Two extreme sides of African youth
As part of our special report on African youth, our guest editor Esther Neema gives her personal take on what constitutes the African Dream.
There are two sides shaping the dreams of young Africans. On the one hand, there is the vast potential, enabled through technology, that has provided African youth with access to the global space with its endless opportunities. Young Africans are becoming world-class in various fields and it is inspiring to watch them in environments and ecosystems that allow them to thrive.
On the other hand, there is the other extreme: young people who hope simply to be able to eat and whose optimistic hopes remain hopes, which can sometimes be confused with achievement.
The transformation that is possible in the lives of these future leaders can only be appreciated when one takes in the massive potential, and listens to the dream of an African child who wants to be a professional, an explorer or a genius in their careers.
But the hopes, dreams or even fears of the young African cannot be summed up in one word as they differ as much as water and sand; some are living the best African life possible; others seem to be living the African nightmare in their respective countries. Some even consider their countries the worst place to live. Occasionally, there are exceptions (and it can almost fool you) that suggest it is very easy for a young person to climb up the social ladder – until you meet someone with a Master’s degree sweeping the streets.
However, there are graduates with a promise of a great future, but who realise that their achievements may arrive later in life than they did for their predecessors, but who at least have a job to wake up to.
Whilst in the recent past, a 30-year- old was fit enough to be a politician, advocating for rights, a modern-day 30-year-old is still a youth recommended for more training programmes, assumed to be ill-equipped for the bigger world.
The dreams of their father and even perhaps their own are met in a crushing crossroads of never really knowing whether they are grown up or still ‘children’, as they perhaps have had to stay at home still, because what they earn is barely enough to get them a decent space to live.
When you speak of dreams, let alone the African dream, what does that really mean for the young person? A little over 50 years ago, young dreamers were in the battlefield, fighting tooth and nail and even facing death itself, seeking freedom.
Today, they are mere paupers, watching as the current breed of leaders face different forms of colonisation through debt, mismanagement of funds, and the failure by many politicians to carry out their own vision for their own localities, let alone Africa.
Leading again to the question: what do dreams really mean for the young African? Back in history, young people had to be forced out of Africa as slaves; today, young people are willingly running away to different forms of slavery, keen to do anything, anywhere.
Entrepreneurship is harder than it seems; do the youth even stand a chance, competing for the same opportunities against older people hiding behind ‘youth-led companies’? It is no wonder the term ‘youth’ may keep on being pushed into the 40s. At 40, a good number of people are still trying to negotiate their future.
Something breaks in a person when he has to sit each day and realises he cannot even afford to dream. The current times have so disadvantaged the youth that they can only wait for an unpredictable future.
Young people speak of leaders as if the issue is something unconnected with them. But how can they see it in any other way, when in reality, they are seen as a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Consequently, this has led to sudden youth uprisings and potential unrest in societies.
For a young person, desiring to use their hands should not be an uphill task in any country. But, as one person put it in an article: “Getting people to employ us – it’s like a dream that you will probably die without achieving.”
But as the waters are troubled, enterprising youth is rising from coast to coast, and will hopefully save the day, hoping to solve their own challenges.
Young Africans are optimistic through their innovations and hope to create a world better than they found it. They hope, too, that the desire of an African child to conquer the world will not be watered down by disappointment along the way.
Read more from our special report African Youth Speaks.