As this meeting draws to a close, I have been privileged to hear, feel and interact with the grand ideas that are gestating around Africa’s Transformation. I have heard about the immense opportunities that lie before us in the agriculture sector, a sector bursting with the potential to “feed the world”, putting Africa back in her rightful and historic place as a breadbasket for the world, capable of feeding rather than being fed.
I have experienced the extent to which the continent’s people are embracing, deploying and crafting technology, something I have more than a passing interest in as I head a company whose early leveraging of technology has been critical to our success and forms a key part of our expansion platform.
I have engaged in discussion panels that have highlighted the fact that innovation, rather than being something that Africans needed to embrace, is, in fact, indigenous to the African continent. Africa and Africans have given the world thousands of years of critical innovations in a myriad of areas and continue to do so. The difference now is that we insist on doing so on terms that are fair and just, and of mutual benefit. No longer will we stand aside and see our works, be they cultural or technological, ripped off or pawned off.
I have had the chance to argue that development in Africa must not simply be about oil and resources; it must also be about industry that cultivates human-driven resources, especially those that power creative industries. Creative industries – such as fashion and design – are proven money-makers and great job creators. Wide swaths of Africa, from Addis to Accra, have the resources and talent and the heritages to become just as dominant and successful in creative-driven industries as Milan or Paris! So it’s a no-brainer that African creative industries must be given the room and support to grow and flourish.
And in a sign of the times, assorted bigwigs from the “begging bowl” line of advocacy for Africa have been re-aligned to their rightful place of being just another face in the crowd. Sensing the newly confident African spirit pervading the halls, they were blessedly silent, no longer able to lay claim to the mantle of spokesperson for our continent, her image, her needs, or her people’s aspirations.
Lastly, and most crucially, I have come away knowing what I have always known: that large forums, even one as impressive as a World Economic Forum, are not what drives Africa’s success. Her success is driven by her people, who are hard at work, enveloped in their industriousness, too busy even to notice our meeting taking place. So, ultimately, it is up to Africans, the men and women of this wide and diverse and multifaceted continent, to make things happen. The great news is that these are the same people whose brightness, natural optimism and deep resilience have won the day before and are set to do so again on a whole new level.
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is the founder and CEO of soleRebels footwear and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.