In 2001, The Economist magazine described Africa as a hopeless continent disadvantaged by its own cultural dispensation, backward traditions and under-performing institutional frameworks. That was harsh, but you and I agree that we have been called worse, Terror hotbed and war-torn are designations we are well familiar with. Thanks to the righteous and far developed west. That does not however scare me half as much as the insurmountable amount of attention we merit international media and the precedence we give their reports over the genius potential apparent in the African DNA. Britain exit the European Union, so what? Did that change our otherwise deplorable lifestyles? I am more concerned by Africa’s indifference towards redefining its worth beyond a scathed historical past and unbecoming political affiliations. I am afraid that perhaps Africa doesn’t look at herself the way I see her, flawless and with a future only Africa herself can alter.
This year on my birthday, my mother made a revelation that for some reason I still wish had come earlier. She explained that at the time of my birth in 1992, she had picked the name Nelson Mandela for me. It was a popular name and the original bearer had proven to be extraordinary in ways even he couldn’t explain. We are certain that though his body may have been made of steel, his heart had been forged with nothing but love and hope. I must admit, I was a little furious with the belated admission which should have been an apology, first because I wish she had stuck to her intuition at the time. A lot made sense from then henceforth. It explained why despite the flailing political and economic welfare in Africa, a 14-year old me still believed that that was merely one final hurdle until Africa’s seamless future. It shed so much more light into the enthusiasm I had for a different kind of Africa albeit the sunken hopes my peers harbored and amid the reservations exhibited by the greater society.
I have been sitting here, a handicap of some sort unable to lose the hope nor concede to the white trash about Africa’s never ending strife. Sadly for me, it made me the black sheep but thanks to my little birthday revelation I have come to a new realization. One that the spirit of Madiba has prevailed. At first I thought it was just me, then my eyes opened to the efforts of all the other like-minded individuals dedicated to the same cause as mine. The frantic struggles of an assemblage of elite African youth who felt they’d had enough of the self-pitying, maybe even a little too much, and set course for a different path. A path set aside for those of us who dare to dream. With this renewed strength founded in the noble and selfless actions of Pan-Africans some of whom are now deceased and our predisposition to fault our leadership, I find it hard to believe we have had our chances. I am more inclined to be persuaded by the notion that maybe we are just not trying enough, and that our resources are far from exhausted.
It is my submission that the way forward for Africa is venturing into business. Not the slithery business of selling our souls to the intrigues of selfishness nor the one that condemns us to play second fiddle to the West, but rather the business that augers well with our mission towards economic superiority. Africa is not poor, It is just poorly managed; and not even additional centuries of colonization will do it. We are just poor in spirit, desperately clamming for the faintest pigment of motivation and you will be surprised at what we can overcome and achieve at the same time. Maybe guns and ammunition are not our chosen ways of life, maybe prosperity in business is, we just don’t know it. The day this happens, Africa may just bear testament to that biblical paradox of losing what one keeps and saving what one loses. Nelson Mandela once said that what is spoken to a man in a language he understands goes to his head, but what is said to the same man in his language goes to his heart. Today I speak to Africa in their dialect and the language they understand. The language of peace, love, unity and daring in business. The peace we barely know, the love only we have, the unity we wish we had and the business that our inferiority complex has taught us to abhor could just be our redemption from this deplorable life we lead and which is long overdue.
The one responsibility I have as an African leader is to speak in the post-humus voice of Tata and point us to a new kind of destiny; not fate, destiny. With our experiences in failure and a rich cultural heritage, I cannot be mistaken to state that Africa has a good chance of reaping maximum benefit from indulging in business. Our education has misguided our youth to be job seekers, the onus on our leadership is to rid us of this ill-fated mentality and make us job creators by investing in our potential to transact in business. We go to school to learn things, most of which are irrelevant to our future and contribute even more marginally to the continents welfare. Isn’t it about time we started acquiring entrepreneurial skills from school? That ought to turn out different. To be a leader in Africa, one must have come to terms with the fact that there is a lot of potential lurking in a business frontier for Africa and her people. There is not that much potential in the wars we create, nor the political feuds and the divisional miscegeny that identifies us. With that, maybe we shall be eligible to be judged by the number of times we have risen and dusted ourselves rather than the number of times we fell.
Notwithstanding our reputation out there, the truth is that Africa has always had a way of surviving the steepest antecedents in the global arena. Africa’s GDP since early 2000 has consistently outpaced world growth yet somehow we seem to stagnate in a rather unfortunate economic quagmire. One might wonder how and why? I recall 2007 when the biggest world economies were brought to their knees by the recession. You too must remember how Africa emerged on the other side without as much as a scratch on the skin of its economy. The reason I bring this up is to further my attempt at getting Africa to realize what it is capable of achieving and do away with the fear that has distended the last shred of hope we had. Instead we’ve been condemned to doubt our own strengths and rights to a decent standard of living. Even the white fellows we envy so much have failed, they are not special. They are just a luckier lighter skinned version of us. A bird perching on a tree branch is not afraid falling because it trusts not in the tenacity of the twigs but rather on the virility of its own wings. Why Africans chose to subject themselves to the assessment and validation of external forces is beyond me. If only we trusted in ourselves just a little more than we were worried, then the fruits of being African will be inevitably at our disposal.
It is not a guarantee that we’ll make the best out of it and there is no surety of success except in the confidence I have in my people of Africa. I do not subscribe to that philosophy of never quitting. If there is anything the life of Nelson Mandela taught me, it must be that we should know when to quit. I could be wrong but that is highly unlikely. Not to be bigoted but perhaps it is time to quit the redundancy in failure and the reliance on aid. I will teach you what I know, in the hope that you will do the same. That is what it means to be a leader in Africa. My task should Africa give my leadership a chance is to show my people that there is a bigger picture in business, one that they have earned all the right to have a look at and experience. We have subjected ourselves to that fallacy that embracing business equals losing our own cultural heritage at the expense of westernization. That was perhaps the first nail on the coffin for our economic success. My mission is a simple one, help my people realize that business is more African than the poverty we’ve endured or the sidelining we have come to terms with because the rest of the world felt we didn’t fit in their jig-saw puzzle.