African-American artistic, social critic James Baldwin was once quoted in words that I have continually found eerily relevant. He says: “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” These words ring in my head every time the conversation on whether or not young people are capable of leadership. For a long time now we have seen that the proponents of the argument that we’re not ready (also same ones who have power) are those that have not accorded young people a chance to prove themselves. If anything, they have been, in the truest manner as referenced in Baldwin words, a “ferocious enemy” of justice for especially any young person who has even attempted to prove their theory wrong.
I am curious with which indicators they have come to the conclusion that young people, the majority in this society, have not the ability to lead your lot. Especially considering that they have not even been really tried and erred with. But I have also thought that maybe this shift towards change by a new generation most of whom they saw in white, reusable shit clothes, is not apparent to them, understandably so. It takes a superior level of emotional intelligence, even courage, to see people who you once regarded vulnerable and at your mercy, as capable. It is perhaps why they are unable to acknowledge the unmistakable resilience, groundbreaking creativity and unwavering determination of many a millennial even in a system that’s built to fail them.
There’s no doubt that a change led by youth is possible. And that the groundwork for it to happen has already begun. Whether it is in education, or science; the arts or civil society. The media or in governance, young people have, often at a heavy price of self-sacrifice and hope against hope, brought a level of resilience that has lit the once dying embers of better days, aflame. Yet of course it would be unwise to completely dismiss the naysayers’ claims without examining even the slightest, negligible truths therein.
And this is what I am here to explore. I shall of course not self-appoint devil’s advocate, or believer of the elders’ rumblings about the millennial curse, lest I risk sounding like a state mouthpiece whose next cheque depends on propapaganda wrapped in a semblance of debate. I only want to humor them a little, not for their benefit. But for us to check all the boxes, cover all bases while we advance.
So in what case/s might we say that maybe the young generation is indeed where leadership goes to die? There may be a couple of those. But given the climate, my mind keeps leaping to a particular one. The fallacious loyalty that some resource owners have managed to ground some of us into. For example, I often watch in disappointment and sometimes amusement as some of our brilliant fire-spitting comrades suddenly go numb in cases of injustices that are clear as day. Sometimes these geniuses even go in full defense of tragic decisions that swing the prospective remnants of these tragic times, further off the stability pendulum into an already full sea of unfixed system faults. Why? I ask. The reasons I may never fully understand. I have managed to occasionally hear some though. They include a feeling of being indebted so deep it has no eyes for wrongs, a fear of losing unpaid but still socially fulfilling access to power and of course the classic, choice. But when critical thought takes a siesta because one must defend what they choose to defend, I am afraid. Afraid that our very able peers who are perhaps in positions to argue on all of our survival, choose instead to take a back seat when we most need that critical thinking. Even more importantly, I am afraid that perhaps our elders who have christened us a not ready, entitled, lazy generation without the ability to lead might then be right. After all there’s not a leadership that does not above else, speak truth to power. Likewise, it makes one wonder if what we do not tell our current leaders, we might not want to hear ourselves when we occupy those spaces. And a leadership that has not the ability to listen was never ready to lead.
Now, I am aware that we have or should have the right to choose. Choose who to be and what to do; hell, choose the ideals on whose hill we shall die. But I challenge us then to think about ourselves as leaders who seek to transform our society and nation. Leaders who have positioned ourselves as young people with cutting edge intellect and the ability to think ahead of the times. If we are indeed those leaders, how then can we make choices that are devoid of the responsibility of repercussions of our choices? Change does not happen by repeating the methods of the past. Not even the stars of 1986 played by the then, incumbent’s rule book for their own revolution. What difference then do we hope to make if we snuggle up with the old, dusty pages of the past? How do we hope to lead our own revolutions that way?
Because spending nights and days in conversations where we summon amassed knowledge of all the English language’s bag of tricks and our acquired cosmopolitan references of the history of nations world over; doesn’t quite cut it. Quoting Sankara and picking apart Nkrumah’s theories does not suffice either. As a generation of the next leaders who have committed ourselves to creating substantial change, it is clear that we must take our own stand. And that is not to say that we must all agree. It is rather to stress that our stand must be one devoid of influences of failing systems and the sheer need to eat at tables whose inherent designs were never meant to accommodate us. That or we might as well say that those who make snide remarks when we express our desire to lead are onto something. We might as well listen to opinions about our capabilities from people who would rather effect senseless policies and later regret them; than listen to us in the first place.