Africa Day is perhaps the most politically conscious of all of the continent’s public or commemorative days. On its own, before we even analyse what African countries, their leaders and others have done over the 54 years that have lapsed since the formation of the liberation struggle oriented Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
This is because by just remembering the continent’s struggles and history we are performing a complete act of contextual consciousness. Even before we act upon it or if some of us Africans are reluctant to acknowledge the monumental task that was the struggle for national and continental liberation.
The African Union has themed this year’s Africa Day’s commemorations “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investments in Youth”, is not so much looking to the past but the future. And this is an important aspect despite challenges with democracy and progressive social democratic economic policies.
An important aspect that should however never be overlooked is that while the past is not enough to mitigate the challenges of the present, it is integral to a very necessary liberation struggle consciousness that must be bequeathed from one generation to the next.
In this regard, while being a young African is important, it is not enough if one is not only historically and politically conscious of the many progressive struggles that have brought the continent to where it is today. Warts and all.
This is why it is key that where we commemorate Africa Day in our various countries and in the global Diaspora, we must remember that our liberation was driven not just by youthful anger, but also ideas that remain valid as they were in the past, as they are today and as they will be tomorrow.
These values are many but can be summed up as people-centered social and economic justice via popular and democratic political and economic participation.
While they may appear a though they are just slogans, they are values that require continual application of rigorous thought (both intellectual and non-intellectual), actions and commitment to improving the livelihoods of all our continents people.
These three aspects of thought, action and commitment however must not be undertaken with simplistic mimicry of the ideas coming from outside of the continent. They need to be applied with specificity to context and a progressive willingness to learn from different continental experiences and actions of solidarity.
This however entails a change in our contemporary African approaches and understanding of what is good or progressive political leadership.
In recent years our continental leadership has been relatively mediocre if measured on the basis of consciousness, context and commitment. More often than not a lot of our political leaders have sought to stay longer in office, extend political patronage to retain power, evade economic transparency and accountability and easily go to war or threaten to do so. Or they have been so lax in international relations they have inadvertently led to proxy wars being fought on the continent especially if one consider Libya, Mali and South Sudan.
The same can be said of those that we would laud as Africa’s business leaders. Their pursuit of profit even if via state capitalism and cronyism is wrongly praised as innovation. In most cases, the richest among them generally have to counter rumours of their previous or current links with repressive governments as they proceed to make millions. The latter millions which are also then siphoned off to tax havens as described in the Panama Papers.
Even where we cross over to African civil society, there are key leadership challenges that are not dissimilar to those that are also found in business and politics. Even where civil society is expected to be relatively much more focused on serving less politically partisan interests.
This brings me to the key question surrounding this year’s theme of ‘harnessing demographic dividends through investments in youths’. As argued earlier, the very fact of referring to young Africans as a key element of Africa’s future is very important. What is however more important is the levels of consciousness of not only those that came up with the term but also those that are its target. And this begins by not running way from Africa’s unparalleled continental example of liberation consciousness to use business terms such as ‘dividend’ to refer to its young people.
Indeed we have what is referred to as a youth bulge in relation to our continental population but we should avoid treating young Africans as some sort of ‘market’. Or presenting them more as an investment opportunity than addressing their contemporary challenges organically and in relation to what member states are actually doing for them. Both in terms of democracy and social and economic justice.
If we recall the contextual consciousness, commitment and revolutionary action of those that founded the OAU and the intrinsic values of our liberation struggles, and if we ensure these are not lost to young Africans, we will arrive at our ‘post liberation’ liberation.