For a moment, I thought of writing this piece as a letter before sending it over to you. Then, I remembered that it might mean interacting with that pre-historic government agency so I quickly abandoned the idea. So please bear with me by settling for a blog post, it is what people do in these modern times.
There was a time in your history, dear Africa, not a day would go by without me hearing these words: Africa Rising! Magazines, TVs, Radios, posters on the streets, bill boards and every other media that exists told of this narrative. I am talking about the years just before and after 2000. I had just started school. Each time I heard or read those words, I would imagine a dazzling sun emerging from the depths of the horizon and splashing the sky orange. The sun was you, Africa, and the sky was the world. The colour orange was your energy filling the world.
I imagined a youthful Africa. A bright Africa. An electric Africa. A colourful Africa. An Africa that oozed African juice. An Africa that got up before the sun and consecrated itself to claiming its place in the high table. An Africa that took care of itself and the world. I imagined an optimistic Africa.
But, I notice that I do not hear that narrative any more. The older I got, the more the words disappeared. What happened? Did you rise to the heights you desired? (Certainly not!) Did you stop rising? Did you stop believing in the words? Did you get carried away by the optimism that you forgot to put in the hard work? Or were these words not even yours?
I think that when they said Africa Rising, they meant that families in cities and in the back of beyond had clean drinking water flowing through their taps and balanced meals set on their tables thrice a day. They meant all houses had enough electricity for children to do their homework and for teachers to prepare tomorrow’s lessons. Africa was rising because of accessible healthcare, research and innovation, thriving businesses, extensive manufacturing, international trade, active citizenship and good leadership and governance.
What exactly happened?
Had you really been rising, the realities in which I live right now would be so different. The realities of all the Africans living indecent lives right now would be so different. Was it all just hype and no show?
Of course you can tell that I feel more than a little frustrated right now. Perhaps I should mention that on the brighter side, your ability to make babies rose! Because now you have about 1.3 billion people to take care of (as of 2020), up from 810 just 20 years ago (2000). And I should let you know, that going by your behaviour, people who spend their lives counting other people say that you will exceed 1.8 billion people in 2035. On this one, you have outdone yourself! Shall we pull the files on corruption, inequality, deforestation, pollution, crimes etc? Shall we? At the risk of me writing forever – because the list is endless – I shall only stick to the population part.
60% of your people are under 25 years, dear Africa. So much youth, so much talent, so much creativity, so much energy and so much passion. So much use of all these valuable qualities in pursuit of employment. An employment we could not get with our first degree, so we went back to school and got another one, or even better, a masters. But even this one proved pointless, because when a job opening appeared, I did not have the experience. Unemployment rising!
‘Africa Rising! …and the youth are rising with it’ is an incredibly inaccurate statement. Whoever said that “tomorrow never comes” must have lived the realities of an African youth. Because you keep telling us that we are the leaders of tomorrow but tomorrow is a mirage. Explain a youth committee led by some grey-haired, pension-taking granddaddy just because he is a professor who once wrote a paper titled Understanding the youth! The affront!
I want to blame your leaders for your failures but I am hesitant, because I understand how government works. Leaders don’t elect themselves. Even while they might turn out greedy, the seats they occupy are not stuck to their behinds.
Since you missed the point of Africa Rising, here is what I suggest you do: you must strip naked and have a good look at yourself. Don’t tell China to look at you, or the US, or Europe – look at yourself. Stripping naked will expose your insecurities and vulnerabilities. It will bring you to realisations. Make your own short points of all that you observe, good and bad. Then take a shower. Make reforms. Cloth yourself some new fabric – fresh African fabric. Then take steps forward. Emerge from the grey.
But stripping naked is not easy. You need courage. The audacity of today’s youth. You need your youth. Donors don’t have the money, the youth do. They are the ones who will work in the mines, build the factories, work in the factories, sell the products, buy the products and recycle what can be recycled. Allow them to open businesses, to be their own bosses. To lead in their unique methods.
Africa rising turned out to be a statement far from reality, but now, it is a wake up call.