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Lack of young leadership is a development roadblock for Africa

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Xolelwa Kashe-Katiya is an executive committee member of Indlulamithi SA Scenarios 2030. She is responsible for the project management of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection research projects and oversees the organisation’s consultancy services function. She holds an MPhil in Heritage and Public Culture from UCT and is an Honorary Research Associate at UCT’s Archives and Public Culture Research Initiative.

Adequate leadership capacity is a prerequisite to shaping cohesive nations that have political stability and steady economic growth. Africa’s current ageing leadership has over the years led to resentment among young people of the continent.

As the continent commemorates the 58th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), it is a time both of celebration and reflection on the milestones achieved and what they mean for Africa and its people. Africa has a rightful cause for celebration as some of the milestones set out at the inception of the OAU in 1963, such as freeing Africa from colonisation and apartheid, and the promotion of unity and solidarity among African member states, have been achieved – relatively.

When South Africa gained its freedom in 1994, the OAU’s objective of independence from colonialism had been achieved. However, many postcolonial African countries experienced various economic crises. There was no doubt thereafter that Africa needed radical transformation and political stability to reignite its economy. This led to the reconceptualisation of the OAU in 1999, and the new organisation was officially launched as the African Union (AU) in 2002.

To understand the challenges facing South Africa, the Indlulamithi SA Scenarios 2030 developed three pathways towards (or away from) social cohesion. The three scenarios are: Gwara Gwara (a floundering false dawn), iSbhujwa (an enclave bourgeois nation) and Nayi le Walk (a nation in step with itself). It is important to note that while the Indlulamithi Scenarios are focused on South Africa, the southern tip of the African continent is but an intensification of what is happening elsewhere on the continent.

The Nayi le Walk scenario is where microeconomic reforms, trade and industrial policy, including macroeconomic policy if reinforced, could see the South African economy and that of Africa stabilise and experience significant growth over the next decade. One of the Indlulamithi variables that informs this storyline indicates that South Africa is likely to experience progressive growth of regional trade and investment, while regional immigration will continue as a major site for change and contestation.

The rapid economic expansion South Africa experienced post-apartheid placed the country in a position of strength on the economic front and opened a doorway into a global network. But 27 years into democracy a great majority of South African citizens (like the citizens of other African countries) are still held captive by the shackles of the long-lasting history of colonialism and apartheid. The after-effects of colonialism and apartheid are still evident in the social inequalities and income disparities, also mirrored in previously colonised countries across the continent.

The formation of the AU was meant to accelerate Africa’s economic and political integration – the objectives later focused on leading development and integration on the continent. Africa seemed to reach a significant milestone with the establishment of the African Economic Community, known as the Abuja Treaty, in 1991, as this was set to bring political and socioeconomic integration on the continent and promote the development of a sustainable, self-reliant and politically stable economy that would improve the standard of living for all Africans.

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) was reworked to provide an expanded framework for all African states in 2001. The adoption of Nepad was part of the AU’s socioeconomic flagship programme in promotion of poverty eradication, sustainable growth and development, the acceleration of women empowerment, as well as the integration of Africa’s economy into the global economy.

In 2010 the evolution of Nepad led into the agency focusing its strategic direction with themes such as Regional Integration and Infrastructure, Economic and Corporate Governance, including Climate Change and Natural Resource Management, showing signs of promise towards a renewed outlook for Africa.

Three decades after the introduction of the Abuja Treaty, the standard of living of many Africans has still not improved. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, in 2019 conflict and violence led to an internal displacement of about 46 million Africans within their own countries. This is while a promise for better economic opportunities has resulted in an escalating number of Africans migrating to neighbouring African countries, including South Africa, while others leave the continent altogether.

According to the latest Africa Migration Report, in mid-2019 more than half of migrants born in Africa lived in another African country (52.7%), while 26.3% African migrants were living in Europe, 11.4% in Asia and 8% in North America.

The commencement of the African Continental Free Trade Area in January 2021 is indicative of a continued alignment with the AU’s objectives of regional trade, but this agreement was launched in 2015, five years after its negotiation. While it is commendable for AU member states to place policies that would drive Africa towards a self-sufficient economy, the implementation continues to move at a slow pace. The realisation of the free trade area is likely to lead to a redress of the current trade imbalance between South Africa and the Southern African Development Community, creating new economic possibilities across the region.

However, adequate leadership capacity is a prerequisite to shaping cohesive nations that have political stability and steady economic growth, which will in turn contribute to a prosperous continent in the long term. In South Africa, corruption and inadequately skilled cadres being deployed or appointed in leadership positions continues to undermine the capacity of the state and contributed to its weakness in public service, as corroborated by the 2017 World Bank Development indicators. It is important to note that the lack of leadership is not unique to us as a country.

A sentiment among the continent’s young people is that economic growth and political change on the continent is likely to start with the introduction of more youthful leadership that can foster the creative implementation of new-age ideologies. The current ageing leadership has over the years led to resentment among the young people on the continent.

While South Africa and the rest of Africa have much to celebrate on this Africa Day, the lack of leadership capacity, especially youthful leadership, has left something of a vacuum that, if not addressed, will probably see Africa continue to lag significantly behind its global counterparts.

The adoption of the Indlulamithi Scenarios by leaders in their planning could go a long way in assisting not only South Africa but the continent at large to make strides in its regional integration, which will in turn lead Africa a step closer to a thriving independent economy, thus meeting its AU objectives. DM

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