The future of Africa - looking back at three months in Nairobi and the Obama visit

As my remaining time in Nairobi is running out quickly (three more weeks) I am starting to get nostalgic looking back at a very busy and very fulfilling summer. I will take with me countless of memories and lessons learned. The project I worked on over the summer was extremely rewarding and relevant and in retrospect the late nights and weekends in front of Excel and Powerpoint all well worth it considering how much impact I alone was able to deliver over only three months. And despite the busy work schedule I still managed to find time in the evenings to connect with local entrepreneurs and learn about their ideas not only for great technology platforms but, more importantly, for businesses that generate enormous social impact and profits. Lastly, there was no way to spend three months in Kenya this summer and be able to avoid the frenzy around Obama’s first visit to the country as a president. I wrote about his visit extensively in my last post, today I want to focus on what remains after the helicopters and motorcades left.

During his public appearances in Nairobi, Obama delivered some tough-love messages. He challenged Kenya to tackle three major problems in particular: corruption, sexism, and internal division. Obama's words resonated with me as, unfortunately, I had to experience or witness all three of these problems in some sort of form during my time here. At his appearance at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, Obama struck a more positive tone: "People are being lifted out of poverty, incomes are up, the middle class is growing and young people like you are harnessing technology to change the way Africa is doing business." Adding, “the future of Africa is up to Africans,” and that they should not look “to the outside for salvation.”

The future of Africa is up to Africans. I must have heard that line more than a hundred times during my time here and by now, after three months, have come to understand how true this prediction will turn out to be. In my work, both internally within my organization and in the interaction and work with clients, I engaged with exceptional colleagues and counterparts. From the very beginning of my engagement, I was impressed with how knowledgeable, experienced and confident my peers were. It was my Kenyan counterparts who made my engagement here in Nairobi such an outstanding learning experience and shortly into my time here I had realized that – while I would be able add significant value over the summer – there may be no need for me to come back here after my graduation from Fletcher. Kenyans are already able to source ample talent locally to tackle the countries’ development and public health problems themselves; and going forward they will see little need to fly in Americans or Europeans to do the work for them.

And that is certainly good news. Not so much for me, as I have embraced this country and its people – but its great news for the region. If Kenya can get it right, then neighbors like Tanzania or Uganda will only benefit and eventually the entire East African region will transform. This is not going to happen next month or next year but it will happen much sooner than I thought before I got here. The role of technology will be transformative in this process and I will be eagerly following the stories of the energetic entrepreneurs I met over the past months and likely regret not having invested into their ventures.