Finding Simple, Creative Solutions in Africa

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Open a newspaper and the headlines coming out of Africa are likely to be about unrest, government corruption, poverty or public health problems. And while the West focuses on using foreign aid to solve those problems, are we missing the success stories happening in Africa? 

Journalist Dayo Olopade tells how ordinary and resourceful people are dealing with everyday challenges in sub-Saharan Africa. What drives these creative solutions? "The state only reaches so far," Olopade explains. "If the electricity doesn’t get to your house, if the water doesn’t get to your house, if the bus line doesn’t get to your house, you must invent a new way."

Olopade argues that the western focus on governance and foreign aid obscures the individual enterprise and social adaptation happening in Africa. She's critical of TOMS shoes, which donates a pair of shoes to poor communities for every pair it sells. "The problem is not lack of shoes in a poor community. The problem is lack of jobs, lack of stability, lack of the ability to plan based on the kind of poverty that might drive someone not to have shoes…It just doesn’t reflect any choice or any agency on the part of the person who might be receiving it. And if it’s about you and it’s about your brand being differentiated by the existence of poverty, you know, avoid that.”

In her book The Bright Continent, she calls for a shift in our thinking about Africa, and shows us that the increasingly globalized challenges Africa faces should be addressed with the tools Africans are already using to solve problems themselves.


Dayo Olopade

Comments [15]

Camille from Crown Heights, Brooklyn

She is Nigerian not Ghanaian. Totally different country. Geez.

Mar. 04 2014 04:41 PM
genejoke from Brooklyn

Don't send clothing to poor people in Africa? Those poor kids would surely rather have outdated Superbowl shirts than nothing at all.

Mar. 04 2014 12:42 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Ms. Olopade was an articulate, gracious, and intelligent guest.

Mar. 04 2014 12:40 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I'm starting to see a parallel btwn. perceptions of countries on a continent & of individuals in a racial group.

Mar. 04 2014 12:40 PM
Amy from Manhattan

How does micro-lending fit into this picture?

Mar. 04 2014 12:37 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Unlike Europeans, most African-Americans immediately lost all connection to their native nations and "tribes." The Jews never lost that connection because of the written word, in their case the Torah. Many white American gradually lost connection with England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Spain, France, etc. But African-Americans, due to both slavery and illiteracy, lost all connection to their native tribes and homelands. Today, with DNA analysis, people can trace their native roots back genetically, to specific tribes and regions with increasing precision. A rootless people remains rootless. A people with roots, who know their past, have hopes of a future. It may be delusional but people who have an idea of a past have ideas about the future as well. Those who do not, don't know where they came from or where they are going, and that has often been the case with African-American descendents of slaves.

Mar. 04 2014 12:32 PM
Tara from Manhattan

Thank you so much for your refreshing view on sub-Saharan Africa. I lived/worked in Chad for 2 years in the late 80s and I am so tired of hearing the negative stereotypes for the past 20+ years! You helpfully point out the detrimental effect of the endless focus on the corruption and other difficulties as if Africa is the only part of the world with these issues (for a start, look at New Jersey mayors and governors!) and as if there is nothing of worth happening in a huge continent of 50 countries. I look forward to reading your book!

Mar. 04 2014 12:31 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Necessity is the mother of Invention. The cell phone is to Africa what the road was to the Romans.

Mar. 04 2014 12:25 PM
Sara from nyc

Sounds as if she would she agree with Alain de Botton re. journalistic coverage; how about "The News About Africa: A User's Manual" ?

Mar. 04 2014 12:24 PM
john from office

Maybe we can start with the invention of the floor? This woman has a fantasy view of africa. There is an innate disfunction that prevents progress, original people or not.

Mar. 04 2014 12:23 PM
Busayo Olupona

Questions for Dayo. Thank you for this segment for changing the conversation about Africa. Can Dayo discuss the potential challenges and opportunities that population growth rates will pose for infrastructure and growth particularly in Nigeria where the population is expected to reach 400 million by 2050.

Mar. 04 2014 12:23 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Necessity is the mother of Invention. The cell phone is to Africa what the road was to the Romans.

Mar. 04 2014 12:20 PM
Su Friedrich from brooklyn

There were LOTS of maps of Africa prior to the ridiculous and destructive mapping of Africa by the colonial powers in Berlin in 1884.

Here's a link to what was an excellent exhibit, with a good catalog.
Princeton University - Historic map exhibition, lecture set on exploring Africa, April 15

Mar. 04 2014 12:15 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Perhaps JG, but in 25 years, Africa will probably still be 40 years behind most of the world.

With a few exceptions, Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from this perception because it is mostly true.

As long as sub-Saharan Africa is ruled, yes ruled - by UN-enlighthened kleptocrats - who use tribalism and neo-colonial divisions to their advantage, the only people that will benefit are the Chinese.

Mar. 04 2014 12:14 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Africa is going to be THE place as it was in the beginnings of humanity. Africa was first, and Africa may be last, but it will be best once it really gets its act together, which it slowly but surely doing now. Give it another 25 years and it will be an amazing place.

Mar. 04 2014 11:50 AM

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