I recently got an invitation to a youth event dubbed Launch of the African Youth Initiatives Report, An Abundance of Young African Leaders but no Seat at the Table from a reputable learning institution. As a strong advocate for youth and ardent speaker on why the country should invest more on youth, I was naturally excited about what would be an exciting discourse
As I read through the invitation, my smile quickly turned into a frown and by the time I was done I was fuming. The speakers and panelists, even the moderator of this pertinent discussion on youth- left out the youth! Where was the representation?
The organizers couldn’t even get a well-spoken student from their institution to moderate the discussion. Everybody acknowledges that there is a challenge in youth being given opportunities yet all we want to do is talk about it and not act on it.
Instead of implementing plans and having equal representation of the youth- we are busy perpetuating the faults of our society.
Old ‘young’ at heart folk feigning to represent what the youth are and are not dominate the space that youth should occupy. The youth are being passed over for opportunities because they are considered either “too young” or “too inexperienced” to hold certain positions.
The youth are being told that they either lack ambition or are overly ambitious. Where is justice? Naysayers are often quoted saying that the youth are incompetent…yet the country is abundant with young talent ready to be utilized. The Public Service Commission
(PSC), in a report to Parliament earlier this year said the percentage of civil servants above the age of 50 increased from 35 per cent in the year to June 2016, to 37 per cent last year.
Essentially translating to 66,000 civil servants retiring before 2027 amid fears that the State will be forced to retain some workers beyond the retirement age of 60 due to a skills shortage.
Ironically, skilled youth continue to stay jobless. Are we blind or do we intentionally ignore the problem glaring us in the eye? 31-year-old Bogolo Joy Kenewendo is Botswana’s Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry.
To me, she has been the highlight and inspiration not just to women but the youth in Africa today. To me, she is the evidence that the Youth can.
She is being celebrated all over social media for being one of the youngest minister’s in Botswana’s Parliament, and quite possibly in any African government.
Youthful leadership within the country and continent at large has been somewhat a mirage. In her maiden speech in South Africa’s parliament on the failure of government to improve the life of the young, 24-year-old DA MP, Hlomela Bucwa said “I am moved to share the words of W. Yeats,- But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
These are the words echoed by my fellow young South Africans, these are the words of a generation whose dreams have been denied, whose hope has been diminished, whose trust has been broken, whose talents have been crippled, these are the words of a lost generation.”
But these are not only the pains of young South Africans, young Africans in the continent share the same pain. In fact, by 2050 it is anticipated that Africa will be home to a billion-young people.
With so many of the world’s youth concentrated in Africa, countries have the advantage of large working-age populations and should be looking to capitalize on a “demographic dividend”- but are not.
A survey by Well Told Story reports that young people are increasingly feeling excluded from society, they are frustrated by the lack of jobs, and are angry at governance structures that do not seem to work for them. The narrative that young people would create their own jobs holds no water to a generation you have told one too many times to “study hard and get a good job.”
It is about time that both the public and private sectors rethink their strategies and inclusion of young people in the senior management and their boards too. In the words of Jack Ma, “Trust the young people; trust this generation’s innovation. They’re making things, changing innovation every day.”
Elizabeth (Lizz) Ntonjira, an alumna of the Master of Public Policy and Management programme