When Africa’s young leaders met at Generation Democracy

Mantate Mlotshwa attended the Generation Democracy Youth Leaders forum held in Johannesburg South Africa – a young leaders summit, to promote and equip youths for the role of being change makers in their communities. She gives her account of the life-changing event.

Representing Zimbabwe at Generation Democracy 2017

Mantate Mlotshwa speaks on behalf of Zimbabwe at Generation Democracy 2017, held in Johannesburg

When I was accepted the invitation, alongside 33 other youth leaders from across the SADC region, to attend the Generation Democracy Youth Leaders Johannesburg 2017, my greatest fear was the huge gap between the minimum and maximum age group the platform sought to bring together. I had questions of the relevancy and competence of my ideas in a pool of university graduates, established directors and experienced activists. But when I left South Africa, after the conference, I felt refilled, like I had been allowed to give of myself and receive of my fellow African visionaries – I was truly transformed!

What I learned from Generation Democracy

Generation Democracy 2017, which ran from the 25th to the 28th of May, was hosted by the International Republican Institute, a global body established for the growth of democracy. There were 34 young people from 7 Southern African Countries and facilitators from all Africa and America.

From the basic knowledge I had of Generation Democracy as a youth leader incubator, I felt strongly convinced that the most fundamental expectation the platform held of every participant was that each view themselves as “youth first” before looking at divisive factors like experience, position, and/or maturity by age. That realisation imbedded in me the obligation I therefore carried, to represent the youth of Zimbabwe in the most frank, real and unbiased way possible. That, for me, was the first lesson I learnt from Generation Democracy; to be sensitive to and aware of the challenges I face as a young Zimbabwean woman, to embrace the efforts of every Zimbabwean youth who aspires to effective civic engagement and democratic leadership, to acknowledge the success stories of our fight and to learn from the failures we encountered. That is the message of inspiration I left Zimbabwe determined to share with my fellow youth leaders gathering in South Africa.

Like-minded youths with different passports

Generation Democracy 2017

Young leaders from Southern Africa at Generation Democracy 2017 (Photo from Democracy Speaks)

Vivid images of the smiles, hugs and greetings that passed around room on the first day of the conference still warm my heart to this day. These were young people who regarded each other as brothers and sisters, in spite of the geographic and cultural divides that classified each of them as strangers. I remember that from the very first day each person made an effort to sit at a table with a youth leader from a different country, to ask them about the economic and political situation back home, and to clear out misconceptions that vibrate across their communities, courtesy of social media and heresy. Most were intrigued to find similarities in the work fellow participants drove in their local communities and prospects of further interactions and exchanges were deemed paramount. To ease the pressure and guilt of not having greeted and exchanged formalities with everyone in the room, the IRI GenDem team had compiled and filed the profiles of all participants, facilitators, guests and organisers. This made it easy to approach a colleague whose work resonated with yours.

Key speakers at Generation Democracy

The temptation to dwell on the nitty-gritty of informal interactions of the conference is high, but then again, the formal facilitations cannot go untouched. The power and capacity of social media as a platform of advocacy and civic engagement was expertly explored by Abella Buteyunga, a phenomenal media guru and IRI partner from Tanzania. What stood out for me in all her presentations was the criticality of branding in developing a multimedia campaign. Abella modeled branding as a reflection of not just the function of the product and service one renders, but also as demonstration of the values and mission of that leader. This view was substantiated by Sally Dura, a Zimbabwean feminist development practitioner’s description of mission-driven leaders as leaders who are consistent and persistent in reaching goals. Sally emphasized the inevitable challenges, resistances and attempts by internal and external factors to break and discourage the success of any efforts by youths to ensure democracy and stressed the vital need to counter such obstacles by developing a goal-getter attitude. That, for me, and a lot more participants, was encouraging!

Samson Itodo, a daring and radical young man who pioneered the #NotTooYoungToRun movement in Nigeria, defined leadership in a way that inspired me tremendously. Leadership, in his words, is ‘the effect that results from a relationship between resources and interests!’ His emphasis rested on the value of relationships in leadership, something that is greatly overlooked in most African leadership structures. I was – and still am – in awe of Yusuf Kiranda, a renowned Ugandan development manager and governance expert, for his frankness about political party politics. He enlightened us on what builds and breaks political institutions as well as on the critical things to consider when developing the Advocacy Agenda. Somehow the pattern of subjects each facilitator presented simply got us realigning our thoughts and priorities in the effort we have seen implemented back home. The discussions were an introspective exercise that revised our passion for effective development and democratic leadership.

How can I influence other young Africans?

I cannot possibly account for my experience at the GenDem2017 without giving reference to our Johannesburg Declaration of Principles. The commitment that stood out for me was the pledge by every youth leader to make an effort to get a distinct number of other young people to register and vote in their respective country’s upcoming national elections. It felt to me like a promise to the collective vision of a democratic leadership and Africa as a whole, a promise I aspire to keep and help other young people buy into.

Generation Democracy 2017 – An unforgettable experience

I feel privileged to have been part of the GenDem2017 team, to have rubbed shoulders with passionate youth leaders from Lesotho, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia and to have learnt from the inspirational Nigerian, Ugandan, Tanzanian and Zimbabwean trainers. My heartfelt gratitude to IRI GenDem, for identifying my potential to contribute value to the group, and to Zimbabwe, for letting me be her voice.

You can read more about the Generation Democracy 2017 summit here.