- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (March 4, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0547678312
- ISBN-13: 978-0547678313
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 58 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #369,709 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa Hardcover – March 4, 2014
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“A corrective to Africa’s image as a dark, hopeless place…A hopeful narrative about a continent on the rise.” —The New York Times
"The author gives a multitude of examples and a huge mass of fascinating detail. Her case is persuasive...for anyone who wants to understand how the African economy really works, he Bright Continent is a good place to start." —Reuters
“Bright Continent will change your view of Africa. It's that simple. Dayo Olopade looks with the eyes of a first-generation Nigerian-American and sees a landscape of ingenuity, technological innovation, and grit. A lively and enjoyable read.” —Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of the New America Foundation and Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University
“[Olopade] seamlessly traverses the continent, threading a narrative that shows how African innovation is playing a vital role in its own development…This book is filled with numerous examples that ought to make you rethink your perceptions of Africa.” —The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Together, these maps form a new mental and strategic landscape, one based on possibilities, not merely perils, and we should be grateful to Olopade for her reimagined cartography." —The Plain Dealer
"Dayo Olopade has written a book that bracingly lives up to its title. In it, an Africa we are all too unaccustomed to seeing comes vividly to life thanks to her restless eye and keen curiosity. It is one of local solutions born of necessity and local heroes who arise from even the most fragile soil." —Howard French, Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and author of A Continent for the Taking
“This book captures the complex thoughts of a whole generation of young Africans. Olapode shows Africa as it is, a complicated space occupied by real people with the desire and the power to shape our futures.” —Uzodinma Iweala, author of Beasts of No Nation and editor of Ventures Africa Magazine
“The Bright Continent is a long overdue and much needed corrective to the dominant perception of Africa. It is a book loaded with revelations of heroic, and often ingenious lives, all of which are eloquently and poignantly brought to life through Dayo’s brilliant observations.” —Dinaw Mengestu, author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and All Our Name
"The Bright Continent is an absolute brightness. Sidestepping dead-end debates, the indefatigable Olopade maps out a contemporary Africa which is vital and self-reliant. Her definition of the Yoruba term kanju as 'specific creativity born from African difficulty' will enter the English language. Through strong reporting and clear thinking, Olopade demonstrates how to improve the lives of African youth stuck in a purgatory of 'waithood.' This is essential reading." —J.M. Ledgard, Director, Future Africa, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and longtime Africa correspondent, The Economist
“In her debut book, Nigerian-American journalist Olopade finds qualified cause for optimism about Africa’s future…A refreshingly hopeful argument, well-grounded in data and observation—of considerable interest to students of geopolitics, demographics and economic trends.” —Kirkus
"Nigerian-American journalist Olopade’s first book rebuts the view of Africa as mired in poverty, war, and failed aid projects, and instead offers a hopeful perspective." —Publishers Weekly
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Through this well-written book, Olopade is shattering the dominant Western perception of Africa as a poor and corrupt continent prone to disease and famine. She vividly describes how the entire African continent is teeming with ingenious entrepreneurs who can overcome great adversity to create frugal and sustainable solutions for their local communities. These modern-day alchemists are able to transmute constraints into opportunity and generate greater social value at lower cost. Their secret weapon, according to Olopade, is "kanju" -- a frugal, flexible, and inclusive mindset that enables them to see the glass as always half full and do much more with a lot less.
This resourceful kanju spirit reminds me of jugaad -- a Hindi word meaning the gutsy ability to improvise cost-effective solutions with limited resources in adverse circumstances. In my own book, I described how millions of grassroots entrepreneurs in India apply jugaad to overcome their every day challenges. These Indian entrepreneurs would be thrilled to discover, through Olopade's book, that their African brothers and sisters are equally pioneering a new approach to innovating faster, better, and cheaper.
In the West, this new frugal and flexible approach is being called "frugal innovation" and is gradually gaining traction in the academic and corporate world. I strongly encourage entrepreneurs, CEOs, academics, and policy-makers in the West to read The Bright Continent to understand how Africa is a breeding ground of frugal innovation -- and provides the entire world a proven blueprint for building inclusive and sustainable economies.
