A new Africa for the youth: Beyond the colonial thought

% Complete


    Since their independence from colonial masters, African countries have faced many socio-economic challenges. Their development or lack thereof raises old and new questions of independence from their former colonial masters.

    Leadership for people


    African countries got their independence in the 20th century, nevertheless, a colonial legacy lingers in their governance systems. Policies that fulfil a neo-colonial agenda are prioritised more than those that encourage civic engagements. This consequently affects the youth who are usually at the end of the spectrum. Most African governments provide limited space for youth to be at the centre of decision-making processes and solve challenges affecting the continent. Engaging and empowering the youth beyond colonial elements will prevent mistakes of the past from reoccurring.

    System shock


    Young Africans continue to be affected by a colonial past as the continent’s countries struggle to strike a balance between creating their own systems and using the previous colonial-based institutional approaches. For example, some education systems reproduce colonial knowledge and ideas. In the case of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, this reduces creativity and innovation in the academic spheres. Some of these curricula provide weak solutions for the challenges on the continent, making youth unemployable as a result of skill-job mismatch. Equipping the youth with post-colonial knowledge that aligns with the local context empowers them to use a problem-based approach and lead at the frontlines in addressing Africa’s growth problems.

    Eliminating system shock in part will require that Africa reclaims its original history. The youth require an integrated education curriculum that contextualises Africa’s colonial past but does not create a dominant narrative thereof. Not all that is Africa is bad as colonial history says. An awareness of Africa’s history, culture and ideology should also be included, and the young people should be given an opportunity to choose between decolonised knowledge or otherwise. This may also involve a discussion on re-naming and re-emphasising local names of objects and places that became de-Africanised with colonial rule. For instance, Uganda’s renowned Lake Victoria was locally known as Nalubaale. This is history that is overshadowed by colonial knowledge discourses that have underrepresented the original African history.

    Focusing on history trains youths to stay true to the challenges of the past. It also enables them to claim ownership of these problems, while critically thinking about a feasible way to solve them now and in the future. It creates a sense of pride of place and culture, which will further empower and motivate young Africans to build a new and inspiring Africa. The talk of 2021 is to 'Build Back Better’, and education has to be seen as the root cause of growth.

    Language ostracisation


    Most education systems in Africa emphasise mostly the use of English and French, one of the ex-colonial languages. There is no doubt that these languages have united Africans and permitted them to participate in trade, education, and global partnerships. However, this has also driven Africans away from their native languages. Despite having all English-medium education, some universities in former colonial countries still ask young Africans to tests of English before they can grant them admission for higher education degree programmes. This undermines fairness in assessment, not to mention, global and local representation. Within Africa, it is common to evaluate ideas of youth on how coherently they present them in English. Their failure to speak well in ‘colonial languages’ classifies them as ‘less intelligent’, which ‘unfairly’ undermines their capabilities. This denies society of fresh and innovative ideas some of which are crucial for telling an African story.

    Most native languages are not taught in formal schools. If formal education promotes dual proficiency in a local and international language, this will promote collaborative participation in global markets but also maximise local cohesion. It will help recover cultural elements that were lost due to colonial ideologies. Proficiency in mother tongues will also empower African youths to truly embrace their identity and culture in a globalised world.

    Cultural renaissance


    Africa faces a wide spectrum of issues whose root causes are hard to address, however, it is seeing progress in the cultural sphere. This may not be immediately significant, but in the context of building a new Africa that is independent of its colonial past, it is a game-changer that leads to independent identities of Africans as a people. Poems, plays and novels may not be the same as armies, trade deals and technology innovations but they are signs that Africans are starting to shape and embrace their own identity.

    It is clear that the problem of a single story of Africa may be beginning to unravel, as Africa’s strong history of music, art and drama is showcased to the world. The recent influx of literary and cultural recognition by Western institutions confirms that Africans are storytellers. Authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from Nigeria, Maaza Mengiste from Ethiopia and Tsitsi Dangarembga from Zimbabwe have had their works recognised by institutions such as the Booker Prize. African leaders need to continue encouraging their youth to embrace the promotion of their stories, ideas and cultures during this cultural renaissance. Empowering culture is empowering people, which will feed into other spheres of influence and power. Dialogue between public and private institutions should be held on this and accompanied by the right policies to promote the idea of ‘Africans being Africans’ and the youth should use these opportunities before it is too late.



    Grassroots reforms are needed in education to empower the African youth to understand their past and relate it to the present challenges. Culture and soft power are fast growing into an African renaissance and this will spur confidence in Africans and create a new identity that will spill over into African commerce, policy and governance. There is scope for optimism, but persistence is still needed to counteract the problems imposed on Africa and Africans by the neo-colonial system.

    About the author

    Zaharah Namanda is Co-Executive Director of Africa Education and Leadership Initiative (Africa ELI). She is also a postgraduate student at the University of Glasgow and a Mandela Washington Fellow at Kansas State University. Twitter: @ZaharahNamanda | Website 

    Read the full magazine issue

    This article appears in the youth edition of ECDPM's Great Insights magazine – check out the full issue or the other articles and multimedia below.

    A call for change from young people in Africa and Europe – Volume 10, Issue 1, 2021
    ECDPM dedicates this edition of Great Insights Magazine to young people. It provides young people from Africa and Europe a podium to make their voices heard on critical topics that are dear to them.
    22 March 2021

    Other articles in this issue

    Loading Conversation