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How Nigerian, Ugandan Youths Can Collaborate to Develop Africa –Faith Okema

Faith Atim Okema is a Ugandan social entrepreneur with engagements in the Uganda Electoral Commission and some financial establishments in Nigeria. She is also the administration officer of the Charles Awuzie Mentorship Programme (CAMP), which will be hosting the Evolve Conference in Abuja. In this interview with IFEOMA ONONYE, she speaks about her interest and engagement in Nigeria, youth mentorship and empowerment, Nigerian art, entertainment and culture industry, among others

You are a Ugandan with interest and engagements in Nigeria. How and when did it begin?

That was way back, through a friend, Pastor Chris Ebodiwe, whom I met in 2016; and, through Facebook, around 2017. I came across Dr Charles Awuzie’s posts which I liked and followed. Towards the end of 2018, Dr Charles posted on his page calling on interested people around Africa, who were interested in his mentorship to apply.

I expressed interest, and thankfully, I was one of those chosen for the Charles Awuzie Mentorship Programme (CAMP) we began in January 2019. You are the administrator of the Charles Awuzie Mentorship Programme (CAMP). Tell us about CAMP. One of the objectives of CAMP is to create an environment where great minds can network and share ideas that can help the members grow.

In mentorship, a mentor observes and identifies the potential in a mentee, which is harnessed for incubation and launched. Over 10,000 people across Africa have requested to join CAMP. Over the years, this would be very stretching for Dr Charles and his lean team to take on. He has to open and go big. So, CAMP has been officially registered in Nigeria as Evolve CAMP, kicking off with a debut conference in Abuja this September.

I’m an administrator of CAMP, whose task has been coordinating the members, mobilising them to share ideas, schedule classes, follow up individual members on tasks, to mention but a few. At CAMP, there are mentors for a small group of people. These are chosen from across Africa. They are helped to do self-discovery and realisation. One gets to soul-search, unlearn, learn and relearn.

We do this by sharing strategic stories of our past, experiences, and professional successes in the group. Some of these stories are inspiring, others painful. We were healing together and encouraging each other. These have helped members realise their potential and instigate a winning mentality among them, and they are doing great exploits. CAMPers realised the need for skilling and yearning to learn short courses, online and otherwise.

Many of them started up businesses-IT consultancy, opening of schools, pharmacy, soap business, business partnership, and livestock farming. Some have improved the way their evangelical ministries are run, with one launching a website for the Church (two of the CAMPers are pastors). Others are book authors, to mention but a few. Part of your work a s t h e CAMP admin i s to oversee the Evolve Conference that will be held in Abuja.

What is the essence of the conference and what calibre of people would be speaking at the conference? The essence of the conference is to unlock our potential at the individual, national, and African levels. Attendees will get an opportunity to network, and get new insights and knowledge for they will be able to learn from speakers with vast knowledge in their areas of expertise technology, hospitality, business, to mention but a few.

Charles Awuzie once said, ‘Greatness is made in conference rooms rather than in classrooms’. How can you relate this to self and national development?

Malcolm Forbes said, ‘Diversity is the art of thinking independently together.’ Conferences are where diverse experiences and different perspectives are shared, and also where impactful networking is done.

You also work with the Uganda Electoral Commission. How does the Ugandan youth contribute to national development and democracy in your country?

They do this mainly through civic engagement, peacebuilding and conflict resolution, advocacy and activism, political participation, innovation and entrepreneurship, education and skill development, and technology and social media. They actively engage in civic and political activities, including voter registration, electoral campaigns, and voting.

Political Participation: They join politics, running for office at various levels. Their fresh perspectives and willingness to bridge divides contribute to fostering a peaceful society.

They also raise awareness about various social and political issues, including human rights, environmental protection, gender equality, and education Ugandan youths are innovative, creative, and easily take on risks to start businesses that contribute to economic growth and provide employment opportunities.

They are harnessing the power of technology and social media to voice their opinions, organise movements, and disseminate information.

Mentoring and mentorship are at the core of youth and national development. How have you been mentoring young people and youths in your community?

I do this through career guidance, entrepreneurship advice, and emotional support and counselling. I offer insights into different career paths, industries, and required skills based on an individual’s interests and aspirations. I also provide insights into starting a business, developing a business plan, understanding mar- ket trends and financial advice.

