Thursday, March 11, 2010

Our Turn Now

It is Africa’s year. But more than that, it is turning out to be Africa’s century: that the continent will be the world’s greatest story after China, India, and Brazil and such other emerging economies.

This year’s African Cup of Nations was the most reported, with countries like Malawi sending reporters and the BBC camping there for months, doing special documentaries. Of course there was the shooting of the Togolese team in Cabinda, but that is not the only reason the tournament was widely reported.

Add to that, Fifa World Cup is being hosted in South Africa and the world’s attention is truly on Africa.

But football is not the sole reason the world is focusing on Africa. The world is realising that Africa is on course. No wonder TIME, Fortune and CNN will be hosting a three day global forum in Cape Town in June. The meeting, bringing together Fortune 500 CEOs, world leaders and members of TIME 100, is dubbed New Global Opportunity.

It is a double first: the first time Africa is hosting World Cup only, and the first time Africa is hosting the first-ever Fortune/TIME/CNN Global Forum. And the meeting’s theme is revealing: New Global Opportunity.

“This is the idea that global economic power is shifting to the developing world—to Africa and the Middle East, as well as to Asia—and that these markets are more than frontiers of growth; they are the sources of new ideas and models that can be applied everywhere,” says TIME Managing Editor, Richard Stengel, in his editorial of February 8.

Sources of new ideas that can be applied everywhere? TIME’s international editor Michael Elliott has the answer. “We have given the conference the title the New Global Opportunity because there’s a realization that we can’t go back to the old ways.”

The old ways were that ideas come from the West and Africa, for example, should listen. Now Africa is initiating projects like fertilizer subsidy and the West is looking with admiration. The old ways were that we were supposed to sell raw material. The new ways are that Africa should add value to its products. The old ways were that Africa should send its higher degree candidates to the West. The new way is that Africa is training its people up to PhDs. The old ways were that Africa should seek guidance from the West. The news way is that the West should learn from Africa, too.

This is not by accident. Most of Africa is democratic now or moving towards democratization. Still, there are civil wars and pockets of dictators, but that does not hide the rest of progress on the continent.

News about Africa’s economic growth is most tricky. How do we talk about growth when the majority of people are still living in poverty? Understandable. But every journey starts with the first step. We are moving but there is still a long way to go. We need to work hard to be there, at our destiny.

We need to make sure most people have food. We need to ensure our children go to school. We need to reward those who work hard and are exceptional. We need to prevent deaths of mothers and babies. We need to do so many things. So many things indeed, that the task seems impossible.

In this case, hope is an asset. Hope is free but not cheap. If we lose hope, we shall not move forward.

It is not this generation that shall enjoy the fruits of our hard work. If we really mean well for our children and their children, we need to sustain this growth and make true the observation that Africa is moving.

Let this be our century.

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