Four ways young people can thrive in Africa

Albert Mavunga
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Nelson Mandela once said: “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Africa’s youth now account for more than half the population of the continent and they have come to believe in this statement. This belief first emerged centuries ago in the hearts of our liberation heroes and has been transferred into the hearts of the young social and economic heroes of today.

For one to get a clear picture of how Africa’s youth are shaping their own future, there has to be a turning back of the hands of time, a deep reflection on the history and the difference between colonial youths of Africa and post-colonial youths of Africa – where I belong.

Colonial African youths were driven by the quest for political freedom. Its economic systems provided little to no opportunity for the colonial African youth to climb the ladder of success. The colonial youths grew up in a culture that encouraged them to go to school and then go to work in the factories, farms and mines until they retired back into their townships.

Only a few dared entertain the idea of starting their own business. Hence the youths of yester-years, our fathers, were driven by the passion for political freedom in order to shape their own future. They believed that if they were emancipated from colonial rule they could shape their own future.

Contrary to colonial youths, the young African of today is driven by the quest for financial freedom, economic freedom, and bringing the continent into the first world arena of innovation and financial stability. We see youths that no longer want to just read other peoples books but write their own books. We see youths that don’t wait for schools to be built for them but start their own schools. We see youths that no longer want to be solely in a consumer market but want to manufacture and invent products for export to the west.

We see a youth that have realized they have something to offer the world.

In North Africa we see youths who have taken a stance against dictatorship. In East Africa young people are venturing into the world of information and communications technologies (ICTs), striving to develop their own Silicon Valleys. In West Africa we see a youth for peace, forgiveness and development.

Africa’s youth have realized the need for what I call the four pillars of a successful young star. These pillars are vision, determination, courage, and shift in mindset.

Vision is what drove me to leave Zimbabwe and go to the United States of America for college with no money for school. I arrived in the USA with only $50 to my name, stayed in homeless shelters, trailer parks and ate in soup kitchens before getting a full scholarship to Liberty University in Virginia. After completing my degree, I returned to Zimbabwe and started Smile for Africa, which works with young people and creates platforms for them to succeed in life. We are now in the process of starting an Online University campus in partnership with Liberty University to bring world class education to our continent.

Determination is what drove Ashish J.Thakkar, CEO of Mara Group, to start a business while in high school. Today he employs over 5000 people and has a presence in 18 African countries. At age 29, Ashish in an interview with Forbes Africa said “My biggest driver is to see Africa prosper and compete aggressively on a global scale.”

Courage is what drove Ladi Delan from Nigeria, aged 30, founder and CEO, Bakrie Delano Africa, to do business outside Africa and made his first million in China selling alcohol.
Shift in mindset drove Vinny Lingham, a South African aged 33, to venture into the ICT world, a field dominated by the west. He founded Yola Inc, a web 2.0 company with over 3 million users all over the world and offices in San Francisco.

These are some examples of Africans that have employed these pillars and are shaping the future of the continent. That is how young people are shaping their future in the quest for economic freedom and a bright future for Africa.

Author: Albert Mavunga is CEO of Smile for Africa and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper

Image: Libyan students listen to a speech during a town hall meeting with the Youth and Civil Society at Tripoli University October 18, 2011. 
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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Related topics:
AfricaEntrepreneurshipFinancial and Monetary SystemsFuture of Work
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