Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The African Diaspora by Tomiwa Igun

Yesterday (Saturday), I had one of those days that I just have to share. I attended the Wharton African Business Forum (WABF) this weekend, and I became more resolute, if that’s possible, in my belief that Africa has a bright future.

The luxury of following the pace-setters
We have so many other nations setting the pace that we can easily learn from their experiences and borrow from their strategies. In fact, that’s the trend with many Nigerian Business plans as they simply adapt American businesses for the Nigerian market e.g. PayPal, TV Reality Shows, Auction Sites, etc… If you’ve got a brilliant idea and need some help, check out ‘LogicRock Group’.

Obviously, most of my experiences within Africa are confined to the boundaries of Nigeria, and mostly concentrated in Lagos State. But I need not travel past Nigeria to know that 'Africa' lags behind, period! Within Lagos, Victoria Island boasts of $6 million homes while nearby rural areas of Epe boast of huts. I could look at how things work in Lagos and be naïve enough to think that the whole of Africa is the same way. I could also look at Lagos and realize that many of the focal issues translate across the bulk of Nigeria, and in some alteration, across Africa. I’m talking about the obvious issues like Corruption, Infrastructural deficiencies, Political Unrest, Terrible Leadership, oh I can go on and on…

Where’s the Leadership???
Where’s the Leadership???I was fortunate enough to interact with some great minds and that’s just refreshing when you think about how much opportunity we have wasted over the years because of terrible leadership. One interesting character I met was Mallam Nasir El-rufai. He made a joke about how Africa was blessed with great natural resources, but God decided to be fair to the rest of the world and gave us terrible leaders.
That’s where our generation comes in. We can either let corrupt minds keep running our country into the ground as they fill their pockets, or we can get creative in our involvement, and get active. Many, like me, can’t survive in politics, but that shouldn’t stop you from making an impact. In fact, you need not be involved in government (at all) to make a difference.
However, it’s very easy to pass blame, especially when we are not preview to some of the information and situations that these leaders face. Nigeria is only a 10-year democracy so it may take some time for the impact of good leadership to take effect. I see some wonderful things being done in Lagos, for example. I also see progress being made, albeit sometimes slowly, in certain regions like Delta, which is an encouraging sign. So let’s commend the leaders where they deserve it, and hold them accountable when they fail.

That so-called negative image that we can reshape
Now, all we hear from the mainstream media about Africa is how bad we are. I heard Governor Sarah Palin thought Africa was a country. It may sound very naïve, but even if she knew more about Africa, I doubt she would have much positive news about that region of the world. I have no problems with the media portraying negative images of Africa. I just don’t appreciate the fact that very little positive images are shown. While we can sit here and complain, we ought to start taking steps to improve our continent’s image. Don’t be angry at people that don’t know better…instead, educate them through your actions and words.

Our huge problems represent huge opportunities
The truth of the matter about Africa lies in the fact that because we have so many problems, there is so much opportunity. A few visionary corporations and investors saw the opportunities that existed in China, and rode the wave…others followed later to pick up the crumbs. Today, a few revolutionary corporations and investors see the opportunities that exist in Africa and will ride the wave…the other conservative ones will come in later to try to pick up the crumbs.

As early as 1980, China and Nigeria had GDPs that were at par. Today, it’s no contest as China is a benchmark for the world. In 2000, the telecommunications industry in Nigeria was nothing to write home about. In 2008, eight years later, Nigeria’s telecommunications industry is growing at an extraordinary pace and the visionary companies like MTN (a South African entity) and the likes are raking in the profits. The same Vodafone (a premier British entity), that was once offered a free license in 2001 but declined (due to risk analysis they conducted), is now trying to get in the market by paying $200 million for half of one of the major telecommunications companies in Nigeria. The continent is moving in a new direction and you can either stand on the sidelines or participate.

One of the WABF orgranizers made a statement about wanting to turn on CNBC and see African Financial indices being discussed. I say, "it's only a matter of time".

