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an unharvestable youth dividend

The Southernmost tip of Africa is at Cape Agulhas in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

It is here where the world’s third-largest ocean, the Indian Ocean, meets its second-largest peer, the Atlantic Ocean.

But last week, it was all about the meeting of two of arguably the world’s most powerful and potent forces — government and business — at a platform that is ostensibly meant to shape the economic future of the world, particularly Africa. The South African government and the World Economic Forum convened the 27th edition of the World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban, South Africa, between May 3 and 5.

President Mugabe attended. In essence, the forum is marketed by its founder — German-born Professor Klaus Schwab — as a multi-sectoral platform for public and private cooperation.

In particular, this year’s chapter was designed, as organisers say, to help African countries “reconfigure” their growth models and foster more inclusive growth on the continent, especially by involving youth in leadership positions. Well, the import from such a premise is quite clear: It presupposes that the current economic models in Africa are both unhelpful and dysfunctional, and “incorrigible” African leaders that are driving these models should give way to the youth who are more than ready to take over. To put this into context, statistics show that as much as 70 percent of Africa’s 1,2 billion population is understood to be below the age of 30.

Perhaps, the world-view and agenda driven by the WEF and its corporate partners is summed up in a question asked by 30-year-old Daudo Vali — a World Economic Forum Young Global Shaper from Mozambique — to President Jacob Zuma during the main plenary on Thursday. He argued that by the time the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the continent’s economic blueprint, comes to fruition, he will be 76 and his first-born daughter will be 46.

“How do we speed up the decision-making process? How can we engage more young people? We are not represented in government. When we try to protest peacefully, our governments put the army and tanks in the street and that is of concern!”

As logical and high-sounding as Daudo’s point might have been, President Zuma’s response was even more fitting.

President Zuma noted that he joined the political movement to dislodge apartheid when he was below 18; 12 years younger than Daudo — and endured a tortuous political journey that has seen him now occupy the highest political office. At the time, he noted, it was not even clear whether South African political movements would prevail.

Fifty-eight years have passed since President Zuma joined the political struggle to eliminate a system that was even more vicious, brutal and beastly.

Well, Daudo and President Zuma’s standpoints represent a dichotomy of ideological leanings and world-views that is affecting two key generations — the young and the old — that are expected to move Africa forward.

Much of the incumbent governments and political parties in Africa, which wrestled political control through the gun from predominantly capitalist colonial forces, are the ones driving the economic trajectory of the continent. And their policies, recognising that political power has since been secured and guaranteed, borrow from the same ideologies to shape economic policies going forward.

But fora such as the World Economic Forum seem to believe that its time this old generation of political leaders – together with their native and course accents – hands over the levers of decision-making to the younger generation whose language reeks with heavy doses of European and American accents acquired from ideological diets fed in Western and European capitals.

But it is not only Western capitals that serve Africa’s young population with neo-liberal viewpoints and leanings that seem to dominate the agenda for change on the continent.

It is everywhere. The television stations and, of course, the Internet, which are still under the control of the capitalist world order.

The immediate-past president of the African Development Bank, Dr Donald Kaberuka, made a very interesting observation during the plenary “Eye on Fragile States” in which President Mugabe was the keynote speaker on Thursday. While critiquing the Fragile State Index — a measure curiously developed by an American think-tank (Fund for Peace) together with a publication (Foreign Policy Magazine) with heavy links with the US political system — Dr Kaberuka questioned the reason why focus has to be on particular countries, usually African countries, and not on the very concept of fragility as a phenomenon. He argued that every State has elements of fragility, which is true.

“The idea of fragile states is an old concept. There are no fragile states. Every country has got elements of fragility,” he cautioned. During his intervention, President Mugabe also re-emphasised this viewpoint.

He said: “Yes, we have our problems. . . We are not a poor country and we can’t be a fragile country when we have these resources.

“But, hey, if someone wants to call us fragile, they are free to do so. I can call America fragile, they went on their knees to China.”

The index, which considers Zimbabwe as highly fragile, lumps it with countries such as Iraq (currently ravaged by the fight between Isis and American-sponsored government forces) and Afghanistan (where, again, American-government sponsored forces are battling Al-Qaeda).

Oh, strife-torn Burundi is even put on the same level as Zimbabwe. But the local economic indices couldn’t have been stark. While Zimbabwe’s Treasury has reviewed forecast economic growth from 1,7 percent to 3,7 percent, the World Bank believes growth will top 3,8 percent.

Local industry is more bullish, it expects the economy to grow by more than 4 percent.

Planned gold output at 28 tonnes this year will be more than the record haul of 27 tonnes realised in 1999. As observed by President Mugabe, output for maize, tobacco and cotton has significantly increased this year.

So, if the index is based on empirical considerations, which are these?

