Africa has the youngest and fastest-growing population on the planet: the median age is 19. From Kenya to Nigeria to Senegal to Morocco to Ivory Coast to South Africa, young people across the continent are hungry for economic and creative opportunities. But African countries face immense challenges, including chronic unemployment, violence and political unrest, and poor infrastructure and a failure to industrialize (despite Africa’s immense energy potential). Still, you can see the energy and influence of today’s African youth across global music, art, fashion, and entertainment. This is a sprawling feature by Declan Walsh on the continent’s baby boom—some call it a “youthquake”—with gorgeous photographs by Hannah Reyes Morales.

“Our generation takes things personally,” said Keziah Keya, a 21-year-old software engineer from Kenya.

Ms. Keya exemplifies the potential of that generation. Born into a poor family, she taught herself to code using the internet, and later represented Kenya at the International Math Olympiad in London. Last year, she was hired by a renewable energy company.

But she recently watched in dismay as a river near her home ran dry. Soon after, her grandmother’s crop of tomatoes withered. Starving cattle began to die. Three local herders took their own lives, she said.

“If we want to change things, we have to do it ourselves,” said Ms. Keya, who last month flew to Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania to study computer science, on a full scholarship. But she sees her future in Kenya. “We can’t afford to wait.”

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.