These young Africans: finding a voice among the broken and angry

These young africans

I have been talking to a lot of people about young Africans. So much so that in my circles we have adopted the term, ‘these young Africans’ as a way to contextualize our conversations. The basic definition, young African professionals (25-40 years) who live in urban areas and making their way through the world. These are Africans determined to make a mark in whatever industry they are in, some of them are first generationers. First to get a college education, first to get a corporate job, first to live in the city, first to ‘make it’ as were. First to figure out life in a rapidly changing world.

There is a fundamental shift that is happening in Africa and the world in fact. While the past had parents determining the future of their children, especially in Africa, giving us a generation of doctors and lawyers. Something happened, perhaps we realized there were too many doctors, lawyers and engineers so parents decided their children needed to be business leaders and investment bankers. Then came the generation of Business School wunderkinds. Then something happened, a generation of Africans rose up and decided that their futures needed to be determined by them, enter the time of the artisans and the entrepreneurs – because let’s face it no African parent will encourage entrepreneurship straight out of college. This is where ‘these young Africans’ come in. Yes, they too have corporate jobs but it’s jobs that defy their parents understanding. Like that guy whose job is to manage the brand identity of shoe laces.

A generation of Africans as exciting, innovative, hardworking as it is problematic (stay your pitchforks, please). This is the generation that spends money as quickly as it makes it. This generation lacks basic education in wealth and asset building. This is a generation that knows how to be rich but not wealthy, just ask a Nigerian celebrity. This is the generation that would rather wear their wealth than think about tomorrow. While traveling across Africa, finding out what makes us tick, I learnt that the future isn’t really all that important. The common mantra, is life is too short and you might as well enjoy the fruits of your labor today. Makes sense, what happens if tomorrow does come? Do you start all over again?

The general consensus is that these young Africans are shit hot. Everyone wants us, all the multinationals want to see what we can do, investors are warming to our ideas. The world is both waiting for us to succeed and fail at the same time (haters gonna hate). The bulk of us aren’t prepared, no one told us that wealth and impact takes time. No one told us that credit cards are only good for the credit card companies. No one told us that liquid assets isn’t all that useful when a recession hits.

This is a generation that will work hard for their passion, we are excited about what we do and who we are. We like nice things and are willing to work for them. We dedicate ourselves to projects, companies and causing, we don’t easily fall for brand messaging. We want products we like and we are willing to pay premium for it as long as it is convenient. Our mobile phones run our lives, we work from it, play from it and connect through it. We like our Moet, Hennessy and Louis Vuitton.

This is a generation that often battle through the murky definitions of what it means to be African and what it means to live in a contemporary world. A generation of people defining equality where traditions dictate certain things. A generation finding their voice in crowd of broken and angry people. One that must take responsibility for its own future regardless of what is ahead. A generation intent of fixing an embattled legacy left to them. We are so desperate to prove that we can take control of our lives, pick our legacy yet when the time comes the shadow of our parents linger as we decide – that ever present hand of ‘guidance’. A generation that defies definition.

These are mostly thoughts in my head that needed to get out. I’m doing a series of talks in the coming weeks on the subject, likely there are more pieces to come, unpacking segments on this. Africa is a broken continent, let’s be honest. Our leaders haven’t given us much to work with and we are angry about it. Those of us that care anyway. There is potential here lots, but for the most part the same people who screwed things up for us make it hard for us to fix it.

Playing at adulthood: the grown up confessional

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When I was little, I always thought that growing happened like magic. You wake up one morning, all the secrets of adulthood would be downloaded into your brain. Everything would change, you would know how to make the right decision – you would be certified a grown up.

According to some “grown ups” I know, I have wasted my 20s. Apparently I wasn’t meant to spend it building a career and charging my way through a formidable industry. No, it seems I was suppose to spend it looking for a husband. My grown up advisors seem to think my want or lack of want is irrelevant here. The way they see it, the past decade of my life has been spent on the wrong things and as I enter this new one, which is meant to be spent on procreation, I must settle the debts incurred in my 20s. That is what adults do, they tell me.

I have been trying to explore what it means to grow up and truly understand myself for some time. I began with checklists, things adults should have done, do and have. That didn’t quite work out because I just felt like a big kid given access to things I wasn’t quite ready for.

