Explaining Africa's modernity: plotting the coordinates.

Author:Williams, Stephen
Position:Book review

The Bright Continent

Breaking Rules & Making Change in Modern Africa

By Dayo Olopade


ISBN: 978 0 7156 4924 4

There are a plethora of books that celebrate Africa's surge in breaking free of a colonial past and taking its place in the modern world. Academics and economists residing outside of the continent have written many of these books, but they tend to leave something to be desired in both their analyses and conclusions.

But here we have a writer, a first generation Nigerian-American, (born in the US to Nigerian parents) who returned to the mother continent, to East Africa and Nairobi to be exact, to write this exhilarating book.

Her style is refreshingly breezy, and displays an inherent confidence that belies her youth. Nor does she rely on an endless parade of facts, figures or economic statistics to make her case. Rather, through a number of anecdotes, she makes her case in a compelling way.

Early in the book, Olopade explains her methodology in writing this book. It was to create five platforms, or maps, with which the author shares with the reader aspects of the Africa story These maps are, in her own words, concerned with family technology commerce, nature and youth.

"The family map," Olopade writes, "is an essential building block." Adding as a way of explanation, she writes: "Everywhere I travelled, social relationships defined and improved life. This extended 'family' phenomenon is particularly useful in the absence of government safety net.

"As we'll see, horizontal networks in and across Africa can save lives, build businesses, and light the darkness. The African family also includes its vast diaspora --an important asset for finance, innovation and influence."

The author's second chapter deals with the concept of Kanju, defined as "the specific creativity born of African difficulties". Perhaps the best example of the Kanju phenomena are the 419 scammers, those that use the internet to defraud the wealthy and gullible with fictitious promises of huge wealth that usually involve the payment of advance fees. Kanju is a Yoruba word that can be literally translated as "to rush" or "make haste", yet probably more accurately means to "hustle" or "strive".

Olopade marvels that she, unlike her friends, does not receive these 419 emails, and wonders whether this is due to her superior spam blockers, or her name alone that is keeping the scammers away from her inbox--that she is viewed as "one of their own".

However, Kanju is...

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