We often hear that it is tough growing up in today’s world. It is fair to say that the challenges and pressures on young people are pretty relentless. Whether cultural, social or educational, that transformational period in a young person’s life when he becomes an adult is full of pitfalls. Leveraging the powerful tools of modern communications is proving to bring voices of African youth closer to decision makers,.Voice Africas Future — a campaign that collects African youth’s visions on the post MDGs era — is a perfect example.
Growing up in a small village in western Kenya brings along its own set of problems. This is not to say that going through life in this setting is more or less difficult, but the obstacles in one’s way are a little bit different. What is the same, in large part, is the route through them: hard work and perseverance.
While many of these challenges I’ve now traversed, I’m mindful that far too many of my peers fell at one or another hurdle, before picking themselves up and dusting themselves off. One of the factors that we face as young people in Africa — and is not present to the same extent in the developed world — is the ever-present spectre of disease.
Clearly, illness can affect us all, and does, but with 40% of the population in my home of Kenya not having access to clean drinking water, while over 70% go without proper toilets, the prevalence of ill health is much greater.
Many of these problems are interlinked. A lack of these basic services means you can regularly miss days, if not weeks, at school. This in turn can impact on your employment prospects, leading to a perpetuation of poverty and unemployment. Kenya’s youth unemployment rate hovers around the 40% mark — compare that to 22% in Europe and 16% in the USA, and you’re beginning to see the scale of the challenge.
The international development charity WaterAid has estimated that economies in Sub-Saharan Africa lose around 4.5% of their GDP each year due to a lack of access to water and sanitation. This is actually more than the continent receives in aid each year. A more holistic approach to youth development and empowerment that recognises how young people are being held back is clearly required.
This is not to say that we don’t have the capacity and ability to realise our own potential. Modern technology, ever rapidly at the fingertips of a tech-savvy younger generation is helping us to shift the paradigm and enter and compete in a global environment.
From business, networking, utilising innovation, creativity, to the ability to understand and pass on information quicker than it can be controlled or obscured by who governs us, technology is merging with our continent’s demographic dividend, and the prospects for a brighter future are unprecedented.
While this generation benefits from unique advantages, young people are still largely excluded from real influence or power in decision making, including in those decisions that predominantly affect us.
Addressing this representation gap is difficult. Exclusion from power and influence breeds despondency and apathy. Support is required to close this gap, and frankly the actual financial and technical assistance required to do this, particularly go get things set up and running on a sustainable long term basis, is rarely available. This is something that has held me back substantially, and holds others down.
As you would expect though, younger people are not going to be held down for long. We’ve looked to each other for inspiration, encouragement and support, more often than not, at a click of a few buttons. We are creating our own future, one which requires adaptation, pragmatism and a dynamic respect for innovation. We are own teachers in this brave new world – it is older generations that ask for our help and advice in accessing the tools that we are utilising.
We should not pretend that there is not exclusion, a digital divide that exists, but this is closing fast. For young people on the continent, and elsewhere in the word, the responsibility rests on you to get engaged. There is an abundance of opportunities out there and by joining up we just increase the pot for us all.
The crest of this wave is growing. From Nigeria to Ghana, South Africa to Kenya, these waters are crashing around us, gushing out a mix of technology and creative innovation and opportunity. I say to the youth of Africa: It is time to ride this wave, as the tide is unstoppable.