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Rekindling the hopes of Africa’s youth

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Rekindling the hopes of Africa’s youth

Four young female African students linking arms and laughing.

Surveys indicate that African youth have lost faith in the current status quo and are looking for a future elsewhere. How can this be reversed? asks Onyekachi Wambu

A recent World Bank report on Nigeria has revealed some shocking data: apparently 50% of the country’s youth want to leave the country. Think about that: half of the youth of the country have lost faith in the future of their country. Hope has died.

More deeply, it also means that this number clearly have no confidence in the ability of their mothers and fathers to solve the huge challenges they face.

This is especially in charting a way forward (as the Chinese have achieved over the last 70 years) that will deliver urgently needed modernisation and development.

For the Nigerian young, the future lies elsewhere amongst the formidable emerging global blocs, to where they are now escaping for jobs and other economic opportunities and freedoms. 

The statistics from Nigeria are not unique and would surely be reflected in many other African countries. They are deeply disturbing, demanding our focused, unrelenting attention, especially given the demographic timebomb we are sitting on – with Africa projected to represent at least 40% of the world’s population by the end of this century.

A root and branch review is needed on why the post-war attempts at modernisation in Africa have not been as effective as in Asia. Has it been about the quality of leadership? Has it been about a poor governance culture, which minimises the importance of social goods but valorises personal enrichment and corruption?

Both of these factors are important in understanding the roots of the intergenerational crisis facing us, which at the core also represents a hammer blow for the concept of African solutions for African problems. However, equally important is the culture of how we manage differences and resolve conflicts. Why might this be as important?

Well, it is not entirely fair to say that the modernisation process has been an unmitigated disaster. There have been periods of important growth and development, when optimism reigned and the young believed in the future.

We have just lived through one such moment – the period of Africa Rising.  Impressive infrastructure was laid down. Countries like Ethiopia and Nigeria were beginning to imagine
middle-income status.

Then over the last five years, especially in these two countries, these once-in-a-lifetime gains brought about by Chinese investment and a benign geopolitical environment, have been radically reversed.

Nigeria and Ethiopia are now convulsed by tensions and uprisings – triggered by arguments about domination, marginalisation, and equal rights, alongside the inability of those in power to find peaceful ways of managing these demands.

For the young in Nigeria, a case in point is the brutal state violence that replaced the attempts at negotiation in the anti-Sars protests. Optimism in the future is bound to collapse if the young cannot see a way of putting their concerns on the table. When looking at the successes elsewhere in the world on new social media platforms, they are finally tired of their elders’ ways of doing things and their repetition of failed approaches.

Culture of managing difference

How might we encourage an intergenerational conversation around building a culture that examines multiple perspectives, as well as manages and resolves conflict?

Others, like the EU and the UK, have peacefully managed the same issues of resource management, diversity management, how much power to concentrate in the centre and how much to devolve, that are tearing Ethiopia and Nigeria apart.

The culture of conflict resolution is one that we should pay particular attention to in terms of how we modernise our way of doing things. No matter how many campaigns that the African Union runs about Silencing the Guns, the guns, largely carried by youth, become ‘talkative’ because resolution mechanisms are found wanting.

The young also become ‘walkative’, moving beyond their country when they feel they have no input in shaping their future, are not convinced about the effectiveness of those in power, and believe those in power would rather indulge in zero sum outcomes with them rather than win-win ones.

The intergenerational conversation would also need to deal boldly and critically with the other factors – leadership, governance, corruption, incompetence, etc, that are holding back development, within this culture of managing difference. 

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Written by Onyekachi Wambu

Onyekachi was educated at the University of Essex and completed his M.Phil in International Relations at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He worked extensively as a journalist and television documentary. He edited The Voice Newspaper at the end of the 1980s and has made documentaries and programmes for the BBC, Channel 4 and PBS.

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