In his best-selling book titled The Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck opens the first chapter with this very short and profoundly accurate statement, “Life is difficult.” I’m sure most, if not all of us, have uttered these words in various ways. Another common expression is, “Life is meaningless.” Particularly in times of hardship and loss, we tend to ask ourselves, or each other, "What is this all about anyway?"
Life is meaningless until we identify our purpose - the one thing that we are passionate about and are willing to dedicate our time and energy to, primarily because it is the activity that makes us feel most alive and productive. My purpose, I believe, is to lead the Africa Unbound Movement. The reason I believe that it is my purpose is because there is absolutely nothing else in this world that I would rather do. This is the work that I know I can do better than anything else I could possibly be doing. I think about it virtually all the time and many activities that I used to find interesting before Africa Unbound now feel like unwanted distractions. It gives me so much joy, and quite a bit of pain too, and it feels like an extension of me.
As I go through this experience, I often wonder what the world would be like if we all were doing what we believe is our purpose in life. I think our world would look very different from what we see today. I’ll come back to this point later.
There are two critical reasons why I believe the identification of our purpose is important. First, we can finally live a really interesting life. We have to admit that in addition to being difficult, life can also be very boring, tedious and stagnant. Lack of purpose and excitement leads many people into destructive behaviors including drinking, drugs, and associating with people that they don’t really like or respect. When we identify our purpose and connect with it, there is no time for boredom. We are constantly thinking about the next thing that needs to be done or how to deal with yet another seemingly insurmountable problem or celebrating a victorious moment. In other words, we transform our life from mediocre and bearable to exciting, challenging and increasingly fulfilling.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it is critical that we figure out our purpose in life because when identified, it becomes our biggest contribution to society. It is our reason for being here on this earth. It is a 'public good' that does not belong to us and must be delivered to the world. However big or small you believe your purpose in life is, when you finally put your finger on it, it begins to transform your own life as well as the lives of others in your community. Since it is the thing that we really want to do, we do it well and it becomes our greatest contribution to our community, our country and ultimately the world.
This, I believe, is a huge point because it is the key to eradicating poverty in Africa. It is not through aid or trade that we fully unlock our innate capacity to be innovative. It is through the introspective process that we each must engage in to find out what it is that we really care about and then find a way to do something about it. I believe the one thing that is required more than anything else to identify your purpose is a sincere desire to make a positive difference. You don't need to have a clear vision, just the willingness to take the first step and the next and the next until your purpose crystallizes for you.
Your purpose may be any positive or constructive activity such as identifying a certain need in your community and then inventing some tool or starting a business to fulfill that need. It may be in politics and public service, or to express yourself through some form of art. There are many ways and forms through which one can express his or her gift to the world. Your particular purpose or contribution, however, will be uniquely yours in the sense that there is something that you can do just a little bit differently than anyone else. That's what you need to uncover.
Earlier, I said that I wonder what the world would look like if we were all living a purposeful life. I believe we would effectively eradicate poverty because when we engage in the introspective process required to uncover our life purpose, we will find that at the deepest level, we all want to do something that will address some need in the world. And when we each do our part, real transformation becomes inevitable. Moreover, this type of awakening will lead to the realization of our connectedness and interdependence, which in turn will lead to cooperation, sharing and support for one another.
The identification of one's purpose is a very challenging process. Africa Unbound is here to bring together and support individuals who are interested in engaging in this process. We don’t have all the answers but we do have a strong desire and commitment to participate in transforming Africa from the poorest continent in the world to one where all her people live in peaceful harmony, prosperity and freedom from all forms of aggression and deprivation.
Our salvation is in identifying our individual purpose in life and bringing it forth into the world. As intelligent and creative beings, we can find innovative solutions to all of our problems when we stop waiting for others to do the work that needs to be done and start looking within to discover our talents and put them to productive use. So, we have a choice; we can either try to dismiss this point and go on with life as usual (I say "try" because I don’t think the thought will go away), or take a few bold steps forward and join the rapidly increasing number of people around the globe who are engaged in living a more purposeful life.
Come, be part of our growing community and actively engage in this quiet revolution. Ask your questions (post them on our website in the You, Unbound section) and let others in the community support you in your journey. Share your experience by writing an article or poem, or mentoring a young African through our mentorship program. The Africa Unbound train is moving; you can join now or later. We’ll be here!
Education is the foundation of any society. It is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another. The history of education reflects human history itself - the history of the knowledge, beliefs, skills and cultures of humanity. In the early stages of human history, education was transferred orally and through observation and imitation.
Learning was done informally with parents, grandparents and extended family members. At later stages, learners received instruction of a more structured and formal nature, imparted by people not necessarily related, in the context of religion, initiation or ritual.
Education directs the development and maintenance of social and economic order. It is the basic instrument for change and alleviation of suffering. Hence, the aim of education should be to develop the capacities and talents latent inhuman beings, and to coordinate their expression for the enrichment and progress of society. Genuine education must not only instill information and skills and prepare individuals for jobs; it must also empower us to use our minds creatively, to find and follow our passions and create a deeper understanding of how and why our long-term wellbeing depends on the wellbeing of others.
Liberation may be described as a process of extricating oneself from social hegemony, which institutes inequality and oppression. In a spiritual sense, liberation is a state of freedom where the individual ego is eliminated and the true egoless state or the state of self is recognized. This is known as the liberation of the soul. It involves freedom from our mental limitations and our prejudices, and enlightenment as to our own real and true existence.
Liberation Theology, which arose principally as a moral reaction to the poverty caused by social injustice in Latin America in the 1950s–1960s, has now grown into an international and inter-denominational movement. It seeks to interpret the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of liberation from unjust economic, political or social conditions. The term was coined in 1971 by the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez, who wrote one of the movement's most famous books, A Theology of Liberation. The struggle of women for social justice has given rise to another form of liberation theology, frequently referred to as feminist theology. In the United States, black women speak of a womanist theology, while the liberation theology of Hispanic women is referred to as Mujerista.
Creative Minds Academy is a coeducational school established in 2007 in Jos, Nigeria. Our mission is to develop a quality educational environment based on the foundations of positive values and to instill in our students a profound sense of ethics and character, which are conditions for building an honourable and productive society. We are helping young people discover and develop their inherent gifts, talents and abilities, and support their development as ethically responsible, self-disciplined and creative social citizens.
