African Youth Tribute Nelson Mandela through Civic Action for Development

As the world pays its tributes to the critically ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela, youth across Africa are stepping up their own tributes to Madiba in the form of civic service on Mandela Day. The United Nations and the African Union have called on citizens across Africa and the world to volunteer 67 minutes— representing the 67 years of Mandela’s public service—to community projects on his birthday, July 18.

The Africa Peace Service Corps (APSC) has launched volunteering projects in Nairobi, Kenya; Cape Town and rural Limpopo, South Africa; Lusaka, Zambia; Abuja, Nigeria; villages in Uganda and other countries.  Four hundred youths and 35 partners assembled last July at the United Nations conference in Nairobi to launch the Pan-African service project, spurring civic action in health, climate change, youth entrepreneurship and positive peace. 

A 2012 Brookings report, “Volunteering and Civic Service in Three African Regions,” released at the Nairobi conference and co-authored by three African scholars notes the benefits of volunteering (“Ubuntu”) in South, West and East Africa in addressing youth livelihoods, health and peace-building.  The report further documents policy recommendations and strategies linking youth service and entrepreneurship in addressing the daunting task of youth unemployment across the region.  Dr. Manu Chandaria  (Comcraft CEO and Global Peace Foundation Africa chairman) and Les Baillie (chairman of Kenya mobile phone giant Safaricom Foundation, which created Africa’s M-Pesa mobile banking microfinance success) have assembled corporate leaders to back APSC youth social enterprises in tree planting and waste management to generate green jobs and reach Kenya’s goal of ten percent tree coverage.

Nelson Mandela’s life of struggle and triumph, in particular his time and insights during his time unjustly incarcerated on Robben Island, provides a rich textbook for these young social entrepreneurs.  During my recent Harris Wofford Global Service Fellowship with the University of Cape Town Development Policy Research Unit (DPRU) and Cross Cultural Solutions, while teaching an entrepreneurship class in the townships I was able to see the teeming spirit of youth enterprise first-hand alive in the poorest communities.  A South African national assets demonstration has been launched this year to tap the power of service and entrepreneurship in generating savings among township youths from these deliberations with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Ford Foundation, University of Johannesburg Center for Social Development and Washington University Center for Social Development and Brookings’ Africa Growth Initiative partner DPRU, among others.

Along with addressing Mandela’s dream of ending poverty, a recent Brookings report, “Impacts of Malaria Interventions and their Potential Additional Humanitarian Benefits in Sub-Saharan Africa,” outlines the potential significant peace-building effects of service in sub-Saharan Africa by highlighting the joint efforts of the Muslim Sultan and Catholic Cardinal of Nigeria in tackling malaria along with those of the Africa Malaria Leaders Alliance with PEPFAR support.  The contributions of volunteering to both peace and development outcomes are further underscored in the draft of a United Nations post-2015 “sustainable development goals” report.

Amidst inevitable political debates over the Mandela legacy, his generous spirit and legacy of reconciliation rises high above Cape Town’s Table Mountain and across the Pan-African youth landscape.  The challenge of applying his vision and spiritual values in addressing poverty through emerging demonstrations of youth service, assets and entrepreneurship will test the commitment of Africa’s next generation of young freedom pioneers, guided by this humble giant’s profound legacy now spanning the globe.