Youth and Development in Africa
The African National Congress (ANC) has long appreciated the centrality and relevance of the youth in the revolution. As Oliver Reginald Tambo once remarked that “a country, a people and a nation that does not value its youth does not deserve its future.”
|Africa Youth Parliament in session Photo courtesy|
“Africa, since its partition, has seen its mineral wealth exploited for the benefit of others, its fertile land left under-cultivated, its rich cultures destroyed, and its brain-power ‘drained’ to other parts of the world. At the centre of this calamity is the role of the West in creating an international system that reduced proud Africans to the lowest caste of the twentieth century. How will post-colonial Africans overcome this condition in the twenty-first century?”
This is the assessment that Ali Mazrui makes in his Preface to Adekeye Adebajo’s book, “The Curse of Berlin: Africa After the Cold War” as he talks about Africa post the infamous 1884-1885 Berlin Conference of a cartel of European states which resolved to partition Africa and slice it all up into a number of European colonies.
Of this partition he says – “The partition of Africa, on the other hand, resulted in some of the most vulnerable societies in modern history.”
The journey from Africa’s colonisation to her independence took many centuries, many generations, much effort, sweat, toil and blood, and yet today standing here today we do, we will be correct to say that the journey still to be traversed is still much longer and more arduous.
The question Professor Mazrui posed addresses itself not to victims any more, but to the masters of their own destiny! This is because victims possess no capability, nor the aptitude, to overcome their situation and convert themselves from their position as victims to that of masters of their own destiny.
As OR Tambo correctly pointed out when he made the clarion call to the youth of South Africa and Africa that “at this hour of destiny, your country, your people need you, the future of South Africa (and Africa) is in your hands and it be what you make of it!”
It is only as such masters of their own destiny that we can answers most affirmatively and with absolute clarity the question about how we, post-colonial Africans, intend to overcome our condition of vulnerability and being the lowest caste of the twentieth century.
It is in this vein that we must resolve the role of different strata in our society today to find solutions to the challenges facing Africa and in particular the role of youth.
Youth as an important force for change given their inherent characteristics of militancy and energy must play critical role in Africa’s development. The period of colonialisation and conquest has necessitated that young men and women get enrolled in the fight against this tyranny. This had its good and bad implications. The critical and brave role they played in the many military struggles against many foreign forces helped to expedite Africa’s liberation.
However in cases of conflict ravaging and stalling Africa’s development youth are used as the fodder to fight pointless savage wars.
Like Mr Robert Anson Heinlein has pointed out in his 1940 writings, one of the most popular, influential, and controversial authors of science fiction of the 20th Century when he once said in his book titled; If this Goes On?: “When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects; ‘this you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know; the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holly the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not a fission bombs, not anything – you can’t conquer over a free man, the most you can do is to kill him.”
These wise words from Mr Heinlein are relevant to Africa and the African Diaspora as they were relevant 72 years ago when he authored his book. They are also relevant today as they were relevant at the First Pan African Congress, held in London 112 years ago when leaders from the African Continent and the African Diaspora as well as Caribbean and the United States of America said:
“Let the nations of the world respect the integrity and independence of the free Negro states of Abyssinia, Liberia, Haiti, and the rest, and let the inhabitants of these states, the independent tribes of Africa, the Negroes of the West Indies and America, the black subjects of all nations take courage, strive ceaselessly, and fight bravely for that they may prove to the world their incontestable right to be counted among the great brotherhood of mankind. Thus we appeal with boldness and confidence … for a generous recognition of the righteousness of our cause.”
This is a loud cry and appeal from the youth of Africa today; they cry loud like their forefathers did and say we also ‘appeal for a generous recognition of our righteousness of our cause.’We owe to them and many more in Africa and Africa Diaspora who share the same blood and sweat who are still living in conditions of inequality, poverty and unemployment.
This excruciating pain inflicted on an African youth today is the same or similar pain that their forefathers many centuries ago were endured. We also owe to them and others who dedicated themselves to fight against colonialism, imperialism and tyranny, ready to lay their lives, to ensure they rid Africa and Africa Diaspora of racism, sexism, poverty, underdevelopment, inequality and ignorance as well as humiliation.
This is true because the hopes for the New International Economic Order (NIEO) arising from various international socio-economic and political negotiations, particularly after World War 2, as reported by the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research articulated recently, ‘became largely misplaced in the 1950s through the 1960s, inter alia, due to the lopsided socio-economic development pattern which accompanied such negotiations.
For example, the terms of trade worsened for the world’s primary products, which in this case are mostly African countries, while it improved for the producers of manufactured goods, which are industrialised countries such as the United States of America and the European countries. As a result the socio-economic and even political situation of many African countries and those of African Diaspora is still nowhere comparable to the progress made in the rest of world especially in most developed European countries. This is the premise of the crisis of Africa and that of lack of youth development in Africa.
Therefore as we talk about “Youth and Development” in Africa and the Diaspora today, we can’t omit this historic reality that has haunted Africa until in the 21st Century. If we are serious, as I believe we are, about youth development in Africa, this is the basis for discussion and intervention.
In order to develop informed strategies for interventions, countries of the North especially the West and Europe should know that according to the International Labour Organisations’ 2006 Report and the United Nations’ 2007 Report:
“Youth (in Africa) make up 36.9% of the working age population, but 59.5% of the total unemployed, which is much higher than the world’s average for 2005 which was 43.7%, reflecting serious labour demand deficiencies in the region.
“The share of unemployment can be as high as 83% in Uganda, 68% in Zimbabwe, and 56% in Burkina Faso. On average, unemployment among those with secondary education or above is three times higher than among those with no education attainment, and youth are more likely than adults to be in the informal sector, and less likely to be wage employed of self-employed.”
According to the research paper by Mr Marc Sommers of the US Agency for International Development titled: Urbanisation, War, and Africa’s Youth at Risk.Mr Sommers argues that (and I would like to quote him extensively for purposes of this presentation): “To many observers, Africa’s ever-expanding urbanisation makes little sense. For example, Kempe Ronald Hope in 1998 notes, “in general African countries are substantially more urbanised than is probably justified by their degree of economic development. He adds that this is due in large part to the fact that ‘the supply of urban job seekers far exceeds demand and that Mr Nelson Mandela of South Africa has noted that ‘Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where urbanisation is associated with negative economic growth.
Many urban areas are wracked by water and housing shortages. School and health facilities may be nearing collapse. Parks where they exist may be filled with street children and thieves. HIV/AIDS and other illnesses usually run rampant. The industrial base – a cornerstone of urban economies in the North – is frequently limited.”
Mr Sommers in his paper concludes by the following observations: “The challenges confronting youth in urban and peri-urban Africa are further complicated and made considerably more serious by war’s pervasive impact.”
In this regard Mr Gavin Williams in his writings in 2002 concurred with Mr Sommers by concluding that: “No regions, and few countries, in Africa have been free of the ravages of civil wars, conflicts between African countries, dictatorial governments, and the intervention of outside powers and other African governments. These disruptions continue to drive an increasing number of African youth in particular towards cities, often causing extraordinary increases in the size of cities and expanding the purposes, utility, and culture of urban life as well as increase in the number of children who are recruited as child soldiers, forced labour and sex slaves.”
Whether this observation is exaggerated or not, this situation that an African child finds him/herself in must be addressed and sooner. This is also food for thought for the youth of the Diaspora to work in partnership with the youth of Africa to derive common action for Africa’s development and upliftment. Hence this presentation argues that the legacy of colonialism, imperialism and dispossession of Africans off their land is the main reason for such a situation in Africa.
The world needs to pause and take stock on the road we traversed from the first day Africa was robbed of its dignity and humanity by foreign forces and the ability of these forces to influence Africans to adopt foreign values of greed, violence and destruction.
We must together as peoples of the world led by Africans accept, explain and evaluate the position that the struggle for self-assertion in Africa is a struggle against any form of foreign invasion and domination as well as aggression; and this is a theme that is recurrent in the argument for total self-determination economically, politically and socially.
As we celebrate and commemorate the Africa Day, we need to appreciate the momentous role the African Diaspora played in the struggles against colonialism and imperialism. We should together urge the youth of the Diaspora to work together with the youths of Africa and progressive youth organisations in the world to continue the struggle for a better life for all African children. We continue to perceive the Diaspora as vital in the pursuit for a peaceful and prosperous Africa.
