Africa: The Young and the Hungry

There's Hope 

You must go through the valley to stand upon the mountain” these are the resounding words of a song that relentlessly occupies the back of my mind whenever Africa is mentioned in reference to development. Marred by a myriad of problems and hardships Africa, particularly Kenya, is steadily rising again to reclaim it’s lost glory and reposition itself for the greatest achievements of the century.

The need for Africa’s re-emergence and disassociation with conflict to become the oasis of potential is spawned from the zeal, ambition and potential of budding youth who have literally been the embers glowing underneath the ashes. Kenya’s youth have a determination and perseverance to give their best and to emerge as capable and skilled leaders of tomorrow. Not only in political matters but in all disciplines be it sports, education or science to produce world class athletes, musicians doctors, artists, lawyers, scientists, architects, name it and Kenya is a boiling pot concoction of these sorts.

Over the last decade, we have seen various examples of talent, skill and perseverance showcased in sports fields, concerts, business, classrooms and even in the media. Not all we see may be unique and stimulating but in the midst of it all there is the rare and raw, like a gem waiting to be picked and polished for the grand show, a little stream that will ultimately find its way to the great river and beyond. That’s the  dream of many youth. Having the dream is one step towards achieving success, keeping the dream is another, but making the dream a reality is a different ball game.

 What does this mean?

It means that many of our youth with skill and ambition need the support of the community, county and country through encouragement, mentoring and finances for them to adequately sharpen their skills and attain uniqueness and the much needed cutting edge. This takes discipline, understanding, wisdom, skill, perseverance, hard work and innovation. Society should be mobilized to groom and mentor future talent in all circles of life other than sit back and expect change without playing a role in bringing about the long awaited change.

New Technology has since opened up massive opportunities in social media for the youth to embrace. It takes only a minimal effort to push any young person to embrace tech and particularly social media use. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and blogs have gained a cult like appeal in Kenya creating a place where conversations are started. Occasionally these conversations become listed as top trending topics in the world. This is the powerful voice of the Kenyan youth.

Through this social tech platforms, major brands in Kenya have helped create new opportunities, jobs and experiences which are quickly exploited by hungry youth. Another major leap for youth in Kenya was seen in the recent elections where, for the first time in decades, major political contenders were youthful. I was intrigued by this story. A young fresh faced contender for County Ward, Alfred Kibiwott, a 19 year old young man straight from high school, was elected as the Lerkerra Lembus County ward representative in Koibatek, Baringo. He is the youngest person to be elected to that seat. Our current government has also empowered youthful talent with plum positions in the heart of power. Take for instance Johnson Sakaja, an eloquent well spoken man in his late 20’s who carries himself with so much confidence and positive attitude, his youthfulness amplifies his wisdom. Having younger talent in the core of government is refreshing. This is a major shift in political trends.

5 years ago, when working as a designer, I met a young man called Osborne Macharia. He was an intern. His meekness was deceiving. I watched how he worked, mocking up all sorts of client presentations meticulously. He loved what he did even as an intern. His attitude was potent, a brilliant spark radiating. I thought he was underrated talent. I saw it and I encouraged it. He eventually went away after a few months of internship and a couple of years later, we met. He gave me samples of his photography projects and a link to his website to look at. His art had evolved to awesomeness. He had perfectly captured, well framed portraits of life seen through the camera lens. I loved it.

It wasn’t long before I got a chance to highlight his art to my Creative director. I could tell he was visibly impressed. Osborne got his first chance in advertising. Now he is producing some of the richest photography art for major advertising campaigns in Kenya. Moral of the story. Stand for what you believe in and put action into it. I was observant, I believed in what I saw in Osbourne and I gave him a chance without desiring anything in return. I was modest and it made me vulnerable. Now, I have a sense of satisfaction as I see this humble young man recognized, proving his mastery in an industry dominated by talented foreigners. He has scaled up and works his A game in an industry that’s brutal and unforgiving, that’s my joy.

We need to continue facilitating this environment where talent and potential is encouraged, nurtured and used for the good of the society as a whole. This should be a challenge for all of us without relying on foreigners who will eventually use budding talent for their good first. We need to mentor our talent, nurture it and direct them away from the deceptive “get rich quick” and entitlement thinking. Great mentors are needed to steer them through this life.

The time has come for Kenyan youth to rise higher and stand, bringing out the best from this side of the continent. It’s time for the youth of Kenya to realize their rightful place in the society and take up their roles spearheading an era of change for the continent.

I believe Africa as a whole is a goldmine of talent and potential, we have our own Einstein’s, Michael Jordan’s, Bill Gates’, Paul McCartney’s and much more than we could think of. We need to stretch our vision far from the small thinking, corruption and greed to see all around and to personally take the initiative, rise above it all and give the very best of ourselves.

During my times of reflection, I gained an enthusiasm and determination to highlight the vision and dream based on what I saw and heard from Africa. You might wonder whether I have travelled that much to gather these insights. Well, no, but I consider myself to be a good judge of character and with a good eye for talent. This is not difficult when you know what you are looking for and what to do with what you find. The same goes for any individual who seeks to be someone or make something of themselves. You first must know what you want in life before you know what to do.

Let’s all take time and look around us, open our eyes a little wider to see beyond the person but into their character and potential. Let us play a positive role by trying to bring out the best in these young people and not suppress, humiliate them or look down on them just because they may not be of age or calibre. Now the words of Lucky Dube’s song linger in my memory in context to this story; “I’m a rolling stone, coz a rolling stone gathers no moss” To you the youth, the hot blooded, the brave, I say, fear is inevitable but don’t let it rule. Roll, don’t be scared, roll and gather speed, be the stone that gathers no moss.

To the influencer reading this, let us initiate programs to bring the best out of these young people to give them confidence and support both morally and financially. Be generous. Nurture the young and be a role model who will confidently take hold of them and lead them to greater heights of self-achievement. The question remains; are we ready to surrender leadership, mindsets and outdated traditions to take up the role of mentors who will guide the youth to their destiny?

Are we willing to look beyond age, experience, tribe or gender in order to clearly see the vision ahead? Only time will tell. What remains to be seen is significant steps of progress. Moss will not grow when we keep rolling and all it takes to keep moving is hope, vision and a dream.


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