James Woods is a young Malawian who is shining across the African continent. He was recently named Africa’s Change Maker of the year 2015, among some of the greatest names on the continent. In this interview with online publication Tribal Sands, the Founder of AJ Africa Consulting—an independent advisory firm providing consultancy services on Sub-Saharan Africa in areas of governmental relations—speaks about how Malawi, and Africa in general, can progress. Woods holds a B.A. Hons in politics, philosophy and history and a Masters in social policy and development from London School of Economics.
: Can you tell us how you got into youth development?
: I see myself as that young man from Malawi with a passion and a dream to create a better Africa. The reason I got into this work was simply seeing my surroundings in Malawi where systems have failed many and instead of waiting for others to help fix it, I thought why not me.
: You were named Africa’s Change Maker of the year 2015, among some of the greatest names on the continent. What did this award mean to you and your future commitments?
: To be recognised for the work one is doing is extremely humbling, to be recognised at such an event with many global/household names is even more flattering. Apart from me, other winners on the night included the then president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete; African Union [AU] chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma; award winning musician, Diamond Platnumz; the One Organisation and South Africa Broadcasting Corporation, to name a few.
There are many people out there doing wonderful work who do not get recognised so the award I received is for all of them and not just me.
The award has put a lot of things in perspective for me, that we are here for a reason and my reason is to help drive the positive change we dream of seeing for our countries and continent. My future commitments are simple—turn observations into obligations-but to achieve the goals set is difficult but together we can achieve a better Africa.
: Many African countries are struggling to improve their governance structures, to the detriment of their own populations. How can individual countries and institutions such as the African Union (AU) and Ecowas improve on this?
: The African Union and other regional players must not only articulate clear terms on governance issues, but must also strictly act according to letter and spirit of the terms when a Head of State diverts from the tenets of good governance and start to act with impunity. Why
should the AU or Ecowas have rules of engagement, which they know they will be shy to enforce? This defeats the whole purpose of having such bodies and these institutions better be serious if people on the continent are to take them seriously. Why should it take Nato or individual foreign countries to intervene when there is a serious crisis in individual African states when the AU is there?
: We are observing an increasingly refreshing and energised and sometimes restless African youth across the continent; all issues considered where do you see the youth in 15-20 years from now?
: Africa is truly a youthful continent with estimates suggesting that 200 million Africans are between 15 and 24 years old. With this we can see youth as being the continent’s best asset if governments put in place policies to harness their potential. Actually, this youthful population is expected to double by 2045.
If our African leaders can create systems which empower the youth such as:
Improving education: A lot of our schools on the continent put an emphasis on rote learning which ends up leaving us with graduates who are not innovative; don’t think outside the box; are not problem solvers and are not go getters. We need to move away from this and create systems where we can have that innovation and development of critical thinkers. The curriculum needs to be tailored to the labour market and the key economic sectors for the country development. Most importantly the skills the students learn must be transferrable.
Making youth part of the country development agenda—with vast populations considered as youth, our leaders need to make them part of their agenda for the transformation of their respective countries.
Job creation: With this vast youthful population comes the need to provide jobs. Our leaders need to sit down and identify the key sectors that are currently there and will in future drive the economy and create opportunities in these sectors. There is need for strategic planning, vision and implementation by our leaders to make this a reality. If they have addressed the education downfalls then there will be an influx of educated Africans to fill these roles with the right skill sets but most importantly they will be innovative thus able to think outside the box.
So, the question: Where do I see this youth in 15-20 years? I see them as being the change makers who will drive the continents prosperity forward if our leaders have the vision and tools of good governance.
: The African Union made a bold and ambitious plan for women development throughout Africa, how in your opinion can microeconomics improve health and social outcomes for African women and what would a successful look like to you if we achieved it?
:In a typical African set-up, most women look after their families and for varying reasons, these women lack the economic muscle to develop themselves health as well as social wise. In my view, empowering them, among other things through soft loans to start small scale business would go a long way in uplifting their lives in these aspects as well as in many other aspects of their lives.
More importantly and in the long run, there is a need to empower an African girl child with education. The adage, ‘when you educate a girl, you have educated the whole nation,’ perhaps was coined owing to the responsibility, which an African woman has of looking after the entire family. So it is important not to turn a blind eye in as far as empowering an African girl child where education is concerned. n