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Africa's Youth is Reshaping the World

Photo: Youth volunteers from ASC youth association in the 10th District, Thies, Senegal

· Africa

Africa’s youth is providing game-changing practical solutions that disprove the myth of a new African tragedy in the making. The COVID-19 pandemic is not creating a lost chance for a young generation to make a contribution to the future. Thousands of examples across the continent demonstrate that the world health crisis is doing just the opposite.

Africa is not a tragic hero struggling in vain against her destiny

Those unfamiliar with the realities on the continent, and some African leaders oblivious to the rising potential around their white elephant project towers, feed off the tenacious myth of the ”African tragedy” peddled by the mainstream Western press. What they fail to grasp is how Africa is accelerating its re-invention, because Africa’s youth dividend is rising to the challenge…and delivering.

It is, of course, easier to keep your blinders on than to make the effort of making the intellectual reversal required to acknowledge Africa. It’s undoubtedly more comfortable to stay in your safe zone of complexes, hiding behind the blinders of the de rigueur compassion and rescuing stance for a supposedly incurable curse.

It’s unquestionably more comforting to keep insisting that Africa is a continent that has fallen victim to the fault lines of the clash of civilizations and is fated to underdevelopment. It is more undemanding to continue pushing an image of continental drift because of race and culture, geographical accident, colonial drama, and the Malthusian curse.

But it is myopicism that characterizes the Africa-is-cursed mantra. It is a refusal to see that, as Jean-Michel Severino and Olivier Ray conclude in their book entitled Africa’s Moment (2011), African nations are moving ahead at high speed. So, while some Western leaders dwaddle in talk of “mutual interest” swathed in a contemptuous charitable position of superiority and others disingenuously insist on wanting to be part of the solution while belted in geopolitical interests that treat Africa as a pawn, Africa’s youth is pushing ahead to a better future. Their youth power will not wait for others to catch up.

Lessons from Africa’s Youth for Progress Junkies

The examples of innovation provided in my previous article, “Chapeau to African Youth!”,

may be specific to the African context and tailored to limited resource settings. But they are innovations that also serve to educate and shape responses in wealthier contexts.

The efforts of the millions of brave and creative African youths in times of COVID-19 provide two important lessons.

  1. First, progress is a forward although non-linear process of movement towards a better future as a destination.

Progress is not, as writes Robert J. Samuelson in an April 27, 2020 opinion piece in The Washington Post entitled “The end of progress as we know it”, a natural order of things borne of “permanent” improvements engineered in social and economic systems with higher living standards. Nor is it made with the fantasy of trying to orchestrate and control the future. Progress is the child of imagination, and creates it change. In Africa it is made with innovations that solve real problems, without wandering over what Richard Hofstadter, in his 1955 book, The Age of Reform, the border between “reality and impossibility”. Innovative practical solutions, not imported ones, are driving a transformation towards a more equitable and sustainable future.

  1. Second, the failure to imagine a world better than the one you know corrupts the ability to innovate and thus hinders the capacity to continue making progress.

The present global pandemic has thrown a harsh light on the assumption that wealth breeds progress. Indeed, the failure of wilting imagination in America and in Europe has bred a complacency. In the face of a life-and-death crisis, this failure has revealed to what extent their “advanced” societies have, with their morally crusading psychic sprees, fooled themselves into believing that their wealth, resources and technological gains will save them. Their progress without vision has turned out to be “exaggerated, superficial, delusional or unattainable”, because they worshipped the altar of progress but failed to see its contradictions, incompleteness and limits.

African youths and their supporting leaders and policy makers are focused on innovating for a better future. They are not fixated on stalled economies or on blaming others for the onslaught of a border-blind enemy. Nor are they overcome by fear and outrage at having to make sacrifices in the name of everyone’s well-being and health or protesting against the need to make sacrifices through politically-tainted rallies.

On the contrary. African youths are focused on life-saving solutions for the Common Good. And they are leading the way to a better future by pushing us to, in the words of King Abdullah II of Jordan (The Washington Post, April 28,2020), “fundamentally rethink the systems we have in place”. Their solutions go way beyond the hole-plugging that foreign aid has barely achieved in the past 40 decades.

Young Africans are getting it right

Young, creative, innovative African entrepreneurs are rising to the occasion, breaking rules and making change. They know that, as Landry Signé and Ameenah Gurib-Fakim write in a Brookings Institution blog, Africa is an opportunity, rather than a threat.

Africa is not a hotbed of disease, hunger and violence, regardless of what the mainstream press insists on having the public far from Africa believe. Enormous gains have been made on the road to better governance and political stability. Significant public health improvements have been made, and across the continent life expectancies have steadily increased while extreme poverty has declined. Literacy rates are up and the gender inequality gap has narrowed.

Young Africans from all walks of life are not shying away from the pre-pandemic challenges that remain or from the new challenges brought by COVID-19. But they are not just simply rebuilding over the pre-COVID19 fault lines deepened by a “de-globalization” promoted by a hurting America wrought by protectionism, skepticism about cross-border cooperation and a general lack of leadership concerned for humanity.

They believe in the future of their nations and their continent. They are focused on creating something new and something better. And they are building bridges with the rest of the world to connect those who see hope, not failure, in the untapped and rising human, economic and international potential of Africa.

Paraphrasing King Abdullah II, by recognizing that no country can act or succeed alone, African creators, innovators and entrepreneurs are actively and fearlessly addressing the global opportunity gap to rethink existing Western-driven models and metrics so they can better tell the whole story. They are leveraging the strengths and resources of each of their countries to create a regional safety net that protects Africa. At the same time they are contributing to a better collective future.

African youths will not wait for others to catch up

African youths don’t care about popularity or ratings. They’re not competing to take what they can from public aid. They’re not lobbying to play a role in virus briefings. They’re not protesting with guns and hateful words. They’re not exploiting the crisis to attack others. They’re not looking for someone to blame. They’re not fighting against pragmatism. They’re not lost in magical thinking.

No, African youths are not waiting for their next “break”. They are the continent’s “break”. With their pool of intelligence, resourcefulness and energy, they are breaking down the biases that inform Western stereotypes of Africa and Africans and defying the senselessness of exasperated Western nations whose interventions have failed to adapt to local systems. They are, as Dayo Olopade writes in her praiseworthy book The Bright Continent (2014), doing more with less as a powerful model for the rest of the world.

African youths have a singular focus: creating practical solutions for the survival and well-being of human lives. They are bringing a brighter light to correct Africa’s image as a dark, hopeless place. They are writing a new narrative, one that shows how African entrepreneurship’s ingenuity, creativity, innovation and grit is reshaping African development into one of the smartest investment destinations.

Indefatigable, African youths are making peaceful war against Western complacency. They’re not stuck in the “wait-and-see” purgatory. They are actively shaping post-pandemic Africa by bringing to light the immense strengths and capacities that make the continent what it is today: a guidepost for how the world should aim for the notch marked “Africa”.

Again paraphrasing King Abdullah II of Jordan (The Washington Post, April 28, 2020), just as threats do not come in silos, neither do solutions. African youths are leveraging the strengths and resources of each of their countries to create a [world] safety net that protects their collective future, and ours.

African youths are taking their share of responsibility for their nation’s destinies, and that of their entire continent, by bringing their vitality and self-reliance to the fore. They are charting a new mental and strategic landscape based on possibilities, not risks and perils. By doing so, they are turning the inherited trauma of their nations into an opportunity to empower and support Africa’s chance to continue rising while opening up a new path to a re-globalization where Africa has a leading role to play with progress focused on people over profits.

Indeed, the Africa’s hidden formula of need and genius should be part of the world’s DNA going forward.

Astrid Ruiz Thierry, Principal, Upboost LLC

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