By Jennifer Ehidiamen
“But our biggest challenge is not the age or the change but the quality of the change.” Says George Gachara from Kenya. Change in Africa is not just a question of change but also a question of positive transformative change that improves the quality of lives of young people. Timothy Lamba from Zambia and Mame Mbodji from Senegal, also share their views on the kind of change youth are driving or should be driving on the continent.
The second day at the UNESCO Youth forum started with a different energy level. After a long day of taking in a lot of inspiring presentations from invited guest leaders a day before, some of the youth delegates were ready to have their say and experience something phenomenon, as Paul Farlane described his expectations.
The session on Youth-led social innovation in Africa, led by Social and Human Science Sector and the Africa Department, did not go below expectation. I walked into the hall, expecting to learn about the different projects that were being carried out in Africa region, as well as listen to youth delegates and speakers share ideas and recommendation on the way forward.
I was right in time to sit-in and listen to George Gachara’s panel session. He spoke his mind and the mind of many youth delegates in the hall.
He said “African youth KNOW what they want to do. All they need is support! The voice of youth is the new economy of the continent.” And I nodded in agreement.
If the economy of Africa must grow, then African youth must be ready to drive the change they want by being loud, and loud for a purpose. This is not a time to sit in silent apathy. We must speak up, and take action.
Before you ask, who is George Gachara to make such an audacious statement? Read this chat I had with him and two other youth leaders.
George Gachara is youth worker, speaker, an author and the co-founder of the United Nation supported Picha Mtaani National Reconciliation Initiative in Kenya. He is a British Council Global Change Maker and a Fellow of the International Youth Foundation. A few days ago, he received a Global Award- International Development Committee Outstanding Youth Leadership award in San Diego. But yes, George is is based in Kenya. Another youth acting local but yet being recognised globally.
One of the sub-themes of UNESCO Youth forum explores the issue of youth in political and public life. In addressing this issue, the first thing that comes to mind is youth leadership. What does this mean to an average African youth? Oh George says it is not just about political positions. It also drives through different sectors of the economy.
“Youth leadership in Africa is no longer a discourse, it is a practical thing” George says. What are the factors changing this sphere?
“75% of the population in Africa is below 35years. So by design, leadership should be young leadership whatever you define that to be- either by age, or ideas….” He says. He reiterates the significance of Arab Revolution that shook the garment of leadership in some African countries, with its rippling effect finding its way to other parts of the continent, despite the resistance.
“Youth leadership in Africa is inevitable, and dynamic. If you look at South Africa, we have a strong presence of youth leadership through the political party system. If you look at the Arab, they have gone out to the street to demand change. It is only in sub-Sahara Africa that we have a few dead spots who are trying to cling on to power…”
But beyond political leadership, George points out that there are other sectors where young people are leading. Such as the creative sectors, the media, social enterprise… “If you look at social media driven business, innovations in technology in agriculture, most of these fields considered traditional have been revitalized by young people. In East Africa, we have innovation of money transfer by young people. Use of mobile technology in Zambian agriculture led by young people, in Congo the rice fields… Traditional sectors driven by young people.”
It is just a matter of time before tides change on what we consider political leadership.
“But our biggest challenge is not the age or the change but the quality of the change.” So I ask myself “what kind of a young leader takes on leadership? Is it the same oppressor who is younger or is transformational leadership by different people who think innovatively and creatively?”
For George, change in Africa is not just a question of change but also a question of positive transformative change that improves the quality of lives of young people.
“It is about time that we stop talking about the future that we want to go to and start doing something about it. Many young people who saw gap in their own society and instead of complaining about it, they stood up and did something, have encouraged me. I met young people who have designed robots to help disabled people, in Kenya, young people who have innovated social media tools to help in money transfer, micro finance…” Says George. “It is about time young people, wherever they are identify gaps and did something about it.” That is how it starts. A transformational change.
Do other young Africans share his views?
Timothy Lumba, a graduate from University of Zambia with a degree in Art and Education says Education is an instrumental vehicle that can push forth this transformational change quickly.
“I have a profound believe in the power of education to transform a society. Education is the greater tool or vehicle that we can use to add value to any body’s life. If not for my education I will not be here. What education has given me is an opportunity to explore my potential. That is why government should invest more in education system from lower level to higher education. Educations should be quality and relevant and adaptable to the needs of our society.” Timothy says.
Timothy says he is basically interested in issues dealing with education. “I’m a former Student Union president and also the national student union president for 2010/2011 and also a board member for national youth development council and many youth organizations in Zambia.
He is quite active in advocating for education, qualitative education.
“A good quality education must be able to add the relevant skills, competencies and abilities to an individual. At the same time, it has to look at the quality of the teacher. It also has to look at the environment the education is taking place and the facilities available. It is important that the people are exposed to technology from an early age.” Says Timothy. But not without noting that some countries are limping in providing such.
Timothy sees the UNESCO Youth forum as an opportunity for young people to come and share their divergent experience from all corners of the world. This, according to him, gives more credence and it has confirmed that despite being separated by mere physical or imaginary borders, the challenges that youth face from one countries to another are the same.
“Therefore the world needs concerted efforts to address some of them. I’m very optimistic that the recommendations that we shall make will be taken seriously by the UN General Assembly.” Says Timothy.
Zambia recently held its election. Were young people active? Did the new era open opportunities for young people to be active in political and public life?
“There were 1.2million news voters. Majority of them comprise the youth…many of them casting their vote for the first time. “ says Timothy. According to him, the election result demonstrated the power of the youth. “The celebration after the election shows the new regime was driven by youth effort. The expectations for the new government are quite high, especially since the new government campaigned on the premise of addressing issues affecting the youth- unemployment. They told us they will initiate developmental projects within 90 days. The new government seem to be taking stride to ensure there is a clean up in the system.” He says.
Every change is a rebirth. It provides new opportunities. We hope young people will explore these opportunities. “As a youth you must not sit at home and expect to take your share of what the economy is providing. Society rewards you for your potential. As a youth, it is your duty to ensure you do express yourself and by so doing your society will recognize you. The spirit of “ubuntu” (oneness) should continue to heal the many wounds that we are facing as a world- famine, poverty etc. The world needs to be united beyond our ethnic belonging, cultural differences and economic differences…” Timothy noted.
Mame Mbodji, a student of African Leadership Academy in South Africa, is an observer at the Youth Forum. She agrees with Timothy and George for a need for transformative change in African countries. “Entrepreneurship and leadership are very important in tackling the issue of unemployment. I think one thing education system needs is to incorporate entrepreneurship and leadership into school curriculums.” She says.
As young Africans delegates debate and come up with insightful recommendations which the Youth Drafting Committee will develop into a draft report to the general conference, it is hopeful that this key to the growth of African economy- the voice of African youth- will be heard by local leaders as well as global leaders, in all sectors.
About UNESCO Youth Forum
The UNESCO Youth Forum, held prior to UNESCO’s General Conference, brings together young delegates from all over the world to exchange views, share experiences, reflect together and, above all, detect common preoccupations and problems. The event allows young people to voice their ideas and concerns and make suggestions directly to the UNESCO General Conference.