But it is these evidently flawed “researches” and “findings” that are used as the basis of “serious” discussion at fora such as the WEF. Moreso, they are used by the young as fodder to indict the leadership of the continent. Much of the vocal criticism against the index has ironically come from media in America and the United Kingdom.

For example, the UK Guardian in 2012 described the index as a “useless tool”.

Conversely, will President Mugabe be right, as he suggested, to call America fragile? It must be considered that the world economy is grappling to come out of a rut that was dug by the United States.

Slowing global commodity prices, which have struggled to meaningfully recover for the past decade, and the disruption in the global financial system, owe their origins to the banking crisis (sub-prime mortgage crisis) in America in the latter part of 2007.

It was mainly sparked by the fragility of the American banking system, which its ratings agencies even failed to detect.

Also, it is these “global” infamous credit rating agencies — Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings — that have plunged the South African financial system into turmoil through downgrading its sovereign debt to “junk”.

Of late, questions are beginning to be asked about the role of such ostensibly global institutions in Africa’s development agenda vis-a-vis the agenda of the capitals they represent.

Elder statesmen and leaders such as President Mugabe and Dr Donald Kaberuka seem to see through this. Today, 10 years after the global financial crisis, the world economy, though recovering, is not in better shape.

Yet, the US administration still escapes culpability. Not only is the US culpable of financial crisis, but the current global drive towards what the World Economic Forum calls “nativist” and “populist” policies, which essentially roll back the capitalist driven agenda of globalisation.

Trumpism, which is driving the America First agenda; Brexit, which challenges the European Union agenda; and the Frexit movement are all being fed by the economic weaknesses bred by the American bank crisis.

Coupled with this is a sabre-rattling Trump administration that is slowly driving the world to the brink of war. Is this not fragility?

Where are the ratings agencies?

Again, on Thursday President Mugabe made a crucial point.

“It depends on the situation, but I think the issue of the youths can be addressed in a number of ways. First of all, we have to educate them in order for them to take some part in the development of the economy, so they can have, and if they take as many as 11 or more years at school — in our case we want them to go up to at least ‘O’ level — but in other countries it might be different.

“And even in our case they want to proceed much further, which is good, to A level, secondary education, and university, but you cannot accommodate them all at the universities. You could have (them) have diplomas at the tertiary training programmes; that’s that.

“Practical work also, they must have,” he counselled.

“They can be trained as carpenters, as technicians and so on. That is one area. But they also want to take part in politics, and we have organised them. Parties depend on the youth for viability — youth and the women for viability.”

“But politics, as politics, that does give them money, you know; it’s to get them into a situation where they can support the Government,” he said.

But who are the youth — who constitute Africa’s youth dividend — and who is shaping their ideals and ideologies?

Are all these institutions such as the Forum of Youth Global Leaders and the Global Shapers community, including Pan Africa Youth Leadership Programme sponsored by the US government — which target malleable youths — merely magnanimous ventures designed to help out needy African countries.

What leadership qualities are they taught in societies whose ideologies are now shaped by the post 1945 neo-liberal architecture of the Bretton Woods institutions?

Are such ideals in sync with the revolutionary need to economically empower the continent?

Though Zimbabwe is regarded as fragile, it is perhaps the only African country that now owns its own land, which is regarded by economists as the primary source and means of production.

Other countries, obviously alive to the pain and disruption that is caused by such revolutionary exercises, are still hesitating to follow the same route.

This is not just cheap talk.

In an interview with Zimpapers Television Network on April 27, visiting Namibian President Hage Geingob said fellow African leaders do not dare to speak their candid views on the current exploitative Afro-Western relations that shape our reality today.

So, are Africans, especially the youths, prepared to endure this burden, which is similar to the pain suffered by the older African leaders in freeing the continent?

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said on Wednesday on the sidelines of WEFA, “When we go through a revolution like we did, with respect to correcting the historical injustices in the land tenure system; when you go through a revolution, there is a cost and we have been paying that cost.

“Part of the characterisation (on fragility) is arising from the fact that we dared correct historical anomalies and it comes with a cost. And that transition can be quite long, to get to a position where you are quite productive because every revolution, destabilises the production value chain.

“It destabilises – no doubt about that – and it happened to us in agriculture. We are now seeking to correct it.”

These are questions that youth have to consider.

It’s not about technology, but ideology; its not about being given leadership, but practising leadership.

As President Geingob summed it: “There are young people who are in power today, how are they doing? I don’t want to mention the countries, but there are younger Presidents who came, who were not in the liberation struggle . . . Are they doing better? . . .We are modern. We have been exposed to the world. We know the world. We know the poverty also.”

So, as the continent seeks to move forward, outstanding questions on leadership and responsibility arise.

Do youths know the challenges of the continent, and are they courageous enough to inherit the burden that comes with challenging the neo-colonial structures that exist to this day?

That is perhaps the biggest question of our time.

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