Engaging Africa’s ‘lost generation’

Saturday, June 14, 2008

By James Shikwati, AfricanLiberty.org, Accra

JamesJune 11, 2008: They fought for Independence, participated in the liberation struggle of Zimbabwe and South Africa, but they were excluded from the fruits of freedom.

We have them here in Kenya; they were the youth then at Independence, at the fight for multi-party politics, and most recently at the demonstrations against bungled elections. I met one at the now 14-year old South Africa; she was emphatic.

"Don’t dare visit Eastern Cape at the moment, you people have taken our jobs, you ask for low pay and drive us out of the market," she said.

This is Africa’s lost generation. Driven by Africa’s ancient philosophy of ‘each-one-teach-one,’ the youth who missed school while busy in the struggle are now at a loss on how they can fit into a market economy.

The African National Congress used this philosophy to urge the youth in school to take time to teach their brothers and sisters who were out fighting against apartheid. Alas, at the end of the struggle, the educated few scrambled to get hold of the national pie and forgot their comrades.

Their comrades now stare numbed by their country’s First World status whose foundation is worse than that of Third World countries – uneducated youth. A similar thread runs in Kenya, where talk of economic performance indicator of seven per cent last year sounded like guitar music to a goat’s ear.

A young man from Zimbabwe pointed out to me that ‘African economies can never collapse’… because nobody has ever measured the real African economy (like the one driving Zimbabwe today). Africa’s lost generation is perpetually driven into this ‘unknown’ economy by comrades once the war is over.

How can we recapture our lost generation that now thrive in the so called ‘economic violence’ against foreigners in South Africa, Kenya’s Mungiki and the yet to be named group that will emerge from the post-election violence of 2008?

I propose market enterprise education to all Africans. I have closely observed the activities undergraduate students do under the global Students in Free Enterprise programme and strongly suggest that our lost generation ought to try it out.

First, this programme makes it clear to students not to wait for government to fix problems. Second, it teaches students to fail and rise up (referred to as SIFE experience) through annual business competition.

Third, it makes it clear to students that the global economy exists and one must learn how to operate well beyond their village, nation and continental interests. It’s all about seizing opportunities and making the best out of it.

I also propose that our heads of state sit by the fire and tell us the true history of the continent. His Excellency Thabo Mbeki has been at it for a long time, but he has stopped short of telling Africans what it is he knows about countries such as Zimbabwe that makes it safer for him to look the other way. Clearly, if the lost generation does not get the right history, then we might one day behave like the fabled snake that swallowed itself.

Governments in Africa should stop creating jobs for the youth and simply free the youth to take that responsibility. For example, the youth can take up the job of enforcing traffic rules, set up companies to repair highways, become frontline soldiers on war against famine, initiate a profit driven each-one-teach-one initiative.

It is clear that the education system we have in Africa does not prepare young people to be players in the global economy. Let us build on Africa’s enterprising spirit to teach market enterprise education to capture the lost generation.

James Shikwati is an http://www.africanliberty.org/ columnist. He is also Director of IREN, based in Kenya.