Schoolchildren at the Ubuntu Pathways complex in Qgeberha, Eastern Cape, South Africa, on June 5, 2023. Photo by Marco Longari / AFP

According to the African Youth Survey of 2022, by Ichikowitz Family Foundation, youth on the continent want and hope for a better Africa, and they are optimistic and taking action to shape that future. But the big question remains as to whether the youth on the continent are up to the task or not.

Africa continues to experience an explosion in its youthful population; the continent has the youngest population in the world, and it is estimated that more than 400 million Africans are aged between 15 and 35 years. Across the continent, young people are yearning and taking remarkable action to secure a better future for Africa. However, defining and shaping a better future for Africa will not be easy, and young people must be ready to face and overcome many challenges.

The youth need a different mindset, a major course of correction, and a massive effort to reignite progress and define and shape Africa’s future. A lot of effort will be required to give Africa the bright and prosperous future that its youth desire. Some of the challenges youth need to tackle include a lack of visionary leadership and inequities among socio-economic groups and classes.

The African Youth Survey report indicates that at least two-thirds of young people thought their respective countries were going in the wrong direction; African youth have no confidence in their countries’ ability to meet their aspirations. In particular, youth are deeply concerned about lack of employment and opportunities and poor governance, especially high levels of corruption.

Ivor Ichikowitz, the Chairman of Ichikowitz Family Foundation, says the youth aren’t prepared to wait for handouts, they want to be in charge of their own destinies. They will start their own businesses, and they will move to where they believe the greatest opportunities lie. They will leave their homelands for the chance of a better life.

“The youth remain optimistic, but their confidence has dipped. They are worried about the future, especially when it comes to the direction of the continent. They are worried about jobs, especially the lack of them. They are concerned by how we are safeguarding and maintaining our natural resources,” says Ichikowitz

According to Namibian Justice Minister, Yvonne Dausab, some of the key challenges they are likely to face in defining and shaping Africa’s future include generational dynamics, identity politics and getting entangled in the ‘ism’ of sexism, racism, tribalism and other minority rights challenges. Dausab says youth must be vigilant because the world in general and Africa, in particular, awaits decisive, courageous and bold leadership. There is no time for neutrality. Understand your fight and choose your battles carefully.

“Agenda 2063 of the African Union, various Vision 2030s of respective jurisdictions in Africa, the language and text of African constitutions, national development plans, and the overall policy, legal, and institutional arrangements in place, are important for our Youth to take cognizance of … Our youth need to study and understand our history. They must read literature that provides an objective narrative of our history and the struggle against imperialism,” says Dausab.

On his part, Kenya’s former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga urges youth to avoid being used by politicians and instead chart a new path. Speaking during the launch of the Youth Leagues in Nairobi in 2020, Dr Mutunga insisted that the youth must play their role as active citizens.

He said the youth must be the foundation of an alternative political leadership. “The moment you are captured by the barons and you are divided then you are no better than them,” he said.

Addressing the UN-Habitat and UNDP Youth 21 meeting in 2012, the former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, urged the youth of the African continent to prepare themselves for a rebellion against their older generation and claim their leadership role.

“To ensure that [the youth] actually exercises the leadership everybody rhetorically accepts and proclaims is its due, the youth must organise and prepare itself to rebel, so to speak,” said Mbeki.

“It would be unnatural that I, a member of the older generation, would easily and willingly accept that younger people, my children, should, at best, sit side-by-side with me as co-leaders, fully empowered to help determine the future of our people,” added Mbeki.

Prof Luis Francheschi, the Assistant Secretary General of the Commonwealth, is worried about the lack of reading culture on the continent.  He says that the problem is not only leadership or corruption, young people need to read.

“The lack of reading culture in Africa is worrying…We have brilliant minds but we lack a reading culture, and if we do not read, we have no ideas and if we have no ideas, we have no ideals … This makes us manipulable and superficial. The disastrous vicious cycle of Africa’s mismanagement will be repeated again and again. It’s only a matter of time,” he says.

But there is a lot to be excited about if the African Youth Survey revelation is anything to go by, that young Africans are taking the initiative to build a better future for themselves, their countries and the continent that ties them together.

The Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders Program is an annual program for changemakers across the Atlantic and Africa, curated by the Policy Centre for the New South, based in Morocco. Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders program brings together young leaders to stimulate intergenerational dialogue and aims to bring positive changes in their communities and on international levels by inspiring and empowering the youth.

Every year, this program brings together 30 to 50 young leaders from around the Atlantic basin and Africa. These rising leaders have displayed leadership capabilities, and have a strong sense of commitment to social and economic issues facing their communities in particular and the world in general.

Also, there are efforts to transform the continent through support for youth entrepreneurship, technical and vocational training, and the digital economy.

According to Africa Development Bank, the youth make up the bulk of the unemployed or underemployed in Africa, with 60% of the total unemployed. The share of unemployed youth among the total unemployed can be as high as 83% in Uganda, 68% in Zimbabwe, and 56% in Burkina.

With the increasing youth population, Africa needs to create jobs much faster, and there is recognition and effort to address unemployment in different countries on the continent. For example, as the country faces one of the highest jobless rates globally, the South African government has partnered with the private sector to drive job creation.

At the same time, young entrepreneurs in South Africa are making their mark on the local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) sector, and their success is a prime example of the next generation of business leaders.

In Kenya, the government is investing in the digital economy to create more opportunities for the youth. Also, the government has launched funds to support micro, small and medium enterprises, to address unemployment and lack of opportunities for youth. Additionally, Kenya is focusing on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) to tackle youth unemployment, especially addressing the chronic mismatch between skills and work. In Ghana, the government is providing support to young entrepreneurs and giving incentives to businesses that hire young people.

Few would deny that the opportunities that come from African youth outweigh the challenges and that young people on the continent have the power to conquer any problems. The future of Africa at least looks bright, and it is in the hands of the youth.

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Raphael Obonyo is a public policy analyst. He’s served as a consultant with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). An alumnus of Duke University, he has authored and co-authored numerous books, including Conversations about the Youth in Kenya (2015). He is a TEDx fellow and has won various awards.

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Raphael Obonyo is a public policy analyst. He’s served as a consultant with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). An alumnus of Duke University, he has authored and co-authored numerous books, including Conversations about the Youth in Kenya (2015). He is a TEDx fellow and has won various awards.

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