Millennials get a bad rep on the internet. We spend money on avocados, tweet all day, and take numerous selfies. We have many followers on Instagram and live for instant gratification. The trope of the entitled millennial stereotypes an entire generation. Millennials are those born in the early 1980s to the mid 1990s – or the early 2000s for some. As an African millennial, reading articles about this homogeneous representation in which I cannot see myself or others like me shows that this term, in its everyday use, erases our agency. It is time to make room for the African millennial and acknowledge our socio-political agency.
There must be room in the term millennial to include the African millennial whose present is strongly tied to the actions of the generations before, whose reality does not always allow for an apathetic existence. This argument does not in any way negate the selfies we take. It does not erase our engagement on social media, and it definitely does not create a monolithic view of young Africans. Rather, it highlights the socio-political importance of African millennials across the continent and the roles we play in shaping and starting conversations that matter. This importance is something most conversations about millennials ignore.
Movements such as #RhodesMustFall in South Africa and #Tajamuka in Zimbabwe are just two examples of how African millennials have taken initiative in addressing their socio-economic reality. The African millennial has taken on historically unaddressed systematic issues and has rejuvenated many political conversations. From decolonizing the education system to diversifying political representation, millennials on the African continent have created movements that have changed our understanding of history and effectively our present. Millennials have harnessed the power of the very tools we are consistently criticized of abusing to voice our opinions and bring together otherwise disconnected and uninterested individuals for a common cause. The African Millennial is a threat to the status quo, a factor many who criticize this generation ignore.
Beyond political engagement, African millennials have taken a stand in the arts by giving a voice to their lived realities. Moffat Takadiwa, a Zimbabwean artist born in 1983, creates various installation sculptures using discarded materials. His work raises concern on questions of colonization, identity, consumerism, and pollution. African artists who by definition would be considered millennial are producing music that raises conversations about various socio-political issues and are challenging common (mis)representations of the African continent. An example is M.anifest (born 1983), the Ghanaian rapper. Fashion wise, his style illuminates the brilliance, fluidity, and diversity of Ghanaian fashion industry. Lyrically, he is unapologetic about speaking to the various systems of oppression and applauding the various successes within the communities he is connected to.
Indeed the term millennial carries with it a tone of apathy and entitlement, but we should not forget the brilliance, agency, and importance of millennials in and from the African continent. We are important to the trajectory of our nations and ultimately the continent.