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African dreams

If the youth are the future, their dreams are the blueprint for it.

These dreams; the great, and the not-so-great, are reflections of societal ambition.

In the last five years, I have variously studied at university and worked in Australia, China, and Japan. Currently, I am an aid worker in Kenya.

With little effort on my part, a suburban quarter-acre block complete with a Hills-hoist drying the nappies of 2.3 kids seems a likely future prospect. With this and the almost stereotypical university travels under my belt, I feel like I am living the modern Australian student dream. This has led me to investigate the dreams of my peers throughout our global village.

Everyone knows the Great American Dream. The dirty-poor-to-stinking-rich story is still the mould of many American personalities. In politics there is the ultimate dreamer Martin Luther King or, more recently the Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards. For entertainers there is J.Lo. For business icons, look no further than Bill Gates. In all fields, the list is long.

The Japanese Dream is just as formulaic but otherwise unlike the American Dream. As a student of a Japanese high school, I heard my peers talk of their desire for a stable job and a nuclear family. My host sister studied abroad only briefly to improve her English before returning to Nara to begin what she hopes will be a lifelong career in economics. This dream is reflective of a fiercely modern society that continues to pride itself on sustaining traditional values.

But what of Africa and its people? The lack of consideration of this dream seems to indicate, yet again, that the continent is condemned not to dream but to suffer.

Either way, there are perhaps two dreams for young Africans—what one might call the Great African Dream and the Not-so-great African Dream.

I should note that the following comments break a self-imposed rule not to discuss Africa as if it is one country. Of course, it is not. It is, for the moment, 55 countries. But for present purposes, my travels across six African nations indicate that there is a consistency in the hopes of its people that justifies use of the generic title.

The Not-so-great African Dream is to escape the African nightmare. It is, therefore a stepping stone to other dreams: the Australian Dream, the American Dream and many others. By way of illustration, in 2003, one-third of Kenyans paid a substantial fee to add their name to the lottery for a visa to gain entry to the United States. The Not-so-great African Dream is the dream of the refugees who form the human tide washing across the continent. Given that ten per cent of Burundians are refugees, for example, this dream is a significant consideration. For these people, the dream is simply to escape the continent’s ugliest corners.

My dear friends in the 8,000-strong Sudanese refugee community in Australia are living this dream. In my experience, they soon see that the Not-so-great African Dream is, in fact, not so great even when it is fulfilled. Who could come to Australia, after all, and not aspire to leave housing-commission units, dole-dependence and a lack of means to upward mobility?

Then there is the Great African Dream. According to my peers, the Great African Dream, like the ideal quarter-acre block, is surmised in three words: education, education, education. This, they tell me, is the key to their freedom and the hope of their nations. But there is a catch.

‘My hope for my four-year-old daughter is that she will study hard and then go and find work overseas’, explained Brown, a resident of one of the townships outside of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
‘Do you want her to come back to work in Tanzania?’ I asked.

‘Only when she has had a good career overseas, then she can come back.’

Like my peers in Japan, my friends in China view an international education as a means to bring the world back to China. By contrast, Brown’s comments and those of any of my younger work colleagues in Kenya, indicate that an international education is a route of escape, a means of survival not only for the escapee but for the onlookers and dependants who remain in Africa.

If these dreams are the crystal ball into the future, the trends are clear. China will rise. Australia will be stable. African countries, varied as they are, will continue to suffer on the periphery of world affairs while their citizens take their virtues to live out other greater dreams.

But we youth are flippant. We change our minds, our plans and our dreams regularly. For this great continent, we can only hope this will happen soon.



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