At Creative Minds Academy, we mentor, guide and lead our students to understand the issues facing the world and to know that they have the capacity to effect change. To facilitate this process, our educational curriculum blends values education with social and scientific research, and student project-based learning. International educators and teachers are invited to share practical experiences with our students on contemporary issues ranging from career prospects, social responsibility, community development and international politics, among others. In so doing, we are gradually working towards the integration of social, creative and intellectual development within the context of supportive human relationships.
We have gone beyond just transferring to our students the skills necessary for healthy competition and survival in an increasingly complex world. We also focus on the cultivation and development of the heart, which we hold as an indispensable prerequisite for human liberation and the attainment and enjoyment of freedom. Our curriculum exposes our students to a variety of opportunities to discover, reflect and act on positive human values, and to view themselves as responsible members of both the local and global community. In addition to instructing our students in conventional subjects like Mathematics, English, Chemistry, Physics, History, etc, we encourage them to develop basic human values of compassion, friendship, cooperation, community service, self-discipline, perseverance, honesty, kindness, generosity, courage and respect.
Another key element of our educational curriculum at Creative Minds Academy is the “Values in African Thought Education Program.” Introduced in 2008, this Program is committed to the vision of a healed world and especially to ensuring that the rapidly vanishing voices of the traditional African wisdom-keepers of the earth are heard and respected. Learning is facilitated using African proverbs, storytelling and personal narratives. While the proverbs provide wisdom and insight into the mysteries and realities of life, the stories and personal narratives provide lessons and instructions on good social conduct and integrity . Through the Values in African Thought Education Program, our students are supported and encouraged to develop sound knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Africa's rich traditional values and cultural heritage, and to situate this understanding in a global context through a greater shared acceptance and understanding of our diverse world.
Through these methods, our students gain an understanding of reality and life, which enables them to better respond to daily challenges.. We recognize and treat our students as conscious beings by creating space for their creative wisdom to blossom. This way, we are equipping our students to create for themselves and future generations a sustainable future of greater personal, social, economic and environmental wellbeing.
It has been noted that effective education is the greatest force for change and the greatest investment for the development of the world’s economic, political, social and human resources. Therefore, deliberate efforts must be made to ensure that education is relevant to the needs of the time by enabling empowerment, independence and fearlessness through the cultivation of critical thinking and responsible actions. African educators and policymakers must ensure that the quality and type of education provided to our children clearly reflect the cultural and historical heritage of our people, as well as the realities of modern times.
Emmanuel Ande Ivorgba is the Founder and Principal of Creative Minds Academy.
Religion plays a huge role in many societies around the world and this is especially true in Nigeria. The country is home to the largest number of Anglicans in the world, has the fourth largest population of Roman Catholics and the fifth largest population of Muslims.
Nigeria arguably has the largest number of evangelical churches in the world and has been described as the most religious country in the world. Many Nigerian citizens, including its current president, proudly espouse their religiosity and bask in the glow of the international attention that the country has received because of it. Pastor Enoch Adeboye’s recent recognition by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world is often proudly cited by the faithful of his Redeemed Christian Church of God.
Men of God like Pastor Adeboye are typically revered by Nigerian Christians and very often attain rock star status. They travel in private jets, are driven around in convoys of several sleek cars and are accompanied by private security and sometimes security provided by the state. Top government officials kneel before them and, since they are widely believed to be kingmakers, several politicians desperately try to receive their blessings and divine counsel.
In many states in northern Nigeria, Sharia Law now supersedes the colonial government-influenced Common Law, with Sharia courts extending beyond their traditional role of settling civil disputes to admitting criminal cases and passing sentences that include corporal punishment, amputations and even death sentences. The militant Boko Haram movement, currently waging a violent insurgency against the Nigerian state, has as its primary goal the establishment of Islamic knowledge in place of formal education.
What is the impact of all this religiosity on the wellbeing of Nigerians? The author Robert Wright in his book, The Evolution of God, identifies two schools of thought regarding the impact of religion on humanity. On one hand are the functionalists, those who believe that religion serves an important social purpose. On the other hand are Marxists, those who hold that social structures such as shared belief are designed principally for the benefit of those who accept them.
From a functionalist perspective, one might argue that religion provides many Nigerians with an identity and a sense of purpose. They also provide a safety net for their followers in the form of food and shelter. Religious organisations have run missionary schools and hospitals since colonial days. Indeed, some religious organisations are partnering with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the fight against HIV/AIDS and many other societal challenges. One can therefore say that, to a degree, religion fills a void in the lives of Nigerians. Religious organisations step in and take responsibility where weak government institutions are unable to make much of an impact.
However, when viewed from a Marxist viewpoint, religion is very often used as a vehicle to garner political and social power, and this has sometimes led to despicable acts of physical and mental torture and even murder. This was the case with the child witchcraft saga in south-eastern Nigeria, which was perpetuated by pastors of some evangelical churches as a means of securing control over ignorant people and their resources. The mass killings witnessed in the city of Jos in north central Nigeria over the last ten years are partly the result of religious differences between Christians and Muslims, even though it is widely acknowledged by many, including the Human Rights Watch group, that the fight is also over land as well as political and economic privileges. What was originally perceived as a battle between ethnic groups has morphed into a religious conflict, with each side in the conflict using religion as a tool to mobilise large-scale support from fellow adherents.
The Anglican Church in Nigeria, under its former primate Archbishop Peter Akinola, had sought to expand its influence in the country’s political and legislative process by actively supporting the promulgation of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill. By pushing for the passage of this odious law, Peter Akinola was willingly undermining the fundamental human rights of lesbian and gay Nigerians and subjecting them to more cruel levels of persecution. And all of this because he was strongly convinced that his own version of biblical understanding could not rightly support the existence of non-heterosexual relationships.
Enlightenment played a significant role in whittling down the negative influence of religion in Europe and the American colonies in the 18th century. However, this was only achieved due to the existence of the right social and economic conditions at the time. If enlightenment is to have any impact in Nigeria, some necessary groundwork must first be done. Before we can even begin to think of enlightening Nigerians, they must be able to read and write. When 66 percent of the population of Borno State (according to the 2006 Nigerian census) cannot read or write their name, it is impossible for them to understand what it means to think critically, and it becomes clearer why Boko Haram has such a huge following in that state. When the vast majority of Nigerians live on less than a dollar a day and are unable to eat properly, it is likely that they would be more preoccupied with finding sustenance than debating the existence of witches and other supernatural belief systems. If someone is sick in some remote village without access to modern medicine, asking him not to visit the local shaman or spiritual healer will be tantamount to depriving him of the opportunity for healing.
