Writer: Kendi M’Mbijjewe
There is something magical about being a young Kenyan today at the cusp of African modernity. Fifty years after independence we have the unprecedented opportunity to shape Africa’s “come back” as a global player. Nonetheless, as the youth we must recognize the role played by previous generations because it is in light of their achievements that we are in this unique position. Respect must be paid to our grandparents generation that fought and gained us our independence: the freedom fighters that emancipated our land and attempted to unite the people within them. For better or worse, they were responsible for cementing the nation as we know it today and are responsible for my own Kenyan identity as I feel and understand it. Credit must also be given to our parents generation that got the ball rolling on much-needed political and economic reform. Responsible for introducing multiparty democracy and an ambitious constitution; they also expanded the infrastructure and established industries. No question: despite the problems of poverty and corruption that still plague us, the youth of today owe a lot to the previous generations who ensured that our generation would have access to greater freedoms and resources than any before it.
So what does this mean for a member of the third generation? What will be our contribution to Kenya and our role on the continent? By global standards our continent is still poor, still viewed as politically immature and economically underdeveloped. Our rich African history is unknown to the majority of us on the continent, and non-existent to the majority outside of it. Regional and cross continental exchange is pitiful and we still employ foreign models as indicators of our development.
(Photo source: Kenyabuzz.com)
In a recent conference discussing the status of the continent, Dr Nkosana Moyo argued that one of the biggest hurdles to African development are institutions that were not designed by, or for, the people they intend to serve. He argued that as Africans we must examine our institutions and define our political and economic success by our own standards. Rather than continue to model the west, we must rediscover our own populations, identify our unique needs and come up with our own tailored solutions to them.
I would expand on this thought and argue that the youth are in a unique position to re-envision African institutions, and challenge the rhetoric of perpetual underdevelopment that has been attributed to our continent. Rather than internalize this rhetoric by adopting western skepticism towards Africa’s future, we as the youth must proactively invest our efforts in the creation of the Africa we want, and deserve. We must insist on the reformation of our education systems and empower our population with African history, teaching them the glories of our past and emphasizing the enormous potential for our future.
(Photo credit: Michal Huniewicz)
We hold enormous collective power and must demand that the international community approaches African countries as equal partners in trade and international policy. We must be open to learning about other African countries and be ready to cooperate and invest in them. The reality of Kenya’s future is inherently tied to the development of Africa as a whole; and therefore, the sooner we are able to establish strong political and economic links on the continent the sooner we will achieve our full potential. We must invest in our domestic industries, protect our resources and empower our rapidly urbanizing populations.
There is no doubt that Africa is at a crucial turning point and we as the youth have the potential to be the generation that expands the political and economic landscape. We have a duty to hold ourselves to the highest standards becoming craftsmen, entrepreneurs, professionals, politicians all willing to employ our talents for the betterment of our society. We must hold true to African principles, and protect our diverse culture while also working towards building strong cooperative African states.
Envisioning the Africa we want is easy enough, but in practice it is far more difficult to enact the political and economic reform we desire. Nonetheless, i believe it is a task that youth of Kenya and Africa are ready for. To quote Thomas Sankara: You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future.