I was at a meeting recently with the CEO of a company that sits very high on the Fortune 500 list. In fact this company is on the Fortune 50.
He made an interesting assertion that based on current African GDP levels, his company could partner with one other firm and basically out do the entire continent. That was a low blow.
At another event, we launched a book by Bernard Oloo. It was a book that had an interesting argument on civilisation that got me thinking.
What is civilisation? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as the stage of human social development and organisation that is considered most advanced: The Victorians equated the railways with progress and civilisation.
Civilisation is also the art of making the best use of the resources available at any one given point in time.
Let us take a closer look at the African continent.
Many African capitals have skylines that can compete with many a skyline in the Western world. On the streets of most African cities you will find the latest models of the most expensive cars, phones and gadgets in the world. So, do all these make a people civilised?
During the 2018 World Cup, amid the frenzy and excitement, a group of Japanese fans did something unprecedented. They cleaned up the stadium after the match.
They picked up the plastics and papers and returned the place to the way they found it. There was neither reward for this nor consequence for not doing it. What motivated them?
During a visit to Europe, my hosts took me on a drive. We saw beautiful neighbourhoods and then, we got to a place that looked vaguely familiar.
I was not surprised to learn it was a settlement dominated by people of African descent.
It had all the trappings. Colourful frontages of apartment blocks made very colourful with the numerous clothes hanging on the lines, huge dustbins in front, young men sitting in groups doing nothing as if nothing was an activity.
I have shared this story because civilisation is a way of life that emanates from a way of thought. It is not based on the infrastructure.
The African community I met in Europe had all the infrastructure and it did not change their way of thinking. Yet in the same city I met other Africans who lived on the other side of town in plush homes with manicured lawns.
Of course, even in those wonderfully developed cities I have seen some of their own people who are not immigrants living at below civilisation levels.
Africa cannot rise with a dominant percentage of the population operating at a below civilisation level of thought.
Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore’s founding father and in his best selling book, From Third World to First, he showed very clearly that physical infrastructure without mental reconfiguration is an exercise in futility.
Today, African governments troop over to Singapore on benchmarking trips. The key is in the way of thinking. The greatest role of the leader is to influence thought in the direction of civilisation.
Africa is living in a bubble of deception, equating infrastructure development with civilisation. There are airports and roads and developments taking place everywhere and this is good.
Without a concerted movement towards civilisation-based thinking, the Africa rising dream will continue to be that—a dream.