The incumbent President of the Cameroon National Youth Council (CNYC), Jean Mark Afessi Mbafor has urged every Cameroonian youth to continually hammer the phrase: “CHANGE DEPENDS ON ME” in his or her mind every day.
During an interview with Positive Youth’s Africa(PYA), he prescribed this as an antidote to the defeatist mentality of Cameroonian youths. In the interview which follows, Mbafor says this phrase was his main take-away from the last edition Young African Leaders Initiative(YALI) which took place in Washington DC. Read on…
PYA: As the President of the Cameroon National Youth Council, you are definitely a leader to reckon with. We would like to believe that your desire to lead must have germinated from somewhere. Could you briefly tell us how you came to reach this stage in your life?
President of CNYC: I come from a family where leadership is more of a gift. My Dad is a leader, he leads a church. My mum is leading an initiative for an orphanage. Leadership kind of runs in the family. From class three, I was head boy. In church, I was either youth leader or leader of the choir. Now what inspired me to run for the position of the President of the CNYC was a quote from Martin Luther King Junior: “One day the world would repent, not for the evil that wicked people have done but for the appalling passivity of good people.”This quote revolutionized my whole concept of leadership and pushed
me to wish to create an impact on my generation. I heard about the CNYC, I came there a couple of times and was not very inspired by what I saw. When I first discovered the National Youth Council in 2010, I pulled away but when I saw that quote in 2012, I got inspired to run for the Presidency of the National Youth Council. So I put up a campaign strategy and in December, 2013, I was elected President.
PYA: Reaching this milestone in your life, you must have cultivated certain values and skills that sustain you as a leader, so what are some of those values and skills?
President of the CNYC: First of all dreaming. People do not think that dreaming is a value. I had a dream like Martin Luther King. When you have a genuine dream, you get another value we call vision which will in turn produce another value I call passion. When you are passionate about your vision, you would get another value I call commitment. When you are committed, you are prepared to suffer for that dream from which emerges another value known as sacrifice. Many Cameroonians are not willing to sacrifice for their dreams and we think leadership is about seating on a rolling chair in an air conditioned office. No that is a result of leadership and not leadership.
PYA: These values, coupled with your professional experience must have contributed significantly to your being selected as a Laureate for the YALI. Could you tell us what YALI is all about and how many Cameroonians were represented?
President of CNYC: YALI is the acronym for Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).It is a program under the Mandela Washington fellowship program. Twelve Cameroonians were privileged to be selected for this program. It is an initiative by President Barack Obama and I think it is his own way of giving back to Africa. I think this is a major gift because there is nothing more than giving to Africa people who are empowered. In Cameroon, 1500 applied for the YALI.180 were shortlisted for interviews and 12 Cameroonians who are doing remarkable things to change their societies were selected. I had sessions with President Obama, Michel Obama, Suzan Rice and I tell you it was a life-changing event.
PYA: What was your take away from this event?
President of the CNYC: My take away is that change depends on me. If everybody, every youth in Cameroon incarnates that feeling that change depends on him. If every Cameroonian gets up every morning and tells himself: “Change depends on me”, then by 2035, we would not be emerging but emergent.
PYA: During the JCI National Convention, you introduced a concept known as servant leadership. Could you further explain the concept?
President of the CNYC: It is one of the things we were taught in YALI. Towards the end, we were baptized as the Mandela Washington Fellowship. At that time, I asked myself why? I think it was to crystallize the whole concept of servant leadership which we have been hearing for six weeks. The idea behind this concept is that leaders have to serve their servants because these servants made them leaders. Mandela is a glaring example of a servant leader. A servant-leader puts the good of his people before his good. To summarize this, I would like to say, you never find common interest in working for personal interest but you will always find personal interest in working for common interest. A real leader works for common interest because he knows that in achieving common interest, he will find personal interest.
PYA: We are gradually moving from Millenium Development Goals(MDG) to Sustainable Development Goals(SDG) because the MDGs are far from being attained
just a few months to the deadline. Would you attribute this to the lack of leadership
President of CNYC: I have been privileged to be part of high panel discussions on the MDGs and SDGs. I think this can be attributed to will. We have many issues such as lack of resources, instability and unemployment but lack of will is the main problem. When we look at economies like Singapore that got transformed in 10 years, it means it can be done in Cameroon if only we have the will. Also, looking at a country like Srylanka that is just coming out of war and its level of development, we can deduce that Cameroon which has been at peace for long can do even better. Until each person accepts his share of responsibility and not just look at the government. In the human development index, Cameroon is ranked 150 out of 183.This is shameful. With all the degree holders we keep throwing out every year. It is man that makes development and if we are so low in our human development, it will be difficult for us to progress. It comes down to man and our will to want to change things.
PYA: You have been privildged to travel to other countries in Africa and the rest of the world. You have equally been very active in Cameroon. How do you compare the mentality of youths in other countries to that of youths in Cameroon?
President of CNYC;
Youths everywhere have the same problem. We all have the same problem, unemployment, social insertion issues amongst others but I think what surprises me most with the Cameroonian youths is the level of passivity as compared to youths of other nations. By passivity, I mean there is a surrender, there is a giving up. The average Cameroonian youth wants to leave Cameroon for greener pastures. We forget that in other countries, life is harder. Curiously, it is youths from Nigeria, Benin, Chad who are coming to Cameroon and making it. Look at the fishing industry, go to Kribi, go to Limbe, Idenau,its these people fishing. These youths are sending the money back to their countries. Cameroonian youths have giving up. They have a defeatist mentality. They have forgotten this notion that to eat you must work and work hard. The average Cameroonian youth does not listen to news. Youths have damaged their thinking about what real life is all about. Our youths are neither willing to serve our nation. Outside, you see youths who are active, who are full of energy and passion. It saddens me that most of our youths have lost passion. We do not have youths who are daring.
PYA: What is the CNYC doing to remedy the situation?
President of CNYC:
The CNYC has three objectives. Get the youths to be part of their council. Youths have to support the council. We should make the council that machine of the youths. We are trying to build credibility with the government and the youth. Youths say the council must serve them but we cannot serve youths if they do not support us. No institution will take us seriously if the youths do not stand by us. It should be a give and take. When the youths give us their support, we now have the power to fight for them.We are trying to open doors, look for partnership .But all that will be weak if the youths do not support their council. Until the youths and the council became one, things will not change. The youths should get involved with who they put at the head of the council.
PYA: We see that you are working hard to improve the situation of your country, so what kind of Cameroon will you wish your son or daughter to grow up in.
President of CNYC:A country which truly utilizes its human resources and other resources for the benefit and improvement of its citizens. I dream of a Cameroonian where every body’s voice, interest and welfare is seriously taken into account. Until everyone is equal before the law, it will be difficult to attain to that. I dream of a Cameroon where everyone (Northener,Southerner,Anglophone,Francophone) are equal before the law.