Generation Z in Africa: About the same, but different

by Chris Scholz on September 23, 2017

Since a few years we see a new kid on the block: The Generation Z. We see it around the globe. They are global.

But is it one kid? Are they several kids? Are they related? Different? Identical?

Some reflections …….

Christian Scholz, Professor at the University of Saarland, Germany

Generation Z in Africa:
About the same, but in many ways different

Since a few years we see a new kid on the block: The Generation Z. We see it around the globe, from Australia over Asia all the way up to Africa and America. It is considered to be the largest generation ever. There are around 2 billion of them. It makes them 30 % of the world population. They are born sometimes after 1990, connected through digital devices, shaped by social media. And they are global.

Is it one kid? Are they several kids? Are they related? Different? Identical? In a study done by FORD-Motor-Company in 2015, I find an intriguing sentence: “They share these pressure with their peers across the world, making them the first truly global generation.”

I am devoted to research intrigued by “the first truly global generation”. What does it mean? By travelling around the globe, it immediately became clear:

Yes, there are striking similarities around the globe.

Generation Z is more pragmatic, more cautious, more global, more individualistic, more realistic than the other generations, especially when you compare them to the Millennials (“Generation Y”). And: Most of them are extremely skeptical towards politicians. Also: There is some kind of search for simplicity and sustainability – not much, but more than in other generations. These similarities also hold true for Africa, as for any other part in the world.

But, there are also huge differences.

We have rich and poor kids. We have kids that look for jobs, others for entertainment. We have kids, that suffer in wars, others in abundance. We have kids that are objects of discrimination, others that discriminate.

And, what about Generation Z in Africa?

I am not an expert in Africa. Still, I travelled from Cairo to Cape Town, spent nights in a tent in the Sudan and in a luxury train in South Africa, went to Safari Camps in Kenya and Tanzania, enjoyed Stone Town and Stone Churches, felt impressed by the Victoria Falls and by the Lake Victoria. And I talked to many young people. We run workshops in Namibia in order to understand school children as well as national and international students.

The first observation: Distinct differences

The Generation Z in Africa is split up in many subgroups, nationalities, societal groups, religions, tribes. Yes, there is poverty, but not always. Yes, there is the feeling, help must come from the outside, but that feeling does not always exist. There is always a dualistic sense for music: the same global music from the USA and Korea, and the huge variety of different local music.

All this creates diversity and variety. This diversity and variety is much more than we see from the United States. And it is even more compared to what I know from Europe.

The second observation: Strange similarities

There are also attributes typical for the Generation Z. Not only, that they have specific feelings about the politicians running the countries and about corruption. This is not new.

As a real novelty we see a specific mixture of all kinds of attributes, such as: curious, self centred, self expressive, cool, wild, ambitious, rebellious, lazy, lost. And this is my favourite one that I heard: “We want to make the world a better place – for myself”. They dream about being entrepreneur, engineers, and medical doctors. But also devoting their life to art, poetry, music. And to a new style of politics. Still and typical for the global pattern of Generation Z: A small house, a small family, a small career.

This does not sum up into a consistent picture of the Generation Z. No problem. It does not have to. Why should it. Innovation comes from dealing with differences.

The third observation: The curiosity for connections

Maybe I am wrong. But I got the impression that the Generation Z in Africa is about to become World Champion in Connectivity: not with everybody, but with other members of the Generation Z in Africa. This would be really important: to create a virtual Maker-Scene around Africa, to form a virtual writers-guild, African art, poetry, music. And academics and research. Generation Z is the Generation internet. This is the chance.

The future: Hope or hopeless?

Yes, in Europe we get young people from Africa as immigrants to Europe. But this is not our common future, neither for Europe nor for Africa. The future is the Generation Z that connects itself: Throughout the globe, but even more important, throughout Africa. This is hope. And a great perspective.

Here the Generation Z might learn a bit from the young Generation in Europe: Not the political bureaucrats are the true drivers of the European Vision of Diversity and Unity.

Generation Z in Africa will eventually start to understand itself as Generation Z without borders and even more: as African Generation Z without borders. Still diversity. But a common set of norms and values.

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