Bill Gates is the most illustrious member of the Harvard College class of 1977 who never graduates. But in 2007 Harvard handed over the diploma. And a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Gates was awarded another diploma he could show his parents.
I am not about to bore you with a catalogue of billionaire college dropouts. This is about two speeches. The first speech was by Bill Gates when he accepted his honorary degree at Addis Ababa University about three weeks ago. The second speech was by US President Barack Obama when hosted the first US- Africa Leaders Summit held last week.
Gates is optimistic about Africa. He notes that the continent was in an incredible position to shape its own destiny. According to Gates this entails supporting programs developed by Africans, for Africans because the real fuel for development must be drawn from the African continent. This must go hand in hand with investing in research and supporting delivery efforts on issues of the greatest consequence to Africa’s people.
Speaking at the US-Africa Leaders Summit President Obama observed that a new Africa was emerging, even though Africa is still confronted with the challenges of disease, hunger, poverty and conflict. More governments are reforming and embracing democracy and political accountability. He further noted that Africa, the youngest continent wants trade and equal partnership and not just help or aid. In what could be a broadside against China, Mr. Obama observed that the US was not interested in Africa for its extractive and natural resource. According to Obama, the US and indeed the rest of the world must recognize Africa for its greatest resource, which is its people; their talents and their potential.
Mr. Obama underscored the need for Africa to build and nurture the rule of law, buttressed by a strong civil society to ensure inclusive and accountable governance in both the public and private sector. The US-Africa leaders summit was about investing in the future generation, working to unleash the next era of African growth.
In many ways bringing five hundred young African entrepreneurs and leaders to Washington makes the point. It was to me, a moment of exceptional pride to watch and listen to Takunda Chingonzo engage with Obama on the substantive points he made in his Africa strategy and policy speech. Takunda Chingonzo is a 21-year-old Zimbabwean. In his own words he works in the wireless technology space and is essentially working to liberate the Internet for his fellow citizens.
Bill Gates, the US-Africa Leaders Summit and the spirit of the joint Africa-EU strategy signal a new dimension to how Africa is perceived by the rest of the world. For the most part, especially in the eyes of China, India and some European countries Africa is no more than its farmland, oil, gas and minerals or the lucrative infrastructure contracts.
As an African public intellectual I dare say that Africans do not want trade or business for its own sake. Business can only be a mechanism for building the foundation for Africans and our trade partners to unleash a new dawn of African growth and prosperity. Growth, which is strong and inclusive, enabling a tide that lifts all African families with decent jobs and a dignified lives.
Both Bill Gates and Barack Obama were clear on one fundamental point; this is Africa’s moment and there is a new Africa emerging, rising from decades of desolation. But rise of the continent will depend on whether leaders are open to learning from each other and listening to their own citizens. Fundamentally, whether or not Africa rises depends on its youth, the future leaders of the continent.
Fellow Africans we are the ones we have been waiting for. It is all about what Africa can and must do for its people. We can have business and leaders’ summits with the whole universe but nothing will change until Africans rise up, roll up their sleeves and get on with the work of building this continent; village by village, town by town, country by country.
For far too long the narrative on Africa has focused on small things outsiders can do to help save the continent. Africa can only lay claim to this century when political and economic institutions are inclusive, not extractive or obsessed with protecting the political and economic power of only a small elite.