‘Afro-optimism’ on the rise among continent’s youth, finds survey

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Young people across Africa are confident that the continent is heading for an era of success fuelled by technology and entrepreneurship, according to a new survey.

The Africa Youth survey, which claims to be the largest of its kind, said there is growing belief in the concept of “Afro-optimism”, fighting persistently negative stereotypes of the continent.

Though most people interviewed were dissatisfied with the state of their own country, almost half believed the continent as a whole was in a healthier state than previously, and two-thirds thought they were living through a transformative “African century”.

Ivor Ichikowitz, chairman of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, which commissioned the survey, said the results “are a loud wake-up call to all the Afro-sceptics”.

“We have found a youth that refuses to shy away from the very real challenges of Africa, that is honest about what needs to be done and what their role has to be to achieve this – and they are overwhelmingly keen to make that difference.”

The survey covered 14 countries, and included 4,200 interviews with young people aged between 18 and 24.

The average age in Africa is younger than 20, according to the UN, more than 10 years younger than any other continent.

Those surveyed had strong opinions about the importance of technology and business, with 81% saying they believed technology could unlock the continent’s potential. A similar amount believed access to wifi should be a fundamental human right.

Three-quarters of young people said they planned to start their own business in the next five years, and many already had ideas they were ready to work on if given funding.

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Commenting on the report, Rosebell Kagumire, editor of the website African Feminism, said the internet had opened doors to opportunities beyond national borders and connected young people across the continent.

“Technology has connected Africans in so many ways. Our grandparents were pan-Africanists and understood the struggle for Africa … but now, more than ever, you’re able to read a story in realtime of what’s happening in another country.”

While the report said there were strong suspicions about the influence of foreign powers, most supported pan-African institutions.

The African Union was mostly looked upon favourably as a way of uniting countries across the continent.

Kagumire said it was easy to be optimistic about the continent’s future despite localised problems, because some nation states are still relatively new.

“When we see ourselves as African, as a people, and what we have achieved together and what we have survived together, that makes a better picture,” she said. “It’s a bigger picture. We are looking at African people, really thinking outside the colonial construct.”

She added, however, that the idea of Afro-optimism was often simplistic, painting a picture of “happy Africans”.

“It assumes a certain lack of complexity. We are allowed to be complex. I don’t think anyone’s in a permanent state of optimism, and certainly not young Africans,” she said.

The biggest concerns were corruption, the creation of new jobs for the continent’s booming young population, and peace and security.

Kagumire pointed out that young people were often disaffected by politics, and women, in particular, felt discriminated against in the corporate world.

“Even when people are optimistic, it’s pegged to the realities.”

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Former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, who contributed to the survey report, said: “I am encouraged by the youth of Africa’s common vision of a pan-African identity; of a love of their fellows that transcends colour, creed, class or nationality.

“I am immensely heartened too by their Afro-optimism, underscored by their belief in Afro-capability.”

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