#WithoutWalls – starting the debate about Africa’s youth
Until the lion learns to read and write, the Nigerian thinker and novelist Chinua Achebe warned us, the story of the hunt shall always be told from the perspective of the hunter.
Although this oft-cited aphorism sits more comfortably in the African literary arena, I use it for my own purposes this week.
Acting as moderator in a discussion entitled Taking European Union (EU) African Union (AU) Relations Forward: Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Through Investments in Youth, I was struck by how young people are tired of being defined by grown-ups.
“A discussion on youth hosted by full-grown adults is like learning English through French,” one of the Twitter participants in the debate piped in.
Unlike the illiterate lion in Achebe’s story, young people of today believe they are literate and “woke” enough to articulate their aspirations, and thus take charge of their own destinies.
“We are unapologetic about economic freedom in our lifetime,” said Melikhaya Mchithwa, an unemployed honours graduate from Mthatha.
“We also want to emphasise that we want to be part of decision making in our countries. In South Africa we want 40% and above of youth representation in Parliament,” he declared.
Although unemployed in the traditional sense, Mchithwa’s business card has detailed information about the self-taught skills he uses to make a living: event management, marketing, bulk food supply and construction.
Mchithwa epitomises the spirit of defiance and determination. The formal employment system might have excluded him because he does not have a certain skill set, but his brains and determination meant he was selected as a panellist.
To its credit, the EU, in setting up the discussion, was trying to create a forum where young people could speak for themselves. The panel was a forerunner to the 4th annual Africa-Europe Youth Summit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, starting tomorrow. Mchithwa will be one of the 115 youth leaders attending, along with fellow panellist, Makhi Motshekga.
The discussion took place live on City Press’ Facebook page, with Mchithwa, Motshekga and Erminia Notarangelo, head of the European external action service: Southern Africa division, and the participation of City Press’ online readers.
The starting point of the discussion was the AU’s Roadmap, released in February this year, which seeks to get the youth involved in re-energising the continent, through employment and entrepreneurship; education and skills development; health and wellbeing; and rights, governance and youth empowerment.
Notarangelo said a big challenge facing South Africa and the continent is a skills shortage resulting from a lack of vocational training.
She said that further discussions could help offer Africans opportunities for vocational training in Europe, which would make a dent in the skills shortage in their home countries.
Solving this problem, which leads to unemployment, including in such developed economies as South Africa and Nigeria, could have an impact on immigration trends.
Thousands of unemployed or unemployable Africans flock to Europe – and to South Africa – in search of opportunities to survive.
It is therefore clear that empowering youth with skills will go a long way towards stemming this tide of migration.
Many young people forced into exile by the vicissitudes of malfunctioning economies back home would return to their roots in their droves, if interventions were made to train them, and give them a say in how training programmes were run, and how they could participate in the economy.
It is depressing how some of the continent’s economies have been mismanaged, which has impacted negatively on education and skills development.
This cooperation between the EU and the AU – with youth being the focus – gives us hope that all is not lost. However, the ball is now in the young people’s court to participate in the venture.
The fourth Africa-Europe Youth Summit takes place from October 9 to 11 in Abidjan,
Ivory Coast. Visit eeas.europa.eu