ABUJA, Nigeria – Young Africans need to step forward, engage with the politics of the continent and help to create the future they want, said Ashish J. Thakkar, Founder and Managing Director, Mara Group, United Arab Emirates.
Speaking at a World Economic Forum on Africa televised discussion on youth and employment, Thakkar said: “It is our time now. We need to do it for ourselves. Criticising from the outside is the easiest thing to do, and we young people can do more to influence policy that affects our businesses and our lives.”
However, the youth of the continent must be careful not to become like the leaders they criticize and with whom they are dissatisfied, warned Zamantungwa Khumalo, Co-Founder, Africa Unleashed, South Africa.
“The previous generation of leaders learnt from their colonial masters, and we must not just become what we know as well. If we do, Africa will not rise to its full potential,” said Khumalo.
Kola Karim, Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Shoreline Energy International, Nigeria, said young people make up at least 44% of Africa’s population and therefore “have the numbers” to change the direction of the continent. “There are more of us than them. We can take power and create a better future for ourselves,” he said.
Karim added that young citizens should take their civic responsibilities seriously. They do not have to become actively involved in politics, but should influence policy through their votes and advocacy. He said Africa’s economic growth in recent years is an indication that the new generation is already making a difference.
In a similar way to the women’s movement in Africa, which has given a voice to women and forced itself onto the agenda, the young can strive to make politicians take youth interests into account in all decision-making, said Bineta Diop, Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security, African Union, and President, Femmes Africa Solidarité, Switzerland, a Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa
“We need movements that spurn conflict and corruption,” she said. “Women encountered many obstacles, but we fought for ourselves and managed to get decision-makers to listen to us. Youth can do the same.”Young people are already helping to shape the future, but they can do a lot more, commented Esi Cleland, Chief Executive Officer, AfroChic, Ghana. “We need to dream really big, because the challenges facing Africa are really big,” she said. “It’s hard to dream big at first, and we tend to take small steps first. But eventually we realize that there are no limits to what we can achieve as people.”
On education, Thakkar, who dropped out of school at the age of 15 to start his first business to support his family, said the way formal schooling is currently structured is inefficient. “I believe mentorship is more important than learning theory. It is practical and deals with the realities of today.
Khumalo said education is important in teaching people how to think critically, but it is perhaps to be used in the right way in Africa. She added that the value of learning has been demonstrated by the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in northern Nigeria. “It has shown the power of educated young women. If you want to disrupt or cripple a system you target young women,” said Khumalo.
Diop said education systems can play a valuable role in peace and security on the continent by teaching conflict resolution and dialogue skills.
The 24th World Economic Forum on Africa will be held in Abuja, Nigeria, on 7-9 May 2014. The theme of the meeting is Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs.
The Co-Chairs of the meeting are Dominic Barton, Managing Director, McKinsey & Company, United Kingdom; Jean-François van Boxmeer, Chairman of the Executive Board and Chief Executive Officer, Heineken, Netherlands; Aliko Dangote, President and Chief Executive Officer, Dangote Group, Nigeria; Bineta Diop, President, Femmes Africa Solidarité, Switzerland; Jabu A. Mabuza, Chairman, Telkom Group, South Africa; Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman, Bharti Enterprises, India; John Rice, Vice-Chairman, GE, Hong Kong SAR