From Rwanda with hope: Africa’s transformation really happening

The latest Transform Africa Summit (TAS) was held in Kigali last week. It ended on Friday. Delegates have gone back home. Life will return to normal, until the next one in Conakry, Guinea.

Not quite. This was not just another conference on the busy international circuit where delegates are already thinking of the next one before the present has ended.

There was something different about this TAS. Yes, there was the normal buzz associated with such meetings, but it was not the usual kind. It had a more business ring to it.

The speeches, too, were not the customary sort, part of the formality, and forgotten soon after. They had a focus, urgency and earnestness that compelled attention.

The majority of attendees, increasingly more youthful and innovative, radiated so much energy and purpose. To emphasise this purposefulness, there were exhibitions of various products and applications, the launch of some of them and signing of deals.

I have never felt so much optimism in a meeting on Africa, never heard so little about problems and who was to blame for them, or our inability to do anything about them, but a lot more about solutions as was in evidence last week. Of course it had to be like this; it was about transformation after all.

Listening to the political leaders talking, the experts spelling out what should and can be done, and the young people showing that it can actually be done gives one a sense of hope about Africa’s future.

Everything they said was about finding solutions to the challenges of today and those that lie ahead, making innovations, building systems and creating collaborative networks to enable all this. It was about measuring ourselves against the best, learning from them and doing similar things or even better.

Even Sophia the robot struck a hopeful note. She sought to allay the fears of human beings about her kind eventually taking over most of what they do and thus rendering them redundant.

She reassured them that there is no competition between robots and humans, only cooperation. Perhaps she was being smart, saying the right thing in a room where she was overwhelmingly outnumbered.

The hopeful tone at TAS, and increasingly at other conferences, is a marked departure from what used to happen in the past.

Those belonging to an earlier generation remember a time when summits of this kind were dominated by talking about problems, and not much about proposals of what to do to solve them.

We can recall how often conferences were characterised by disagreements about who was to blame and so were unable to arrive at solutions.

Speeches were long on polemics and short on action. Politicians, academics and journalists earned high marks for bashing imperialism and its lackeys or for lambasting dictators and their foreign backers.

Over time, this sort of inaction led to stagnation, then retrogression and finally pessimism.

We had inherited working institutions and efficient public services, promising economies and sound educational institutions. But we quickly run them down.

We were not content with that alone. We even started killing each other, sent refugees all over the globe or herded other citizens into displaced people’s camps inside their own countries.

Pessimism deepened. Self-loathing increased. Mere survival became the only priority. In those circumstances, positive things like innovation were impossible.

At some point sanity returned. There were some people angry enough to want to change the situation, by force if necessary. And so a second liberation happened and attitudes began to change.

Today’s generation, most of whom were born after the second wave of liberation, are free of the blame game of the past and the guilt of having destroyed their countries, and so have a different focus.

Their attention is on the future, on keeping pace with developments in various fields, driving them and even going ahead of the rest of the world. They are concerned with finding answers to our challenges today and ensuring a better and secure future for us.

Our leaders, too, are no longer taken up by politics alone. They have become more pragmatic, concerned with what works and produces results. In the past most of them used to look for development models developed elsewhere.

Today, there is a growing use of home-grown models, tailored to local conditions and rooted in local history and culture.  In Rwanda that is certainly the situation.

There was a time when African leaders and even their citizens were proud, and often competed, to be identified with one or other bloc in world politics. Now many are proud to identify with Africa and are ready to learn from each other.

This change in mindset was evident in Kigali last week. Africa is hopeful again. The signs are good. The optimism is back. The future looks attractive and exciting.

Luckily we are living longer and so even those who messed us up in the past or were mere onlookers might be able to taste the benefits of the new mindset.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.