Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Africa's Cheetah Generation

Author: Yaw Adu-Gyamfi

George Ayittey, a Ghanaian economist, author and president of the Free Africa Foundation in Washington DC, wrote a book titled “Africa Unchained: The Blueprint to Africa’s Future” in 2006. In the book, the American University Professor sought to answer the question of why Africa is considered poor in spite of its vast natural resources. According to him, the answer is obvious: economic freedom was denied to them, first by foreign colonial powers and now by indigenous leaders with similarly oppressive practices, he opines. As war and conflict replaced peace, Africa’s infrastructure crumbled.

However, in a bold attempt devoid of bemoaning the myriad of difficulties facing the continent, the celebrated economist, proposes a program of development—a way forward for Africa.

Africa Unchained probes how Africa can modernize, build, and improve its indigenous institutions, and argues forcefully that Africa should build and expand upon traditions of free markets and free trade rather than maintaining exploitative economic structures. This plan has been termed as controversial, and since the publishing of the book half a decade ago, has ruffled many feathers both on the African continent and abroad.

The book also highlighted two generations of in Africa for which I will dwell on and discuss further. After a meeting with Professor Ayittey, I joined forces with young Ghanaian and African professionals termed as the cheetah generation, to highlight issues of socio-economic importance in Africa, mainly seeing challenges on the continent as opportunities to create wealth and jobs. Professor Ayittey talks about the Cheetah and Hippo generations in Africa at TED talk in 2007, Tanzania. He further adds that, since he coined the phrase –cheetah generation in his 2006 book, it has been used several times without recourse to what it really means. Below is a description of the two generations in Africa–Hippo and Cheetah–and how the latter is poised in his own words to ‘take Africa back one village at a time’ African elites may be classified into two groups: The Hippo and the Cheetah generations.

1. The Hippos are of old 1960s era and mentality -- stodgy, pudgy, and wedded to the old “colonialism-imperialism” paradigm with an abiding faith in the potency of the state. They sit tight in their air-conditioned government offices, comfortable in their belief that the state can solve all of Africa’s problems. All the state needs are more power and more foreign aid. Intellectually stigmatized, they are stuck in their muddy colonialist pedagogical patch. And they would ferociously defend their territory since that is what provides them with their wealth. They care less if the whole country collapses around them, but are content as long as their pond is secure. 
2. The Cheetahs are the new and angry generation of African graduates and professionals, who look at African issues and problems from a totally different perspective. They are dynamic, intellectually agile, and pragmatic. They may be called the “restless generation” but are Africa’s new hope. The Cheetahs are not so intellectually stigmatized. Whereas the Hippos constantly see problems, the Cheetahs see business opportunities. They do not wait for governments or foreign donors. The cheetah generation has no qualms about getting their hands “dirty.” They recognize that solving the problems of the poor can make money, and there is nothing immoral about that. After all, that is how the wealthy in the Western countries made their money: ny creating a product or service that addresses the needs or problems of the people. Bill Gates, for example, made billions in fortune by creating Micro-soft computer software. He did not become rich by being the president of the U.S., as is the case in many African countries.
The Cheetah Generation is a new social/business network for this angry generation of African graduates and professionals. This generation believes that the solutions to Africa’s myriad of problems are already there in Africa itself. The talents, the skills and the entrepreneurship are all there and can be found, not only in the bustling informal economy but in the traditional sector as well. Market women, traders, goldsmiths, blacksmiths, food vendors, kente/bark cloth weavers, cattle herdsmen, sculptors, and fishermen, to name a few, are all testament to the ancient traditions of entrepreneurship and vibrant trading activity. Timbuktu, for example, was known in historical annals as a great market town, as were Kano, Salaga, Mombasa, and Sofala. This innovative social/business network promotes the belief that it is through entrepreneurship, free markets, and just leadership that Africa will regain its pre-colonial illustrious prosperity.

Cheetah Generation offers a unique opportunity for Africans and friends of Africa to build upon Africa’s own market tradition by fostering entrepreneurship as the most viable solution to making Africa a land of freedom, opportunity, and prosperity.

In the mist of the challenges of conflict, bad leadership, and poverty, Africa's young and dynamic generation sees opportunities. Hence, the mission is to share ideas on Africa's economic development and network with investors and African entrepreneurs in restoring the continent's economic freedom.

Yaw Adu-Gyamfi is a consultant on Governance and Sustainable Development and Director at Kumasi Center for Life-Long Learning, a center for skills training and entrepreneurship, research and advocacy based in Kumasi, Ghana.