African youth: Fulfilling the potential
- Jay Naidoo
- 16 Nov 2012 02:00 (South Africa)
“We are angry, we are restless. We are sick and tired of mediocrity and corruption. We want to make our future. Can our leaders make way for us? Can we have a meaningful dialogue without being lectured about the liberation struggles of the past?”
This was the popular refrain among the over 400 youth leaders who met at the Mo Ibrahim Annual Conference in Dakar, Senegal, over the last few days – where they discussed the rather charged topic “African Youth: Fulfilling the Potential”.
Today, half of the population of Africa is under 20. By 2035 the African labour force will be bigger than China, and by 2050 a quarter the global workforce will be African. At that time, nearly half the global youth population will be African. How do we ensure that Africa benefits from this demographic dividend? How do we ensure that African youth compete at a global level through their sheer numbers?
There is a falling confidence that the current generation is building a brighter future for the next. And this is hardly surprising. Today, the average age of the African head of state is 62, which is three times the average age of the African population.
It is time for my generation to move out of the way. We should be creating the pathways that connect youth to opportunity. We should be building an inter-generational dialogue that encourages a bold vision of an African century we hailed at the beginning of the millennium.
We are constantly reminded by politicians that Africa is the fastest growing continent in the world. There are two questions we need to pose to ourselves. What is the baseline? Africa, with a population of over one billion, has 2.7% share of global GDP. That's less than France, with a population of 65 million. The GDP of the Netherlands, with 16 million people, is equivalent to the total GDP of SA, Nigeria and Egypt. The average per capita in Africa is $300, compared to France at $50,000. It is these facts and data that should drive our strategy and political debates.
Even in our growth there is a different story of who is succeeding in Africa. This is not the story of China and Brazil, where tens of millions are lifted out of absolute poverty; where in spite of corruption, public institutions like education and health give people skills, jobs and livelihoods; where the public infrastructure like roads, highways, electricity, water, sanitation and housing are expanding. We have an incestuous web of interconnected, predatory political and economic elites who have a stranglehold on our growth potential. And if GDP is indeed growing rapidly, and even GDP per capita figures are also growing, inequality is also soaring.
The key question is whether a narrow focus on GDP growth will drive job creation and social inclusion. As I travel across Africa, I see urbanisation happening at a frightening rate. It is driven by poverty and the piercing climate crisis that has resulted in prolonged droughts, the resource wars that devastate communities and undermine social cohesion. As I experienced in Kibeira, “the settlement sits like a huge sprawling mushroom of shacks on the outskirts of Nairobi. No-one knows how many people live there and not many want to be counted in official statistics, but unofficially many claim it is more than a million. It is a teeming, bustling place which is now part of a familiar sight on the African landscape. I see no signs of public investment here.”
Africa missed its opportunity in the global commodity boom of the last decades. We acted as 54 separate countries, weakening our bargaining power as an economic bloc, and failing to ensure mutual benefits in terms of beneficiation and the development of our infrastructure.
Mo Ibrahim, himself a successful telecommunications entrepreneur and pioneer of mobile telephony in Africa, says: “We do not understand our strength as the fastest-growing telecommunications market in the world. We have 500 million users today. Do we have a single telecommunications equipment supplier on the continent? This would never have happened in China. They have forced companies to open manufacturing plants there and to transfer technology and skills to Chinese people.”
We end up as a sheer supplier of raw materials; our African intellectual resources end up in the developed world, strengthening the stranglehold global companies have in relation to us; our countries become markets for manufactured goods and services from developed economies.
And our public debate about the Beijing Consensus versus the Washington Consensus is false. The reality is that every country and corporate wanting to do business with Africa has an agenda to serve themselves. The real failure is our political inability to negotiate as an economic block and create a viable economic common market for our billion citizens.
So the challenge is one of regional integration. The intra-country barriers impede the flow of goods, services and people. They raise the costs of doing business in Africa and fail to create economies of scale. How quickly we integrate into the global economy and scale up our connecting infrastructure depends on our political will to break down these artificial barriers and the vested interests that perpetuate it.
