Educate an African Fit for the 21st Century | Africa Day 2024 Keynote

SALUTATIONS

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Honourable Nancy Tembo (M.P.), 

The Ambassador of Morocco to Malawi, His Excellency Abdelkadeer Naji,

All Excellencies here present, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to address you all on this special occasion as we celebrate Africa Day 2024. This day — a testament to our shared heritage, unity, and the collective journey towards a brighter future for our continent. I would like to extend my gratitude to the Ministry of Affairs in Malawi and the Morocco Embassy to Malawi for hosting this significant event.

I am speaking briefly to you today, on behalf of not only Malawian but African youth. I am speaking about meaningful youth engagement — and in line with the theme of Africa Day 2024: Educating an African fit for the 21st Century.

Watch the speech here

***

SPEECH

By 2051, Africa’s population will have a ratio of 1.7 to 1 — working population to dependents. Africa is experiencing a demographic dividend. As of today, 80% of the Malawian population is under 35. 

Exactly two years ago, I was hired by the United Nations Development Programme – a programme that is aimed at engaging more youth from the global south and underrepresented youth in the United Nations system. It was a highly competitive selection, and I was in the top 20 out of 38,709 applicants in the pilot year 2022.

When I got the job offer to relocate to New York city and join the UNDP Independent Evaluation Office as a knowledge coordinator, two of my mentors asked me one specific question: “you have worked so hard to build your company, and become the voice of youth in Malawi. Are you willing to give that up, and start over?”

I jokingly responded, and said “nothing much happens in Malawi in 2 years.” 

This year’s theme for Africa Day “Educate an African Fit for the 21st Century,” a theme that resonates deeply with our mission at the Ntha Foundation. At the Ntha Foundation, we are dedicated to fostering educational excellence and innovation. We strive to equip our youth with the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in a rapidly changing world. This mission aligns perfectly with Malawi’s MIP-1 and the ambitious MW2063 vision, which envisions an inclusively wealthy and self-reliant industrialised upper-middle-income country by the year 2063. We work closely with governments and international development partners, towards a sustainably developed Malawi. In 2021, through a Public Private Partnership with the Malawi Government received $250,000 from the World Bank, to operationalise the Digital Malawi Project, and we set up two innovation hubs here in Lilongwe, and in Mangochi.

I recently returned to Malawi about a month ago. Returning after two years, this was my impression: not only has nothing really changed, but also that it almost as though Malawi is worse than when I left.

When I was in New York, I worked with the Global SDG Synthesis Coalition. Allow me to quote the United Nations Secretary General: “Regrettably, the SDGs were already off track even before COVID-19 emerged. Progress had been made in poverty reduction, maternal and child health, access to electricity, and gender equality, but not enough to achieve the Goals by 2030. In other vital areas, including reducing inequality, lowering carbon emissions and tackling hunger, progress had either stalled or reversed.”

When it comes to development initiatives, we often fail. The Millenium Development Goals were hardly achieved. In the local context, we failed to realise Vision 2020. The SDGs are so vastly off-track, and we are just 6 years from the year mark 2030. As Malawi, we now have MW2063. By 2063, I will be 68 years old. The majority of the people who will live to see 2063 are the youth – the people who should be engaged to champion and execute these development initiatives, because it directly impacts their future.

My master’s thesis is on “the Entrepreneurial Opportunity posited by Africa’s Digital Transformation” – how African youth can better model information management systems for development. We as the Ntha Foundation are proud to contribute to this vision. Through our programs, we are building a foundation of digital skills and innovative thinking that will enable our youth to compete on a global stage. We created an online learning management system – digitalskillsforafrica.com, which has impacted over 1000 youth from over 20 African countries, and we are looking to scale to even more African Countries.

The youth are the cornerstone of the vision we have for Africa. With over 80% of Malawi’s population under the age of 35, the potential for a transformative impact is immense. Meaningful youth engagement is not just important — it is imperative. The young people are the drivers of innovation, economic growth, and social progress. They bring fresh perspectives, boundless energy, and a keen sense of the digital world that is reshaping our global economy.

To harness this potential, we must invest in education that is fit for the 21st century. This means prioritising digital literacy, fostering critical thinking, and encouraging entrepreneurial spirit. It is about creating opportunities for our youth to develop skills that are relevant to the needs of our modern economy. 

I want to share a brief story: just before I returned to Malawi, I got on a train to Harvard in Boston, and one thing truly amazed me: as soon as we all got on the train, every single person, young and old, quickly pulled out their laptop computers and tablets, and started working. When we speak of the digital divide, we mean the west is not slowing down, and in light of things like AI, Africa is being left behind.

As we celebrate Africa Day, let us recommit to ensuring that no child is left behind, and that every young African has the opportunity to reach their full potential. Let us reaffirm our commitment to educating and empowering our youth. Let us work together—governments, organisations, and communities—to create an environment where young people can thrive. More specifically, let us be intentional about meaningful youth engagement. More importantly, I implore us to be keen to monitor and evaluate our initiatives and programmes, and in good time. We should not wait till 2053, to recourse MW2063, if we see that things are not working today. We need to be accountable, and learn from best-practices and evidence.

Every time I come to Malawi, my first thought is “I cannot wait to leave”. I incorporated my company in the United States of America, because it is harder to get things done in Malawi. If you know of how hard I have worked for Malawi, you know that this is not rooted in a lack of patriotism, but more the desire to actually have a functional, prosperous and thriving Africa. 

Allow me to conclude in this way: I envision a Malawi, and by extension Africa, when we are proud to be Malawian – African. An Africa where we are proud to speak of what our countries have achieved, and living in our actual countries, and contributing to their development. This starts with investing in the youth through education: “Educating an African fit for the 21st Century – the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Thank you, and happy Africa Day!

***

CONNECT WITH NTHANDA ONLINE:

Learn more about Ms. Manduwi

About the Author

Share your thoughts...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Posts

Discover more from By Nthanda Manduwi

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading