Africa’s Millennials Are Globalizing a New African Narrative
Sandra Aka, Dartmouth Business Journal
Is the future African? According to the UN report, a third of all people on earth will be African by 2100. Although this is only a projection, if history is any indication, the population of Africa will be much four times larger than it is today. The World Economic Forum shows that while the population in Africa was estimated to be 140 million in 1990, it grew to one billion just twenty years later. From a big picture perspective, as the population of Africa increases, so will their presence in the digital and social media space. Africa’s new generation of millennials are already actively utilizing the digital landscape as a political tool to bring Africa as it is to them to the rest of the world.
Africa’s Millennials, usually defined as those born between 1981 and 1997, will likely be the ones to spearhead a new digital front on the continent. Who are Millennials? Also referred to as Generation Y, Millennial is the demographic cohort subsequent to Generation X. Although there is no clear-cut range of birth years one must fall within to be classified as a Generation Y, Pew Research Center defines the parameters as 1981 to 1997. Konstantin Makarov from Entrepreneur states, Gen Y “comprises 37 percent of the population…Making Africa the most youthful continent on the planet.” This is a generation cut from a different cloth from that of their parents. Many have been immersed in a digital world from birth and are capable of wielding it to their advantage. Mark Kaigwa, founder of African digital strategy consultancy Nendo says, “a big part of Africans online is the ‘corrective element’ of their sharing from the continent.” Whether intentional or not, their mere presence online is political, created to send a message to the world.
There has been an urgency to bring attention to a new and real African narrative for years. Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, warned about the dangers of a one-sided story of the continent. Africa, she says, is painted in the world as a “single story of catastrophe” – one plagued by poverty, war, death and even a “well-meaning pity”. It is not that these descriptors are totally inaccurate, but they cannot offer a full account modern-day Africa. President Trump’s “sh**hole countries” remarks targeted at African nations at the beginning of this year flagged Adichie’s arguments, epitomizing the need for a fresh take of Africa. It will take a significant effort to remediate Africa’s mud hut image once and for all, but fortunately, the rising, young generation of Africans is up to the task.
Africa has always been a hub of creativity, but combined with social media, Africa’s unique talent can more easily circulate, hopefully to portray a more accurate picture of the continent. A prime example of this is JTO, a fashion blog created by Nigerian born and London based Temi Otedola (21 years old), who seeks to bridge the gap between Africa and the rest of the world. In her travel diaries, JTO Takes Lagos, Otedola posts photos and vlogs backdropped by local and diverse Lagosian landscape. From the busy streets of Lekki market to the exclusive members-only glammed up clubs on Victoria Island, her diaries give her international viewership a new spectrum of images of Africa which Western media too often hides, opting for the bad extremes only.
Along with Temi Otedola, Ada Afoluwake Ogunkeye is another young African using the power of social media to globalize a new African narrative. Her web series, “The New Africa”, documents her travel around the “sights, sounds and sensations of city life” on the African continent. She takes in the luxury and recreation cities, such as Maputo, Mozambique and Kampala, that Uganda have to offer. In one of the episodes, Folu confesses, “when I see pictures of Africa…this is not the story of where I come from. [Africans] experience [their] land in an entirely different way.” This web series offers its viewers a crash course on African visual literacy, allowing the viewers to play witness to the daily reality of Africans themselves.
A fascination with African weddings, fueled by social media outlets, is also helping to revise the African narrative. Created by Uchenna Jennifer Eze (33 years old), “Bellanaija Weddings” is an Instagram account with over 2.8 million followers. The account shares photos and videos of lavish wedding celebrations across Africa, which often span the course of several days. In a CNN article, “Inside Nigeria’s Million-Dollar Wedding”, Torera Idowu writes that weddings “are considered one of the major contributors to Nigeria’s economy.” Moreover, he states that they can cost as high as 277,393 dollars with the average cost falling within the range of 9,460 to 13,515 dollars. These African fairytale weddings are diversifying the images that appear when one Google-searches the continent. Africa is not plagued by only war and poverty. Instead, love drives the economy of Nigeria, where a lack of money does not seem to be a concern for Africans willing to spend thousands of dollars on a single night celebrating the union between two people.
Africa’s Millennials are leveraging social media in order to globalize a new and grounded story for Africa. They seek to show that the worst extremes, so often held up as the image of their home, are not akin to their everyday story. The current Western narrative does not account for the Africa with scenic countryside and city lights, the Africa made up of 54 distinct countries each with their own folklore and GDP or the Africa that gathers thousands of people together to witness the tying of the knot. As the population in Africa rises, the hope is that new voices will tell Africa’s story, but for now, millennials are leading the chorus, and the world is listening. Although African millennials grew up in very different times and circumstances from their predecessors, they are still the product of a shared history, and what a relief it must be for their ancestors to know that this generation has a love for Africa worth fighting for and protecting.