Thus, the surest way to liberate the minds of Nigerians and Africans from self-seeking, exploitative religious practices is to put food in their stomachs, provide medicine to treat their ailments, give them clean potable water, engage them in practical education and learning, provide them with opportunities to make a living and free the womenfolk from the bondage of perpetual childbearing and domestic servitude. It really is that simple. Unless the basic conditions of Nigerians are improved and the problem of poverty tackled, it is debatable that any attempt to enlighten Nigerians would bare any significant fruit.
To illustrate the reasons that religious dogmas are so strongly instituted in some parts of Nigeria, one only needs to read the United Nations Human Development report on Nigeria (2008-2009). The report notes that the states with the highest incidence of poverty and the lowest scoring on the Human Development Index (HDI) are the northern states in Nigeria, with Borno State, the birth place of the Boko Haram movement, having the third lowest HDI and the second highest incidence of poverty. In a survey of 110 countries carried out by Gallup in 2007, it was observed that levels of religiosity increased with levels of poverty. Numerous other studies have also drawn the link between poverty and religiosity, so perhaps the situation in Borno State can provide additional credence to this assertion. The growth in the influence of such sects as the Boko Haram has been largely a result of the failure of modern institutions to provide better living conditions for the people of northern Nigeria.
While Nigeria as a whole struggles with the legacy of long military rule and the corrosive effect of its dependence on oil revenue, northern Nigeria has to contend with its geographic weaknesses and a century old, self-imposed isolation from modern education and values. It is against this backdrop that one must observe the spectre of religion and its odious consequences. The harmful effects of religious dogmas and creeds can also be observed in other parts of Nigeria such as Akwa Ibom and Cross River States, where there has been an alarming upsurge in child witch-hunting by evangelical churches, taking advantage of high levels of impoverishment and ignorance.
At the risk of belabouring the point, the ill effects of religious dogmas can only be lessened with a concurrent improvement in the quality of life for the people. The high level of religiosity in Nigeria is nothing more than one of many symptoms of poverty and lack of wellbeing for the vast majority of Nigerians, as it is for other poor countries in the world. Numerous studies have traced the link between high levels of religious dogmas and poverty, so Nigeria’s case is therefore not entirely unique. If history is anything to go by, however, its future could be a lot different.
Ikechukwu Okechukwu is a member of the Nigerian Humanist Movement
Though I firmly believe that anything can be achieved with the right mindset and determination, I have not always been sure of what to do with this philosophy. Even when I began to develop certain interests, it took a while before I could mold these interests into practical action. But, gradually, things began to fall into place. I discovered that when I worked with creative people from diverse cultures, I found peace and fulfillment.
I had this same feeling when I sought new adventures. I particularly enjoy meeting and interacting with people. Public spaces stir my imagination and creativity. One of my greatest inspirations came from those who picked themselves up and moved on despite being plagued by overwhelming difficulties. Their courage gave me hope, reminding me that we all carry the seeds of greatness and can aspire to do great things, no matter how grim the situation may appear. But these seeds must be nurtured.
For me, therefore, community service and human development have become a sacred duty. I hope to leave my mark on the history of transformation in my community, my country and the entire world. I live to make a difference; this is my number one guiding principle. When I initially started working in community development with children and families, I found out that 57 percent of our population in Uganda is under the age of 18, which means our greatest potential as a nation lies in our children. I knew, therefore, that I had to work with children.
I discovered that when I worked with creative people from diverse cultures, I found peace and fulfillment
My journey was not to be an easy one. One of my major constraints has been time; many days I feel that I need a few extra hours in my day. I am also learning quite a bit about human nature. I noticed that some people will only cooperate with you when they believe that they will gain something personal. I can use some mentors, people who are likeminded, but they are not always easy to come by. As a young Ugandan woman, I also have to deal with resistance from men who feel threatened by a woman taking on leadership responsibilities, or who feel threatened when gender equality is demanded.
There are other barriers that I face each day. Sometimes I visit communities where a majority of the people speak a language that I don’t understand. Money remains a major challenge— the donors seem to be fewer and less generous these days. Sometimes I don’t have enough commitment from the people I work with and this is very demoralizing. Bureaucratic government structures are also a constant hassle.
I may be frustrated by these challenges, but I am not discouraged. While some men resist me, many more provide me with tremendous support. I have vowed that my passion for change and transformation will always supersede any obstacle that I have to deal with.
As a young Ugandan woman, I also have to deal with resistance from men who feel threatened by a woman taking on leadership responsibilities, or who feel threatened when gender equality is demanded
My first development experience was with Empower Children and Communities Against Abuse (ECCA) where I held the position of Psychosocial Program Officer. At ECCA I worked mainly with women as well as in- and out-of-school children. With in-school children, I focused on life skills training, which covered issues such as decision-making, self-esteem, interpersonal skills, career growth, communication, problem-solving, sex, sexuality and conflict resolution. I also worked with out-of-school children on related issues but went further to help them develop their talents and discover work skills that would guarantee them a means of livelihood. They received training in various forms of arts and crafts, business and music, as well as training tailored to meet specific needs. I also provided psychosocial support to these children through counseling and home visits in order to keep them away from crime and out of trouble.
While at ECCA, I also worked with women in various communities. Incidentally, some of these women were parents of the children in the life skills program. Many of them did not have any formal training or work skills and were very eager to take advantage of the program. Some of the areas in which they received training include basic bookkeeping, budgeting, communication, and parenting. We also provided training to prevent domestic and gender-based violence. Beyond training, we designed a self-help approach that organized these women into clusters of 10-20 that met on a weekly basis. Each time they met, they contributed funds into a common pool, accumulated savings and borrowed from the funds to invest in various income-generating activities. Today, most, if not all of these women, are able to support their families through their savings and investments.
I now work with Viva Network, which is a Christian, child-focused network that provides a platform for cooperation between churches and indigenous organizations with related goals. The aim of the network is to build the capacity of its members and strengthen their managerial strategies so that they can offer quality services to the children and women with whom they work. I specifically work with the churches in the network, challenging them to become more child-friendly, to practice financial accountability and to adopt more effective outreach methods. Among the programs that we provide for members are quality improvement systems, training for child advocates and ambassadors, and family empowerment initiatives. We also support “Community Albums,” which is a website set up to broadcast the voices of children to the rest of the world, and “Families for Children,” which encourages foster parenting and adoption. We are committed to working directly with children and their families since parents need to be included in the process. When children are empowered along with their families, there is a much higher chance for them to flourish and reach their full potential.
