#WithoutWalls – start­ing the de­bate about Africa’s youth

CityPress - - Voices - Fred Khumalo voices@city­press.co.za

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

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