Rethink Africa

I’ve been thinking a lot about Africa lately. After learning that the Western Black Rhino is extinct, I felt alternating waves of sadness and anger. Poaching of their horns seemed to be the cause, but like most causes it caves in on itself after gentle questioning. What is the cause of poaching? Greed? Desperation? Ignorance? Poverty? Like most large issues we face, they are the result of many forces; some that are clear and others that are not.

The oversimplification of the causes of a tragedy like extinction cut us off from the solutions. This issue reminded me of Chimamanda Adichie‘s wonderful discussion “The danger of a single story.”, where she illustrates how telling only one type of story about a person or place can restrict our minds to the fuller story that waits for us.

In a case like the Western Black Rhino, this story can be told from thousands of sides, or the worst, no side at all. The absence of important stories like these are very dangerous. Our western media has a giant blind spot when it comes to Africa. That is unless something horrendous happens, but by then we are too late.

We also lose out on something else when we only hear overly simple stories; we lose our ability to contribute meaningfully to any kind of solution to the problem. We only have a terribly one-sided slice of the full picture. To act quickly on such limited information will likely cause more problems than it solves. We westerners often smugly decide what will ‘fix’ the problems in the entire continent of Africa quite often on limited or faulty stories.

While it is important to help others, true help is the help that has been asked for. The people who are experiencing these massive problems are also creating the massive solutions. Microlending is a great example of this concept; it was created, not at Harvard or Oxford, it was created at Chittagong University in Bangladesh. The whole premise of microlending is that people are inherently valuable; they provide their own collateral, not with money, but with their intelligence, creativity and determination.

It is clear that, while there are very serious issues facing Africa right now, Africans have an abundance of intelligence, creativity and determination. This makes Africa a huge untapped opportunity for investment. There is tremendous growth in store for Africa as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala discusses in her fascinating talk ‘Want to help Africa? Do business here.”, a must see for any investors out there.

On a smaller scale, you can help fund entrepreneurs worldwide through microlending at kiva.org. You can pick who your loans go to and how much you want to lend. While you don’t earn interest (that goes to the microfinance institution in the country), your principal amount gets paid back so you can just keep on giving, or you can cash out. If you ever are feeling a lack of abundance, lending a few dollars to help start a business halfway around the world will make you feel like a billionaire. Perhaps we, in the west, are the richest 1% to the rest of the world.

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