The Africa I know

by Seyi Akinwale

Over the past months, I have been locked in a room with people of a similar age group and perhaps aspiration from various parts of the world. Apart from the formal learning I have encountered, the informal educational interaction has been my most profound.

I have learnt that regardless of where you are from or who you are, everyone seeks acceptance and love. The basic needs of food, clothing and shelter are important to us all. Everyone has something they would pay a premium to acquire. For one it might be a wristwatch, another shoes, education, or even leisure. This truth holds for all though it varies with individual values which are greatly influenced by environmental exposure and access to information.

Among the 50 people I have shared this room with, a lady, who is originally from a country in Asia but lived her whole life in a eastern European country, caught my attention not only because of her beauty but because she was ‘innocently ignorant’. She asked me all sort of questions after she got comfortable with me. Her questions revealed her curiosity about the continent or a place called Africa. The information she received after our conversations must have been astonishing to her, judging by her facial expressions.

“How come your hair looks this way?”

“Hmmm…..Because this is the way black hair looks”

“So why do African girls put on false hair on their head? I saw Bisi ( a colleague) and she had really long hair while last week she had short hair?”

“Well, most black girls naturally do not have long hair so they look for creative ways to make their hair longer, and I dare say more often than not it makes them look a lot prettier?”

“So tell me what does Africa look like?”

“What do you mean?” Africa is not one location; it is a continent of about 53 countries.

“Whenever I see videos of Africa, all I see is images of deserts?”

“There are deserts in some African countries, but there are also commercial and residential areas in countries in Africa. There are also very nice architectural buildings. You need to visit a country like Nigeria some day to best understand its beauty and uniqueness”

“Is it safe? I looked on a travel website and it showed me a red flag about crime”

“Come on! The security situation has improved considerably over the years. Remember we were taught that Nigeria is one of the emerging economies with the highest number of FDIs over the last few years. If it was that best investors won’t be trooping into Nigeria at that rate? While there may still be security issues every now and then, people, both foreign and indigenes, live and work safely there.”

“Hmmm….Fair point! But I read one report from somebody and they said Nigeria is a very corrupt country.

“Corruption is one of the challenges of many developing nations, including Nigeria. However, with the advent of democratic rule in 1999, the rule of law has been intensely promoted by the Government. Anti-graft agencies have also been set up and empowered to check the scourge of corruption especially in public offices.  There has been considerable progress in this regard”

“So if Nigeria is blessed with so much oil and other natural resources as I understand it how come there are so many poor people in Nigeria?”

“Hmmm…..a lot of these natural resources and infrastructure have been grossly mismanaged over the years. Consequently, revenue that should have accrued to government from these resources to promote development and alleviate poverty was lost.  Sadly, we have also had greedy and self-serving leaders in the past, but all that seems to be changing now”

“You sound very optimistic about the future of your country”

(Smiles)”I sure am. The positive indications are everywhere and investors see this too”

“Well, one thing I must admit from the Nigerians in the room with us is that you guys are intelligent, happy and very cheerful people. You also have a good dress sense”

“Well, one thing I must admit is that Nigerians regardless of the hardship of past years are very positive and hardworking people. We end up being the best at what we do by virtue of our training – we didn’t study undergraduate education under such sophisticated conditions  like “you guys” did, but we learned to strive hard nonetheless.I hope I can prove that to you when we eventually leave this room in a few months”

I noticed the way she interchanged Africa and Nigeria during our conversations. It is amazing the amount of non-Africans who assume that Africa is a country- even a Vice Presidential candidate of a ‘world super power’ seemed to be unaware of the difference until she began her campaign.

Africa is a continent, just like Europe, the Americas, Asia, Australia and Oceania. Africa is a continent made up of 53 countries with different cultures and languages. It is difficult to put all countries in Africa in a box as they are all undergoing various stages of economic growth, development and political stability.

I am more passionate about Nigeria. Apart from the fact that I have spent most of my life there with brief spells in countries across three continents, I have witnessed her transformation first-hand. Even though some may argue that I should be upset having grown up under military rule with military officers whipping my butt to send me out of the University after protests, I am not. I am only more resolved to see that we remain a country under democratic rule and with sound governance.

My experiences with International business leaders and executives that have visited this room re-enforces my faith in the country. They see Nigeria as a country that can’t be ignored in sub-Saharan Africa. The human capital, natural resources, stage of economic growth and relative political stability lend credence to this fact.

I share the passion of the immediate past President and assertively affirm the popular slogan – “Nigeria, Great People, Great Nation”.

Seyi currently studies as a Masters student at Cranfield School of Management, UK

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