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The average age of Africa’s political leaders – presidents, prime ministers and monarchs – is 65 years. I couldn’t believe this at first, so I had to crunch the numbers myself.
However, the average age of the entire African population is 19.5 years.
To give you a clearer picture, up to 85 percent of Africans are below the age of 45, and just 5 percent are aged 60 or more.
Africa is obviously a continent dominated by young people. Sadly, while the youth hold the numbers in Africa, they don’t control the continent.
Contrary to popular opinion, Africa is actually a gerontocracy – a term that describes a state, society, or group governed by old people.
Let’s be clear, I don’t have anything against old people. I too will age with the passing of time and join that group, naturally. However, the hard truth needs to be told.
The biggest casualties of unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and social vice in Africa are its youth. Despite decades of so-called ‘government interventions’, foreign aid and international development support, the continent has been unable to pull itself out of its glorified ‘third-world’ status.
Most people believe there is only one major cause of all of Africa’s problems:
And I totally agree. Africa’s current crop of leaders lack the political will, are out of touch and unwilling to change the status quo on the continent.
With such a gaping age difference between the majority of people in Africa (the youth) and those who rule them, it’s no surprise the continent’s current leaders have no clue how the world is changing, and how it affects young people.
However, I’ve observed three interesting and powerful trends that indicates we’ve all been making a huge mistake:
For decades, Africans have been looking up to its political leaders to solve the continent’s problems.
The truth is, leadership is not exclusive to the political class. And African youths need to understand this point very well. Young people in Africa have an untapped revolutionary leverage. Right now, they number over 700 million. By 2050, their number is expected to reach over 1.2 billion, the largest population of young people in world.
With this leverage, the continent’s youth can lead themselves into a brighter future, solve their own problems and leapfrog Africa into first-world status, with or without its political leaders.
This is not just a dream. Actually, it’s already happening.
Yes, right now!
In this article, I’ll take you through three key phases of Africa’s youth revolution that are shaking up the continent right now. It is my belief that all of these amazing transformations will ultimately lead to a positive political revolution that will place political leadership in the hands of the continent’s youth, where it rightly belongs.
The Cultural Revolution – The Rise of African Pride
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Africa’s cultural leaders are leading the charge of this first phase of the continent’s revolution. And they are young, ambitious, talented and amazingly creative.
They are the force behind industries like Nigeria’s Nollywood, which rose from anonymity to become the world’s third largest movie powerhouse behind the likes of Hollywood and India’s Bollywood. Its movies are enjoyed by millions of people around the world, within and outside the continent.
African film and music have become powerful channels for promoting the continent’s rich culture, heritage, languages, fashion and food across the globe. It’s an industry that has achieved tremendous success and global recognition without support from the continent’s governments or political class.
The youth control and dominate every aspect of the film and music market; from content production, marketing, distribution and down to consumption.
Apart from film, Africa’s music artistes are some of the continent’s most influential ambassadors, and most recognizable faces on the global scene. The creativity and vibe of African beat has attracted all sorts of collaborations from global A-list performers like Snoop Dogg, Drake, Rick Ross and R Kelly, among several others.
Within the last two decades, African music has taken over the radio waves and acts as a glue for the continent’s youth.
And then there is fashion. A growing number of creative and talented African stylists have put the continent’s rich designs and fabrics on the global map. With international celebrities like Beyoncé, Rihanna, Gwen Steffani and Michelle Obama spotting African-inspired apparel, there is now a growing global recognition and appreciation of fashion talents from the continent.
Young African women are also redefining beauty in a purely African context. A growing number of them are choosing to ‘go natural’ with their hair. This is an intriguing cultural shift given the strong multi-decade-long dependence on foreign-inspired imported hair extensions, wigs and haircare products.
This renewed pride in African natural hair has triggered the birth of a promising market for African hair products made from local materials like shea butter, honey and plant extracts. Entrepreneurs like Ghana’s Dorinda Mawuenya Matey and Swaziland’s Ntombenhle Khathwane are some of the early winners in this virgin market of over 300 million potential female consumers.
These youth — Africa’s cultural leaders – are doing a great job of promoting the cultural virtues of the continent to the world. They are changing the narrative of Africa by telling better and more positive stories, and instilling a strong sense of African pride into the continent’s dominant youth population.
Just behind Africa’s powerful and youth-led cultural revolution is another far more powerful revolution:
The Entrepreneurship Revolution – The Rise of the Problem Solvers
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One of the biggest reasons why governments and the political class in Africa have remained relevant in power for so long is dependence. The people depend on government to solve problems and provide basic needs like electricity, water, food, healthcare and education.
But things are already changing on the ground.
There is now a blooming league of young entrepreneurs on the continent who are taking on Africa’s problems and challenges, head on. They are finding African solutions to Africa’s problems.
Take electricity, for example.
After billions of dollars spent on electricity projects across the continent over the last 4 decades, less than 25 percent of Africans are connected to the power grid. In rural areas, it’s worse. In many places, people often have to walk for miles to charge their mobile phones.
But with the solar power movement led by entrepreneurs like Tanzania’s Patrick Ngowi, Arnergy’s Femi and Kunle in Nigeria, and several others like them, the sands are shifting. In less than a decade, solar power is lighting up more homes in rural areas than African governments’ efforts have achieved in over 40 years. By leaning on an abundant and free resource – sunlight – these revolutionaries are changing more lives on the continent than most governments ever have.
