Why Africa is the key to advancing human potential

Andela, a tech company, scouts for smart Nigerians with talent for tech, trains them and places them to work for international companies like Microsoft, while still based in Nigeria.

Story highlights

  • Africa has missed out on two of the most important episodes of global advancement
  • The internet has revolutionized how knowledge and opportunities can be accessed and shared

Seni Sulyman is Country Director of Andela Nigeria. He is passionate about building an ecosystem of exemplary African businesses and leaders and has an MBA from Harvard Business School. Andela this week announced a $40M round of funding from two Africa-focused venture funds.

The views expressed in this article are solely his.

(CNN)Humans have done a poor job of equipping the majority of our seven billion peers to contribute meaningfully toward our collective future.

As a result, humankind is not advancing at the pace it should be.
Today, millions of children lack access to education and healthcare, and are all too familiar with poverty and hunger. Our planet is exhibiting severe side effects resulting from human activity while we still debate the existence of climate change.
    Elections in developed countries are no longer guaranteed to be free and fair, thanks to hackers. This is 2017.
    Andela Nigeria Country Director Seni Sulyman
    Africa, home to a massive young and growing population, could possess the solution to the global human capital dilemma. Africans, working alongside and leading global teams, can help humankind avoid catastrophes in healthcare, education, climate change, and cybersecurity.
    By producing the next wave of global leaders, Africa (and Africans) will play a critical role in building the future.
    If we're going to actualize this promising future, we need to first come to terms with our difficult past.

    A history of missed opportunities

    Over 12,000 years ago, humans shifted from hunting and gathering to organized agriculture. Africans participated actively in what is widely known as the Agricultural Revolution, spanning several centuries across several kingdoms.
    We've since slid in both productivity and innovation, failing to achieve food security, and have some of the highest rates of undernourishment globally. The reasons vary and we can debate them, but the consequences are irrefutable.
    In the 18th and 19th centuries, humans developed the steam engine, created the textile industry, invented machine tools and factories, and built telecommunication, transportation and power infrastructure.
    The Industrial Revolution, as we know it today, is commonly referred to as the most important event in human history since the domestication of animals. Africa was a source of key raw materials and labor that fueled this revolution, yet once again the benefits of this revolution skipped most African economies.
    Today, the repercussions of these missed opportunities are vast. With the collapse of most of Africa's major empires either via self-destruction or colonization, our interactions with the world have become severely imbalanced and our development has been disappointingly slow.
    Many African countries are net importers of necessities like food, fuel, equipment and consumer goods. In Nigeria, 75 percent of land is arable, yet we import unreasonable quantities of rice, tomatoes and other basic agricultural produce. We literally can't feed ourselves.
    In terms of industry, things are equally appalling. While banking and telecommunications (which we've basically imported) are shining examples of success in many countries, our public transport infrastructure is rudimentary at best, hospital conditions are deplorable, and electricity is a luxury.
    For the past few centuries, Africans have certainly not been sitting around resigned to stagnation and exploitation. Yet we've largely missed out on two of the most important episodes of global advancement.
    The prayers, hopes and aspirations of our colonized ancestors did not propel us into the 21st century. Today, our prayers, hopes and aspirations will not propel us into the future.
    This is our history. Let's embrace it. Let's learn from it.
    Today, the world is on the precipice of its third major revolution: The digital revolution. This time, Africa will not be left behind and history will not repeat itself.

    Raw brainpower

    We are fortunate to have a massive advantage over previous generations: the internet. The internet is the global equalizer. It has fundamentally changed how knowledge is shared and opportunities are accessed.
    With a connected device and a desire to learn, anyone can tap into the knowledge, experience and insights from the world's greatest minds and communities, irrespective of where they are. As a result, our continent's ability to partake in the digital revolution is contingent upon the strength of our human capital and our leadership.
    Africa is projected to account for half the world's population growth by 2050, and has the sheer capacity and the raw brainpower to produce technologists who will go on to build the future.
    The emergence of a new crop of young, thoughtful and upright leaders -- who are committed to creating immense value and leaving their communities better off -- is what will fully unlock the potential of millions of Africans in ways we can't yet possibly imagine.
    Just 10 years ago, "young and tech-savvy Nigerian" was synonymous with "internet fraudster." Today, the world recognizes that some of our future technology leaders are located in cities like Lagos, Abuja, Nairobi and Kampala.
    By investing in young African leaders, one at a time, and then applying the learnings to rapidly scale those efforts to millions of others, we can catalyze an entire generation. It's already happening, led by young Africans. We don't need anyone's permission.

    Human capital shortage

    The world's human capital shortage -- the constraint to the digital revolution and to the advancement of humankind -- is a global dilemma that affects all of us, regardless of ethnicity, geography or socioeconomic status.
    Changing Africa's history of getting left behind is not a choice, it's a necessity. The role that future generations of Africans will play is already being determined by the actions and decisions we make today.
    Having an African fund lead what is easily one of the largest venture rounds on the continent is nothing short of remarkable.
    If Africans are successful at accelerating our participation in the global technology revolution, we will not only begin to solve Africa's most pressing challenges, we will in fact begin to solve the world's.