I suppose this time around, I need to figure out the purpose of this decade before I run through it, chasing the impossible and wrong dreams. Entering your 30s in Africa isn’t terribly helpful, with all the big life stuff aching at you while the African cultures and traditions niggle at you like an unwanted lover. You are in most cases bound by propriety and in others torn by love for the people who you know in some warped way actually care about you. In Africa, when women turn 30, they enter a period I call the ticking time bomb leading to the crisis of old age – because it is all over now. The grown ups will have you believe this and schedule your battle plans accordingly — yes this is war and we are all praying about it in Africa fervently.

When you are in your mid 20s and begin to notice the world for what it really is, you suspect that there are no grown ups. You face the dubious reality that this is it, you will continue to fumble through life hoping for the best and learning. You learn that most things are like for like. The way you treat people matters, simple respect and courtesy goes a long way in earning you respect and kindness. These things matter to people. Taking responsibility for who you are and showing up is the biggest lesson you will learn.

So here is what I know to be true as someone playing at adulthood:

Spend your decade doing what makes you happy, but take responsibilities for your actions and choices because they are yours and yours alone.

Stop worrying about who is watching you, governments and companies included. If you keep looking over your shoulder life will pass you by.

Eat the damn cake, you only live once.

If you are trying to find a way to say something in a delicate manner, don’t. Just say it.

It is perfectly okay if you like Taylor Swift and not a tween, some experiences cross age divides.

If your boss tells you that you are too young to get a deserved raise or promotion, quit because that company does not deserve you.

Show righteous indignation when someone belittles Africa, because damnit we are a great continent.

Finally, save up and buy that incredibly expensive thing you really want but don’t need.

I am sure that my well meaning grown ups will tell me that I have life all wrong, my approach just isn’t done. But I have been disappointing them for so long, why stop now.

Shit no one tells you about buying a home & other adult problems

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Frack! I bought a home. This is very good news, so I hear. Well, it is. Really. As a young African, carving my way through this brave new world trying to make my mark, longterm investments like property is one way to assert my adulthood. That and it’s one way of getting my dad to stop asking me when I am getting married. So I get to grow up, like watching my investment appreciate.

There is a certain level of empowerment that comes with owning property or living alone and having to figure out life’s great mysteries. It is wonderful, chaotic and fun. But, fuck me! it is hard.

There are things they don’t tell you about this growing up thing. I think there is a societal consensus to never tell young people what is waiting for them on the other side of growing up. There is probably a collective cackle when someone discovers these previously unknown facts of life. The realization that dawns a poor unsuspecting young person when they discover the cost of bread and have to pay for it with their own money. That terrifying choice they will have to make between toilet paper and food, the terror of saying no to wine because gotta have heat. Yup, all the grown ups giggle and point in hysterics as we flail about trying to make sense of our new reality looking for a life raft. The withholding of this information is not only morally reckless, it is dangerous.

As fellow flailer, I am here to give you some of my insights on the heels of my recent home purchase. Shit is hard dudes, that is for truth. So pay attention marshmallows.

Shit is expensive, seriously! No you cannot have another handbag just to match that one top you only wear once in a blue moon! You got bills to pay.
Electricity is a nightmare. Watch what you use, and when possible get a prepaid meter.
Groceries don’t come cheap, buy the essentials first before you decide on luxuries. Yes chocolate is a luxury, but not wine ( well sorta) — you will need it to cope.

Levies, are the worst. This is a fee you pay for the upkeep of the outside of your home if you live in a sectional unit and it is sizable amount.
Special levies are even more dangerous. These are for when you body corporate decides to paint or do something you might not give a shit about.
Then there are rates — this is to the city for taking care of things, ahh the beautiful world of tax. Shot city dudes for taking care nothing but whatever take my money.
When you buy property expect to pay for everything. Is like going on a date that turns into a weekend away and being expected to pay for everything just because you said the words: “should we grab coffee later?”. You pay your lawyer’s fees, the seller’s lawyer fees and if the bank had their way some other random costs that would make no sense. These fees will be in the tens of thousands. In some cases people have to take out loans on top of their mortgage just to be able to cover these fees. Also some of these attorneys that you will deal with during this process are the literal worst. Yeah, bond attorneys I am looking at you.
You inherit all the problems that come with the property so be sure to find out if there are any before you sign on that dotted line.
Upkeep! Now you own the place, someone has to take care of it and that someone is you. Electrical problem? That’s you boo. What? the door is broken, babe get that sorted.

No more swipe swipe. Growing up means getting very intimate with the concept of a budget and learning to really stick to it. That’s your bae from now on.