The findings of the East Africa youth survey conducted by the East Africa Institute were both hopeful and worrying. Following the study, the interest in the plight of the youth and concerns about the state of our common future has been unrelenting.
Unemployment among youth, especially rural woman, is worryingly high. The vast majority of the 10 million African youth who enter the job market annually are either unemployed or underemployed.
While youth are optimistic about the future – which they believe will bring more jobs, better access to quality health and education – they are strongly inclined to give or take a bribe, evade taxes and engage in electoral fraud.
The political and bureaucratic processes lack both imagination and creativity to harness the unprecedented abundance of Africa’s youthful human capital. The African Union’s African Youth Charter signed in 2006 remains an innocuous document. Conversations across the continent, from Accra to Nairobi are unanimous about a future in peril.
The state of Africa’s youth is not strong because the youth are not willing to step up to the plate. The state of Africa’s youth is feeble because we don’t care enough and think someone else will deal with it. The corridors of public offices on the continent are teeming with highly paid consultants, donors and foreign NGOs grappling with Africa’s problems.
Yes we need help. But the help we receive cannot be modeled on the classical industrial age paradigm. Our path to prosperity and a secure future where youth thrive must be powered by Africa’s own unique, novel and contextually relevant ideas.
There is not an overabundance of easy solutions. Building inclusive prosperity, providing African youth with the right skills and creating well-paying jobs will demand everything of our politicians and policy makers. It will demand more than hollow charters or declarations from the African Union.
First off, our education system, at all levels, must prepare our youth for an unknown future. We must educate for a post-knowledge economy. Standardized tests powered by rote learning and unthinking regurgitation must be replaced by an orientation to analytical reasoning, experimentation, discovery and problem solving. Creativity and innovation, not basic numeracy and literacy must become goal of education.
But our education must prepare young Africans not just for the workplace. Great citizens and ethical leaders are sorely needed on the continent. Citizenship is more than nationality or ethnic ties. Citizenship is a sacred obligation to service, a commitment to common aims and a constitutional injunction to civically engage.
Ethics is about rectitude. It is about values. An ethical leader is honorable, persuaded by decency and an invariable commitment to justice. Ethical leadership springs from the wells of great and vigilant citizenship.
A strong predisposition among youth to bribery, tax evasion and electoral fraud is an indictment on our societies. It betrays a fundamental and simultaneous failure of citizenship and leadership on the adult side of the aisle. Ours is a case of a rotten barrel spoiling a bumper crop of apples. Fix the barrel.