Who is influencing African youth?

There’s no doubt that Africa time has arrived. The continent is making strides in business, creativity and innovation. However, perceptions of the continent are still rooted in stereotypes of poverty, disease, conflict, corruption and poor leadership.

To understand the impact of this prevailing narrative on the continent’s youth, Africa No Filter polled 4500 people aged 18 and 35 in nine countries - Egypt, Morocco, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria - to find out.

The resulting report, Who is Influencing Who? Unpacking Youth and Influence in Africa, found that 73% of respondents believe that African countries – especially South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt – have a global influence.

However, the respondents also recognised that many negative stereotypes of Africa are perpetuated, and that these damaged how the world sees the continent, with 45% of respondents stating that these stereotypes had influenced their own perceptions negatively.

Despite this, 60% of respondents still said they loved their country and the continent. This positive view is likely because respondents did not show a strong reliance on mainstream media in their decision-making. Instead, they were mainly influenced by popular culture, social media, their communities, their friends and families, religion and, to some extent, cultural practices.

Beyond being personally influenced by social media, 71% of respondents felt they could use social media to challenge stereotypes of Africa, strongly pointing to the relevance of using social media and popular culture to shift narratives about the continent.

Here are key findings from the report:

1.     The power of social media:
71% of respondents believed they could challenge negative stereotypes about the continent on social media. While the report does not dig into the origins of this belief, previous research has turned up several examples of how young Africans have – and continue to – shift negative stereotypes at a global level, especially in sharing and using humor to get a message across.

2.      Love for country and continent:
Even though 45% of respondents believed their perceptions had been shaped by negative narratives about the continent, 60% still loved their country and the African continent: Only 18% of respondents indicated that they would rather live in the United States (US) or Europe, only 20% believed that there are fewer opportunities on the African continent than elsewhere, and only 17% believed that they experienced a lower quality of life on the continent than they would elsewhere.

3.      The power of pop culture:
The main influences on respondents were pop culture (57%), social media (27%), family and friends (44%), religion (74%) and their communities’ cultural practices (54%). While 45% of respondents believed that other African youth were strongly influenced by the United States and Europe, they stated that, for them, family and friends had the biggest influence. However, most Kenyan and South African respondents indicated that social media had more influence (39% each) than family and friends. And across the board, respondents’ religions played a large role in their decision-making.

4.      Politicians are influential, but they don’t influence the youth:
Although 58% of respondents said politicians were the most influential people in their country, only 11% said they were influenced by politicians. The only time respondents said they were influenced by politicians was when making voting decisions (51%). However, even in this instance, a worrying 24% said they were not influenced by anyone when they made voting decisions, which might indicate a disinterest in election politics.

5.      Movies drive stereotypes:
For 54% of respondents, the most common narratives about Africa in movies were about crime and corruption, and 41% said they were stories about underdeveloped cities. 75% of respondents believed these stories created a negative perception about the continent, with Kenyans (83%), Ghanaians and Zimbabweans (82% each) most convinced of the negative impact.