The youth. The youth of Africa. The youth of this world. Are we harnessing the potential of the youth enough? Are the young ones… giving off their best to the continent, the nation, the universe that is giving us so much? Why do we think we can only contribute something after age forty? Are we not causing wealth loss to our generation?
A group of political friends who had achieved high office comparatively early in life were discussing their careers. Someone asked whether they had ever expected to be where they were then. They all said, “No”, with the exception of Winston Churchill, who was then home secretary at the age of thirty-five. “Yes,” he said. “Napoleon won Austerlitz at my age.” The Battle of Austerlitz, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, was one of Napoleon’s greatest victories, effectively destroying the Third Coalition (made up of Britain, Russia and Austria) against the French Empire. It was a victory obtained after nearly nine hours of difficult fighting. The battle is often regarded as a tactical masterpiece.
I recently finished reading Alexander – Sands of Ammon, the second book in a trilogy written about the famous Alexander the Great, King of Macedon, conqueror of Greece and Egypt and Persia and founder of Alexandria. All the achievements of Alexander were packed into a compact thirty three years, living from 356 to 323 BC.
William Pitt, the Younger, became Prime Minister of Britain in 1783 at the age of twenty-four. He served a total of 20 years over two terms, before his death at the age of forty-seven, same age as the incoming President of USA, Barack Obama.
Coming home to Ghana, former President John Agyekum Kufuor was a deputy foreign affairs minister at the age of thirty-one.
Two events in the second half of the year 2008, stand out in my mind with respect to young persons in high places. On the 5th of November, 2008, the United States of America elected the first African-American president, Barack Obama. He was forty-seven years. He is not the youngest to be elected to that office though. John F. Kennedy had that honour. On the 3rd of November 2008, the new Managing Director of Barclays Bank Ghana, Benjamin T. Dabrah, assumed office. He was thirty-seven years, the youngest ever in the establishment in Ghana. I am proud to say that Benjamin is a fellow Katangee (alumnus of University hall, KNUST, Ghana) and a former member of the Literary wing of the University Christian fellowship, where we shared the stage on a number of occasions.
Looking around today, I see a lot of young people who act as if they have all the time in the world, and older persons who think this attitude is alright. It is unfortunate that there are young citizens who still believe life begins at forty and that life before forty is non-scoring, and older citizens who still insist that unless you are old, you have nothing to offer, equating age with wisdom. During the NPP Presidential primaries in Ghana, did you not hear the debate about people being too young to stand for president? Young men and women are causing wealth loss to their generation because they are sitting on inert ideas, bottled-up potential energy and scratching the ground when they should be gliding the skies and perambulating with the stars. These people are so disillusioned they live life without any urgency.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe asserted that the destiny of any nation, at any given time, depends on the opinion of its young men and women under twenty-five. I agree with him in toto. What then is the destiny of our nation, of our continent, of our world? Do you hear the opinion of Ghanaian young men and women under twenty-five? I don’t hear it often. But, we must hear them, and consistently.
One of my favourite verses in the Bible, one that has always challenged me to do more is, 1 Timothy chapter four verse twelve:
Let no one despise your youth, but become an example of the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
Another version states: do not let any one look down upon you because you are young.
Don’t under-rate the scope of your influence in your youth. Don’t think you have all the time to make a difference in this world. Recognize that both brown and green leaves fall to the ground.
Sir Winston Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Henry Spencer Churchill, died at the age of forty-six. Bill Clinton’s dad, William Jefferson Blythe, Jr., died at the age of twenty-eight. In his autobiography, My Life, the former president of the United States of America intimated that he felt he could have the same short lifespan as his dad and so time was not on his side to achieve what he wanted to in life. In the acclaimed biography of Winston Churchill, the venerable former Prime Minister of Britain, Churchill, author Roy Jenkins expressed the same concern of Winston.
On 17 December, 2008, a day before I launched my first book Excursions in my Mind at the British Council Hall in Accra, Ghana, a close friend told me he could not be at the function because of the death of his brother-in-law, a young man who completed University of Ghana just that year. I was touched by the obituary of a thirty-three year old young doctor in the Daily Graphic newspaper sometime in October 2008. Brown leaves fall, green leaves fall too. Don’t wait till you have grey hair before you believe people will take you seriously because scientifically, grey hair is a sign of old age and not necessarily of wisdom.
Don’t cause wealth loss to your generation! Life is too short to be little. You have an impact to make on your generation and the time to start was yesterday.
In whatever capacity you find yourself, you can make a difference, because:
It is not the depth of your intellect
Or the breadth of your experience
It is the extent of your yielding
And the strength of your passion
It is not the eloquence of your speech
Or the sweetness of your tongue
It is the purity of your heart
And the love for the Lord
It is not the qualified that He calls
It is the called that He qualifies
If you would be available, willing and obedient
It will be you the Lord will use
Allow me, in conclusion, to quote Bruce Barton: “Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance.”
By: Nana Awere Damoah
Author, I Speak of Ghana