I hope to leave my mark on the history of transformation in my community, my country and the entire world
I have come to understand that I cannot improve the lives of others without embracing a philosophy of self-sacrifice and self-improvement. Balance is a vital part of my career choice. I must live a wholesome and exemplary life of integrity in which I take adequate care of my mind and body. I work out three times a week, which includes swimming at least once a week. I read for two hours or more a day and give no less than two hours a week to charity work, such as volunteering as a counselor for Watoto Church in Kampala. I travel and sightsee. I write poems, songs and short stories that I hope to publish someday.
I live to build a legacy that will outlive my time here on earth. I am excited about the possibilities of helping young people reach their full potential. Each day I strive to develop my leadership and mentoring skills and my ability to work more effectively in multicultural environments. Seeing the difference that my efforts make in the lives of others – the ability to bring out the best in others – gives me joy that I cannot express in words. I believe that a revolution is taking place in my generation and I am determined to be a part of it.
I want Africa to discover her destiny. I want her to be a place that people will love to visit, a place of peace and prosperity for all. Many visions and prophecies have been told about Africa being the next world power. Africa is about to experience a dramatic change that will inspire the whole world. Young people and highly inspired people like us will make this vision a reality. But we must understand that 'every change begins with a vision and a bold decision to take dogged action.'
I am a social agent and an entrepreneur. I live in Oke Aro, Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria. My personal mission is to be a source of inspiration and motivation to millions of young Africans through my entrepreneurial activities hence prompting them to discover their own innate gifts and put to productive use. I identify needs and find the resources to meet them. I look at this in two ways, from social and business perspectives.
Africa is about to experience a dramatic change that will inspire the whole world. Young people and highly inspired people like us will make this vision a reality.
For example, youth in my neighborhood who are secondary school graduates cannot afford to go to the university or find jobs. They just hang around and get in trouble. So, in 2009, I decided to start a Youth Farm Project-- with no resources. I kept looking around for possibilities until, one day, a parent offered to loan us an acre of land. On this land, thirty youth have planted and harvested corn for the past 2 years. The crops are sold at a local market and the profits are shared among all who worked there. We will soon start growing yams at our farm too. At the Youth Farm, we also teach the young farmers entrepreneurial skills. Each visit to the farm is an experience of friendship, fun and solidarity.
Some of our profits were used to purchase computers and we've also started a training program. At our computer resource centre, we teach young people basic computer skills such as typing, printing, and the use of the internet. Thirty-four youth have now completed this training and gotten jobs doing secretarial work and such. Both of these projects have empowered the youth to realize that they each have something useful to contribute to their communities.
Pursuing one’s dreams in a typical African society requires persistence, doggedness and much hard work. One’s parents could even deter you by asking you to go look for a job that will fetch money instead of trying to solve society's problems. When I had the idea to start “The Youth Farm Project,” a lot of people condemned it. They said to me that I am a university graduate and how could I become a farmer! People, especially friends, were surprised to see me work on the farm with other economically challenged young people. Because I have learned that dreams come true if pursued, I did not allow what people say to distract me. My dream is to help as many economically disadvantaged young people in my community as I can. If I do not help them now, they may grow up to become touts, thieves, armed robbers… that will rob us in the future.
When obstacles come up, I hold on to my vision and keep looking for resources. When I find even the smallest resource, I use it carefully to do as much as possible and keep going. An experience I had at Covenant University shows this. In 2005, a group of approximately 60 university students wanted to raise 300,000 naira ($2,000 USD) to help abandoned babies, orphans and hungry elders in our community. We tried to raise some funds in the usual ways but just weren't having success with that. So we decided to write a small book called Life Impacting Virtues for Young People, with each student contributing one page. We sold it to our family members and, within one day, we had reached our goal!
Because I have learned that dreams come true if pursued, I did not allow what people say to distract me.
My goal is to run a large social entrepreneurship enterprise that will help youth realize their dreams. The organization would teach the youth about turning their dreams into reality through both internal motivation and realistic action. I would tell them that resources may be scarce when they are starting on their idea, but to use whatever they can find carefully and others will be inspired to join.
I also want to write a small book about these ideas that will help others start building their dreams. I want them to know that people will doubt them and tell them they can't succeed but they have to ignore all that. Just keep doing whatever is possible.
In conclusion, I would like to tell African youth to be inspired by those around them and to join with their peers to make a difference in their communities. I want them to know we have the power to do what we want; we have to discover ourselves and meet our challenges. Find one place to make a difference every day, just one small action daily, and this will lead to something big.
If I have to describe Derrick Ashong in one word, it would be inspiring. He is intelligent, passionate, and driven to make a positive difference. Derrick was born in Accra, Ghana and currently lives in the United States. This Renaissance man is the leader of a band called Soulfege. He and the band recently completed the production of a new album, Afropolitan, due to be released this summer. He is also a radio host on SIRIUS XM's Oprah Radio (satellite radio) and is working on a new television show that will air on Al Jazeera, titled "The Stream." Through his music and everything else he does, Derrick encourages us to be creative and express ourselves boldly.
RK: Derrick, how would you describe your music?
DA: We explore different genres and different styles. Our music is rooted in traditional African music and it is cosmopolitan. That's why we called the new album Afropolitan. Most of the music that people listen to in the West is profoundly influenced by African music. If you trace the ethnology of that music, whether you're listening to hip hop, rock, funk, country, soul, or gospel, I can trace the roots back to African music. The music of Soulfege expresses an expansive vision of a global African identity. You'll hear elements of hip hop, reggae, highlife, soul and gospel. It's mixed with different sounds, just like we as a people are.
RK: You use your music as a tool to raise awareness and empower the youth. Tell us about it.
DA: Basically, empowerment is the principle that underpins a lot of what I do. How do we empower the new generation to look at themselves through new eyes, to shift the way that they perceive their own power and hopefully leverage their creative spirit and available technology to begin creating the societies and opportunities they would like to see?
I'll give you an example of how I do this. A few years ago, I got really frustrated with the way that Africa was being depicted in the international media. Every time you turned on the television, there was something negative - death, war, destruction, corruption, HIV, violence, some sort of political drama. They find the most negative images of Africa and they use it and extrapolate from it to define who we are as a people. You can say that corruption, HIV, malaria, and poverty are all real problems, but they are not the totality of our story.
So rather than start a protest or write a letter to the editor or do something to say I don't like how you reflect and represent me, I took a team of peers to Accra - musicians, film makers, teachers and social activists. We got together and made a music video, a remake of a West African classic, "Sweet Mother." We went and filmed what was going on in the streets of Accra. We went to the market, to the beach, into the schools and generally into our world. We showed everyday people in Africa living their lives and we put it all together as a music video and we released it. Within four months, that video was showing in over 50 countries on both sides of the Atlantic. The BBC World Service and MC Africa featured us. We also got coverage in the United States.
And it was a very powerful lesson because, again, if I had decided I am going to write a letter to the editor and say I don't like the way you talk about Africa, nothing would have happened. But because I used my own voice and my own creativity to depict my homeland of Accra in the way that I see it, to depict us as we see ourselves, people embraced it. They hadn't seen that kind of Africa before. They didn't realize that it can feel that way and they loved it! Ultimately, what we need to realize is that no one is going to tell our story for us. No one is going to tell it better than we can if we're willing to teach and equip ourselves and have the motivation to tell our own story. No one will respect or understand who you are and where you're coming from until you exercise your power to show them the value that is in you.
RK: Mahatma Gandhi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Talk to us about this teaching.
DA: Most of us sit around hoping for the world to become better. But the reality is, the world is us. There is a song by John Mayer called "Waiting on the World to Change." I think it's a beautiful song but I don't agree with the message. I don't think we should be waiting on the world to change. I think the world is waiting for us to change. To the degree that we are willing to change and to the degree we are willing to create the kind of world we want to live in, is the degree to which we will or will not see change. We have the opportunity to literally go out there and be the change we want to see. Get up and be a part of creating the world you want to live in. I change the world every day. Every time I write a song, a poem or do some kind of creative piece, I am contributing to the creation of the world as it could be. We take what we have and we use it to create something new. I try to encourage people through my work and my artistry to also try to have an impact in whatever capacity they can in their world.
RK: We learn a lot about ourselves when we engage in the issues that we are passionate about. Tell me about a certain quality that you identified in yourself that surprised you?
DA: A few years ago I was working on a project and I was faced with a lot of challenges and I was getting very discouraged. I talked to my father about it and he said to me, "One of the things that I admire about you is your perseverance. You never give up. No matter what happens, you always carry on and are willing to try and try again." I was very touched and very encouraged by that. I didn't think of myself that way. I've never said to myself, "I'm so great, I'll never give up, I'll never stop." When I'm dealing with a certain problem, I'm always thinking about what if I do this and try that and what about this. What I realized when my father synthesized it for me is that that is the essence of perseverance. You always try to find a way. It's not that you never fail or you're never disappointed. It's that you always keep seeing possibilities. So I would say it is the sense of perseverance and sense of willingness to go the extra mile to keep working and to believe - to believe in myself and in the issues that I care about, irrespective of the fact that people around me agree or not. And that can be difficult sometimes. Part of it is about surrounding yourself with people who will encourage and help lift you up in good times and bad, rather than bring you down. A lot of people hang out with folks who will cut down their dreams and I don't tolerate that. I don't have any people like that in my life.
RK: Derrick, thank you so much for taking time to talk with us.
DA: Thank you for the work that you do. I truly and honestly believe that our generation is going to see a wonderful shift in Africa. It's already happening, though the world has not come to be aware of it yet. I think that our best days are yet to come and I think we will be part of ushering in those days and I'm honored to be part of that with you.
The African Union (AU) has declared 2010 to be the “Year of Peace and Security” and is promising extra effort in resolving conflicts and in building a robust architecture for peace and security. AU’s efforts will be focused on Sudan, where it has a chance to crystallize political solutions to the crises in that troubled country.
Sudan holds considerable meaning for Africa. It is the largest country on the continent, bordering nine other countries. Sudan was among the last to succumb to colonial invasion—defeating both British and French armies in the course of its struggle—and was one of the first countries to win independence. Africans from all corners of the continent have migrated to Sudan in search of livelihoods, refuge, or for religious reasons. The Sudanese are famed for their hospitality to those fleeing misfortune and misgovernment.
The year 2010 is Sudan’s year of decision. This year, there will, without doubt, be enormous international attention on Sudan due to the upcoming elections. NGO campaigns have already been launched and the advocacy groups in the U.S. and Europe have drawn up their “to do” lists. All these focus on what the international community outside Africa can do for Sudan. Their paradigm has not shifted for decades. Their analysis sensationalizes crisis—especially humanitarian crisis—and their recommendations promote their own intervention. At best, they imply that African leaders and institutions are a hindrance to finding solutions for Africa’s problems and, at worst, they imply Africans’ inability to solve their own problems.
The record needs to be set straight. With regard to Sudan, Africans have been at the forefront, supporting the nation in its search for solutions. A notable instance was the 1972 Addis Ababa peace talks, which ended the first civil war. The framework for settling the second north-south war was also hammered out by African diplomatic engagement in Abuja in 1992 and then with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) process that developed the Declaration of Principles. IGAD also articulated the right of self-determination for southern Sudan. It was the Africans—Chad and the AU—that were the first to respond to the Darfur crisis with mediation and then with peacekeepers. Now it is the African Union Panel (last year focusing on Darfur, this year with an expanded mandate to cover the whole country) that is leading a political analysis of Sudan’s crisis and steps for its resolution.
One of the most adverse outcomes of the international advocacy campaign regarding Sudan is that it has raised and distorted the expectations of many ordinary Sudanese, and estranged them from the institutions and processes closer at hand that have a greater ability to address their crises. African initiatives are prematurely written off or second-guessed. African leaders are routinely dismissed as prisoners of their interests, as if European or American leaders only have higher humanitarian interests.
Over the last two years, some tension has surfaced between the African Union and some organizations in the international community. An illustration of this was the AU Peace and Security Council's (AU PSC) position on impunity for crimes. The AU PSC unanimously opposed impunity but also argued that the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s request for an arrest warrant against President Bashir needed to be considered in its political context. The UN Security Council (UNSC), however, did not even take time to debate the matter. When the UNSC is deliberating on an African issue, particularly in cases where Africans are put in the front line of enforcing UNSC decisions, then it is a matter of basic courtesy that unanimous decisions of the AU PSC be brought before the Council. But, for some, it often seems that African voices are inaudible; only when an issue reaches the pages of the New York Times does it command attention. Ultimately, the international power centers will learn that there are no real solutions to Africa’s problems outside of Africa.
Despite the efforts to undermine it, African involvement in Sudan has continued, and indeed has accelerated. The last year has seen the highest-profile African engagement in Sudan to date, with the AU High Level Panel under President Thabo Mbeki. The holistic political approach taken by the Panel has captured the attention of Sudanese from all walks of life. The African approach has zeroed in on the roots of the crisis: the inequities of power and wealth in Sudan. It has not ignored the symptoms of this political malaise, such as the humanitarian crises and human rights abuses, but it has not succumbed to the temptation of believing that addressing the symptoms will cure the disease. The African Union has also avoided the trap of second-guessing honest analysis due to fear of being criticized in the media or by activists with leverage in their home governments. In short, the African approach has been more honest and more strategic.
The African method has also pioneered a new consultative approach, seen best in the AU Panel on Darfur. Rather than developing templates from on high and directing them to follow , the AU Panel took the time to engage the Sudanese stakeholders in developing a realistic plan of action. At every stage, the Panel emphasized that solutions must come from Sudan, and must be implemented by the Sudanese. This is not a capitulation on dearly held principles, but instead the vital process of ensuring that solutions to Sudan’s crises are organically embedded in the Sudanese political process.
It’s not realistic to expect that Africa will resolve its many conflicts during this “Year of Peace and Security.” But the year 2010, the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, marks an important shift in the burden of responsibility for peace and security in Africa. The centre of gravity is shifting to the African Union and its emergent peace and security architecture. The basic institutions were set up with fanfare in 2003-2004. The aspirations far exceeded the grasp of the young AU Commission. But the AU has been gradually feeling its way towards a distinctively African method of conducting its business.
The institution's commitment to establish a continental peacekeeping force will take several more years to become a reality, but the current progress is quite promising: the AU is taking a decisive action to help bring stability in Madagascar, its troops are holding their ground in Somalia, and it is emerging as the pivotal international actor in Sudan. While the AU may lack financial and organizational capabilities, it certainly has the political analysis and acumen. It also has the staying power.
Abdul Mohammed is a peace activist based in East Africa. He works on a wide range of development issues including refugee resettlement, relief and emergency, and food security programs.
"We all incarnated on Earth at this time to experience the closing of a 5,128 year cycle of history and help initiate the opening of a new cycle," says Tajh Abdulsamad, our featured Conscious Artist in this issue. Tajh and many others are talking about “the shift”, a transformation in the consciousness of human beings. Some are calling it the biggest movement in history, the greatest social transformation of all times.
It has been building momentum quietly, yet steadily and is now believed to be in every country in the world. Some are involved quietly and discretely, while others have received extensive media coverage; examples include Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, Desmond Tutu, Bob Geldof, Bono, and Sir Richard Branson.
The new stage of consciousness is about expanding our awareness of ourselves and the environment in which we live. It's about cultivating a deep desire to know what we are capable of being and doing. It is also about healing ourselves (our emotional and physical scars) as well as the planet by developing awareness of the oneness of life.
In 2000, sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson released a book entitled The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People are Changing the World. Based on 13 years of research and studies on over 100,000 Americans, the authors show that a new culture is emerging in the United States. In describing the individuals who are building this new culture, the authors say, "The Cultural Creatives care deeply about ecology and saving the planet, about relationships, peace, social justice, and about self actualization, spirituality and self-expression. Surprisingly, they are both inner-directed and socially concerned, they're activists, volunteers and contributors to good causes more than other Americans." Ray and Anderson point out that, given our civilization is in the midst of a momentous change due to globalization, global warming and rapidly changing technologies, "a creative minority can have enormous leverage to carry us into a new renaissance instead of a disastrous fall."
In this issue of Africa Unbound, we present to you a few of the people in Africa that we believe are among the 'Cultural Creatives'. In our Soulful Personalities section, we feature Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin, an economist with a great passion to find a solution to alleviate poverty in Africa. We are also introducing with this issue a new section called Spotlight on Our Members, which replaces the section Love and Development. In this new section, we present to you two individuals, Brother Ishmael Tetteh and Emmanuel Ande Ivorgba, who are engaged in phenomenal work in Ghana and Nigeria, respectively. We understand that many of our members are transforming lives and making positive differences in various ways throughout the continent. This section aims to give visibility to these unsung heroes.
As these individuals demonstrate, the new stage of consciousness is taking root in Africa. I have seen and experienced it in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Africa. Consciously or sub-consciously policy makers, politicians, entrepreneurs, artists, and students are active participants in 'the shift' throughout the continent. It is time that we pay attention to this very real and absolutely powerful energy that is gaining momentum all around the globe. How may we participate in this greatest movement of all times?
Perhaps you are familiar with those seminars in Washington D.C. that address challenges typically associated with Africa—HIV/AIDS, inadequate healthcare, famine, poverty, war, dictatorship, poor infrastructure, low agricultural productivity, gender inequity, insecurity—the list is long though quite predictable. You may have noticed, too, that the "expert" orators at these gatherings are fairly consistent and essentially constitute a circle of recycled speakers that speak to an equally consistent bunch of recycled listeners.
It is unnerving enough that everyday conscientious Africans are hardly on hand to discuss issues that essentially affect everyday Africans the most; but worse still is the truth that the celebrities (non-Africans and Africans alike) who are ushered atop some high platform to proffer solutions to the continent’s problems are often individuals who know little about their subject. And they need not have in-depth knowledge since there are usually cohorts on hand to write their speeches for them. But, with or without pertinent knowledge, experience has shown that such big wheels rarely have any sincere concern for the problems they dissect with much pomp; after all, they do not truly endure the burden of these social problems and they tactfully maintain a sacred distance from those who do.
A generalization, you might point out, and I would probably agree with you in a different setting. But where power and money seem to take precedence over everything else, I stand by my assertion. And so, with status —office and designation, rather than substance— being the prime determinant of who has the solution to Africa’s problems, and with the everyday —but by no means inconsequential— Africans, the unsung builder of the continent, being excluded from vital discourse, is it a surprise that the majority of the continent seems to wallow in an unending cycle of penury, confusion, and stagnation? This is in spite of lofty pronouncements about aid to Africa.
Africa is endowed with some of the most industrious, determined, hardworking, and resilient people anywhere in the world. It is a place where an uneducated widow somehow manages to send her six children to a university by selling oranges and roasted corn by the roadside. It is a place where a 13-year old boy mechanic can inject renewed life into a car that would be readily discarded as junk in the Western world. In a place endowed with so much resolve and ingenuity, why is progress so slow and, in some instances, completely absent? Part of the answer requires an examination of the real motives of those self-styled "experts," and "Africanists" on both ends of the U.S.-Africa spectrum.
