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Youth, Leadership And Development
Discussion presented at Crossing Borders Youth Group International on 2 February 2011 in Nairobi.
As the wise man said:
If you are thinking a year ahead, plant the seeds;
If you’re thinking ten years ahead, plant trees. But if you’re thinking a hundred years ahead, educate the young, the young.
Thus, if one cares about the future of any country or community, he or she must pay close attention to the development, education and health of the youth and train and prepare them for positions of responsibility and leadership as as soon as possible. Is this easy in Africa and how does it compare to Europe, Asia and the US? In the past, society attributed everything that went wrong to God. “Today, outside of natural events like the floods in Australia, everything that goes wrong is attributed to leadership
Who then is a leader?
In school children’s fiction, it’s easy: the leader is anyone who is six foot, six inch tail, well built, with strong heavy hair and steady sharp eyes. This, however, quickly turns out to be an unreliable criterion. Since leadership is relative, it is in the leader’s relationship with his group that we look for signs of leadership.
A leader is a person and leadership is the exercise of the role of a leader. The role of leadership is critical for all animals, including humans. Leadership is generally defined as the ability to influence a group towards the achievement of defined goals-tasks – like coming to Kenya from Denmark and back. The leader’s thinking is guided by the mission (achievement of goals), the safety and well-being of the team or group members, and ultimately, self-interest such as fame or ambition for material gain.
Qualities of a successful leader
Why is someone able to influence a group of people, small or large? It depends on the source of the influence. It can be brutal fear of harm, such as the robber’s weapon. It can be the need for individual or group survival and the need to win and achieve group goals. Thus the leader can evolve and for the sake of the task in question and the well-being of the group and its unity, the group gives one of them who is more qualified to the position of leadership. Therefore the qualities of a successful leader are (1) Competence for the task in question. (2): ability to listen – people skills (3) personal energy, passion for responsibilities and character – if we can’t lead ourselves, we can’t lead anyone else – we influence people because people see us as standing in higher ground – “we were on the mountain before them”.
The chances of young people becoming leaders as soon as possible are increased.
First, young people attaining leadership positions are functions of family environment, personal drive, social and national environment. These factors can be supportive, encouraging and motivating or inhibiting and ultimately suppressing the emergence and development of young people. Examples are in Asia and Africa where youth education; especially girls are being fiercely fought for baseless reasons.
The second is the political and social environment. In the African context in Zimbabwe, Egypt, (note the revolution there), Libya, Ethiopia, Uganda, unlike the UK, USA, or even Singapore or India, age and social networks are the main qualifications for high office in the public or private sector. Most African leaders die in office and wait for a state funeral! The same is true in the private sector and universities. It is unusual in African universities to find people under the age of 30 holding professorships. These have created “standing water” effects. Social and economic environment: suffocating, smelly, full of mosquitoes and reptiles. There must be leadership flux, moderate change to harness the energy, creativity and passion of our youth. We need the older generation for their wisdom, networks, influence, experience and wealth, but they need to help the youth grow so that “Africa does not disappear from the face of this earth or become a bunch of boomers of corruption and decay.
In order to increase the chances of young people to have access to leadership positions at the earliest opportunity everywhere, with the aim of “active citizens, effective states and a better developed world changed and to overcome the limiting barriers in our way, we must respect and practice the following:-
- Personal discipline, care, efficiency – energy: success comes after hard work.
- The discipline to have personal goals and achieve them. Discipline to have the best friends, respect a good and healthy lifestyle (no drugs and hanging out with criminals). Discipline to be ambitious, take care of parents, fear God and work hard. The only place where success comes before work is in the English dictionary.
- Take responsibility for one’s actions
99% of all personal failures come from people who have a habit of justifying; the weather, teachers, parents and governments. If you want to create the life of your dreams, then you will have to take 100% responsibility for your life as you live it. Parents and communities have done their best by sending young people to school, raising them and loving them. Therefore we must have a positive attitude, work hard, have big dreams and take responsibility for our lives.
- The entrepreneurial attitude of self-confidence and the passionate desire to excel – its own DNA – and the signature of success.
The world rewards hard work, not existence. A poet wrote of the man who said to the universe “sir I exist” “however” the universe answered, “the fact has created no sense of obligation for me”. There is no sense of obligation for others to help us as the young. As say the Americans, “we must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” even though we may be barefoot and bootless.
Believe that we can achieve greatness and we surely will. “If others have succeeded, why not us?” Our attitude and mind should work for us and not against us. Strong and passionate desire produces many efforts and hard work. One area that young people should aim for is the area of business entrepreneurship. Today, since 1990 – the fall of the Berlin wall, what is happening is the entrepreneurial revolution. Young people, people in the 20 to 39 age group, are wealthier than at any time in the history of the world. The founder of face book is an example. In Africa, the trend is the same as in China and Russia. Young people living in Europe as well as those living in Africa and elsewhere should seek knowledge, but more than that, opportunities for entrepreneurship. It is the true gateway to financial freedom. Opportunities are common in South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya and certainly in Europe, America and Asia and even Australia.
We need to create links between European and American opportunities and African markets. Entrepreneurship helps people get out of survival, struggling to live a thriving and prosperous lifestyle. Entrepreneurship and great leadership are the basis of national development.
The contribution of young people to national development
What are development and the development triangle? Development for the purpose of this discussion is “developing the real income potentials of all areas of people and the country by using investment to effect those changes and add those productive resources that promise to increase real income per person – this increases the standard of living and people’s choices on an ongoing basis based on humanity’s law of perpetual optimism—that children will have better lives than their parents.
The development triangle as follows
Youths must play their role and contribute to good governance, leadership of their respective societies and entrepreneurship as the diagram above shows.
Conclusion: The venerable country of Africa
The continent of Africa is a continent of youth where about 60% of the population is under 40 years old. Young people are the future. Therefore, the youth must flourish to enter leadership and entrepreneurship in order to contribute to their own and their countries’ development and put “poverty in the museum” to quote Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh. Young people must have self-discipline, take 100% responsibility and have strong self-confidence and overcome contextual barriers.
If we are to uplift our societies, the youth must be on higher ground. We must appreciate that the African people are not condemned by the laws of nature to be poor and sometimes marginalized. Finally, Nelson Mandera said in February 2005 to a youth gathering: “Sometimes it’s up to your generation to be great. You can be that generation.” History admires the wise but exalts the brave. Young people must show courage, delay complacency, live a healthy and positive lifestyle and contribute to the prosperity of themselves and their communities and country. To paraphrase Chinua Achebe, when Africa’s moons shine (young), even the continent’s cripples would be hungry for a walk.
It is only then; Africa can be assured of an honorable place on the world stage. Start leadership and self-discipline with yourself on an individual level and the future of our communities will be assured with prosperity.
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