‘The destiny of Africa is in your hands’ – Brand South Africa CEO Kingsley Makhubela addresses the Junior Chamber International

Read the full text of the address by the CEO of Brand South Africa, Mr Kingsley Makhubela, at the Africa and Middle East Conference of the Junior Chamber International on Thursday 5 May 2016 at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.

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Download the speech in PDF format

Programme Director
President of the Junior Chamber International, Mr Paschal Dike
Africa and the Middle East Executive Vice President and Chairman of the 2016 JCI Africa and the Middle East Area Conference, Mr Tshepo Thlaku
Secretary General, Mr Arrey Obension
Junior Chamber International Vice Presidents
Africa and the Middle East Senate Chair, Ms Angel Kgokolo
Africa & Middle East Development Council South (AMDEC) President, Mr Hymmeldat Rudolphe Dibakala
All delegates
Members of the media

It is a pleasure to be amongst such vibrant and motivated young people today. I trust your deliberations since yesterday have been fruitful. As I stand before you, what stands out mostly for me is that despite the decades in between us, young people generations over have similar challenges to overcome. When I was a young man, my peers and I talked about and envisaged bequeathing to future generations a world that was better than the one in which we lived. We have achieved this to some extent but sadly, we have not managed to eradicate all the challenges we ourselves fought against.

Today, young people continue to grapple with the pervasive, and sometimes stubborn, challenges of poverty, underdevelopment, job creation, and others. The resistance of these challenges to a durable and holistic solution, directly impacts on our own lives and indeed, on the competitiveness of the nations from which we hail. I say this before national competitiveness – and our nation brands – is ultimately a composite of all that a country has to offer. All citizens, sectors, industries together create a picture of the national competitive identity. This cannot be over-emphasized.

The demographic dividend

Current leaders have the responsibility to leverage the power of young people to become motive agents for change. Young people in both Africa and the Middle East contribute to the demographic dividend that could be a very positive force for growth and development. The World Economic Forum has described Africa’s demographic dividend as the largest in the world saying within 20 years, the number of sub-Saharan citizens reaching working age (15-64) will exceed that of the rest of the world combined. And by 2040, half of the world’s youth will be African.

The Middle East has a similar demographic dividend. Michael Hoffman and Amaney Jamal in a paper entitled, “The Youth and the Arab Spring: Cohort Differences and Similarities” observe that “30% of the population is between the ages of 14 and 24.5 and more than half of the people in the Arab world today are under the age of 25.6. Not only is the youth bulge high in the Middle East, it is the second highest in the world – second only to sub-Saharan Africa.”

You young leaders must therefore be nurtured and encouraged to use your unlimited drive, passion and potential for the greater good, and to build strong countries and continents.

How can we do this?

Charles Duhigg, in a book entitled The Power of Habit, talks about turning excellence into a habit. Personal excellence can translate into corporate, social and national excellence. And young people are in an excellent position to develop this habit – your families, communities and indeed, your countries, need this! Excellence must be cultivated and this will increasingly impact positively on national psyche and the reputation of our countries.

This also leads me the emerging theory in leadership described as disruptive leadership. Disruptive leadership is about fostering a culture of game-changing innovation that provides the framework and motivation to generate those ideas and execute those solutions that enhance corporate, social and ultimately national competitiveness. It is built around the question, “Why hadn’t we ever thought about our business and culture this way before?”

Building this culture of excellence whilst preparing leaders able to conceive of and implement innovative solutions, to national and sometimes international challenges, will require a fair amount of disruption to commonly accepted ways of doing things. There is no sector of society more well placed to do this, than you who are sitting in this room.

As the future leaders of the continent in a range of areas, it is this spirit which will move Africa’s Agenda 2063 from the pages of the document on which it is written to a reality. It is this spirit which will drive the global agenda for socio-economic growth and development.

That you are no longer defined by race, religion, gender or ethnicity makes it even easier for you to be disruptive leaders. The lack of boundaries enables agility which is important for disruption and innovation.

Role of Youth in building nation brands

In recent times, young citizens in both Africa and the Middle East have risen up against social issues to call on governments and society at large to create the conditions for inclusivity, growth, development and increasingly, sustainability and environmental awareness. Young people are courageously rising to take their places at the forefront of the struggle for equity, development and ultimately democracy and equal opportunities for all.

