19 July 2012
I have just returned from Delhi, India, where I was among a team of more than 40 global facilitators at a gathering of India's emerging leaders who are changing their communities through their involvement and contribution of resources, experience, and visionary leadership. They were inspired, touched, and probably changed by what they saw, heard and experienced.
Africa is no different. It is a continent of contradictions. It is a huge continent very much like India, with enormous potential, diverse cultures and languages, different socio-economic challenges, leadership opportunities and possibilities.
Africa is planting very powerful seeds that will leap frog us as far away as possible from our past challenges and into the future.
We want the world to see us and define us through the lens of our potential and not the lens of our challenges, because that limits who we are and the wealth that is either exploited or lying dormant in our continent.
We have been betrayed by our leaders, but there is a new generation of righteous men and women who are changing the face of Africa, and I have no doubt this will happen in my lifetime. We have growth rates that cannot be found in many places, but investing in Africa requires an open mind, appetite for risk, capacity to understand Africa’s unique circumstances, and preparedness to build capacity for a competitive mindset.
I am reminded of the story of someone who was sent to Africa to assess the potential market for selling shoes. One person returned to report that there was no market because everyone was barefoot. A different person was sent a few years later to check if anything had changed and he returned to report that there was a huge market as most people were barefoot.
It is always a matter of perspective, and in developing countries you need a big dose of it. The logic and wisdom is different, but not inferior, and local people can teach you a lot about both. The worst insult is to assume you know what people need or undermine their intelligence.
I do not mean to underplay the magnitude of our challenges, but within our challenges are opportunities for infrastructure, education, and health care; for creating new industries; and for investing in building capacity for Africa to realize her potential. She is like a sleeping giant that is waking up, and you don’t want to miss the moment to be part of what will be the world’s most remarkable turn-around story of the 21st century.
Africa has a young population, and as a result of technology and the access it provides young minds to ideas and knowledge, they are not prepared to tolerate corruption, incompetent and ineffective leadership—as we with the Arab spring uprising. Our leaders have failed our people, and this is changing as younger generations are defining a new and bold agenda for Africa and for their future.
Our future lies in education, technology, innovation, social capital, and a revolution of entrepreneurship, which is starting to happen. South Africa launched a world-class reality TV show called “The Big Break Legacy” to encourage young people to come up with innovative business ideas that can make a social impact. We have to change the culture of dependency to one where we equip young people to take responsibility for the future and to hold leaders accountable. This requires courage, leadership, and collaboration.
If you want to leave the world a better place, the only opportunity that exits is here in Africa. We are not looking for charity or aid that keeps us trapped in handouts whilst it strips us of human dignity. We are looking for people who see us as human beings who deserve to have a better quality of life as anywhere in the world.
I still believe in values, conscience in the affairs of humanity and the goodness of the human heart.
Africa gives us an opportunity to restore our humanity. Our continent is alive with possibility. All it requires is to marry potential with resources.
We will witness the changing face of Africa. In the meantime, we are doing what we can to change one community at a time. We hope you will find the courage and conviction to join us.
Internationally recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Global Leader for Tomorrow, Wendy Luhabe is social entrepreneur, author, and champion for the economic empowerment of women in South Africa.
This article was originally published in the July/August edition of the Diplomatic Courier.