Africa 2015: a time to feed minds

Written by  Friday, 31 October 2014 00:00

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If you’ve been plugged in to discussions pertaining to Africa in recent years, you’ve probably heard rhetoric aplenty along the lines of 'Africa is rising', 'Africa is the future', 'This is the new Africa' and other statements of a comparably rosy hue. Similarly, if you’re a lover of all things tech, you’ve probably heard – if you’re not one of the many tweeting it – that this is the digital era, technology is the now and the future (and other statements of a comparably rosy hue). Now pause for a second, if you will, and imagine the barrels of crude optimism pumping through the veins of someone who identifies as both a young African and a technophile. Given all this combined hype, such a person would be half forgiven for donning their dictator’s robes and embarking on a mission to conquer the planet (Google Maps app to hand - how else would we make it 100m down the road?), firm in the belief that the world really is theirs for the taking.

Whilst there may be a touch of hyperbole to tales of the ascent of Africa and the totality of technology, it is the case that 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies of the last decade are in sub-Saharan Africa – some posting double-digit growth rates in the midst of a global recession. Likewise, 5 of the top 7 global brands are technology companies. Simple extrapolation suggests that if these two nascent giants were to combine there would be real scope for wild innovation spawning game-changing achievements.

A young lady works away at a Coders for Africa conferenceA young lady works away at a Coders for Africa conference

I recently had the opportunity to hear Dr Mo Ibrahim speak and, in his affably brash fashion, he reminded us that the future really does lie in Africa. Demographically, the continent is younger and birth rates higher than the world’s current powerhouses of China, the USA and the Eurozone. His Foundation's report concludes that within three generations, 41% of the world's youth will be African. This being the case, the question then becomes, if the future of humanity lies where it began – in Africa – what are young African minds being fed?

Talk of feeding Africa's children's minds is a far cry from my youth where, due to the synonymity of the words 'Africa' and 'famine', 'You African' was the biggest playground insult going in south London, eclipsed only by "Your mum shops at Kwik Save" (which made no sense as an insult; all our mums shopped there).

I digress.

For decades, the world has been fixated on feeding African children’s stomachs. Now the time has come to feed the youth of the continent’s ambitions.

Who is influencing them? Who are their role models? What principles, ethics and knowledge is being imparted to and instilled in them?

If tomorrow’s world belongs to the youth of today and today’s youth are growing up in a digital world then the internet is the battleground for influence. As of now, young Africans both in Africa - and especially in the diaspora - are growing up in an online world where they follow Nicki Minaj's fashion trends, they know everything about Cristiano Ronaldo's life, they take leadership advice from Sir Richard Branson and they dote on every word Beyoncé says. Meanwhile, there is a relative dearth of voice, thought-leadership, trend-setting and knowledge coming from equally inspiring and influential African figures who should also be impacting on this new generation. In a rapidly globalising world, cross-pollination is inevitable and is something to be embraced but shouldn't it be a two-way street?

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In each of Africa’s 54 countries – and all across the diaspora – there exist people of African heritage of high national stature who have important stories to tell and opinions to share on matters personal, local, national, regional or global. The main problem is that the world doesn’t hear from them often or loud enough. When there are young malleable minds seeking role-models, guidance and inspiration all across the world, and when there are old minds worldwide who still view Africa and her people in a pejorative or a sympathetic light, now is the time for Africans with influence to stand up, ink quills, blow vuvuzelas, and use that influence online to help shape Africa so it seems to be what it dreams to be.

This is what the Onliris blog is about. It doesn’t claim to represent Africa; attempting to do so can only result in folly immeasurable. Over the lifetime of the project, we’ll aim to hear from 365 influential Africans from all fields and create an online discussion about the themes arising from their blog posts.

In essence, it is just a catablog of contributions from Africa’s most recognisable faces, respected names and influential voices. And yet it could be so much more than just that, but that depends on how involved you get. Comment, share, agree, disagree, discuss, tweet, like, +1 and contribute to this blog. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. The more people who engage with it, the more minds worldwide we could potentially influence and inspire.

The future of Africa is on(the)line.


David Osei

Managing Editor,




Femi Oyeniran  Nigeria United-Kingdom

Actor, film producer   

Website Twitter Facebook Instagram LinkedIn

Femi OyeniranI moved to England when I was ten years old. In the playground, I was subjected to ridicule because of my Nigerian accent; back then it wasn't cool to be African. In some instances, African kids even altered their names to make them sound western, or simply adopted western names.

