In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals were created on an air of optimism and the realization that the gains of its forerunner the Millennial Development Goals should be upheld and its shortcomings transformed into successes. At the cusp of a new decade and ten years away from their expiry date there is a need to question whether the expectations and promises of the SDGs will be fulfilled. Among the questioners should be this generation of young Africans who seem to simultaneously create hope and anxiety.
According to the Brookings Institute progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals has been uneven across the continent with some countries recording a better performance than others (Madden, 2019). Climate change and socio-economic inequality also threaten to hamper the gains of the SDGs (Madden, 2019). It is important to note that the definition of sustainable suggests continuity. The realization of these goals is a continual process which should extended from this generation to the next and so forth. Essential in ensuring that continuity is the role of young Africans. In fact, young people are critical to the success of the SDGs. While the SDGs recognize the need to empower young people in various facets of life; from education to employment to gender inequality, it is important to examine whether there are signs that youth empowerment and development in Africa is existing beyond the confines of SDG documents and articles.
Many African countries have the some of the world’s fastest growing populations and the potential of this generation of young people is often preached about. In response to this, there has been a surge of organizations, funds and programs, both governmental and non-governmental that have the sole function of facilitating innovation and empowerment among youths. This has indeed been a positive development as it has provided many opportunities to young people. However, there are still persistent inequalities in access to these opportunities, some of them have to do with gender, others education levels and others still socio-economic status. What is also notable is the under-representation of young people in leadership. So where does this leave us? And what can we say about the next ten years in light of what we have witnessed over the past five years?
2020 to 2030 could be a decade of immense and positive transformation but progress towards realizing the SDGs can only be accelerated if the following ingredients are available; the will from both the public and private sector to achieve the SDGs, a concerted and unified effort from people of varying nationalities, creeds and backgrounds, and lastly but also crucially, a perspective of young people as not just beneficiaries of the Sustainable Development Goals but as active participants of change. Young people have more transformative power than they understand. They can and in some instances have set the agenda for their respective nations. It is imperative that they continue to shift their mind set from an individualized perspective to one that desires to see the betterment of their counterparts and their nations. This also needs to be achieved with the intentional assistance of intentional, public and private players.
As we draw nearer to the year 2030, it is perhaps necessary that development organization, national and regional international bodies, and governments across the continent have a moment of collective introspection. Such a moment should then result in intentional action.
By Grace Mashingaidze