Ontario salute to Africa Day 2017

Flag Raising Africa Day 2017 at Queen’s Park, Toronto-Ontario, Canada.

Africa Day 2017 is the annual commemoration of the African Union (AU) which is celebrated across the  African continent, as well as around the world. The Ontario Legislature hosted a flag raising and luncheon on May 18, 2017 in recognition of the 45th anniversary in partnership with the African Union Sixth Region Canada.

Njeri Rionge provided the key note address Africa Day 2017.

Honourable Dave Levac, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario

Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris

Honourable Andrea Horwath

Honourable Jennifer K. French
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners,
City of Toronto Councillors,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners,

City of Toronto Councillors,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is my honor and great pleasure as your keynote speaker to welcome you all to this celebration of Africa Day 2017, recognizing the 45th Anniversary of the African Union. It is fitting that just as Canada prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary of Confederation, that we gather here today to recognize the contribution made by African diaspora to this province and nation for over 400 years.

At the onset, I would like to thank our generous hosts, the Government of Ontario for hosting this wonderful event. I have no doubt that based on the success of this event, we are well on our way to making this an annual event for the African and Caribbean communities of Toronto.

The theme of this year’s celebration is Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investment in youth. As we begin the second decade of the twenty-first century, and as the world struggles to address many global challenges such as the economic crisis and climate change, it is important to ask ourselves about our common future.

It is commonly said that people are a nation’s greatest asset of any society. Today, Africa’s population has reached a critical mass, and its youth are increasingly becoming a transformative force. By the turn of this century, over 40% of the world’s population will be African. While many continue to perpetuate African life as mired in poverty, hopelessness, and ignorance, African cities are strategic nodes of development, and they are engines of growth, which if properly deployed can accelerate national development to higher levels.

I have been privileged to witness this transformation with my own eyes. As the co-founder of East Africa’s first mass market Internet Service Provider, known as “Wanachi Online” (which Swahili means “Citizens”), I saw first-hand the transformation brought about by making internet connectivity affordable for the average household, especially the youth which comprise a staggering 68% of the population.

Like most young entrepreneurs, we greatly underestimated the challenges before us. Many of Kenya’s movers and shakers had little understanding of how the internet could be used to drive national development goals. We faced enormous resistance from the government, industry regulators, and existing competitors. However, with persistence, Wananchi Group was formed and is today one of the leading providers of broadband internet, cable tv and inter-based mobiles services in East Africa. Creating strong African indigenous companies is not only a boon for Africa, but it has also provided new markets for Ontario-made technologies, finance, and investment.

But sadly, there are too few Wananchi’s in Africa, and this has to change. Investment is all often the missing link. While the TSX may be the preeminent hub for African resource development, there are so many more opportunities which in need of investment.

Recognizing the unparalleled opportunity which Africa presents, some are rising to the challenge. Take, for example, a recent initiative announced by China and the World Bank have come up with an approach to deal with this challenge by forming an infrastructure firm with an initial $500 million fund targeting Africa.
China Overseas Infrastructure Development and Investment Corporation Limited will invest in projects from the initial concept to feasibility stage, with the intention of financing the projects as well as taking part in their in their commercial operations.

We need so much more of this kind of out of the box type thinking which rightly recognizes that development is driven about by economic development and not by aid or charity alone.

Canadians are rightly proud of the work done by non-profit and religious organizations both at home and abroad. There are many compelling stories of meaningful projects being implemented across the continent as well as the Caribbean. Despite these good intentions, these efforts have gained little practical traction in building long-term bonds and mutually beneficial economic interests. Simply put, we lack a collective vision to guide. This is surprising, because the African-Canadian community is the fastest growing ethnic minority in Canada. Collectively, students who decide to attend University in Canada from across the African and Caribbean regions, contribute far more than Canada’s bilateral aid program.

So how to we address this gap? I am convinced that the first step is with our diasporan youth living here in Canada.

Today, perhaps more than ever before, the world looks upon Canada as an example of the benefits brought about by openness, diversity and inclusive governance. Canada has yet to recognize the inherent value of its Diaspora communities and provide the necessary support to drive growth both here at home and abroad. We diasporans are uniquely positioned to exert pressure on governments for legal, policy and regulatory change. Today through a multitude of social media platforms we maintain active connections and business ties. We are uniquely attuned to the nuances of local home markets while carrying with us Canadian values and interests.

So in closing, if globalization is to be seen to bring about real benefits for communities around the world, then we owe it to our children to create an enabling environment in which we all have a stake in our common future.

Allow me once again to state my profound gratitude to the Government of Ontario for their generous hospitality, and to all of you for coming here to share in in this inaugural event to recognize Africa Day 2017 here in Toronto, Ontario.

Thank you.

Later that evening Jennifer K. French, MPP (Oshawa) – rose on the floor of the legislative assembly and made the following statement which appeared in the Official Report of Debates (Hansard) No. 85B.

Madam Speaker, I will also take a moment to highlight that I had a really special opportunity today. There was a flag-raising outside, and it was global Africa Day—well, it wasn’t. Excuse me. Global Africa Day is May 25, but we had the flag-raising today at Queen’s Park, where we raised the African Union flag. It’s been 54 years since the founding of the African Union. It was a warm, beautiful, sunny day. It was a great turnout and we had that opportunity to come together and raise the flag but also to highlight—not just highlight, but celebrate—Africa and her diaspora and the contributions that had been made across our communities.

There was dance, there was beautiful singing, and there was a real celebration because it was also one of the first flag-raisings I’ve been to in a while where the sun was shining so beautifully. It was great, and it was a nice opportunity to remember the importance of the work that we do here, because many of the speakers talked about not just community issues but global community issues. As my colleague across the Legislature, the Minister of the Status of Women and minister responsible for early years and child care, had said, where we come from makes us who we are—which, of course, is true—but further to that, where our neighbours and our community members come from is what makes us who we can be, so coming together is such an important part. 

I’m glad to have had the opportunity to have been there on behalf of the NDP, as the citizenship and immigration critic, but also just to celebrate, because it was a great day.

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