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Give youth decision- making powers

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Give youth decision- making powers

For Africa to realise its full potential, it must harness the creativity, energy and optimism of its youth. But Africa’s youth is conspicuously absent at the decision-making level. Christabel Ligami reports from Nairobi, where the African Leadership Institute held a workshop to help give youth a seat at the decision-making table.

Youth initiatives across Africa have become dime-a-dozen, but target essential areas. Many are geared to equipping the next generation of leaders with the skills to be able to deal with issues like rapid population growth, urbanisation and the advent of a fourth industrial revolution. Not least, the next generation of leaders will need to be able to tackle head on the issues around Africa’s ‘youth bulge’ – the need to provide its growing youth population with jobs and prospects.

However, a new report focused on young African leaders says that despite the best intentions of such leadership initiatives, youth on the continent remain conspicuous by their absence at various decision-making platforms at national, regional and continental levels.

Titled, An Abundance of Young African Leaders but No Seat at the Table, the report points out a commonly held belief that Africa lacks leaders; but states that is not the case as young leaders do exist, in abundance – they are merely invisible at the table, in the spaces and at the levels that matter. 

“One negative impact is the looming vacuum on the continent that will manifest in institutions due to the lack of deliberate succession planning and a lack of knowledge transfer from one generation to another,” notes the report.

Launched in late August in Nairobi, Kenya by Strathmore University Business School (SBS), in partnership with the African Leadership Institute (AFLI), the report identifies a total of 105 leadership initiatives focusing on young African leaders (aged 18-40 years old). Some of the categories include: Leadership development and mentoring programmes, and leadership networking and impact platforms. It is not for a lack of initiatives as such that Africa lacks youth leaders at levels that matter.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Dr Jacqueline Chimhanzi, CEO, African Leadership Institute/ Archbishop Tutu Fellowship, called for a completely new approach to decision making, which is still dominated by people much older than the median age of African populations.

“Whilst new African leaders are being developed, they are nowhere near operating at the centre and with the critical mass required for Africa to realise sustained change,” Dr Chimhanzi said. “Indeed, they want to be a part of the processes of co-creating the Africa that we all want to see but, for that to happen, the absorptive capacity of extant systems needs to be enlarged to allow them a seat at the table.”

The report highlights the absence of youth across various decision-making platforms despite the African Youth Charter which was signed in 2006, enshrining the rights, duties and freedoms of African youth.

“Given the complexities and challenges the continent faces, there is a need to harness ideas from across the population divide – men, women and youth – to take Africa forward,” says the report.

“There are far-reaching and deleterious consequences of not absorbing young leaders into current structures,” it adds.

Integrating young leaders

The report includes in-depth research on the initiatives available to potential young leaders, offering many useful lessons.

It suggests existing initiatives’ value could be maximised by further development in a number of directions. Commenting on the lack of join-up between the initiators of the programmes, the report identifies a lack of a holistic view of what the initiatives are and how they fit into the broader ecosystem. Assessing, mapping and classifying such initiatives, it provides a basis for the dismantling of silos and encouraging collaboration between the providers of such programmes. To date, it argues, fragmentation has prevented best practices being adequately shared and spread. 

The report estimates that some 700,000 young Africans have been exposed to some form of leadership initiative. To be accepted on these competitive programmes, they had to have demonstrated leadership in the first instance. If many such schemes offer good value in their development of youth talent, then, on the other side of the equation, the report explores in detail whether young leaders are being called upon to help co-create solutions to Africa’s most pressing challenges. Here, it suggests, far more needs to be done.

“The biggest challenge in Africa has been to change Africa’s youth mindset – from being dependent to being independent, from seeking for jobs to creating jobs,” says Prof. Babatunde Thomas, Founding Chair, Adebisi Babatunde Thomas Entrepreneurship Institute (ABTEI). However, he notes, “Policy and decision makers should also have a shift in mindset. We need to avoid seeing our future leaders as a group vulnerable to violence, or as liabilities, but as a resourceful asset.”

The report states that the youth have a fundamental right to determine how power and resources are used in their societies. By not including them in decision-making processes, either in the public or private sector, countries lose a crucial resource base.

“Young people can contribute a great deal through their perspectives and experiences; no governance structure can be truly successful without them. The case for incorporating young leaders is a compelling and self-evident one,” it notes. However, in terms of institutional efforts towards engaging the youth, the report emphasises: “Whilst inclusion and diversity policies have largely focused on gender, there have not been similar concerted efforts focused on the youth/age.”

New kind of responsiveness

The report recommends that the particular nature of the challenges that Africa faces requires a ‘new kind’ of responsiveness. The demand for new ideas and for innovation has seldom been greater.

The report states: “Solutions are necessarily created at the nexus of experience and innovation/new thinking and will necessarily be enabled by intergenerational engagements. Young leaders do not just want to be ‘inheritors’ or ‘beneficiaries’ of conducive conditions in which they can shine, but they also want to be – must be – invited to actively be a part of the processes of creating those conditions.

“Young leaders need to start gaining experience now if they are the inheritors of existing systems. In the absence of such succession planning, a yawning void is pending, inevitable and dangerous.  In their various spheres, young leaders have proven to be capable, but want a bigger role to play in terms of national, regional and continental agendas.”

Therefore there is a need to think creatively about how the technical expertise of young leaders, whether they are in the public sector or are entrepreneurs, can be better leveraged. Doubtless, Africa requires the creativity, innovation and full participation of the youth at all levels. The young people want their fresh ideas, creativity, talent, energies, optimism, enthusiasm and all their positive attributes to be used in driving change and progress in Africa. Africa cannot claim to make progress when the bulk of the population, the young, are not included at the decision-making table. NA

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