By Awel Uwihangane
WITH most of Africa celebrating 50 years of independence, it is a good time to take stock of the achievements; reflect on lost opportunities, and the road ahead.
We are at the same time confronted with the reality of increased global economic challenges, climate changes, and the reality of the youngest population in the world being in Africa that is, 65% under the age of 18 years.
The young population could be an asset or a problem, depending on how it is addressed.
The road ahead to the diamond jubilee for most African countries will be determined by the quality of leadership, the purchasing capacity of the citizens, and a skilled population.
Whereas Africa has achieved a lot under difficult circumstances, we could have done much better. Where we lagged behind and did not progress as we could have, leadership takes a big part of the blame. Most of the last 30-50 years, Africa was characterised by strongmen as presidents, devastating poverty, conflict, and disease.
With the world economy under duress, Africa is once again attracting the attention of the rest of the world as the next frontier for business and investment opportunity.
The future of Africa is in its young generation, the usage of technology and industry to manipulate the various resources to leap frog the development curve. We shouldn’t allow globalisation to subject another generation of Africans to yet a different form of colonialism, by taking over the economic destiny of the continent from Africans.
This is what will happen if we do not invest in our young generation, to ensure economic and financial freedom, harness skills necessary to be at the center of production, and to ensure there is enlightened and value based leaders who emerge to guide the development of society, the means of production shaping Africa of the next 50 years.
The increased life expectancy of Ugandans from 46 years a few years ago, to 52, means the majority of those below the age of 15years, constituting 56% of the general population will live close to the diamond jubilee celebrations in 2062. When these numbers are coupled with those under the age of 35 years, the percentage points go up to 85% of the total population today.
Whereas this critical section of the population could potentially be a huge asset to grow the middle and working class, fears exists that this might not be the case for Uganda, because, as a country, we do not seem too concerned with shaping a positive oriented generation of citizens.
The NRM has over the last 26 yrs achieved great results from investing in primary healthcare to ensure a larger group of healthy citizens, who are now the youths we are concerned about.
The same group has benefitted from a liberalised education system which has enabled Uganda attain the over 75% literacy rates.
Liberalising the economy also allowed foreign investments to flow in and local investments to grow, creating jobs and growing the economy.
However, how did the current crop of leaders with incredible track record of youth activism become the same uninspiring on youth matters? Some people have suggested that we cannot sit there and complain that we have to prove ourselves, or fight for the change that we seek.
That is true to a certain extent, that we need to engage more and offer alternative ideas and solutions.
However I disagree that we have to ‘fight’ for opportunity and to serve. We have had half of the 50 years as peaceful and stable independent state, enough time for tradition, culture to grow and be passed on.
We expect elders to mentor the youth, prepare them to manage the affairs of society and ensure the traditions and practices are not lost in between.
Without deliberate effort at mentorship, public messages directed at inspiring a particular way of thinking, it is unfair to expect the youth to find a sense of self, of purpose, direction or appreciation of legacy.
Times have changed; the new struggle is of new and innovative ideas to transform society, not wars. Inspiring and positively shaping the young generation is a challenge for today’s leaders.
The writer is a promoter of youth enterprise and leadership development