To put Olopade’s story in context, the World Bank recently announced that economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to rise from 4.7 percent in 2013 to 5.2 percent in 2014, compared to 3.5 percent globally. And the CIA World Factbook lists eight African countries among the twenty fast-growing nations in the world in 2013. However, these numbers must be interpreted with caution, since the measurement of economic indicators in most countries in the region is notoriously unreliable (as economist William Easterly reminded us in The Tyranny of Experts), and growth in GDP or even GDP per capita doesn’t necessarily mean that life is getting better for the seventy percent of sub-Saharan Africans (600 million) who live on $2 a day or less. Still, there is clearly a lot going on in Africa these days, and it’s time for the world to pay much closer attention.
Olopade, a first-generation Nigerian-American whose parents, both physicians, have roots in rural Nigeria, brings a fresh and well-grounded perspective to the project. She refuses to accede to conventional word usage, rejecting terms such as “developing country,” “emerging nation,” “poor country,” and “rich country” in favor of her own constructions. One is the term “fail state,” connoting a country whose government fails to deliver essential services but is not a “failed state,” which she applies only to Somalia. Another is the distinction between “lean economies” and “fat economies.” (You can guess which is which. Not a bad way to look at things, is it?) She also organizes her material around a clever device she calls mapping, relating new developments in terms of five “maps” that dominate the reality of Africa today: Family, Technology, Commerce, Nature, and Youth. These five maps “showcase the unique institutions that bind black Africa together and are building its bright future,” Olopade writes.
Permeating the book is the concept of kanju, a term in the Nigerian language Yoruba that the author loosely translates as “hustle,” “strive,” “know how,” or “make do.” In practice, kanju means bending the rules and devising workarounds — a concept similar to the Hindi and Urdu term jugaad, which also is often used to characterize the unconventional solutions that people come up with out of necessity.
Here are just a few of the many recent ventures featured in The Bright Continent, every one of them an example of kanju in action:
** EGG-energy (Tanzania) wires homes and businesses and furnishes them with reliable electricity using rechargeable batteries, charged at central locations where customers exchange them for new ones—at half the cost of energy from the local (highly unreliable) grid.
** MPedigree and Sproxil (piloted in Ghana) use scratch-off codes with a phone number a customer may text to learn whether a medicine is authentic—in a region where thirty percent of drugs are counterfeit.
** M-PESA (Kenya) provides two-thirds of Kenya’s population with a banking and person-to-person funds transfer service using text messaging on mobile phones.
** Bridge International Academies (Kenya) operates hundreds of bare-bones private schools that offer consistent, quality education for $5 per child per month, supplanting ineffective and unreliable public schools.
Olopade emphasizes that virtually everywhere in the region, national governments are “a constant impediment to development progress,” typically ignored if possible and almost universally disdained. (She reports that ninety-two percent of the businesses in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city with a population now estimated at 21 million, operate outside the law.) Rwanda is an outlier. There, the autocratic government of Paul Kagame enforces rapid and orderly development free of corruption in a pattern similar to that of Lee Kwan Yew in Singapore in decades past. Visitors to Rwanda, including friends of mine, note the surprise they registered when they learned that “everything works there.” The country is on a fast track toward middle income despite (some might say because of) a lack of high-priced natural resources.
The author does have blind spots. I detected a couple of errors in her reporting, and, more consequentially, she seems to have been bamboozled by Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs, the driving force behind the ill-fated Millennium Villages Project. Olopade refers to the project respectfully, although the available evidence points to the effort as a dismal failure. (The full story is told beautifully and authoritatively by Nina Munk in The Idealist, a biography of Dr. Sachs that focuses on the village project.)
In researching this book, Olopade, a journalist, spent many months traveling across the continent to observe the promising changes underway and interview the bright, resourceful, and usually young innovators who are creating change in one of the world’s most tradition-bound areas.