In November 2023 Zimbabwean legislators had the first meeting in the new 650-seat parliament building in Mount Hampden, approximately 18km northwest of Harare. The massive $100 million building is a gift from the Chinese. China has over the years lavished African governments and leaders with expensive gifts in what Joshua Meservey termed palace diplomacy. So, after sinking into the comfort of the new seats many legislators (most of whom are visibly nearing retirement age) fell asleep. Unfortunately, this happens regularly at gatherings where some of the most important issues are debated and decisions concerning the nation are made. One of the most noticeable things was the absence of young people at the gathering.
Although I used an example from Zimbabwe, my message concerns the entire continent.
Agenda 2063 is Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future. It is an impressive policy document that inspires much hope for the future. Its potential to influence development will only be fully unlocked when young people are educated on its objectives and provided with opportunities and support (financial, educational, and social) to bring it to life. Africa has the youngest population in the world, with 70% of sub-Saharan Africa under the age of 30. This large population of young people is an opportunity for the continent’s growth. However, at present, it is estimated that less than 5 percent of youth have a savings account because of barriers to accessing financial services. Financial service providers have neglected youth or offered them services that are not adapted to their characteristics and needs.
On the legal front, the inclusion of young people in politics and development issues is in accordance with the Child participation right guaranteed in international law, specifically under articles 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and 4(2) of the African Children’s Charter. It is a facilitative right that is significant in the intellectual development of the child and vital for a child’s autonomy and social responsibility later in a child’s life course.
I am encouraged when I read stories such as that of 18-year-old Jaylen Smith, who was elected mayor of Earle, Arkansas. He made history as the youngest-ever African American mayor elected in the history of the United States of America. Jaylen told CNN that he had run not to make a name for himself, but to help his community and move it in the direction that it needed to be moved in. I am also encouraged by initiatives by the United Nations and its partners to build an inclusive environment for the youth.
In today's Africa, incompetent and corrupt leaders use public office to amass wealth. They have been settling for the inferior pleasures of driving luxury cars and living in mansions acquired through public funds when children are dying from preventable diseases. It is imperative that young people are inspired and supported in their efforts to pursue noble and unselfish goals. For instance, improving access to healthcare services, education, social services, and justice. If they aspire to be wealthy, there are many avenues to that which include high-paying professions, commercial farming, mining, and operating innovative businesses that provide employment, improve the standard of living, and solve some of our greatest challenges such as climate change.
The main question then becomes, how can we ensure that young people are increasingly involved in the affairs of the continent and oriented towards the development goals of Agenda 2063? I believe that there are many ways to accomplish this. However, the crux of the matter is that there should be collaborative action between educational and financial institutions, governments, and civil society at the provincial, national, regional, and continental levels.
Africa has united to fight against significant challenges such as HIV/AIDS and COVID-19. It is now imperative that it takes a proactive stance in ensuring that young people are involved in shaping the trajectory of the continent in line with the shared African vision of The Africa We Want.