Guest Column

Time for the youth to take Africa!

2018-05-25 10:30
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Stanley Henkeman

"OUR ASPIRATIONS FOR THE AFRICA WE WANT 1. A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development 2. An integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa's Renaissance 3. An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law 4. A peaceful and secure Africa 5. An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values and ethics 6. An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children 7. Africa as a strong, united and influential global player and partner." - Agenda 2063: The Africa we want

Africa Day is marked annually in order to celebrate the independence, freedom and liberation from imperialism and colonialism. Its origins go back to the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 and the subsequent emergence of the African Union (AU) in 2001.

One of the objectives was to improve the development of member states. The theme for 2018 is "the African Union Agenda 2063" with the purpose to focus on "an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena." 

As citizens of this continent we should embrace these noble intentions in whichever way we can. We should further reflect on how we can hold our leaders responsible to uphold and deliver on the promise.  The envisaged future should not be based on random expectations of utopia but practical, attainable and realistic objectives as articulated in the aspirations quoted above. The future can only make sense if we have an understanding of the basis from which that future is built.

The African reality in 2018 is far removed from the aspirations of the AU Agenda 2063. The ten poorest countries in the world is in Africa and the thirty poorest countries are found largely in Africa with the exception of Nepal, Afghanistan, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Haiti.  

Prosperity can be inherited but with our reality it is not likely to happen in Africa. A prosperous Africa will have to be built by hard work with our leaders setting the example. We therefore need a clear commitment, followed by decisive action by our leaders to put communal prosperity above personal enrichment and corrupt practices. 

Good governance does not happen by decree but it is observed and experienced in the well-being of citizens. The challenge for the AU is to start putting pressure on leaders who make a mockery of the noble aspirations and intentions espoused in its own policies. 

The number of refugees on the continent makes for depressing reading. Burundi had 405 000 refugees in 2016, the Central African Republic 491 000, the Democratic Republic of Congo 459 000 and South Sudan 1 437 000.  These figures, together with rampant violence against women and children, suggest that we have a long way to go to realise the aspiration of a peaceful and secure Africa.

There is an alarming disconnect between ageing leaders and its people in general, and young people in particular. Africa is a continent experiencing a youth bulge which, if harnessed positively, can become its greatest asset and ally in realising the 2063 agenda. 

In Zimbabwe 83% (median age – 20 years in 2017) of citizens were born after Robert Mugabe took control of the country in 1981, 77% (median age – 15.8 years in 2017) of Ugandans were born after Yoweri Museveni started ruling in 1986 and 85.5% of (median age – 15.9 years in 2017) Angolans were born after 1979.

South Africa, one of the "beacons of hope" on the continent, had a youth population of over 20 million as reflected in the 2011 census and in 2017 reflected a median age of 27.1 years. In that same year it had a youth unemployment figure for males of 42.1% and for females of 48.7%. If one fast forwards to 2016, the picture looks quite grim with male youth unemployment at 48.7% and females at 59%. 

The present reality and trajectory for young people in Africa point to a very bleak future. We need to see a stronger commitment from the AU and governments to interrupt and reverse these negative trends.

African citizens have a responsibility to transcend their lamentations about the state of affairs and work harder on bottom-up solutions to our challenges as a viable alternative. As a start, citizens should guard and defend their rights more diligently. For far too long citizens have given their leaders carte blanche in issues of governance and development. 

We need to resist the emerging trend of strong leaders who either refuse to step down or use "democratic" processes to extend their terms of office. We need to find our own ways to realise the noble aspirations of the AU. We need to foster and promote the belief in Africa's potential to operate on an equal footing with the rest of the world. 

Africa Day is a day for ordinary Africans, and South Africans in particular, to reflect on how we regard and treat each other. There is no excuse for the low levels of education outcomes, high levels of violence, gender abuse and xenophobia, to name a few, that we see within our own ranks.

There are no easy answers to our challenges but we can start by being honest about our shortcomings and failures before we dream of a utopian future.

- Henkeman is executive director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    africa day  |  africa  |  youth  |  youth unemployment
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