Friday, February 10, 2012

African Cheetahs, Learning to Jump the Biggest Hurdles

Author: Mohamed Toure

As Professor George Ayittey puts it, young Africans (the ones who are driven to seek change and not fall in the traps of corruption, incompetence, and nepotism that ensnared previous generations), are Cheetahs. These young saviors of Africa's future toil wherever they are for their own well being, and for the sake of their motherland. Essentially, they struggle every day to surmount hurdles.

I still recall my younger brother's track meets, the summer before last. In fact, I remember his entire progression, from his very first competition as a runner circa 2007. The kid began with an undeniable talent; with time however, I noticed the discipline of his rigorous training overtaking him and his relay mates. He ran fast, and his mates ran fast. They all ran fast, like Cheetahs, never allowing their performance to be hindered by the nature of the contest. Their form was flawless, even graceful at times. They ran 400 meters, and they ran 800 meters. They ran relays, and they ran hurdles. The hurdles are the ones that sparked some powerful imagery about Africa in my mind; all this as I sipped a cup of hot chocolate earlier this week.

Hurdles are the biggest obstacles to be found on a track course. Needless to say, the taller the hurdles, the higher the skill requirements to perform well against the competition. Most importantly, the competition is double, since it runs along with the runner in the form of other runners, and it stands in front of a runner in the shape of a hurdle. Those who choose to surmount any obstacles bring their spikes, under armor, and jerseys to the track, and they run valiantly, like fugitives??? No! Like hunters... like Cheetahs.

Young Africans, at home, and in the diaspora, stand to face huge hurdles on a daily basis. These hurdles, unlike the ones I watched my younger brother jumping over, are of a subtler nature; in fact, they are intangible. The hurdles of real life aren't always to be jumped over. Some hurdles are to be crept under, and others are to be sidestepped. Sometimes, these hurdles manifest themselves in the form of lacking capital, poor access to resources, or unfavorable laws (or a total lack of laws). More often than not however, the hurdles are even harder to detect, as they manifest themselves through the unrelenting rejections authored by the gatekeepers of the boulevard to success. This process of jumping hurdles, of facing risks, and of finding ways to make it by and make it up, has a transformative effect on the entrepreneurial spirit of Africans.

I am no professor or grand guru to preach one science or methodology for success. However, through this reflective exercise, I have realized that perhaps, young Africans (Cheetahs) must all adopt an entrepreneurial spirit; furthermore, they will find great benefit and surmount many hurdles by becoming like 3 kinds of people in 1 in order to manifest their entrepreneurial spirit:
  1. Engineers, Creative Ones: these people dedicate their lives to designing, building, repairing, modifying, and innovating. Through their work, they learn one golden skill in particular: problem solving, driven by critical thinking. Each young African must apply his/her faculties in order to find new solutions to new challenges that suddenly present themselves at unexpected moments.
  2. Dancers, Great Ones: these people are aware of their environments, and of the people around them. They understand themselves, their abilities, and everything happening around them. They exude confidence, and move with rhythm, adapting to the ever-changing beat of the melodies playing. Life doesn't have a set tempo, so a great dancer dances to the tune of life with a free spirit. Rigidity is incongruent with grace, and the young Cheetah must move with agility and a great understanding of self. The gut feeling... the intuition, as well as a study of technique are key to being a great dancer of life, regardless of your field.
  3. Salespersons, Seasoned Ones: lastly, young Africans (including myself), must never forget that the human being is a social animal, and the societies that he builds are driven by forces too great for the might of machines. Like car salespersons who sell all sorts of vehicles... like lawyers who put on great theatrical performances in court rooms and move members of juries to tears... like politicians who galvanize voters and contract negotiators who seal million dollar deals in the C-Suite... every young African must be a salesperson. We must believe in our talents and in our ideas. We must market them. We must negotiate with those around us, and learn to persuade the unrelenting heart. As my former boss told me, "the sale begins when the person we are selling to says no."
I am trying to adopt the spirit of the three people I mentioned above, and I am searching for many answers. In the end, all of us must become entrepreneurs, regardless of our backgrounds in health, engineering, economics, or other disciplines. Why? Because entrepreneurs take challenges and turn them into opportunities; this is what hurdle jumpers do, what hunters do, what, what we as Africans must do. The journey of the young Cheetahs is one of a kind. Many of us have already overcome a thousand obstacles... surmounted a thousand hurdles, and stand to find many more in our path. This path will perhaps become more enjoyable, more stimulating, if we play with skill. 

We are Cheetahs, we are hunters. Let us run with grace. Let us adopt a playful spirit and do our duties with great artistry, never forgetting to listen to our gut. After all, what kind of glorious past would Africa have if we hadn't surmounted too many hurdles, and what type of boring future would welcome us if there weren't many more hurdles left to conquer?

Mohamed L. TourĂ© is the editor-in-chief of SEADiaspora. He is currently a business professional based in Maryland, in addition to serving on the steering committee of Alliance Guinea, an organization focused on human rights, democracy, and justice in Guinea. He is an associate at the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance. Mohamed graduated from the University of Baltimore with a B.S. in Business Administration and a concentration in International Business. He is a Guinean-Italian, who holds dual citizenship and resides in the United States. His belief in sustainable development as the way forward for Africa is rivaled only by his commitment as an A.C. Milan fan.

Please leave comments, and share more suggestions about how the young population of the African continent and diaspora can adopt a spirit that will lead to success. Follow this blog and follow me on twitter @SEADiaspora and @MohamedToure. Thank You.