In the work that I do there is little room for, but a whole lot of logic in, skepticism so one has to find a place of co-existence that acknowledges an immanent reality yet continues to probe for a path through to the light, a route to the mountain’s crest and the fertile plains below. For our advocacy and our actions to rise above the hypocrisy of our privilege, we have to do the work of reform and transformation with an unfounded assurance of a future possible.
The issues are overwhelming, multi-dimensional, nuanced and mostly about hoping less. Or so it often seems. From politics, to education and human capital, to economic management, healthcare, the rule of law and fundamental social justice, Africa is at perpetual war with itself, within its nations, across its communities, between its economic, social, faith and ethnic divides. The default to skepticism is surely understandable yet not excusable since it is in essence a concession to failure. Or at least, an acceptance of defeat in a war with battles not yet resolved.
Sceptics, in their levitation, think they know what others have yet to figure out. TBH, I went to the Intra-African Trade Fair in Durban a sceptic, wary of and wearied by all the jaw-jaw; smiling quietly at the loftiness of an Africa Continental Free Trade Zone and the tales of its $6trn potential. I came back a believer, flogging myself mentally for the time and energy spent with fellow sceptics in lamentation while others were building into the future possible. My epiphany didn’t come from the usual speeches or breakout sessions – it came from the thousands of MSMEs exhibiting and doing the little deals they could only hope would blossom into greatness.
I learnt that little deals are a big deal. Literally, at the heart of those little deals is an individual’s vision expressed as a product or service intended to provide value to someone who needs it, and it is offered with hope.
Africa’s entrepreneurs have little time to dwell on the stuff that gives the skeptical a platform to levitate and affirm their convictions. They garner and work on small insights to create and build value propositions that the giants overlook. They see the future possible and innovate with the resources in their environments to create the levers Archimedes asked for to move the earth. They came to IATF Durban to have a place to stand only, and signing those little deals anchored their hopes.
I learnt that hope is an intent of the heart, and though Hope might not be a strategy for business, nothing is ever sown without hope.
Africa has hope still – it lives in the interstitial, the in-between spaces amidst the anger, frustration, conflict, eagerness, resilient aspirations, gritty work ethic, drama, dance, sounds and vividness of the continent’s nakedness. Africa’s entrepreneurs have hearts, have hope and have courage manifest in the products and services they continue to innovate in what is so often portrayed as a conflict-ravaged landscape of broken promise.
I learnt that Courage is the conjoined twin of Hope – where you find one, you will find the other. They work together, grow together, experience together and live or die together.
Africa’s entrepreneurs are descendants of a courageous tribe as old as mankind itself, one that archaeologists acknowledge as explorers of the great trek out of Africa onto present day Europe and Asia. Yet there are other stories mostly lost in antiquity which record how Africa’s explorers sailed to South America a century before Columbus. Those unknown mariners built vessels of wood and reed, hoisted masts to carry sails to catch winds that would take them across an endless expanse of rolling water towards a horizon they could not have known what lay beyond. They had no way of knowing if their stocks of food and water would last till the next landfall but they carried also Hope and Courage enough to dare to seek a future possible, believing themselves capable of learning, adapting and innovating as they chased the winds.
I learnt that chasing the wind is not a frivolous game for children but that it takes a child-like wisdom to let go of doubt and skepticism to confront the uncertainties of the winds and the ocean currents beneath us with an assurance that permits one to dream again of possibilities.
Our experiences can encrust our capabilities, encasing our dreams in rock-hard coral reefs that become barriers blocking access to our possibilities. We can learn to live within the constraints of our reefs, accepting our world to be what lies within but it will be our choice. There will be others for whom another choice is possible – they will stand atop the reefs and looking at the horizon, they will launch fragile boats of reed and wood to seek new frontiers and the future possible.
This morning as I stirred hot water into the contents of the sachet of Bubez Pap that I brought back, and watched it turn into the rich breakfast I recall from childhood, I smiled and left my skepticism behind for good wondering when akara would be just as easy.
I learnt that Africa is an unfolding story, and it is unfolding forward, not backward, because of its entrepreneurs. I confess that I want to be on their boats not stranded at the edge of the coral reefs of my skepticism. I believe in the future possible.