The State of the Ethiopian Millennials

The French comedy movie The Bélier Family most cleverly communicates the generational gap far better than any other piece of fiction I have ever seen or read. In the film, there is a 16 year old teen that has a great voice. Ironically, her entire family happens to be deaf-mute. They will never, ever find out how great her voice is – the one and only thing that makes her unique. And don’t we all feel this way about our parents? Isn’t there always a natural, instinctual, disconnect between the older generation and the current one that has always occurred for time immemorial? There is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days – Millennial. It is the generational moniker given to persons currently aged (around) 15 to 30.

It follows a not so unique trend of giving every age group an identifying plaque that is meant to, in a way, represent their time. The millennials come after the relatively calm and gentle Generation X, which themselves were preceded by the Baby boomers, and so on. Of course, this kind of naming, by and large, applies to the Western world, most importantly because different people from different countries vary substantially. A naming used for one will unlikely apply to another. For instance, one of the recognizable traits of a millennial is the bountiful resources of digital devices he or she is party to. This doesn’t necessarily pertain to many in underdeveloped countries that don’t even have the access to the type of technology a Generation X-er, in his youth, had.

But they are far more similar to each other, than all other generations were to their counterparts around the world. Obviously this is because of the internet and the heightened feelings of globalization (now diminishing), in almost all countries, in the last 20 years. It is something no other age group – except the Generation Z, which come after millennials – can purport to know the feelings of. This very incident (yes, incident) causes a lot of disconnect and misunderstanding between us, the millennials, and all that became before, in a manner that could only be rivaled by the phenomena of the rise of the hippie culture. Those who were born in the early 20th century were concerned with social etiquette (nowhere as much as the Victorians, but still), religion and patriotism than the notions of individual freedom.

So, they could never understand why their children turned out to be hippies – the heart and soul of the 1960’s. These hippies smoked marijuana, opposed the Vietnam War, practiced free love and listened to rock and roll. They preferred humanity to Americanism or Christianity. They were very different from the rest of America, and indeed they were sometimes referred to us freaks. Those freaks are now Grandparents, and what grandparents they are – probably sneaking off joints, instead of candy, to their grandchildren. They paid the price of social exclusion to make sure that today’s generation will never have to fear alienation. The hippies campaigned and advocated all kinds of political and human rights.

Their duty was duly noted – it is a generation most nostalgically mentioned in discussions about leftist ideals. There is even a blatant symbolism equating these irreligious nonconformists with Jesus Christ in the hippie of all hippie movies, Easy Rider. Which reminds me, the price here in Ethiopia, has never been paid. It always has to, and that burden, for better or worse, will most likely fall on their shoulders, as they are the most tolerant of liberalism. Liberalism is close in meaning to Westernization, which is the main thing millennials in Ethiopia are accused of endorsing. The criticism I – as a proud member of this forward thinking generation – mainly get is of being a sell out, of having given way to the Western culture and forgotten about ours.

And it really isn’t a moot argument. It is impossible to deny that my generation is moving away from the cultures and traditions of Ethiopia at a headlong speed. We don’t even have to go into how people dress, act or talk to illustrate this. This very article, written in (arguably) very good English, published in an English-language newspaper, in a country that famously has over 70 linguistic heritages, is example enough. Whose fault is this I wonder? Why is it that Ethiopian millennials find the Western culture more enticing to that of their own? And again we come back to the generational disconnect. They are like the hippies of their time, too radical, like what came before. All our decisions are met with skepticism and, more or less, ridicule. Just watch the shows on TV, or listen to the radio, and we get a general idea of how the older generation views this one.

And it is this exact feeling of scorn and derision, the overall refusal to change that is pushing millennials away from the Ethiopian way of life. Contrast the attitude local films have with that of the ones made in the Western world. In the latter, it is the parents that try to breach the gap between themselves and their children. Ethiopian culture, on the other hand, expects the youth to do the heavy lifting. That said, I have a lot of hope for millennials, not just that of Ethiopia, but around the world too. It is said that we are most likely to prefer living in a world unburdened by isolationism than all the others that came before. That is something to celebrate.

By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye is a Film Critic whose interests run amok in both directions of print and celluloid/digital storytelling. He can be reached at

Published on Dec 20,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 868]



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