One of the founding fathers of the African National Congress, Pixley ka Seme, stood at Columbia University, in 1906, to deliver his speech: “the Regeneration of Africa”. He said:
“The brighter day is rising upon Africa…Yes the regeneration of Africa belongs to this new and powerful period. The African people…possess a common fundamental sentiment which is everywhere manifest, crystallizing itself into one common controlling idea…The regeneration of Africa means that a new and unique civilization is soon to be added to the world.”
Many other eminent scholars and leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, W.E.B. Du Bois, Chiekh Anta Diop, Julius Nyerere, Sekou Toure, Kenneth Kaunda and Thabo Mbeki also called for the rebirth of Africa. A century has passed since ka Seme made an impassioned plea for the renewal of the continent. Despite the recurrent echoes of such ideals by aforementioned Africans, the lack of progress has been astounding.
Africa can no longer effectively use its colonial history as a plausible defence against lack of social and economic progress. That former colonial masters may continue to exert particular influence over their former subjects in one form or another is perhaps only a reflection on the deficiency of credible leadership in some parts of Africa. Kleptomania has largely been the curse afflicting large parts of mineral rich economies in the continent. African leaders live in obscene opulence while their people suffer.
What these African leaders, most of whom have been in power for decades, have incorrectly communicated to the world, was that Africans were incapable of governing themselves. Their rule has been commonly characterised by shameful plundering of resources, brutal suppression of democratic freedoms of their people; deepening poverty, shockingly high levels of unemployment and economic underdevelopment, while billions of dollars belonging to their people are stashed in Swiss accounts for personal indulgence.
The outburst of popular revolts in Arab countries is borne of general discontent that has been festering over a period of time. The Arab rulers, who have presided over these nations that are now being swept by the unstoppable wave of popular revolts, share common despotic characteristics. Like their African counterparts, they amassed obscene wealth during their authoritarian rule; while subjecting their people to brutal repression and failing to transform their economies for the benefit of their people. There is high unemployment among the youth and no immediate opportunities to meaningfully participate in the economy. It is therefore not surprising that the Arab Revolution has been led by discontented youth.
According to Frantz Fanon each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it. African youth have before them the arduous task of changing their course of destiny from an ignoble to a prosperous existence. It is not as though African leaders are not conscious of the imperatives for social and economic development, in particular the development of the youth. There is no will on their part to commit themselves to the development of the continent, let alone the development of the African youth; who are the future of Africa.
The 7th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU), held in Banjul, The Gambia, in 2006 adopted the “African Youth Charter” (AYC) as the first legal framework of action for the African youth development. In 2009, in Addis Ababa, the Assembly of Heads of State and government of the AU declared the years 2009-2019 as the decade of youth development in Africa. The decade was declared to facilitate the implementation of the AYC after its ratification.
Chief among the objectives of the AYC are obligations of member states of the AU to promote freedoms of expression, association and youth development. The irony lies in the fact that heads of states who ratified the AYC are themselves authoritarian rulers who suppress, in their respective countries, the very same democratic principles they pretend to embrace when meeting for under the AU umbrella.
According to the World Bank’s “Youth and Unemployment in Africa: The Potential, The Problem, The Promise” report, 62% of Africa’s overall population fell below the age of 25. This is a contingent of over 200 million desperate African youth.
About 59.6% of African youth are unemployed and have an awfully dim prospect of finding job opportunities. In countries like Uganda, youth unemployment is as high as 83% and 68% in Zimbabwe. A significant population of these youth, over 70%, still live in rural areas under degrading conditions of poverty, with no access to quality education or any hope of future advancement. This is a recipe for disaster. Long-term economic prospects depend on active and meaningful participation of these young people in the mainstream economy.
Each year, those in power come with various programmes that are intended for youth development; but generally these appear only intended to create the perception of dealing with the problems confronting the youth, when in reality nothing tangible comes out of them.
The Arab youth have reached a boiling point and are gatvol with having authoritarian leaders whose primary purpose is self-enrichment and enrichment of close associates, while the rest of the population continue to exist in the sea of poverty and hopelessness. African youth should not allow their leaders to pacify them with pronouncements on meaningless policies and programmes. Their mission should be to reclaim political power from all these old men who have no sense of purpose and urgency to commit towards the renewal of Africa through implementation of political and economic reforms.
The Pan-African Youth Union (PAYU) while under the old banner of Pan-African Youth Movement was a platform to rally African youth behind the cause of the African liberation. The primary purpose of this Union should be to rally African youth behind the cause of economic emancipation. The Union has become an extension of the ineffective AU as its representation is largely of the youth leaders associated with such ruling parties of member states of the AU. This is an organ of the AU that African youth should be using to agitate African leaders towards realising African youth development.
The 200 million African youth have a burden of responsibility to fulfil the mission of the renaissance of Africa. If it requires these youth to revolt against their authoritarian leaders, whether through peaceful or violent means, in order that change is effected, then so be it. Liberation from authoritarian rule will not be handed out on a silver platter, but needs to be taken. The future of the African youth is dependent on their will to be the catalyst for change. That brighter day envisioned by Pixley ka Seme shall rise only when the African youth rise against the injustices visited upon their continent by their leaders.