For decades, the mass media in the world has packaged and depicted a disturbing pattern on African life.
This pattern always highlights poverty, corruption, conflict, and disease as the defining factors of life on this vast continent. Information that does not get highlighted very much is the fact that the region is so vast and diverse with so many social, political, economic differences and interests in that it has always been incorrect to have a single view for the African continent.
However, all is not lost. There are new narratives being crafted world over about this continent that is home to more than one billion people. We are gradually moving from the old narratives of disease-stricken regions and corrupt continent to new narratives celebrating new, bold, and empowering demographics in the continent.
We spoke to a few people across the continent about the new African narrative, and here is what they had to say.
Emerging Democracies All Over the Continent
According to Benard Timbe, a Kenyan journalist, the continent has been on a steady rise in matters of democracy and good leadership. Bernard Timbe is excited at how many countries can now hold free and fair elections, allowing their citizens to elect the leaders they want. Bernard Timbe says that one of the most common narratives has been that there is no such thing as democracy in Africa, but this is changing as we see emerging democracies all over the continent.
“Look at how elections and presidential handover was done in Ghana. Same thing also happened in Nigeria where an incumbent lost an election and handed over power peacefully to the elected president. If that is not democracy, then what is it,” he asks. He is quick to add that we do have some cases of leaders who do not want to let go of power. This, he says, should not be the defining factor for the continent. “If we have a bag full of oranges and three or four are bad, you don’t say that this is a bag of bad oranges. The same should apply to the continent,” he says.
Youth Are the Driving Factor for Development and Change
For decades, the role of the youth in development was not being acknowledged. The youth were deemed important during elections when they were marshalled up to vote for particular individuals. The youth were also not given leadership opportunities and/or a chance to be heard. This has been one of our undoing as the youth constitutes the largest percentage of population in the continent; however, this has been changing and the youth are now a driving force for development.
Christine Sayo, a youth advocate and President of JCI, Nairobi Chapter, is excited and full of hope about the place of African youth today. According to Sayo, the fact that African governments are recognizing the potential and investing in their youth speaks volumes.
“If Africa is to rise, then she has to invest in the youth of her member states,” she says. Sayo notes that the will to invest in the youth is already in place and she is particularly happy about the AU Summit that took place early this year where the focus was on the youth. The AU decided that 2017 is to be the year of the African youth and dedicated the theme for the summit, “Harnessing Demographic Dividends Through Investments In Youth,” to young people. She notes that this was not just on paper for the various heads of states gathered to rubber stamp, but it was there in deed. She notes that the representation of the youth was great and their ideas were also put into consideration. “The 7 aspirations of Agenda 2063 are ambitious but achievable. We are looking at a prosperous and united Africa that fully exploits the potential of natives if this agenda is implemented,” she says.
For Lemohang Rakotsoane from Lesotho, the new African narrative is being curated by the youthful demography. According to her, the next generation of Africans will be ‘woke’ and successful. She says that Africans, especially the youth, are becoming more bold and becoming champions for their rights. “More and more we see a trend of young people not afraid to speak up and call a spade a spade. We see more young people making change in other people’s lives,” says Rakotsoane. She adds that this, coupled with the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovativeness, is changing the global perception of Africa. She notes that entrepreneurship is on the rise now more than ever and we are determined to succeed no matter what. People empower each other supporting and believing in their ventures. She says that young Africans are tired of poverty and being unemployment and, as such, starting their own ventures and, in turn, becoming job creators. “The rise of capital raising activities like The Hook Up Dinner, Tony Elumelu Foundation, and Crowdfunding are just a few examples that show that entrepreneurs are determined to succeed,” says Rakotsoane.
The youth are also shaping a new narrative by calling out bad leadership and corruption. According to Nigerian Journalist, Olatokewa Ayoade, young Africans face many challenges, but there are a few breaking the yoke of stereotypes and spearheading calls for good leadership from those in position. “The stereotypes the young are breaking include the idea that if it is not a Western idea or advice, then we will not get it right, which has been an ingredient for failure of our leaders,” she says. Olatokewa adds that there’s a need for young African leaders to break the stereotype of changing the age of leadership positions. “This, I believe, can only be achieved through a revolution; a revolution to reject old leaders in power and at the helm of affairs and injecting young blood and new ideas,” she adds.
