Discussion presented to Crossing Borders Youth Group International on 2nd February 2011 in Nairobi.
Different communities describe who youth is in separate ways. In Kenya, youth is any one who is within the age bracket of 18-35 years. Below 18 is seen as a minor, a school going child and much below simply children. In Africa, second largest and second most populous continent, 30 million sq.km with a population of about 1 billion , few people ever reach the honor of being old. About 60% of the population is below 39 years of age. This makes Africa the continent of the youths, the young people. Why are we concerned so much with the welfare and interests of youths? Because we are concerned with the future of humanity.
As the wise person said:
If you are thinking one year ahead, plant seeds;
If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant trees. But if you are thinking a hundred years ahead, educate the youths, the young.
Thus, if anyone cares for the future of anyone country or community, he or she must pay keen attention to the development, education and health of the youths and train and prepare them for position of responsibility and leadership at the earliest opportunity. Is this the ease in Africa and how does it compare with Europe, Asia and the U.S.A.? In the past, anything gone badly, society attributed it to God. 'Today, outside natural events like the floods in Australia anything going wrong is attributed to leadership
Who then is a leader? In school children fiction, it is easy: a leader is anyone who is six feet, six inches tail, well built with fair heavy hair and steady sharp eyes. This, however quickly proves to be an unreliable criterion. Since leadership is relative, it is in the leader's relationship with his group that we look for the signs of leadership.
Leader is a person and leadership is the exercise of the role of a leader. Role of leadership is critical to all animals, humans included. Leadership is generally defined as the ability to influence a group towards the achievement of set goals-tasks - like coming to Kenya from Denmark and back. The leader's thought is guided by mission (goals achievements), safety and well being of the team or group members and last, personal interest like being famous or ambition for material gain.
Qualities of successful leader
Why is one able to influence a group of people, small or large group? It depends on the source of the influence. It could be brute fear of harm such as robber's gun. It could be need for individual or group survival and need to win and achieve the group's goals. Thus the leader can evolve and for the sake of the task at hand and well being of the group and its unity, the group gives one of them who is best qualified to the position of leadership. Therefore the qualities of successful leader are (1) Competency for the task at hand. (2): ability to listen - people skills (3) personal energy, passion for the responsibilities and character - if we cannot lead ourselves, we cannot lead anyone else - we influence people because people see us as standing on higher ground - "we have been to the mountain before them".
Increased chances of youth becoming leaders at earliest opportunity.
First, youths gaining leadership positions are a functions of family environment, personal drive, social and national environment. These factors can be supportive, encouraging and motivating or inhibitive and down right oppressive to the emergence, of youths development. Examples are in Asia and Africa where the education of the youths; particularly the girl’s are being fought viciously on baseless grounds.
Second is the political and social environment. In the African context in Zimbabwe, Egypt,(note revolution there), Libya, Ethiopia, Uganda, unlike in UK, USA, or even Singapore or India, age and social networks are major qualifications for public or private sector senior offices. Majority of African leaders die in office and expect state funeral! The same is true even in the private sector and universities. It is uncommon in African universities to find below 30 year olds holding professorial positions. These have created "standing water" effects. Social and economic environment: suffocating, bad smell, full of mosquitoes and reptiles. There must be flow of leadership, moderate turn-over in order to tap energy, creativity and passion of our young people. We need the older generation for their wisdom, networks, influence, experience and wealth, but they must help young people grow so that "Africa does not vanish from the face of this earth or become swarm of flourishing corruption and decay.
In order to increase the chances of youths accessing leadership positions in the earliest opportunity anywhere for the purpose of "active citizens, effective states and better changed developed world and overcome limiting barriers on our path, we must observe and practice the following:-
- Personal discipline, care, efficiency - energy: success comes after hard work.
The discipline to have personal goals and achieving them. The discipline to have the best friends, adhere good, healthy lifestyle (not drugs and association with criminals). The discipline to be ambitious, take care of one's parents, God-fearing and work hard. The only place where success comes before work is in the English dictionary.
- Take responsibility for one`s actions
99% of all personal failures come from people who have habits of making excuses; the weather, teachers, parents and governments. If you want to create the life of your dreams, then you are going to have to take 100% responsibility for your life as you live. Parents and communities have done their bit by taking the youths to school, bringing them up and loving them. Therefore we must have positive attitude, work hard, have great dreams and take responsibility for our lives.
- Self –believe entrepreneurial attitude and passionate desire to excel –own DNA – and signature of success.
The world rewards hard work, not an existence. One poet wrote of the man who said to the universe “sir I exist” “however “replied the universe”, “the fact has not created in me any sense of obligation”. There is no sense of obligation for others to help us as the youths. As the Americans say, “we must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” even though we may be barefooted and have no boots.
Believe we can achieve greatness and for sure we will. “If others have made it, why not us?” Our attitude and mind must work for us instead of against us. Strong, passionate desire produces effort multiplication and hard work. One area youths should target is the field of business entrepreneurship. Today, since 1990- fall of Berlin wall, what is happening is entrepreneurship revolution. Youths, people within the age bracket of 20s to 39 are richer than any time in the history of the world. The founder of face book is an example. In Africa, the trend is the same as in china and Russia. The youths living in Europe as those living in Africa and elsewhere must seek knowledge but more than that opportunities for entrepreneurship. It is the real gateway to financial freedom. Opportunities are common in south Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya and for sure in Europe, America and Asia and even in Australia.
We should establish linkage between European and American opportunities and Africa markets. Entrepreneurship helps people to grow out of survival, struggling living to thriving, prosperous living style. Entrepreneurship and great leadership are the basis of national development.
Contribution of youths to national development
What are development and the triangle of development? Development for the purpose of this discussion is “developing the real income potentialities of all areas of the people and country by using investment to effect those changes and to augment those productive resources which promise to raise real income per person- this increase standard of living and people choices on a continuous basis on the grounds of the law of perpetual optimism of mankind- that children will have better lives than their parents.
The Triangle of Development as below
The youths must play their part and contribute to good governance, leadership of their respective societies and entrepreneurship as the diagram above indicates.
Conclusion: Africa’s honored place
The continent of Africa is a continent of the youths where some 60% of the population is below 40. The youths are the future. Therefore, youths must thrive to access leadership and entrepreneurship in order to contribute to their own development and those of their countries and put “poverty in museums” to quote Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh. Youths must have self discipline, take 100% own responsibilities and have strong self believe and overcome contextual barriers.
If we have to uplift our societies, the youths should be on higher ground. We have to appreciate that the African people are not doomed by the laws of nature to be poor and ever marginalized. Finally, Nelson Mandera said in February 2005 to a gathering of youth people,” Sometimes it falls upon generation to be great. You can be that generation.” History admirers the wise but elevates the brave. The youths must display courage, delay self gratification, have healthy, positive lifestyle and contribute to their own prosperities and those of their communities and country. To paraphrase Chinua Achebe, when the Africa’s moons shine (the youths), even the Continent`s cripples would become hungry for walks.
It is only then; Africa can be assured of an honored place in the world stage. Start leadership and self discipline with yourselves at the individual level and the future of our communities will be assured of prosperity.