Any society that does not succeed in tapping into the energy and creativity of its youth will be left behind. This was the caution by Kofi Annan, the patrician diplomat from Ghana who became the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations.
The youth, especially in Africa, must play a role in political leadership and decision-making because of their palpable sense of positive energy and optimism.
Africa has a population of 1.2 billion but it is projected to more than double that by 2050, when it will comprise a quarter of the world’s population. Already the world’s youngest region, Africa will be home to 38 of the 40 youngest countries by the middle of the century, and its median age will be under 25 years old.
Sadly, the growing population of youth is viewed as a problem instead of a benefit and asset that can drive change and much-needed progress in Africa.
But there is an undeniable fact that youth voice and action must be considered as essential in bringing about change and lasting solutions in Africa. Amidst all of the progress made over the years in Africa, youth remain the perpetual other – always on the outside or in the waiting room. Many African countries have the wrong tradition of viewing youth as leaders of tomorrow. Ironically, the current crop of leaders began their careers at very tender age and without experience.
Across the continent, there is a sense of hopelessness among young people as they feel excluded, and so many of their problems remain unaddressed.
That is why the appointment of Emma Theofelus, at 27 years old, as Namibia’s Minister of Information and Communication Technology excited and inspired young people as few other events in recent times have done.
Ms Theofelus, now the youngest minister in Africa has brought new hope and a sense of optimism that countries in Africa are beginning to realize the need to improve and secure the future of youth. She represents the energy, the optimism, the vision and the values that can carry Namibia and Africa forward.
And while this appointment is expected to shape new policies that will address the plight of youth in Nambia, it is hoped that more countries in Africa will take the same path, and accommodate more youth so that they can define their future and path on economic inclusiveness.
Across the continent, young people are doing amazing things to bring about change and real progress – and to create a better future for everyone.
Raphael Obonyo, Nairobi