Kiwai-Z from David Applefield

The African Dream

WASHINGTON The best part of the Africa story that keeps unfolding in our press and which excites investors and arouses curiosity is actually the same stuff that ignited the world once about America.

The place is bigger than the imagination. It’s hard to understand. Its possibilities outstrip our attempt to contain and control. For some, this suggests the attainability of wild profit. For others, it means that chronic problems can be leapt over unsolved with the ingenuity of new solutions. The cell phone connected hundreds of millions of people who never had fixed lines.

Africa has the ability to excite the imagination because its possibilities go beyond the edges of what we have already created. The American Dream excited the masses because it took down the boundaries of tradition and domination and restraint and handed the keys to the inmates. Go. Do. Be. Walt Whitman would have been among the first to have celebrated the Africa of today.

Many Africans are still far off from widely enjoying the psychic power of unbridled individuality, and the citizens of many of Africa’s 54 nations still have miles to go before being able to be rid of the shackles of state and poverty and the residue of colonial self-censorship. But the Africa that is rising and emerging and taking hold of its own destiny, politically, economically, socially, and intellectually, is the continent that we should be paying a lot more attention to. We are approaching the tipping point where the talent of Africa’s youth are overtaking the wealth of the continent’s natural resources. Where education will be a greater asset than oil or diamonds.

I love hearing about a leafy plant that grows in Chad and which is ten times more nutritious than iceberg or romain lettuce. The Sudan, a sprawling country better known for lawlessness than the fertility of the Nile valley, could alone feed the entire African continent. That’s news.

I once met a 24 year old in Dakar who invented a public toilet which converts urine into a fuel that can be scaled into a low cost source of electricity sufficient to light up the Senegalese capital. Why isn’t that breaking news?

In early August, President Obama has invited over 40 African Heads of State, many of their Ministers, and captains of promising and prosperous industries, to Washington, DC to meet, and talk, and ultimately build closer relationships which will blossom into understanding, and ultimately deals. And hopefully trust. The president’s initiative, although tucked away in the heat of the summer, is a large gesture of significant change. Whereas economic development with Africa has often taken a quieter place in the fanfare of turbulent western policy issues, and financial and social tension, perhaps this shift of attention to Africa, its undeniable potential, and its overwhelmingly young and eager population, will be seen as a fusion of dreams.

– David Applefield