Africa: Leadership and Africa's Youth Bulge - Rosa Whitaker, CEO of the Whitaker Group

6 February 2019

AllAfrica will be looking at the issue of 'leadership' during 2019 - what it is, who has it, and what is needed for Africa to develop and prosper. Most of the voices will be African. Some, like today's, will be long-time friends of Africa. Rosa Whitaker, CEO of the Whitaker Group, was the first U.S. trade representative for Africa and is one of the foremost experts on U.S./Africa trade and investment. She shared a series of thoughts on what leadership can accomplish. First up - how can Africa's youthful population become an asset rather than a threat?

Will it be a demographic dividend or will it be a demographic disaster?  Whether this youth bulge, will it benefit Africa, will it contribute to global growth or will it just be a cauldron of instability and insecurity?  And all of that will be determined by the quality of leadership, that's the current leadership and the decisions they have to make today and the kind of leaderships that the continent can produce for the future.

There’s this age-old argument about whether or not leadership is birthed by nurture or nature.  Well, I believe that there are people who are born with innate leadership qualities.  But the realization of leadership in my view is by nurture.  So, we have to have conducive environments across the continent to birth this kind of leadership.  

And what is that environment?

There has to be investment in education, there has to be a priority on skill development, even beyond just your foundation of education.  You have to have a kind of visionary leadership that can look towards the kind of jobs and entrepreneurial activity and competitiveness of the economy and the future, and train people very intentionally for those opportunities, as laborers, as entrepreneurs, as innovators.  It doesn’t just happen.

And so, we know, for example that Africa has the potential to be pole of global growth.  Where’s that growth happening?  Are we training people to cease those opportunities because it’s not automatic?  And also, you cannot have full strength of leadership manifest without the conditions of security, without a recognition of the importance of leadership, without strong institutions most of all.  I think that weak institutions are a major threat to the birth of future leadership instability across the continent.

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