Africa is blessed with the world’s youngest population. By 2055 this group — individuals aged between 15 and 24 — is expected to be more than double the 2015 total of 226-million. That’s a lot of potential, but sadly, we’re not doing enough to stimulate it. I find it baffling that we have entrusted our future to an older generation who won’t be able to enjoy it. The average age of the 10 oldest African leaders is close to 80, with many presidents more than 50 years above the median age of their citizens. This regressive pattern — this acceptance of aging political leadership who cling to power for decades — has to change. We deserve better. We need to empower the bold, not the old.
As such, we can’t talk about our socioeconomic and political future without young leaders having a prominent and permanent seat at the decision-making table. These are the very people who deserve to inherit a world crafted by their own contributions, efforts, ideas, innovations, and visions; not one concocted by archaic autocrats stuck in a mindset confined by yesterday’s liberation politics.
Let’s be encouraging and audacious — and find new ways to give our humanity a fighting chance
But tomorrow’s leaders will never achieve the step change our continent so desperately needs, or the advances we are so capable of, if they feel compelled to walk a mundane, worn-out path or seek solutions within the restrictive paradigm of a damaged status quo. To break these patterns and ignite meaningful, sustainable, structural change, we need a commitment to far greater courage. We want to hear rallying cries, not populist tweets. We need incisive thinking, not copy/paste arguments. We should be applauding the barrier breakers, not the fence sitters.
The opportunity to nurture and shape a new continent is immense. Seventy-seven percent of sub-Saharan Africa is younger than 35. That’s about 770-million voices who could harness the power of self-publishing to focus more on collective growth and progress, and less on self gain and personal indulgence.
We’ve just witnessed a young Nelson Chamisa challenge an entrenched system in Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia elect 41-year-old Abiy Ahmed Ali as its prime minister. Recently, former US president Barack Obama, speaking at the 16th annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg, urged young people to “keep believing, keep marching, keep building, keep raising your voice”, before stating that every generation has the opportunity to remake the world.
At this year’s Resnick Aspen Action Forum — where innovative leaders from around the globe converge to learn, share, and collaborate — the theme was “fearless leadership”. The conversations were robust and challenging. The outcome? Risk it, don’t settle for compromises, and take action. And that, as uncomfortable as it may seem, is the mantra on which our future needs to be built. We’ve tried and failed to address old problems the old way. We’re all in awe of youth’s infectious energy and end up lamenting how this fades with time. So let’s be encouraging and audacious — and find new ways to give our humanity a fighting chance.
- Mandla Sibeko is an entrepreneur and director of the FNB Joburg Art Fair.
- From the October edition of Wanted magazine.