When would the lion learn to write?
In October 2012, I travelled to Malawi to launch my Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up programme there, before going to Tanzania. The highlight was stopping over and spending a day at the Jacaranda Orphanage, run and managed by CNN Hero for 2008, Maria Da Silva. She was a very interesting and kind lady. After a few hours, it was time to leave. As we got ready to head back to Blantyre for the 4-hour drive from Lilongwe, she asked: “Have you thought of speaking at TEDx?” I didn’t understand what she was saying. I thought she meant FedEx. She asked again, and I said no. She said I should. That was the first I heard of TEDx. I was 11 years old then. A year later in November 2014, I was invited to come to speak at TEDx in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
Now, I had heard of TEDx during my journey to Malawi. So I thought it was a good opportunity to check out this TEDx project. Unfortunately, it was at the time when the Ebola was a challenge in parts of Nigeria, includingPort Harcourt. My handlers and my parents did not like the idea, so I never made it to what would have been my first TEDx outing. I was 12 then.
Earlier in May this year, I was invited to another TEDx, this time in Lagos. I was 13 and I thought, okay, this time, I should attend. When I found out I was going, I got very interested, and began to look up what it was about, and saw what some interesting past TEDx performances had been. I looked at about 6 videos, and two stood out. One was a speech given by Mr Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who was the Governor of Nigeria’s Federal Reserve Bank, and the other was by a gentleman named Komlar Dumor. They were both very interesting. Then I recalled the name Komlar Dumor, very, very well. I recalled that I was being scheduled to go to London back in November/December 2014 to appear on BBC Focus on Africa, because they had heard about me and my projects. The gentleman who was going to interview me then was Komlar Dumor. That was the first time I heard about him.
In his TEDx speech, he gave some very cool and interesting analogies. He talked about how experts from Europe would come to Africa in general, stay a few days, and give expert advice, and then leave. He didn’t understand how someone else from another country and another continent can be an expert about a foreign place they barely knew. He then said something very funny. He asked how would Europeans take it, if there was an issue in Scotland, and they went to a Ugandan University to speak to a Ugandan Professor as an expert, about the Scotland issue.
He made a lot of sense. He ended by saying the most profound thing I had heard in a very long time. “Until the Lion learns to write, the story would always favour the hunter.”
In other words, until Africans or people from Africa learn to start telling their stories, others would tell it for them, and they would tell it ‘how they want to tell it’. So why do the people from the African continent complain about what the international media says about Africa? And that’s all they do – complain. Africans are the lions, and they are allowing the Hunter tell the story. The hunter is telling the story about how not too smart the Lion is; about how silly the Lion act; about how backward the Lion is; about how the Lion steals from its cubs; about how the Lion never takes a bath; about how it is easy to fool the Lion. The Hunter just talks about the Lion, like the Lion is really stupid. But then the Lion has to take all the blame, and not complain about what the Hunter is saying about it.
I think the first thing the Lion has to do is look at itself and ask, which of these things the hunter is writing are true about him. If the Lion doesn’t like it, then the Lion has to change the negative things. Once the Lion begins to change the negative things, then the Lion has to start telling the world about the changes. Very soon, the Hunter would come over to see if these changes are true, and very soon, the rest of the world would begin to see the changes. But the first step has to come from the Lion, to see the negative things, and then begin to change it.
Over the last 5 years, some of Lion’s children have begun to tell a story. First, they created their own story book, and it looked like the Hunters story book. That way, they are not inventing the story book all over. One of the books is called Forbes Africa, and another one is called Forbes Afrique. See, they look like the hunter’s story book called Forbes Magazine USA, that way, it is easier for the rest of the world to accept it. Very smart of the Lions children – Right!!
