When I was contacted by an advocacy group, The Reformers, to join an online panel session on International Youth Day 2020 (12 August), I wondered why anyone would want to hear me talk about “The Role of African Youths in Building the Africa We Want”. Accepting their request laid the foundation for today’s article, which draws from my research and thoughts about the issues, blended with insights from other panellists and participants.
The stage was set with the first panellist, who in response to a question about the current state of the African Youth, asserted that this demographic is oppressed yet hopeful, unaware of its power, and distracted by not-too-essential amusements (such as the much-maligned Big Brother Nigeria) that have robbed the youths of focus. Another panellist would chip in to argue that the African Youth is actually highly focused, pointing to the multitudes of youths struggling hard to chart a path for themselves despite the socioeconomic headwinds and structural limitations.
For me, I was more inclined to take a somewhat centrist position with my view that the African Youth is largely focused, that is, on their personal “hustles”, as each person tries to lift himself or herself away from the doldrums of economic and political emasculation. However, in the absence of any real efforts at collaboration to leverage on synergistic benefits, these individual fights would achieve nothing significant in terms of structural change to the workings of the African society.
One panellist drew our attention to the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which is an ambitious roadmap to transform the continent’s 50+ countries within 50 years. As he expounded on the lofty agenda, I quickly searched online for the strategy document, realising that although I was aware of Agenda 2063, I had not been wise enough to devote time to gain some granular understanding of the endgame and how the AU thinks this can be achieved given the current state of political, economic, infrastructural, judicial and human rights deprivation across Africa.
Approaching Agenda 2063 from the viewpoint of the African Youth, I think a fundamental requirement is for us to start by asking a question: “What does the Africa ‘we’ want look like?” Without answering this question and arriving at some consensus vision, we would merely punch at the air while chanting idealistic taglines. When we have a picture of the Africa we want, we can then look at other regions or countries that have achieved what we wish for, and learn from their strategies, processes and experiences. At the panel, I suggested a toolkit I termed “the ECE model”, which I believe can help the African Youth partake in transforming their individual countries and Africa as a continent of shared aspirations.
E for Education. We need to see education as an essential requirement for development. We could expand the erstwhile list of human basics (food, shelter, clothing) to include education, because human capital development is even needed to provide the three basics we ordinarily seek. Unfortunately, high unemployment rates and an apparent disregard for educated persons (low income, poor recognition) makes a sizable number of Africans to question the relevance of acquiring education that “cannot put food on the table”, while some others ignorantly reject “Western education” as evil. While it is true that formal education is not the only form of education, it is the only form that can create the kind of development needed to ensure that African countries can raise their heads among the comity of nations, unlike now that Africa with about 17% of the world’s population only contributes about 3% to the global economy. We need good education to produce a critical mass of enlightened thinkers who would create, implement, evaluate, and revise practicable developmental policies across all segments of the African society.
C for Collaboration. Africans need to reject decades of silo working and animosity, and turn to embracing synergy. The old adage that “united we stand; divided we fall”, holds credence in the African situation. As a Nigerian, it is currently easier for me to visit many non-African countries compared with some countries within the African continent. With xenophobia rearing its head in Africa, we need collaboration to greatly reduce the spread of xenophobia among African nations. Even within Nigeria, the divisions are all too apparent, as youths copy animosity from the older generation without questioning the rationale behind such entrenched grudges, and whether such grudges should still hold sway today. Collaboration means the African Youth needs to start considering joining forces with other youths, joining political parties, trade unions, community groups, religious and secular groups, that would enable force multiplication. The objective would be to play active roles within such groups towards changing the narrative in the wider society. While we attempt to grow our individual careers, we should also embrace collaboration as a means to achieving communal growth.
E for Excellence. I strongly believe that acceptance of mediocrity has contributed to the dismal state of African countries. We may criticise African leaders as being mediocre compared with leaders from saner climes, however, when we consider that the leaders came from “among us”, we can look inwards and see that mediocrity has been accepted as part of the African life (sadly). Whether at school or the workplace, we see enough reasons not to strive for excellence, unaware that every little deed of underperformance adds up to constricting societal growth. We need to strive to be the best that we can be, ensuring that we are always trying to get better. For me, failure is acceptable, provided I can convince myself that I did my best, and that I have learned some lessons to enable me do better next time. If everyone seeks excellence in our different spheres, the resultant would be a society that is pushing towards excellence. Furthermore, if one of such persons should get into a leadership position, we can be rest assured that the culture of excellence would continue. We cannot develop in a society where a politician who constructs a subpar road for more than the market value of a good road would be praised because the people feel his or her predecessor did not do any road; or where an employee is advised against taking his job seriously because “it is not your father’s company”.
We may not be responsible for the circumstances of our birth, but our descendants would hold us responsible for the Africa we bequeath to them. Africa cannot develop except we collectively let go of mediocrity, embrace synergy, enhance our human capital, and take full responsibility for ordering our destiny. At this point, the question to every African Youth is: What would YOU do to build the Africa you want?
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