WHAT IS YOUR PLAN FOR AFRICA?
I moved to Nigeria 15 years ago with a burning desire to contribute to my continent. My comfort zone of a thriving career in a Fortune 100 company on Wall Street was no longer comfortable enough. Despite that fact that my wife and I had just started a young family and we were in the process of settling into what most would define as an ideal life. Yet the pull of Africa on me was stronger than the cable on a tow truck. Africa spoke to me about purpose. She spoke directly to my inherent talents and the skills I acquired through my career and life experiences in America. And then she called me directly to use this expertise to make an impact on my bourgeoning continent. Her insistence finally convinced me to resign from my place of work and I left North America on a leap of faith.
Most people are oblivious of the facts that Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent on earth. With a population of about 1.2 billion people, it covers about one fifth of the total land surface of the earth. In addition to the current populace of people living in Africa, there are millions of Africans in the diaspora, comprising of citizens from each of the 54 fully recognized sovereign states (countries) that make up Africa. So, the continent is not a monolith. I understand the annoyance when she is referred to as such, mostly out of, willful ignorance.
The total land mass of the United States of America can fit into Africa up to three times. Africa is a huge continent but not enough is known about her expansive land mass, vast resources, and ethnically diverse people. Most people are generally unfamiliar with the African continent due to decades of misinformation, misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the details of this great continent. Precisely, it is this very distorted interpretation that elicits disappointment, albeit annoyance, when Africa is spoken about in a homologous way as opposed to respecting her inherent diversity.
The continent of Africa contains an enormous wealth of mineral resources, including some of the world’s largest reserves of fossil fuels, metallic ores, gems and precious metals. This richness is matched by the human capital potential of the continent which is Africa’s most valuable resource. With almost 60% of its population under the age of 25, compared to other continents with aging populace, Africa is positioned to be the next frontier ready to rise.
However, no one gets upset when it is said that they are heading to Europe or when the European nations attempt to operate as a unified economic block. This unified multi-country approach has led to several industrial wins from their geographic region, wins that would have been difficult to achieve as individual nations. An example of this is Airbus, the behemoth aircraft manufacturer that was a creation in the early seventies of western European countries (such as United Kingdom, France, and Germany) to compete against the American industry leader Boeing. The rest is history. In the same light Africa is capable of multi-country synergies that can operate a unified economic block. But Africa is not country.
Bad media representation has been the veil covering the levels of growth and development in Africa. Over time this has led to questions like “do you have cars there?” or “how big is your hut?” Similarly, most global development sector players have established programs in Africa as hand-out initiatives that tend to consider us a “begging continent”, rather than as a catalyst of sustainable economic growth. These programs have received significant media coverage, dwarfing the enormous commercial activities that indeed surmount the value of development aid, thus making Africa seem obscure and not viable.
The narrative seems to be changing, though not as rapidly or completely as one might expect. In the last decade, we have witnessed a higher value being placed on the African arts and culture or should I say that the African arts and culture are finally being valued and attributed to Africa, as opposed to diluting, misappropriating or all together erasing its origin. It is said that when the famed Benin bronze works looted by the British during the 1897 massacre (also known as the Benin Expedition) first arrived in Europe they were categorically in doubt that such beautiful and advanced sculptures could have been made in a place, they believed to be uncivilized. These works went on to influence art globally and today dominate spaces in museums around the world.
Today, Africa is the next growth market, and most major institutions and countries understand that they must have an Africa strategy. Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, has gone as far as declaring that he would like to spend six months in Africa to understand the young energetic African population in an aim to have them build and use his products. “When I tweeted about my intention to spend a few months in Africa this year, I made a mistake and should have provided more context about why,” he said. “Africa will be one of the most populated continents in the next 20 to 30 years, the tech innovation is incredible with a large portion of the population still coming onto the internet. Huge opportunity especially for young people to join Twitter and for us to learn to best serve them.”
Next, we move to geopolitical giants playing a real time game of Risk with the African continent. It would not be the first time. If you read up on the Congo conference of 1884–1885 (also known as the Berlin conference) and the scramble for Africa, which speaks to how Africa was originally dissected for colonization, which we now know of and live with the effects. The same is at play currently as the world superpowers are focused on Africa as a strategic play. In 2018 John Bolton, the United States National Security Advisor, declared that, “Great power competitors, namely China and Russia, are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa. They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States.” This suggests that America acknowledges the play of their global counterparts in what I will consider “the new scramble for Africa.”
To this end it will be wise for the African diaspora to research and understand the drivers of all the critical decisions made by global corporations and governments of non-African states to properly position, reposition and benefit from the economic explosion coming out of the continent now and in the coming years.
The most burning question right now is “What is your Africa plan?” If you don’t already have one, this is not a question to ignore because Africa is a land of vast opportunities. Despite her political volatility (recent global events have proven Africa is not the only place susceptible to political volatility), uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguous environment — or in my own words VUCA “Plus” environment, the land is fertile. It also only offers a BYOE (Bring Your Own Everything) operating setting. Therefore, there is an opportunity in every sector ranging from agriculture to health and virtual services. More so, across the continent we speak several local languages, but we also speak global languages like French, English, Dutch, Portuguese, buttressing the fact that that we as Africans can build solutions from our respective countries for other continents with our young educated population.
Just as I left my very lucrative job almost two decades ago to move back because Africa called, most Africans know about this call and how it has strings that pull at their hearts. Africa is calling beyond the usual year end partying and catching up with old friends and relatives. She is calling about opportunities to make a direct impact and to create lasting wealth. That aside I challenge you to research the continent of Africa to determine which region you are called to make your impact, because there is no time like now.