Reflections on Africa's Lost Generation

Published on 9th December 2008

Drivers on Kenya's Lang'ata Road on the 6th of December 2008 must have seen them; the lost generation headed for an anti HIV-AIDS Concert! I thought to myself, “These youngsters have such a creative way of being romantic: a young girl (probably in her early 15s) is tossed up in the air by a group of boys. Her feet in the air, head upside down, and braided hairstyle dancing to the rhythm of the wind; calculating arms reach out for the cell phone in her tight jeans pocket. In micro-seconds, the girl is back on her feet, screaming, but the boys are gone!” Robbery in broad daylight witnessed by her dumbfounded colleagues and tens of motorists locked up on the highway traffic-jam.

I witnessed four such 'games' performed by the concert enthusiasts. The young girl 'floating' at the Wilson airport fence reminded me of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize winning photo of a Vulture and the dying child. Taken near Ayod, a refugee camp in Southern Sudan, the picture showed a skeletal, crouched little girl, too exhausted to move, with face on ground. A few feet behind her was this well fed Vulture awaiting its next meal to expire for devouring!

1994 Pulitzer Prize Award Winning photo
Youth crime is common in many African modernized societies. South Africans are running scared of their own youth. An IREN staffer was recently beaten up by a youthful mob in Kampala Uganda and her cell phone snatched.It is the story of the African new generation...robbery! 

Africans have taken up the position of Kevin Carter, the photographer of the 'infamous image' of the continent frozen in the Vulture and the girl. We are not keen to rush to pick the young dying girl (the youth) to the feeding center; we are not ready to chase away the over-fed Vulture (please guess who it is) - instead, we are keen to take the picture. We are all in a hurry to meet deadlines, stuck up in the traffic-jam and keen to reflect the self image of America-Eurocentrism that acts as a datum for success. The African person is lost and stuck in the mirror; all "good Africans" reflect the image America and Europe. In the process, we have left the energetic youth of Africa in the wilderness; we have left our young suffering identity crisis; we have plucked them from the African opportunities and weaned them on the porridge of poverty ideology.

The HIV-AIDS sensitization concert may have had good intentions to encourage the youth to be cautious of the disease, pursue their talents and gain a voice in societal matters. The unintended consequences however point to the opposite direction: the rush to pubs, gulping of alcohol by the under age and the belting out of music that has little reflection on Africa by the artists pointed at a probable quest to obliterate African/Kenyan sense of identity from the youth.

Picture a situation where the education system has destroyed the history of a society; the political classes serve as mere prefects of external forces; 'experts' are pushing for governance without government; closely contested polls with-no-wins create power sharing in governments and in turn, donors share governance by "working directly" with the people and parents are anchored on fictionalized lifestyle on television. Invest then in assembling an army of young fellows whose sense of belonging has been destroyed; either through rape; conflict over resources or ideological emptiness by their role models - the result is a true reflection of what influential countries do in Africa; robbery!    

I shared out my impotence on Lang'ata Road to several friends: "It is a pointer to Africa's middle class cultural crisis mirrored in their children- the mythology of measuring success through the prism of a dominating culture," one said. Another response; "Why do you think Kenyans fear their own children? It's precisely because they are thugs!" He even went further to illustrate how every Christmas season in some town in central Kenya; after visiting local pubs for a drink; on his way home, he removes his shirt, pretends to be a mad man, sings and talks to trees and telephone poles along the road until he arrives home. His strategy- to convince the marauding youth that he is not a suitable candidate for robbery!

In the quest to gain recognition globally, African intellectuals choose a similar option of talking to trees - the problem is African leaders, we all say! The problem is the African people and the harsh climate. We all then receive an award, the Pulitzer Prize for taking the picture of the Vulture and the girl. We do not take time to interrogate history to determine whether the ongoing crisis has anything to do with the international institutions such as the World Bank/IMF and donor agencies keen to recreate a new African society. An African society built on the premise of the knowledge haves (West), knowledge empty (Africa), no history (Africa); and that of the haves (to be robbed) and have-nots (to be given).

We silently conspire to agree that the Vulture ought to devour the weak girl after all; we were taught that food is not enough for all of us in Africa!

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