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Hassan Qudrat-Ullah.

Role of African youth in sustainable development

HAVING a better life is a universal denominator; people of all walks of life, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, young or

old, regardless of their ethnicity, faith, gender, culture, all of them want not just a better well-being for themselves but also for their generation, more so for their children.
Then old age question is how to develop and in fact proper question now is “how to achieve sustainable development.”
Before we try to find an answer to this topical question, it is useful for us to know why we in Africa have not achieved much successes in providing better health, education, employment, and a clean environment: the critical indicators of “sustainable development.
Well, there are predominantly two views: (i) Africans are deliberately kept poor by their colonisers, and the other view is that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” holds true: Western model of development, that took centuries for the ideas of development to its fruition, is being applied to Africa and hence does not work. In fact, did not work.
It did not work or at least liase the intentions of the “good doers” were: despite over 40 years of aid-based development initiatives with the generous sums of billions of dollars, life of fellow Africans has not changed that much. So, we are back to the same question: How do we achieve sustainable development in Africa in general and Zambia in particular.
In general, countries develop by innovations. They spend billions into Research and Development (R& D); they build institutions; they invest in their people; they engage in both basic and applied research; and then they reap the rewards: Singapore, Japan, Switzerland, Malaysia So, the model is, innovation (or innovative solutions to the problems) – commercialisation – development. Now, you might be thinking, we don’t have billions to do R and D. Yes, that is true.
But here is the good news: you don’t have to have such levels of R and D spending; simply you access the innovation (innovative products, processes, and service model) then adopt it to your local needs i.e. modify it and then commercialise it which will lead us to the goal of development. So, this way, our model is “Access- Adopt-Commercialise-Develop (AACD)”.
Actually, now we can discuss how we can use AACD model to our advantage; to solve our problems, small or big. The main thought here is that perhaps with some help of “good intentioned aid model”, a well-thought out internal, indigenous, “local solutions-oriented” model is the way go. So, then, what is this “local solutions-oriented model”? The first component of this model are the concepts of “Awareness and Recognition of the problem”. Do we know what is/are the problem(s) we face? Yes, we are aware of these but there is a subtle difference between being aware of the issue and to recognise the issue.
The difference is like one between “hearing” and “listening”. I know you all can hear me, right? But who is listening? I hope all of you. Listening means receiving the information and then processing it.
Processing of received information will require some work from our brain faculties we all are bestowed with. In listening, not only will you process but you will also make decisions: what this information means to you, what you will do with it, etc. But if we only hear, we don’t bother our brain faculties and we let the information go even faster than speed of light.
So, the recognition of the issue does require real thoughts, courage, and motivation. Again, the good news is that all of these traits are not restricted to the people of specific origin or ethnicity or race.
Trust me, you all are courageous people, you are all able to think about issues, and you all can be motivated enough to recognise the issues. So, the recognition of the issue, which is a critical component of our “Local Solution-oriented Model for sustainable development of Africa”, is not hard to embrace and perhaps we don’t need billions here.
The next component of our “Local solution-oriented model for sustainable development of Africa” is “Attitude”. Again, although sometimes it is hard to change habits and attitude but we all can adopt. Why we can adopt? Well, modern science has told us that various species, even with more inferior abilities than human beings, do adopt.
Therefore, we humans should be able to adopt even at a faster pace than the other species. So, what kind of attitude is required for any development or progress we want to make?
This attitude requires a different way of thinking: once I, an individual, see a problem, I think about how to fix it, first. This thinking of how to fix the problem should overcome all other thoughts like: well, this is not my problem, I did not do anything to create this problem, why bother; others are not doing anything about it, why should I do anything to solve this problem here? You know, it is not easy to throw away these very compelling and often severely penetrating thoughts. However, you, our graduates, who have spent a good time and money to achieve this noble goal, education, can do it.
Education is such a powerful asset that not only will it grow you but will help you grow your family, your neighbourhood, your city, your country and our world.
Yes, it has happened before and it will continue to happen again.
Let me share with you a little story of mine. My situation was not much different than yours; when I was doing my bachelor degree in Pakistan with mathematics and physics as my major. We got our books; we all know why we need books. I asked my mathematics teacher, out of my innocence or nervousness: “Sir, all these books are written by foreign professors, do we have books written by you or other colleagues of yours”, He was really a kind gentleman. He said, “Well, you will know the answer whim you are a bit old”. Sure, I am old now. Perhaps I do know the answer now: It was simply a matter of the attitude. So, here there was the motivation for me. I just thought if ever I could get higher education or education enough to enable me write, I will write books. I am pleased to share with you that I am able to achieve this goal to some extent.
Sure, modest one. I have not written any best-sellers, yet. But 1 have authored five books in the domains of “Decision Making” and “Energy Policy”. If you are a graduate student at any top universities in the US, Canada, Europe or to some extent Asia and Africa, and you want to study and research in these two domains, your supervisor will give you a reading list, and you might come across these books. So, if Hassan can do it, each one of you can do it and do it even better.
So, you, our graduates and youths of Zambia, are my hope to embrace the “recognise the problem and fix it “attitude. If we could do it, I believe we can, then we are on our way to success.
The author is professor of decision sciences, York University, Toronto, Canada.