Internal Rejuvenation: The Panacea for Africa’s Wealth Creation for Youth

“The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people.” This African proverb speaks of the power of a people to make or break themselves, their countries and the globe. And so, it is with Africa. The success or failure of Africa rests squarely on the shoulders of its citizens and on the decisions they make.

In no time is this discussion more relevant than it is now. Presently Africa has more people below the age of 20 than anywhere in the world. In 2050, over half of the global population growth is expected to be in Africa. This is a demographic shift of seismic proportions that potentially portends good economic tidings for the continent.

But just as an African proverb admonishes, that “having rain clouds is not the same as having rain,” such good tidings are not a given as the prevailing situation suggests. While on paper, a growing youthful population is an open door to reaping a demographic dividend. However, the reality faced by Africa’s youth is nothing short of an albatross, weighing down on their backs. Up to 12 million youth join the labour market annually to compete for just 3 million jobs. The number of job-seeking youth on the continent is projected to exceed the rest of the globe combined reaching over 350 million in less than 17 years. The number of poor working youth has increased by up to 80% over the past 25 years. Unaddressed, are the consequences of this trend which have been described, and rightfully so, like a ticking time bomb, that is dangerously close to exploding.

“Do not walk into a snake-pit with your eyes open.” Africa’s eyes are wide open to the potential dangers of a ballooning unemployed youthful population. The big step is devising a lasting solution.

From jobs to wealth creation – a lasting winning formula for jobs in Africa. “If there were no elephant in the jungle, the buffalo would be a great animal.” This African proverb admonishes us to always aim for the highest we can reach. At the core of every development vision on this continent is an objective or a chapter on “job creation.” Most of these visions were developed at about the same time, a few years after the turn of the millennium in the year 2000. These development visions have been in the works for about 10 years, yet the results are far from satisfactory. There are still no jobs. Time has come to shift gears and aim for the highest – wealth creation. The “job creation” path is largely government-centric.

Government is looked upon to both create public jobs through development projects, as well as attract private sector investment, through various policies and infrastructural incentives that will lead to employment. Wealth creation is a paradigm shift. It draws from a famous saying by an iconic leader – “ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Wealth creation is a clarion call to the daughters and sons of Africa, to rediscover themselves and reap the rewards inherent in solving the continent’s challenges through the creation of enterprises. The days of expecting the government to legislate, develop and implement policies, monitor and report progress are no longer tenable. Non-state actors and Africa’s 720 million strong youthful population are the most significant non-state actor constituency that needs to be leveraged.

Wealth creation – the panacea to address Africa’s challenges. Simply, wealth is the accumulation of capital – human and material. Of all the components of wealth, human capital – the skills, creativity, talent, energy and ongoing initiative of citizens, and especially the super-majority youthful population, constitute the most sovereign, critical capital. Human capital is the most significant component of wealth globally. With human capital, one can generate material. What has hampered Africa’s progress has been the lopsided prioritization of material over human capital. For example, during the independence dispensation of the 60s, most African countries had a much higher base to start from. For example, at that time, South Korea was a country in economic trouble. A population facing acute starvation prompted goodwill from nations – including Africa.

Fast-forward to today, South Korea, with no minerals unlike Africa, a mineral-rich continent, and roughly five times smaller than many African countries has an economy estimated at 15 times the combined size of Africa’s economies. This meteoric rise can be summed up in one of my favourite African proverbs, “He who has no pond should not breed crocodiles.” South Korea focused on maximizing strategic industries where it had a comparative advantage. It then convened its human capital across all sectors, towards complementing productivity maximization and global competitiveness in those strategic areas. Leveraging its human capital to build globally competitive enterprises around sectors of comparative advantage was how South Korea built a formidable economic foundation that led to its recovery. This is a lesson in wealth creation that citizens of the continent must learn. Africa’s prioritization of material and financial resources over people has been its major undoing.

“He who is bitten by a snake fears a lizard.” The big lesson of retrogression now calls for a paradigm shift. It is time that Africans, and especially youth leverage what they have – their skills, talents, interests, and work, to work in selfless partnerships with compatriots with complementary skills, and develop enterprises drawn from comparative advantage sectors, that solve the continent’s challenges. Youth should now work to create enterprises that employ fellow youths, not compete for ever-shrinking jobs. Work to solve the continent’s challenges, not wait for government and do so by leveraging the continents comparative advantage sectors.

Tapping Africa’s wealth creation opportunities. Human existence on planet earth provides a very fundamental lesson that no problem of human making is beyond a human solution. As morally free agents, all it takes for humans to solve problems of their making is a renewed mindset. It will be no different in Africa. With a renewed mindset, Africa’s sovereign capital, its people & especially youth, will need to exercise the following tenets of internal rejuvenation, in transitioning the continent towards wealth creation, that unlocks income opportunities for all;

People, especially youth, must channel their skills towards maximizing the productivity of Africa’s comparative advantage sectors. An African proverb best depicts why “Those who are born on top of an anthill take a short time to grow tall.” Decentralizing clean energy has a comparative advantage. Africa has the best solar resources on the planet which can power agriculture. Furthermore, the continent has over 60% of global arable land which is capable of creating a $1 trillion dollar economy. The continent’s postharvest losses amounting to $48 billion can be converted into food secure homes and enterprises that put more money in more pockets & the government. The continents middle class estimated to constitute a $150 billion market will be the fuel driving the growth of such enterprises. To ensure competitiveness, such enterprises must be developed by complementing skills across key areas like technology, engineering & innovation, agriculture, marketing, and law.

“You have little power over what is not yours.” What will make Africa’s youth relevant – what will make them stand out for the long-run in a highly competitive globe is what they can contribute. It is their skills that count and is the only premium they need to tap to forge mutually beneficial market partnerships that tap this catalytic area. So, youth should invest in perfecting their skills, not “chasing money.”

One casual yet profound saying goes, “organise yourself before you try to organize anything.” Like beams in a house or bones to a body, so is order to all things. It is literally the support structure of success in any endeavor in life. Africa’s youth must build inclusive wealth by actioning the catalytic areas.

Internal rejuvenation – the trigger for Africa’s prosperity. A common saying in Africa is “when a fire starts from the shrine, no precaution can be possible.” It is unstoppable. At the core of Africa’s internal rejuvenation, the challenge is the need to establish the trigger for a renewed mindset that will set-off the perpetual and instinctive cascade of exercising the above tenets to the point where they are unstoppable. This trigger is finding purpose and it lies latent in all of us. Through structured guidance and mentorship, a critical mass of purpose-driven youth can be unlocked. This is the essence of Innovative Volunteerism which is a novel tool used for mentoring & inspiring youth to discover their purpose in the context of actualizing inclusive wealth in Africa, and structurally guiding them to exercise these tenets of internal rejuvenation.

“The sweet rice is eaten quickly” – lessons of wealth creation are like sweet rice and the continent’s youth must urgently take upon itself to consume these lessons. This is a call to action for youth. All will reap what they sow. Africa’s youth are the biggest stakeholders in the drive for wealth creation. By virtue of their age and numbers, they stand to benefit the most out of the drive for wealth creation. They also stand to lose the most like the current failures in the “jobs” drive has revealed. It is time that they take steps in their best interest by leaping forward with wealth creation. This is the much-needed internal rejuvenation in Africa.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the institution with which they are affiliated.