Don’t forget you left lots of competent minds behind when you emigrated Africa
It is not necessary for every African in diaspora to return to the continent, but it may be time for many of us to start considering how we can aid our ailing nations and how we can contribute. There are lots of people doing great things for the continent already so if you decide to sit in your comfort zone and live the American dream, there’s nothing wrong with that. My reservations arise when all we do is talk! It is time to spring into action. In fact, with the sort of experiences some people have had in Africa, I don’t blame them for not wanting anything to do with the continent…but again, you need not talk about all the deficiencies if you won’t do anything to help the situation.

We now live in a globally connected world, so you can use that to your advantage if you don’t want to return to the motherland. Honestly, the continent will move forward whether or not you contribute because of the many other people making huge contributions. Many of us know many people that have never left the borders of Nigeria that are very capable...imagine the many more such people that exist that you don't know!

And for those of you that want to make legitimate money, there are lots of opportunities. Maybe the forgone opportunities in the US may not be as glaring now that the American economy is in the tank. In fact, some of my African friends have exited ‘Wall Street’ for the African financial markets and they are doing very well. Some Americans won’t mind having that option right about now.

So what’s a sound political strategy?
I was once of the opinion that Nigeria would soon be run by hooligans due to the surge of internet fraud and the new social class that arose as a result of corrupt youth. However, I realize that many of the fraudsters waste their money and can’t maintain that social status as the ‘fraud market’ dries up. And with our ‘Cheetah generation’ that wants everything to happen fast, the true gems can start making things happen. I also once thought it would be a sound strategy to go into the Nigerian political landscape and blend in by playing along to rise to the top, before turning around against corruption and incompetence. However, there’s a great adage that says “Power corrupts…” so I anticipate the ‘blending in’ may become permanent in many cases. I guess I don’t have an answer as to how an honest individual could succeed in politics, but someone in some think-tank probably has some great ideas.

An idea is empty without implementation
The question now is this: “will you sit back and watch others take advantage of your country, or will you at least act (or encourage someone to act) to start heading in the right direction?” The truth of the matter is that no one can turn Nigeria around. However, with God all things are possible…just ask Obama! Many people have started this journey and I was amazed to learn about wonderful things currently taking place.

I actually want to encourage us to start learning more about our own continent because although many people laughed at how stupid it sounded for Governor Palin not to know Africa was a continent, that doesn’t indicate that she is stupid; she just maybe isn’t knowledgeable (alright…maybe not the best analogy given some of her other comments, but you get the gist). Now, if we don’t educate ourselves by attending these types of events, interacting with knowledgeable people, and reading up on current affairs, we cannot appreciate the vast opportunities that exist. Consequently, we won't know where we fit in. This was an eye-opener for me & maybe you need to have been there to understand where I'm coming from.

And whether or not you return for financial benefits or for social impact, remember those less-privileged individuals who have not been blessed with similar opportunities as yourself. God help us…Yes He can!

Tomiwa Igun

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Like Air, He rose!!! (The Tale of Barack Obama)

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
you may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise

I rise
I rise

Poem by Maya Angelou.

I woke up this morning and thought about this poem, as I read another post on a different blog. I thought about the rise of dust and air, intermingling with each other, compelled by the forces of nature to keep rising.

That is how the new President-elect of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama, has arisen. Like a force that cannot be denied by the boundaries of nature. Despite all the odds and difficulties, despite all the plagues and negative descriptions, despite the limitations of people of his own kind...still, like air, he rose. I will use this opportunity to congratulate the first African American president of the United States. This is the season that a unique piece of history is written, and we are all witnesses and a part of it.

I want to see Nigeria rise too...rise like voluminous air particles, defying all elements of gravity. I hope Barack Obama's story can change the minds of Nigerian leaders and even young Nigerians (workers and students alike). History can be made too in your country, the land of such vast greenery.

Photo by Photobucket