The general meeting of the African Development Bank (AfDB) held in Arusha recently ended with what promises to be the biggest hope and inspiration for the continent’s development.
AfDB has decided to tackle the problem of youth unemployment in Africa, which is the major source of poverty, insecurity and instability in the continent, with renewed zeal.
All the warlords, including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in East Africa, turned to child soldiers for recruitment into their ranks, compounding the tragic exploitation of an already suffering and marginalized group. But, of course, without a better hope, risking and causing death, misguided as it is, becomes more than a triumphant opportunity.
Youths form Africa’s biggest population segment, which remains largely unproductive due to a combination of factors, including a lack of opportunities to sources of finance and quality education. Demographically, that has always been a time bomb, but it appeared the continent had run out of ideas on how to confront it.
Yet, the drive to solve youth unemployment needs to be put in proper context and contectualisation geared at correcting the misconceptions. Because of Africa’s historical past, employment in the continent has often meant landing a salaried job. There is a popular joke in Tanzania about a particular community with a penchant for serving in the military.
A son went back home to announce proudly to his parents that he had landed a job with the power lighting company, only for his father to retort: “What kind of army is that?”
In my opinion, therefore, tackling youth unemployment has to address two major issues: job creation, and funding ideas or making available a line for venture capital.
Africa can develop within a generation if the above two questions were to be addressed with renewed determination and a dedicated sense of mission objective. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere knew very well that Tanzania had plenty of mineral resources and reserves. Yet he decided not to develop the industry for two major reasons.
According to Mwalimu, just coming out of colonialism and the people suddenly finding themselves awash in mineral wealth would have made them complacent in the spirit of hard work, which was the only transforming power for the people that Mwalimu believed in.
Secondly, Mwalimu believed that his largely illiterate population would not be able to benefit fairly from mineral deals, which required a high level of education and knowledge about the wealth being discussed and negotiated for equitably shared production and exploitation.
Since minerals cannot rot, Mwalimu reasoned, it was better to keep them in the ground until such a time that his people would best benefit from their exploitation.
In my opinion, hence, for meaningful transformation and change, the youth have to be encouraged and motivated to work on the land, the only resource that offers employment opportunity for all. Besides, land needs to be protected, which is why our forefathers fought for independence.
But that land would be highly compromised if it remained undeveloped in a world that is increasingly getting smaller and smaller.
Thus tackling youth unemployment by a bank that can promise sound plans not to be thwarted by a lack of resources is a whole new movement for change, which, if carefully guided and supported, will offer an African solution to Africa’s problems by the Africans themselves.
Oh, yes, we can.