I see mama today. She tell me sey you no fit pick im call. E no good o. I tell am sey you dey work plenti so you no dey carry your phone. Maame, mama don dey old oh. She no go like am if you and her no relate soon. She dey vex sey some yankee boys dey give her wahala for street. She no fit sleep o. Dem enter yard, dem come comot with the computer wey you leave am but e be surprising dey give am light. Dey call am solar power. You know sey that computer na wetin she dey use to remember the way you dey give am sweet belle. Mama no happy! She feel sey you de only light she dey need...
There is a fascinating parable depicting a lady who once lost a needle in her house and ventured to search for it outside. An old man observing the scenario asked where she had lost the needle. She aggressively responded, “Inside my house!” He continued, “Why aren’t you looking for it inside the house then?” She scratched her head for a bit and said, “Because the light is outside.” This is the reality of most Africans living abroad today. Africa’s sun has somehow positioned itself to shine to the West while consciously alienating the other cardinal directions. This - I believe - is a result of the lack of an impactful educational curriculum.
The educational system in a number of African countries is flawed. The demographic who attend public schools are usually at a disadvantage due to the gradual absence of ill-paid teachers. As a result, attendance rates decline, diverting the attention of our youth to quick monetary gains on the streets of their respective cities. Education then becomes a lingering thought, as opposed to a necessity. On the opposite end, those of affluent backgrounds have access to the best-paid teachers and the most prestigious forms of westernized education. This may be positioned as the norm in the minds of many, however; a number of graduates complete school with a limited understanding of their country’s narrative. As the brain drain trend dictates, the youth of the latter demographic pursue their higher education abroad, get accustomed to a prodigal lifestyle, and refuse to return to a continent they never fully understood. Between one-third and a half of the tertiary educated populations of Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Mozambique and Ghana leave their country. Africa has been in darkness for centuries and the permanent absence of her children - coupled with their seemingly attached ephemeral presence - utterly encapsulates the lack of development.
“What are you going to do to push the upsides of your continent so it could be open for business?” Williams Adebola – Chief Executive Officer of Red Media Africa – asked participants at the most recent Africa Economic Forum at Columbia University. At this forum, participants had the opportunity to witness entrepreneurs, disruptors, and innovators who took the bold leap to move back home after completing their education or professional career abroad in order to cultivate an impact. Themed “Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers,” the forum encouraged Africans to break out of the fashionable cycle of settling in the West during the peak periods of their lives in order to make themselves a force for the people on the continent. The discussion amongst the African diaspora pertaining to moving back home is clearly one that has come to stay yet quite impossible for most to grasp or take seriously. Many philosophers and influencers have said that the only thing greater than failure is not trying. However, when it comes to most Africans, I firmly believed that the trying is not the hardest part. The ability and the need to try have been ingrained into our DNA for hundreds of years. The problem for most is comfort. As Thabo Mbeki said, “The principal investors in the South African economy are South Africans. And this is something, I think, we should really pay attention to.” It’s no coincidence that when you ask most non-Africans to name a country in Africa, an almost certain answer would be South Africa. Imagine an African with a well-paid job in investment banking, management consulting, or engineering. Chances are she is comfortable and logically thinking, why should she bother packing her bags to a land where the odds are portrayed to be against her? The perceived risk factor has been marketed to be exponentially high. As a result, we end up being caught in the wheel of working to build another individual’s dream. A job or career is no doubt a blessing, however, it's quite certain that ten years or so down the line, you may be replaced with someone younger and more astute or by a robot. These ten or so years could have been invested into a goal to potentially transform your country or better yet, our continent.
On the note of transforming our continent, Williams challenged all attendees to become water to Africa. Water is a major problem in Sub-Saharan Africa where people lose 40 billion hours a year collecting it alone. Although all this time is invested collecting, research shows that 319 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are still without access to improved reliable drinking water sources (Source: The Water Project). This issue, escorted by others, deserves to be ameliorated and Africans abroad need to devise impactful and scalable solutions accordingly. The reality is if we do not, someone else will because Africa is looking for heroes. Today, most Africans abroad ironically contribute to the single story of a continent filled to the brim with aids, poverty, and corruption. As Adebola said, “We are all media owners. The West no longer owns the media, the wise owns it.” For our singular narrative to be shifted underneath the wings of a progressive light, it’s of vital importance to cultivate our why as it will be the guiding force to propel us to bear with almost any how. Regardless of our respective realities, our collective why needs share the common denominator of improving our continent for future generations. Understanding that when our neighbor’s house is on fire, our house is also on fire creates a tremendous opportunity to perspire and become water. A blessing in disguise about our continent is that there are so many challenges. Patrick Ngowi - a Tanzanian Entrepreneur - is one of many success stories, as highlighted by Adebola during his keynote. Patrick started selling top-up vouchers, however; he saw that there were limited mobile phones in his vicinity. As a result, he imported mobile phones from China to address this challenge. He then realized his neighbors lacked the power to charge their phones. This realization propelled him to venture into solar energy. Patrick became the water cycle for his country. Today, Patrick is a millionaire.
