Most of Africa’s problems are related to leadership. “Everything begins and ends with leadership.” John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Good leadership results in a healthy Africa; bad leadership results in a miserable Africa. But in many African countries, leadership is viewed as the prerogative of older generations. Youthfulness is associated with immaturity and an inability to lead. We believe our youth cannot lead.
Africa’s largest population is the youth. According to African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), “About 41% of the people in the continent are below 15 years old while another 19% are youth between 15 and 24 years old.” These statistics show that the youth constitute the bulk of the African population. Furthermore, with the projected growth of the African population, the percentage of the youth will almost certainly increase. Wisdom, therefore, calls for the utilisation and empowerment of African youth to lead.
In many African countries, leadership is viewed as the prerogative of older generations. Youthfulness is associated with immaturity and an inability to lead.
Culturally, youth are not leaders until they are fully grown up or mature. They are leaders in making. Their leadership opportunities lie in the future. But in this article, I will urge the involvement of the youth in leadership. I have worked among the youth for many years and witnessed many gifted youths who are mature and capable of leading.
Jesus and Leadership
The man Jesus was a youth! Many times the religious leaders opposed Jesus because he was young. He did things expected to be done only by older people, the community’s elders. On one occasion the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things…who gave you authority to do this?” (Mark 11:28). In the context of the day, only trained religious leaders (or older people) could do the things of God. Having a young man teaching people about God was more than unacceptable. It was unimaginable. But Jesus broke this custom.
Having a young man teaching people about God was more than unacceptable. It was unimaginable. But Jesus broke this custom.
But In John 3 we learn that Nicodemus saw a different quality in Jesus and his teaching. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a religious expert. Yet he opted to visit Jesus at night. People could have criticised him; his colleagues might have disqualified him. But the story of Nicodemus and Jesus teaches us at least two lessons in relation to youth and leadership.
1. Youth Can Lead
Rabbis were teachers. They were well trained in the affairs of religion and culture. They were respected leaders in their communities. Nicodemus recognised Jesus as a rabbi (John 3:2)—a respected leader. Furthermore, he confessed that Jesus had come from God. Nicodemus confessed this not because he believed Jesus was God. Such recognition only comes later in the Gospel. Nicodemus said what he did because of what he saw Jesus say and do. He was convinced that Jesus was a leader.
2. Youth are Qualified to Lead
Young age is not tantamount to lack of ability to undertake the tasks one ought to undertake or accomplish. Jesus knew something important which Nicodemus did not know. Nicodemus had no idea what new birth meant. He asked Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old?” (John 3:4). The young Jesus explained to him what he did not know—the concept of new birth. When Jesus was young, he argued with the teachers of the law (Luke 2:41-48). Luke reports that, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). According to Luke, Jesus answered the teachers of the law well because he had the understanding of the law.
Young age is not tantamount to lack of ability to undertake the tasks one ought to undertake or accomplish.
In the same way, Jesus taught Nicodemus things Nicodemus did not yet know. Nicodemus knew God religiously, but Jesus led him to the knowledge of God so he could have personal relationship with God.
An Encouragement to the Youth
Believe in Yourself
Believing in oneself generates energy for greater achievements. The youth need to believe that they are able to lead. They need to study profiles of other youth who have led successfully. Paul encourages Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12). Youth doesn’t disqualify, just as age doesn’t automatically make one learned and capable. Rather, the measure of a leader is character and maturity. “Set an example.”
The youth should refuse to accept the axiom that they are unable to lead because of their age. God does not look down on the youth.
If the youth continue to think they cannot lead, they will not lead at all. The youth should refuse to accept the axiom that they are unable to lead because of their age. God does not look down on the youth. This should encourage the youth to believe in themselves.
Engage in Leadership
But merely believing in oneself is not enough. Action is required. Paul trained Timothy and provided leadership opportunities in the church. Timothy was a youth. Yet he was a leader in his church, in the challengingly cosmopolitan city of Ephesus. Therefore, youth should seek and get involved in leadership. We might go as far as saying: there is no leadership position that the youth cannot hold. So let the youth persist in leading. With time, the society will accept the leadership of the youth.
How to Support Youth in Leadership
Youth need encouragement from their respective communities. Youth are yearning for words of affirmation. They need to hear that they are able to do great things for the betterment of Africa. Words of encouragement can cause the youth to do what they have not imagined they might. The story is told of a young African man who met a snake on the road to his home. But he fled in fear from the snake. When the neighbours saw him run, they shouted: “You can kill that snake. You are strong.” Hearing this, the young man grabbed the snake by its neck and tore it into pieces. That’s the power of encouragement.
Africa ought to trust her youth and entrust them with more of the responsibilities tied to leadership
Train and Trust the Youth
Leadership requires training. Youth need training in all its forms. They need education, they need mentoring and coaching. The communities in Africa must prioritise the training of the youth in leadership. This could be through sessions, community discussion, school curricula, etc. African communities need to trust the youth more. There should be no fear that youth will misuse leadership or mislead the people. Africa ought to trust her youth and entrust them with more of the responsibilities tied to leadership.
Our Youth Can Lead
There are arguably more distractions today than ever before. Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp allow teens – as well as everyone else – to waste hours weekly. But the youth have an active role to play. So let us not affirm the growing habits of mindless media consumption. We need leaders. And we cannot wait for 15 years for the youth to meet our respective cultures’ age requirements for leadership. Checking ourselves we must also exhort the youth, whom God does not disqualify because of their age. We must, therefore, encourage the youth to have forums to discuss leadership related issues. I strongly recommend that the communities in Africa encourage and give leadership opportunities to the youth. The youth need mentors, they need education, they need support on top of knowing God their Creator.
We need leaders. And we cannot wait for 15 years for the youth to meet our respective cultures’ age requirements for leadership.