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» Who Are Our Aspiring African Leaders? Reflections on 21st Century Youth

October 15, 2018

Who Are Our Aspiring African Leaders? Reflections on 21st Century Youth

As I reflect on the panel that I addressed at the 7th African Youth and Governance (AYC) Conference held at the Pan African Parliament…I was privileged to sit with 4 driven young Africans that are making a difference in the continent with 25 African Countries represented in the conference.

It was rather befitting that this conference came on the eve of the International Youth Day that is celebrated throughout the world. The AU has themed this year’s celebrations as “Promoting Proactive Youth Citizenship. It is rather profound seeing that one of the AYC‘s pillars is to ensure the Participation and Mobilisation of the Youth and being in the presence of such determined youth.

With over 25 countries represented in the gathering, AYC is carrying forth the vision of building the Africa we want by mobilising our youth to become active citizens at home and in the diaspora. The AYC’s vision needs to be commended for playing a leading role in Africa’s renewal.

As the youth of today, we need to look back and take guidance from our liberation leaders. In a speech given in Accra on the occasion of Ghana’s 40th independence anniversary celebrations, Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s First president, one of the founding fathers of the OAU, provided sharp guiding words that we should all reflect upon. He said, I quote…My generation led Africa to political freedom. The current generation of leaders and people of Africa must pick up the flickering torch of African freedom, refuel it with their enthusiasm and determination, and carry it forward.” This speaks to me as much as it should speak to you…

A young Graca and Samora Machel

As the youth of this continent, the future of our continent lies in your hands. The responsibility is with each and every one of us to articulate and interpret what our continent needs. We have a continent that is rich in diversity, a one blanket fits all approach cannot be taken in addressing the unique complexities that exist within our communities and societies…Thus the question always remains as to how you can make a difference in your own space to ensure the renewal of the continent…

Youth has broadly been defined as people between the ages of 18 – 35, it made me wonder…what is it that this group of young people can do to change our continent…I went on a journey to look back into our rich history….we read and talk so fondly of the Kwame’s, the Thomas Sankara, the Patrice Lumumba.. The question I ask is what these great leaders were doing in their youth…

The significance is that it was in Kwame’s 30’s  was elected the president of the African Students Organisation while lecturing. We see Kwame ascend to office in 1960 when he is 51 years of age.

At the age of 33, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Fuso, led a coup, during his rule one of his many celebrated achievements, is his commitment to women’s rights. In his 30s he recognised that key to the development of not only Burkina Faso but of Africa as a whole was improving the status of women. Sankara is recorded in history as the first African leader to appoint women to major cabinet positions and to recruit them actively for the military.

When we look to the African Diaspora, we look at Malcom X…Malcolm X was 27 years of age in 1952, it was at this time that Malcom was paroled  and was a devoted fellow of Nation of Islam. During his youth years, he ascended to be appointed as a minister and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam.

Going back to my earlier point, you are at a critical age as at this moment, Kwame was prepared during these years, and Sankara championed women rights during his youth…Malcom X…moved a nation…As the descendants of the Kwame Nkrumah, the descendants of Julius Nyerere, Malcom X…The descendants of Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa who led an army to war against colonial powers and said “If the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women.”

In my language there is a proverb that says “Segotsa sa feteletsa”, which means if you inherit something from your parent, you have double portion of that trait…As the Youth of this continent, we have double portion of the bravery of our liberation leaders, we are bore of the womb of Queen Mother of Nana Yaa Asantewaa, the womb of Empress Taytu of Ethopia, a great military strategist.

Who are the faces of leadership in the 21st century that could lead us to realising Agenda 2063?

Today we live in generation with visionary leaders who are championing the renewal of the continent. We come from a generation of visionary leaders such as Thabo Mbeki, a leader whose teachings have offered the youth such as myself the opportunity to re-discovered their African self – rediscovered my African values. A leader who has offered me  and others an alternative knowledge that have moved us  towards becoming active citzens for Africa’s renewal through social and knowledge activism through his African Leadership Institute.

