Identity is more fluid than we take it to be but at the core of it is belief. What you believe about yourself based on your interaction with yourself, other humans, the environment and the ideas that govern realms of existence.
As I evolve and take on a more globalized worldview – one I consider a necessity in the wake of the common realities faced by world – I also identify as being African and deeply so. The African continent being my birthplace was only the starting point of this identity. It may have evolved, had I had the chance to live and grow in Europe or perhaps, marry an Asian. While these alternate realities may have bestowed on me the opportunity to take on other citizenships, the matter of my how deeply European or Asian I would have been alongside my apparent Africanness would be a matter of my acceptance of my true place in these different spheres.
The African identity that I wield today stems from my acceptance of a shared history with the African people, of elements of our culture, of how much of home I consider this to be and what position I consider myself to be occupying in its society. It is born from an understanding that I have stakes here; a riveting history with effects that mark my present and a share in the responsibility for our future as a people. Identity is ultimately beyond just self and also speaks to one’s belief regarding her place in the world around her.
Africa is in a dire need of Africans who are so for reasons other than just genetics. There is a call for humans who have accepted that in one way or another, they have a place in our history and that they are affected by our realities today and are stakeholders in the future we’ll all be faced with. The Africans that the continent aches for are humans who think of it in one way or another as home and who are willing and able to ensure that home has enough room for us all to thrive.
Despite the abundance of human and natural resources in Africa, numerous studies project a bleak future for the continent if these resources are not harnessed in a sustainable manner and with a great sense of urgency within the next three decades. According to the UN, Africa has the largest youth population in the world and this is expected to double by 2045. More so, it is being projected that by 2050, Nigeria and DRC shall be responsible for 40% of global poverty. There is an emergence of the need for youth engagement and next generation leadership in order to mitigate the impending disaster of an overpopulated, underdeveloped Africa in the near decades.
From my interactions with both seasoned and emerging leaders on the continent and in the diaspora, I have been able to profile certain issues that are considered instrumental to the effectiveness of African youth as tools for driving radical, positive change on the continent. Sitting with African Diaspora leaders in Washington DC last week, I found these themes recurring, all building to the roles that Africa’s emerging leaders can take on in the collective fight for sustainable development.
In this article, I briefly explain five areas that I think that we next generation leaders must gain an understanding of and engage in order to turn the tides of affairs for the African continent.
A nuanced understanding of African history
Ambassador Arikana Chihombori, the African Union Representative to the United States is known to always start with an enthralling account of the Berlin Conference of 1884 which birthed colonization and modern Africa as we know it. She passionately weaves the tale of the disruption of a civilization and the partitioning of a people that births cultures, economic systems and social constructs that have come to define the people.
This motivation behind this being the starting point of engaging problem-solving in Africa is that we must question the progression of our civilization before we can work to influence it from an informed standpoint. We must interrogate our societal trends, who our allies have been, how other civilizations have influenced our evolution and the roles that we played in the regression of our societies.
Africa’s youth must engage indigenous knowledge systems to excavate truths about different facets of our journey through pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial eras. This way, root causes and patterns of the degeneration that the continent has suffered can be identified and then addressed appropriate. One may consider this a pre-requisite for carrying out diagnostic tests on the continent and then customizing an efficient treatment plan tailored towards its peculiarities.
It is from an informed place that we can chart a new course for liberation; improving on the failures of past generations and knowing how we can align ourselves with the rest of the world on mutually beneficial terms.
A sound understanding of global efforts towards a better world
Africa cannot chart its course for the future without consideration for the global implication of its actions and inactions. Now more than ever, the world shares common challenges and stories despite the diversity that it is couched in. This is evidenced by the increasing efforts of the global community to have conversations about and pursue solutions that are holistic and relevant to all people and nations.
Development frameworks such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Youth2030 and climate action frameworks etc. have been developed to serve as strategy guides in the pursuit of local and global prosperity. This means that a nature of the job has already been done.
Africa’s governance infrastructure is known to be broken and inefficient in most of its operations. However, these ongoing global conversations and development frameworks can serve not only as viable strategies that Africans can adopt in governing different sectors but also as standards for performance evaluation and accountability across the spectrum of local and global needs.
