Youth in Africa – A New Mind-set Arising?
This is nothing new, but it is still worth mentioning: while Europe is growing old, Africa is getting younger. More than 70 per cent of Africans are under the age of 40. Youth is said to be the age of rebellion, of energy, of creativity, all of which change societies.
"There is a positive restlessness", reports Ghana's Minister for Youth and Sport Elvis Afriyie-Ankrah. The audience applauds as he continues: "We don't want to keep waiting for the politicians to act. We want to act ourselves."
The audience is young. From 22-24 April 2013, young leaders, creative minds and determined entrepreneurs from all over English-speaking Africa gathered in Berlin at the Future Forum of the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). They don't want to wait; they want to act. And one message is very clear: they also don't want to be seen as the ones who need help – they want to be accepted as equal actors. This message was heard: "I love this kind of conference because it's about Africa and not about charity", enthused BMZ State Secretary Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz.
"It's about Africa and not about charity."
The conference structure was unusual. Instead of several panel talks, all the participants came in direct contact with one another. The focus was on discussions in small groups on a range of different topics. Every group was a mixture of African innovators and German policy-makers, making the event a mutual learning experience.
"I am a classical slum boy", Mark Kamau notes. "But technology saved me." He grew up without formal education and with few perspectives for the future, yet went on to become the founder of the high-profile crowdmapping platform Ushahidi. "Mobile phones are what makes Africa sexy", adds Mark Kaigwa. Kaigwa is a blogger, famous in the blogosphere, and a well-known expert for digital innovations and online communities in eastern Africa. He's used to travelling around the globe on his mission: to show and convince decision-makers and policy-makers worldwide that Africa has changed – and that the image the Western world has of Africa must be reshaped.
(All Photos © GIZ / Thomas Ecke)
There were many who seem to have relied on technology for success – like Oasis founder and web manager Raindolf Owusu. Forbes once called him "the Mark Zuckerberg of Accra". Yet Kamau's hopes for the conference were quite simple: "Let's talk about people, not about technology." People and their problems come first. Then you can start looking for a technology that might solve these problems.
And there were many who became innovators out of need. People who, when faced with high unemployment rates in their home countries, created their own jobs. Like Emmie Kio, an agribusiness manager, who began growing vegetables on her rooftop and blogging about her experiences in gardening. The blog has made her a star of the urban gardening community. To use her own words: "This blog emanated from my futile job search after graduating from college. So many of my peers edged their eyes on one focal job and going by lack of experience, we were dearly kicked out. Not to mention how difficult it is to get a job in an agricultural related sector. I thought of being a job creator and not seeker so I set on a path to learn about the basic agricultural practices unemployed youths could involve themselves in and still earn a decent income."
"Entrepreneurial thinking was new to my parents," says Will Mutua, author of the book "Innovations from Africa". "They had a strong sense of security and continuity. But us young Africans, we are beginning to embrace the unknown."
"If the next big thing doesn't come out of Africa, there will be no big thing."
The African economy is growing quickly – and investors are coming to provide financing and get involved even at this early stage of the rising entrepreneurial scene. Nairobi, Accra, Cape Town and Addis Ababa are the new centers for innovative projects and start-ups, many in the field of digital business, but also in other branches like general media, fashion and design.
Markos Lemma, a participant from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, commented afterwards on Facebook: "90 innovation hubs across Africa and counting. If the next big thing doesn't come out of Africa, there will be no big thing."
It's time to press the reset button and to reshape our image of Africa.
Thanks to all for this outstanding meeting of minds!