The leadership structures on the continent have been predominantly occupied by those who have reached retirement age, with no intent to hand the baton on to younger prospects. Perhaps it’s time to truly reflect on who is best suited to move the continent forward as we grapple with digitisation, innovation, globalisation and
Africa is a young continent, one filled with the promise of rising against an ongoing narrative that’s been long fuelled by the debilitating impact of colonialism and continent-wide struggle for in-dependence, the festering wounds of apartheid, the ramifications of societal injustices, institution-al mismanagement, (perceived) state capture and more recently, questionable responses to the global pandemic. An ailing leadership across the continent is a huge proponent for change simply because, as African youth, we can be the driving force for the transformation we would like to wit-ness in our lifetime.
Africa’s youth are keen to experience that ray of light at the end of the tunnel. But how can this be if we do not assume a revolutionary approach to our involvement in the issues that affect our communities? We are running towards the light, some of us taking tremendous risks as we embark on the entrepreneurship journey out of sheer necessity.
But whether we are forming or joining an enter-prise, we have the old guard to contend with. Many of Africa’s policymakers and institutional leaders are well in the sunset of their lives, indicating no intent to hand the baton on to younger prospects. Also, there are simply not enough jobs in the marketplace to accommodate the growing number of degree-holding candidates being churned out of the continent’s tertiary institutions; and much less for those returning home from the diaspora after having spent years seeking educational and professional exploits elsewhere.
For others, the opportunities presented simply haven’t yielded much by way of reward. But the issue of job security is only one component of the challenges that plague Africa’s institutional leadership and the civilian population they purport to serve. In all that chasing we are doing in our quest to finally roll over into a vast horizon of prospects for self-actualisation, political relevance, community impact and other such milestones, the better question is, does the old guard really want to see us emerge from this invisible tunnel that transcends the countless borders across our continent? Are the leadership structures that have long held onto ideas that characterised their rise to power, ready to hand over the seats so a new crop can take on the reigns?
Young people are the game-changers who are negotiating for Africa’s destinyCYNTHIA CHIRINDA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR AFRICA REFORM INSTITUTE (ARI)
Cynthia Chirinda is the Executive Director for Africa Reform Institute (ARI), a non-partisan organisation formed in 2008 to enable citizen participation for socioeconomic development in Africa, through a sustainable development-based approach. While at inception the goal was to empower democratic political leaders who would impact the nation-building impetus in Zimbabwe through servant-leadership on a non-partisan basis, over the years, leadership development has emerged as a key focus, thereby identifying strategic components that facilitate a holistic approach beyond Zimbabwe, to Africa’s development agenda as a whole.
Renowned as a communications strategist, certified life coach and for having authored multiple books on the subject of personal development and transformational leadership, Chirinda is well versed with the challenges that face Africa’s youth in addressing the status quo, especially as it re-lates to a more progressive approach by Africa’s leaders in fostering participation by youth, and women in particular. Chirinda is an active voice in the continent’s discourse on the radical mindset shifts that will contribute towards leadership succession planning and sustainable political and corporate governance for future generations.
When asked what she views as some of the challenges witnessed in her work across the continent, Chirinda states: “Africa in its diversity shares some common barriers to its development which are deeply embedded. Whilst different regions on the continent face challenges that are unique to their different political and socioeconomic landscape, Africa boasts of untold wealth in human capital and natural resources. Her poverty and wealth descriptive are a paradox that needs to be addressed through capacity development, shifts in leadership and systematic strongholds in order for a brighter future to be obtained.”
Cynthia believes that such milestones can be reached through concerted efforts of a values-based leadership, with opportunities deliberately converted to tangible points of advantage as Africa asserts its position as an active participant in the global landscape. Our youth are to be counted as contributors and potential trailblazers in all progressive efforts if, in fact, we are to wit-ness any resolutions that will positively impact the world’s youngest population.
It is not the liberators’ way of thinking that will aid Africa in its quest for recognition on the global scale but rather that of the forward-thinking, younger crop, who have exposure and connectivity to foster their innovation
There is much to be said about Africa’s political and corporate leaders’ current efforts to better prepare Africa’s youth for exponential growth and global com-petition. Covid-19 alone has highlighted the vulnerabilities of the continent and these will persist should leadership not aggressively pursue further technological advancement and connectivity for a now digital world, access to affordable healthcare and food security for all. With lockdowns imposed across the globe, it was the nations with archaic political systems whose shortcomings were exposed, further highlighting just how much traditional methods of thinking and operating have become obsolete, not only in Africa, but across the world.
“I personally believe that young people are the game-changers who are negotiating for Africa’s destiny. Africa is at a watershed moment where the young generation has to participate actively if the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative is to see the light of day and produce the kind of thought leaders Africa needs to move forward decisively.
“Leaders have always had to balance the immediate short-term needs of the entities they lead with the long-term strategies and vision. This calls for succession planning on every level, with deliberate coaching and mentoring of young people. A healthy balance between institutional memory and innovation is required,” Cynthia says emphatically.
The fact remains that Africa is at the crossroads as it has been for a long time. Recent weeks have ushered us into analysing our proficiencies in mitigating many of the challenges that the pandemic has brought to the fore; many of which were common knowledge, but perhaps not widely viewed as priorities by the political and institutional old guard. The hope is that as a continent, we witness the accelerated retirement of senior leaders and the employment of younger employees who are at the cusp of digitisation, innovation and globalisation, juxtaposed with a truly democratic approach to local governmental and commercial progressiveness.
Conversely though, perhaps Africa’s young people need to play a more active role in raising awareness of the changes required to accommodate the fast-evolving landscape that heralds the continent’s future. With many Africans in the diaspora looking to make their return, many of their concerns lay in whether their home countries can accommodate the breadth of knowledge, expertise and exposure they bring back. While living, studying and working abroad invokes a strong sense of progress on a personal level, there are still numerous societal encumbrances many face as migrants. It is, therefore, commonplace for them to won-der whether there is a place for them — and fit in — in the home countries they long left.
When asked to comment on what the approach should be in redrafting the current narrative, especially as it relates to a meeting of the minds between the older generation and the youth slated to carry forward the progressive legacies of current leaders, Cynthia asserts: “Analysing the 17 SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] as the building blocks towards ending poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and tack-ling climate change by 2030, it is clear that there is a need to rethink the calibre of citizenry that can bring their agency to work towards and also demand that duty-bearers deliver on such a vision. African leaders across the board needs to prepare for these shifts by accommodating and empowering young people to take on meaningful and significant roles that drive in-novation on an organisational and national level.
“The best leaders today are those people who know what to do when nobody knows what to do and are able to navigate confidently through uncertainty and paradox. As a collective, we can become great ancestors together through future thinking, transgenerational empathy and visions of all people flourishing. We can do this by promoting disruptive thinking and by engaging a transgenerational mindset,” Cynthia says.
Sustainable transformation for future generations in Africa requires that each citizen takes ownership of the varied roles they play as part of a global ecosystem. Beyond personal branding being the impetus of many of our individual steps towards growth, our collective culture and methodology ought to represent Africa authentically in the best possible manner. This means too that the old guard cannot relinquish their responsibility to the generations they are raising by failing to groom them for the opportunities that will arise after they are gone. In the same vein, the younger generation can no longer be complacent when raising their hands to receive the torches available for the carrying. It is not the liberators’ way of thinking that will aid Africa in its quest for recognition on the global scale but rather that of the forward-thinking, younger crop, who have exposure and connectivity to foster their innovation.