In a speech to 1,200 youths from 170 countries earlier this fall, Washington and Lee University junior Blaise Buma urged attendees at the One Young World summit to support a resolution calling for leaders in Africa who have ruled for more than a decade to hand over power to the next generation.
Buma, a mathematics and economics double major from Cameroon, was one of 32 delegates chosen to debate six key resolutions at the summit.
“It was quite a momentous event for me," Buma said in an email exchange from London where he is spending the year on a study abroad program at the London School of Economics. “I was about to open the session on leadership when we got the news that President Nicolas Sarkozy had tuned in to watch. I had come to the summit with the hope of sending a strong message to world leaders about the grievances that young people like me feel about their performances as leaders. I could not in my wildest imagination have thought that President Sarkozy would be watching when I spoke.”
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Buma said he was mindful of the fact that France enjoys “a cozy relationship” with Cameroon and all other former French colonies in Africa. “Indirectly, my speech was also a message to President Sarkozy because those African dictators wouldn’t be in power in the first place without French support,” he said.
The One Young World summit was held in Zurich, Switzerland, in September. It was the second such summit, designed to give young people a platform to partner with world leaders in solving issues facing the world today. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, musician and activist Bob Geldof, Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, Antony Jenkins, CEO of Global Retail Banking for Barclay's, and other notables joined the delegates for the event.
Buma said that the opportunity to network with those luminaries made his experience at the summit one of the most memorable moments in his life. “I was encouraged and inspired by their passion, motivation and works,” he said. “I met ambitious and talented young people from all walks of life who had already achieved so much and were eager to share their learning and experiences with others. When I left Cameroon to study abroad at Washington and Lee, I wanted to immerse myself in a different environment and learn about different cultures. One Young World was a unique opportunity for me to do exactly that. I made many new friends from diverse backgrounds and I had the chance to talk with them and learn about their perspectives on different global issues.”
As a result of attending the summit, Buma is currently working with other One Young World delegates to establish an organization that will provide an efficient mechanism for providing relief aid to disaster-stricken regions of the world such as the Horn of Africa and Haiti. “The advantage of being part of the One Young World family is that we have thousands of counselors and ambassadors to reach out to if we need any help or support,” he said. As an example, Buma pointed out that former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, who co-founded Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontiéres), is advising the new venture.
Buma, who comes from a middle income family and went to public school in Cameroon, said that he is passionate about world affairs and politics. He stressed that his native country is rich in resources and has great potential. “But as with most other African countries, the resources are a curse and not a blessing,” he said. “Our leaders are more concerned with enriching themselves off the resources than in helping young Cameroons to realize their potential.” He added that, in his opinion, “corruption, lack of transparency, diseases, famine, wars, economic stagnation and many other problems common in Africa are symptoms of poor leadership.”
In his speech at the One Young World summit, Buma told the delegates: “As a young man growing up in Cameroon, I dreamed of a better future for my country. I even dreamed of becoming a leader in my country one day. But those dreams were dashed when I grew up and confronted the grim realities of my society.
“People are fed up with a failed system rife with corruption, such as the one I grew up in, and become apathetic to the political process and leave it entirely up to politicians to do with it as they see fit. As a result they become unrepresented, disempowered and disenfranchised.”
Citing the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, he also noted that technology has enabled the free flow of information on the Internet and that “young people today are more empowered than any other generation of youths before them.” In conclusion, Buma called on world leaders to reform the United Nations and for Africa, India and Brazil to have permanent seats at the United Nations Security Council.
“For me, W&L has provided a gateway into the world,” said Buma. “I was attracted by W&L's commitment to help me realize my potential. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, when other schools were cutting back funding for international students,W&L awarded me financial aid covering more than 90 percent of the cost of my education.”
Now at the London School of Economics, Buma said that the support he receives as a member of the W&L community has extended beyond the campus. “I have met many alumni here in London who are very supportive of my initiatives. Right now I am teaming up with an alum to continue my effort of collecting and sending books to my former high school in Cameroon,” he said.
Buma’s attendance at the One Young World summit was supported by a Johnson Opportunity Grant and the Eric T. Wooley Fellowship. He also received support from W&L Provost Bob Strong, Laurent Boetsche, director of the Center for International Education, Dean of the College Alison Bell and Amy Richwine, international student advisor.
Watch a video of Buma's participation below:
Further information on One Young World can be found at www.oneyoungworld.com/home.