In 2009, President Obama made a historic speech in Accra, Ghana that spelt out the future of the African continent. He said, “The true sign of success is not whether we are a source of aid that helps people scrape by – it is whether we are partners in building the capacity for a transformational change”.
For a long time, Africa had thrived on that. We built our economies around aid that helped us scrape by. For half a century of such aid we remained as debtors and always danced to the tunes of the creditors. We remained as consumers and never become processors. We became the dumping ground of things produced in the creditor nations and we even devalued our own culture in order to be accepted. When Obama made that speech I doubt if he knew the full gravity of what he was saying. I doubt if he knew that he was the embodiment of the system that had institutionalized aid that helps people scrape by. Obama in one sentence had verbalized the thoughts of a new generation of Africans. He was speaking both to the Africans and to the establishment that he represented. Whether he realized it or not, he was speaking prophetically about the new Africa that was to be built on trade and not aid. The new Africa that was to be led by true leaders who understand the fact that true leadership starts from the point where you see yourself as a solution to the problems of the many and not the many as a solution to your problems.
History is the record of acts of nature and acts by great people whose singular impact transcended the impact of millions. They were people who demonstrated the fact that a tree does make a forest. Herein lies the thinking that we need to take us forward. I call it forest thinking. Forest thinking is when we see ourselves responsible for providing the shade that the entire forest provides. It is when we see ourselves positioned to provide a perching place for all the birds that come to the forest. It is when we see ourselves as the home for all the animals in that forest. Forest thinking is when the individuals see themselves responsible for the destiny of the multitudes. It is when as an individual you come to the place where you give your all even though you have accepted the fact that your contributions and ideas though not celebrated on the front pages of newspapers are vital building blocks to hold the future together. It is where you realize that many will be inspired or discouraged by your actions as an individual.
With the exception of a few success stories here and there Africa was driven aground by people who had a very narrow view of life and lacked forest thinking. They lived only for themselves. That is how come people like Abacha became among the wealthiest men in the world presiding over nations where majority of people were hungry. That is how Mobutu ended up having more money in his Swiss accounts that the entire treasury of his country.
What gives rise to such narrow minded people? It is what I call the law of definition which states that people will do anything to consolidate themselves wherever the definition for their lives comes from. If what gives your life meaning is the office that you hold or the title that you hold, then you will do anything to stay there. This is why even in companies, people fight and will literally destroy anything or anyone that threatens their position.
If we are to align ourselves with the transformational Africa then we cannot allow the definition for our lives to come from our offices or titles. Our definition must come from something greater. If the only respect that we get is because of the office we hold then we are truly in trouble. If the only honour people show you is because of your title then in reality you are a failure who is having a shot at success. Think of Mandela. Even with no office and when he was in prison, he was still one of the most respected people in the world. Can you see the difference? Some are failures having a shot at success and some are successes who cannot be tainted by what appears to be failure.
There is a generation today that frankly do not care about your title. They do not care about your office. What they care about is your capacity for forest thinking. It is your capacity to transform and your capacity to inspire. What they care about is your ability to make a positive difference.
It is time to review where the definition for your life comes from. We need people whose definition comes from the integrity of their hearts and the strength of their visions. We need people whose definitions come from their capacity to transform. We need people whose definition comes from the fact that they have forest thinking and are not trapped in the narrow tunnel of self. We need people who will realize what I have always believed – that if your absence does not make a difference, your presence was not necessary!