Africa must listen to the voice of youth.

Author:Chimhanzi, Jacqueline
 
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Africa's challenges require the new thinking that only young people can bring. Dr Jacqueline Chimhanzi and Monique Atouguia of the African Leadership Institute explain why we need to pay more attention to the voice of youth and how we can make sure it is heard.

It is undeniable that Africa's young people are not simply a demographic wave but in fact the entire ocean. They are, to quote Dr Wangui Kimari, "the demographic, creative, labour and political majority". Africa is, by far, the youngest continent on the globe and is set to remain so for the next 30 years. The average median age on the continent is estimated to be 19.7 years, in contrast to median ages of 30.6 in Asia and 41.7 in Europe.

Given the complexities and challenges the continent faces, there is a need to harness ideas from across the population divide--men, women and youth--to propel Africa forward. While inclusion and diversity policies have largely focused on gender, there have not been similar concerted efforts focused on the youth.

Leadership on the continent must strive to become increasingly more youth-led. Only about 3% of the continent's population are over the age of 65, yet the average age of African leaders is 77. This puts the average age gap between citizens and their leaders on the continent at about 48 years.

What this represents is a severe distortion of representation and leadership. Despite what many have referred to as a "demographic dividend", young Africans continue to be marginalised and evidence suggests that this demographic dividend is not being harnessed.

Business as usual isn't working

Therefore, it cannot be business as usual. The nature of the challenges that Africa faces require a new kind of responsiveness. The demand for new thinking and innovative solutions has seldom been greater and these solutions are necessarily created at the nexus of experience and new thinking which will necessarily be enabled by intergenerational efforts.

But those intergenerational dynamics can be challenging. Reflecting on his own experience, David Sengeh, chief innovation officer at the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation of Sierra Leone, says: "What was important was for me to learn how to engage with the age mates of my father and uncles--the societal and cultural dynamics can be very difficult to navigate. What helps with the intergenerational dynamics are the technical contributions you make which make your presence invaluable at the table."

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