Youth Leadership Development: Lessons from the past

Some of the founding leaders of the OAU. (Source Steelpulse)
Some of the founding leaders of the OAU. (Source Steelpulse)

By Gwamaka R. Kifukwe

“Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it…” – Franz Fanon

Youth leadership development programmes and networks have become abundant in Africa. Each claiming to equip, support, and inspire ‘the next generation of Africa’s leaders’. Leadership is a great challenge for Africa, and one of the things we can draw from the numerous and massive investments in Africa’s young high-achievers and those recognised as ‘high potential’ is that the world is taking ‘the next generation of Africa’s leaders’ very seriously.

History tells us that young people, whether in the civil rights movement of the United States or the ‘Arab Spring’ across North Africa and the Middle East, play a critical role in ushering in change. Indeed, many of the icons of Africa’s independence era were all relatively young when they led us to independence: Kenneth Kaunda (40), Patrice Lumumba (34), Samora Machel (41), Kwame Nkrumah (47), Julius Nyerere (39), Thomas Sankara (33), Haile Selassie I (24), Sekou Toure (36), etc. At the very least, this list of distinguished men (and this is not to detract from the critical role of women in these movements) highlights the potential of youth. It should be noted, none of the above-mentioned (nor other leaders of that generation) ever had opportunities for specialised and dedicated grooming in the form of youth leadership programmes. However, they were visionary in the sense that they quickly realised that they needed each other – the pan-African struggle is and was as much a moral battle as it was a case of ‘enlightened self-interest’ since their fates were intimately linked.

Sadly, there are few examples where youth organise themselves or are being organised by, of and for Africa. This reflects a failure to recognise the power and importance of networks of and for leaders (and leadership). In part, this is due to an emphasis on leaders as individuals. Sadly, this is a lesson from the past that we are ignoring. Not organising young high achievers and high- potential youths is a missed opportunity. That the world recognises Africa’s talents and potential is great – and well deserved for the many men and women who have had the privilege and opportunity to participate in these programmes. However, there is a missing piece to the puzzle. In order for Africa to progress as Africa, we need to build the relationships between these young individuals to understand our different pasts and value-systems, and build consensus around our common purpose and destiny, on our terms. We are failing to marshal these (would-be) ‘leaders’ into a cohesive ‘leadership’ that will drive the continent and her people forward. This requires specialised investment in and organisation of this demographic that so far has not been forthcoming by the continent itself.

The most valuable component of these programmes is not the technical knowledge that is gained, nor is it the opportunity to practice particular skills associated with ‘leading’. The community (or network) of peers who one can reach out to for guidance or support is by far the most valuable take-away for participants. As mentioned above, the liberation-era leaders across Africa formed these social bonds and are known to have been in constant communication. Despite the lack of specialised grooming, they realised the importance of alliances and a group of leaders (peers) to form a collective leadership. These relationships were vital in securing Africa’s independence. Such relationships are, and will be, vital for good leadership in Africa. As these programmes are often not Africa based or formed, which individuals are being promoted, and why? How are potential-leaders identified? For what purpose are they being groomed? Are we coaching and mentoring would-be leaders to equip them with the skills and knowledge to understand how Africa got to be where it is today, why we face the challenges we face, where Africa’s place is in the world, and what efforts we can build on to get a better seat at the global table?

This piece starts with a famous quote from Franz Fanon, a psychiatrist and anti-colonial philosopher who fought in the Algerian War of Independence. It speaks to the heart of the matter regarding the development of young and emerging leaders in Africa – for what?

Through the African Union, African Heads of State and Government have adopted the Agenda 2063 (with its seven pillars) followed by seven goals. Are these the tasks we are setting our leaders? Are we doing enough to prepare ourselves across private, public, and civil society spaces to take on the leadership challenges that fulfilling these seven goals will face, and are our leaders doing enough to prepare future leaders for this task?

If we are serious about our future, we must groom the young and emerging leaders of today, to move us towards sustainable development and transformation. We must prepare them, so that when they too become Elders, they will in turn help to prepare future young and emerging leaders for Africa. For this, Africa too must look to the talented individuals across the continent and give them the opportunities and support they need to succeed – and we need to get them talking to, and working with, each other.

For more on Agenda 2063 see http://agenda2063.au.int/en/home

Frantz Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ is available from the UONGOZI Institute Resource Centre (http://www.uongozi.or.tz/centerservices.php)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the above article are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of UONGOZI Institute.

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