African youth hold keys to continent’s future – Youssou N’Dour

The solution to Africa lies squarely on its youth. This is according to world renown and music legend Youssou N’Dour. The Senegalese artiste, one of the greatest in the world, advises that African leaders must engage the youth if the continent is to grow.

Youssou N'dour

(photograph by Henryk Kotowski)

This dream is heavily hampered by high unemployment rates among the youth and clinging to power by leaders who do not want to pave way for the younger generation to take over.

Think about these facts.  According to a World Bank report released in 2008, out of the world’s 1.2 billion youth, 87% live in developing countries. In Africa, roughly 200 million people fall within this bracket, accounting for over 20 percent of the population. This is expected to increase rapidly because 42 percent of the current population is below 15 years of age.  The report said in Africa, three in five of the unemployed are youth and on average 72% of the youth population live with less than US$2 a day. Furthermore, about 70% of this youth population is concentrated in rural areas.

When you consider that until the beginning of this year, Africa was home to some of the world’s longest-serving leaders, you understand where N’Dour is coming from. But the Arab spring, has shown that the youth are tired with their leaders and sent packing three of the continent’s longest serving presidents starting with Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali who had been president since 1987, then Egypt where Hosni Mubarak, who became president of the Arab world’s most populous country after the 1981. Since March, Libya, with the help of NATO, has been trying to oust Muammar Gaddafi who seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1969.

N’Dour, who is the UNICEF’s goodwill ambassador, thinks the only way out for the continent is if the youth are incorporated in decision making by their respective leaders, something that is definitely not happening.

To try and jump-start this process, Youssou says they have started a new initiative called “New Africa” which is organising activities that will help unite the African youth by starting an Olympic-esque torch-carrying run across the continent.

“We will have youth from across the continent running with a torch like they do for the Olympics and this torch will be handed over at every border and in the process, the youth will sit and engage on ways to help move the continent ahead. This race will start in Nairobi and end at the same place,” says Youssou.

At the end of the race, there will be a mega concert which Youssou says has garnered the support of one of the biggest names when it comes to philanthropy: Bono.

“I wrote a letter of appeal all over the world looking for people to help the needy and one of the people who got back to me with an assurance that he would do everything to help is a very good friend of Africa Mr. Bono,” said Youssou. “He said that he was touched by the letter and told me I can count on him to help the needy.”

The Senegalese Grammy award-winning artiste was in Kenya last week visiting the refugee camps in Daadab in the North-Eastern Province where he called for “inadvertible and undivided focus” on the plight of children affected by the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa. More than 12 million people are in desperate need of food, water and basic sanitation.

He at the same time lauded charity organisations on the ground helping the needy starting with UNICEF.

“I am confident that humanitarian agencies are doing everything they can to reach those who need their help,” he said. “We have a responsibility to do all that we can so that every child can be reached, their immediate needs met, their health is safeguarded and that they are protected from all harm.”

He also called on African leaders to end the annual cycle of drought and disease in the region. “African nations, African figureheads and African communities, alongside other world leaders, need to prioritise lasting solutions by strengthening governance so the right investments are made in basic services, championing peace so that people are no longer forced to flee their homes and livelihoods and empowering local communities from where the process of change will emerge,” he said.

Phillip Mwaniki is a journalist with the Nation Media Group in Kenya

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