A U.S.-sponsored youth festival opened Saturday in Ethiopia with the theme “Be Inspired, Own Your Future.” The two-day festival is being held just months after a bloody two-year civil war ended in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and as peace talks begin with the rebel Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).
Nearly 20,000 youth from around the country are expected to take part over two days.
U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Tracey Ann Jacobson spoke about the importance of the festival during her opening remarks.
“The point of it is to provide job opportunities, to provide access to loans, to provide better opportunities for leadership and health care for young people throughout Ethiopia,” she said, “and I have seen it grow from a tiny seed that we started in March to this amazing program that we have today.”
Ethiopian Minister for Women and Social Affairs Ergoge Tesfaye spoke at the event about addressing the vulnerabilities of young people.
“Government and non-governmental institutions, other members of the community, as well as the youth themselves, need to understand that they are exposed to a variety of problems along with this untapped potential and providing necessary solutions and steps is expected from all of us,” she said.
Last week, the Ethiopian government started talks with representatives of the OLA in Tanzania after years of protracted communal conflict in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.
Entrepreneurs and creative individuals from across 17 cities in Ethiopia are showcasing their work at the Addis Ababa festival, but the event did not have representatives from the Tigray region because of the war’s impact.
Boni Bekele, from the Oromia region, had a booth for a clothing design shop at the market fair within the festival.
He said that he used to be able to work across the country in previous years but not anymore.
The government has made millions of young people lose hope, he said. But their strengths should be used, he said, and not just as soldiers, because that won’t transform a country. It’s philosophy, science and skills that can change a country, he said, adding that this must be a priority.
The youth festival also featured a tech village and an art gallery.
One of the artists presenting her work was 23-year-old Melat Shiferaw, who came from Dire Dawa in the eastern part of Ethiopia.
For her, though the current environment in the country is not encouraging, she hopes things will soon fall into place.
As humans, she said, we live not just thinking about today, but what we hope for tomorrow, hoping tomorrow will be better.
The festival, supported by USAID for five years, is expected to include participants from Tigray in coming years, as organizers finalize a post-conflict assessment in the region.