Imagine the ripple effect that will occur if 60% of all African youth pledge to and consistently work towards one or two sustainable development goals, respectively, over the next 10 years. Imagine that 65% of our youth actively engage the global goals through study, professional work, enterprise or advocacy, within the next five years.
Opportunities for learning and adaptation exist as pathways for interacting with other nations and the emerging solutions that they proffer to their issues. Our problems are seldom new and disruptive innovation, in many ways, is a product of the quality of information that one has and is able to leverage in changing the course of a situation.
A firm grip on leadership development and governance
One of Africa’s most critical issues today is that of poor governance and bad leadership. For decades, the decay perpetuated by these issues has strengthened our role in our own demise as a continent. Even worse is the shift in value system that exacerbates the issue even as emerging leaders fall into the pattern that now exists.
In view of this, two critical elements that African youth must become aware of and actively employ are self leadership and active citizenship. Charity they say begins at home and the entity over which you have the most control is self. Young Africans must cultivate a deep desire for a higher, truer, more conscious version of themselves and for continuous development as individuals and members of society.
In the same vein, active citizenship and a consciousness for civil obligations must be awakened. As citizens, we possess the power to effect organic, widespread change by reason of understanding and exercising our rights, privileges and civic duties. Knowledge of and involvement in socio-political matters must be considered necessary in order to drive transparency, accountability and effective succession in governance.
Young people have to let go of superficial motivations for success and develop a mindset that encourages selfless service and pursuit for shared prosperity. I believe it’s important to note that many of the grave challenges facing us regionally and globally have adverse implications for all and sundry.
A collaborative approach towards problem solving
Ubuntu is a South African word meaning “humanity”. It is often translated as “I am because you are” and is famous for the philosophy it drives within and beyond Africa. The Ubuntu Philosophy is an ideology and ethic that is underlined by empathy for others which is one of the bedrocks of social change. While this worldview has evolved into several political and theological variants, its central message is that our humanity is hinged to each other’s such that because of this interconnectedness, we must collaborate in shaping our world into a collectively desired state.
Sustainable development can neither thrive alongside an individualistic motivation for ownership and control of resources nor a divisive disposition towards problem solving. I believe that collaboration is a currency with which we can engage development.
A worldview that shuns tribalism, gender discrimination, apathy, nepotism and other destructive social constructs must be adopted if we will achieve inclusion and equity that characterize progressive societies.
The boundaries of Africanness are not defined by the geographical boundaries of the continent. Africans in the Diaspora are also Africa – offspring of the very same Africa. The conditioning that allows an exaggerated sense of entitlement towards identity, resources and recognition must be reversed so that the potential of the continent can be maximized. It is noteworthy that despite our diversity, the African culture is a relational one and this element cannot be ignored in the invention and adaptation of viable solutions to its challenges.
More so, collaboration with other nations and civilizations should be explored without mortgaging the future of the continent for short-lived benefits that yield eventual deficits.
Principles and values of innovation and change management
Disruptive innovation and technology have changed the course of human evolution. New business and governance models are emerging to cater to the radical changes that man is faced with. These same aggressive forces of change that is perhaps, responsible for some of the world’s most critical challenges are now being harnessed from new dimensions in a manner that enables the reclamation of our world.
Africa is marked with untapped potential and an abundance of non-consumption opportunities across almost all facets of life. This is an apparent declaration for the need for disruptive innovation that will create new markets, new ways of engaging already ones and a massive wave of change capable of unlocking unforeseen market opportunities and social impact.
African youth must rise to the responsibility of continuous learning and insatiable hunger for insight generation, knowledge sharing and application. Principles of innovation, change management and leadership must be propagated by all stakeholders and embraced across the spectrum of human endeavors on the continent.
A deep understanding and practical application of these issues must be pursued with a great sense of urgency and hope for humanity. As the region with the youngest population on the planet, youth engagement in development is non-negotiable and far from a trivial affair. As we continually evolve, the outcomes that emerge and the identity that we will take on as a people and by extension, individuals, greatly depend on the decisions that we make today and our commitment to realizing them.