#FeesMustFall

In a few weeks, South Africa will commemorate the 40th anniversary since the 16 June 1976 student uprisings in Soweto. I hope you will have time to visit this dynamic heartland of the South African struggle for democracy.

It is a matter of history that these protests, during which many young people lost their lives, changed the course of the South African struggle for liberation. These protests brought international attention to what was happening in our country particularly the just struggle for equal opportunities and rights as well as access to amongst others, education. Many of those who were young activists during this time are now in positions of leadership in many sectors in South Africa.

However, the cause for which they fought almost four decades ago, again rose to the forefront when millions of South African youth united across colour and class divides to call for free education in the #FeesMustFall movement. So powerful was this movement that the students were listed amongst the list of the 100 Most Influential Africans released late last year. These brave young people created the conditions for government to declare that there would be no fee increases in the 2016 academic year and commit billions of rands to alleviating the financial pressures on students and their families.

In addition, these young people brought business and academia together and students at the University of Johannesburg were able to raise R31 million to support their fellow students while the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), SABC and Vodacom last month launched a fundraising campaign at Fort Hare University’s Alice campus in the Eastern Cape to support students.

South African youth demonstrated how they could come together and collectively fight for a cause that would change the conditions for millions of young people in our country. Education is a critical enabler for development and equally for national competitiveness. The youth of South Africa did more than just fight for no increases and additional funds, they are fighting for the country’s very development!

In a few years, these young people will be in positions of leadership throughout the country. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to positively respond to the need for socio-economic change so that we will not find the same conditions come to the fore forty years from now?

The Arab Spring

Globally we are seeing trends towards the need for greater democratisation and reduction of inequality levels. Young people are playing a critical role in raising levels of awareness about the unsustainability of current frameworks and paradigms.

A few years ago, we will remember that young people of North Africa propelled the wave of civil society protests which ushered democracy to Northern Africa, in what is now described as the Arab Spring. Young people became political actors who were able to raise awareness for the need for change in North Africa. The youth led protests have been responsible for bringing political and social revolution to North Africa and these inspired their counterparts in the broader Middle East to also fight for democratic reforms in their own countries.

This wave of protests have, unfortunately not created sustainable change or stable democracies. We are instead seeing greater instances of insecurity, terror and militarianism in both Africa and the Middle East. Sadly, no area of the world is immune from such attacks.

Young people prove to be very susceptible to such militant activities. As the global community, we need to ask why? What are we doing, or not doing, that forces young people down such a path, risking their lives and their future?

Young people can be a powerful force for positive change. It is up to us, as the older generations to ensure we do enough work to change conditions so that they can be encouraged to support positive programmes.

Young people help President Obama reach the White House

An analysis by the Pew Research Centre shows that 66% of eligible voters under the age of 30 voted for President Obama in 2008. They were an important stakeholder in propelling America’s first black President to the White House because President Obama and his team prioritised communicating to the youth of America in a way that was important to them and on issues that they cared about. There is a lesson to be drawn from his campaign for the 2008 Presidency – understand the power of young people, talk to and engage with them in a way that is meaningful to them and you will gain their support.

This is the best way to ensure that the power wielded by young people is harnessed and mobilised for nation building.

These examples illustrate the impatience of young people and why leaders must acknowledge the urgency to transform their countries to ensure that there is greater equity, growth and development. Leadership does not refer only to heads of state and government, it is leadership at every level. If leaders do not rise to the occasion and respond to the needs of citizens, then young people have shown their ability to assume this role, and when they do, governments and business will be faced with their anger and impatience.

Rights and Responsibilities

Before I conclude, I would like to raise the issue of rights and responsibilities.

Many generations of the past could only dream of some of the rights young people have today. You are no longer constrained by the burden of gender, race, class, ethnic or even geographical boundaries. With hard work, the right environment and the right opportunities, each of you really can change the world. However, I would caution that in attempting to build the world you want, do not destroy the world you do not want. Understanding that with every right comes a responsibility is a big part of being an adult.

In conclusion, I would like to draw on Africa’s Agenda 2063 – continent’s first long term plan for the growth and development of the continent – which says, “present generations are confident that the destiny of Africa is in their hands, and that we must act now to shape the future we want.

Are you ready? How will you play your part to build your country and ultimately your continents? How will history remember this generation of young people?

I wish you good deliberations in the next few days. I hope you will have some time to experience and enjoy some of what our country has to offer.

I thank you.