Wanderlust Wendy

The African Ingenuity

I am not an African, but in the two years of my Peace Corps service in Cameroon, I had fallen in love with the African people. Like most naive twentysomethings who set out to go “change the world”, I was humbled by my time in Cameroon. The country changed me in more ways than one. I barely made a dent in changing my village, much less the world.

I discovered Africa beyond the mainstream portrait of the continent. Africa is a massive place, and while civil wars, famines, and the like do still exist in parts of the continent, the Western media somehow rarely highlights the incredible growth that is taking place in this part of the world. In working with the Cameroonian people, they taught me the realities of African life. Western solutions to problems often do not align with these African realities. Western perceptions of Africans often belittle the incredible motivation, pride, and ingenuity that many Africans possess.

I taught business classes to my villagers. Sure, a little accounting and marketing skills are helpful, but my villagers know the landscape of operating business in Cameroon far beyond my knowledge. At the end of the day, they know what works. Africans know what they need to fix their problems. That’s not to say that problems are easy to fix and foreigners should back off completely. But it is time for the world to give Africans a lot more credit and recognize their own power to develop their own countries.

Articles like The Hopeful Continent: Africa Rising in The Economist gives me hope that the international community are finally recognizing the many positive aspects of African growth. But what will it take for Africa to reclaim its on power? And what is the role of the international community in this process?

Columbia University’s 2012 African Economic Forum will address exactly these questions. The theme this year is Africa Reclaiming Africa: Changing the Rules of Engagement. I hope you will join us in this discussion and network with the Continent’s finest at our formal gala on April 13-14th, 2012. For more information and to register, visit http://www.aef2012.com.

8 thoughts on “The African Ingenuity”

  1. Good morning Wendy, I can only say that I 100% agree with your comments and topic discussion/conference. I am an RPCV/Honduras>> where I worked with women's groups in natural resource management and environmental education. I focused on involving women's groups in this process. Much of my work with women's groups also led me to dengue reduction projects, communicable disease prevention, and the creation eco-friendly stoves. BUT what impacted me the most was the lack of respect for Maternal-Child health. I returned to the States, and pursued a second degree and Master's in Women's Health/Midwifery. (continued)

  2. (cont) I have not been to Africa, but have worked in Jamaica and set up a small project there that is 7 years strong >> run by a Jamaican national. My husband is Jamaican and I am very close to the Ethiopian community in Florida. I have worked in some aspect of public health for the past 20 years, and I have a desire to collaborate with African medicine teams and African universities regarding Maternal-Child health survival. But I donot want to take a salary from a well qualified African national. I too agree that Africa should govern itself.

  3. (cont.)Every country on the continent has universities that graduate healthcare professionals, economists, public health workers and of course many other specialties…. so why are they not the first hired by the International community?? Are not they knowledgeable of the language, needs and desires of their people??? Won't this help to reverse what is termed "brain drain"…. I work and have been trained by many economic refugees, who have left their countries due to lack of employment. But for nearly 2,000 years the African continent has felt some form of colonialism.

  4. (cont) It is time to give Africa back to Africa. As you noted, I agree that this is not to take away from honest, international interests (as the Peace Corps) ….. but it should be done on a more collaborative basis, with national counterparts directing the projects, not directed by "city development workers." I unfortunately live in Miami as I would love to attend the conference and I wish you the best. As an African blogger wrote on the Global Public Health site, which made me think very long and deeply about my desire to work in Africa >>>> allow African's to manage Africa, but he went on to say that the challenge to non-Africans is to continue to educate about the injustices perpetrated against the people of this great continent. He also went on to say that we who believe in public health should not get frustrated from his comment, but continue to find ways to free Africa from the invisible shackles of colonialism that remain to this day. Blessings on your conference and your work.

  5. I think one of the things that would help Africa reclaim its standing in the world among the international community is to hold forums about its economic future in Africa and not in the United States.

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