There are reports of high rates of drug abuse and prostitution in some parts of Uganda. What are the major things causing these vices?

Factors contributing to drug abuse and prostitution include socioeconomic factors, lack of awareness, peer pressure, trafficking and exploitation, mental health issues, lack of support systems, and cultural and societal norms.

Poverty, lack of education, social pressure from peers, underlying mental health challenges, and limited employment opportunities can drive individuals towards risky behaviours like drug abuse and engaging in sex work as a means of survival.

Limited access to information about the risks associated with drug abuse and sex work can contribute to people engaging in these activities without fully understanding the potential consequences. The absence of strong family support systems, and community resources can leave individuals vulnerable to engaging in harmful activities.

Back then, over 30 years ago, families were very supportive and put resources together to help another family that had faced calamity. Also, certain cultural factors or societal attitudes can sometimes stigmatise or marginalise certain individuals, pushing them towards activities like sex work for example, female genital mutilation practices.

What approach is the Ugandan government using to address these issues?

There are programmes such as the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP), Youth Livelihood Programme (YLP) and the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) that are aimed at improving access to financial services for women and equipping them with skills for enterprise growth, value addition and marketing of their products and services.

Some of these programmes also empower the target youth to harness their socio-economic potential, increase self-employment opportunities and start income-generating activities. The government enacts and enforces laws targeting drug trafficking and the exploitation of sex workers.

The Preventing Trafficking in Persons Act of 2009 criminalised sex and labour trafficking, and prescribed punishments of up to 15 years imprisonment for offences involving adult victims and up to life imprisonment for those involving child victims. Government agencies, non- governmental organisations (NGOs), and c o m m u n i t y organisations partner and collaborate to raise awareness a b o u t the risks of drug abuse and sex work, i n f o r m i n g people about the potential consequences.

Also, the Ugandan government provides access to rehabilitation centres , counselling services, and vocational training for those involved in drug abuse and sex work to help them transition into healthier and more sustainable lifestyles. The government also provides economic development and support to victims of these vices.

The government is working with partners like the AVSI Foundation, Climate Resilient Agri- business for Tomorrow (CRAFT), SNV, among others to upskill the youth in production and marketing.

How does an average Ugandan perceive Nigerians in terms of enterprise and creativity?

Many Nigerians are known for their entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen. They have established businesses across various sectors and have a presence in markets around the world.

Nigerian creativity is evident in various fields, including music , film (Nollywood), literature, fashion, and art. Nigerian artists, writers, musicians , and designers have gained international recognition. Some Ugandans might view Nigerians as driven and innovative entrepreneurs.

Ugandans, who appreciate these creative endeavours might see Nigerians as culturally rich and inventive.

How do Ugandans view the Nigerian entertainment industry? Who are your favourite Nigerian musicians, actors/ actresses?

Nigerian music, especially genres like Afrobeats and Afro-pop, has gained significant popularity across Africa, including Uganda. Nigerian musicians like Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy, and Tiwa Savage have garnered international acclaim and have a considerable fan base in Uganda.

The catchy beats, infectious rhythms, and relatable lyrics have contributed to their appeal. Nigerian fashion has also made an impact, with Nigerian designers showcasing their work on international runways. The fusion of traditional and modern elements in Nigerian fashion can resonate with those in Uganda, who appreciate cultural diversity and creativity.

My favourite Nigerian musicians, actors, and actresses are: Wizkid, Burna Boy, Davido, Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Richard Mofe Damijo, Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, Ramsey Nouah, Mercy Johnson, Patience Ozokwor, Rita Dominic, Jim Iyke, Nkem Owoh and Frederick Leornard.

What advice do you have for Ugandan and Nigerian youths who are aspiring for greatness?

They should believe in themselves, be adaptable, set clear goals, work hard, embrace learning, seek mentors, stay persistent, network, and be intentional. They should take calculated risks, focus on solutions, be positive, stay patient and serve others. They should manage time and embrace failure as a learning opportunity.

They should also stay humble, embrace healthy lifestyles and well-being, use technology wisely, celebrate small wins, and keep innovating. They should connect with mentors, who have achieved what they aspire to achieve. They should build meaningful relationships with people in their fields of interest.

The guidance and advice of the people can provide valuable insights and shortcuts on your journey. Lastly, they should learn to surrender their lives to God daily because God has better plans for them.

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