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Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming book Imported: Locking in Africa’s Value(s) and what inspired you to write it?
Imported was born from my observations and experience from many years living in Africa and working on hundreds of projects geared towards mobilising financing for development and impact in the region. My observations have centred on Africa’s predisposition to look outside of Africa and import most of the essential components, capital and expertise that the region and its people need to drive progress and development.
Beyond just framing the issue using numerous examples and data from current methods of infrastructure procurement and development on the continent to illustrating the sheer volume of financial resources that countries in the region redirect (loses) to importing basic goods and services in the face of our countries’ well-documented economic and developmental challenges, my primary focus in Imported is on our mindsets. My mindset. Mindsets that have preferred imported solutions to the region’s development challenges and that have left the continent trailing others. Mindsets that, just like all those goods and services, are also imported. Mindsets that have left us as followers rather than leaders in determining our destiny and collective situation.
What is clear to many if not all Africans and friends of Africa of age, is that because of this mindset, our default position has been to place less reliance on, and in many ways impart lesser value on, finding homegrown solutions to the development challenges faced by individual countries and the region as a whole. Less reliance on the use of African products and services in rolling out projects and initiatives in the region. Less reliance on the ingenuity of our own people and industry. And this default position is all to the detriment of the longer term security of the region. It is unsustainable, and frankly, dangerous.
Imported has been a humbling journey of self-reflection for me, having advised governments, development organisations and corporations through the course of my career. What has my role been in perpetuating and further instituting this state of affairs? This book is my admission and submission that I too need to change my mindset. That I too am in need of a reset. It is my call on others to do the same.
What did you find most enjoyable and most challenging during the writing process?
I really enjoyed the learning that came with this process. I have had to undertake so much research and it has been a real journey of discovery. There are things I thought I knew and realised either that I didn’t or wasn’t fully appreciative of the scope or extent. I have had to open my mind to conflicting perspectives on the important issue that I am trying to address in the book.
Writing a book is a challenge in itself. A lot of the research and material that I used in telling this story was current at the time of writing, and there was no way of knowing whether the issues that I explored would be of interest to readers – or even to me – a year or two later. It was therefore important that I finished and published the book quickly. Finding the discipline to write a few words every day, powering through writer’s blocks and fatigue, and remaining disciplined through the 15 months that it took me to complete my manuscript was incredibly challenging, also considering the heavy demands of my job. It was a huge commitment on my part, but the sense of accomplishment when I got to the end made it all worth it, whether or not I went on to publish.
Why did you decide to publish your book independently with whitefox?
I already mentioned the learning that came with this process. Part of that learning is that writing a book intended for publication is only the first of several marathons that an author has to anticipate. Taking a book from manuscript to market can present a minefield especially if it’s your first time, which is the case for me. Although I had a clear enough vision for how I wanted to produce this book, I also recognised that I needed the right partners to help me navigate this process. whitefox was one of them. The guidance and project management from the team at whitefox has been invaluable.
What impact do you hope your book has on readers after its publication?
My motivation for writing this book was twofold. First, to contribute to shaping the thinking of the next generation of entrepreneurs, financiers and policymakers, who will define Africa’s future. Second, to encourage real conversations and initiatives to unearth and nurture practical solutions that will reorientate the minds of stakeholders in African enterprise, myself included, towards methods and practices that lock in more value within the continent. We all want to see greater participation by African enterprises in the continent’s own value chains. We all want to see African countries not only catering to their own population but emerging as exporters of value, in the broadest sense, to the rest of the world. My hope is that Imported can help with training minds to find ways to accelerate this vision.
Do you have any exciting future plans after the publication of your book?
I am now working on a couple of projects to translate the key principles and messages that I communicate in Imported into real and actionable initiatives to build capacity within African institutions and provide stakeholders in African enterprises with viable and effective alternatives to turn to within the continent. I am looking forward to continuing the conversation on this topic and sharing more on the progress of these projects in due course.