BY ALSTON C. ARMAH
THE PERSPECTIVE, JANUARY 14, 2016
Are you an optimist? Are you an African youth who believes in the enormous possibilities that lie ahead for the African continent? Whether you respond in the affirmative or not, I would like to make one request, which I wholeheartedly think you could grant. Disabuse your mind of all doubts and come with me on a journey; together let’s envision Africa 2063.
First, let’s go down memory lane and take our minds to the year 1963. When the leaders of 33 independent African countries met in May that year in Addis Ababa, they were undertaking a task many thought was unrealistic and impossible to achieve. That task was to form a continental body that would be used as a platform to elevate the campaign against all forms of colonization and thus liberate Africa from European subjugation and humiliation. With dedication and commitment, the leaders of independent Africa – William Tubman of Liberia, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Sekou Toure of Guinea, and Halie Selassie of Ethiopia, among others – worked tooth and nail to decolonize the continent. Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds against them – foreign infiltration, some colonial masters’ policy of indirect rule and the strategy of divide and rule – these African leaders collaborated, harnessed their collective skills and efforts, worked tirelessly and remained unwavering in their pursuit to liberate Africa from the claws of European colonization. As always happens in all human endeavors where there is passion coupled with commitment to ideals and the unflinching will to succeed, the leaders of Africa sustained the independence revolution and eventually the last bastion of colonial rule was dismantled.
Interestingly, many of these leaders did not have access to the many ivory tower universities and centers of learning we have in Africa today. Some of them were largely self-taught. More often than not, the ones who could afford had to fly across the Atlantic to study in faraway places such as England, Portugal, the United States, France, among others. Fortified with education and a kind of enlightenment rooted in self-determination for the African people, these founding fathers, the Pan Africanists, returned home and committed themselves to the task to liberate Africa from the manacles of colonization.
Eventually Africa was decolonized. The commitment and passion of the founding fathers had paid off. But no sooner had most of Africa gained independence then the clouds of civil wars and political unrests began to gather, courtesy of the ploys crafted by reactionary forces and elements of retrogression. Thus we saw Biafra War in Nigeria, coups d’état in countries like Togo, Liberia, Ghana, etc. And then came the instances of full blown civil crises such as seen in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, among others. Much of the first 50 years since the formation of the OAU (now AU) has been devoted to ending civil wars, education and training, fighting diseases and other menaces.
That, in summary, is the story of the first 50 years of independent Africa.
In the first 50 years after the end of colonization, Africa has prospered in many ways. Roads, airports and seaports have been built, many more people have been educated, and infrastructures have been built to cater to the needs of the growing population. All these are not enough, one would argue, given Africa’s enormous resource potentials – arable land, virgin rainforests, minerals, crude oil, blue oceans, biodiversity, and most important a youthful population. And it would seem that the progress achieved has been tainted by political instability and acts of terror that have come to grip the continent in the last few decades.
The next 50 years leading up to 2063 will be the African Era. This will be the time to bring about the African Renaissance – the rebirth and rebranding of an Africa that is peaceful and serene where the youth are seen as instruments of peace and catalysts to drive the engine of economic growth and technological advancement. To bring about the renaissance of the Africa we envision, all of Africa must work together - governments and citizens – to pursue a continent-wide agenda.
The next 50 years leading up to 2063 promises to be a most critical period for modern Africa. The vision for Africa, as crafted by authorities of the African Union Commission, is laid out in the document titled “Agenda 2063 – The Africa We Want.” In this document are well laid out the African Aspirations for the year 2063. Among other things, “we aspire to see an integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance.” Towards this end, “we envision a peaceful and secure Africa with world class, integrative infrastructure that crisscrosses the continent.” Great aspirations indeed!
Africa is not just a continent in name. It is the second largest landmass home to 1.166 billion people (according to UNFPA estimates for the year 2015), approximately 16% of the world’s population. The primary stimulus for Africa’s forward march will be its youthful population. According to Wikipedia (the online encyclopedia), Africa's population is the youngest amongst all the continents; 50% of Africans were born in 1991 or later. This means that half of Africa’s population is made of young people aged 24 years or younger. UNICEF estimates that 1.8 billion babies will be born in Africa over the next 35 years, and the “total African population will nearly quadruple to about 4.2 billion by the end of the century.”
