The future of Africa is in the hands of its young people, who are not sitting back and waiting for others to solve their problems. Rather, with passion, hard work and technology, the continent’s youth are finding African solutions to African problems.
Discussing Africa’s hopeful future at the recent Rotary Africa Centennial event, a panel of young change makers on the continent unpacked the challenges and opportunities that exist for Africa’s youth, including the importance of education and technology, and how young Africans could work together to change the history and reputation of the continent.
For Sihle Ngesi-Magubane, Jakes Gerwell Foundation Chief of Staff, there are three distinct opportunities for Africa, or 3Es as he likes to call them, based on it being the youngest continent.
These include education, entrepreneurship and employability.
“How do we reimagine and rethink how education happens? How do we harness some of the ancient wisdom across our continent? How do we foster connections amongst and between Africans? How do we then harness that to create entrepreneurship beacons, like Mpesa?”
Ngesi-Magubane talks about context and harnessing this to achieve transformative impacts. “No one ever thought of USSD technology as being such a transformative thing, but it is, because of the context and the needs. So how do we actually start reimagining some of that and harnessing exactly that instead of rushing for what we may think is the latest trend?”
The opportunity of technology for Africa is particularly important because of its youthful population, says Lual Mayen, CEO Junub Games, who grew up in a refugee camp in Uganda and only saw his first computer in 2007.
His view is that technology consumption in Africa exceeds other parts of the world, but a great deal more awareness and education is needed about technology, like AI and VR, and how to use it on the continent to “solve problems that are issues that are actually arising in Africa”.
But beyond the opportunities posed by technology for Africa, he says, is the human talent that exists in all of us, no matter how dire the situation, which he witnessed first-hand in the refugee camp.
Recognising the challenges that youth face across Africa, Mayen said while living in the refugee camp, he imagined how he could improve his life and thought about his passions and how he could do what he loved, even if he didn’t have the resources. “I think a lot of young people in Africa think about that,” he says.
For Mayen, young people have a responsibility to change the perceptions of themselves and of Africa by pursuing their passions and putting in the hard work. “We can become amazing top entrepreneurs and create the change we want by doing what we are passionate about. Without putting in the work, we cannot achieve this and lead the world.”
Like Mayen, Benson Wereje, a Youth Activist for Peace in the DRC, also grew up in a refugee camp and dreamed of a better future. The reality, however, was that life in the camps was “a mess”.
Despite their challenges, however, the refugees had the will to solve their problems themselves. “That is the hope I still see for Africa. We came together. We did not know even about donations or support; we only knew our problems. And we knew that using our hands, raising funds and getting one, two, three, or 10 young people to school, we could change the situation.”
Today, some 2,000 refugee children are attending primary school, and further 1,000 young people are attending secondary school.
Wereje is quick to point out that while education is important, it should not be imported from elsewhere in the world. Rather, it should take into account and try to address the problems that exist in Africa so that the youth on the continent are empowered to realise their potential.
“We need an education that responds to unemployment, technology, inequality and corruption. And, education that prepares the youth; gives them the resources so that they can work together to shape the continent. That’s going to be the hope for Africa.”
Wereje adds: “We need leaders who are going to say no to tribalism. Leaders who are going to say no to corruption. Leaders who are going to work for a sustainable and competitive Africa.”
Embrace complexity to achieve simplicity – this is a lesson that Ngesi-Magubane shares with the young leaders of Africa as a guiding light for moving forward from now as a continent.
“We must embrace the complexity of our past, our present and our future, and not be denialist about what the implications of those are. We must also push for each and every individual’s rights to self-actualise, to become who they are and to have the kind of impact they want to have in their world and on their communities. And then by extension, the continent.”
Wereje concludes by saying he has great hope that Africa is rising. He can’t wait to see a strong Africa where young people are working together with people from across the continent for a prosperous Africa.
“We know that we have the resources. We know that by sticking to our vision and our passions and working together as Africans, leveraging what we have and those who are ready to support us, we shall be able to transform Africa. That is the Africa I work for every day.”