Leading in Technology and Innovations
One of the most common old narratives and stereotypes about Africa is that we lag behind the rest of the world, lacking innovation and technology. However, this, in itself, is not true. Today, Africa is one of the leading regions when it comes to innovations and technology. Simon Muli, a business reporter, says that Africa has seen a technological boom in innovations in the recent years. According to Muli, this is making it possible for Africans to compete and shine globally across various sectors. Muli adds that today’s generation is made up of youth who are not only ambitious but also tech savvy. “The generation of youth that we currently have are more techno-savvy than any other generation of youth that this continent has ever seen. In a way, this has kept them at par with other youth from other parts of the world, and it makes it easy for them to compete on a level platform,” he says. Simon believes that the continent will reap greatly if governments invest in this group. “Considering that innovation is the fuel that will drive the next economic progression, I think they are best placed to propel the continent and the world to new heights,” he says.
Women In Leadership
Simon Muli also says that technology and the internet have been instrumental in breaking down some of the traditional and cultural barriers that have favored one gender over another. “The availability of technology and the internet has leveled the playing field for both men and women and this means that both men and women can compete on the basis of their competencies for economic opportunities,” he says. One of the common stereotypes and chauvinistic beliefs has always been that the woman belongs in the kitchen. However, this is changing as today the girl child is supported to go to school and follow their passion.
There is also an increase in women leaders across the continent. According to Daisy Ndunge, an enthusiast for African development and youth empowerment, the provisions of laws and willingness to empower girls’ exhibits hope to change how the woman is perceived in the continent. She notes that in some countries, the girl child still faces discrimination and are treated as inferior to boys within the home and by the society, but this is now also changing. “Education is, however, changing these systems because now people are knowledgeable and are against these cultural practices that affect the girl child,” she says. Daisy also adds that there is a significant increase in the number of women in government and leadership positions all over the continent, and this shows that societies are changing and women are now able to choose their own course in life.
For Brenda Mwirigi, a Nairobi-based Procurement Officer, even though Africa has not achieved the best yet in girl child empowerment and women representation in leadership positions, the continent is on the right track. She says that if today’s Africa is compared to the Africa of 20 years ago, there is a big difference and the growth has been rising steadily. “Twenty years ago, it was terrible because women were misrepresented and sidelined. A woman’s role was to support the husband and take care of her children,” she says. Brenda adds that there were few women who had scaled the ladder and who held positions on National and Regional levels. She notes these few faced a myriad of challenges; first to reach the position and keeping it was even more daunting than getting to that position. “The few who had the opportunity faced so many systematic prejudices, but today things are better, though not to where we should be,” she says. Brenda notes that Africa is the leading continent in pushing for women in leadership. “We have seen more women rise regardless of the challenges that prevail. The likes of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, President Sirleaf, and also Rwanda is among the leading countries not only in Africa, but in the world with most women in parliament,” she adds.
Women are not only following their dreams and ascending to power, but they are also taking pride in their natural beauty. According to Daisy, most African women have realized the beauty that lies in their natural skin color and hair. “Most African women have now embraced their skin and are proud of their natural look, including their natural hair and ‘curvy’ bodies. African women are increasingly saying goodbye to the Western dress code and adapting the African wear (Ankara), and this is increasingly being used by fashion designers, even in the West,” she says.
Even though the new African narrative speaks of hope and success, some still feel that we have a long way to go. For young Zambian Hellen Nsokolo, some selfish leaders have offered nothing to society but to only use the youth as tools of violence during campaigns, promising them jobs which they never deliver on once in office. “Some leaders are too selfish that they only think of empowering their own families, neglecting others who now live in abject poverty,” she says. She is, however, optimistic that this will change as many are now empowering themselves through education, venturing into entrepreneurship, as well forming and joining organizations that empower them economically, socially, and promote education.