Source: | David Agyeman Duah, Ghana

Growing up, we always heard the refrain: The future belongs to the youth. But does it really belong to the youth, or it is another ruse crafted by the powers that be to smother the aspirations of the youth? A Nigerian friend of mine who is in his forties once told me a joke which goes like this: he said when they were growing up in the late seventies and eighties, they were told by their teachers that the future of Nigeria belongs to their generation. They become very aspirational and idealistic as a result of this and had big dreams to transform the country. At the time they were told this by their teachers they were in primary school and Obasanjo, Buhari, Babangida were the stratocrats in charge of their country. Fast forward three decades and the same people are still ruling Nigeria in 2019. The same generation are ruling Nigeria directly as policy makers (Gen Buhari) or indirectly as power brokers and “Godfathers” (Gen Obasanjo and Gen Babangida).

The African Child is told the future belongs to his generation but he grows into an adult and the same people he saw in power in his childhood, are still in power

Let us go straight to the subject matter; skills development and training. Is this article arguing that we do not have any employable skills in Africa? The answer is a big NO! Else how would I be employed as I write? We do have skills here but the critical question to ask about the employable skills of Africans is this: Are these skills at par with international standards? Are these skills-set in sufficient quantities to spur the development we so desire? Do government policies support, build and encourage the acquisition of world-class international skill-sets that can help bring economic prosperity?

To answer these questions let us first of all tackle the building and construction industry. How many African firms can construct hydro-electric dams – and I’m not even talking about dams which produce megawatts of power but small community dams which produce a few kilowatts of power to power surrounding villages? When oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Ghana we were awoken by to rude shock: we discovered that we didn’t have welders. But one may respond and say O David, David, stop being such a pessimist and a naysayer. One may even add “I saw a welder yesterday on my way to work, in fact not just one welder but several welders” To this I respond: That’s not the kind of welders needed on oil rigs – artisanal welders will not be let anywhere near an oil rig! The kind of welders that the oil companies were seeking was a different breed – one that can work with sophisticated automated welding machines but unfortunately our public polytechnics and technical universities don’t equip the myriads of youths who throng their campuses with such skills. The government further cripples skills training by out-sourcing many contracts to foreigners and not to Ghanaians (maybe they do this because of aid conditionalities, who knows)

Have you ever left the confines of Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi or any of our six metropolises to visit rural Ghana? You’d discover that even though we’re living in the 21st century, 90% of houses are still mud houses. Why? Because the rural folk are not endowed with simple brick manufacturing technology. So you find that though the raw materials (clay) for brick manufacturing abound in rural areas in Ghana the skill set needed to process these raw materials are non-existent! Prosperity is not measured by the amount of raw materials which lie under one’s feet, but the total amount of skills needed to turn the raw materials into goods and services that people both internally within the country and abroad will be willing to pay money to enjoy; a country like South Korea does not have one drop of oil within its soil and yet has one of the largest petrochemical processing industry in the world. The emphasis should not be placed on raw materials but “skills materials” In this regard, a coastal village which is endowed with white sand beaches and picturesque views will not generate any resources for them until they villagers are able to turn that natural endowment into a beach resort which will attract tourists and holiday goers to come there pay money and enjoy that natural resource which skills have transformed into an income generating venture.

We have myriads of youths roaming our streets selling PK mint toffees and dog chains. But imagine for once… what if these young boys and girls can actually manufacture what they’re selling? What if they’re actually endowed with skills to manufacture the very things that they sell? What if, instead of our leaders giving concessions to foreigners to mine and exploit the raw materials needed to manufacture the very things that these youths sell in traffic we actually have manufacturing plants that produce these things?

So the next time someone tells you “the future belongs to the youth” ask him/her this: are the youth equipped with enough modern skills to truly command the future? Ask him/ her again why in Ghana, Nigeria, La Cote D’Ivoire we still have septuagenarians ruling youthful populations?

Africa Nakua! It’s time for the youth to rise up and equip themselves with the skills they need to take charge of the future. Our governments that we put in office through elections have failed us but let us not lose heart… Africa Nakua! The youth are rising up!

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