And then there is education.
Most public schools on the continent are grossly underfunded and poorly staffed. The result: worsening illiteracy and a takeover by ultra-expensive private schools.
Entrepreneur-led initiatives like Omega Schools in Ghana and Bridge International Academies in Kenya, are shaking up the education space in Africa. For just about $1 in daily school fees, they provide world-class tuition to primary school children. Seeing the clear difference, more parents are pulling out their kids from public schools and enrolling them into schools like Omega and Bridge.
University education on the continent suffers the same fate. Due to government neglect, these “citadels” of learning have become vast warehouses of under-nurtured talent. But with entrepreneur-led initiatives like Ashesi University in Ghana, and a network of African Leadership Universities – envisioned by Fred Swaniker – young people on the continent can access world-class tertiary education without leaving the continent for foreign climes.
Young African entrepreneurs are also taking on the continent’s healthcare challenges. Faso Soap is a great example. This revolutionary soap that prevents malaria – a disease which kills over 400,000 people on the continent every year – is the brainchild of two young Africans from Burundi and Burkina Faso.
The same trends can be observed in agribusiness, water security, waste management and several other sectors. Africa’s young entrepreneurs are applying their creativity and will to solving everyday problems that are supposed to be the responsibility of government.
The ongoing entrepreneurship revolution will enable African youths achieve economic independence from the political class, and make the youth prolific job creators and positive contributors to the continent’s economy.
The self-dependence and financial freedom achieved through the entrepreneurship revolution will further fan the flames of the next more powerful revolution, which is…
The Social Revolution – The Rise of the Crusaders
There is power in numbers. African youths have the numbers, and they are starting to realise this.
Their rallying point? The internet!
The internet in Africa has become the youth revolution’s hammerhead for change.
Before the rise of the internet and social media, governments and the political class could gag the media and censor the news content that was released to the general public. A shackled media had been a powerful grip on public awareness and allowed the reign of political office abuse and insensitive governance.
Well, this too is changing.
In July this year, an emotional message by a Zimbabwean cleric on social media sent shockwaves across his country. Protest after protest, the people of Zimbabwe – especially its young people – took to the streets to demand for better governance and improved standards of living. More young Africans – most of who are tech savvy – use social media as a trusted medium for monitoring and participating in serious social and political issues.
In Nigeria, BudgIT is an internet-based platform that tracks government spending, monitors public projects and educates citizens on how the government allocates resources. Led by a young Nigerian, Seun Onigbinde, the platform also creates apps, games, interactive websites and infographics that break down government spending, including how much is spent on the president’s breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Just a few weeks ago in South Africa, pupils of Pretoria Girls High caught the world’s attention as they protested against their school’s policies against wearing their natural hair and speaking their African languages at school. Photos of the protest were widely shared on social media and the hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh continued to trend for several days.
Protesters of all ages gathered outside the school gates of Pretoria Girls High (photo credit: BBC)
In a similar pattern in 2011, young Nigerians – using social media — pulled off one of the most successful civil disobedience protests in the history of that country. They firmly opposed the government’s decision to hike the retail price of petrol. Though the decision was not reversed, everybody was shocked by the turnout and participation.
The world distinctly remembers the events that sparked off the Arab Spring in 2010. Bolstered by the flames on social media, the wind of political revolution spread from its origins in North Africa, and blew eastwards into the Middle East. I doubt the effects and outcome of that revolution would have been any different if the winds blew southwards into Sub-Saharan Africa instead.
Across Africa, young people are successfully using social media to confront their leaders, and raise tough questions concerning a wide range of issues, especially social conditions, political irresponsibility, race, insecurity and cultural intolerance.
I predict that the ongoing social revolution in Africa will set the stage and light the fuse for the next and final stage of Africa’s youth revolution…
The Political Revolution – The Ultimate Showdown
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When a young person has a strong sense of pride (achieved through the Cultural revolution), and is self-reliant and able to feed and cater for herself and the family (achieved through the Entrepreneurship revolution), and has the power to instantly mobilise a movement for any cause (through the Social revolution), what EXACTLY do you think could happen?
Yes, you’re right. We’ll have a political revolution.
An ultimate showdown. A peaceful and bloodless one, nonetheless.
This will bring forth an era of true democracy in Africa where the people who lead are committed to service and respect the rights of citizens, and citizens have the power to monitor their leaders’ performance and bring them to account.
What a beautiful continent ours would be when this finally happens.
Going by the trend of revolutions that will lead up to Africa’s political revolution, I don’t think it’s a question of ‘if it will happen’. It’s a question of ‘when it will happen’
But I must pass on the following words of advice:
To Africa’s youth: we must be careful and vigilant to avoid the divisive forces of tribalism, greed and selfishness that have characterized political leadership in Africa. Our generation has a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to transform the continent. If we must lead Africa into a brighter future, our people must close ranks, think progressively and work together to enrich our commonwealth.
To Africa’s current crop of sit-tight and insensitive leaders, I have but terse words for you:
Watch out you ‘gerontocrats’, a fierce and youthful tsunami is coming!
Let’s go Africa!