OPINION POST: How Africa will flourish if we invest in its young people


“When we find researches/opinions from other publishers that might interest you, we pass them along. Below you’ll find the latest opinions on how Africa will flourish if we invest in its young people by Mutumbuka and Nyahunzvi. Their opinions may differ from what you read in CFTA.Now. This article first appeared on Devex.     

rowing up in Zimbabwe, “wakangwara semurungu,” a Shona phrase that means “wise white person,” was a typical compliment given if you did well in school or looked particularly chic — for example, “You’re so smart, like a white person.” To this day, similar anecdotes can be found throughout African countries. Behaving like a white person, thinking like a white person, or looking like a white person was the yardstick used to measure a person’s worth.

In large part due to our history of colonization, there’s still an internalized mindset in many Africans that we are coming from a place of lack, whereby we often assume others have capacity and prestige — but not us.

This colonized mindset also exists in international aid’s status quo: The assumption that interventions will be crafted by experts in — and from — the West, then implanted into Africa with little or no input from local communities. And many African colleagues know the experience of letting white people do the talking and deciding in development meetings, assuming we don’t have the answers, discounting our wisdom, education, and expertise. It plays out within how most international development organizations in Africa are led by expatriates from the West.

The African Continental Free Trade Area, or AfCFTA, which launched in January, is a milestone that could enable member countries to break away from colonial models that have extracted our natural resources, while not investing in our people.

While there is still a long way to go, this pact could structurally boost trade among African neighbors, enable Africans to travel freely within Africa, and allow the continent to develop its own value chains. The World Bank estimates it could lift tens of millions out of poverty by 2035.

But we can’t rely on structural change alone. We must, in tandem, change our mindsets — our intangible sense of who we are and what we can achieve. In other words, we must work to decolonize ourselves, our education systems, and institutions across national and international levels.

Africa has the youngest and fastest-growing population in the world, set to double in thirty years to nearly a quarter of the global population — half of whom will be under 25 by 2050. There’s an urgent need to prepare young people to have futures as development leaders and change agents, in order to turn this population growth into a demographic dividend for the continent.

An ever-growing force of locally led initiatives is paving the way to prepare youths by supporting the development of promising African leaders at all levels, driving educational innovations, and inventing new development approaches. What these initiatives have in common is that they take a “people first” approach: investing in people’s growth, not just in changing structures from the top down.

We’ve seen that this is creating the necessary conditions for long-term, sustainable change. Recognizing the success and sustainability of these initiatives, instead of continuing to think that development must be implemented through programs created by external agencies, will accelerate the pace of development.

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CAMFED improves girls’ access to education, along with tackling issues from child marriage to climate change. Its thousands of graduates continue to mentor the next generation of girls and help pay education fees.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation supports fellowship programs for outstanding young African leaders. Emerging Public Leaders equips young people to become excellent civil servants, a career path often ruled out by young, exceptional African graduates. Through its Innovation Hub, Teach For Nigeria is supporting budding entrepreneurs among the alumni of its two-year teaching fellowship.

The African Leadership University is working to develop three million socially-minded, young entrepreneurial leaders by 2035. They have designed their entire institution to cultivate young people’s agency and autonomy as changemakers, where real-world experience takes precedence over theoretical classroom lectures, and prepare students to stay on our continent and transform it.