On 29th November 2018, the African Youth Development (AYD) Summit opened at the Pan African Parliament in Midrand, South Africa under the theme: Transforming Challenges into Economic Opportunities. The summit co-hosted by JCI and the Africa80 in partnership with the African Peer Review Mechanism as well as the Pan African Parliament, took place until 1st December 2018. This is the first of this type of summit to be recognized by the Pan African Parliament. The AYD Summit is attended by brilliant, bright young minds from across the African continent. I had the honour of moderating the second session of day one of the summit which was themed Collaboration for Economic Growth. Essentially it intended to look at how collaboration across all sectors of society can empower young people to transform the economy and what actionable solutions could be applied.
The session had a panel of three. The first was Nigerian born Mr Omieza Darlington Steve who is the Founder and Chairman of Darlington Steve Foundation as well as the CEO of Dexterity Radio. The second panellist was Ms Itumeleng Dlamini who is the advisor to the CEO of the African Peer Review Mechanism and the third panellist was Mr Nkululeko Ngubane who is the Managing Director of ‘Ideas are Dynamic’ and an Ambassador of #SaveTheWater.
I started the conversation by bringing the topic closer to home for myself as an aspiring specialist in education by acknowledging how the collaboration of various entities to strengthen the education sector could be to the benefit of the education sector as a tool for advancing economic growth across the continent. I problematised the streamlining of subject choice in high schools as it creates a narrow minded learner-come-matriculant who assumes that because they did all the commerce subjects in high school their destiny is to study Accounting and become an accountant. I posed that the amalgamation of various disciplines - as seen in how the Engineering qualification at Wits University includes psychology and philosophy at some point of the four year degree - is more beneficial to a young person today. I am of the view that the amalgamation of disciplines results in young people who see the role of their core discipline beyond its core existence. So for example, an engineering graduate can see the business potential in engineering and also the tool that engineering is in driving social justice in our communities. I further proposed that it is essential that various departments of the state collaborate with the Department of Education in making the system more fruitful in order to produce young people who can play an effective role in dynamically growing Africa’s economy. For example, a Department of Energy finding temporary solar energy facilities to address the issue of electricity in schools based in rural areas.
As we went into the opening remarks Ms Itulemeng Dlamini agreed that education is important in growing economies through entrepreneurship and to sustain economies through good governance. But key to her message was that young people ought to be part of policy-making spaces not only on a national level but even more critically on a local government level. She problematised the relationship between the old guard that leads political parties and thus forms part of the leadership of state governance. For me, she was essentially saying young people need to be aggressive about their intent to lead and occupy all spheres of society. She also problematised the disconnect between existing policies and problems in their implementation; often the issue is not about creating new policies or reforming policies but actually implementing them.
Mr Nkululeko Ngubane also began by acknowledging the importance of education and the space of basic education as a space where one can instil values in minds that are still malleable, such as that of a child. He also emphasised the importance of the state genuinely working in collaboration with civil society yet allowing civil society to be at the lead of various projects. And lastly, he proposed that young people find like-minded people and entities to collaborate with on their projects.
Mr Omieza Steve stated that young people ought to be aggressive about what they are trying to do in their various spheres. He stated that many a time individuals, sponsors, potential partners, funders and other entities will tell you that you can’t do something and that what you are attempting to do is impossible. In response to this he advised that when that does happen you ought to see it as a moment of self-correction, a moment of learning and simply another chance to try harder, try better and try differently. As a harsh reminder to our shortcomings as Africans he reiterated the barriers that our different nationalities are in the effort to collaborate in transforming our economies for economic growth. He strongly advised that as young Africans we challenge the policies of our countries and that we take advantage of how the policies are at times to our benefit as nationals of the countries we belong to.
It was clear that the house was provoked by the opening remarks of the panel as hands shot up to engage. A number of critical issues were raised amongst which was how capital, through the ambitions of the prospective funder, can deter or compromise your vision, as you are forced to accommodate the funder’s vision. The second issue that was raised supported Mr Omeiza Steve’s views on how we African’s are our own hindrance at times. This issue in essence problematised how institutionalized Afrophobia is a hindrance to collaboration within the continent, speaking to how until we address the micro-aggression we display towards one another, there is no way we will be able to partake in any fruitful, equal and genuine collaborations. Furthermore, if this matter is not addressed at early childhood it will grow with each generation and it will remain ‘not yet uhuru’ for Africa. The third issue that was raised was how language can be a barrier and that perhaps at the same time that we speak about teaching Mandarin in our schools, we should be teaching Swahili or other broadly-spoken African languages in order to advance collaboration towards economic growth. These are but a few issues that were raised.
In closing, the take home from this session on how collaboration across all sectors of society can empower young people to transform the economy, was that we need to first and foremost continuously and very intentionally work on the perceptions that we have of each other as Africans. This ought to be done together, constructively calling each other out and providing sustainable solutions. We need to build relations between Africans from early childhood in order to drive out these stereotypes. Then we work on a solid foundation of education that has various stakeholders collaborating to produce young Africans who are to drive the agenda for economic growth on the continent. These young people must then occupy all spaces of state and policy-making from grass-root level to an intercontinental level. Young people must hold the state accountable as policies are there and resources are allocated and must be used by young people.
As these young people grow, they ought to plough back into their communities in order to create a legacy of greatness. As they grow, struggle, try again and succeed their stories ought to be documented in order to change the narrative of the black body and of the African - good stories inspire confidence, change perceptions and open doors, thus contributing to the growth of the economy.
But central to all of this is the much needed aggression and impatience of young people for collaboration for economic growth!
As I moderated this session I stated many a time that young people must use this space to declare their projects and ideas and engage on how they can assist one another; because the success of one is the success of many!
*As a side note I found it very interesting how as I moved to my next commitment of the day - Isithunzi Sabafazi| The Dignity of Women hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation in collaboration with the University of Johannesburg - Ms Oprah Winfrey, the keynote speaker of the event, narrated messages very relevant to the AYD Summit. Amongst many things, to paraphrase her, she speaks to the fact that a solid education is important to bring out the natural born intelligence of young people. She stated that Madiba himself at times felt discouraged; however ‘he felt the collective heartbeat of his people. He knew that mountains could be moved; the gridlock could be eradicated; if we were all to join forces and work together in service for something greater than ourselves’. She then goes on to speak about ‘each one; teach one’. These are but a few of her statements that spoke to the conversations that were being had 50 odd kilometres away from her. Where young people, young women were saying central to economic growth was education, collectiveness/collaboration and development.
Written by Nompendulo Mkatshwa, a BSc Geography Graduate from University of the Witwatersrand, PGCE Candidate University of South Africa, Former President Student Representative Council Wits, Former South African Students Congress Chairperson at Wits and Former Deputy Chairperson of Wits ANC Youth League.
Nompendulo Mkatshwa is a regular Polity columnist