It’s time for the Mother Continent to be restored to Her former glory.
Ernestine Johnson and CyHi gave us the vision.
And it’s a beautiful picture.
“The birthplace of all life…”
Though now, a conglomerate of “shithole” countries.
So, what went wrong?
And, how did we get here?
A Quick Refresher on African History
The griot, a staple in African culture for millennia.
From ancient history to our present-day DJs, black culture harkens us to a core reality of the collective human experience.
We each have a story to tell.
Individually, we craft these narratives to better understand ourselves.
In groups we formulate myths and legends that give meaning to our world.
Collectively, this grand narrative we share is what we call history.
More than a story, it’s also a resource. One from which we can both draw potent lessons and celebrate grand achievements alike.
But, history hasn’t been very kind to Africa.
It’s seems an odd predicament when observed from an outsider’s perspective.
Imagine being materially rich in resources, peoples, and cultures; yet poor in virtually every other category that seems to matter in our increasingly modern world.
Jared Diamond, author of “Guns, Germs, and Steel” pioneered the idea of history being a response to the constraints of one’s geographic reality.
This is a notion that most experts agree with, and in recent years, has been expounded upon by others, such as fellow writer and researcher Tim Marshall in his book “Prisoners of Geography”.
The premise of the text is that leaders are either limited or catapulted by factors that seem innocuous to the untrained eye.
Mountains, seas, shorelines and climates – all contribute to the flow of peoples, ideas, and movements – which can in turn, make or break a civilization.
In Marshall’s view, American dominance was virtually inevitable due to factors like multiple ocean access.
China’s constant expansion was no accident either. Geographic realities have played a pivotal role in the boom of both nations and their economies.
Taking this view of history, it is easy to see how Africa, despite its mass and centrality, may have been poised to take a backseat.
Long rivers and coastlines are a sight to behold, but remain largely unnavigable due to waterfalls and narrow passes, meaning trade has been historically restricted.
Vats of liquid gold line the pockets of international players, while populations who live just above these oil wells suffer from malnutrition and disenfranchisement.
The diversity of climates, people and places has made collaboration difficult for most of the sub Saharan mainland.
In short, there are were far too many inconsistencies and physical drawbacks to make this story a neat and cohesive one.
Fortunately, history is still being created.
These days, advancements in technology have rendered formally insurmountable natural barriers a moot point.
In the age of the internet, it’s time we embark on opportunities afforded, and turn the page on what has been a tough few centuries for the much of the African continent.
This is an opinion piece, so you don’t have to believe me.
But personally, I think Africa is on the verge of something big.
Though, a collective effort is still necessary.
One that will help revitalize the tenacity and growth of Africa as we continue in this next chapter of our 21st century novel.
So, why should you care?
Well – because you’re African.
Even if you don’t share affiliation via pigmentation, our ancestors remain the same; which means that our stories have a common origin.
It only makes sense then, that we must collectively own the mistakes of our past, and begin working toward a future that reflects the values we claim to espouse.
We are human, after all.
And so, if our story remains rife with unresolved tension and abandoned character developments, I’d assume we aren’t quite finished with this tale.
Or perhaps, history isn’t quite yet finished with us.
You Are African.
Every single person currently residing on this Blue Dot had their start on plains of the Mother Continent.
Whether you now find yourself in Europe, Asia, or The Americas – you are still technically an African, by blood.
What’s more, our ancestors didn’t venture out from the landmass until around 50,000 years ago. So in the millions of years that our species has existed, its only been in the past score of millennia that we really began to diverge genetically.
Despite its status as the epicenter of human development, this apparent head start hasn’t quite materialized into any meaningful gains.
At least not on a global scale.
It’s a historical fact that Egypt was considered a economic, scientific and cultural powerhouse… “at a time when most Europeans were still living in mud huts” (Marshall, Prisoners of Geography).
But aside from a few cases (see Ancient Carthage) African opulence has been kept in relative modesty for much of our history.
