Earlier this week I attended a panel at the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals Summit on inclusive employment in Africa with participants that included high profile figures like Mo Ibrahim, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and Mizengo Kayanza Peter Pinda. So what is “inclusive employment”? Basically to ensure that we develop other economic sectors of society outside of resource extraction, so the benefits can be felt by everyone; the latter is favored by multinational firms and African governments. Because we can and should question the merit of wealthy people sitting around talking about what poor people need, I feel that it’s important to share back when given an opportunity to gain some insight on what our African leaders are thinking.
One constant refrain throughout the panel was the importance of investing in youth when creating these inclusive employment initiatives.
Many people quoted the statistic that soon a quarter of the youth of the world will be in Africa, but it was Mo Ibrahim who put an interesting spin on that point. If a focus on youth in Africa takes precedence in its developing economies, we shouldn’t forget the fact that many of the next generation of leaders in an aging Europe will be of first or second generation African descent, (don’t forget about the U.S.) and these youth will eventually be the ones controlling the West’s institutions. What I think he is suggesting is that it is important to engage these youth, so that they can see themselves as being connected to a global community when dealing with the social issues they face today, and nurture them to become globally conscious leaders in the future.
The current historical moment–where we’re all linked up and connected through social media & technology–is the perfect time for a back and forth exchange to happen. It’s not hard to see that the youth of today are more plugged-in than previous generations, so in order to reach them we have to look at the things they are connecting to. It is through popular culture that the initial connections with homeland and diaspora will begin to make an impact on the consciousness of younger generations of Africans. For young people (and for those not so young) Hip Hop (and its various derivations) has become a global lingua franca that can instill in marginalized people a sense of community and pride. If we can connect youth of the diaspora to Africa through the things they are interested in and understand, for example Hip Hop, we can instill in them a sense of pride in their roots and perhaps obligations to their community as a whole. Since popular culture and media will play an integral role in the formation of those future leaders’ social consciousness, my personal preoccupation with Africa’s image and reception in the West is less focused on how non-Africans see it, but more concerned with how young Africans see themselves and understand the potential of the places they come from.
Which brings me to this video.
This is the work of M.anifest, a Ghanaian born MC based in Minneapolis in the American midwest, who infuses in his work his identity as an African in America. Minneapolis’ black population has the highest proportion of 1st and 2nd generation African immigrants in the United States, and the third highest numbers of Africans immigrants behind New York and Washington D.C. It is a place ripe with the potential to nourish a global African identity and M.anifest, with the social analysis, self awareness, and charisma of a leader, is a positive example for young people of the diaspora on how to engage their dual identities.
It is a beautifully shot video that carries a strong political message about the centralization of power and resources in Senegal’s capital. It is a real issue that real people are experiencing right now, and its message is spread through popular music, social media, and technology. The balance of power and wealth in the world may still very much be uneven, but I can’t help but think that if we invest in the creation of a global consciousness in our youth while creating educational opportunities for them in Africa and the diaspora, then perhaps things will eventually be able to even out.
As a footnote, there’s an unfortunate tendency for homophobia amongst rappers and reggae artists around the world, and in societies where this tendency goes unchecked or is even encouraged, it tends to shows up more explicitly. It is the problem of folks like Buju Banton to 50 Cent, and in Keur Gui’s song about social liberation in Senegal, it strikes a discordant note (notice the reference to “Batty Boys”).