When it comes to discussing youth, the most vibrant demographic of Tonga, they are often seen as if they are only an issue or a statistic. This week at the opening ceremony of Tonga’s National Youth Week, one of the assigned speeches of the day spoke about youth as an age group; as mere statistics without addressing the most necessary element of the concept – that youth are young people with dreams for the future. Young people have agency and they are not lacking in activism and meaningful discourse (Tonga Youth is a testament to that). Young Tongans are too often seen in a problematic way and I have penned this piece as a call to change these sentiments. In an important week of discussing young people, this is a call that emphasises transformative leadership.

Since the beginning of the year, several media outlets and neighbouring countries have expressed concern for Tonga as it is due to repay back its loans from China. The loan was sought to rebuild Nuku’alofa in the wake of the 2006 riots. China had granted a five-year extension to the loans’ grace period and is now refusing requests from the government to either defer the loans further – or waive the debts. While this is an urgent subject for our government and for decision-making at the highest level of leadership, I believe that it is also necessary for young people to participate in this discussion. Whether it be deferred loans or a waiver of debt, it is clear that our future is in crisis. As such, we have a duty to ourselves to improve our livelihoods today, for tomorrow.

We may ask of our leaders in this most important week of recognising Tonga’s youth as future leaders of tomorrow, that it is imperative they make decisions not just for their short-term objectives, but to keep youth in mind, as we will deal with the consequences of their diplomacy in the future. Most importantly for young leaders, we must look upon this crisis as a learning opportunity to share and expand on our understanding of transformative leadership and how to be impactful in the most sustainable way possible. This is so we do not falter as some past leaderships have done, but that we take with us to the future invaluable lessons from our forefathers and ancestors. Here are some of the ways we can do so.

Talanoa – Every conversation flows in the form of mediation by talanoa. Talanoa seeks to enlighten all those who gather willingly to listen and make use of teachings and correction. Talanoa is a mix of informal and formal discussions that gives full control and agency to a person to share their story in a space of flexibility and openness. By fostering such an environment, we can communicate clearly and ensure that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Mistakes that burned our island capital and challenged the core of our golden values.

Inclusion – The significance of inclusion ensures that as young leaders, we consider everyone from all walks of life. Inclusion at its deepest level must avoid tokenistic acts and seek to widen the circle of unity to young men and women, fakaleiti and various sexual orientations, disabled persons, our families and relatives across the diaspora, everyone across the board. Regardless of our stature in society, inclusion erases the division of classes and unites minds and hearts. This value plays a critical role in development whether it be socially or economically, by limiting the duplication of efforts and using our resources efficiently. How much more effective can we be when we work together without prejudice.

Respect – Our existence lies in how we interact with one another, thus the respect we have for each other exemplifies true leadership. For when we as young leaders can respect the spaces meant for us and the spaces meant for others, we can progress to the future that we envision with great hope. No wonder one of the Faa’i Kavei Koula rests on faka’apa’apa as the final sennit that holds together the corner posts of Tongan values. More than anything, our respect for our future means that we can be adamant in our pursuit of transformative leadership, seeking accountability and transparency where needed.

To conclude, I hope that during this week, as young leaders of tomorrow we may reflect wholeheartedly on our future and our vision for a greater Tonga that is prosperous and true to our heritage, led by open communication, inclusion, respect and other great values that exist within us as Tongans.

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