Unlocking the potential of Africa’s youths

Posted: November 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

by Ambassador Trudy Stevenson

THIS year’s theme for the Mo Ibrahim Forum, “African Youth: Fulfilling the
Potential”, was extremely apposite, since 70 percent of Africans are under
30, yet our unemployment rate is so high that the vast majority try to
emigrate, and otherwise “just get by somehow.”

Indeed, Prof. Alcinda Honwana vividly described the “waithood” of most young
people, who cannot earn enough money to go through the normal rites of
passage of their parents’ and grandparents’ generation, i.e. lobola,
marriage, family. They spend long years in limbo, waiting for a hopeless
situation to improve.

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo recounted his trip to South
Africa to consult Archbishop Desmond Tutu (this year’s Special Prizewinner
“for speaking truth to power”) who told him: “Tell God what you want” – and
that’s how he eventually became president.

Iman Bermaki, a Moroccan student at the African Leadership Academy in
Johannesburg, said that she did not feel African at all until she met
athletes from other African countries and realised she had much in common
with them. She highlighted the need to review Africa’s curriculum to make it
more appropriate, and summarised youth’s needs as self-confidence,
opportunities and practice.

Mamadou Toure of Africa 2 insisted that internship should be automatic, and
that a mentorship scheme could help enormously at no financial cost to the

On role models, Obasanjo was glad Obama won the election, for three reasons:
it proved black brains were not inferior to white brains; as a half-African
he was a huge success story for Africans, and it showed that in a democracy
someone could be elected on merit and not because of ethnicity or other
social construct.

Lamido Sanusi, the Nigerian Reserve Bank Governor, lamented the fact that
Africa prefers to import products instead of creating employment by
manufacturing itself. He identified the problem of transport within Africa,
citing corruption at most borders as a major impediment to inter-continental

Franny Léautier of African Capacity Building Foundation proposed that the
young go into higher value services, such as culture, instead of being

Trevor Manuel, the South African Minister for National Planning and former
minister of finance criticised the West for leaving Africa out of solutions
to the world economic crisis, and bemoaned the fact that Africans were
beginning to lose their ethics instilled within the family because of the
fracturing of this basic unit of society.

Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights described how Ireland was leveraging its Diaspora, for example
by organising a big cultural gathering in Ireland in 2013. The possibility
of borrowing “dead” pension funds to support initiatives from the Diaspora
was raised, the challenge being to create sufficient trust.

Carlos Lopes, secretary general of the UN Economic Commission for Africa
mentioned that the AU has made the Diaspora the 6th region of Africa.
Alcinda Honwana warned that crime can be an attractive solution to the
“wait-hood” she had found throughout Africa, while Lai Yahaya of Facility
for Oil Sector Transparency said the reality is that in Nigeria you can
become very rich by becoming a politician.

South African former minister Jay Naidoo challenged the young to get out
into the streets to make things happen, like Steve Biko did. Rakesh Rajani
pointed out that in Kenya, 4 out of 5 children remain illiterate after 6
years of school, indicating that school is where the first effort should go
to get the youth out of their hopelessness. He also called on governments to
liberalise migration to give the young fresh ideas, opportunities and

In the closing session, Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminded the forum that they
were not God’s stepchildren because of the colour of their skin, but that
each person is His Very Special Person – VSP. He proposed that women take
over the world, as they know how to nurture the young.

Fatou Fall, a Harvard student, encouraged the young to be positive, and take
the initiative instead of waiting for others. Tanzanian pilot and engineer
Susan Mashibe (Tanjet) described how she started her two very successful
airline companies.

Sudanese founder Mo Ibrahim recounted how he saw an opportunity in Africa
when he realised there was a gap between perception (Africa is a basket
case) and reality (there are success stories and much potential). He tries
to bring Africans back from the Diaspora and lets workers own their
companies for better results.

He reiterated Archbishop Tutu’s observation that young people dream of a
better world without hunger and poverty, saying: “For goodness sake, go on

Finally, he pleaded for Africa to unite economically, decrying the futility
of small states imagining they could be economically viable in the face of
massive competition from the major economic blocs.

“Wake up, Africa!” he cried.

Trudy Stevenson is Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Senegal. She attended the Forum
held on November 11 in Dakar


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