It started with a simple drink, or more accurately, the inability of Senegalese-born Magatte Wade to find it when she returned to Senegal. In searching for a hibiscus drink she remembered fondly from her childhood, it was nowhere to be seen in Dakar. The reason, she discovered, was that as Senegal’s wealth increased so did their attitudes towards the traditional things that once marked their daily lives. Feeling that they should be more Western to match their growing status, simple things like her beloved hibiscus juice were disappearing. Fearing her culture would disappear too under the forces of globalization, she co-founded Adina World Beat Beverages, not only preserve, but spread traditional recipes from around the world. Rather than wait for the West to come to Africa, she decided to bring Africa to the West.
While Wade moved on from Adina, she hasn’t stopped her mission in bringing jobs to Senegal by promoting traditional practices, currently in the form of Tiossan which markets skincare products based on traditional Senegalese recipes. In doing so, Wade has become a key figurehead in the new narrative defining Africa, that of a Rising Africa. From feature articles at The Economist to keynote speeches by President Obama on his recent trip to South Africa, Africa’s economic and political potential after decades of malaise is one of the newest promises of the 21st century. It was this issue Wade addressed alongside Teddy Ruge, Co-founder of Project Diaspora, at the Social Good Summit in New York.
Two clear views emerged in their discussion, which ranged in topics from the business climate in Africa to the issue of dignity within aid programs. First, Wade does not believe in government to government aid. As an entrepreneur, she firmly believes that sustained economic development must come from the ground up; aid which filters down from above has no guarantee to reach its final destination of helping those at the bottom. Instead, creating jobs and encouraging development through education and creative disruption will be what boosts Africa from the economic doldrums that stereotypically defines it. In what is probably the 21st century version of teaching a man to fish, jobs not only bring much needed income across socio-economic strata but will also empower Africans to dream bigger and more important, achieve those dreams.
Second, Africa still poses many challenges for businesses. Wade remarked that most African countries are actually less business friendly than socialist nations that heavily regulate every aspect of business. Challenges can exist from political policies or more often, through outdated economic views that isolate businesses from potential trading opportunities. Countries like Rwanda have demonstrated that change is possible in this area, not only through understanding free market policies and boosting local entrepreneurs, but also through being willing to stand up against stronger economic powers when it is in the best interest of the country. This last point will likely serve as a litmus test for African nations, particularly those with established or new found natural resources, as difficult decisions and sustained investment in their own human capital will be needed to boost the entire society of a given nation rather than keep the profits within a small (and potential foreign) group.
But challengers are just that, Wade says, and are meant to be overcome. These two views and Wade’s success as an African entrepreneur represent a fundamental shift in the way the world is coming to see Africa. Despite its issues, it is increasingly no longer a continent that is being defined by conflict and poverty but rather a continent on the verge of a great renaissance. With this promise comes the need for new paradigms and perspectives on the role of aid, by both donors and Africans alike. But if doing so shifts the needle on development and helps Africans reach their full potential, then it should be a welcomed change that is long overdue.
Originally published at Foreign Policy Blogs