Youth and the Mantle of Leadership and Governance in Africa

By Francis Tazoacha  & Dr Steve Tametong  

Youth is the epicentre of all developmental strides in contemporary society. Since they make up a significant portion of society, they have a central and conspicuous role in supporting society’s progress and galvanising its sustainable developmental advancement. Youth is responsible for building the nation, transforming society, and making it fair and noble. Youth can improve the community and culture of society and ring new impetus in leadership. This youth has the urge, innovations, and dynamism to participate actively and meaningfully in politics and advocate for good governance. They have the competence of becoming entrepreneurs and can fully exploit every developmental avenue that has not been tapped to build a utopic society. Therefore, there is an urgent need for this youth to be selflessly nurtured to champion good governance initiatives and emerge as leaders and take their destinies into their own hands, starting from local to regional levels and the country.

Contextual analysis

The African Youth Charter recognizes youth as individuals within the age range of 15 to 35. In that perspective, Africa has the youngest population in the world. The continent has a population of 1.25 billion inhabitants, and 60% are under 25 years old. Paradoxically, this young, vibrant, ambitious, talented, and educated majority of the African population is not represented in government. This ultimate disengagement between policymakers and youth aggravates glitches and drives African society, in general, to digress and feel trenchantly archaic.

The calls and surges for change from youth in Africa have wantonly and mostly been disregarded. Policymakers mockingly pay lip service to the concern but hardly do anything to put it to practice. There is no awareness of youth inclusion in the electoral or administrative process and offensively refers to the vibrant youth as “leaders of tomorrow.” Senior leadership often views the youth’s aspirations as cultural invasion and imperialist influence aimed at destabilisation of the ‘functional’ institutions and thus nothing to be taken seriously. Ironically, colonial powers granted independence to African countries and ushered in pulsating youth to the mantle of leadership. Sadly today, leadership circulates in the hands of the old whose vibrancy and surge for sustainable development have burnt out, and yesterday’s approaches to modernization have become the order of the day. They cling to power with an old-fashion adage that age is wisdom. Therefore, this leaves African countries with institutions that cannot take any meaningful actions to address contemporary issues most relevant to young people and the changing world. This youth – who is not represented adequately in formal political institutions and processes such as parliaments, political parties, elections, and public administrations – is the heartbeat of every country. The situation is even more difficult for both young women and women at mid-level and decision-making or leadership positions. Suppose African governments passed on the mantle of power to the youth. In that case, they could have tremendous potential to positively affect change and economic growth, peace, and sustainable development.

Youth-led Africa

Before looking at “how youth can take the mantle of leadership in Africa,” it is important to draw lessons from crucial youth leaders who changed their peers’ mindsets by their engagements in re-establishing good governance.  Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, articulated egalitarianism, social justice, liberty, human rights, and the fight against colonial legacy. He served as an eye-opener for the Congolese, and now for all Africans. The young revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara – who later became president of Burkina Faso – fought for participatory democracy, justice, anti-corruption, and Africa’s liberation. He believed in the ability of Burkinabés to develop their country, modernize it, and build a resilient and robust economy. The Rwanda Patriotic Front – led by Paul Kagame, the current President of Rwanda – fought to stop the genocide and liberate the country. Kagame fought against the genocidal ideology and tribalism by creating one national identity and, today, he is known for his strong support of the unity of Africa.

Youth are the most vital human capital of any economy. Not only are they responsive, adaptable, proactive, and receptive, but the contemporary youth also understand employment and the revolutionary technological advancement of the 21st-century era. They are tuned in to the gig economy’s opportunities, constantly aware of, and ready to seize upon, the newest and latest developments. Examples can be drawn from the unprecedented coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that awoken the sleeping scientific and technological giant in the African youth and how they are using it to fight the pandemic and adapt the economy to the present predicaments. Simultaneously, the older leaders in power on the West for salvation have always been the case – the West that is not being spelled by the pandemic.

In conflict-prone countries or countries emerging from conflicts, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recognizes that young people can participate in peacebuilding, leading non-violent revolutions, using new technologies to mobilize societies to bring about positive transformation in Africa. Youth have demonstrated the ability to build bridges across communities, work synergy, manage conflict, and promote peace and sustainable development. Youth are energetic and indispensable stakeholders in conflict and peacebuilding and can be agents of change and provide a basis for rebuilding lives and communities, contributing to a more just and peaceful society. They stand a better chance and can muster the momentum to undertake and harness green recovery strategies concerning the overarching ‘Build Back Better’ (BBB) plan. They traverse them with other prominent agendas, including SDG16/SDG13, and identify relevant entry points for peacebuilding programming and policy development – developmental initiatives alien to the old-school politicians. 

Chances for youth to participate in governance and involvement in political and decision-making processes largely enhance better political, socioeconomic, and cultural contexts where social norms in many parts of Africa will be improved. This will result in participatory democratic governance, social cohesion, justice, a human rights conflict-free Africa, and sustainable development.

To address these challenges to governance and youth participation and consequently taking the mantle of leadership, young people should be at the forefront in creating awareness in their peers and building public opinion on the values and principles to adopt. With the state and non-state actors’ help, they should conduct civic education; provide health care services, shelter, access to education, and food. It is only through such engagements that youth participation and taking the baton of leadership can be effective. The time has come for African youth to change from being abused and disillusioned to being the drivers of social cohesion, human rights, justice, and sustainable economic development.

Conclusion

A clarion call to all emerging African leaders is that leadership is taken, not given. This is the time for youth to take their destiny into their own very hands. African youth are passionate and resourceful, but they need more space to uncover their innovativeness, provide solutions, work, and build an atmosphere that fits all. They also need more space to prepare future generations to face the same insecurities, imbalances, and corruption we see today. They should stay focused on building on their predecessors’ strengths and participate in endowing in and sustaining their communities. If one can learn to hate and destroy, then one can easily learn to love and safeguard. Having active youth participation in governance and leadership requires civic education to install moral tenets to help them out of amorality.

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Tazoacha Francis is the Director of Peace & Security at the Nkafu Policy Institute. His areas of expertise ranges from Peace-building, Conflict Resolution, Governance and Democracy.