The Platform


“Only the thing for which you have struggled will last.” This proverb underscores most people’s high preference for convenience over what is right. So high is this preference that most people would literally not mind doing anything for what would be considered convenient to them. What seems unknown to those who practice such approaches is that they sell themselves short in the long run.

Recently, as inflationary pressures have soared, many, especially young people, have taken the convenience route. I certainly wouldn’t blame them entirely because we live in times where dependency, victimhood, and scapegoating are more of an everyday occurrence. Citizens look to governments as the panacea for solutions and are ready to blame the underdevelopment on the few who occupy elective office. Rightly so, but this is done oblivious to the fact that we, the ordinary people, form the most sovereign capital for development and that governments exist to create an enabling environment for facilitative entrepreneurial growth. On the other hand, governments look to others to bail them out in “money-driven” development philosophies. All the while, the challenges remain unresolved, and the blame game continues.

I am, therefore, most sympathetic to young people and would be the last person to blame the youth for perpetuating this script. Nevertheless, I would not fall short of calling them out because they represent the real hope, the high potential investment, of a better world that we cannot afford to lose.

There is a growing trend of young people in Africa being projected as depressed and, worst still, classifying themselves as depressed. Some are even turning to suicide, where an increasing rate of suicides is growing by up to 50% a year in some places. This phenomenon was non-existent in the past when Africa was in far worse shape. In the past decades, Africa has made significant positive steps towards improved citizens’ lives, and the young are among the biggest beneficiaries of these developmental steps. As we speak, the number of the extremely poor has fallen from 54% in the mid-90s to 41% in 2015 and is down to 35% currently. Literacy, the most critical empowerment indicator that liberates populations to forge solutions and create opportunities, has increased from 49% in 1984 to 65% in 2017. Access to information communication technologies is among the fastest-growing area.

For example, the number of Africans accessing the Internet has grown nearly 20 times in 2018 compared to 2010. The number of people with mobile phones in Africa has continued to grow, reaching 495 million, which is 46% of Africa’s population. Between 2019 and 2020 alone, there were 40 million new connections. This growth has brought increased access to information, the most important resource for development. Connecting to the Internet means real-time access to the wealth of knowledge that any other person across the globe has.

This access has been responsible for several conveniences that drive growth. From the simplest of benefits in education, where today’s library of knowledge is not limited to the number of books on a library shelf but is unlimited thanks to the repository of global knowledge that can be harnessed simply through the convenience of a mobile device, to enhanced growth of enterprises, enhanced financial inclusion among many other innovations, including in medical care, the difference compared to years gone by is like day and night.

As we speak, over 70% of small African businesses owe their growth to social media. Social media has made social and business connections across Africa and the globe as simple as opening a free account on a social media platform and starting to engage in the comfort of a mobile phone. Mobile money and fintech have increased financial inclusion in Africa to the point that Africa now accounts for 70% of the world’s $1 trillion mobile money market. In medical care, the combination of drones and mobile applications ensures medical care is accessible to populations in some of the remotest parts of Africa at the most affordable cost, bypassing the constraints of limited physical infrastructure. A patient can get a diagnosis and prescription for an ailment by describing their symptoms through a mobile phone at a fraction of the cost of a hospital visit. In some places, drones supply medical supplies to the remotest parts of the continent. The youth are among the biggest beneficiaries of these digitally inspired transformations.

This is just a snapshot of developmental steps that have enhanced the quality of life of the current generation, with young people among the biggest beneficiaries. However, these developments were unheard-of in the past two, three, four, and even five decades; yet, depression was not a topic of concern. Many endured harsher continents years ago yet planted the seeds of the progress we see today. From the struggle for independence to building post-independence African economies, many had to make it with far less, but depression and suicides were not at crisis level, as is considered in some situations today.

I do not intend to shame or victimise anyone, but the youth need to be reminded that the continent has come a long way to where we are today and still has many more steps to take, and they are the ones in the driver’s seat now. It is up to them to build on the foundation of the developmental steps done by those who are now on their way out and take the continent to the next level. This will not be achieved if we consider ourselves victims of circumstances and spiral down to depression. The challenges Africa faces represent opportunities for growth for those who devise solutions to them, and today, the youth are increasingly the ones on the seat of solutions. With the information age upon us, the youth must tap every opportunity for knowledge to think and develop solutions because that is the only way to build the Africa of their dreams.

Projecting depression, victimhood, and excuses for every failure will only scare away those who would otherwise be willing to partner with the young people in building lasting solutions that unlock multiple socioeconomic opportunities.
Our young people must therefore turn the page by:

Prioritising to build and offer value more than getting value. While many decry the lack of jobs, there is no shortage of opportunities to volunteer and make one self-useful in providing value for solutions that are needed in our communities. One does not need an office or mandate alone to provide solutions. I like to use the example of bridging the clean cooking gap because of the accessibility of solutions in this area and the magnitude of gaps in the other. Up to 700,000 people die every year across Africa because of indoor pollution caused by unclean cooking. Up to $20 billion is spent on wood biomass fuel, a leading cause of indoor pollution. At the same time, recovering agricultural waste into fuel briquettes is a non-capital-intensive area that can provide alternative cooking solutions and, with persistence, lead to a shift in domestic energy expenditures away from wood biomass to briquettes and, over time, create a $20 billion a year industry. But the start is not rosy, as it will call for personal and persistent investments in time and effort to learn, develop, test, and continue in this iteration over a long period before returns can be registered in the market. This calls for voluntarily volunteering yourself to learn.

I am a product of volunteering in everything I do and have seen that as the only way to build value and unlock opportunities. No one will be willing to invest in that for which a trend or track record or precedence of value has not been established. In most cases, the process of building this value entails going the extra mile, and taking on added responsibilities without a direct material benefit in return. It entails taking a step informed by the desire to build value, not looking at what could go wrong, and formulating such negative thoughts into an excuse or excuses for inaction. If we cannot do something voluntarily to learn, even without financial or natural benefit in return, we will never do anything with all our heart, and therefore never build value. To get the money, one needs to offer value, and value comes through applying effort to learn a skill. My notion of volunteering is not the one where people wait for others to give them, but one where everyone voluntarily volunteers themselves to learn a skill and start solving community problems as they turn challenges into opportunities. This is the genius of innovative volunteerism. You cannot voluntarily volunteer and learn a skill and not turn your passion to profit. Value brings value. We must change the narrative and escape self-sabotage and selling ourselves short, that comes with projecting liabilities like depression.

As you do so, remember the following:

Turning judgment into curiosity (that is, rather than judging someone for what they say, ask yourself why they might be saying that); Turning disagreement into shared exploration (that is, if there is a difference of opinion, use it as an opportunity to explore different perspectives and experiences); Turning defensiveness into self-reflection (that is, if something someone says makes you feel defensive, ask yourself what makes you react that way); Turning assumptions into questions (rather than assuming what someone means, ask).

This is how we will realise our dreams.

Dr. Richard Munang is a multiple award-winning environment and development policy thought leader and climate change and sustainable development expert. Richard is also author of 'Making Africa Work Through the Power of Innovative Volunteerism' in 2018.

Robert Mgendi works with the Africa Climate Change Programme.