By Quadry Olalekan
While on my way to meet the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Forestry in Ogun State in Nigeria days ago, my uber driver randomly stroke a conversation with me. He assumed that I was one of those Africans who live in the western diaspora. He began with with a very harsh and sweepy assumption and criticism of his fellow Africans (Nigerians) living abroad. He said that he wasn’t sure whether I am the “bad kind or good kind who invest in our economy or the bad kind who are here for our capitalism gains or politics.”
Here is how the conversation went:
This harsh criticism or should I say indictment came as bit of a surprise to me. I wasn’t sure how to respond to that, knowing that indeed I am the one of those Africans or Nigerians living abroad that he’s referring to. I tried to remain calm and not come out as arrogant (those Africans he might be referring to.) I had a meeting with the permanent secretary, which I spent 8 months working on, and I thought that it wasn’t the time to engage in such conversation.
Me: Yes I am looking at some Industries, mainly Agriculture& Information Technology, but nothing is concrete at this point. (I am sweating from the heat as his car ac won’t float to the back seat).
Uber Driver: First, the fact is that we African masses have been short changed for so long that any mediocre improvement becomes a big deal, and the media is ever ready to trumpet it without pressing for even greater improvement.Normally, I would explain about my passion and how I care about the common folks, blah blah blah…. But I refrained from that because I could tell that this man was well informed and he knew exactly what he was talking about.
Me: You have a point.
Uber Driver: Thirdly, How many of your Nigerian friends in the diaspora posted about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to Nigeria last week but would not post about how the Nigerian economy is in recession? Why did he [Mark Zuckerberg] chose to visit India before visiting Sub-Saharan Africa? Why did he choose to visit Nigeria when the economy is on its knee (recession) rather than two years ago when Nigeria became the largest economy in Africa? Tell your African aspiring entrepreneurial friends in the diaspora not to sell the continent potential/asset without proper soul searching.
Me: I wouldn’t assume to that conclusion.
Uber Driver: Mark would not last a day in here. The fact that he was able to start a company in his dorm room says a lot about the difference that exists between those two worlds. Building a business in Africa is a matter of life and death. Once you understand that, you realize that most African entrepreneurs don’t build things because “it’s fun”; they build companies so they can eat; so that their families can eat.
Me: Well thank you. I will make sure to relate your concerns to my friends when I get back to the diaspora in two weeks.
The driver made me think deeply of thing that I hadn't thought of before. When we hear of Africa rising and flashy numbers about growth, we get all excited that things are improving; that Africa is indeed trying to join the world. Yes, this is true to some extend, but this is just a small part of the bigger story. Millions of people do not know what you mean when you say that the economy in Nigeria is growing. They don’t feel any of it. Their lives have never improve, nor do they even have food to put in their stomachs. So, when the driver saw me, he saw another Nigeria living in the diaspora and visiting and carrying and believing the narrative of what they hear about things improving. This man is one of millions of people who do not feel the flashy and impressive economic growth numbers about Nigeria that are being thrown around. He’s one of millions of Nigerians who can’t feed themselves, yet famous people visit Nigeria because of the false story that elites carry around. He truly got me thinking and understanding.