Commentary: Young people are leaders of ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’

By Juleus Ghunta 

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 debase rather than integrate and inspire young people. Two of these catch-phrases that have attained universal renown are: “you (youth) are the leaders of tomorrow” and “youth are the future”. Of course, the essence of these is the same and millions have accepted it sine grano salis.

Most youth activists appear to miss the underpinning message of the exclusion of youth from high level political and social decision-making processes that 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 and condemn youth to a state of passivity, apathy and intellectual servitude to the established order. Critics and cynics often rant misguidedly about how apathetic Generations X and Y are, but say very little about the extent to which most political and business leaders go to keep young people uncritical and incurious. 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 information consumers cannot be tomorrow’s critical and innovative leaders. This is antithetical to the virtues of sustainable development; it is an affront to ardent nation builders and is a seething recipe for further leadership crises globally.

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, Tunisia, Libya and Syria or future leadership crises seen in scores of countries across the world. 

There are no perennial benefits that can be garnered from condemning youth 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 (young) 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 frantic recidivists. 

Our leaders should 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!



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