Boughs

We’re failing young Africans

Emmanuel Quartey
Aug 27, 2017 · 3 min read

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There’s a special joy in seeing my little brothers with their friends, and seeing how tall they all are. They’re a forest of pointy limbs and cool references and obscure internet subcultures.

A long time ago, I read that people who study history can “read” national calamity in population height records — drought or war or plague or some other disaster results in poor nutrition, and so you’ll see stunted growth across an entire generation.

If this is true, then I assume the opposite must also be true — that success results in healthier citizens. I love the idea that you can literally measure the success of a nation in some tangible terms. That while GDP can be pretty abstract, if a people does well, their success is manifest literally in their bones and in their sinews.


Recently I was at a housewarming party for a good friend in her new Accra apartment. She and I are closer to thirty, but we have lots of friends in their very early twenties.

There was a knock on the door and three twenty-somethings bounded in. Tall, all of them. All rakish haircuts and endless questions about where the pizza was because they were starving.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have kids, but in that moment, I desperately wanted to one day experience the joy of a home with a door that welcomes the daily explosion of bodies demanding to be fed.


There is a lot about Ghana that scares and saddens me, but when I meet twenty-something Ghanaians, sometimes I feel like maybe we’re getting something at least a little bit right.

I wish we understood explicitly that when we harm our young — when we fail to provide a world-class education, when we fail to provide opportunities to travel and explore, when a completely broken rental market means they’re unable to get their own place — we’re harming only ourselves.

These saplings will become the boughs that give us shade, give us fruit. Their crowns will quite literally cover us when we’re at our most feeble. Why don’t we invest more into making sure their limbs are as strong as they could possibly be?

“Progress” means nothing if it doesn’t result in generations who are happier, healthier, more free, more skilled, more able to make new and better mistakes.

I’m having too many conversations with young people whose guardians (parents, teachers, priests) inflict themselves on their wards.

I’m tired of the funny viral “West African parents” videos that make light of abuse. Too many self-satisfied people are out there, proud of how they’ve found yet another way to suffocate the light in their child.


I didn’t mean for this to turn dark, but trying to put words to this thing is like speaking through a mouthful of glass, so I’ll end it here and revisit soon when I can be more articulate.

But I’ll say this: young Africans are marvels, we’re failing them, and there’s a special hell for people who rob our young of their futures.

Photo by Jon Asato

The Flint

A magazine about internet culture in Ghana and Nigeria.

Emmanuel Quartey

Written by

Curious about media, marginalia, and how thoughts become things (and vice versa). Head of Growth at Paystack.

The Flint

The Flint

A magazine about internet culture in Ghana and Nigeria.