Like any good story, there’s a bit more nuance to the tale of never-ending destitution than what our western textbooks claim to be the case.
Besides, what does “3rd world” mean anyway?
Last time I checked, we’re all on the same planet.
Regardless, there is some credence to this notion of perpetual poverty.
One way to understand its development is to once again see Africa as a sort of geographic time capsule, with the top third being separated from the bottom two thirds by the Sahel region.
Northern countries, largely dominated by Muslim and Arabic speaking populations, were more adept at handling the influx of European ideas, and in fact were likely a net exporter.
The bottom 60% of the continent was not as fortunate. Some hypothesize that the reason for this apparent dichotomy was as simple as longitude and latitude.
Ideas tend to spread much easier from east to west, where climates are more consistent, leading to things like agricultural developments and trade networks that can be copied and pasted across regions.
Whatever the real reason, the fact remained that populations south of the Sahara Desert found it much more difficult to keep up in an ever-changing world.
This along with the tribal diversity, a wider array of religious practices, and the proliferation of biological barriers combined to create a state where cooperation and idea transfer were largely improbable.
To be fair, it wasn’t the white folks who started it.
South of the Sahara was a land completely foreign to most North Africans, and it made sense. The desert was effectively a border that nobody wanted to cross.
It wasn’t until around two thousand years ago that Arabs began to push south in order to bolster their growing industrial influence on the world stage.
And of course… Europe followed suit.
Only, they took it a step further.
Deciding to draw arbitrary lines, annexing regions of the area for their own growing empires, and draining the continent of is resources.
These lines reflected the collective egos of a group who saw themselves as superior, yes.
But, the borders also failed to consider the realities of demographic make-up.
The continent was effectively gerrymandered, and these lines tended to cut tribal communities in two while forcing those with virtually nothing in common to live under a new banner of centralized European authority.
It was a dark time in our collective human story. One that we still seem reluctant to solve; because the reality is – the Africa we see today is the result of many years of pillaging and exploitation.
A drain on both human and natural resources that many played a part in over the span of the past few thousands of years.
Whatever bubbling potential was present during the days of our past great African civilizations, came screeching to a halt when the rest of the world decided that some people weren’t really people.
Colonization came shortly thereafter, and many communities descended into tribal warfare due to the incompatible systems of governance they were shackled to.
The land was rich, and now… the whole world knew it.
Unfortunately, the indigenous populations who paid for it with their blood sweat and tears didn’t receive much back in terms of ROI.
“The European colonialist created an egg without a chicken, a logical absurdity repeated across the continent that continues to haunt it”(Marshall, Prisoners of Geography)
Thus, we arrive to where we are today.
No money, since ‘leaders’ have decided to enrich themselves at expense of their people.
No power, as sovereignty was stripped from entire nations who became dependent on foreign aid.
No unity, because without a lingua franca with which to communicate, most good ideas were doomed from the start.
*Not to mention, these politically insufficient systems posing as governments were often compromised to the detriment of those they was supposedly designed to serve.
A few examples…
Sudan with its problems of foreign entanglement and never-ending warfare
Ethiopia and its exploration of growing pains as the nation state trying to shed its poor reputation on human rights.
Eswatini (Formerly Swaziland) is emblematic of many of the ills plaguing African society as they struggle to adopt current attitudes surrounding of women’s rights and sexual health.
South Africa, still struggling to unify post-apartheid, had The World Bank in 2018 claim it to be the most unequal nation on the planet.
Nigeria is a nation emerging as an economic powerhouse, yet it still deals with a government known for its incompetence on an array of issues from SARS, reliable energy systems, and it’s mode of dealing with the Boko Haram terrorist organization.
Unfortunately, narratives like this have become the norm.
I think it’s out job to change that.
Make Africa Great
Here are three ideas, far from original, though still important to recognize as a vehicle of insight to a vision for a globally integrated African continent.
