"The Youth are Africa's tomorrow" - Is tomorrow really ours?

African youth always hear that ‘The Youth are Africa’s Tomorrow’. The slogan has been utilized to inspire and motivate African youth towards being the rightful bearers of whatever responsibility the future may bring.
Excited students at the opening of the 2012 Civic Education course at the Rwanda Military Academy-Gako in Bugesera. Timothy Kisambira
Excited students at the opening of the 2012 Civic Education course at the Rwanda Military Academy-Gako in Bugesera. Timothy Kisambira

African youth always hear that ‘The Youth are Africa’s Tomorrow’. The slogan has been utilized to inspire and motivate African youth towards being the rightful bearers of whatever responsibility the future may bring.

They are often told that the moral and economic betterment of the society belongs to them first and foremost. Indeed, governments are urged to invest in the youth to ensure sustainable development of their countries.

As a young person myself, I have become skeptical of the slogan; there is something about this hyperbole being uttered again and again, that makes it seem instantly overstated and lose whatever true meaning it had originally.

In any case, have we not heard that ‘tomorrow never comes’?

Is the older generation keen to maintain the status quo by holding on to ‘today’? Are they saying that we will have it ‘tomorrow’ as a way of stopping young talent from taking leadership positions that they deserve today? Can the youth admit that sometimes they become victims of procrastination and saying that the youth are bearers of tomorrow just reinforces the idea that procrastination is acceptable?

Perhaps that is why President Paul Kagame tells us that the future of the Rwandan youth is today and that they should begin to assume leadership roles now.

At the recent African Union-European Union Summit, he emphasized this when he said that the African Union “institutional reform puts the youth engagement and participation at the centre” of Africa’s development.

He speaks from experience. He embarked on the liberation struggles as a young person. He and some of his comrades who fought to liberate Rwanda, and to whom we owe everything we see around us today, were young.

His commitment to youthfulness in leadership is also clear to see. You only need to look as the Minister of State for Transport, Jean de Dieu Uwihanganye, who at the age of 30 is the country’s youngest cabinet appointee. And, there are many more with high-profile jobs and responsibilities.

Unfortunately, when we look around the rest of Africa, we find a real lack of evidence regarding youthful leadership.

We cannot ignore the fact that Africa’s median age is 19.5 years, while the average age of an African president is 72. That is a huge divide in mindset. Although the older man or woman brings experience and wisdom, in a new and dynamic Africa, leaders need to move with the times and be able to adapt to what are fast and changing economies.

With a lot of African countries targeting technology as deliver socio-economic prosperity, it would make sense for the younger minds to lead the way into this future.

When it comes to the workforce, according to the African Development Bank, 10 to 12 million youth enter the African workforce each year, while only 3.1 million jobs are created, leaving vast numbers of the youth unemployed.

If so many of the youth trying to enter the workforce are rejected, who really owns tomorrow? I would say it is the suits in front offices that ask for inflated application criteria, instead of offering opportunities to potential young talent, that are supposed to be the ones to take the continent forward.

The report by the African Development Bank goes on to say that, “Of Africa’s nearly 420 million youth aged 15-35, one-third are unemployed and discouraged, another third are vulnerably unemployed, and only one in six is in wage employment.

The youth face roughly double the unemployment rate of adults, with significant variation by country. The problem, therefore, is not just unemployment but underemployment, which peaks at just over half of the youth in the labour force in low income countries.”

Where are the youth to lead the future of this continent if they are not within Africa’s labour force? What about the tens of thousands who perish in the Mediterranean Sea in search for greener pastures or in slave-like conditions in Libya?

Some argue that if the youth ran the continent they would be making mistakes left, right, and centre. The continent would be left in economic ruin. I am not disputing that. If you refer back to the title of this piece, you will see where my real irks lie. It is within the veiled rhetoric that we the youth are being presented with the future and all the opportunity to prosper. The evidence is there to prove that the majority of African youth are not being given a platform to own the future, instead we are being impeded and discouraged from doing so.

However, we too as youth must carry out some introspection and assess whether we are prepared to take on the mantle and propel our countries to greater heights. There may be a case that says that we need to stop indulging in the blame game, and instead seize upon available opportunities.

If we are to truly own tomorrow, let us rally for more employment opportunities to younger but still qualified applicants today, let’s advocate for a future of younger leadership, let’s rally to promote our young and bright employees to become CEO’s.

We the African youth need to begin pushing for the necessary improvements we need today, in order to guarantee the prosperity of Africa’s tomorrow.

The author is a graduate in Creative Media Technology with an interest in Communications & Public Relations, Online Marketing, and Brand Identity Development. Currently working as a Communications Executive at Never Again Rwanda.

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