This weekend sees the launch of the Kusi Ideas Festival in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. The theme of the conference is “The Next 60 Years in Africa”.
Nation Media Group (NMG), which is the second-largest publicly listed media house in Africa, conceived the Kusi Ideas Festival to mark our 60th anniversary, and as a platform to organise something far bigger than us.
This is because this year, loosely, is also the 60th anniversary of Africa’s collective independence. When His Highness the Aga Khan bought Taifa in 1959, from which NMG sprang, there were only 10 independent African countries and the continent’s population was just under 300 million.
Sixty years later, counting the members of the African Union, there are 55 independent nations hosting 1.3 billion Africans. By the end of the next 60 years there will be nearly 4 billion people in the continent.
We set up the Kusi Ideas Festival as a platform to explore the meaning of those past 60 years and to create a body of ideas that will help Africa make the outcome of the next 60 as glorious as they can possibly be.
We decided to channel the spirit of Kusi, the southerly wind in the Indian Ocean which, over the centuries, allowed Africans and people from all over the world to head up north along Africa’s east coast.
In the process, it made possible cultural, intellectual, and technological exchanges; and significantly shaped the history of the nations on the east side and the linkages with the central African hinterland.
Africa is mostly a bittersweet experience. It has been plagued by quite a few difficult spots and conflicts, famines, corrupt and brutal rule; and suffered as a playground of the global superpowers, especially during the Cold War period.
But it has also known many happy moments and is well placed to create a great future for itself. Today, more Africans live in freedom—and longer—than at any other period of our continent’s recorded history.
As former United Nation’s Secretary-General, Ghana’s Kofi Annan, once noted, today the average African is far more likely to die in a traffic accident than from a bullet fired in anger.
The Kusi Ideas, in the near term, will be an annual event held in different parts of Africa. Each of these capitals will form an important backstory for the specific ideas we shall be speaking to.
If one looks around, one sees great stories everywhere. In East Africa, Uganda achieved Africa’s first successful post-conflict recovery, anchored in one of the most radical economic reforms the continent witnessed in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Tanzania was the first on the ladder in constructing a new “tribeless” society. Kenya represents the most contentious political environment, which churns out creativity in record numbers.
There aren’t many new nations born in the world these days, but two of the most recent ones, Eritrea and South Sudan, are in Africa.
Rwanda, where we are holding this festival, is a remarkable story of African resilience and progress. After facing the second worst genocide of the 20th century—in 1994—after the Holocaust of the Second World War, the country has emerged from that agonising experience to become one of the poster boys—or girls—of post-conflict recovery and economic as well as social success.
Today, it has the highest percentage of women in the world in its parliament and the highest number of them in Africa—just over 52 per cent—in its cabinet. And though still a work in progress, Rwanda represents the possibilities that societies everywhere in Africa, particularly those with a less painful history, can achieve.
But the challenges we have to overcome are many. It is very likely that by 2050, most of the 60 per cent of Africans falling under the age of 24 years could become a bomb that explodes in our faces if the present jobless growth trend in most of the continent’s economies continues.
Furthermore, in one of the greatest paradoxes, the majority of Africans today have access to a mobile phone service, but fewer than two-thirds have access to piped water.
Also, we are already in a climate change crisis, with extreme and destructive weather conditions and attendant droughts, floods, landslides, and water crises happening today. Some fear a future of water wars all over the continent as a result.
We could be struggling to feed the continent’s billions and construct the infrastructure to enable them to make meaningful opportunities for themselves, so we need new radical ideas to deal with these challenges.
But it could also be a very different story. A happy story. To borrow from the Black Panther film, it could be a Wakanda—a region of great technological advancement. There are glimmers of hope that in the decades to come, a borderless Africa will become reality.
If we dare to dream and imagine a bold future, we can grasp it and make it happen. Kusi Ideas is our contribution to the dream of a great Africa.
Wilfred Kiboro is chairman of the Board of Directors of Nation Media Group.