No matter where they are, the next generation demands their place in the world. The youth of today assert themselves more than ever before, and with unprecedented access to information and opportunities at their fingertips, anyone with the ability to get creative can share in this through global connectedness.
Africa may seem an unexpected place to focus on the creativity of the next generation, but in fact it has the most exciting, most prominent area to watch. Students here face the same issues as their foreign counterparts: fear of entering the job market, and uncertainty at how they can carve out a life for themselves in their chosen field.
But this generation is not awaiting an invitation to tell their stories or share their genius. They are taking notes from the rest of the world but are ultimately demanding that they are noticed on their own merits. While those in Kenya and East Africa seem to be leading the charge, West Africa is coming up fast. For everyday people across the continent, Twitter is a favourite medium:
Take a look at the current explosion of active hashtags. The most positive of late has seen Africans attempting to smash the common stereotypes of their countries and people by using #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou . #IfAfricaWasABar reveals the awareness and sense of humour Africans have when discussing some of the negative aspects of their continent. The internet has provided connected Africans with the power to demand their voices be heard, handing them opportunities to reshape their image to focus on their incredible innovation and positive stories.
This increasing connectedness is leading to incredible entrepreneurial enterprises. The desire to take an active part in the world far outweighs the challenges of power-outages, lack of infrastructure and cultural preferences for traditional careers. Not-for-profits are created daily with enormous potential; activism is more than alive and well. Smartphones are prolific and offer better online access than wifi options. Online access is still a commodity for those with financial means though, as it is still not all that affordable. But everyone wants better technology, better cameras, faster and cheaper internet.
Young people are connected constantly through Whatsapp. They use Facebook and Instagram daily. The college-aged youth of Ghana lead typical and sometimes hedonistic lives. They are not opposed to enjoying casual sex. But they don’t use Tinder because of the risks associated in Africa (apparently it’s known for scams). Generally speaking, most still want to one day get married and have a family – often only around their early 30s – but divorce is still fiercely opposed.
There is a saturation of foreign films; Nigerian cinema is booming, but the cinemas at Accra’s two largest malls show mostly American films. Movies are popular amongst all ages. Music across Accra is largely international. Blaring from the built-in speakers of tro-tros (shared minivan transportation) is a mix of Ghanaian, Nigerian and American tunes. Hip-hop, hiplife and highlife from both Ghana and Nigeria are the most popular, but there is so much variation that I have even heard Bollywood and country music. YouTube is accessed daily; comedic and topical videos are shared across social media and seem to focus on in-jokes and cultural nuance. Sharing seems intimately relevant to Ghanaian culture.
You might think that some of this is at odds with the fact that Ghana is an overwhelmingly Christian nation, but take one look at American life and you know that such lifestyles can always be reconciled with religion. But Ghanaian youths want foreign friends. They want fun. They want to know about the world and have the freedom to live their own lives as they see fit. But they also want their country to offer things it hasn’t before and may not be prepared to for some time.
Ghanaians view electricity as something they have the right to access. And why not – much of the rest of the world enjoys lights and power. The continent of Asia encompasses many developing nations, but an enormous number of people there enjoy constant access to reliable electricity. Research points to electricity holding the key to enormous gains across the region, but apart from infrastructural issues, many Africans believe the lack of power is politically motivated.
Quality education is still an issue. But with university facilities supplying constant electricity and even wifi, life on campus can be a step up for those from less fortunate backgrounds. Almost all youth live with their families. Universities may offer a welcome reprieve from family life, but is the time spent gaining an education worthwhile?
College life may be worth it, regardless. Students smoke weed and cigarettes in dorm rooms. Parties and hookups are part of university culture, an eerie echo of American influence on campus life throughout the world. Students intern or volunteer during their university breaks with local NGOs, social enterprises or international companies. Some students see the world as bigger than they can ever imagine, and possibly beyond what they can achieve. But they want to be a part of it all the same.
Studying abroad is a goal for some. Travel is not – at least not in the traditional sense. Adventure doesn’t seem to be a key part of African culture. Mobility isn’t a priority. A more easy going approach to life is present, making living abroad longer term more suitable. But visa approval is a long, expensive process that still only the elite can afford.
The dreams of this generation will only gain momentum in the coming years. There will be a snowball effect propelled by the new guard that will affect change in more ways than they hope. There are worries about progress and development taking on a pace that cannot be sustainable or positive. But with the rate the people across this continent are gathering knowledge and expertise, I remain hopeful and excited about the coming achievements. Because no matter who is paying attention, the youth of today will always take what they believe belongs to them.