Rest assured that the Africa fever engendered by Clinton and reinforced by the Bush administration has not lost its fervor under the present administration. If anything, it is likely to gain momentum as there is an even greater call for a more passionate, even frenzied, focus on Africa. And why not? After all, this president’s father was from Kenya. This notwithstanding, there is no reason to believe that another wave of aid and philanthropic initiatives on behalf of Africa will not result in the hazy outcomes for which previous initiatives are known. The problem is not with the level of aid, for millions of dollars in the past decade alone have been sunk into all kinds of programs, from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). But how have these funds and resources translated into the improvement of the quality of life for most Africans, particularly those who are genuinely in need of assistance?
Until we hear from Africans who represent the "silenced" majority, a lot of facts about aid to Africa and the effectiveness of its distribution and utilization will never be told. Instead, the truth will be repeatedly skewed by self-absorbed "pundits" who wield significant authority. Anyone who has a sincere interest in Africa, and has made efforts to cull information from outside of the usually doctored and sometimes outright deceptive rhetoric of politicians and their influential collaborators, will realize that the average hardworking African has little faith in foreign aid and will swear that most of what Africa receives does not reach its targeted populace or serve its earmarked objectives.
With Africa grabbing much attention and subsequently generating millions of dollars, there is no doubt that many counterfeit "experts" will be all too happy to assume the label "Africanist" as long as this will afford them a strategic position from which they will successfully get their hands on their share of the pie. These "Africanists" are quite easy to identify though they are also well equipped to fool the unsuspecting chump. Their affiliation with Africa has occurred by appointments that come with lavish benefits too difficult to resist. They embark on several well-orchestrated trips to the continent marked by luxurious flights and interactions with top African officials. In an African city plagued by power failure, their special government lodges or five-star hotel rooms will not suffer such blackouts. While many people are starving in the nation, they will be guaranteed their three or more square meals a day. They are chauffeured to their destinations in places where basic transportation may be inaccessible to most of the indigenous people. The bottom line is, like their VIP African hosts, they make no real contact with the people during their short stay in Africa—and it is usually a very short stay—and return to the U.S. without gaining any real knowledge of fundamental issues. Still, they become prominent guests at those theatrical D.C. conferences where they speak eloquently about how to resolve Africa’s array of problems.
We must be wary, therefore, of the conspicuous advocates of Africa whose affiliation with the continent has been forged by high-paying jobs and generous benefits. A lot of these "experts" need to be looked upon with a measure of suspicion, since there is a massive difference between having a sincere interest in Africa and seeking to advance one’s career as well as enjoy the perks emanating from a job.
By contrast, there are some who are genuine and caring friends of the continent, and constantly demonstrate a selfless yearning to work and interact with the people, to learn from the people, and to collaborate on initiatives that stimulate growth from the grassroots. These advocates are not usually byproducts of grandiose political appointments. In school they develop a fascination for the continent and take courses that enhance their understanding of its peoples and their lifestyles. They attend African cultural and artistic events, not as special guests but as interactive observers and participants. Their friendship with Africans is not defined by class, office, or status, but by a real desire to develop intimacy with people for whom they have respect. Their eventual travel to Africa is often a personal arrangement or the result of an educational program that is anything but lavish. Some have taken advantage of programs like the Peace Corps. Others have accepted positions with non-governmental organizations that rely extensively on information and guidance from the local people with whom they work.
Such sincerity has nothing to do with race; after all, some of the greatest books on Africa were written by non-Africans like Basil Davidson and Robert Farris Thompson. Sadly, these genuine experts and passionate exponents of Africa will rarely be invited to share their knowledge at staged D.C. seminars, and neither will they be called upon to serve as delegates in creating strategies for supporting socioeconomic development in Africa.
The trustworthy Africanist and true supporter of Africa (whether African or American) needs to be sought from settings other than politically and economically-defined arenas. They need to be sought outside of initiatives scripted on the pages of business proposals that are veiled as acts of charity. They are to be found in the midst of ordinary Africans who have practically been relegated to a position of insignificance, while it is on their shoulders that the future of the continent rests. These ordinary Africans do not only reside on the African continent, for some of them have found new homes abroad, yet they are still powerfully swayed by the struggles and sufferings that they once endured, and are still closely connected to the friends and family members that they left behind.
We-Africans and our genuine friends—must open our eyes to certain facts. No one, regardless of background, can effectively do anything for Africa if he or she has no real, sincere contact with everyday African people. We must open our eyes and take a decisive stand against mediocre and two-faced sermons given in the "interest" of Africa, even if they are masked in lofty rhetoric, high-flown titles, and glitzy garments. We must carve out a medium through which to disseminate and amplify the voice of a largely silenced but crucial majority. Until this is done, most of us will continue to be delineated as irrelevant while our future will be steadily shaped by international business men and women.
Philip Effiong is a Professor of drama and literature at the University of Maryland University College, and also works as a consultant, writer, and researcher. He has written a novel, Monty, a book on African American drama, and several articles on African American and African literature and culture.
For 10 million African-born emigrants, the word “home” is synonymous with the United States, Britain or another country outside of Africa. Personally, I have continuously lived in the United States for the last 30 years. My last visit to Africa was 17 years ago.
On the day I left Nigeria, I felt sad because I was leaving my family behind. I believed I would return eight years later, probably marry an Igbo girl, and then spend the rest of my life in Nigeria. But 25 years ago, I fell in love with an American girl, married her three years later, and became eligible to sponsor a Green Card visa for 35 of my closest relatives, including my parents and all my siblings, nieces and nephews. My story of bringing 35 people to the United States exemplifies the way 10 million skilled people have emigrated out of Africa during the past 30 years. We came to the United States on student visas and then changed our status to become permanent residents and then naturalized citizens. Our new citizenship status helped us sponsor relatives, and also inspired our friends to immigrate here.
Ten million Africans now constitute an invisible nation that resides outside Africa. Although invisible, it is a nation as populous as Angola, Malawi, Zambia or Zimbabwe. If it were to be a nation with distinct borders, it would have an income roughly equivalent to Africa’s gross domestic product. The IMF estimates the African Diaspora now constitutes the biggest group of foreign investors in Africa.
According to Western Union, it is not atypical for an immigrant to wire $300 per month to relatives in Africa. Assuming that most of the 10 million Africans living outside Africa send money each month, it is easy to agree with the IMF that the African Diaspora is indeed the largest foreign investor in Africa.