Based on Patrick’s story, it’s quite evident that what Africa recognizes and celebrates is a force that doesn’t hesitate to transform, adapt, and execute. Second keynote speaker Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond – author of Powder Necklace – shared an experience where 39 African writers, including herself, set out to celebrate their published books. During their time at the summit, every author present spoke English, except two. This observation, she analyzed, goes to show how colonialism has placed barriers in terms of our languages and interactions as Africans. This observation also creates an opportunity for the African diaspora to provide creative distribution models for individuals on the continent to better connect. In his book, The Advanced Formula For Total Success, Robert Anthony said, “If we divided all the money in the world equally, in a short time the rich would be rich again, and the poor would be poor." This idea couldn't be more evident in the realities of our continent. Based on Anthony’s logic, it could be argued that what Africa needs to increase its competitiveness to promote economic equity is skillset, innovation, and access (opportunity). A combination of these three could be the right recipe for growth and development on our continent.
On the Media, Fashion & Arts panel, Lolade Olayokun - First US correspondent for BataBox.com - shared with attendees an experience with her family while in Nigeria. According to Olayokun, the more time she spent in her hometown, the frustrated she grew due to lack of cell phone service. At one point during the trip, they decided to climb a mountain. “At the top of the mountain, there was service!” she exclaimed in the presence of the attendees. This is a story that must not be taken for granted because it's not foreign to the population living and breathing on the continent. For them, it’s not the issue with their cell phone service, it’s the lack of immediate connection with a neighbor to catapult trade. It’s not about hiking a mountain for an adrenaline blur; it’s about growing to understand that in order to serve and reign in Africa, you have to be at the top. The problem is those who had to work their way to the top and made it often forget their roots, which leads to our stories being mistold. As Michael Rain – Co-Founder of ZNews Africa – said, “Don’t just focus on who is telling the story, focus on how they are telling our stories.” Ayoinmotion - A Nigerian Musical Artist - echoed this sentiment by shedding light on his observation of African youth consuming entertainment and information through mediums built by non-Africans. The authenticity of the content is thus diluted. We - Africans abroad - have been equipped with the skill sets and have been given the tools to build platforms for our relatives on the continent yet we choose to add flame to the flawed narratives circulating the West. Ghanaian businessman Seth Dei recently said, “I realized it was difficult to be poor here (Ghana): there are so many opportunities. You only have to drop a seed and in two weeks you have a plant. Depending on your ambition you can become a millionaire.”
There were 169,000 millionaires on the continent at the end of 2014 -- a number expected to rise by 53% over the next 10 years, according to the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2015. These predictions bring hope for most. However, the hope of being a millionaire should not be your sole reason for moving back to the African continent. Those who are truly impact driven are the ones who succeed. Hakeem Belo-Osagie - Nigerian businessman and philanthropist - shared that you will find that a lot of successful people at home (Nigeria) have a deep sense of sadness because they are driven, as opposed to being in the driver’s seat. As a result, they subsume their identity into a piece of work. Their personal life suffers since they have overly committed to some work they just cannot do or they have put an importance or arbitrary significance on some work that doesn’t matter. Based on his personal experience of venturing down the entrepreneurial route, Belo-Osagie boldly attests to having a wife and children who comprehend the true essence of his drive and assist him when the road grows dimmer as one of the defining reasons for his success. He also advised, “You don’t want to have a lot of contacts but very few friends. When things get dark, the contacts disappear.” This point hit home the strongest. I’ve had the opportunity to explore a plethora of conferences centered around the theme, Africa. The majority of the time, the same familiar faces are in attendance, ever ready to be seen, heard, and acknowledged (See Networking Disguised As Transaction). We consume so much information at these conferences yet refrain from executing, which leads us to believe there is more to consume before we go on to turn our wishes into goals.
To further drive the point of contacts, Belo-Osagie advised that having founding members with MBAs from top schools is absolutely not the hailed recipe for success. To succeed on the African continent, it's imperative to find local people who have spent their entire lives on the ground to aid in a well thought out execution. In this day and age, social media plays a revolutionary role in strengthening ties with friends and family on the African continent. During a discussion with Kwadwo Sarpong – Co-Founder of African Research Academies for Women (ARA-W) – over the forum lunch, he shared that social media was a guiding force in building the ARA-W team. With access to social media, Africans abroad now have the advantage to assess those in their distant circle in order to formulate a vague idea of what their potential business partners may be passionate about and whether that passion echoes their mission. Social media is one powerful tool that can potentially change contacts into friends.
Additional themes during the conference included the willingness to be bold, the importance of failure because it emboldens you to plunge ahead and address your mistakes, and the need to cultivate a laser cut commitment when pursuing your desired goals. To my sisters and my brothers, it’s so important to live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now. Africa has a population of 1.2bn people, and a GDP of $2.8Tn and assuming a compound annual growth of 5%, Africa's GDP as a continent can reach $30Tn in 50 years. This should be enough motivation to reach out beyond cultures, races, and national borders to break barriers and build bridges for the sake of our continent, Africa.
…Maame abeg you dey enjoy with oyinbo people wey you no fit remember mama.You fit dey bold, dey daring. Uncle Bello-Osagie dey tell us sey "if rain dey fall, e no be the reason wey you no go reach anywhere." The thing wey dey happen for our kantri dey for head. Whether rain or sunshine, me must to move. We must to remember sey na mama born us. Blood dey thicker than water, Maame. As you dey with oyinbo people, make you no forget mama. Na the reason all our papa and grand papa dey fight so we no go fight again. Come home, Maame. Do am for us. I dey pray for you o.
Your bro - Chinedu.