This is a guest post by Brin Enterkin, co-founder of The African SOUP.
“Wait, you don’t live in a mud hut…or have a pet elephant?!”
The question reflects the widely held and completely misunderstood perception of Africa: the continent defined as a homogenous, desperately poor, wild state. As a foreigner in Uganda, I have the unique privilege of watching and partaking in something quite contrary: an “Africa Rising.” From my experience helping to develop a commercial renewable energy business and scaling an education NGO nationwide, I have observed Africa moving in a powerful upward trajectory. So the common misconception of this expansive and multivalent continent causes me to grow increasingly disheartened.
However, many Westerners have begun lauding the strengths of Africa. The burgeoning “Africa Rising” narrative, first coined by the Financial Times, describes the rapid increase of economic growth across Sub-Saharan Africa since 2000—due, in part, to mobile phone and Internet accessibility. Africa is not the place she once was. As the globe looks for the next frontrunner to shoulder the growing agricultural and manufacturing demand, Africa is gaining strength in both economic progress and global trade, positioning herself to take on this role. Opportunities already abound in the realms of infrastructural development, education enhancements, and energy generation. I work and live alongside brilliant Ugandans and foreigners seeking solutions in these sectors and countless more.
Yet many still see Africa through a simplistic lens. Stereotypes of the Lion King’s picturesque animal kingdom, coupled with assorted stories of child soldiers and war-torn cities, do little in illuminating the dynamic realities within Africa. Rather, these easy-to-digest stories belittle this thriving continent, presenting it as an exotic “Other” and ultimately hopeless land.
Let’s shed some new light on this narrative and give people the opportunity to join the rising. A global village does not rise in individual silos, but as a collective unified force. In order for development to occur, Westerners must partner in progress rather than abandoning Africa out of hopelessness. Below is a high-level list of necessary thinking to partake in this movement:
1. Check your pride: The key to healthy development is to deny our human desire to be right, and instead move slowly and listen deeply.
2. Create power through partnership: It is important to note that like all regions of the world, there is plenty of space for partnership on social, education, and health-related issues. For instance, the world should not turn its back on South Sudan and conditions such as malnutrition are still present, but the solution is not pity—the solution is empathy and partnership. Organizations operating in this mindset create a solid platform for the developing economic rise.
3. Understand the African value added: Rather than understanding the value of a person by the things they produce, you must consider the family they raised, the problems they solved, or the lives they have led.
4. Explore the misunderstood: Take time to understand the history of the 54 nations of which African is comprised. Each history is different, but each nation has gone through major shifts in power and rule over the past 75 years. Freedom is not a tidal wave engulfing a nation into a certain mindset immediately, but rather a slow-moving rain adjusting policies, programming, and eventually community postures with time. This healing process is continually taking root.
5. Delve into the diversity: From the cliffs of South Africa to the sprawling Serengeti to the powerful River Nile, the cultures residing across this land are as diverse as the environment for which they reside. The Democratic Republic of the Congo alone is roughly the size of Western Europe with more than 250 ethnic groups.
6. Forget that poverty is a place: We must disassociate poverty from place. This allows us to see people as the solution rather than a variable for which we need to solve.
Over time, Africa will likely develop into the global power it has the potential to become. The Global Institute at McKinsey & Company recently released Lions on the Move II: Realizing the Potential of Africa’s Economies and outlined the GDP growth increase across Africa (excluding oil-exporting nations) from a 4.1% gain between 2000-2010 to a 4.3% gain between 2010-2015. This steady increase, coupled with the largest labor force globally by 2035, will make Africa one of the best global investments by the 2020s.
But it may never take place if we thwart the rise by ignoring the above-mentioned principles. For people living outside of Africa, I dare you to think differently of this flourishing continent.
I founded an education organization called The African SOUP and we believe in local partnership and in providing a hand up, not a hand out. We recently visited many organizations who also believe in the posture of local partnership leading to sustainable local solutions, including Serving His Children, Musana, Building Tomorrow, Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project, Girl Up Initiative Uganda, and Red Empress Foundation. These organizations, funded by healthy development partners such as Segal Family Foundation and others, are seeking to develop a foundation on which Africa will grow into the next global power. Join the rise with us!