A survey on African youth attitudes has found that on average young Africans are positive about the future of the continent and their own prospects. It also finds a big swing in the attitudes of the youth compared to older generations on several key factors. Report by Anver Versi, editor of New African magazine.

Africa’s youth, contrary to received wisdom, especially in the West, is far from being pessimistic about the future but instead is looking forward to an era of rapid economic growth and personal fulfilment according to a ground-breaking new survey.

The majority of the young people who took part in interviews for the African Youth Survey 2020 said they felt that, overall, the continent was headed in the right direction and that this is indeed Africa’s century. Interviews were conducted with young people aged between 18 and 24 living in 14 Sub-Saharan countries located in East, West and Southern Africa.

The survey, the largest of its kind, was commissioned by the South Africa based Ichikowitz Family Foundation. Ivor Ichikowitz, chairman of the Foundation and a leading industrialist in the country, supervised the process which involved 4,200 face to face interviews.

Positive vibes

Ichikowitz, who writes a regular column for New African magazine, has gained the reputation of being one of Africa’s staunchest champions in international fora, often taking on ‘Afro-pessimists’ in robust debates.

However, speaking to New African after the launch of the survey in London on February 20, he admitted that on his travels around the world, he often ran into such a barrage of negative stereotypes of Africa that he began to question his own faith in the continent’s ability to find redemption and to thrive.

He said that despite often discouraging statistics and analysis, when he was physically present in African countries, he could feel the positive vibes, especially from the youth.

“We needed to back this up with evidence,” he said, “hence the survey.” Yet, “the survey was a huge risk,” he writes in the foreword. “It could have shown that my gut instinct was totally out of kilter and that the Afro-pessimists were wholly justified in their long-held prejudice.”

But he needn’t have worried. The survey “proved entirely the opposite. We have found that there is a youth in Africa that is imbued with optimism about the future – and wants to shape their own destiny.”

Comprehensive coverage

The countries sampled included: Congo Brazzaville, Ethiopia, Gabon. Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Ichikowitz is planning on producing annual surveys, each sampling another batch of countries so that in four years’ time, the survey will have covered the entire continent.

The current survey is divided into 10 sections: Afro-Optimism; African Identity; African Unity; Democratic Values; Entrepreneurship; Technology and Media; Community Cohesion; Foreign Relations; Environment and Challenges Ahead.

Each section digs down and expands on the concepts. For example, in response to the question: “Will your standard of living improve in the next two years?” 82% of respondents replied in the affirmative. Only in South Africa and Zimbabwe did a substantial number think standards of living would be worse.

In a sharp change from the past, most of the youth interviewed no longer looked to government jobs for careers and security but were much keener to go into business on their own behalf.

In the Foreign Relations section, when asked which foreign countries had the most influence on Africa and whether it was positive or negative, 83% thought the US’ influence was positive; other positive scores were UK 82%, China 79%, EU 73% but only 57% saw French influence as positive.

Entrepreneurship scores high

There were positive sentiments when it came to entrepreneurship and technology with 76% believing the will start their own businesses in the next five years and 81% are convinced that technology will change the fortunes of Africa.

Interestingly, while social media was identified as the main news source by 54% of respondents, an equal number said that they were least trusting of Facebook as a news source and a third were concerned about impact of fake news on their ability to stay informed.

Each section unpicks a wealth of related attitudes that will no doubt be further analysed by experts in their fields to eventually draw up an accurate map of the hopes, aspirations, thoughts, skills and attitudes of Africa’s future leaders.

Ichikowitz points out that this demographic has never experienced colonialism or Apartheid and is connected to the world having broken out of the isolation that came with the colonial experience. It is well educated and fully aware of global issues as well as trends.

But the optimism that emerges from the survey is not pie-in-the-sky empty feel-good sentiment. “We have found a youth that refuses to shy away from the very real challenges of Africa, that is honest about what needs to be done and what their role has to be to achieve this – and they are overwhelmingly keen to make that difference,” says Ichikowitz.

Demographic dividend

Over the last decade, one of the most recurring themes whenever Africa’s development is discussed, has been the ‘Africa’s youth bulge’; some say it is a ‘demographic dividend’, some believe it will be a ‘demographic crisis’.

On the strength of this survey, which could not have been more timely, it would appear that Africa’s youth explosion could well be the dividend we have all so hoped for. But a great deal of work, by governments, international organisations, donors, civic and political groups, entrepreneurs, educators and national planners still has to be done to bring about that dividend. This survey will be of immense help to everybody engaged in this task.

New African magazine will publish a series of extracts from the survey in order to disseminate the valuable information in it as widely as possible.