Has Africa finished rising?

Cape Town

“Has Africa finished rising yet?” Someone asked me at dinner a few days ago. I am in Lagos and the only friends I have in the city are either entrepreneurs, work for startups or work in tech. This makes perfect sense, my re-introduction into my home country was through a journalist’s lens. The questions I ask are socio-political, they relate to infrastructure and the conversations I have with friends follow this trend. It is a small part of Nigeria, but it the part I know well and I am intimate with.

Four years ago, you couldn’t take a breath in Africa without someone telling you its on the rise. Africa is rising, our mantra to the West. We said to them: come, our continent is ready and we want to show you what we can do. Africa is rising multinationals chanted, they invested in a foray into the continent. This was it, Africa’s time. No one ever asked, who decided this, no one ever asked about the global roster that had Africa next on its list.

While Africa was supposed to be rising for the tech ecosystem, its creative industry that had always been on par and even exceeded global standard pivoted – building on quality and creating global appeal. Everyday people began experimenting with platforms that allowed them to be creative and have fun, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook opened up the world. African fashion and culture began permeating the West. The Ankara jungle of Nigeria proved its potential as a key global player, and the Jollof wars came in vogue with heads of states and celebrities wanting a say. African cities were the subject of sultry tales about young 20-somethings, destinations for world travelers and location for famous Hollywood moments. While we waited for Africa’s infrastructure to catch up with its entrepreneurs, its music, movies and dances graced the world stage and captured the world.

African entrepreneurs have had to force the ecosystem to match where their vision is. They have had to drag governments and users with them on a journey that required stepping back a few steps before achieving the intended beginning. Africa began to rise, then investors decided they weren’t sure it should. Then Starbucks, Burger King and Krispy Kreme, lacking more places in the Western world to go, came here. Then investors too, came back and brought with them the multinational’s renewed interest.

African startups haven’t been able to compete in the same way that counterparts in more established markets have. Africa rising put a spotlight and added pressure on a young ecosystem to deliver on impossible scale. When a business that worries about basics has compete with one that only thinks about scale, there is a disconnect. Still, the successes did come.

Africa is the next frontier, I suppose we had to come before space. The next billion users will come from here and the race is on to see who wins the continent. The battle is on between Africans and the West to see who can save Africa first. Who will solve the access problem, who will bridge the skills gap and who will reform the education and healthcare systems.

“Project Africa” is fully on the way and the objectives are set, get Africans on the global stage.

Has Africa finished rising?
Did the sleeping giant awake from its slumber ready to begin the long haul reimagining of a story that has long been told by hunters?
What does a risen continent actually look like?

Tonight we ate cake and didn’t care: the startup edition

Cake

Tonight, I ate cake for dinner and I didn’t care because I work for a startup and having dessert for dinner seems like the only reward at the end of particularly bad day.

I am dead inside, but that’s okay I had to pay a price for what lies at the end of the finish line and my soul is a small price to pay for what is to come. Yeah, right. This is the sort of bullshit that dedicated startup worshipers feed themselves and they sit and think it’s okay that they have no friends, or not having any semblance on a personal life makes them that much dedicated. It does not.

We believe in the product and we are building something amazing. I can’t wait for the world see. That’s pretty much how everyone who works for a startup feels. You join a company and give up yourself. A company drone you will be.

I work for a startup, most of my friends work for startups or have startups of their own. I am not sure if it was by design or some cosmic accident but 90% of the people I deal with on a daily basis are involved in some startup world (tech or otherwise). In someways this is a good thing because they get my daily woes and the many problems that make up copious glasses of wine. When you work for a startup wine becomes a food group because if we are being honest it is much easier to end the day with a glass than have to factor in feeding yourself with everything else.

For the special, the startup chosen, we find it hard to understand why our “normal” friends can’t just see it. We don’t understand why they are bored of our obsession with this supposed best product ever built. Especially for the tech startups, how can these people these non-geeks not want to just be consumed by this little win that the tech world is losing its mind over? For us, the good soldiers we get it and the loss of these people who don’t, makes perfect sense.

A friend of mine told me that working for a startup does damage to a person’s psyche.

“It fundamentally changes who you are and the things you want,” he said. “If you are not careful it will ruin you.”

He has a startup and his startup ruined him, but according to him, it is his burden, his curse and his gift and they are bounded together. Interestingly his company is successful and by all accounts he should be happy.

“It’s the sacrifices,” he says. “You have to ask yourself, what are you willing to give up?”

What am I willing to give up? Am I willing to give up myself? Am I willing to give you my friends? My comforts?

For some very strange reason the idea of working for s startup seems greatly romanticized. People think that working for startup means you get taken on a romantic date, you get to make love and live happily ever after. No it is actually the opposite. The realities of starting a business and working for a startup is you get screwed and get left for dead on the side of the road the majority of the time. There are no “it’s not my company, I don’t have to stress” — when you work for a startup who stress like it’s your company you don’t get the rewards of ownership but you feel the pains of it. You have no identity beyond the startup, your sense of self gets incredibly warped that most days when you look in the mirror all you can see is a product of an environment that is not your making. You become consumed by company mantras without your permission and soon interrupting your life and your happiness and your little wins for the bigger picture become the norm.

You won’t leave, you can’t leave because yourself worth seems to have morphed into this place, you suffer from Stockholm syndrome because this is home and you convince yourself that this product, this thing that is being built cannot be built without you, even though it can and most certainly will be built without you. My friends and I have these conversations and I see the patterns, no startup is the same but the threads of what they demand is. No one forces these on you, it just happens, and you feel like a defector if you don’t think this way. The ones you leave are traitors and you are a good little soldier for staying. It is the most effed up psychological warfare known to man. Entrepreneurs have it worse because for them defecting means failure and how can they fail, how can they sum up their worth if they are marred by this failure.

It isn’t all doom and gloom and it is all getting f*cked while your back is turned. There are moments when your Stockholm syndrome isn’t in full effect, when you become part of something that you can see the rewards. When you share and create something so amazing even your non-startup friends want you talk about it. The days when you have a sense of achievement so high that you eat real food, the day when you’re toasting to a job well done not drowning the demons that keep you awake every night. There are days when you think “I am xx years old and i just did this, how cool is that?”. Those days make it seem like paradise, in those moment, you are not dead inside, humour is genuine and not twisted by battle scars. In those moments you simply work for a company that is taking over the world and you couldn’t do anything else.

Those days are rare, but they do exist.

Tonight, I ate cake and didn’t care because today is the day in-between.