Eunice Mwaura

22 april 2021


On the second part of our interview with Prof. PLO Lumumba, he gets to talk to us about how best we can cash in on Africa’s young demographic as a dividend and how she can realize transformative leadership. He also has a message for the youth on how they can overcome the cultural barriers and tells us if he feels if there is still hope for Africa’s young demographic.

The youth have on many occasions been referred to as the custodians of the future and the leaders of tomorrow. However, not many young people in this generation fully apprehend the weight of the challenge they’ve been charged with. What’s the role of the youth as far as the pan-African movement is concerned? According to PLO Lumumba, the youth bulge can be a source of great prosperity or great insecurity.

Africa as we all know has the youngest population, but a staggering majority of this population are unemployed. She has the responsibility to seize the unique opportunity of having a growing young population. They are her biggest asset to tackle the many challenges ahead. This has raised concerns on the erratic nature of such a high economically disenfranchised population that is more often perceived as threatening. How can this young population be deployed to serve as dividend and not a danger as is feared? In order for prosperity to be realized, Lumumba believes the young African population must be taken care of and creatively deployed through clear education, a freedom to explore the labor market throughout the African continent and a self-starting sense amongst the youth.

How can we cash in on the demographic dividend?

“The only way in which we can create opportunities for young people in Africa is for them to have an opportunity to move across the continent and to deploy their knowledge continentally. I was speaking in South Africa several months ago and I told them not to allow this thing called xenophobia to define how they relate to fellow Africans. As long as they are the economic magnet we will go there. And it is in their best interest to make their country open, they need labor. The pan-African agenda is what is going to deal with the issue of unemployment.”

“If we don’t take care of it, it can be a source of insecurity but if we do it can be a source of great prosperity. That is why one of the things that must be deliberately done at very early levels is policy clarity. At the level of education how are we dealing with these young men and women and what kind of information are we offering them? Are we giving them enough skills to be important to the market? The principle challenge with our education system and it is transverse in many African countries is that we are stuck in the kind of education that gives them a paper qualification and prepares them for employment. I don’t think that is the future. The future is about innovation.”

“The beauty of Africa is that in almost every sector there are opportunities. We have a deficit of fish and we are importing fish from China. Supposed you deploy your young people in aquaculture, suppose we stopped importing agricultural goods. You go to Israel they’ve got technology in dry land agriculture. We are importing juice and paste from Israel to make juices in this country. Nigeria is one of the leading champagne drinkers in the world. Nigerians dress very well but most of their clothes are made in the Netherlands, in Belgium. Supposed we revived agriculture, textile and technology?”

“That tells you that you can make youth in a positive way by involving them in the economic arena and I was very happy to listen to Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the head of the African Development Bank saying that agriculture is going to liberate our young people and put them on the pedestal of economic activities. When you do that then they are a dividend but if you don’t then there are people operating on the continent of Africa who do not want Africa to be stable. So in short, the young African population must be taken care of. They must be creatively   deployed through clear education policies which are going to inform the economies because if we don’t, what we think is a dividend can actually be a grave danger and it is urgent business. If we don’t do it now, 10 years from now what I see happening in Bangui in C.A.R and in Chad we will have spread to other countries.”

How can Africa realize transformative leadership by the youth?

“The history of the world and history of all civilization is the history of learning from the mistake you make. The countries that we now talk about as being successful if you look at their history they are trouble history. I thought that post-colonial Africa should not take as much time as the others took because we have had the advantage of seeing the mistakes we made and we can now very quickly move in a different direction. And leadership is at the very heart of it and how you discipline people. There are a number of people and civilizations that I can talk about that we are familiar with. Japanese don’t make much noise, but are disciplined. South Korea, and that tells you about that leadership. In the same territory we have north we have south, one is prosperous one is not, the same people.”

“In Africa we have Rwanda, discipline. Tanzania you see discipline, Botswana discipline. Discipline is at the very heart of it. And when younger people are very impressionable, when they see a leadership that is in the right direction they will move to that right direction. So my view is that we must deal with the mind. Young people must read and you are in a good space because this is the era of knowledge at the time where it’s not much of a burden, you can get information. Young people must always remember that being youth is not a permanent state. It’s a stage in your life. So this is the time we must have the zeal of the missionary and the conviction of the crusader and it is the young people who change societies. If you look at the history of any society, in Europe in the 1960s, during a time when France was changing it was young French people. The civil rights movement in 1963, people like Luther King, all young Americans, Soweto in South Africa, all people in their twenties. And it’s not about tokenism, it’s about having a clear agenda.”

“Go to Rwanda and you see the average age of people in positions of responsibility. They are being given responsibility and there are older people watching them and you can see. Today I can go to Rwanda and get a company registered in two hours which means if I want to do business I go there because of the turnover. When I want to move it from Rwanda I can move it and that is a political decision that has been made and is being implemented.”

Is there still hope for the youth?

“Of course there is hope. The youth just have to follow the right directions and make demands. When they make demands and they make them consistently, then the political class will have no choice but to listen and implement.”

How do the youth overcome the cultural barriers?

“Quite a number of societies believe young people are to be seen and not heard, and you find a lot of that in western Africa and in the old chiefdoms. It’s not just the youth but women, but I think that is changing. People are now beginning to realize that knowledge especially if deployed carefully can be respected. There are cultural barriers and it’s not going to be easy to change but I think it’s beginning to change .That change can also be brought about by the young people themselves. If they conduct themselves responsibly then there is sense in which they will get their pride of place and they will be listened to. But in many places where young people have had opportunities to serve they have not given credit to themselves and have disappointed. I think the old men are now capable of saying we told you they would never achieve anything. We see even the young politicians in Kenya they will say we told you. You see how they are behaving.”

As the youth of Africa, it is clear that we still have a long way to go in achieving and embracing the true essence of pan-Africanism as was envisioned. Still, we also deserve credit for we have done better at connecting with each other continentally than the previous generation ever had. As an afro-optimist, I strongly believe that we are on the right course and even if we don’t achieve it now, we have to make sure the next generation has a much easier task than we had.  Like Prof. Lumumba said, we have to start thinking inter generationally, not in 5 year cycles. Make your contribution now and let the others make their own contribution. It takes a droplet to make an ocean and it takes one tree to make a forest. Be a good droplet. Be a good tree.

Pictures: Jimmy Nicks



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