We live in an era where we need to renew our minds about our continent, we are not part of a dark continent. We live in an era of youth such as Tom Osborn from Kenya, at the age of 18 he founded GreenChar. He was chosen as a global Echoing Green Fellow for 2014, the youngest recipient to receive the fellowship in the organisation’s 27-year-history. Green char provides clean household energy solutions to Kenyan households. It provide smokeless, high energy, long lasting charcoal briquettes and clean cookstoves. It’s briquettes are made from revitalized agricultural wastes thus providing a root to leaf utilization of agricultural crops

 We, the youth of today live in era with youth such as Eric Kaduru, Kaduru at the age 30, is helping thousands of out-of-school girls turn small tracts of unused land into money-making passion fruit farms in Uganda.  Participating young women each receive a 240-square meter plot (about twice the size of a six-yard box in soccer) and 45 passion fruit vines to launch their own small-scale agribusiness. The young women produce anywhere between 220 to 330 pounds of fruit per month on average, which brings in a monthly income of $20. Some KadAfrica entrepreneurs make as much as $50 per month, a seriously significant increase from the average $3 per month the women earned before joining the program, according to a baseline study conducted in early 2014. This addresses the notion of providing access to youth to empower them and move them out of poverty.

Looking into our African diaspora, we belong a generation that has given us Ola Orekunrin. A young African who grew up in London but returned home to plant seeds of her knowledge and help build a better African. With her medical and aviation training, Ola founded the first air operated Emergency medical services in Lagos, Nigeria and named it “Flying Doctors Nigeria.”. She is credited with becoming a doctor at just 21-years-old, which made her the youngest doctor in Britain ever

In the short time at the conference I met many youth with inspiring stories as these young people continue building our continent and making a considerable difference. I am proud to belong to the youth of this generation.The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma fondly writes an e-mail to the future…so significant that she writes to Kwame…In the email, she talks of how implementation of the Abuja Treaty has accelerated and the creation of the African Economic Community by 2034 saw economic integration moved to unexpected levels…This email to me, shows the faith that our AU Chair has in this generation’s youth as we will be the one’s working towards making it a reality.

At a micro level, as future leaders sitting here from all over the continent and the diaspora, it is important that we reach out to one another and start engaging in trade across our African boarders to ensure that this email to the future becomes a reality. We need to experience the challenges first hand of transporting canopies between South Africa to Tanzania, so that when we are in decision making positions in the future we understand the need to build the right infrastructure to enable Africa intratrade… We as youth need to realise the impact that we can have and the power that we have in holding this continents future in our hands…we do not build for ourselves, not even for our children…but for generations to come…

In closing, I would like to quote the great Nyerere when he said “without unity, there is no future for Africa”, by so saying I urge you that unity always begins with you. In this week, I would like to challenge you to make this unity a reality for our modern day journey…I would like you to make a commitment to reach out to at least one person that and see how you can collaborate with someone outside of your own country, someone in the diaspora.

Let us make Nyerere’s words practical, in a day where we can skype and viber, send emails, I encourage you to reach out to your fellow African brothers and sisters. Share the ideas and grow the ideas that you have discussed in this conference. Build those networks across the continent that will see Agenda 2063 realised as we continue to build the Africa we want and build a generation of leaders that are connected across various countries.

Shukran, Merci, Obrigado, Asante Sana, Thank you!

Inspiring 21st Century Youth References

Tom Osbourn Story :  Click here for full story

Eric Kaduru: Click here for full story

Ola Orekunrin : Click here for full story

Article By: Lebogang Chaka


Lebogang is working as a Management Consultant with Deloitte and is an Afro-centric Speaker. Her true passion lies in serving her continent and has engaged in African studies to develop herself as an authentic African Leader.

She holds a Bachelor of Business and Commerce from Monash University (Johannesburg) and a Master of International Business from Monash University (Melbourne). She has completed African studies courses through the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute via UNISA, namely Africa and International Trade and Thought Leadership for Africa’s Renewal.