How we Interact with African Countries

Since the return from Ghana, I’ve been trying to process my biggest takeaways from the experience.

1. The perceptions about Africa in the US are truly unfortunate. As with other underrepresented groups in the US, we as allies can create platforms for better representation.
Because of what we’re shown in the media, when the majority of Americans think about Africa, they think of starving children, deserts, safaris, and wild animals. Some of my African friends have told me stories of people who have asked them if they live in the jungle, if they have lions in their backyard, and other misinformed questions. We as a collective have no idea about the development of cities within Africa, nor the education status of the people who live there. Not to mention that Africa is a gigantic continent and generalizations do not apply even within one country, let alone the entire continent.
Nevertheless, because of the misconceptions about life in Africa, a lot of Westerners feel that they have to “help” the continent. My friend and I had a conversation about this last weekend, to which she directed a question to these Westerners: “Who asked for your help?” From my time in Ghana, I learned that outsiders basing their interactions with the continent as “helping” can cause more damage than good. It can lead systems to become reliant on “help” and lead citizens to value the insights and leadership of outsiders over the citizens of the country.

2. When we think about ed tech and entrepreneurship in West Africa, it’s impossible to apply cookie cutter versions of what we do here.
America has a superiority complex. We often think that just because we’ve developed an innovative solution to some problem, everyone else should be able to implement it as well. Time and time again in Ghana, however, this perception was flipped upside down. Not only has a British styled education system NOT been as helpful to students as imagined, but in fact Ghanaians achieved better success when adjusting Western ideas to fit the cultural and educational needs of the students. Such was the case at Ashesi University, where the entrepreneurship was modeled after Boston’s Babson College with a lot of tweaks to fit the environment.
Similarly taking the idea of a startup accelerator and placing It in Ghana would not work as well as intended. Those of us who want to launch companies in West Africa, or even in different regions of our home countries, need to remember to understand the dynamics on the ground and develop our strategy sensitively and appropriately.

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