Last month, Forbes Afrique in August had their list of Africa’s 100 most influential women. I was interested in reading the list, and seeing the women who were in there, so I could learn somethings they are doin. I thought I was a young lioness trying to learn to read. Then on page 67, I saw my picture there. I stopped on the page for about a minute, and then slowly, I smiled. I was just thrilled. I almost screamed. Then I sat down and starred at the page for about 10 minutes. I couldn’t believe it because the list had the Presidents of Liberia and Mauritius on it, it had the vice president of the World Bank, the head of World Economic Forum in Africa and most of the people I thought I would learn from in the future. To be really honest, it was a good feeling. Then I stopped to think – I thought, imagine if these 100 women start telling the Lion’s story, and then those who read it, get excited, and also begin to tell the Lion’s Story, and then the next set again. There are more than 160 million women in Africa. If that happens, soon, more people would hear about the Lion’s story, and begin to respect the Lion. I got even more excited about this possibility. I liked the idea very much.
Five years ago at age 9, I made my first film about the Ghana Revolution. I wanted to show the rest of the world that Africa has a well-documented and successful revolution, and not just European countries, or Latin American countries, or even the United States. I met both Presidents Jerry Rawlings and President John Kufuor for that project.
So, how can we all start to tell Africa’s positive stories? Well, maybe by meeting the leaders of the streets, the neighbourhood, the town, the city, the states, and then countries, to get the facts first hand, and then tell the stories as best as we can. Africa has 54 countries, and the world is still writing Africa’s story. Africa’s newest country – South Sudan is going through a very trying and turbulent season. Two years ago, I met the country’s President – His Excellency General Salva Kiir to talk to him about many topics ranging from girls dducation, to how his country is going to catch up with other parts of Africa, and how oil can be a part of their development process.
But who else is trying to tell South Sudan’s story, and how are they telling it? Most of the people telling South Sudan’s story have never been to South Sudan, nor met anyone in the government, yet, they are experts. They are telling the Lions story again.
So, until the Lion learns to write, others will tell his story.
A little over a year ago, there was Ebola epidemic in West Africa. There were all kinds of stories about it, including how some believed Ebola started first in Africa many decades ago and had to do with animals. Last May, I met the President of Guinea, and talked to him about leadership in Africa, and about Ebola. But there were already many articles about Ebola, written by experts, who have never left their nice offices in Europe but only rely on cable news networks and their fast internet access to watch the news.
So, who is writing Africa’s Stories? Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. In the last 3 years, I met and sat down with the country’s former and current Presidents respectively- Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, and talked about many issues and topics.
I remember there was a media house that approached me to speak about President Buhari nearer his 1st Anniversary earlier this year because they said they couldn’t get an interview with him, so they wanted me to talk about President Buhari. At least, they came to someone who had met him, instead of just talking to a few people on the street and then suddenly writing a story as an expert.
Now I am very sure you would agree, many others have written Nigeria’s story, negative and positive, and they have never been to West Africa, and those who have been, stay in their nice hotels, visit a few offices, ask a few people questions, leave the country, and then write a report, as an expert. When would the Lion learn to Write?
Africa has almost one billion people. I know, they are not all writers, but we all can tell stories. Africa was developed by people telling younger generations stories. The stories need to change, and to do that, education must at the front and centre.
Through the Dream Up Speak Up, Stand Up Project, I have spoken to more than 24,500 youths in more than 11 countries about the importance of education. Some of the countries I have spoken include Malawi, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa, and of course Nigeria. But I found out that even though many hear, and want to go to school or stay in school, some don’t understand why they must go to school. So I took on a new approach when I was in Namibia recently. I spent some time with the Khoi people in the Kalahari Desert. Most of them still live very simple lives, and yes, they actually wore animal skin around their waist. I spoke to the mothers, and they just smiled as I spoke through an interpreter. Then I brought out a newspaper showing me and the President of Namibia, and they got excited, then I showed them a picture of me talking to the Presidents of other countries in Forbes Magazine when I was 10. Suddenly, there was great excitement, and the women were speaking very fast in their language. I asked the interpreter what was going on. He said they were shocked but happy to see me talking to these world leaders.
They then asked me how their daughters too can be in the Newspapers. Then I smiled, and told them, first, they must go to school and learn how to read and write. Right there and then, they asked me to teach their children. There was nowhere to teach, as it was in the bush. So we sat on the floor, I got out a stick, and began to teach them by writing on the floor. Why was I doing this? Because I truly believe that until the Lion learns to write, the story would always favour the hunter. The time to change things is now.