“The biggest reason why social media has become such a big deal in Africa, is because the mainstream media has been hounded and gagged for so long, that people finally found a way to express themselves without government influence.”
The session was called ‘Africa’s Future Economy’ and the panel had quite a good mix of Africans in government, the private sector, media and of course the Chinese. The goal was simple, how to translate Africa’s famous potential to reality. The Rwandan president Paul Kagame, did not mince words when he praised China for what Rwanda has become today. His country’s capital Kigali is famous these days for being Africa’s cleanest city with an infrastructure boom that mystifies anyone whose only memories of the country are the genocide from 1994 and the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’.
Funmi Iyanda was like the rebel of the group. She voiced her disdain for how African governments treat the media; something that has made the industry almost non-existent. “The biggest reason why social media has become such a big deal in Africa, is because the mainstream media has been hounded and gagged for so long, that people finally found a way to express themselves without government influence.” She made a pretty interesting proposition when she dared Chinese investors right there in the halls to come build cinemas in Nigeria. “There are just about 30 cinema screens in Nigeria today. Imagine what 2000 screens would do for Nollywood and revenue for movie producers.” I caught the Vice Chairman of the Chinese Export-Import Bank smile at that point.
The tone of the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China was pretty much consistent with what I talked about above. Everyone had suddenly come to the realization the China is the inevitable ‘next world power’. We may not know when they will mount the saddle but the recognition of that fact, has become pretty unanimous. From sessions about arts, to information technology to medicine and the economy, every speaker regardless of nationality or political leaning, looked to China for answers.
There was no official Nigerian delegation thankfully. The ‘Annual Meeting of the New Champions’ is mostly focused on a young, upwardly mobile and successful demographic that’s passionate about change for the future. You and I know that these words can hardly be used to describe our government and the people in it. I’m not sure if the Nigerian government decided to stay away because they knew they would not fit in, or because Mr. President was smart enough not to go on yet another foreign trip that could be avoided, or if the First Lady’s health issues made it a bad time to junket.
I did see two government ministers though, and I was thankful that they were two of the smart ones. The minister of State for Health Mohammed Pate and Minister of Communications Omobola Johnson sat on a few panels and thankfully did know their onions. The Communications Minister was in fact a part of the closing plenary for the entire conference and in her words; “I come from a country that was battered over the years by bad leaders. But we now have a good president.” I smiled. A few of the Nigerians in the audience smiled. ‘We shall not proceed to air our dirty linen in public’.
Few things stood out for me in my weeklong experience at the forum. Chandran Nair, a noted Indian/Singaporean poet made one of them; “As much as we are excited about GDP growth in the southern hemisphere we must ask ourselves why today, in most developing countries, there are more mobile telephones than toilets.” President Kagame admitted to another salient point; “Africa’s problem has never been a lack of ideas. It has always been the ability to implement those ideas.” The final stand out point for me, came from Iqbal Surve, a South African businessman rumored to have bought up controlling shares in Multichoice. He liked the fact that everyone was celebrating China’s growth but hoped that Africa most importantly, does not see that as a reason to now adopt Chinese models. The big lesson instead should be the need to adopt home grown models that are Africa specific since China grew in spite of existing ‘recommended’ models. Only Africa can grow Africa.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.