African youth has faced harsh and unfounded criticism especially from their own about lack of ambition, focus and resolve. From employers, to peers and probably parents, we constantly face judgement about our choices in life and how we decide to conduct our affairs. I’m really over it. I believe the current rhetoric, not only harms the rising African youth, but couldn’t be further from the truth.
We are most affected by The Great Recession
Most countries are now on an upward economic growth, reeling from the effects of the recession, Africa’s youth remains the most affected. According to the African Economic outlook, those aged between 15 to 25 represent 60%of the continent’s population however; highest unemployment rates are found among the youth. The occurrence of youth unemployment is projected at 20%. We are most affected by either lack of education or mismatch of skills, failures in the education system, the irrelevant social safety nets and a variety of growing social challenges. Those who pursue entrepreneurship face similar hunger games of lack of access to financing, over saturated markets and constantly trying to prove ourselves because of perceived lack of experience. Yet, the despite being thrown in the deep end without a paddle, we are put in a position to rise above the challenges we are given, without prior experience or basis because of these tougher realities we are dealing with. Young Africa is trying to forge their own paths despite economic crunches and coming up with inventive ways to respond to pressing social and employment ills. Social entrepreneurship, social media, civic participation are the many ways young Africa is transforming and challenging their status quo. In Botswana, most of us have gone through internship for more than one year or 2-3 jobs before we reach 30, a lot of us have experienced business failure due to a plethora of reasons and yet still expected to succeed. Young Africa has a different level of grit to their narratives then prior Africa and should as such be given more credit for their efforts.
Dichotomy of traditionalism and modernization
We have been thrust into a global village. The millennial came with rapid currents of change, modernization and technology. With that, interaction with various cultures has allowed us to access various philosophies and ideology. I personally constantly struggle internally with maintaining culture, tradition and centralistic structure with my inner utopic ideas of democracy, free speech, equality, free and fair competition, decentralization and ending corruption completely. A lot of us enter the adult world with quite frankly noble ideas of bringing change, progressing up the corporate ladder and getting involved significantly at their jobs only to be slapped with bureaucracy, patronization, meaningless work and a boss who does not want to see you prosper. According to a study conducted by World Economic Forum about 65% millennials look for work that makes a difference in the society, 51% want to learn and 40% want career advancement. Our needs and wants not being met, has caused a wide-ranging frustration and demotivation amongst youth which has been perceived as laziness, but we still look for chasms of opportunity despite this. Many young people have not left this continent because of genuine interest in seeing its development. We need to be given prospects to be actively involved in shaping our countries progress instead of assuming we are being disrespectful and ungrateful. We want the spirit of Ubuntu (humanity to others) and we still wish to see advancement in Africa and so our thinking shouldn’t be confused as presumptuous but a genuine interest in seeing progress.
We really do want to make it
We have a vested interest in our own success and so do not compromise standards despite that being misunderstood by the former generation. On top of that, we are continually competing with not only other Africans, but other regions that are aeons ahead of us in innovation, infrastructure and opportunity. Despite this, Young Africa is emerging and pioneering many areas of impact and getting recognition in the global arena. Our current thinking capacity and choice of lifestyle is not a blatant disregard for our own lives, but careful calculation about the trajectory of lives we wish to lead. A lot of young Africa is more fearless in their pursuit, going against the fold by leaving their stable secure jobs to pursue entrepreneurial pursuits, going after no income streams to gain more meaningful experiences, leaving conventional education structures to pursue dreams and pushing the boundaries on what we can and cannot do, say or be. There is a general misunderstanding of these crazy ideas or decisions as carelessness or just plain stupidity. Young Africa is more ambitious and driven, and their daring and risk driven culture is a clear indication of this. We no longer want circumstances to dictate what we genuinely wish to be involved in. So, I challenge you to change the context and mind-set we view young Africa, and no longer subscribe to negative stereotypes but challenge views about the current youth in this continent. There is wealth and knowledge in this continent and especially the uprising of its youth and there be a concerted effort to work towards seeing our imaginings become realities.
Lesego Barona Otlhabanye is an International Business Management graduate and currently working under the Research and Product Development Department in Citizen Entrepreneurship Development Agency. Her interests are in issues regarding development, education, youth engagement and policy. She is a member of Global Shapers Gaborone Hub and founder of Rising Tswana, a faith based non-profit platform for writers.