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


Femi said...

This article was wonderfully written and I think one of its strongest points was in its conclusion. Many of us that are outside of the continent may not know how we can best use our skills and talents to benefit its development. I'm in my Masters level now and have always been in the Liberal Arts Field. Now I study Public Admin, but because I didn't specialize in Business, Engineering, or some science or Medicine, I find it hard to see my self as an active contributor to sustainable development in Africa. I think this article encourages people like me to continue looking for opportunities where their qualities can be best utilized, even if those opportunities may be less apparent.

Tiwa said...

Love this! Its so good to know that there are some honest willing patriotic Nigerians out there who are yearning to build our nation. I'm not in a postion right now to relocate to Nigeria but as you said you don't have to be in the country to be of help to the country. Even in what we say/do we can help potray a positive side of Nigeria/Africa.

Somethimes I get very discouraged about our country and continent but this is encouraging and inspiring.

keep up the good work!

Jaycee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erere Ojakovo said...

Things I got from this brilliant article:

Don't be angry at people that don't know better (about Africa), educate them with your actions and your words...

That's where our generation comes in...

Because we have so many problems, we have so many opportunities...

Power does corrupt...

YES, we can...

mobolaji said...

Powerful,inspirational,moving and enlightening is what I would say this article is. The author is among some of the great visionaries we need in this side of the world to re-awaken some of the countrys citizens who are asleep or lost to get in the game. I for one has shun wall street and focused on Niger Street if I can call it that. Like China and India were 15-20yrs ago,Africa is next interms of influx of investors and corporations seeking cheap labor and opportunities for growth. I know of many who av invested as little as $5k n reaped $20k in a span of 3-4 yrs. Thats a return(400%) not even wall street or best investing firms in US can guarantee or return,but local companies like Pilot Securities are making this possible without fraud or scam. It a shame how our leaders can't even have a foresight like so many successful leaders and game changers like Mandela, Martin Luther King, etc. Change is inevitable. Yes we can