How has your experience been as a fellow of the Africa Leadership Initiative network impacted your approach towards your own leadership and your analysis of leadership in African context?
My greatest experience as an ALI fellow is encountering Ali Mufuruki in person and drinking from the fountain of his wisdom. I started reading his speeches online before I met him, and followed him closely on Twitter.
He captures magnificently what ails leadership in Africa in his aptly titled speech, Keeping Each Other Honest, delivered at the launch of Africa 2.0 Manifesto in East Africa. Apart from the ALI fellowship giving me a new extended family in East Africa, it has impacted my own leadership by forcing me to ask myself daily, “What can I do better today, to make Africa better,” so that together we can accelerate the realization of the Agenda 2063 set out by AU.
As founding President and CEO of Africa 2.0 Kenya, a pan-African platform that seeks to impact and accelerate Africa’s development trajectory within the next 12 years, why do you feel like young Africans in the tech space are fundamental for this growth?
We are in the Third Industrial Revolution: A Radical New Sharing Economy, which has been best lived by Alibaba Group led by Jack Ma since 1999 and is a practical model that has rapidly transformed China and lifted over 500,000 million Chinese out of poverty. Africa can learn from this model.
It marries the best from Western procedures and processes of building enduring companies, and Eastern culture of balance, serenity, and discipline to bring out the best of a shared economy. Watch the film The Third Industrial Revolution: A Radical New Sharing Economy, whose two underlying themes are: (1). At the Macro level: Governments must react and proact to prepare or stop the information age, to save jobs – which they cannot. (2). Micro level: Everyone should learn computing as it is the reading and writing of the future, and that future is coming before 2030.
In the future, everyone will program in their areas of skill. This is what the leadership class of Africa Leadership Initiative must prepare Africans for, so that we are not left behind again. As I once saw on the office wall of Mugo Kibati, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race,” he said. “They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”
Together with Eston Kimani and our team at Africa’s Talking, after 8 years we have created a robust unified API platform for software developers in Africa building SMS, USSD, Voice, Payments and Airtime applications. Whereas a lot of young Africans speak of ushering revolutions in their own countries to upset regimes that have been in power legitimately or illegitimately for several decades, we at Africa’s Talking remain focused on creating a platform revolution in Africa. “Big things start small. The biggest oak starts from an acorn.” – Jeff Bezos
Through your various initiatives, it’s evident that your passion lies in African development through giving African entrepreneurs the necessary skills to create solutions. What is your view on China’s increasing involvement in Africa?
.If we do not develop, then we will be bullied. In 2017, while visiting the Alibaba’s Xixi Campus in Hangzhou, China at the invitation of Jack Ma, we had a private visit to the Huapan Gardens apartment where Jack Ma and 18 others started Alibaba in 1999, typical of the American garage.
Ma sends developers seeking inspiration there to work, and the message on the wall written by Ma in Chinese is “The core of this company is to grow, and grow, and grow” and added next to it is: “Development is Truth.” That said, my view about China’s engagement with Africa is that it should be a long-term partnership based on fair trade that mutually benefits the citizens of China and all the citizens of Africa, not just the greedy politicians who fail, consistently, to negotiate a better deal for Africans.
Secondly, there should be a well laid out structure of not accepting the dumping of substandard goods in Africa and this should be effectively communicated to the grassroots as a matter of pride. Thirdly, relevant skill exchange and capacity development programs for economic development should be at the core of our engagement with China. With all that being said, the truth is that whoever controls the wealth and resources in Africa controls the world.
What have been some of your most trying challenges in your strides towards building a more financially inclusive society from the grassroots?
It has everything to do with the mindset of most people in our society who have a scarcity mentality. There needs to be a shift to abundance mind set, where there is a belief and understanding that there is enough for everybody.
We have been made to believe that the ‘Golden Rule’ is that the one who owns the gold rules! As a result, we have been turned into a continent where people just grab and go. Our oppressors know this and have used corruption as a tool to control us and rob us daily of our resources as they firmly control our mind set, while they take us much as they can for their own development.
This too, must change with the help of technology and raising a values-based cadre of young stars in Africa. On December 8-9th, at the Africa 2018 Forum, we will launch the Young Entrepreneurs Day (YED) with the Presidents and the IFC 100 African Start Ups to watch to begin this new digital economy revolution for young Africans.
Who are some of the African thought leaders from whom you draw inspiration to live a life of service and purpose, and why?
Without a doubt the first one is Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela for his smile, humility, and humanity. I am particularly moved to build on his dream of an economically free and connected Africa that has an AIDS-free generation, through building The Mandela Leadership Accelerator with Ndaba Mandela, that will Build 100 Mandelas within the next 10 years. This magnificent life lesson from Madiba sums everything I want to do with others to dismantle the curse of abject poverty in Africa, “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice.
Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.
Other African leaders who inspire me are Thomas Sankara, W.E.B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, and Steve Bantu Biko. Please refer to their books and speeches for nourishment as a black African soul. As Kenyan women in parliament fight for the 2 / 3 Gender Rule to be observed and respected in Parliament, I leave you with one of Thomas Sankara’s quotes,
“Comrades, there is no true social revolution without the liberation of women.”
The last African leader who inspires me is Rt. Hon. Raila Amolo Odinga- simply because having been born a prince, he dedicated all his political life, and at great personal sacrifice to work for the poor and the downtrodden in Kenya. Most notably, he championed the structural reorganization of the country to ensure that national resources reach the grassroots. He is also a peacemaker at heart which was most recently solidified with his historical handshake with President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, which symbolized the beginning of Kenya’s healing through the Building Bridges Initiative, which is led by an ALI fellow from Kenya.