Which brings us to the greatest challenge, that of governance. Who benefits from the inefficiencies at our borders; the failure to connect our roads, railways and electricity grids; who benefits from the murky world of bureaucratic red tape that hides the corruption and inefficiency of the system? We have to bring ethics into our conversation. Are leaders entering the public service to serve the interests of the citizens or their individual vested and material interests?
As one young leader said, “Give me examples of those who have led our countries that have not ended [up as] dollar multimillionaires by the time they have left office. We can count them on the fingers of one hand. Will they have to account for how they or their family members have acquired such extraordinary wealth?” I think that is a legitimate demand.
As I listen, I marvel at the power of technology to democratise information, transform the delivery of services and empower citizens. Everyone here has a smartphone. It is absolutely clear that the pace of technology will change how we live, work, educate ourselves and source services from both public and private sector. But it will – it has already begun to – change the checks and balances of democracy. Already the mobile digital revolution is linking farmers in rural areas to understand the prices of their produce in urban markets. Africa accounts for 15 of the top 20 countries using mobile banking. In countries like Kenya, Sudan and Gabon, more than half the population uses mobile banking.
Arabic, especially in North Africa, is the fastest growing language on Twitter. Ushahidi, a non-profit business in Kenya, is becoming a global brand that has created a platform that allows geospatial visualization of our campaigns against human trafficking and other areas of social risk. Governments will soon realise the futility of secrecy laws and censorship to hide corruption from the public eye. The media of the future will be driven by citizens on open-source platforms.
I visited a social change hub in Dakar, Senegal, and spent a fascinating time with earnest entrepreneurs who had set up a shared services model. Its founder, Karim Sy, gave up his job after attending a social entrepreneur conference in South Africa, and today the incubator hosts over a 150 new start-ups, demonstrating youth leadership and excellence. After an engaging conversation I was convinced that young leaders like Karim needed to be supported in order to replicate and scale up their service across Africa. They represent our true destiny.
Things have to change. The older generation wants a status quo: we call it “stability”, which appeals to too many donors. The youth want changes now; they call this “prospects”. We need to find a responsible role for the youth without being too prescriptive. We need to be breaking down barriers and co-creating solutions. This is the new political narrative we should be building with the youth of the future. As Iman Bermaki, an 18-year-old Moroccan who interacted with former President of Nigeria, Obasanjo, in the opening session, softly says, “Have confidence in young people. We are serious about our future. But try to listen more carefully to what we say.”
Archbishop Tutu, in his characteristic humour, encouraged youth leaders to be unstoppable. “We must be optimistic about the future,” he said. “It belongs to you. Go out and seize it. It’s your destiny.” DM
Jay Naidoo is a member of the Board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and attended their conference in Dakar, Senegal last week.
- The global food system is broken; here's how to fix it
- Africa's tomorrow depends on empowering its people today
- Ebola: Fear, Paralysis, Solidarity, Justice
- The UN General Assembly week, New York: A cacophony of noise and hope
- Hiking the roof of Africa; my journey to the depths of myself
- Visualising the end of inequality – a new path to negotiation
- After the platinum strike: We dare not fail now
- Letter to the next generation
- Formal vs. informal economy: Bridging the gap
- Connecting the dots: Building workers’ unity and workers’ power
- Democracy in distress: Are our elections bought and our votes sold?
- May Day 2014: Cosatu's tough choice of the politics of workers unity or politics of political parties
- COSATU: In the eye of the storm
- Twenty years of SA democracy: A new fight must begin
- Kibera: Hope and human dignity rising in the slums of Africa
- The rise and fall of Cosatu: From vanguard to sacrificial lamb
- A leader I would vote for: Botswana's former president Festus Mogae
- A leader I would vote for: President Pedro Pires of Cape Verde
- Op-Ed: A giant stumbling through the minefield of political division – my appeal to the Cosatu workers
- A leader I would vote for: Joaquim Alberto Chissano
- A leader I would vote for: President Mujica of Uruguay
- That Lula Moment: A question of leadership and integrity
- Following the money: Work with citizens to make our money work for all
- Checkmate: The rise of radicalism
- Lords of the Niger Delta: The Shell legacy of profit before people
- Protests, police and cowardice – our State of the Nation
- New stones for my Madiba rosary
- The final journey and the legacy that will always live in our hearts
- After the tears, the hard work of building the world that Mandela believed in
- Mandela's gone. But he will be with us, forever.
