Many leaders and protectors of the old-guard habitually spew clichéd epithets about youth development at political rallies and during Youth Month which serve to alienate and degrade rather than integrate and inspire young people. Three of these catch-phrases which have attained universal renown with seemingly unchallenged public approbation are; ‘you (youth) are the leaders of tomorrow’, ‘youth are the future’ and ‘youth are the next generation’. Of course the essence of these is the same and millions have accepted it without cum grano salis.
Most youth activists appear to miss the underpinning message of the exclusion of youth from high level political and social processes which are entrenched in these epithets. To confer young people with the crown of tomorrows’ leadership is in effect robbing them of their potential, their ability and responsibility to be leaders and ideators of today. It is to subject youths to a state of passivity, ineptitude and intellectual servitude to the establishment.
Critics and cynics often rant misguidedly about how apathetic Generations X and Y are but say very little about the extent to which political and business leaders go to keep young people uncritical and politically dispassionate. In which country has there been a compelling and effective charge to make these phrases anything but platitudinous and deceptive?
I overheard a friend from Sri Lanka telling one of our colleagues at a youth leadership conference in Rwanda that young people are not only the leaders of tomorrow but of ‘today and tomorrow’. Today’s unquestioning knowledge consumers cannot be tomorrow’s critical and innovate leaders. This is antithetical to principles of sustainable development; it is an affront to ardent nationalists and is a seething recipe for further leadership crises globally.
The irony is that our fears, after extensive periods of repression, usually come back to haunt us. If leaders fear the free-spirited nature, exuberance and technological savoir faire of young people, the judicious thing to do would be to engage them positively – to provide them with avenues of expression and civic engagement. Failing to do this will give rise to their greatest fear; social bedlam evinced in Egypt and Tunisia or future leadership crises seen in scores of countries across the world.
There are no perennial benefits that can be garnered from condemning youths to silence. To do so is to place the future on columns of straw. “Participation” wrote Steve Burkey “is an essential part of human growth, that is development of self confidence, pride, initiative, creativity, responsibility, cooperation…this process, whereby people learn to take charge of their lives and solve their own problems, is the essence of development”. Any country that fails to or desists from adopting this approach will produce generations of mannequins and mad-nuh-rhatids!
I implore our leaders to begin seeing youth as a distinct group of people with skill-sets and abilities rather than a temporary biological stage in human growth. What we take to market is what we shall have to sell!