The youth boom will be a force to awaken Africa from its slumber. The African youth – our greatest source of energy - will be the catalysts to speed up the continent’s leap into the future. With their exuberance and passion coupled with the right mix of education and training and their active participation in civic and governance processes, the youth of Africa can bring forward the Age of the African Renaissance. Give them adequate training in agriculture, science and technology, business and commerce and the space to participate in governance processes, and you will have a perfect formula for moving Africa forward in this age of rapid human advancement.
When adequately educated and nurtured, Africa’s greatest assets - its youth - will become productive citizens and the pillar for economic, cultural, political and social reformation of the African continent. The youth of Africa can be trained to become the golden generation of African technocrats leading business and commerce, scientific inventions, climate preservation, and infrastructural development. A trained youth-dominated workforce can make possible the construction of superhighways winding and meandering through hills and valleys, forests and deserts from Cairo to Cape Town. We can imagine and bring to reality an Africa where railways run from Kismaayo in the east to Monrovia in the west. We can dream and remake an Africa where the cultures, wisdom and skills of ancient kingdoms such as Timbuktu - where we had the first medical college in Africa – Songhai, Dahomey, and Nubia are revived, refined and used for the betterment of the lives of the African people.
All these dreams are possible and can be achieved. But to achieve these dreams, the youth of Africa must be given prime place and priority in terms of their education and training for conscious participation and positive contributions to this wonderful continent and its aspirations as outlined in “Agenda 2063.”
There has never been a perfect moment and an ideal driving force for the betterment of Africa. Agenda 2063 is not just a document; it is a living source of strength and energy. When allowed to work, this agenda is the single most important charter that will turn the 21st century into the Age of the African Century. For this agenda to work, we have to play our various roles dedicatedly. The youth will have to commit to education and training. We must demand from our governments and policy makers the support and opportunities to acquire education and skills in such indispensible disciplines as agriculture, natural resource management, climatology, engineering, medicine, business and commerce, and governance and civic leadership. The governments on the other hand must invest in education and job creation. We should even dare to say that African governments must invest up to 50% of their annual budgets into education, training and job creation for young people over the next 20 years. Is this too much a demand to make? When we invest in more education, training and job opportunities for our young people, we create an incentive for African youth to shy away from extremism and even the perilous journey through the Sahara and across the Mediterranean onward to Europe.
Africa is blessed to have a young population and hardworking people together with an enormity of untapped natural resources. Our evergreen rainforest remains mostly intact, stretching from the Congo to the western shores of Africa. Our oceans and rivers abound with great species of marine life which is already a source of employment for many. Our arable land and water resources can be used to fuel an African food and agro-processing industry to produce more than sufficient food to feed the African people and the rest of the world. All this can be led by our ever dynamic and energetic youth, given the proper mix of education and training and opportunities to hone their talents.
Our blue oceans – the Atlantic and Indian Oceans together with the Mediterranean Sea could be an enormous conduit for the boom of maritime and commerce to support this vast continent that Mother Nature has so graciously endowed us with.
We must all work to change Africa. We must rewrite our own stories wherein the African youth are given a prime place. Africans can create their own realities. In the immortal words of Kwame Nkrumah, “Circumstances can be changed by revolution and revolutions are brought about by men, by men who think as men of action and act as men of thought.”
No longer shall we sit idly and grieve about the wrongs of the past and ills of the present. O dear youth of Africa! Take this Agenda 2063 and move forward with it. Engage stakeholders and policymakers; hold seminars and roundtable discussions on this noble Agenda. Do so with the conviction that it is our collective African destiny! And in the process to chart the course for a new and better Africa, no African – young or old – should be an idle observer watching from a distance.
You who dream of not only a peaceful but a prosperous Africa, stand up! You who dare and dream to see youthful Africans taking leadership roles in governance, science, commerce, technology and academia, dream with us! Believe with us and embrace the renaissance and join the campaign to remake Africa, for the rebirth of our beloved continent is at hand.
About the author: The author is a Liberian citizen residing in Monrovia. He works for the Ministry of Education in Liberia, and he does consultancy for a number of youth organizations.