Africa Rising: Africa telling her story

Trevor Ncube
Trevor Ncube

Colleagues and dear friends, I think you’ll all agree with me that there is a palpable excitement about Africa, about the economic opportunities the continent presents, perhaps more than at any other time.

No wonder the catch-all phrase — Africa Rising — has struck such a deep chord. But perhaps it is important to glance back on Africa’s history and realise that in the early 1960s there was similar optimism.

Then it was about the arrival of freedom, Uhuru, heralding the birth of the world’s newest nations. And it is instructive to look at what became of that wave of optimism. Because it has important lessons for how the “Africa Rising” narrative may pan out.

I think even the most hardened Uhuru optimist would agree that for most Africans, the returns on political optimism in the 60s was dismal. Even as new flags were gracing the renamed capitals, wars, coups and dictatorship quickly became the norm.

Aliko Dangote
Aliko Dangote

The freedom dividend went to a tiny political elite and for the vast majority of the continent’s citizens, life was unbearably hard. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that total despair was replaced by flickering hope with the first defeat of liberation parties in elections starting with Zambia.

The lesson for us from how quickly hope turned to despair is that it was the behaviour of Africa’s new rulers that dashed the hopes of millions.

Similarly, those of us who are genuinely excited about the opportunities that we see across a number of economic and social fronts must realise that it is how we respond and act on these opportunities that will determine the outcome.

But I think that given the emergence of private sector investors who are independent of political leaders, there is a sense that Africa is going to seize the new opportunities and translate them into tangible returns for millions of its citizens.

Strive Masiiwa
Strive Masiiwa

Which brings me back to Africa Rising. Clearly, there are those who believe that Africa Rising is just one new sexy phrase about the continent, and that it bears little resemblance to reality.

While I disagree with them, I think they do raise an important point, and one that is particularly important for organisations like ours.

I think their main point is that it is dangerous to talk about Africa as if it is one uniform entity, with the same risks and the same rewards.

And looking at the heartbreaking scenes playing out in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and other places, it is impossible to ignore their cautionary note.

But it is also true that there is a significant shift in economic fundamentals that goes beyond mere rhetoric. As I have travelled across the continent, from South Africa to Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana and Zimbabwe, I have realised first hand that entrepreneurs are laying the foundation for a truly irreversible economic turn-around for our continent.

Jobs are being created in new sectors, and innovation and hard-nosed business acumen are combining to give credence to the overwhelming sense of optimism.

It is, of course, also interesting that this time around, the excitement about the economic prospects of our continent is not limited to natural resources, important as these still are.

Telecoms, technology, agriculture, infrastructure, tourism, media, fashion, education and healthcare are some of the sectors that are receiving attention.

Let me go through some of the most compelling indicators; these numbers underline the fact that ours is indeed a continent on the rise.

The sheer growth in the number of verifiably super rich Africans, Africa’s dollar billionaires who now number close to 60 far more than previously thought.

Patrice Motsepe
Patrice Motsepe

The incredible number of African professionals who have returned home from places like New York, London or Paris with key skills and capital in their pockets underlines the new opportunities back home.

Over the past decade, China has been the world’s economic powerhouse, but as its economic growth slows down, it is no accident that China’s key focus has been Africa. This surely says something about the economic prospects of our continent.

Given dismal growth elsewhere in the world, the International Monetary Fund and other bodies have identified sub-Saharan Africa’s growth at nearly 5% over the last six years — by comparison, the growth rate in the developed nations has been at a paltry 0,5% per year.

Investors are setting up offices across the continent and foreign investment is flowing into infrastructure projects, private equity players are rushing to stake their claim.

Africa’s richest entrepreneur, Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote — with a fortune of over $20,2 billion — is now one of the world’s richest individuals and the source of all his wealth is from Africa.

Urbanisation in Africa has resulted in huge opportunities in the retail and infrastructure sectors. Sadly, transport still lags behind, but I have no doubt entrepreneurs will seize these opportunities as well.

There has been a significant growth in philanthropy by wealthy Africans, with Dangote, donating more than $100m in one year to education, health and disaster relief in Nigeria.

Other entrepreneurs are South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe who donated a significant portion of his wealth to charity and Zimbabwe’s Strive Masiyiwa who donates significantly towards education and training.

Given all the optimism, the rosy indicators, and the widespread euphoria about the continent’s prospects, what then are some of the things that need to happen to make this sustainable?

Well, I strongly believe that the new generation of African leaders, be they entrepreneurs, technocrats, civil society or politicians have an important role to play.

Each of us has a responsibility to act boldly, but in ways that do not ignore the key social issues such as joblessness, poverty, poor education and neglected infrastructure.

I know it’s a big ask, but unless we think seriously about these problems, the vast majority of Africans will watch from the sidelines, condemned to poverty and despair. I think there is a greater chance of accountability right now because we live in a significantly more transparent world.

Where in the past the elite could act with impunity knowing they were accountable only to themselves, I think the new generation of Africans have little patience for leaders who are a law unto themselves.

But above all, I do think that a new breed of African leaders is rising to the challenge of redefining this continent that has for so long remained inexplicably poor and underdeveloped.

There is a rise in public sector and private sector partnerships, telecoms innovation has lowered the costs of banking, and Africa’s entrepreneurs are increasingly venturing beyond political borders to establish a new economic frontier. This can only bode well for government to government co-operation, showing that business and politics need not be at loggerheads.

But perhaps most importantly, as Africans we have to tell our own story.