Things have changed over the past five years and I believe this change has happened in part due to the growth of afrobeats. The online space provided a platform for this genre of music to go international as it enabled young Africans around the world to consume this new vibrant wave of music, which mixes African sounds with hip-hop and R&B. This in turn has culminated with local Nigerian and Ghanaian artists capturing the minds of non-African youth worldwide, epitomised by the success of D'Banj and Fuse ODG in the mainstream British charts. It is now cool to be African. 

The main reason I have focused on this cultural phenomenon is that it gives us an example of the power of the internet to take the local global. Young Africans need to be fed knowledge but we must not be ethnocentric in thinking this must be fed to them by black westerners. We must be weary of assuming that a British Nigerian kid in Streatham will have the solution for a problem in Surulere. Young Africans with technology and social media to hand would be more effective in creating solutions for local African problems.

I am currently a Commissioner on the Speaker of House of Commons' Digital Democracy Commission and our aim is to make recommendations to the government about how they can use digital tools more effectively in their work. One thing that's most striking in my work as part of the Commission is how technology, which is second nature to our generation, is somewhat of a chore to the older generation. Africa needs its young people who are users of the online space to use it effectively to propound ideas about their local space and to use it as a space for thought leadership. It must not be limited to being used as a place for consuming Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj.

Femi Oyeniran is an actor who has starred in films including 'Kidulthood', 'Adulthood', '4,3,2,1' and 'Anuvahood'. He is also a filmmaker, having written and co-directed 'It's A Lot'. A law graduate of the London School of Economics, Femi is a Commissioner on the Speaker of the Commons' Commission on Digital Democracy.  


Rozan Ahmed  Sudan United-Kingdom

Commentator, editor, culture fiend, renaissance woman

Website Twitter Instagram

Rozan-AhmedIt must be quite difficult for young Africans to think truly and independently about their role models. There just isn't enough focus, content and exposure on any of them. To provide the most basic of examples, growing up in the UK I learned every other world history in school other than my own - which, funnily enough, didn't even seem odd to me until later in life. That in itself highlights the power of current hegemony.

Pretty much every coveted 'saviour' of Africa I came across, even up to now, has fallen within a scope of pity, charity, aid. Furthermore, they're rarely even African. Other than the recent explosion of afrobeats, and potentially Lupita Nyongo (whose peculiar silence on African issues or even just wearing a single African designer during her red carpet overkill is a whole other debate) can you think of someone who hasn't been shaded by the severly blinding light of celebrating non-African mediocrity?

In any case, there really is no time to spend on being complacent. This is about taking responsibility for our own image, and for the prioritised protection of our own image. It’s about institutions, unions, collective agendas, narrative control and content creating entities, and the support and unification of practitioners who seek to improve the image of the African continent. What are we trying to put out to the world? Even within Africa, what messages are we trying to emit to each other as neighbours? I for one have put myself on the frontline of fighting content with content, readily using myself as an example of influence to change and empower scopes of thinking — as one woman. Imagine the possibilities if more of us came together...

There's just no point in poiting fingers anymore. It's clear that those responsibile for misleading and humilating the motherland along with her worldwide children will stop at nothing. 2000 years of dedicated tomfoolery has proved that. So, as we highlight the inaccuracies (and we must always do that) let's also take full responsibility. Let's ask ourselves who's providing these outlets the space and the opportunity to control our narrative in the first place? It's us. We are giving them that space. And, crucially, let us ask ourselves what we are doing to wrestle control back into our superbly capable hands? Who are we looking up to? Who are we 'following'? Who are we buying? Who are we helping? There's a lot of work to do and it all starts from within.

Rozan Ahmed is an award-winning creative force in the arts and social development across a multitude of markets in Africa, the Middle East, the US, and the UK. As a multi-faceted 'renaissance woman' (and a former United Nations officer), Rozan has successfully spearheaded a number of influential projects, events, and celebrity campaigns within the fashion and music industries, aligning a sincere focus on cultural preservation, social responsibility and community empowerment. Rozan's own genetic mesh of regions from Sudan, the UK, Bahrain, and Dubai is a key driver in her passionate mission to highlight and champion the arts and culture scenes in some of the lesser-observed parts of the world.

Main photo credit: Jon (gnawthepaw)



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Last modified on Sunday, 21 December 2014 12:05

David Osei

Ghana United-Kingdom

Onliris guy | Audere est facere, ergo don't ask 'can I?'; ask 'I can!' | Mediaphile | Onliner | Sportaholic | Theatre > Cinema | GUBA | Ol' SOASian & Alleynian | Scorpio | Bachata-lovin' British Ghanaian



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