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Youth leadership via showbiz, self-enterprise
News / Latest / TTS / Wednesday, 27 June 2012 21:13

“Investing in young talents is nursing seeds for great harvest of visionary leaders who can make it happen through creative thinking and ICT-oriented development” – Akere-Maimo J. Ano-Ebie

photo-1The US Department of State (DOS) sponsored an International Visitor Leadership project dubbed “Youth African Leaders: Youth Leadership & Civic Engagement” in the USA. The program that was administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE) ran from April 30-May 18, 2012 and brought together 16 Young African Leaders from countries of Francophone Africa. Akere-Maimo J. Ano-Ebie who doubles as the Advocacy & Communication Officer of Malaria Consortium-Cameroon Coalition Against Malaria (MC-CCAM) and President-Founder of his brainchild, TalentzAXIS, was selected for this prestigious program through the US Embassy in Cameroon. His interest in the art and passionate craving to invest in entertainment and promote young talents through TalentzAXIS, pushed TIPTOPSTARS to search into the life of multi-talented health communication & advertising expert. He starts by telling us how he was selected for this exchange program. Excerpts:

TIPTOPSTARS (TTS): How were you selected for such a prestigious program?
Akere Maimo (AM): The choice was motivated based on the kind of things I do as a young leader – how I influence and impact people – especially young leaders – in my community as a person. For sure, I was asked to fill out a form with my bio data…but I was amazed to notice something during the selection process – the fact that the Americans are quick at spotting talents in people and they do not blink when they come across one. They are not just interested in a long CV or in a litany of activities you are engaged in, but value most the substance and try to see how best you capitalize on the ordinary things you do to create extraordinary impact in your community and on others.

Besides, from what I gathered, a jury sat and scrutinized the files of close to 32 names that were nominated for the IVLP and from among the lot; I was chosen alongside Eric Sankum of Saner World for the program.

TTS: What kind of community works have you been doing?
AM: For the past 10 years I have been actively engaged in community work pertaining to youth entrepreneurship and civic engagement, championing “Summer Home” projects on peer education as far as the fight against HIV/AIDS is concerned, working as a media consultant on Adolescent Reproductive Health and Sexuality and let alone making use of my God-given talents to influence the lives of my peers and to bring about change in my community. Above all, I am very passionate at promoting young talents and to provide them with the necessary platform to demonstrate their latent creativity. I do so though my own brainchild, TalentzAXIS that functions as a value-dded organization for most artistic groups and emerging talents.

As a freelance reporter, I have published more than 70 articles on varied topics in local journals and online. I have a collection of about 100 poems and more than 90 songs to my credit. As a graphic artist, I have contributed illustrations for a number of educational books on health and the environment.

I am sure the US Embassy in Cameroon has been observing and taking note of all of these. The first project I ever drafted and implemented was funded by the US Embassy and really served as an eye-opener for the so many things I do today.


Akere speaks about the need to enagage Africans in the DiasporaTTS: Can you tell us more about this first project of yours?
AM: It was a project I proposed to the Nso All Students’ Union (NASU), while a student at the Advanced School of Mass Communication (ASMAC), University of Yaoundé II. I was the PRO for the student group and did most of the secretarial works for the group. My interest for project writing and community development spurred me into encouraging its$ members to develop and implement what I dubbed "Summer Home Projects" and until date, this has become a tradition in NASU. The first project I proposed had to do with peer education and the fight against HIV/AIDS; it ran from 12 July-12 September 2005 and was funded by the U.S. Embassy HIV/AIDS Task Force (EUSTAF). To be frank with you, this marked first time I came in contact with the US Embassy in Cameroon.

Given that this was the first project I ever attempted to develop and that it was the first to be funded, I felt very honoured and convinced that I was quite resourceful and have what it takes to lead people. The project targeted students who came “home” (i.e. in the villages) during summer holidays and for one reason or other indulged into unhealthy sexual habits that could make them fall prey to the ravages of HIV/AIDS.

TTS: What is IVLP all about and what did you gain from the program?
AM: It is an exchange program known as the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and we were told that the USA receives over 4500 visitors yearly for this program. IVLP entails professional training, cultural exchange and high-level networking between the visitors and the Americans depending on the places and institutions visited. Launched in 1940, the IVLP seeks to build a mutual understanding between the US and other nations through carefully designed professional visits to the USA for current and emerging foreign leaders. It is keen to note that these visits reflect the visitors’ professional interests and in some way help to support and shape the foreign policy goals of the US government.

Our program was sponsored by the US Department of State (DOS) and administered by Institute of International Education (IIE). It brought together 16 Young African Leaders from countries of Francophone Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal. We had a cream of the finest talents in terms of youth leadership from these countries.

