By Moses Anibaba, Regional Director for Sub-Saharan Africa at the British Council

With the world’s youngest and fastest-growing populations, African countries are changing rapidly. The next generation is essential to the continent’s future and to global shared interests in creating a safer, healthier and more prosperous future for us all.

Because of its massive youth population, Africa holds unrealised and untapped talent and potential. At the same time, the economic growth and international relevance of the continent show that there is opportunity.

Now is the time to focus on building engagement and being deliberate about actions to create safer and more prosperous environments for youth to thrive. It is with this in mind that the British Council is working in Africa to create an ecosystem that provides these young people with the networks, connections, and skills to empower them and prepare them for the future.

The future of the continent is already being shaped by its rapidly growing youth population. One example of the increasing global influence of this generation is the enormous success of Afrobeats, contemporary African music that is rapidly reshaping the sound and texture of pop music.

Building on existing networks

The British Council has been operating in Africa since the 1930s. As a result, we can foster connections by building on our existing networks and deep on-the-ground engagement and continuing to develop a strong understanding of our primary audience. Some of our most successful work has been done in partnership with other stakeholders.

Coupled with contributing to economic empowerment, innovation and employability in Africa, enabling connections, exchange and opportunities between Africa and the UK is aimed at creating strong and enduring networks with future leaders and influencers.

Through ongoing research in the region, we have made several key observations. According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, by 2050, a quarter of the working population in the world will be in Africa of primary importance to many are jobs, enterprise and livelihood.

Although effective citizen-state engagement is lacking – with young people especially marginalised from the community, policy and democratic decisions – evidence has shown that two-way citizen-state dialogue has increased trust. Unrest and instability affect young people and women and girls disproportionately to other groups, while both groups play a key role in community-level peacebuilding. When it comes to the topic of migration, push, and pull factors need to be taken into consideration, as does the cross-fertilising of knowledge and skills through returnee migration. Access to education and opportunity for mobility, progress and promotion remains key. The continent has leapfrogged the mobile revolution and, this presents opportunities to leverage technology and innovation for growth.

Against this backdrop, opportunities identified by young people themselves include the integration of technology in all sectors for sustainable development, building inclusive and resilient grassroots networks, mentoring schemes, opportunities for leadership in social transformation, and the prospect of governments and civil society organizations working hand in hand with young people to ‘build back better’.

One example of what can be achieved through such successful partnerships is the Innovation for African Universities (IAU) project, part of the Going Global Partnerships programme, to foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at universities and facilitate the development of skills required to build industries, companies, products and services. It’s about working together internationally to ensure that higher education and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) meet the needs of our societies, economies and students.

Creating new narratives

The British Council partnered with Africa No Filter to develop nuanced and contemporary stories that shift stereotypical and harmful narratives within and about Africa.

As an example, our New Narratives programme is designed to help contribute to changing reciprocal perceptions between Africa and the West to stimulate fresh understanding which will unlock new connections and collaborations for mutual benefit. The development of cooperative relationships can help to achieve financial improvements, economic growth, and other mutually beneficial goals.

The five-year programme contributes to updating the narratives of countries in Africa and the UK and strengthening connections between young people across both places. The programme will support young African and UK content creators and storytellers.

To help realise this vision, the British Council commissioned the Research, Insight and Evaluation (RIE) team at M&C Saatchi World Services to undertake a comprehensive investigation and their countries.

Both young Africans and young Britons complained of a lack of diversity and nuance in the ways in which they and their countries are represented internationally.

To help address their overarching concern with the perceived treatment of Africa as a monolithic entity, participants provided an array of examples which could be leveraged to present a more accurate representation of their own countries specifically, as opposed to just ‘Africa’ as a whole.

Beautiful natural regions, historically significant sites, local cultures and traditions, tribal and ethnic identities, local cuisine, and sports were all widely identified as salient reference points for building a more reflective and grounded representation of their country. Other key reference points include music, nightlife, local activists and activism, locally or nationally cherished values, and the arts.

An opportunity to create new perceptions

The research indicates that we need to embrace our British heritage and be deliberate to create refreshed perceptions to build on our legacy and make an impact in the world of young Africans and the ever-changing needs of young people.

The objectives of the programme focus on what can be achieved through forging connections focused on strengthening inclusion. By engaging young people in Africa, we are working with the next generation to unlock their potential, build resilience and create stronger community networks, on the continent and internationally, to realise a more free, fair, prosperous and open society where youth can thrive.

We need to tackle outdated, incorrect and incomplete pictures from Africa and the best way to do this is to support and amplify young new voices. This is a call for building mutually beneficial partnerships and connections between the West and Africa that can create opportunities and engagement through arts, enterprise, and education.

Baobab Africa
Baobab Africa People and Economy reports the continent majorly from a positive slant. We celebrate the continent. Not for us the negatives that undermine the African real story of challenging but inspiring growth.

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