I think nothing is more emblematic of how little influence Africa has wielded in world affairs than the fact that even Africans themselves rely on non-African media to know what is going on in their own backyard.

Even the Africa Rising Narrative is usually referenced using two cover stories by the Economist, one in 2003 and the other one in 2013. If you go to the lobbies of Africa’s best hotels, chances are the TV is tuned to CNN, the BBC or Sky. This is clearly untenable for a continent with serious ambitions.

So I do think that as we become masters of our own destiny as a continent, we have to invest in media that is independent, credible, visible and globally influential. In the past, government media was simply a mouthpiece for incumbent politicians, with little credibility.

Now we all know that there are, of course, significant investments required to operate at the level of Al Jazeera, but without it, Africa will continue to consume rather than produce the narrative that defines it.

I am encouraged to see the emergence of globally respected Africans across so many fronts, such as architect David Adjaye, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, entrepreneurs like Dangote who can all become the backbone of a compelling narrative about the new Africa.

Many of the continent’s best stories are still told by foreigners and overseas and I think it is time that Africa became the home of its best stories.

This is vitally important also because it will lead to a much more dynamic telling of Africa’s story, so that it is not reduced to binaries, torn between those who believe that this continent is set for an irreversible boom, and those who think this is pie-in-the-sky.

There will never be a single Africa, just like there is no single Europe, but when the continent is aligned in the way that Europe is
aligned, with economic integration, seamless borders and a connected infrastructure, it is possible to speak with one voice.

I would like to leave you with two thoughts on the power of framing. Instead of us Africans proving how smart we are by talking about Africa’s Narrative, the real test perhaps lies in how we grab the opportunities the new optimism presents us.

The real measure of how Africa has risen won’t be found in conference halls, but will be reflected in hard socio-economic achievements bedded down during this period.

We are launching M&GAfrica.com because we have faith in the continent’s future and we believe we have a role to play in Africa telling her own story.

Second, we believe that nobody, but us as Africans can tell our story better. Expecting foreigners to tell the African story is expecting too much as it has clearly not happened over the past 100 years.

Foreign media tell the African story with one agenda in mind mainly — to satisfy the prejudices and curiosities of their audiences in London, New York, New Delhi, Beijing etc.

We don’t change the African narrative by pleading with the Western media to stop the African stereotypes, but by behaving differently and telling our own stories.

These are stories of how we live and not how we die. These are stories of how we triumph against all odds.

These are stories that share the good and bad in Africa. Stories of hope and despair and stories that celebrate the tremendous strides that we are making as a people.

Thank you
Speech in Nairobi at the launch of M&G Africa on Tuesday May 20 2014

14 Comments

  1. Allow me to digress. Africa Rising? A pipe dream if there is no peace and security! AU is composed of how many nations? Why can’t these nations tackle a simple threat like Boko Haram? If we are going to invite Americanos to rescue us then we are inviting TROUBLE! There is a new scramble for Africa in the form of provision of security. The imperialists/neo-colonialists won’t leave the countries they are helping and they will get raw materials for a song. In any case, some if not most of the wars are a creation of these developed countries! Africa wake up! Inviting Americans to deal with African problems is like inviting your male neighbour to bath your sick wife. Musazoti mavara azare vhu!

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  2. Is Africa rising to do with cash? The men up there on the pixelated images have lots of money, is that what it is all about? I want an Africa rising not defined by Forbes and the Rockerfellers.

    1. Scotv i think you got a problem in your head, all you see is negative negative, thats the mindset which needs to be changed for the prosperity of Africa. You or we should ask ourselves how this individuals have reached the point were their are currently. These will help you, me & many African brothers & sisters to develop home grown entrepreneurial skills to uplift this beautiful continent of Africa. Rise Africa Rise.

      1. Why, are the images not pixelated?

  3. cyber criminals

    “The suspects, 11 Nigerians and one South African woman, are linked to this global scam. The suspects enriched themselves with illegally obtained funds,” authorities said in a statement.

    The scams included romance scams, reshipping scams, fraudulent check scams, work-at-home scams, along with bank, financial and credit card account takeovers.

  4. It’s so inspiring to see that Africa is generating this huge amount of wealth and spawning the growing number of dollar billionaires. It simply states that the economic opportunities that exist on the African continent isn’t a myth and that canny businessmen are exploiting these to bring much needed services to the African people. Long may this continue.

  5. Africa Mr Ncube is not rising. You have visited so many countries outside Africa and surely you can be able to discern that we are a hundred years behind a whole century Mr Ncube, yes here and there we have genuine rich people but the rest of the rich are just looters. As I commended in the other story, we have so many oasis in the deserts in Africa yet we are not supposed to be that way. In Europe they make sure the build their country in Afica they build their names and homes only. I was lucky to visit one Germany town, I never saw dust, pot holes, or darkness like we see in Africa, its is all green and the whole town’s roads are perfect. You can wear a white ttrack shoe for a month without washing it because it will still be clean. When our leaders put country first that is only when Africa will rise. As we speak they cannot rescue 300 girls. If it was 1 girl I would understand.

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  7. Africa rising telling story: how can this be done without culture and arts? you cannot write your history if you do not hold a pen in our hand and if someone is holding a pen for you then there is a problem. We have the elite who have forgotten where they come from and how can we talk about africa rising?

  8. Sorry, Trevor, but wars, coups and dictatorships — or at least one-party states — are STILL the norm in virtually every country of Africa.

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