Governments, businesses should partner with the youth

With just a click on the search button to find out more about the ‘potential of the African youth’, one would be amazed by the myriad of articles, reports and publications that exist on that subject.

The continent is touted as having the greatest youth population in the world. As a matter of fact, research has shown that the youth population of Africa will continue to grow until about 2100.

I was born more than three decades ago in a society that thrived on culture, collaboration and a communal spirit. Responsibility in the society was stratified by age demographics.

The youth was responsible for tilling the farmlands and for nurturing the younger ones through folk tales, which were based on the values that were taught by the elderly. We were responsible for the transformation of the community.

Amid a plethora of political, economic, and social unrests there has been, in recent times, a radical shift in the attitude of the African youth.

The current dispensation is one in which young people are more dependent on governments than they are on their knowledge, skills and abilities; they are more focused on identifying the problem than being part of the solution.

This particular change in attitude was what inspired me to take the initiative of joining organisations that are determined to raise socially responsible leaders who inspire change; I wanted to develop myself to develop others.

Cultural values matter

The role of the African youth in the political and socio-economic development of the continent was also well discussed in a webinar on 9 June by the Alliance for African Partnership themed ‘Pathways to Resilience: African youth and Africa’s transformation’.

The discussion was relevant at a time when African leaders have misplaced priorities, pressing the wrong buttons for the development of the continent.

Each panellist reiterated the potential of the youth to contribute to the course of transformation and sustainable development. It was also revealed that an investment in the development of the youth is the beginning of the realisation of the African vision.

My experiences from infancy, all through to working with the most deprived communities in Ghana, have revealed one thing: that young Africans are influenced by cultural traits and values.

It is not uncommon to find a young person whose allegiance to his cultural values supersede that of constitutional demands. The African culture is a tool that must be harnessed as an instrument for inspiring the change we want to see on the continent.

Elizabeth Mwambulukutu, a panellist at the webinar, shared the same view on the impact of the African culture on development while speaking on the youth and the future of Africa. She highlighted the African Union’s Agenda 2063 aspirations 5, 6 and 7 and described them as pivotal instruments to building the resilience Africa needs.

Aspiration 5 aims for an Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics, Aspiration 6 for an Africa where development is people-driven, unleashing the potential of women and youth and Aspiration 7 for Africa as a strong, united and influential global player.

With her inspiring story of preserving her cultural values through storytelling, the Hapo Zamani Za Kale initiative (Once upon a time), I was reminded of how I desisted from certain ill traits simply because we were told stories that taught us morals.

For instance, I was told stories that inspired me to never give up on a good course as it will one day be a success story to tell. As much as these stories were fiction, their impact was not, and it is on such grounds of motivation that I have risen from the poorest of communities to becoming the change agent I have been in Ghana, South Africa and beyond.

Mwambulukutu added that there should be a conscious effort to educate the youth and invest in learning about Africa and its culture. This would be achieved through partnership with the youth in various forms and levels of engagement.

Engage the youth

I am of the strong conviction that engaging the youth is the surest way of ascertaining what they (the youth) need and not only what they need to be told.

It is unfortunate that many African governments assume that they know what is best for the driving force — the youth — in their countries. Therefore, governments would rather invest in national cathedrals and salary increments when there is a dying need for employment in their countries. Mwambulukutu’s call to action was, thus, very important to the discussion.

In 2015, I started a limited liability medical company in Ghana to provide access to quality laboratory and health consultation services to organisations, institutions and individuals across the country.

However, in October 2017, the Tony Elumelu Foundation, which has partnered with up to 1 million African youths, enlisted my company for seed funding. That partnership equipped us to expand our operations, employing more people and reaching more than 5,000 people in Ghana.

This particular kind of strategic partnership is what Zouera Youssoufou, the managing director and CEO of the Aliko Dangote Foundation, spoke about at the webinar. She emphasised the fact that there should be a conscious effort to partner with youth leaders, training and supporting them financially to succeed.

She highlighted success stories such as The Young Global Leaders programme, especially the efforts of African youth during the coronavirus pandemic. It is a glaring truth that “until the budding tree is staked, growing healthily and upright is only an illusion”. Strategic partnerships with the youth are the key to Africa’s transformation.

If there has been anything more immiscible than the Atlantic and Pacific oceans of Alaska, then it is the knowledge that is taught in schools versus the knowledge needed for industry.

University of Pretoria Associate Professor Anastacia Mamabolo stressed that higher education institutions must perform catalytic, reflective, supportive and knowledge production roles because it is only then that the gap between school and industry can be bridged.

The problem of unemployment can only be solved by the private sector and that is dependent on the education that is given to the youth. The relevance of education cannot be underestimated.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki admonished in 2005 that curricula should have Africa as the focus, a distinct African knowledge system that would cause Africa’s transformation.

The future is Africa, and the world knows this but, sadly, many Africans are still living in oblivion.

This commentary has been written by Dr Clement Agoni, a postdoctoral fellow at the department of pharmaceutical science in Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa. In 2014, he founded Dream Laboratory Consult in Ghana to provide medical screening services to corporate institutions, schools and rural communities. In 2017, he became a member of the Global Shapers Community (GSC), an initiative of the World Economic Forum consisting of young community-focused change drivers. He recently served as curator of its Durban Hub. As curator of the Durban Hub, he championed many community projects, including medical outreach initiatives and mental health awareness drives in Umlazi, beach clean-ups, and a COVID-19 response initiative dubbed ‘ShapersCare’, which provided food hampers to households during the COVID-19 national lockdown. He also recently served on an 11-member international COVID-19 steering committee of the Global Shapers Community tasked to inspire, empower and connect the GSC’s work on COVID-19.