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Youth have what it takes to reignite the African dream
Author: Simòhn Engelbrecht
Published: 20/08/2020

​​“The African dream is often referred to as a dying fire, waiting to be revived. What log(s) do we have in our hands to reignite it?" asked Prof Thuli Madonsela, former South African public protector and distinguished professor at Stellenbosch University (SU), in a dialogue series hosted to mark Youth Month. 

June is Youth Month in South Africa, commemorating the sacrifices made by youth and the senseless loss of young lives under apartheid, particularly in the Soweto uprising of 16 June 1976, when a group of school children were fired upon by the South African police while they were staging a peaceful protest against the Bantu education system. As part of the 2020 Youth Month commemorations, SU International hosted an online Global Youth Discussions series. Changemakers from different fields were invited to speak on African youth resilience, focusing on the opportunity presented by the unique challenges we face as an African continent. 

Disaster risk reduction

Alberto Francioli, coordinator of the secretariat of the Periperi U network and member of the African Youth Advisory Board, which stems from the African Union, works in the field of disaster risk reduction through higher education. Periperi U supports universities' disaster preparedness and their role in working with communities to develop African resilience. To this end, it follows a planning approach that focuses on being proactive rather than reactive, addresses societal vulnerability to the negative impacts of hazards, and invests in practices, systems and planning that reduce this vulnerability. This is done in three ways: research and knowledge generation, the inclusion of youth in risk governance, as well as youth empowerment and capacity-building. All of this includes collaboration with higher education institutions as well as local and national government agencies and organisations, including UNESCO. 

Rapid urbanisation offers the benefits of growth, stability and development. However, in Africa, these benefits are threatened by natural and man-made hazards. And with 60% of the African population being younger than 35, the continent's youth are increasingly at risk, which undermines and threatens Africa's future. African youth are particularly vulnerable and disproportionally affected by disasters, as these events often disrupt their education and development, diminish assets and resources, and destroy job opportunities and livelihoods. 

Leveraging our resources as a young African continent

Prof Thuli Madonsela, incumbent of the chair in social justice in SU's Faculty of Law, pointed out that youth unemployment and the global competitiveness of Africa's youth transcended the current global pandemic. She highlighted that Africa was blessed with abundant natural resources and biodiversity, which meant that youth unemployment should not be a problem. Nevertheless, the hunger belt extends across the sub-Saharan region (UNESCO, 2020). 

Prof Madonsela stressed the importance of recognising our collective purpose and acknowledging what we have available to take us forward as a continent. While the African Union's Agenda 2063 serves as the “great vision" for the continent, there is a degree of dissonance between this vision and the reality on the ground, as well as between the continent's potential and its current status. The cues of hope at the dawn of the South African democracy have rapidly been replaced by cues of despair.   

Shaping the Africa we want is no longer up to African leaders alone, Prof Madonsela said. “The African proverb goes: 'A leopard is chasing us, and you are arguing with me whether it is male or female!'" The question of “who's responsible" and “whose move it is" to develop the Africa we desire has become irrelevant. Epic leadership at both government and individual level is required to ensure an enterprising mindset and an ethically governed, impact-conscious Africa that is committed to serve the globe. 

COVID-19 effects and lessons for African youth

Africa's youth are active and engaged, even during the global pandemic, said Farai Mubaiwa in her capacity as employee of the Youth Employment Service (YES). She highlighted a range of projects driven by African youth in their communities, ranging from community impact programmes aimed at developing skills such as social entrepreneurship, leadership, career strategy and personal growth, to co-reviewing national youth policies at a government level. 

COVID-19 has turned the spotlight on the agency of unemployed youth, who have stepped up to work at the frontline to fight the pandemic and serve their communities. Going forward, Mubaiwa said, African youth could be further engaged in building the desired continent by (i) valuing their participation in the processes and decisions that shape our lives, (ii) aligning careers with potential contributions to the development of the continent, (iii) encouraging entrepreneurship to help solve youth unemployment in immediate communities, (iv) constantly sharing knowledge, and (v) collaborating with one another. 

Participants concluded that the time was ripe for Africa's youth to take further action in helping to rebuild the continent, and to improve themselves and others physically, socially and mentally to create resilient and sustainable societies. 

For further information on the Global Youth Discussions series, contact