TTS: Are there any differences you noticed between life out there and Cameroon? And what do you think Cameroon can we learn from the American system?
AM: There is marked difference between life out there and Cameroon. Americans are far developed and fast growing, while Cameroon is developing gradually at its own pace. They believe so much in “freedoms”, while we are still caught in tradition. The American society is well structured with organized systems of public administration, private businesses and a strong Civil Society. It is a society where the rule of law overrides everything, where people believe in equal rights and opportunities for all. They have had a long history and certainly made their mistakes in their constant pursuit to build and sustain the American ideal. Cameroon may not exactly be like America, but can learn a lot from the “American success story” in order to improve on its political system and promote socio-economic growth by creating an enabling environment for both Cameroonians at home and in the Diaspora to invest in Cameroon. There is a lot of image-rebuilding to be done so as to persuade Cameroonians to believe in their country and to be more patriotic. There is need for a complete overhaul of electoral machinery to mobilize the masses to vote leaders to power that can make a change!

That notwithstanding, we still share a lot in common with the Americans. They have their challenges and realities that are not very dissimilar from what we experience here. They also have poverty, you can see people begging in the streets, and they also lose their jobs and have to work overnight to make ends meet. It is survival of the fittest out there; it is a place where people are always on the move, grappling with one thing or other. It is not all milk and honey as many falsely think in Cameroon. To live in America just like in any western country, you must be ready to foot your bills and work really hard!

TTS: What was the experience like out there? Which states did you visit and what can you make out from their cultures, economies, education and political system?
AM: Being part of such a program is self-transforming. It was a unique opportunity for us to discover about the American way of doing business. It was a forum for participants to exchange culturally and interact socio-professionally with peers from across the world and with the avalanche of opportunities they are exposed to, be able to sail to higher heights.

It was quite an exciting experience given that it was the first time I was travelling out of Africa let alone visiting the United States of America. While in the USA, we spent the first week in Washington DC where we fed our eyes with the great historic wonders of America like the White House, the Capitol, the Abraham Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial…the Pentagon among others. There we had an overview of the US federalism, US government and non-governmental programs for US and African youth; we were drilled on youth advocacy issues and the role the Africa Diaspora can play in Africa’s development.

During our stay in the DC, we were chanced to meet Grant Harris, Special Assistant to President Barack Obama and Senior Director for African Affairs. He spoke to us about the Obama Administration’s priorities in Africa, with an emphasis on engaging youth and supporting youth leaders.

Akere in traditional outfit meeting with Grant HarrisNext, we visited Raleigh in North Carolina just at the time the State Primary Elections were going on; we were briefed on civic education in US school system, minority and youth participation in the political process. I was chanced with some friends to witness the Elections Night Watch, during which I saw journalists cover the elections live on radio and online in more light-hearted manner. They sat, chatted and had fun in a snack bar, while following the results from each polling station change on the giant screens and reactions spilled out on twitter and Facebook minute-by-minute. The feeling was that of watching a football match with buddies back at home. While in North Carolina, we met Jenna Wadsworth, a 23-year old female political leader who is actively involved in community development; we were quite amazed with her projects as Board of Supervisors in Wake Soil & Water Conservation District. From her age, you can tell that she is the youngest lady involved in politics in her community and I think the women folk here should learn from her bold courage.

Then, we took off for Albuquerque, New Mexico down south of the US. There we were introduced to the Albuquerque Police Department. We met the Mayor of the town and also learned about the Native American initiatives for youth. We were informed about the history and culture of the American Indians, but I was really shocked that little or nothing is recorded on their language. Interestingly, we did some community work in the form of weeding and harvesting. We also interacted with the youth leaders of the New Mexico Forum for Youth in the Community and I was thrilled with the kind of work they do to engage their peers in community development, legislative issues and youth entrepreneurship.

The program rounded up in New Orleans, Louisiana where we had a glimpse of the beautiful silver chain of the famous Mississippi River. We had the opportunity to see young people of the Youth Rebuilding New Orleans bringing hope to the victims of the Hurricane Katrina. We went to the site of the disaster and were pleased to discover that Hollywood star Brad Pitt and the Civil Society are doing a lot to rebuilt the area. We were groomed on grassroots activism and the idea of student-initiated community service. We enjoyed sweet legendary jazz and blues typical of the Americans and visited an old sugar plantation where slaves from Africa used to work.

TTS: What are the differences you make between life out there and Cameroon? And what do you think Cameroon can learn from the American system?
AM: There is marked difference between life out there and Cameroon. Americans are far developed and fast growing, while Cameroon is developing gradually at its own pace. They believe so much in “freedoms”, while we are still caught in tradition. The American society is well structured with organized systems of public administration, businesses and a strong Civil Society. It is a society where the rule of law matters a lot, where people believe in equal rights and opportunities for all. They have had a long history and certainly made their mistakes in their constant pursuit to build and sustain the American ideal. Cameroon may not exactly be like America, but can learn a lot from the “American success story” in order to improve on its political system and promote socio-economic growth by creating an enabling environment for both Cameroonians at home and in the Diaspora to invest in Cameroon. There is a lot of image-rebuilding to be done so as to persuade Cameroonians to believe in their country and to be more patriotic. There is need for a complete overhaul of electoral machinery to mobilize the masses to vote leaders to power that can make a change!

