The Cultural Burden the African Youth Shoulders

Last month I found myself at the African Union headquarters attending the Young African Thinkers Convention, an annually held brainstorming summit that brings together young people from all over Africa. It advocates for youth participation towards the realization of Agenda 2063, the fifty-year plan of the AU to build a self-aware and self-reliant Africa.

I sat in the Nelson Mandela Conference hall for three days with other young Africans, being relayed information and a certain responsibility over this continent’s future. On the first day of the convention, we were given a general idea about the Agenda and the Demographic Dividend.

The presenter was disappointed that only a few people knew about the Agenda, and urged us to look it up as soon as we could. I did so while pacing the lobby, and I have been overwhelmed.

Like all charters, it is full of optimistic promises and big, vague ideas that seem almost dreamlike. I was nonetheless fascinated by them.

It called for “an integrated, united, peaceful, sovereign, independent, confident and self-reliant continent” where “Pan-African cultural assets will be enhanced.”

It was a beautiful vision of Africa, one its authors have vowed to realize, but one that they probably will not live long enough to see. Agenda 2063 is made for the current African Youth.

The main idea of this year’s Convention was to bring together creative people such as writers, photographers, filmmakers, journalists and digital marketers to discuss on effective messaging of the African Vision. And we brainstormed on how to do just that.

Discussing effective messaging, the points raised were mainly self-evident but also the often shrugged away concept of the power of social media. Social media was once just fun and games. Now it is a business and, like any business, it wants to be handled seriously.

It was estimated that 177 million Africans were on Facebook last year. The internet penetration rate in Ethiopia is 15pc, with a reported 16.4 million and 4.5 million internet and Facebook users, respectively. By developed or even neighbouring Kenya’s standards, it may seem low, but it is still a lot of people and will only keep growing.

Social media can be a closed space where one converses with loved ones and shares comments and pictures. Its dark side, from hate speeches to misinformation, has also been well documented. But it can also be an explosive business tool that helps earn money and usher a generational change in Africa.

That was precisely what Richard Njau, a Kenyan digital content marketer, tried to impart in us when he spoke of the “mental digital shift.” We need to change the way we view and use social media because, for those who use it right, it is a mighty weapon.

Another one of the panelists, Mutua Matheka, a.k.a TruthSlinger, said that one’s art comes from what is frustrating. Living in Africa, we sure have a lot to complain about. Africa sits on a goldmine, not only the material kind of resources, but also massive creative energy and social media potential that it could reap.

The Convention harbored another objective: being confident with a clear African Identity.

They say that the African Identity is fading because of globalisation. The young generation is misunderstood and reprimanded because we dress a certain way and we express ourselves in ways that might be considered not quite African.

The youth is often criticized for being too individualistic, always chasing personal glory, forgetting that it is a collective.

We often forget that creativity and art can be problem-solving tools, that some of the most brilliant souvenirs of hard times reflect collective feelings of whole societies and stand for entire generations, not just one person.

The criticism may further come from the migration of a large number of educated youth to the West. It is less because they cannot live comfortably in their countries but that they yearn to matter on a whole personal level. We are all trying to find where we fit in this world, and we want to fit prosperously.

One of the most memorable terms used during the Convention was, “Africa needs therapy.”

When a person becomes mentally ill, a therapist would have the patient recount their past to face and overcome the hurdles thus far. This is how the healing process starts. In the same manner, African has been scarred by a long history of extractive political and economic institutions that have held back development and inculcated an inferiority complex.

Much of the information we have lost or have been distorted about Africa’s past, including all the mistakes that our fathers have made, need to come to light so we can see them and learn from them. Our leaders need to tell us what mistakes have been made, that sometimes they are human and that they have faltered.

Black Panther was mentioned in one of the presentations. Having gotten massive mainstream success, there are things yet to unpack from this movie. It was recalled how the writers had managed to show Wakanda as a land that has technologically advanced and became civilized without losing its cultural identity.

The people still dress in their native attire and live with their traditions intact, implying that one does not need to conform to Western standards to be civilized. Yodehe Abebe, who gave this speech on cultural identity, also pinpointed the scene where T’challa, the movie’s protagonist, in his dream-like state calls out his ancestors respectfully on their mistakes. That is how the youth, should receive Africa from the African “fathers.” We should be able to learn of the mistakes made and fix them.

The Convention showed me the amount of responsibility the current youth shoulders.

Africa is the second largest continent with a population of over 1.2 billion people. Over half of the population is below the age of 35, while a third of it is of working age.

There are some positive steps towards building the African Identity, even in Ethiopia, where Western culture is not completely disregarded but incorporated. Bands like Jano Band and musicians such as Bruktawit Getahun, a.k.a Betty G, and Rophnan Nuri, incorporate rock, pop and electronic dance music into their works.

Creative entertainment platforms such as Behager Lijand Etan Comics use modern digital and visual technology to tell stories about Africans. Photographers such as Aron Simeneh and the smart minds behind projects such as Vintage Addis Ababa and Colorizing History use their platforms to showcase Ethiopian History. Through the amazing Africans I met at the convention, I have also come to learn about similar movements across Africa.

It is nice that the African Youth is standing up and taking charge, but when we do take charge it is vital to think of the collective as well. The African culture is not going to die, and neither will the instability and decentralization continue. It is just going to change and be carefully transferred into the hands of the youth.

It is up to us next, and to quote Rophnan, “I believe in my generation.”

By Kalkidan (Qal) Fessehaye
Kalkidan is a writer, blogger and translator. She can be reached at

Published on Sep 01,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 957]



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