Nearly every conversation about Africa touches on the topic of the ‘youth bulge’. This vast and diverse continent is the second largest with 54 countries and more than 70 per cent of its population under the age of 30. For grantmakers interested in Africa, addressing the needs of young people has to be part of the strategy.
‘Generation Next: Young People Shaping Africa’s Future’ was a timely topic for the 2015 Africa Grantmakers’ Affinity Group (AGAG) Conference. But ‘youth’ is a complex term, and even if you narrow down the age range – in this case 15 to 30 – it’s still challenging for grantmakers to figure out the best approach to match their foundation’s mission. Heeding Chimamanda Adichie’s warning of the ‘dangers of a single story’, the AGAG conference was a platform for a variety of narratives and generational perspectives, and the conversation kicked off with African film.
New York African Film Festival director Mahen Bonetti used the trailers from three powerful and very different films to make her point that ‘the emerging generation is not waiting for anyone to validate their work – they are creating work in which they are players and stories that are relevant to their lives and realities.’
The Flying Stars tells the story of soccer players in Sierra Leone whose missing limbs remind us of the legacy of that country’s war. Cold Harbour weaves a tale of corruption, disillusion and turf wars in a South African township. Afripedia, a series of short documentaries on artists from across Africa, illustrates the visions that young people have for themselves and their world. These were just three of the 54 films from 27 countries that Bonetti curated for the annual New York African Film Festival.
Technology has played a key role in enabling young African filmmakers to produce their work and tell their story. Through the internet and social media they are reaching a global audience. But there are few film schools on the continent and few African countries with a substantial budget dedicated to culture. Among grantmakers funding in Africa, although there are notable exceptions, few support culture.
Mahen Bonetti talked about the impetus for starting the African Film Festival in 1990. In addition to her love for the moving image, she was disturbed by the media’s narrative of Africa and the Ethiopia Famine in the early 1980s – one that all too often lacks depth or nuance. Unfortunately, little has changed as we have recently seen in the media’s narrative of Africa and the Ebola crisis.
Both depth and nuance are incredibly important for grantmakers funding in Africa. The youth bulge in Africa can be framed as either a risk or an asset: viewing it as an asset means resisting the urge to hear only a single story.
Niamani Mutima is executive director of Africa Grantmakers’ Affinity Group.