That notwithstanding, we still share a lot in common with the Americans. They have their challenges and realities that are not quite different from what we experience here. They also experience poverty, you can see people begging in the streets, and they also lose their jobs and have to work overnight to make ends meet. It is survival of the fittest out there; it is a place where people are always on the move, grappling with one thing or other. It is not all milk and honey as many falsely think in Cameroon. To live in America just like in any western country, you must be ready to foot your bills and work really hard!

TTS: What advice can you give to the youths in Cameroon after the IVLP?
AM: They should come out of their comfort zones and face the world straight in the eyes. Besides, what system are we talking about here? This ‘system’ as you term it, is no stranger to us, including the youths. The youths are part and parcel of it; they are a function of the Cameroonian society and Cameroon a mega social unit to which we owe our existence and essence.

Come to think of it, we are in the majority as youths and form part of the active population in Africa. We constitute a critical mass that can effect change if we want to in terms of democracy, civic issues, community development and entrepreneurship. But these will only happen, if the youths work with a conscience, are focused and not overly excited about nothing. We need to organize ourselves in one big thinking cap, share ideas and resources as well as collaborate with each other on common projects.

The moment we think we can achieve alone and stand up tall as isolated islands of wasted initiatives, then we will not be any different from the ‘system’ we so desire to change. Change here has to start with the self and radiate without. The time for action is now; remember there is no food for a lazy man. If you stay in a house that is leaking and you do not make any effort to mend the bad roof, then you are as worse as the person who owns the house.

I am not by these statements saying that Cameroonian youths are doing nothing. There are some shining examples that need to be emulated.

TTS: After the IVLP, what are your prospects? Do you have any projects in mind?

AM: I have already joined the State Alumni e-platform and I hope to liaise with likeminded groups and leaders with whom I share a common vision so that we can develop and implement projects together. At TalentzAXIS, we are looking forward to submit projects that fall within the following areas of intervention: talents search & promotion, increased information sharing and access to ICTs, adapting indigenous knowledge with science and technology, youth leadership & civic education and promoting community development through tourism.

Well, my immediate frontline projects are finalizing and launching the “TalentzAXIS online community”: a hub for talents can network, share best practices and get useful information, a platform for artists to link their ideas with projects and forum for learning. I will start the “TalentzAFRICA” magazine intended to showcase the dream of the African youth, tell their stories, showcase uprising talents so as to inspire their peers and above all promote the true sense of positive change and transformational leadership that is highly needed to prepare them for Africa’s economic development and political freedom.

On a personal note, I am looking forward to launch to launch my first musical album “New Creation” through which I sing about positive change, pay homage to the rich cultural values of the Grass fields people of Cameroon and encourage Cameroonians to love and fight for their country. I intend to acquire basic needs and support the underprivileged with the proceeds of this project.

TTS: Did you come across people or associations who bought in to your ideas? If so, how do intend working with them?
AM: While in DC, we were introduced to associations involved in the art and entertainment sector such as Step Afrika, African Diaspora for Change and Cameroon Entertainment Awards (CEA). I shared my ideas with them and they were happy to work with TalentzAXIS. I also have a friend known as Shadezeka Lazare who is into music and based in Bowie, Maryland; he is the brother of the “CRTV Hello” celebrity Emma Nene Shadzeka. With his Lars Studios, I am looking forward to do a lot of “collabos” and common music projects.

I strongly believe that investing in the entertainment industry will greatly contribute to economic growth in Africa and the youths constitute a valuable asset to boost this sector. This is already happening in next door Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa and Cameroon with all its tourist wonders and diverse resources should not be left out. Stats indicate that showbiz is the great income generator, second only to the petroleum industry.

Investing in young talents is nursing seeds for great harvest of visionary leaders who can make it happen through creative thinking and ICT-oriented development. It is such leadership that allows for self-enterprise and promotes wealth creation, rather than a society of embezzlers and idlers.

TTS: Any last word?
AM: I am really grateful to the US Embassy in Cameroon, especially its Public Affairs Department for granting me this unique opportunity. I thank H.E. Robert P. Jackson, the US Ambassador to Cameroon, who personally sent me a letter of invitation upon my selection to participate in this program. At the level of the USA, I extend my gratitude to Mr Chris McShane of DOS, Mrs Eurica Huggins of IIE, all the interpreters and all who received us in the 4 states we visited. I am highly indebted to Ya’a Viban Gladys and all my mentors for their moral support and professional advice. I equally think of the other Young African Leaders (YAL) and I really miss them.

TTS: Thanks for sharing your experience in the US with us.
AM: I appreciate, thanks a millie and good luck to TIPTOPSTARS.




Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 June 2012 21:31

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