There is no over glamourizing Africa or glossing over her many imperfections; the mirror has too many faces to be packaged so simply. Yet, there is a certain truth to the adage that we become what we obsess about. And let’s face it in Africa, we have had and continue to have a fixation with what’s broken, what’s not working, why it’s not working, etc. Some of it thrust upon us. A lot of it also of our own making.
Africa Day is a good opportunity to reflect on what there is to celebrate, explore, debate and reframe. Maybe we can’t talk about leadership on the continent, NEPAD or African Unity without blushing, at least a little bit. Even so, something is happening. In less than 30 years, Africa cover stories in The Times and The Economist have gone from basket case, agony and corrupt to Africa’s Rising. GDP across the continent is mostly a good news story and, in some cases, a fantastic story. Violence free elections and smooth political transitions are becoming increasingly common. Opportunities are opening, and we are making leaps in the technology and innovation spaces. Yes, something is happening, and we should all take notice.
At Talenttalks Africa, we are interested in this face of Africa. We firmly believe that as a continent, we have what it takes to build this promised sustainable growth fuelled future. To paraphrase the words of the amazing and accomplished singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela, we want to ring the bells and beat the drums, telling the stories of Africa’s becoming. We want to sing about how she’s giving to the world and not just taking from it. Africa is rising and we want to be one of her storytellers, chronicling this as it unfolds; especially in corporate spaces.
Why corporate spaces? Because businesses house some of the best and brightest minds on our continent. Because businesses, especially multinationals, have some of the most unfettered access to critical thinking and learning resources. Because businesses, especially “big business” has the ear of regulators and legislators in a way that not many other stakeholders do across the continent. Also, and perhaps mostly, because a lot of the hope and promise we all look for are housed in businesses and driven by the decisions businesses make, daily.
Interestingly, we see that while businesses have all this power working in their favour, employees within our African businesses, especially local businesses can appear tentative in their decision making and apologetic about their views.
In our collective 50+ years of business experience as a Talenttalks team, a common observation we share is that as Africans working in businesses, we could do even better at communicating what we know and what we do with confidence. We could be a little stronger about owning our own successes. Our reference point need not always be imported and sometimes contextually irrelevant “best practices”. We could claim those stories of excellence that were born in Africa and become global best practice for multinationals with as much gusto as we import global best practice into Africa. Yes!
These stories exist, we just aren’t as good as sharing them as we are at receiving with great eagerness imported stories of similar success.
It’s not enough to talk about how “we’ve been doing it” at the coffee stations and water coolers. Nor is it enough to continue to think that “doing it” should speak for itself. That’s not humility, it’s carelessness and dare I say, stupidity. Corporate Africa, we need to contribute these experiences and viewpoints to the broader world stage in meaningful, accessible and practical ways to be examined, debated and celebrated.
It should be that when professionals within the businesses grapple with issues and do a Google search, the examples that flow from that aren’t only EU, UK, US or Asia based. Rather, they are African in context and world-class in content. So that whether I am in Pretoria, Blantyre, Enugu, Algiers, Tete or Kigali, I am not isolated from cutting edge, context relevant thinking. This is how Africa Rises.
As we find and tell those stories of people doing what they do to such a level of quality and excellence that we all must sit up and pay attention, we rise. As businesses share their stories of change, transformation and success (or lack thereof) and the rest of us can learn and grow, we rise. As we create a web of connectedness that ignites fresh thinking and catalyzes growth, we rise. As we record and celebrate each myth of “can’t” that is busted, we give hope that we, in fact, can, and we rise.
…Mayibuye iAfrica, sing now Africa
Sing loud, sing to the people
Let them give something to the world and not just take from it
And we’ll ring the bells when you come back
We’ll beat the drums when you come back home…
- Extract from “When You Come Back” song by Vusi Mahlasela (1994) © Universal Music Publishing Group