What few realize is that African professionals who immigrate to the United States contribute 40 times more wealth to the U.S. economy than to the African economy. According to the United Nations, an African professional working in the United States contributes about $150,000 per year to the U.S. economy. On a relative scale, that means for every $300 per month a professional African sends home, that person contributes $12,000 per month to the U.S. economy.
Of course, the more important issue than these facts and figures is eliminating poverty in Africa, not merely reducing it by sending money to relatives. Money alone cannot eliminate poverty in Africa, because even one million dollars is a number with no intrinsic value. Real wealth cannot be measured by money, yet we often confuse money with wealth. Under the status quo, Africa would still remain poor even if we were to send all the money in the world there.
Ask someone who is ill what “wealth” means, and you will get a very different answer than most other people would give. If you were HIV-positive, you would gladly exchange one million dollars to become HIV-negative. When you give your money to your doctor, that physician helps you convert your money into health - or rather, wealth. Money cannot teach your children; teachers can. Money cannot bring electricity to your home; engineers can. Money cannot cure sick people; doctors can.
Because it is only a nation’s human capital that can be converted into real wealth, that human capital is much more valuable than its financial capital. A few years ago, Zambia had 1,600 medical doctors. Today, Zambia has only 400 medical doctors. Kenya retains only 10% of the nurses and doctors trained in their country. A similar story is told from South Africa to Ghana.
I also speak from my family experiences. After contributing 25 years to Nigerian society as a nurse, my father retired on a $25-per-month pension. By comparison, my four sisters each earn $25 per hour as nurses in the United States. If my father had had the opportunity my sisters did, he certainly would have immigrated to the United States as a young nurse.
The “brain drain” explains, in part, why affluent Africans fly to London for their medical treatments. Furthermore, because a significant percentage of African doctors and nurses practice in U.S. hospitals, we can reasonably conclude that African medical schools are de facto serving the American people, not Africa.
A recent World Bank survey shows that African universities are exporting a large percentage of their graduating manpower to the United States. In a given year, the World Bank estimates that 70,000 skilled Africans immigrate to Europe and the United States.
While these 70,000 skilled Africans are fleeing the continent in search of employment and decent wages, 100,000 skilled expatriates who are paid wages higher than the prevailing rate in Europe are hired to replace them. For example, the Nigerian petroleum industry hires about 1,000 skilled expatriates, even though they could find similar skills within the African Diaspora. Instead of developing its own manpower resources, Nigeria prefers to contract out its oil exploration despite the staggeringly high price of having to concede 40% of its profits to foreign oil companies.
In a pre-independence day editorial, the Vanguard Newspaper (Nigeria) queried: “Why would the optimism of 1960 give way to the despair of 2000?” My answer is this: Nigeria achieved political independence in 1960 but, by the year 2000, had not yet achieved technological independence.
During colonial rule, Nigeria retained only 50% of the profits from oil derived from its own territory. Four decades after this colonial rule ended, the New York Times (December 22, 2002) wrote that “40 percent of the oil revenue goes to Chevron, [and] 60 percent to the [Nigerian] government.” The United States would never permit a Nigerian oil company to retain 40% of the profits from a Texas oilfield.
Our African homelands have paid an extraordinary price for their lack of technological knowledge. Because of lack of knowledge, Nigeria has relinquished 40% of its oilfields and $200 billion to American and European stockholders since it gained independence in 1960. Due to lack of knowledge, Nigeria exports crude petroleum, only to import refined petroleum. Because of lack of knowledge, Africa exports raw steel, only to import cars that are essentially steel products.
Knowledge is the engine that drives economic growth, and Africa cannot eliminate poverty without first increasing and nurturing its intellectual capital. Reversing the “brain drain” will increase Africa’s intellectual capital while also increasing its wealth in many different ways.
Can the “brain drain” be reversed? My answer is: yes. But in order for it to happen, we must try something different. At this point, I want to inject a new idea into this dialogue. For my idea to work, it requires that we tap the talents and skills of the African Diaspora. It requires that we create one million high-tech jobs in Africa. It requires that we move one million high-tech jobs from the United States to Africa.
I know you are wondering: how can we move one million jobs from the United States to Africa? It can be done. In fact, by the year 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor expects to lose an estimated 3.3 million call center jobs to developing nations.
In this area, what we as Africans need to do is develop a strategic plan – one that will persuade multinational companies that it will be more profitable to move their call centers to nations in Africa instead of India. These high-tech jobs include those in call centers, customer service and help desks, all of which are suitable for unemployed university graduates.
The reason these jobs could now emerge in Africa is that recent technological advances such as the Internet and mobile telephones now make it practical, cheaper and otherwise advantageous to move these services to developing nations, where lower wages prevail. If Africa succeeds in capturing one million of these high-tech jobs, they could provide more revenues than all the African oilfields. These “greener pastures” would lure back talent and, in turn, create a reverse “brain drain.”
We have a rare and unique window of opportunity to convert projected American job losses into Africa’s job gain, and thus change the “brain drain” to “brain gain.” However, aggressive action must be taken before this window of opportunity closes. We need to determine the cost savings realized by outsourcing call center jobs to Africa instead of India since India is a formidable competitor. That cost savings will be used as a selling point to corporations interested in outsourcing jobs.
A typical call center employee might be a housewife using a laptop computer and a cell phone to work from her home. As night settles and her children go to bed, she could place a phone call to Los Angeles, which is 10 hours behind her time zone. An American answers her call and she says, “Good morning, this is Zakiya.” Using a standard, rehearsed script, she tries to sell an American product. Now that USA-to-Africa telephone calls are as low as 6 cents per minute, it is economically feasible for a telephone sales person to reside in Anglophone Africa while virtually employed in the United States, and – this is important - paying income taxes only to her country in Africa.
I will give one more example of the way thousands of call center jobs can be created in Africa. It is well known that U.S. companies often give up on collecting outstanding account balances of less than $50 each. The reason is that it often costs $60 in American labor to recover that $50. By comparison, I believe it would cost only $10 in African labor (including the 6 cents per minute phone call) to collect an outstanding balance of $50.
A wide variety of high-tech jobs can be performed from Africa, but may instead be lost to India. We must identify the millions of jobs that will be more profitable when transferred from the United States to Africa. Doing so will enable us to reverse the brain drain and convert it to a brain gain for Africa.
Philip Emeagwali is a computer scientist who won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize for the work he did on oil-reservoir modeling. For more information on his work, please visit his website.