The African continent, despite its varied challenges, remains a place of hope. As many nations across the continent reach a socio-political inflection point, ideas and ideals will shape the new future young Africans envision for themselves.
It has been a tough half decade for Africa. The continent has experienced a series of shocks, the most significant being the COVID-19 pandemic which in 2020 alone, cost the region at least $115 billion in output losses according to the World Bank. Many countries currently face acute foreign exchange shortages while citizens battle cost of living crises. One would be remiss to ignore the swaths of coups, both military and civilian, that are occurring across the continent, while climate change is rapidly exposing the region’s unpreparedness for the new environmental reality we find ourselves in.
However, despite the despondency that seems to underpin coverage of Africa’s issues, the continent remains a place of opportunity, one occupied by young vibrant populations that are yet to resign themselves to narratives about Africa failing. This article does not ignore the deep-seated structural challenges many African countries face. Instead, its focus is on potential, which remains an underlying feature of discussions around Africa. Recent global events have triggered a new wave of youth-led Pan-Africanism, and Africa is rapidly approaching an inflection point where its citizens will be tasked with determining the continent’s trajectory. Africa’s young people are ready to engage the world, all it takes is meaningful action and a rethinking of Africa’s place on the global stage.
COULD THIS BE THE AGE OF AFRICAN IDEALS?
The word telos is a term used by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, to describe the ultimate object or aim of one’s life. Telos is akin to a teacher’s calling to share knowledge, or the journalist’s desire to pursue truth and it should naturally factor into nation-building. It may be reflected in a country’s desire for freedom from oppression, or the citizens’ desire for democratic leadership. Regardless of the context, national telos implies a public cohesion aimed at a higher goal that spurs people to acts of bravery and kindness. Recent coups across the African continent, although unsavoury, have revealed local dissatisfaction with the status quo. The grievances are varied, and yet very similar: poor leadership, corruption, and a general lack of consideration for the populations most affected by Africa’s poor human development metrics.
This new wave of thought is galvanizing mass support for a new Africa, built on ideals rather than ethnic or religious rivalries. These African idealists, many of whom are under the age of 40 are bent on forging a new future for the continent that is inclusive and productive, one which prioritizes checks and balances, good governance, and institutional legitimacy. However, their success will depend on the ideas and ideals that shape the coming decades. Africans have a chance to shape and inform the ideas that will govern this new phase in the continent’s progress. The hope is that they will be rooted in humanistic goals that uplift and empower citizens to be active and socially responsible to their communities.
TOP-DOWN OR BOTTOM-UP SOLUTIONS?
So how can this new age of African idealism be realized? While national telos implies a public course of action, meaning that people with the right objectives and abilities come forward and are willing to do the work necessary for Africa’s prosperity, defining telos is also very personal. African citizens can and should take individual responsibility for the kinds of leaders they want to have. However, in order to achieve a lofty national purpose, virtuous leadership is needed to steer these efforts. The solution is to meet in the middle and push for dynamic reform on both ends. An innovative approach to this kind of reform is Kgotla, a Botswanan precolonial practice which has proven to be useful to Botswana’s growth. Kgotla is a custom originally used by pre-colonial chiefs which emphasizes deliberation and gaining consensus. As Jonathan Tepperman illustrates in his book The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline, the practice formed the foundation for an efficient and prudent civil service which has served Botswana well. African nations therefore have the necessary tools to meet the challenges of 21st-century governance, and solutions to these challenges will have to be people-centred and organic.
On a local level, young Africans should continue to use the tools at their disposal to effect the change they want to see. As many begin to face the reality of effecting sociopolitical change: ethno-religious rivalries, election petitions and transitions from military to civilian rule, they will need to learn from those who have gone before them, which is why history education remains paramount. Defining telos on an individual level also requires a deep curiosity about the world and a willingness to experience the views of others. Reading great works of literature and vibrant civic education campaigns are sure ways to develop these ideas. The recent shows of Pan-African solidarity across various countries implies that the time for African ideals is fast approaching. However, an African intellectual renaissance of this kind would reverberate beyond the region’s borders to influence the wider geopolitical context of the world order.
FROM COMPETITION TO COOPERATION
African nations are becoming increasingly involved in global decision-making, with the African Union’s recent inclusion in the G-20 as a prime example. Many African nations continue to toe fraught geopolitical lines as they chart independent foreign policy strategies aligned with their national interests. However, Africa could increasingly become the region where global powers which have strained relationships cooperate to achieve certain goals. For one, the disproportionate effects of climate change on African populations (whose contributions to global emissions are almost negligible) could see a concerted effort from competing blocs to address one of the most pressing challenges of our time.
Similarly, as African industrialization becomes a prerogative for the continent’s growth, major global powers could work together to engage African economies as they undergo structural economic transformation through the implementation of industrial policy and agreements like the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). There are also various public and private efforts to increase the continent’s manufacturing capacity by attracting companies with global distribution networks to set up factories on the continent. These operations will employ local workers, encourage knowledge exchange, and grow human capital in the regions concerned while promising handsome rewards to investors. Global power competition is not won on battlefields or at political polls, but in the hearts of people; it is the industries, which have a direct impact on people by creating wealth and jobs, that endear foreign partners to local Africans and there is room enough for all to benefit. Rather than being a threat to current power structures, Africa’s rise could be beneficial to all who intentionally and respectfully engage the continent, making Africa’s much-needed investment opportunities globally beneficial.
TIME TO MAKE THINGS TANGIBLE
Many African leaders are already promoting the continent’s vast opportunities on the global stage, however, they must go beyond saying the continent is ready for business. African leaders should demonstrate that their commitment to the continent’s upliftment goes beyond rhetoric by prioritizing good governance, human capital development, security and strong institutional capacity, all indicators that will naturally attract foreign investors. Countries should embrace the AfCFTA and implement holistic industrial policy, which development economist Jonathan Said, argues is the most important of all economic policies for African nations. African citizens must be especially conscious of the efforts their leaders are making, to ensure that these steps align with their hopes for their countries’ futures. As the prevalence of African ideals grows, these ideals must partner with action to be impactful.
For centuries, the African continent has remained a place of opportunity, and this essence of promise lives on in the hearts of many Africans who are today trying to build a future that lives up to their continent’s potential. It is encouraging and hopefully, these young idealists will begin telling their own stories and changing the narrative about their continent. Africans should continue to actively shape the future they want so that the only way to go from here will be up⎈
The views, thoughts, and opinions published in The Republic belong solely to the author and are not necessarily the views of The Republic or its editors. We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editors by writing to [email protected].