I’ve just watched (online) a video of Nigeria’s former finance minister (the first woman to hold that post), Ngozi Okonji-Iweala. She was speaking at the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) annual conference in California earlier this year, and outlined her solutions to lift Africa out of poverty.
“There’s an Africa that you don’t hear about very much… This is the Africa that is changing… This is the Africa of opportunity. This is the Africa where people want to take charge of their own futures… And this is the Africa where people are looking for partnerships…”
She did not beg for charity. She just shared a business plan outlining what Africans have (an untapped market and human resources) and what developed nations can do (explore the market, build local capacity, and create jobs). It’s a pure win-win partnership.
One example Okonji-Iweala gave was the provision of mobile phones. From just 1.5 million mobiles in 2002, Nigeria now has close to 32 million mobile lines. Indeed, last year the country accounted for some 60 per cent of the BBC website’s Wap users.
Nigeria now has the second fastest-growing telecoms market in the world (next to China), and attracts US$1 billion in foreign investment annually… You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out the impact of the communications business on the Nigerian economy. As Okonji-Iweala summed up:
“Nobody thinks in terms of a market [in Africa]. Nobody thinks there is opportunity. But I’m standing here saying that those who miss the boat now will miss it forever…”
I must say, such sane voices are so rare and refreshing in a world full of development jargon. Okonji-Iweala is very inspiring – I highly recommend you watch her speech too!