I have come to learn that at one point in everyone’s life, there reaches a time when nothing makes sense. A time one desires to be alone. When the world is nothing but noise and you relegate yourself to being a spectator of your own life. I have been in this corner for the past year and five months. This period has largely been one of self-reflection, readjusted friendships and bad decision making. In spite of the fact that a lot can change in a few months, the only constant in my life has been me. This has brought me to question my role in society, specifically the world around me.
As a millennial born in the late 1980’s I would like to think I am part of the generation that has changed the world’s perception of Africa as a continent and Uganda as my country out from the colonial branding of “darkness” to the light. However, when I look for this change in my country, it is not as profound and impactful as I one may think or see. Besides education and enlightenment of the world around them, most of my fellow millennials view their empowerment and contribution to society through self-taught savvy usage of social media and blogging. This has been a great stride towards self-empowerment as it has allowed them to shape and tell their own narrative and extend connectivity through community driven activism against government oppression, social inequality and equip themselves with the knowledge to craft an adhoc innovative catered way of life. However, I question whether this is an accurate portrayal of who we as the supposed generation Z?
According to the older generation, our kind has been described in less positive terms. We have been called self-entitled, idle, narcissist and those who depend on their parents. Our generation has been viewed from a partly misinformed perspective, mostly motivated by over simplified characterization of our mindset. For this, several misguided campaigns haven bee directed at us on the basis of such myths and false suppositions.
However, when I look at my peers and age mate, I find that most of the notably assumed attributes used to define us are true. When I took to my parents, they speak of a time in their past ages when our generations where much similar. They to speak of a time they cared nothing about tomorrow or the state of politics, but instead where preoccupied seeking to live to good life. So if one is to say this and our parent’s generation where similar, would my/our assumptions of this generation be misguided? My generation is one that is relatively at ease with technology as an outstanding aspect and view themselves as setup from past generations. However, as an African, is this a complete definition of the attributes that others may associate with the developed world?
The smartphone has become permeating in Uganda. The catapult influence of many countrymen whose initial interaction with technology has been the smartphone has left a far reaching impact. So what are the fables and actualities of my generation?
We are young and the mainstream: Reality
Uganda by large is the youngest country on the African continent. The oldest millennial is approximately 38 years with the youngest being approximately 16 years. Factor this with a population of 45 million, millennial take a portion of over 70 percent of the entire nation. So yes, we are the new generation with the largest numbers.
We are mobile and allied: Reality
Even though we have a growing mobile phone penetration rate, only 5.22 million Ugandans own a smartphone according to numbers from the year 2018. Of this number, less than 50 percent of Ugandans have access to the internet which means approximately 20 million people in the nation are connected to the internet. These low numbers have been associated to inadequate elementary infrastructures for instance electricity as well as other factors such as costly internet fees and reduced household incomes. However, even in the face of such difficulties more so that of internet access, mobile phone internet penetration was expected to experience a growth of 57 percent by the year 2019.
We have a high phone usage: Reality
The most defining attribute of this generation globally is how we use and rely on mobile phones. Elevated reliance on technology and a mobile phone only approach is motivated by millennials. To reach those in the age range of 18-35, the surest way would be through a mobile phone.
We are all on social media: Reality
Presently, Uganda has 2.50 million social media usage as of 2020. This has risen by 532, 000 from 2019 which places penetration at 5.6 percent. This has made us all social. Even though the numbers using social media are low, usage among millennials is growing mostly as a means of communication and avenue for news and information. Social media is a fundamental component of day to day life and more than 60 percent of millennials who access the internet use it for this purpose.
We do not care about serious issues: Myth
The presumption that this generation does not care about issue concerning politics, civic interaction or public matters has been linked to their limited attention span. This is false as social media posts and content is rife with assessment bout interest in public affairs. Social activism has been driven by social media which has become a vital tool to voice contempt at the decay of corruption, unemployment among the youth and unbalanced distribution of national resources. This has made social media a vital resource by which likeminded voices connect and share their concerns and interact on issues that matter the most to them. This has been characterized by recent campaigns such as #StopPoliceBrutalityInUganda among others.
So what is next?
Despite being young and the majority, they have not made entry into the workforce in large numbers. Those born between 1980 and 2000 are yet to gain the needed work experience and transform their workplaces. As a socio-economic faction, they are not growing in power and investment potential. This has meant that they are unable to reshape their workplaces. However, they have remained pivotal in influencing marketing and advertising strategies across the country which has meant that learning to work with them has become progressively vital over the years.
The only ways to reach them is through carefully packaged communication with integration of offline and online avenues as well as hold an understanding of how they make decisions. So in spite their seeming interconnectivity and massive numbers, they remain a non-empowered force to bring about the change they desire to see. Change to them is less of an ideal than a reality. Social media being their main source of information means they sometimes consume largely distorted, one-sided and biased opinions about issues.
It is easy to jump onto the bandwagon of a hashtag and not think about the ramifications of how this change might be sustained or even achieve practically and in the long term. As such, most have accepted the lesser role of merely being a voice of the majority rather than a force to reckon with. This has left millennials susceptible to manipulation by social media platform algorithms, carefully crafted corporate and government misinformation and despairing to be the center of attention rather than the numbers that speak and act volumes. The revolution for these tech savvy mavericks is ongoing and yet to arrive at its destination.