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.
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).
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?
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.
The future of Africa is on(the)line.
Commentator, editor, culture fiend, renaissance woman
It 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...
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)