At independence, Botswana’s first President Sir Seretse Khama was 45 years old, his vice president Ketumile Masire was 41 and the then assistant Minister of Public Service and Broadcasting, Daniel Kwelagobe was only 27. These are the leaders who are now credited with lifting Botswana from rags to riches.
Ironically, over the years, Botswana’s population has been growing younger, but the country has never had the confidence to entrust its destiny on a 45-year-old president, a 41year old vice president or a 27year old cabinet minister.
Instead, fifty-five years later, Botswana is growing younger but its political leadership is greying. While social scientists are harping on how Botswana should harness the youth dividend, the rest of the country is grumbling about the “the kids these days” and how the country’s youths do not measure up to their predecessors.
Ugh. Kids these days. They’ve got no respect. They dress all weird. They’re always on their phones. Versions of this portrayal of Botswana’s youth are being echoed at kgotla meetings, parent teacher associations, political rallies, and bars throughout the country. This perception about Botswana’s youth was captured in a recent Afrobarometer Survey which revealed that most Batswana are against their tax being used to help the country’s youths. Of the 18 countries surveyed, Batswana came 17th among citizens who were willing to have their tax committed to helping the youth.
And the country’s youth is not helping the situation. The Afrobarometer Survey further revealed that, although Botswana youths are making the loudest noise on social media, they do not participate in civic and political action, including voting. More than twice as many Botswana youths skipped voting in the last national elections compared to the middle aged (35-55) and older citizens (56+ years).
Afrobarometer findings revealed that 40% of Botswana youths did not vote compared to 18% of the middled aged and 10% of older citizens. Of the 18 countries surveyed, Botswana has the highest no-vote gap between youth and seniors at more than 30 percentage points followed by Lesotho, Ivory Coast and Gabon.
“African youth are also less likely to report attending a community meeting, joining others to raise an issue, contacting a political or traditional leader, and identifying with a political party”, states Afrobarometer.
It further emerged from the survey that a majority of Africans, including Batswana, consider the ideas of young people secondary to the wisdom of the elders. Almost 6 in 10 respondents (58 percent) say that in order for their country to do well, “we should listen more to the wisdom of our elders,” while only 37 percent prioritize listening more “to fresh ideas from young people.” Young respondents were somewhat more likely than their elders to favour listening to youth, yet still solidly value “wisdom” over “fresh ideas” (56 percent vs. 40 percent). One striking exception was Tunisia, where 70 percent of citizens say young people’s ideas should get more attention.
This “kids these days effect.” Is however putting a lot of pressure on Batswana youths to make a mark. Most judge their success by what they have achieved by a certain age. They give themselves arbitrary deadlines and feel a deep sense of inadequacy if they don’t make it. This is compounded by society’s pervasive obsession with youth – the younger you are when you achieve something, the more it means. It is no wonder the question hanging over the career of every ambitious Motswana youths is: “Is there still time to make a mark?
Dr Poloko Ntshwarang, senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “There is no right age for success and achievement. Nowadays, technology has become so advanced that it has become easier to achieve success at any time of your life. People in their 70’s can start and achieve something that they desire in no time. Achievements and success are all about having the right mindset. It all starts in your head. You convince your mind of whether you can do something or not. There are many who view age as a limitation when it comes to pursuing their dreams and often times use it as an excuse.
I’m too young to do this. I’m too old to do that. I don’t have enough experience. I need to wait a while more. It’s too late for me to pursue what I want in life. For many women, there’s this misconception that if you haven’t accomplished certain things by a specific age then you’re a failure. In today’s world women as well as men are under tremendous pressure to accomplish so much in a short amount of time. Whether it’s getting married and starting a family or rising to the top of our career, many of us feel like we’re racing against the clock. The truth is, age should not be a factor by which we measure our success & accomplishments. There is no age limit to success.”
Dr Sophie Moagi, clinical psychologists in Gaborone says, “Millennial culture breeds the fear that if they do not accomplish everything and don’t become successful at 25, they will die a failure. It is not only millennials even people in their 30s and over suffer from this mindset. People assume that their abilities to succeed have passed due to an imaginary timer on their lives. As unfortunate as it is, a lot of us fall victim to this. For the millennial generation, it’s no longer enough to be accomplished – it’s almost as if their have to be both accomplished and barely out of their teens in order to reallybe held in high esteem.
Regardless of actual age and perceived level of success, this added pressure is having a debilitating effect on people both professionally and psychologically, both men and women of any age are increasingly putting pressure on themselves to ‘keep up’ with society’s belief of what they should be doing and how they should be living their lives. One of the easiest ways to reduce this anxiety is to make peace with where you are and live your life according to your own expectations, rather that societies expectations.”