Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda has called on African countries to find synergies that would help harness the potential of its teeming and youthful populations for the development of the continent.
Rugunda said different generations make their own contributions, urging young people to be “charted into the right path to prosperity after careful analysis.”
“Let us not be too pessimistic about Africa; let us empower young people to break the remaining chains of servitude and create sustainable solutions that take into account the situation on the ground,” he emphasised.
He was this week speaking at the inaugural Africa Now dialogue held at the Africa Strategic Leadership Centre in Kampala under the Theme: Positioning Africa for the 21st Century – The Role of Think Tanks.
The dialogue attracted top leaders from government and development sectors, business and industry, the academia and young and emerging leaders among other participants.
Rugunda recalled that Africa’s forefathers fought for independence and built a base for freedom fighters to resist colonialism.
“The yoke of colonialism deprives ordinary people from freethinking,” said Rugunda, adding, “This forum is a chance for young people to track the current trends on the African continent and be part of the great African renaissance.”
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Country Representative, Alain Sibenaler agreed with Rugunda, saying, general communications of both old and young generations should come up with solutions to assist their governments to help the continent move to the great African renaissance.
“We’re trying enough to bring young people on board by listening to their perspectives,” he said, adding, “Entrepreneurship should be geared towards socially equitable change.”
Alain said Africa has a very large youth demographic dividend which should be harnessed to spur growth.
“There’s a digital revolution, which is mismatched by lack of social intelligence, which can spark influence in policymaking. Most young people are having merely social conversations of little impact on governance,” he emphasised.
The world today is home to 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 – and the youth population is growing fastest in developing countries.
With young people making up about 60 per cent of Africa’s population, they form a critical mass that can transform the growth and destiny of the continent.
Irene Ikomu, a lawyer and Strategy Consultant, made a case for young people inclusion in the development conversation for Africa.
“How do we put young people into the context of this great African conversation? We have to include young people into the development Agenda,” she observed.
“Where do you find young people? A good place to start is to find them on the Internet. The Internet has given young people digital democracy, which has enabled them influence policymaking from all over corners of Africa.”
Citing an example of Uganda, Ikomu said young people used social media activism to voice their opinion on the effects of the OTT tax.
“We need to see more youth inclusion and safe spaces for young people to thrive and have a conversation with the older generation as opposed to being isolated in policymaking decisions,” she said at the function moderated by BBC Newsday’s Alan Kasujja.
Norbert Mao, President General, Democratic Party, responding to the question of young people, said they must find their own destiny and work towards what they want in order to build a prosperous Africa.
“Young people see politicians as deeply polarizing and instead choose to follow entertainment celebrities. The youth shouldn’t disconnect themselves or unplug themselves from people who make decisions that influence their lives,” he noted.
“Young people need to act as catalysts to influence policymakers. Young people need to be organized. Shouting at those in power doesn’t help the African development agenda.”
Mao further said African countries should perfect their own homegrown democracies, which are inspired by their sense of community.
“By borrowing western democratic practices, we disrupt our own African process of governance and leadership. We should find a democratic formula that works for us and not distort or tinker the new changes,” said Mao.
Prof. Eddie Maloka, CEO Africa Peer Review Mechanism, called for investment in political energies to lobby within the African Union and transform African trade blocs to benefit from global markets.
Samia Nkrumah, President, Kwame Nkrumah Pan-African Centre, said the original African unity concept was to gather unification for political purposes and not for African integration. “We need to use power as leaders to build consensus for African development,” he said.
Dr. Korir Sing’Oei, Legal Advisor to Deputy President of Kenya called for a pragmatic approach and open borders to intra African trade while pushing for regional integration.
“The Internet has broken barriers. What hasn’t changed is physical communication. What we need these young people to do is to blend physical and Internet communication so as to bridge the generational divide,” he said.
On the advancement of technology, Wim Vanhelleputte, CEO, MTN Uganda, said “Africa is now leapfrogging to the global market race through its own homegrown innovations. East Africa is the leader in the world in developing digital cashless economy.”
Dr. Korir Sing’Oei said Africa is leveraging on technology in a way that is bringing beneficial outcomes.
“We’re facilitating a cash transfer system with our technologies. We are leveraging technology to address our development challenges. Africans are developing their own applications to address challenges such as disaster management, climate change,” he noted.
Ambassador Adonia Ayebare, Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, challenged participants to debate Africa’s benefits from its international diplomacy.
Deputy speaker, Jacob Oulanyah called for strategic positioning of Africa to benefit from the international business,
“Where’s Africa now? Where are we placed in terms of relations with the rest of the world? What partners do we have? How much value addition have we done? We don’t have a common position. We’re standing as Africa divided and not Africa united,” he said.
“We have adopted private sector led growth without money to finance it. How much capital do we have to kickstart our own growth? We need to revisit the Washington consensus. We need areas in our country where we need strategic interventions. Africa must re-position itself so as to benefit from this conversation. What kind of debates are we holding on African development? Do we have goods to sell? Do we have any existing markets? What kind of business models are we?” he wondered.
Prof. Edward Kirumira, representing Makerere University, urged considerable investment in the human capital resource of Africa.
“Africa is the most promising growth story. Africa is increasingly becoming an attraction for investment from world over. We must take the position of ownership to actualize this,” said Kirumira.
“The most critical driver for African development is human resource. Africa Now is Africa that must take control of its destiny.”
The Africa Strategic Leadership Centre is an independent think tank that acknowledges the role of research and the academia in generating new knowledge and informing new leadership and development alternatives for the continent