One of my favourite African proverbs is this: “A canoe does not know who the leader is; when it turns over, everyone gets wet.” In that context, my message on Africa Day is a simple one: Africa’s pain is your pain. Africa’s failure is your failure. Africa’s ridicule is your ridicule. The question is, what are you doing about it?
I draw hope from this cardinal truth, which has been proven throughout history and which our forebears have archived in a proverb: “The one who causes others misfortune also teaches them wisdom.” Africa’s failures, pain and ridicule have been and continue to be a teacher. Today, wisdom beckons us all to learn two fundamental lessons.
Fundamental lessons we must learn
Firstly, we must always look to seize opportunities presented in every adversity. We must fight against the thinking that sitting and waiting for others to come and solve our problems is the way to go – while millions go to sleep hungry. We cannot continue to wait and complain as the challenges grow.
Secondly, looking everywhere and to everyone else for solutions, but not to ourselves, will not change anything for the better. If you doubt these words, look at our past 60 years. They are checkered with half-steps, mis-steps, stagnation and, in the worst cases, retrogression. This is unacceptable under any standard, especially for the region of the globe that is the richest in resources. This represents an intolerable breach of the most fundamental basic rights accorded to every living person, as enshrined in articles 22 to 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that could act as the Bill of Rights in every African country.
Inspiring Action through #InnovativeVolunteerism
The proverb “the jungle is stronger than the elephant” reminds us that no one of us is bigger than Africa. Africa’s failures are an indictment of each of us as individuals. Our failure to take remedial steps within our own spheres of influence certainly counts against us. However, there is reason to remain hopeful. Thanks to #InnovativeVolunteerism, the tide is turning. Ordinary people like you and me, youth across the continent, are rising to the occasion and seizing opportunities in Africa’s adversity. One of the ways they are doing this is by creating climate action enterprises for themselves.
They have risen above the mediocrity of dependency, of empty complaints and the blame game. Instead, they have leveraged on climate solutions towards building a better Africa for themselves and those yet to be born.
They have said “enough is enough” to the perennial basic challenges of food insecurity, unemployment, poverty and increasing climate vulnerability. Through #InnovativeVolunteerism, they have chosen to listen, to learn, to be guided and to apply themselves in enterprise actions from climate solutions like clean energy. They have chosen to retool their skills, to tap into the adversity of the US$48 billion in annual post–harvest food losses and to convert these problems into income opportunities for themselves, creating homes that are food secure and putting more money into more pockets.
They are actively combating the pain and shame of poverty, hunger, unemployment using what they have – not with empty complaints and playing the blame game.
They have leveraged on the availability of the Internet, not to engage in social media gossip (which is driving us further down the path of hopelessness) but to improve, refine and realign their skills to tap into Africa’s area of global comparative advantage – which is its agricultural value chains. Unlike many, they have risen above the differences of their tribe, creed and social standing to leverage on the diversity and complementarity of their skills, talents and interests to build competitive enterprises. These are our heroes of #InnovativeVolunteerism, whom we must encourage and emulate for a better Africa for us all.
Innovative Volunteerism is not blind optimism but real action already touching lives across Africa
In Kenya, #InnovativeVolunteerism actors with diverse skills – ICT, marketing, clean energy – have been guided to improve, refine and align these skills, which are now used to tap into the losses along Kenya’s agro-value chains and converting these losses into profit. They have come up with the first “connecting the dots” mobile and desktop application, called EBAgroPamoja, that is linking agro-producers to intervening services of organic inputs, clean energy, logistics, finance and markets. By doing so they are on track to converting the US$500 million in annual post–harvest losses in Kenya into food–secure homes, into business opportunities for enterprises across diverse sectors – be it logistics, clean energy, agriculture – and into more money in more pockets. They are actively combating the pain and shame of poverty, hunger, unemployment using what they have – not with empty complaints and playing the blame game.
In Nigeria, another group of #InnovativeVolunteerism actors have come together and, using similar logic as their counterparts in Kenya, have focused on the fish, tomato and cassava value chains. They are using their skills and talents to link producers to clean energy solutions and to lucrative markets so that they can earn more. Similar admirable actions are ongoing in Uganda, Togo, The Gambia and elsewhere in Africa.
Together we can move mountains
This Africa Day, let us recommit ourselves to Africa’s progress, not in words but in deeds. Let us fight against the flawed thinking of waiting for others to solve our problems while millions die of hunger; while millions of Africa’s young people face the spectre of unemployment on the world’s most resourced continent. Let us fight against the flawed mindset of seeing and dwelling on problems in every opportunity and instead seize upon every problem as an opportunity for progress. Let us commit to #InnovativeVolunteerism.
Dr Richard Munang is an expert in climate change and development policy in Africa. These are the author’s views, not those of his institution. He tweets as @RichardMunang