage of families on the Continent have amassed the kind of wealth that can allow their offspring to live off that wealth indefinitely. Only few can rely on families for financial support. In most cases, the better educated one is, the more likely one is to secure a job that can sustain them. Job security and employment ratios determine the level of economic security, growth and vitality of a country.
As the Founder and Director of the Sauti Kuu Foundation, you too are a powerful voice. How can African countries get their youth to contribute more actively to the economic prosperity of their countries?
I have no doubt that our youth are trying to actively contribute to the economic prosperity of their countries. However, their efforts are made difficult by the fact that if they are at all lucky enough to complete their schooling, in most cases there are no jobs and few places at university or college. If we require the youth to be more active, we need to create platforms that enable for them to [progress]. We need to offer them a future that also allows for them to prosper. This should not just be the responsibility of our governments. We who have done well must give back to our communities and mentor our youth and support institutions that enable and empower them. Their economic prosperity must factor in the role that our youth need to play, and we need to accommodate that role, for example, by improving the education system, making access to education and skills learning more easily attainable and most important of all, focusing education and training on employability and not just on employment. Only then can our youth contribute actively to the economic prosperity of their countries. Too often, we measure our prosperity by our economic ties to the West. But this very often comes at a cost to the progress and prosperity of our youth and the average citizen who generally is struggling to make ends meet.
It seems that philanthropy runs in the Obama family. Do you and your siblings ever share ideas on how to get things done?
Not really. I am not a political figure. The premise of my work is quite different to that of any of my siblings. Any pressure I experience in achieving my goals is pressure that I put on myself.
If you weren’t working with the youth and directing them to higher pursuits, what would you be doing?
I can’t imagine doing anything else
We’re looking forward to hearing more from you at the Forum.
I’m looking forward to it too and to interacting with the participants, and I am pleased to be a part of this great event!