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.