“The energy of Africa's youth, and their frustration with current conditions, has to be channeled through right policies, said Carlos Lopes, UN Economic Commission Executive Secretary, adding that they are the most important contributors to the Continent's structural transformation.
“We want a youth that are ambitious, innovative and courageous, righting wrong, and speaks truth to power. We want a youth that continues the struggle for the total liberation of Africa started by our forefathers and foremothers by fighting for equality, freedom and justice,” he stressed.
Drawing on Jean-Jacques Rousseau's seminal work on the Social Contract, he stressed the need for ‘a new intergenerational social contract, that not only seeks to continue the sustainable development agenda but also looks at it in the new dimension of a demographic imbalance; a young Africa versus an aging world.”
This issue, said Lopes, is not only critical to Africa but to the world's continuous development as a whole, as Africa, already the youngest continent will by 2050, constitute over a quarter of the world's labor force. “Don't tell them not to ask questions. Indeed that is the only way they can provide the answers we need for the next fifty years,” he said.
Making an impassioned plea to leaders, Lopes said: “Don't tell them there are no jobs. The example of Asia's growth tells us otherwise. Don't tell them they cannot do science. India's growth shows that a developing country can train its youth to build a strong science and engineering base. Don't tell them not to dream. The growth of IT innovations in Africa shows our capabilities in the face of hardship.”
He also cited Ashish Thakkar, Africa's youngest billionaire and urged: “Don't tell them not to grow. The businesses acumen of young entrepreneurs shows that it is possible.”
Mr. Lopes said that with a current median age of African leaders that is three times that of the African population, the youth are still struggling to make their mark and to have their voices heard in all spheres of governance and influence. He however reminded them that the older generation did not wait for space to be created for them but rather took it.
The young audience engaged the presidents of Liberia, Kenya, Senegal and Zambia on their youth empowerment programmes, challenging them to implement existing agreed commitments on youth.
He offered examples of young panafricanists, such as Kwame Nkrumah, Abdul Gamel Nasser, Modibo Keita and Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Frantz Fannon and Nelson Mandel who made their mark in shaping Africa's political transformation.
“Their ideas and contributions continue to be a source of inspiration for us today; they were great mobilizers, builders, purveyors and believers in the ideals of pan-Africanism,” he said.