Entrepreneurship, Urbanization, and People Power.
Let’s focus on Nigeria, which I think has already ascended to global status in several ways, though remains a “3rd world” nation due to its poor handling of a variety of issues.
Economically, it is the 7th largest exporter of oil in the world and resides in the top-20 of world economies, with an annual GDP north of $500 billion.
Socially and culturally, their penchant for patterns have been used (appropriated?) by many in the fashion industry, and if you have an email address you probably know that their knack for entrepreneurship can at times spill over into areas of questionable intent; but the real world application of these skills if successfully rerouted are undeniable.
Human capital is also at a tipping point.
Not just in Nigeria (which has a population of 200 million) but for the whole of Africa, whose populace is currently estimated to be around 1.3 billion, and projected to grow exponentially in the coming decades.
With a higher proportion of new entrants to the population, most of which are under the age of 18, Africa is poised for a human capital revolution.
This in contrast to the aging populations which have come to characterize places like Asia and Europe.
My point here being, Africa is poised to take on a new role on the world stage.
New markets will provide new opportunities, and responsive businesses or governments will capture much of this growth, riding the wave of what projects to be a quarter of the worlds consumers in the coming decades, 320 million of which will be between the ages of 14 and 24.
China has taken the lead here, in a big way.
$300 billion invested from 2005 to 2018, with plans to dole out another $60 b’s in the coming years.
This translates to infrastructure, technology, housing, railway systems, roads, solar power & hydroelectricity, all at a rate that will make other locales look obsolete in ten years.
I’m sure you’ve seen the photos of Dubai in 1990 vs where it is today.
This was a region that made a complete 180 in terms of what was thought to be possible.
Formerly destitute regions paired with a bit of vision (and a lot of money), helped transform a desert city into one of the most attractive localities on the planet.
Why not Lagos? Or Nairobi? Or Addis Abba?
Here’s the rub, China cannot be the only one who sees this opportunity, otherwise we simply exchange one set of colinizers for another,
What is needed is a new spirit of collaboration to be embraced at scale.
As nations begin to sense that the economic tides are shifting, I suspect some will become more willing to open the checkbooks.
Because what is possible here, is a full blown African renaissance.
Having been behind the 8-ball for so long can act as an advantage here.
Without the existing infrastructure to slow adoption of newer technologies, applications like drone technology, or battery innovation can become the norm at a much faster rate than nations who still depend on old paradigms.
This may allow for a generational leap of sorts, leaving countries slow to divest from obsolete ideas in the dust.
Many are well aware of the natural riches Africa can produce, this will not change.
What will change, are the intercultural exchanges in areas like sports, music, food, art and culture; all contributing to further the pervasion of African relevance across the globe.
Another change that needs to happen, is for Africa to become a unified entity on the global stage.
This requires an intra-cultural exchange.
Currently, ethnocultural and religious differences can often come in the way of any meaningful Pan African identity.
Tribal diversity and conflicting ideas are a real problem often ignored by the outside world.
(At least, until a Hollywood movie is made about it – shout out Donald Cheadle)
These stories are important, but there have to be more efforts taking place on the ground to help those most negatively impacted by global malpractice.
As we move into a period dominated by universal access and decentralized exchange platforms, I believe a few potential solutions are beginning to show themselves.
Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies will play a big role in the spread of Pan Africanism by opening transnational trade systems marked by increased trust and decreased friction.
A strong Africa is a net positive, not only for black people everywhere.
But for everybody, everywhere.
To formally humanize those who have been historically disenfranchised can become a step toward a new world rooted in equality and understanding.
Africa is on the brink of something huge, but their success is not inevitable.
This can be most seen in the myriad of problems that still plague it.
This effort will require the collective effort of our entire planet to recognize the wrongs of its past, helping move this Great Nation into a period of sustained excellence.
So, I say…
Let’s change the way we think about Africa.