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By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
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There is one subject I have never reported or written on, and thought I never would – slay queens!

According to the East African Urban Dictionary, slay queens are, “Young and naive girls who apparently do not date broke men.

They spend hours on Snapchat and Instagram showing off things they don’t even own.” Another defines them as, “Women who want to choke everyone else with how beautiful and cool they are… and show off on social media.” There are dozens of definitions, all of them unflattering.

This past week, at a Konrad Adenauer Stiftung media seminar, I finally got my slay queen education. It took a millennial (those born in the 1980s to mid-1990s) journalist and budding intellectual to teach us the lesson.

She argued that slay queens are not a social aberration, or young women gone rogue. They are a product of a series of policy choices, political action, and allocation of national resources by the political class and dominant elite in East Africa and elsewhere in the world, over the past 35 years.

One, she said, was the “neoliberal” policy push to turn youth to into entrepreneurs. Perhaps there is no single thing that young Africans have been urged to be by their presidents, Members of Parliament, head teachers, pastors, and motivational speakers than “job creators not job seekers.”

She might have added that a whole industry on mentoring, advising, and consulting on “economically empowering” youth, women, and so on, emerged.

These individuals and institutions urge young people to “build their brand” and to “monetise” it.

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The shift of the best intellectual resources into private universities, and the decline of public funding for state-owned ones, have created an imperative for students to make a return on their investment in getting degrees from these educational institutions. They have become the very commodities that they have to sell to make a living.

Many young people respond by joining the rat race and becoming the worst forms of predators, she said. Several despair, and give up. Someone remarked that it this could explain the sharp rise in suicides.

Slay queens are a very specific and logical response of young women. They are monetising what their mamas gave them, using the marketing skills they paid for privately in school.

Among those skills are how to attract attention on Instagram or Facebook. Posting pictures of themselves in bikinis, pierced belly button and nipples, allows them to aggregate eyeballs (followers or friends), the most precious commodity in today’s attention economy, and then sell that to advertisers.

If posting a photo of yourself in a wet T-shirt without a bra and eyelashes two inches long, means you get 10,000 more followers on social media than if you wore an oversize cotton blouse, it enables you to charge a beer company $5,000 for a post of you drinking one of their brands. You are “better leveraging” your brand.

And that is made possible because this has coincided with the arrival of the ultimate distribution technologies for it – the Internet, the smartphone, and increasingly cheaper data bundles.

The surprise, one would argue then, is not that we have slay queens. It would have been if we didn’t. Slay queens are not pests. They are one of the great social indices of this age.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]

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