Three intense days at the World Economic Forum in Addis Ababa. The city is a traffic packed building site, high rises and highways growing on the humus of shacks and alleys. My taxi driver Bershe said he is happy and proud of all the changes in the last few years. Then added with a broad smile that life for his family is tougher now than it has ever been! "I need another birr". The next day, having readily agreed to fetch me from my hotel at 7.30 am, he turned up 30 minutes early, waited fifteen and left! Said he had to take his daughter to school. I thought well, he's got his priorities right. But his dilemma got me thinking about our greatest puzzle. From 30,000 feet up things are looking so much better across Africa. And that's just grand, right? Certainly works for the folks at the top. But get down close to the ground and it feels very different. In my small corner of the world, deep in rural Western Kenya, beautiful and green, hardworking people are much poorer now than 30 years ago when I first turned up there. Shockingly and shamefully so.
As the Forum itself got started, in a splendid Sheraton Hotel, the air was abuzz with the warm bonhomie that precedes the serious stuff. Energy levels were high, and I inhaled the heady scent of optimism permeating the halls. It emanated from the young people there and happily there were lots of them. Young Global Leaders and Shapers, youthful social entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. I felt hopeful too. Attitude means so much if you want to make something happen, and we had come to Shape Africa's Transformation. A tough job but somebody's got to do it.
The Forum unfurled. I was especially pleased that agriculture was high on the agenda this year. A dull truth perhaps, particularly for the digital generation, but farm Africa has a competitive advantage in the global market. The world needs more and better food - a guaranteed and growing demand that Africa's smallholders (7 out of every 10 of us) can supply. There's just a few things we need to fix so that can happen. And we talked about that quite a lot. I reckon there's 3 big things to tackle. One is better Water Management - in a continent where enough rain falls annually to satisfy the water needs of 9 billion people, and we let 97% of it just flow straight into the ocean. The second is to restore Soil Health - we have the technology for this. Thirdly we must go the last mile to ensure delivery of solutions to the people who need them. A wonderful opportunity here for the smart young digerati of our new Africa to innovate, to develop ICT products and platforms that will catalyze our green revolution. Africa can feed the future, feed the world.
I came away from Addis rejuvenated, optimistic. We have what it takes. By linking the ether to the earth, high tech with low tech, the cool with the clunky, we can close the gap between the have-nots and the have-a-lots and achieve the equitable distribution of wealth and opportunity that Africa needs to transform and get in shape to compete in the global market. And from what I saw and heard in Addis the young people of Africa are up for it. Lets hope their leaders can catch up to them.
Nick Moon, Co-Founder, KickStart International, Kenya; Social Entrepreneur, Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum