How do you tell you are getting old- white hair or just sheer forgetfulness? I have seen signs of both recently but never really took notice of their significance until a recent humbling encounter which forms the subject of this blog. I walked into an interview room of one of the most prominent embassies recently and the room was full of eager faces of all ages with a desire to secure the all-important document. The subject dear reader is not about the travel Visa but about the manner in which I was treated by one of the applicants. As I was about to take my standing position because all the seats had already been taken by the early comers- a young smartly dressed girl in her High School offered me her seat and despite my visible discomfort in taking she politely insisted and would not take NO for an answer.
Where am I going with all this you may ask? Well for starters it was the realisation on my part that I am not the young man that I used be But more importantly that I belong to the generation of those responsible for making it a better world for the next generation. There is a joke that makes the rounds in my native Zimbabwe that when the Central Bank Governor offered to resign the President told him that he is welcome to do so as long as he ensures that he leaves the rate of inflation where it was before he took over office. You should understand that at the time of the joke inflation had peaked to more than 1000%. How have we become complicit in the destruction of our country (or even Africa)? I am a nearly born free and for the past two decades I have not really taken seriously my responsibility in Zimbabwe’s (and Africa’s) reconstruction and creation of equal opportunities for all. My role has been to analyse and criticize. But to what end has that changed my country-if not worsened it? What is my role now that I am qualified to occupy a seat vacated by someone who considers herself junior to me? Should I just peddle the traditional age difference or the fact that I am male as a sine qua non of seniority? If she is obliged to surrender her seat what I am obliged to do in return?
I have taken the liberty of talking about myself so far but I believe the issues I am raising resonate with many in my generation. I have enjoyed (literally) the fruits of independence, free education, health and to a certain extent some level of equality- although this remains contested in many ways. I have also suffered from the heavy handedness of the state- been tortured by agents of the state as a student activist and am not sure if I am really free. BUT the question lingers how have I contributed towards the betterment of Zimbabwe for the next generation?
We recently celebrated the heroic role of the mostly unemployed youths in what is now famously called the Arab Spring. I am keen to know if the post-revolution dispensation offers better opportunities for the youth just in terms of economic emancipation. The energies and creativity of the youth have not been appropriately harnessed for the development of the continent but rather we have witnessed the abuse of this group by political elites for their own expediency? Is this why they surrender their seats for us in crowded buses, public places etc?
Statistics (I hear you say there he goes again) indicate that Africa’s population is bulging in the middle (15-35 year olds) and this trend is bound to increase in the next 30 years. What are we to do with this mass of youth? Train the privileged and facilitate their migration into the global diaspora? Leave the rest here- to literally worship us (madhara) or to be abused by us (especially the girl child) for their next meal-hatinyare! Whether you like it or not this has been the most visible trend in terms of post-colonial countries-the elite (that oversees public resources) is very efficient at sending their kids abroad for education and in the meantime engage (or they become passive observers) in a process of organic deterioration of education institutions. It looks like everything has to grind to a halt before we see the need to restore sanity and order.
How do we harness the anger, energy and also creativity of the youth into a potent force that can drive a more legitimate and inclusive Africa’s renaissance? OR maybe the real truth dear reader is that we are actually afraid of the ideas and hope that they carry to an extent that we are more comfortable with a tokenist approach in dealing with this age group.
What do you think would be the verdict if our generation and the one ahead of us were to be subjected to a public trial over the failure to safeguard our resources for the next generation? I honestly believe we have a case to answer- at the least for not speaking up when we were supposed to. I know it’s easy to shift the blame kuvatongi (the rulers) but what did we do about it? I am taking responsibility for my actions, aloofness from it all and just sheer intellectualism which has not contributed towards real change. I will start off by listening to their aspirations. In many cases the complaints of the youth are that no-one bothers to listen and that may explain why they end up embarking on destructive behaviour and also hopefully contributing towards the creation of at least one decent job-just imagine the movement we would create if we all contributed towards one job at a time- a slight edge moment indeed.
For purposes of brevity let me conclude by saying I have come off age and am working towards an awareness of my responsibilities to the so-called next generation. If they are the ‘next’ what am I? I am the current generation that has to make it a better place for them. If we can’t improve it lets at least keep it the way it was (ensure there is something to hand over) until they can take over-maybe they will have the decency of doing a better job than us!!!