I recently sat through various pitches by Kenyan startups and during most of them the founders kept indicating their target market as “Millennials”, a statement I have been hearing dropped for a number of years but since this time I was a passive observer my brain kicked into some gear.

A quick online search brought up the following as the definition of a millennial;

Millenials: Those born between 1981 – 1996 (22-37 year olds, today)

Makes a lot of sense, since we are using a universally accepted method of time determination which should indicate that this global age group referred to as millennials is homogenous and thus can be generalised as such!

In Kiswahili, such a question statement would be referred to as “swala nyeti which I believe is a phrase that all members of Generation X can relate to as they too are also a global homogenous group.

As I kept searching online about this group of people called millennials a story I read many years ago came back to mind, it was about an American who had been declared the “World Spitting Champion”.

Like with other World Champions, such as Ali travelling to Kinshasa, he went round the world showing off his big flashy belt. For some unknown reason he landed in Somalia and as he was waking across the tarmac to the terminal one of the porters spat some chewed khat clear over the wing of the Boeing 747 aircraft, a distance equivalent to twice the world record champions best.

With this story in mind I then wondered what other anomalies exist in how we propagate generalisations as fact. In my History books we had names of people who discovered Mount Kenya, the source of the Nile and even Mosio-Tunya which was quickly baptised Victoria Falls. The english word that came closest to define this was “Fallacy”.

Who is an American?

An American: A white immigrant whose relatives have been living within part of North America, called the United States of America, for the past 400 years.

Note: Those who have lived there longer are referred to as Native American and Hispanic Americans. Not even the Canadians are allowed to call themselves Americans least of all the South Americans.

So, by deduction, this means that when William Strauss and Neil Howe were referring to millennials they meant White North Americans living within the united states, this clearly excluded the native, hispanic, african and asian Americans. If then, this is what they meant how does the term Millennial suddenly find itself referring to a global age group?

This is mainly because of laziness amongst most of our so called intellectuals who have become experts in copy and pasting ideas, which are then copied and pasted by our even lazier media making it seem like fact.

Of all these, the one that just killed me was when the local marketing society held a seminar on “How to Market to the Millennial” and then soon after were followed by the institute of human resource managers with a conference on “Managing a Millennial Work Force”.

To avoid sounding like a typical Kenyan political analyst I will at least attempt to give a way forward on this Kenyan Millennial issue by answer the question “Who exactly is a Kenyan Millennial”.

The Kenyan Millennial.

Taking the time frame used to define the American Millennial this would mean those Kenyans born between 1981 and 1996.

The year after the first Kenyan Millennials were born we had our first attempted coup d’etat since gaining independence which resulted in President Moi becoming more inward looking with a change towards micromanaging the government as opposed to what we had been used to with President Jomo Kenyatta.

This resulted in slower economic growth that caused massive layoffs, my mother was laid off at the ripe old age of 45 or 48, interest rates sky rocketted from 12% to 32% resulting in many people losing their properties, it was a fearful time with many retreating into a state of hopelessness as opposed to the USA where it was a time of rapid growth and economic prosperity.

In Kenya, this fear resulted in an obsession by parents to give their children “the best education possible” at whatever cost.

In my opinion it was more a reason to abdicate parenting as children as young as 8 years were shipped off to boarding schools that were deemed to provide the best opportunity for future success.

This started off in the urban areas but due to frequent visits to the village over Easter and Christmas the malady spread rural rapidly. In boarding school their is no room for an entitlement mentality or a “we are all winners”. It is a place where peer parenting is the norm.

At the same time in the USA families were getting smaller and white affluent parents were spending more time with their children, I believe this was about the time when the “soccer mum” term was coined.

Who Parented the Kenyan Millennial?

Having been brought up through peer parenting the Kenyan Millennial is more loyal and attached to their school mates than to their siblings or parents, they are rebellious towards parent figures who they blame for abandoning them but yet are docile towards authoritative figures who epitomise the teacher.

They should have been the perfect generation to leapfrog into the disruptive innovation space but sadly their parents’ voices telling them “Soma kijana, uongeze bidii mwisho wa ku soma utapata kazi nzuri sana” were louder than what the environment was telling them.

Who dresses the Kenyan Millennial?

As the economy was doing badly, both in Kenya as well as other developing countries, many families had to squeeze their belts resulting in things like “Jonny hand me downs” better known here as Mitumba. Their parents could also not afford to buy new cars so instead they proudly bought brand new used cars.

The Kenyan Millennial was thus brought up on not lovingly handed down clothing but second hand cloths donated in the USA and sold to their parents in Kenya. As this became the norm the Kenyan Millennial started treating Mitumba as the classy way to dress, we had gone from “fake it till you make it” to “fake it all the way”.

At the same time in the USA the shopping mall was the new teenage hangout with credit cards due to low interest rates, clothing was becoming commoditised by Walmart and Zara and Hush Puppies were seeing a revival.

Now, how do you structure a marketing message for members of this so called homogenous group that is yet so different?

When the Kenyan Millennial was coming into the workforce we were moving into a new political dispensation, President Moi had shepherded us into the multiparty “error” as he peacefully handed over the reigns of government to the architect of our economic blue print President Kibaki.

We were yet again the darlings of the west with an economy growing at over 8%, university education was readily available to anyone who wanted to take up the opportunity especially since HELB had been re-funded, all was rosy for the Kenyan Millennial.

Nothing could go wrong, it seemed, but instead of taking advantage of this new environment of imminent prosperity the Kenyan Millenial decided to politicise everything resulting in regular closure of universities, something had snapped and I won’t pretend to know what it was.

A hiccup in the Kenyan Millennials progression

Kenya was ready to take off but in 1987 we had the ill conceived tribal clashes which in my opinion are very unlikely to have been instigated by the Kenyan Millennial.

The Kenyan Millennial had gone to boarding school with people from different ethnic groups with whom they had huddled together when they felt home sick, they had shared plates of githeri with sneaked in royco and aromat that would have been confiscated if the teachers found it, but not even the prefects would snitch on their “tribes mates”, we had created a new tribe, the Kenyan, or had we?

With all this positiveness flowing around what went wrong with our Kenyan Millennials, as the last of them moves into adulthood they are showing no signs of leaving behind a major impact, they lament more than Lawino, they are politically numb, they are more disconnected than their parents and their propensity to create wealth is mediocre at the least even though they are better educated than their parents and with greater opportunities.

If this is the Kenyan Millennial, can we truly stand here and believe that they are identical to the North American Millennial, let us stop this laziness and put our backs into defining our age groups more appropriately, the Kenyan Millennial as currently defined is definitely a fallacy.

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