We must collectively condemn the illegitimate military actions against countries of the South especially Africa and its governments. We must collectively disapprove the notion of so-called regime-change agenda purported by the strong and powerful nations against the weak and powerless ones.
We must allow Africans and their organs of governance an opportunity and space to determine their destiny and act in a decisive manner to ensure the achievement of the objectives they have set themselves, long before, in the 3200 B.C. when Pharaoh Aha united the upper and the lower Nile to form a united and integrated Africa based on common vision of the Renaissance of Africa. The birth of the African Union (AU) and the crafting of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) are a corner stone of such a vision.
We should call upon the youth of the world in particular the youth in Africa Diaspora, including the youth from Caribbean Community and the youth from the Community of South American Nations to standing together with the youth of African Continent in their call to:
Ensure that the African child has access to quality education by providing educational systems and institutions of excellence that will train African children in the fields of science, technology, engineering as well as information and communications, including business and commerce.
Ensure that Africa produces its own African intelligentsia and leadership capable of finding its own solutions to African complex problems in an African way.
Become the custodians of their own destiny and development whilst at the same time protecting and work for family life and cohesion.
Have full respect for parents and elders and assist them anytime in cases of need in the context of positive African values while partake fully in citizenship duties including voting, decision making and governance.
Contribute to the promotion of economic development of Africa and the Diaspora by placing their physical and intellectual abilities at the service of Africa whilst at the same time engage in peer-to-peer education to promote youth development and inclusion in the context of Africa’s development path in areas such as literacy, use of information and communications technology, HIV/AIDS prevention, violence and child soldier prevention and peace building.
Promote tolerance, understanding, dialogue, consultation and respect for others regardless of age, race, ethnicity, colour, gender, geographical location, ability, religion, status or political affiliation through strategies that involve among others working towards a society free from substance abuse, violence, coercion, crime, degradation, exploitation, intimidation and degradation of environment.
Defend democracy, the rule of law and all human rights and fundamental freedoms through espousing an honest work ethic and reject and expose corruption and anti-democratic behaviour including rebellions and undemocratic and military changes into democratically elected governments.
With an objective to raise awareness and understanding of development issues in Africa, with a special reference to youth as well as to highlight the cultural richness and diversity of our Continent; I elected to raise the abovementioned issues as to provide the African Diaspora and her youth a singular opportunity to reflect on their crucial role that you abound to play today in the development of Africa, as you did during colonialism and apartheid.
As Oliver Reginald Tambo, former President of the ANC, said when addressing the Second Pan-African Youth Seminar in Dar Es Salaam on 5 August 1961: “There are a welter of problems peculiar to the state of political advancement known as independence. How to tackle these I still think that the key answer is Unity. Unity must be a tired word, overused everywhere, by everybody. We are always talking of Unity. I am a member of the United Front, the South African United Front. We talk about Unity in Africa, we spoke about it before the First All-African People’s Conference, it was spoken of when Pan-Africanism was first discussed, it was mentioned at Bandung, hardly a month ago we were discussing Unity at Accra, and the Theme of this conference is Unity. I think the important thing to raise here is that Unity does not grow wildly.
Tanganyika is a rich country, all Africa is rich, there is plenty that grows wild, you don’t have to cultivate it, and you don’t have to water it, to nurse it. But Unity is not like that. It does not grow wild. It has to be nurtured, built up, it wears away. It must be doctored, treated. It also has many enemies like the enemies that enter any plant that you grow, and you have to keep vigilant against these. And where does Unity begin and where does it end? I think true and lasting Unity, as opposed to the Unity we may seek at a given time for the achievement of a certain purpose is one which is conceived on the basis of the essential oneness of mankind, based on what is basically a common human problem. Unity of Mankind!”
In conclusion, the needs of youth in Africa are so diverse; and the African youth is not homogenous, their lives are so full of change that it is critical to develop programmes with them which are aimed towards the development of their continent in general and the lives of young people in particular.
By Fikile Mbalula
Minister of Sport and Recreation, South Africa.
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