- Bekkersdal: The turning point in SA municipal politics – time for a line in the ground
- Africa Rising? Whose Africa?
- The scramble for the Arctic and the dangers of Russia’s race for oil
- Africa's future is clear: Youth, Technology & Broadband
- Child mortality is our human rights failure of the 21st century
- Technology can wipe out the cancer of corruption
- My open letter to South Africa
- Amputating the soul of our children
- The vision of the Invisible Children
- A humble billionaire, asking tough questions
- Cry, the beloved country; cry, the beloved federation
- Humanity at a crossroads: Fighting for climate justice
- Wanted: Ancient wisdoms to heal our planet
- The taste of power: its sanctity and its perversion
- When the town I loved burned down, or, when Heaven was visited by Hell
- As our Constitution lives, so does Mandela
- Bangladesh: Losing some battles, but winning the war
- Rana Square – the Ground Zero of workers’ rights
- Small-scale farming: simple, successful, sustainable
- A global debate needs local voices
- When will Africa be led by the needs of its people?
- The faultlines in our society: Why are we so angry?
- Nigeria: Africa's best hopes and worst fears
- Our ancient African heritage holds the key to our future
- To build a better world for all, we need a new narrative, new energy, new commitment
- A culture of service and tolerance: Lessons from Chris Hani
- Open data platforms: a tool to revolutionise governance
- Aluta continua: Why the fight for quality healthcare can’t be over
- ‘I raped her because she belongs to me’
- Would Hani and Slovo today be accused of Neo-liberalism and Counter-revolution?
- An open letter to my fellow South Africans: I am ready. Are you?
- A trip to Limpopo: The Forgotten Land
- 'I have a right to a toilet - it's human dignity'
- Matric pass rate: On the road to Nobody
- The challenges of today are South Africa's opportunities of tomorrow
- India: The ongoing tyranny of the caste system
- To my generation: Listen. Listen very carefully.
- The Lula moment and this country of ours, South Africa
- African youth: Fulfilling the potential
- Africa’s 'leadership crisis' - we have more agency than we think
- Think climate change isn't your problem? It will be when you can't eat
- The wuthering heights of disenchantment
- An open letter to Cosatu
- Democracy for all: Marikana signals our second chance
- Can't you hear the thunder?
- A new age, a new role for foundations: redefine development
- Video series - great women of SA: Emma Mashinini (I)
- Mother love: Time to add decency and respect to women's hard-won rights
- GAINing ground: The beauty of one good idea
- Education: a morass of mediocrity
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part V
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part IV
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part III
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part II
- Celebrating Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us
- Mandela day: time for the next generation to take control
- The school of sexual predation
- Rio+20: We're not colonies anymore
- Prayers to the rain gods
- Our foreign policy gets more foreign as time goes by
- Not a moment to Spear: Why, in a time of crisis, that painting is irrelevant
- Ma Emma: The true spear of the nation
- Araku - the truth, the inspiration
- An infinite vision - The story of the Aravind eye hospital
- Get up, stand up South Africa!
- Our future lies in the mothers of nature
- There's a Light in the Get Kony Campaign
- Empowerment lies in women in Indian villages talking to those in African villages
- Dear President Zuma
- Adequate food is essential component of social justice
- Durban to Rio could be our Road to Damascus
- The Grinch who stole hope
- The Grinch who stole hope
- iMaverick, Monday 28 November
- Africa at the crossroads: Let's talk Brazil
- The secrecy bill: Welcome back, Magnus Malan & Adriaan Vlok
- The powder kegs of unmet expectations in our midst
- iMaverick, Wednesday 19 October
- Finding one's humanity where little else remains
- Food security: A matter of war and peace