Africa is on a two-speed track – the youth are moving as fast as their compatriots elsewhere in the world, while states seem to be still stuck in yesterday. How can we square this circle? By Winnie Odinga
Jackie angrily hangs up and tosses her Iphone X on her bed. She, like many young people, has become an expert map reader and just by glancing at her screen, she can locate her Uber driver but he never seems to quite get to her.
Granted, it’s not always the driver’s fault; the lack of adequate road signage and clarity creates a lot of confusion. Telling the Uber driver to stop at the black gate under the Jacaranda tree is a much more efficient way of giving directions in Africa than giving a street name and number.
If you hang around millennials in urban centres around the continent, you will hear a lot of other similar complaints. The technological vortex if you will: a relatively well-travelled, exposed, and educated generation, moving too ‘fast’ for the continent. Two different worlds occupying the same space and time.
Millennials have all the latest technology, stream international TV series and movies on their laptops and tablets, begin businesses from their Instagram accounts, find entertainment in celebrity gossip and shop online from their phones. In other words, they are “clocked in and loaded”.
The educated young African is struggling to function on a continent that is being held back by its past. A somewhat cultural distaste for technology, a poor infrastructure and the lacklustre inclusion of technology in education are leading factors in the lag.
The exchange with the Uber driver, the power company or the internet service provider about the unacceptable quality of their service delivery makes for an all-too-often-heard cry of frustration around the continent.
Customers wait interminably during a call to a customer service representative only to be met with the answer that “service is down and we don’t know when it will return.” Translation, “Your guess is as good as mine.”
Still in the Stone Age?
The situation around the world reminds me of a car race. While African youth are struggling, working their feet to the bone in a Fred Flintstone-era vehicle, our counterparts around the world are cruising in an air-conditioned Tesla. (Fred Flintstone is an American cartoon character living in the Stone Age.)
This begs the question: if African governments are still so far behind in basic service delivery in areas such as health, access to water and education, at what point will they seriously look at the aspirations of African youth?
All African government and political figures scream themselves hoarse about focusing on the youth but ‘the how’ is another question altogether. The bigger question however is whether or not their intentions are aligned with the youth of 2018?
The government’s youth agenda is laden with the same old rhetoric: jobs, education, access to funds and above all, industrialisation. But in reality, when a government says it’s going to focus on manufacturing, it is like Fred Flintstone saying he wants to change his car’s stone wheels from granite to cement.
Don’t get me wrong; large industry can employ thousands, yes, but are African youths still aspiring to factory jobs? Africans are learning skills online and making their own jobs. Julius Yego, for example, broke a world record at the Olympics and won Gold for Kenya not for long distance running, but by throwing the javelin, a sport he learned via YouTube.
All around the continent, young Africans are turning to online commerce to pull themselves out of poverty. Fashion designers and bloggers, web developers, app creators, athletes, DJs and graphic designers are all making changes with full access to the world in the palm of their hands.
Aspirations have changed and governments must adjust too. They should now look at providing access to the internet as being as important as providing electricity. They should invest in e-libraries and e-centres that young Africans can walk down the street to from their homes, to surf, see, learn, absorb and innovate.
Reinventing the Asian wheel of large-scale industry shouldn’t be a priority, Africa should leap past manufacturing and find its place in the world as the technological services leader. NA