No, this is not about #FeesMustFall or #RhodesMustFall. It’s about stepping up to the leadership plate when the doors to lead are flung open for you to walk through. Are you well-equipped to take up the leadership mantle and lead when the old-guard fall by the wayside? Where is your attention? What are you focused on? Where do you expend your energy? Where exactly are you going?
So, yes, this brief post is about the need for a new consciousness and awareness that is needed if young Africans are to stand a chance in leading this continent towards its next era, post the so-called dark continent. By the way, welcome to this new era. We are already into it already. Just look around and notice how African youth are connecting through this mobile technology explosion. What is the content of the connections being made though?
How big a challenge is the fact that we find ourselves moving too slowly towards building transformational young leaders in the mould of Fred Swaniker and the African Leadership Academy team? Allow me to refer to Africa here as if it is homogenous. I understand that we have 54 sovereign nations, and maybe even more, depending on how you look at it.
Africa’s greatest asset is not the continent’s minerals. Neither is it the vast expanses of arable land that can feed the whole world! Not by a long shot. Africa’s greatest asset is her children, her people, and especially the young ones currently in the demographic majority — below 35 years old. These can be tomorrow’s world leaders.
If research reports and anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, Africa is slam bang in the middle of one of its most important economic growth opportunities. The fact that 7 out of the top 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa is one side of this. The fact that by 2050 Africa will have the largest young population in the world, and the largest pool of an active working-age population, is an even greater variable.
What this means to many of us working across the continent is that we must work harder to support the development of values-based leadership skills in preparation for taking advantage of Africa’s greatest opportunity. There is need for consolidation of the positive economic growth across the continent. This requires new mindsets (and heartsets!).
Recently, I addressed another group of African youth who came from different backgrounds. Yes, it does not matter what skin-wrapping you come in. as long as your heart and soul are in Africa and you consider Africa home in the true sense of it, then you are African, and this message is for you. Separating yourself is always attractive and yes, seductive. There is a word for it. It’s called “strategic difference”. This means, heightening aspects of my uniqueness or difference from others to leverage on it for my advantage. But I digress.
All young Africans belong together. Just visualise the different shades of their young, bright, curious, clever faces. When I spoke to this small group, some of them spoke at least five African languages. One of them was fluent in six languages (isiZulu, isiXhosa, English, Sesotho, French and Afrikaans), and busy learning Kiswahili. What a powerful advantage.
Part of my message to these young Africans included the following questions:
* What do you value most in life? Is it your latest gadget, the swanky basketball shoes, the branded clothing, the most expensive liquor that’s over-advertised as a symbol of success, the obsession with car and other consumables, or is it the legacy your whole life will be known for when your time is up?
* What is within you that you know is greater than your immediate role in your social circles? We all have greatness within us. Others tap into it, and others piss it away in wasted hours of nothingness fuelled by the need to belong, or to be labelled cool, in the process wasting incredible hours in useless chatter about material rubbish that adds little if any value to the greater good of Africa, Africans and the world.
* There was a lot of time discussing this question: “How do we handle the pressures of chasing brands and materialism that besiege African youth and blind them to the greater role that they can play in transforming the continent and ushering it into the next inevitable era of success?”
As I’ve seen many times over in such discussions, these are brilliant questions that cut close to the bone for some. Self-defence was the first and common thread at first. Then deeper reflection, and finally, sharing of innovative ideas.
As executive leadership coaches, our main currency is asking good incisive questions. I believe that if answered honestly (without trying to impress anyone) these questions help us find some answers that enrich our lives.
Here are some responses:
“I truly believe that living your life to show off what you have or how strong or beautiful you are is the pass-time of fools and shallow minds. You can quote me on that. Neanderthals did that, and our other ancestors before us thrived on it. It is primal and basic, and yet can be un-learned. Who wants to go back there … to beating your cousin over the head with a heavy club because they looked at your potential girlfriend in an admiring way? Okay, some still do it today! We must grow and develop new and more conscious ways of relating to each other, starting with relating better to ourselves. Many people still need to wake up to the fact that they are the vehicles and instruments for the change they seek in the world. Gandhi was spot-on with his well-known saying many moons ago. Real effective change starts inside. It is an inside job. To reveal a little about my age … let me ask you this: How many of you here have listened to Michael Jackson’s music? He had a hit song once titled Man in the Mirror. There is an answer to many current challenges.
“In the final analysis, dear Young Africa, how you cover up your physical body (clothes, hair, make-up, etc) is not as important as what is inside of you. It does not measure your character. Be healthy, exercise regularly and be functionally presentable. The same goes for cars, houses, etc. It is what gets many people into a lot of trouble with unnecessary and crippling debt. Wake up from it, and live within your means. You are enough as you are, and whether you are black or white, yellow or brown, very dark or light-skinned, it does not matter. If you put too much emphasis on it, then you give power to that shallow definition of you. You’re much bigger than that … ”
Also take note of the following …
As a young person (even some oldies), we need to be more self-nurturing, and also nurturing of others in our approach. Consider the following:
* If you ever laugh at someone because they are too dark/too light, the joke is on you.
* If you laugh at someone because they are shorter/taller than you, you are the fool.
* If you look down on someone because they have hair on their head that looks like a poorly kept carpet, you are the joke.
* If you think less of someone because they are NOT wearing an “expensive” brand, you are the dumb fool giving your money away to buy a new personality, which does not fit.
* If you respect people as they are, and take them as they show up without trying to make them fit a frame you have for them, well done. Keep going.
* If you greet “strangers” and make genuine connections, you’re on the right path.
* If you make a genuine effort to learn another’s language, and are interested in WHO they are, not who you would like them to be, you’re the leader Africa needs now, and will lead tomorrow. It’s your world. Go on and lead.
Dear young African, love the way you are, that is how your creator or whatever higher powers you believe in, intended it to be. Know who you are and embrace yourself with all your natural beauty … the wise ones say that the creator NEVER makes mistakes. He only makes masterpieces. So, again, dear young African, you are a masterpiece just the way you are … look in the mirror without make-up and shout: “I am gorgeous! I am beautiful! And I am smart.”
Be “self-loving and respect others”. Always.
This is by far much easier than judging, finger-pointing and fault-finding. China, America, Europe, Russia, or Mars is not going to come here and help us. Some of the ideas of the past and some current leaders will not serve you forever. Look within for the solutions you seek.
Be the solution and the answer Africa has been searching for, for centuries.