The notion that maturity comes with age has long been a reason for leadership attainment in African societies. Take ancient times as a prime example, leadership roles were divided based on age, where the elderly were naturally considered leaders in their places of dominion.
But that has all changed with time. In the current generation youth are trying to take on leadership roles that were previously reserved for seniors, a move that hasn’t been received in the most positive of light by the elderly.
Despite all the struggles, the youth are encouraged to engage in leadership positions in order to represent their demography, but also to ensure that they are nurturing themselves into great future leaders.
In an interview with Success, Jolson Masaki, 29, a former Youth United Nations Chairperson and Information Analyst, said that youth leadership opportunities are often overlooked by adults, either knowingly or unknowingly, but the results are the same; a lost opportunity for young people to take the lead.
“Even when adults consider themselves champions for youth in leadership roles, many a times adults are asked to assume the leadership positions instead of letting youth take the lead. We should give young people a chance to realize their full potential. In a world that is heavily networked through online platforms, youth are taking the lead in creating mechanisms to hold governments accountable,” added Masaki.
Nevertheless, Seleman Kitenge, the Speech Writer in the Office of the CEO of the African Union Development Agency - NEPAD seconded Jolson’s statement, commenting that although there are a number of youth who take initiatives in the leadership roles, most are still not awakened in this endeavor, causing many to lag behind compared to their senior counterparts.
“The number of youth taking on leadership roles is still not enough compared to senior groups. Most youth still have the mindset that leadership roles in either the government or other institutions are not for them to grab,” commented Kitenge.
Adding to this sentiment, Masaki says the youth have the power to take initiatives and start engaging in different opportunities around them.
“Change begins with youth themselves, there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 today - the world’s largest-ever group of young people,” Masaki pointed out.
In order to seize big leadership roles, the youth have to start from somewhere. This brings in the concept of volunteerism.
As Masaki puts it, volunteerism is a key success-road to leadership position. However, most young people don’t like to look for volunteering opportunities.
“Learning through experience is very important in one’s leadership journey. I advise my fellow young people to take it as an opportunity to learn and gain practical experience. Also, youth-led organizations must create a good and welcoming environment for young people to volunteer and practice their leadership journey,” Masaki added.
Despite the youth themselves not putting in enough effort in trying to take on these roles in their respective societies, the environment surrounding these youngsters doesn’t seem to favour them either. They may get a sit at the table, but their voices will remain muted.
Kitenge states; “The environment to allow youth participation in leadership roles is also not conducive for emerging leaders. There is a need to educate them on the paramount importance of acquiring leadership roles.”
Nonetheless, these forerunners also pose a question of whether the youth’s desire for government leadership positions, ignoring other opportunities is one of the causes for their sluggish pace in this endeavor. If so, what other areas could youth still engage in and practice leadership?
The CEO of Serengeti Bytes, SDG Champion and youth activist, Kennedy Mmari shades light on the prodigious opportunities present outside government walls.
“There are many leadership roles available in the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and plenty of other places. In the last 20 years there has been an increase of youth who engage in roles indicative of their interest in leadership positions, and they have been doing their best to enter and engage in the leadership system,” commented Mmari.
Although the environment is not quite conducive to nurture youngsters into the next generation of great leaders, youth are still juggling with having their voices heard through youth representatives in the upper level.
The seniors, though, continue to occupy vital leadership roles due to their superior years of experience in leadership-related matters both politically and economically.
Mmari tells Success that, “There is still a problem if seniors continue to look upon the youth as incompetent, inexperienced and not ready to take over. However, not all hope is lost as there are a few senior leaders who have faith, trust and understanding of the youth and their desire to play a more important leadership role in Tanzania.
For example, there has been a high emergence of youth who are founding and leading NGOs, contesting for political positions and opening their own companies, unlike any other time before,” says Mmari.
With all these milestones and bold moves, the question still remains of whether youth are well-prepared for the responsibilities that come with these positions, and are there even seats at the top prepared for the youngsters? How will these young people find their way to those seats?
“Young people must be at the forefront of all related efforts. They must be supported in attaining top leadership roles to, in turn, meet the needs of those who look up to them.
Through youth platforms they can practice their leadership skills to reach top level positions, being critical thinkers and problem solvers will help young people to achieve these seats,” opines Masaki.
He further adds that raising young people’s voices in decision making and full participation in leadership is very important. In fact, it is one of the Youth 2030 Strategy launched by UN Secretary-General.
Ummilkher Yassin, 23, is a young leader and youth advocate who always dreamt of changing the world growing up. Today, she identifies as a young, ambitious and courageous Tanzanian woman.
Reliving the leadership roles she held during her primary and secondary days, Ummilkher says such responsibilities really impacted her life in different proportions. “It imbued in me confidence and a realization that I have the ability to mobilize people towards a common goal,” she says.
She further adds that youth position in leadership is in transition. “We are witnessing global movements aimed at fostering youth leadership.
Youth are considered as global change-makers and shapers and are expected to take up roles and lead social change,” she says.
These young leaders all believe that youth are a lightning rod for change.
However, taking reference to Sustainable Development Goals; Governments, civil society and international partners must scale-up their investment in young people, ensuring they are educated, empowered and employed.