Africa Still Rising: The Case for Afro-Optimism

A new generation of Africans is writing Africa’s success story.

Young Africans today are not taking no for an answer. They refuse to accept old stereotypes and gloomy predictions about the continent’s future. They refuse to settle for development aid as a model for economic growth. They refuse to accept mediocre leaders in power who took their parent’s generation for granted. They are quick to take advantage of new opportunities: they’re educated at home and abroad; they embrace new technologies including social media, the Internet, and mobile payment systems to raise awareness about political causes, mobilize for action, launch new startups/companies, and carry out business transactions. They are bold, confident, and aggressive. They refuse to sit back and wait for handouts. In fact, they don’t want handouts. Handouts come with a stigma from donors that they’d rather not be associated with. They have an increasingly sophisticated view of the world– one where education, religion, science, culture, tradition, business, technology and globalization intersect to create a diverse, complex, and multipolar world which poses difficult challenges but also offers boundless opportunities. They listen patiently as others debate whether this century will belong to China or the US. But though they don’t press the case, they know that this century may well belong to Africa — they prefer to let the fruits of their efforts do the talking. They pay little attention to the naysayers and get about working to unlock the continent’s vast, untapped potentials: the ingenuity of its youth.

When the big picture about Africa is painted by the media, sad stories dominate. A sorry picture emerges — Somalia, Boko Haram, Joseph Kony and Chibok Girls make the headlines. The attention-grabbing headlines do not mention that for the average African, life has never been better. In fact, the picture looks even more optimistic that many Afro-optimists would hardly ever imagine. When HBR asked business audiences to guess how many companies in Africa have revenues exceeding $1 billion, they often say 50 to 100. But “the true number is 400, with a combined annual income of $1.2 trillion.” These Africorns, to coin a term, are growing faster and making more profit than their global peers.

This is only one example, but everywhere you look on the continent, there are more signs for Afro-optimism than for the opposite. And that is why this new generation of Africans and friends of Africa that I am so excited about see opportunities where their grandparents only saw obstacles. They stand poised to take on the mantle of leadership and chart a new course forward for the continent. In my application for a graduate program a year ago I wrote that perhaps “the time had come for Africa to look East.” I wanted to emphasize that Africa should look to China’s model of economic growth –distinct from the Washington Consensus– which has served the country so well. I was wrong. Africa does not have to look East or West. It should look to itself.

Africa has a unique set of initial conditions facing it. As a result, its own recipe for a miracle (growth model), while incorporating best practices from both the East and the West, will be African. Have no doubt. This new generation of Africans will deliver. And no one is going stop them. Not the European powers who still look back with nostalgia to the days when our countries and resources belonged to them; or the despotic leaders from a bygone age who have outlived their purposes and yet hang on to power.

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