United States first lady Jill Biden on Friday ended her first visit to Namibia on a hopeful, encouraging note, stressing the power of youth in a nation where youth unemployment hovers at an alarming 40%.
“Each generation inherits the world in their time,” she said, standing before 1,300 students who packed into a shady courtyard at the public Namibian University of Science and Technology.
“We often tell young people that you’re the future,” she said. “And it’s true. But sometimes, that message can sound like: ‘wait.’ Wait for some far-off finish line that makes you wiser or more powerful. Wait for your communities to listen to what you have to say. Wait, while others build the future around you. I know, however, that these things you want to change now. There are problems that you can solve now. And you have gifts to offer the world now.”
It has been a whirlwind three days for the first lady, who landed in the southwest African nation Wednesday and used her time to focus on women’s empowerment, children and education.
She also praised the nation’s vibrant democracy, established and run by the same party since independence in 1990.
“I’m proud to be standing here, standing with a strong democracy. And as [Namibian first lady] Monica [Geingos] said yesterday, a young democracy working together. As Joe [Biden] said at the summit, African voices, African leadership and African innovation are all critical to addressing the most pressing global challenges and realizing the vision we all share: a world that is free."
But this gentle nudge toward Western democratic ideals may not cause governments to budge from their deep ties to the East, said Ndumba Kamwanyah, a lecturer at the University of Namibia. Like many African nations, Namibia’s independence struggle had support from the former Soviet Union. And the war memorial Biden visited shortly after landing, along with the imposing State House, were built by a North Korean company.
“Of course, officials they said that, you know, they don't want to choose a side, but deeply I think, from an analytical perspective, I think that they are leaning toward the Russian position,” he told VOA.
Still, Katherine Jellison, professor of U.S. women's history and gender history at Ohio University, says Jill Biden’s soft touch could steady U.S. relations with African nations.
“I think it's important that some high-profile member of Bidenworld visit Africa right now because we need to shore up our friendship with African nations and our relationships with African nations at a time when the Chinese have an eye on cultivating more of those relationships,” she told VOA. “So it's an excellent idea if we want to maintain a good working relationship with African nations that we put out that friendly hand.”
And Kamwanyah says, watch this space:
“It will depend on the outcomes of that engagement, in terms of what other initiatives that will follow suit after her visit. So, I think it's important that, you know, in a day or two days after she leaves, it will become clearer in terms of the concreteness of the engagement.”
Biden will spend two more days in Kenya, promoting women’s empowerment, children’s issues and the hunger crisis afflicting the Horn of Africa.
Source: Voice of America