Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|May 25, 2021|8 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

How youth, sweat and tears can bring real freedom.

May 25, 2021 – its Africa Day and a time for deep reflection about the continent and its future. A time to consider decisions that could change the course of history for the benefit of the rising generation of Africa.

That brighter tomorrow is surely what leaders of more than 30 African nations had in mind, on May 24 1963, when they sat down in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to found the Organisation of African Unity. The following day the OAU was born and Africa Day was named in its honour.

The idea was to create cooperation for good and give Africa a strong voice in increasingly byzantine word politics. It is fitting that the successor to the OAU – the African Union – calls Addis Ababa home more than 58 years later.  I have always thought it a shame that only a handful of African nations see fit to celebrate this day with a public holiday. For the record it is merely: Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Lesotho; Mali; Mauretania; Namibia and Zambia.

The spirit of the AU was born years before, on March 6 1957 in Accra, the capital of Ghana, when the future of Africa looked clear and sweet. It was an historic and euphoric night charged with passion and expectation.

Ghana proclaimed independence on that night and paved the way for the rest of Africa to shrug off the shackles of colonialism over the next quarter of a century.

“Ghana, we now have freedom!” sang legendary musician E T Mensah.

Kwame Nkrumah, the founder of Ghana, always a didactic showman, took centre stage. As the new flag of Ghana rose over the land, Nkrumah wore the rough cloth prison cap that he had worn behind bars during his incarceration as part the independence struggle.

“At long last, the battle has ended!  And thus, Ghana, your beloved country is free forever!” he told the cheering crowds.

“And my last warning to you is that you are to stand firm behind us so that we can prove to the world that wen the African is given a chance, he can show the world that he is somebody! We have awakened.  We will not sleep anymore. Today, from now on, there is a new African in the world!”

In the crowd in Accra was Martin Luther King Jr, the veteran US civil rights campaigner. The night left a deep impression on King and he relayed the story when he returned home.

“And then at twelve o’clock that night we walked out. As we walked out, we noticed all over the polo grounds almost a half a million people. They had waited for this hour and this moment for years,” he said.

“Before I knew it, I started weeping. I was crying for joy. And I knew about all of the struggles, and all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment. After Nkrumah had made that final speech, it was about twelve-thirty now. And we walked away. And we could hear little children six years old and old people eighty and ninety years old walking the streets of Accra crying: “Freedom! Freedom!”

Nkrumah was one of the leading lights of the efforts to unite a free Africa and on the eve of May 25 he made what many say was his defining speech.

“We must unite now or perish,” he said in Addis Ababa in 1963.

“Independence is only the prelude to a new and more involved struggle for the right to conduct our own economic and social affairs.”

It is those last 23 words that hold renewed relevance 58 years on. The continent is on the cusp of an new and influential place in world.

Youthful Africa has numbers on its side and is set to be a force to be reckoned with. In 2020, the population hit more than 1.3 billion people making up 16.72% of the earth’s population, according to Worldometer. By 2050, the population is expected double into one of the largest and youngest workforces in the world.

Over the next 80 years, the population of the current economic powerhouse China is set to fall as Africa rises.  In 2017, the population of China stood at 1.412 billion and Nigeria – the most populous country in Africa – at 206 million. By 2100, according to research by Lancet, China’s population is expected to fall to 732 million while that of Nigeria is set to rise to 791 million.

Youth is the spur. In 2019, almost 60% of Africa’s population was under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest continent, according to the United Nations. The UN’s demographic projections also calculate that the median age in Africa, in 2020, was just 19.

But all of this is naught without the elbow grease, dedication, risk, tears and daring of the young entrepreneurs of Africa.

Billionaire Tomorrow believes now is the time for the young and enterprising to seek out capital and opportunities to create wealth and take the reins of their economies. Through focussed effort, Africans can acquire and hold the power over their destiny to complete the political freedom won generations before.

Now is no better time. On January 1, was born the African Continental Free Trade Area that promises to bring down barriers to open up trade across the continent unlocking billions of dollars in investment. It can also bring down costs and advance technology towards the connected future of Africa 5.0.

I am surprised that this story of a new African trading block has been so underwritten by journalists on the continent. It is as important, as it is vital, to success for young Africans and the banishing of poverty through simply more trade with each other.

“We must unite now or perish!” said Nkrumah on the eve of the first every Africa Day. He was right  nearly six decades ago and even more so now.

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