‘The future is our story to tell’

In his introduction to our Special Report, Ndaba Mandela, founder of The Africa Rising Foundation, which was set up to engage young Africans in the continent’s fresh narrative, talks about the surge of optimism and creativity that is carrying Africa into the 21st century

Africa is seen as a slumbering giant in the eyes of the world media. Despite their abundance of natural resources, African countries are battling poverty, inequality and chronically high unemployment. The structure of African economies – heavily orientated towards the export of bulk commodities – does not absorb the high number of unemployed. Overpopulation and lack of skills also hampers development.

We will build a new society based on tales around the fire; of all our battles, love stories and heroes – except today our fire is brighter, our fire is the media

While many reasons have been put forward to explain the under-development of many African countries, at Africa Rising we strongly believe that the promotion of entrepreneurship, rapid adoption of technology, training and the development of small- and medium-sized enterprises is crucial to the development of African countries. In addition, we have our own theory that relates to more esoteric ideas such as self-image, self-esteem and pride. We believe that a generation of creative and entrepreneurial youth is the only solution that can awaken our people to their magnificence as human beings by painting a positive representation of the past, present and future.

Enabling environment

If one thinks of a child and the determinants of success in life, we believe the majority of the variables are psychological. Consider, for example, the circumstances surrounding the child’s upbringing. Questions such as how the child was raised and whether independence was encouraged or discouraged are particularly pertinent. Self-confidence and self-esteem are also some of the key success factors that help shape a child’s world view and thus determine their success. The influence of environmental factors cannot be over-looked: children who are raised in an enabling environment that nurtures their talents are likely to grow into balanced young adults. Other important questions relate to their general outlook on life: what they are told about the world that surrounds them will determine how they relate to the world and other people.

Above all, we believe that children who are valued as individuals have a real chance at success, which comes from exploring their natural talents and abilities. In the most basic terms, one can argue that a child’s success in life is most strongly linked to the stories it is told about itself not only by its parents, but also by its community. At Africa Rising, we believe that these human-development elements are the key success factors that will shape the future of Africa, encourage the development of new entrepreneurs and set Africa on a new growth trajectory. 

To take this analogy further: of course household income (economics) and parenting style (governance) play a big part, but never more than the child’s psychological orientation. Our continent’s greatest leader, Tata Nelson Mandela, is testament to this. He grew up in a rural village, poor by most economic standards. However, he was raised to believe in himself and to stand up for what he believed was right. A cursory review of his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, aptly illustrates this point, which is the belief that one’s outlook on life and how one sees oneself is ultimately one’s greatest strength.

Optimistic future

So we ask ourselves: what stories has our child, Africa, been told? She is told that her forefathers were slaves, that she is under-developed, that she needs aid, that she must heed the advice of the developed world. This rhetoric, this stream of story-telling, is what we’re fighting against. We are actively rejecting the foreign story in favour of our own. The past is now the concern of historians, while we optimistically look ahead.

The future is our story to tell. One of the advances and developments we have seen in recent years is a growing middle class that is spurring the demand for mobile phones and other consumer goods. African cities such as Luanda, Nairobi and Johannesburg are booming metropolises. In South Africa, the government is embarking on a US$100bn infrastructure expansion project. The developments in South Africa are spilling over into Central and East Africa as South African companies invest in the rest of Africa.

Africa Rising is a youth-run organisation. Its founders and members were born in the apartheid era but mostly grew up in and were heavily influenced by the information age. In many ways, we’re the first ‘free’ generation, and we’ve used our political freedom to free our thinking. While we are concerned about what the world thinks of Africa, we are free to decide Africa’s future and shape our destiny. Africa Rising stands as a pioneer of new thinking and represents the new Africa. We aim to rewrite our history and future from an African perspective. Africa will no longer hear stories about her that come from a slanted foreign perspective. Africa will actively participate in shaping its future and, indeed, learn to write her own story.

Our focus is on the transformative power of stories. Storytellers are the people who shape identity. We call them ‘Afro Artrepreneurs’: African entrepreneurs who work in the arts. The arts are widely defined in this context to mean anything in communication: music; fashion; literature; education and film.

Progressive attitude

In the coming decades, Africa Rising as a collective will be at the forefront of pushing a progressive African youth attitude through enabling Afro Artrepreneurs to tell vivid stories. Through this we will raise African children who will be proud of themselves and build a future that comes from a place of pride. Through the power of storytelling, we will lead the future generations of Africans to self-emancipation, liberating the great and majestic force that is Africa.

The new generation of African youth, the Artrepreneurs, are unique and are already transforming the continent in many ways. The streets of Johannesburg are testament to the burgeoning talent within. We are sitting at Africa’s busiest economic hub and it is here that a new Africa is being born. At Africa Rising, we view the link between education and media as crucial. For example, we are focusing on a large-scale computer and information-access drive in 2013 in rural schools in South Africa and a media campaign collaborating with the artist Kudzanai Chiurai on a special-edition poster series challenging perceptions of Africa.

We are excited about the future and anticipate widespread transformation as we embrace our roots and incorporate uniquely African methods. We will build a new society based on tales around the fire; of all our battles, love stories and heroes, except today our fire is bigger, our fire is brighter and our fire is the media.