Wed, 22 Feb 2012 Opinion


By Bernice Dzilla

In the words of former Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, 'history will have its say someday, but it will not be history written in Brussels, Paris or Washington, it will be our own time'.

“I make a plea to the youth of Ghana and Africa. Your continent and its nations need your energy, your dynamism, your creativity and above all, your dreams for the development of its component states”
Former President J.A Kufuor -06 March, 2007
Debate is ragging on whether Africa has the right and flavour of leadership to defeat poverty. In Africa today, poverty is assuming gargantuan heights as conflicts of many colours sweep across the continent. In Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Senegal, DR Congo, Egypt, Tunisia and neighbouring Nigeria, political stability has been ripped the shred. Despite Africa's many natural resources, there is a paradox at the heart of the third world-the irony of poverty in the midst of plenty. Nigeria's National Bureau of statistics (NBS) recently came out to say that almost 100 million people in the oil rich country were living in what the bureau called “absolute poverty”(living on less than $1 [€0.63] a day)-a situation that confirms the vast gap that exist between the jargon of figures in economics and the real living conditions of the Nigerian people.

Corruption has tainted the public sectors on the continent to the extent that public office holders could show so much open and gross disrespect for the president of Ghana and go ahead to pay a judgment debt whose legitimacy is shrouded in so much controversy. Anytime I sit behind the television to watch the sittings of the public accounts committee, I simply fall sick. It's a shock to discover how some civil servants and public servants can misappropriate funds woefully without seeing anything wrong with such acts. Like William Butler Yeats, 'Things fall apart, the falcon cannot hear the falconer'.

It is out of this current state of affairs that it has become more pressing that the youth of Africa come to the rescue of the land of their birth. If Africa is going to see a change, then certainly it's going to be from the next generation of transformational leaders. In dreams, they say begins reality and thus the need for us as young people to start envisioning the unique roles we will play to birth a unique Africa.

In most developed countries, young people are the secrets behind real change. Youth power is fuelling economic growth by lending great momentum to the creation of businesses. [email protected] in 2008, made a compilation of 50 young business founders which showcased top earning websites ran by entrepreneurs as young as 17. According to the site, “These 50 young entrepreneurs have proven that it is possible for young people to ...(achieve) success in online business” Its so amazing to discover how initiatives of young people is changing the world. Figure them out:

The popular video sharing website, Youtube, had co-founder and former chief executive officer Chad Hurley, then 30, having an estimated $300 Million. At 28, Andrew Gower, behind Runescape, had calculated net worth of $650 Million. Blake Ross and David Hyatt, developers of the Mozilla web browser, were both 22 and worth $120 Million. Catherine and David Cook, co-founders of My Year Book were 17&19 years respectively and had netted $10 Million.

Eric Byrne Hawker in the book, The Origin of Wealth, says that ninety seven percent of humanity's wealth was created in the last zero point zero one percent of our history. What that means is that in the last zero point zero one percent of our history, more wealth has been created than the period from Adam and Eve till now.

Already in Africa today, we are hearing the sweet sounds of initiative from young people many would hardly expect to create change. The Anzisha prize is an annual award (organized by the MasterCard foundation and the African leadership Academy that celebrates innovation and entrepreneurship, and recognizes the transformative role of youth in leading change on the African continent. Reeta Roy of the MasterCard foundation and Chris Bradford of the African Leadership Academy in a joint statement says “All around us, young people are addressing pressing issues in creative ways and creating a brighter future for their communities. The Anzisha Prize celebrates their initiative and seeks to encourage others to follow in their footsteps, creating a movement of young entrepreneurs who will shape the 21st century”

Think of the following people who emerged as part of eight finalists in 2011:

After falling ill with dysentery, eighteen years old Joel Mwale (Winner of the Anzisha prize, 2011) decided to do something about the lack of clean drinking water in his Kitale village in Kenya. With a small bit of money he had saved and the knowledge of physics he had acquired at school, Joel built a borehole on some community farmland. The borehole reduced the amount of time required to collect water for daily cooking, drinking and cleaning, and reduced the rate of infection from water-borne illnesses. Over one hundred people visit the farm daily to collect water from the borehole, free of charge. But Joel still needed money to pay his school fees and complete his secondary education. Combining his service project with his own entrepreneurial ambition, Joel launched Skydrop Enterprises, a producer and bottler of low-cost purified drinking water. Joel has sold as many as 10,000 bottles of Skydrop Enterprises water in a single month, and his profits have paid school fees for his siblings and put food on his mother's table. He employs three people full-time at his rural production facility, and Skydrop Enterprises bottled water can be purchased as far away as Kampala, Uganda.

Ludwick Marishane of South Africa, 21, is the founder of Headboy Industries, which developed and owns the patent (a government authority to an individual or organization conferring a right or title, esp. the sole right to make, use, or sell some invention. An invention is not your own until it is patented) for DryBath, the world's first bath-substituting lotion. He is his nation's youngest patent holder – and used a cell phone to type his 8,000-word business plan.

At 20, Adamma Umeofia of Nigeria is the founder of WeBuilt: Africa, an organisation that designs and constructs more functional and appealing market stalls using recycled building materials. Amr Sobhy of Egypt, 23, is a founder of Zabatak, a website that crowd sources criminal activity and empowers ordinary citizens with information about crime and corruption in Egypt.

Away from the Anzisha prize, it's important to bring to light the role that the 22-years old rapper, Hamada Ben Amor played in his country's revolution last year. His song, titled “Tunisia Our Country”, gave energy to the Tunisian revolution in 2011. This song was released on YouTube and one week after, the protests in Tunisia began. After the overthrow of Former President Ben Ali, his song “Rais Lebled” (“State of State”) became the anthem of the revolution.

It is evident from the few examples cited above that a new breeze of change is gradually sweeping across the continent. However it will take the collective will of a good number of young people to catalyze large-scale change across the continent. Mere hopes can never raise our continent from her current state. It takes a dream that will envision a better Africa. But since we cannot confuse hope for achievement, it is important that we extend a hand of service to the people in the various communities that we find ourselves. Like Joel Mwale, who was determined to solve a need in his community but today looks forward to his venture becoming one of many lucrative businesses he will launch during his lifetime, its about time we prepare ourselves to solve pressing needs in our own small way. As young people, we can't go on pretending day by day that someone somehow will soon make a change. If you desire a better Africa, then know that the right time is now.

Bernice Dzilla is a passionate volunteer with Orange Education, the Pan-African educational enterprise that focuses on developing learning solutions and creating opportunities, which will inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and employers to catalyze positive change across Africa. She is an aspiring Public Relations Practitioner.