… My heart’s in Accra Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

June 5, 2007

The Cheetah Generation faces “the blind leading the clueless”

Filed under: Africa,TEDGlobal — Ethan @ 4:25 am

Emeka Okafor introduces Ghanaian economist George Ayittey as the inspiration for his blogging career, especially for the creation of his Africa Unchained blog, named after one of Ayittey’s books. Ayittey, Okafor notes, has a reputation as a troublemaker, and he strides onto stage asking, “Do you think Africans would put together a conference like this? The AU? They’d still be asking for foreign aid.”

Ayittey characterizes several of the conference speakers as “the cheetah generation”, fast-moving people who don’t accept corruption, and who demand that democracy and transparency lead to better governance. “Africa’s salvation rests on the back of these cheetahs.” He constrasts them to “the hippo generation”, the ruling elites, stuck in their intellectual patch, complaining about colonialism and imperialism. “They won’t reform, because they benefit from the status quo.” Ayittey acknowledges his anger at a continent that’s so rich in natural resources and so poor in material terms.

“An enduring tragecy is that so many people, governments and organizations want to help the people in Africa, who they don’t understand.” As a result, “helping Africa has been turned into a theater of the absurd, where the blind are leading the clueless.” It’s unclear whether well meaning folks like Bono are blind or clueless in this description, but Ayittey reminds us “Africa’s begging bowl leaks,” and that it would be absurd to pour more money into it, given that corruption costs more than $180 billion a year, and that $80 billion a year of capital flees from the continent.

In the next chapter of Africa’s development, he tells us that we have to ask “Who do we want to help in Africa – the people, or the leaders?” He’s asked friends who are expert on Africa to name as many post-colonial African leaders as they can from the 204 leaders the continent has seen. Most can’t come up with more than 15, and that list includes figures like Idi Amin. This is because most African leaders have failed us: they include “post-military fufuheads and Swiss bank socialists”. They are a far cry from the leadership the continent has known for centuries, traditional leaders who were constrained by councils of elders, not “vampire states” that suck the life from their people.

Development of Africa has overfocused on the “modern sector” – which is generally corrupt and broken – and underfocused on the informal and traditional sectors, which is where most Africans actually work. These sectors, especially the agricultural sector, are based around communal ownership and decision-making. But they’re not socialist – they’re deeply market-based and, in West Africa, based around entrepreneurial women. it wasn’t until post-colonialism that governments declared markets to be “imperialistic” – markets aren’t alien to Africa, which is based around “a different form of capitalism”.

Showing the sorts of enterprise he believes Africa needs to encourage, Ayittey shows us a video of Ghanaian fishermen. They receive no government subsidy, they produce wealth based on what they’re able to catch, and they invest in their boats and other infrastructure, creating jobs for hundreds of others. This sort of entrepreneurship needs to be a focus for African growth if we are to “take back the Continent one village at a time.”


  1. […] – If you aid governments directly, do so in a way that they use the money to support entrepreneurship, not to enrich “the hippo generation”. Look for ways to support the energetic, young “cheetah” generation. […]

    Pingback by …My heart’s in Accra » Digesting TED Global - I’m still chewing — June 10, 2007 @ 12:39 pm

  2. […] And if you want to listen to some of the ‘cheetahs’, here are links to a few of those I had the privilege to meet or hear speak at TED: Afromusing Bankelele Ory Okolloh […]

    Pingback by The Park Paradigm » An African Renaissance. — June 12, 2007 @ 4:15 pm

  3. […] So this TED Global thing, what is it about it that has us who attended walking around on cloud nine, talking about a “cheetah generation” and “forget making poverty history we want to make Africans rich“? It is almost like we were indoctrinated by the some powerful force. Every single blogger who was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend TED Global came out very very very very very impressed!. Why? Recently we got an email asking us to rate the conference, the organisation, the speakers on scale from poor to excellent. Talking with some other TEDsters over the weekend we were of the opinion that the scale should start at bloody brilliant and end at flipping unbelievable. (Thanks Hash for putting all those links together!) […]

    Pingback by Mentalacrobatics » Why TED Global rocked — June 18, 2007 @ 7:02 am

  4. […] I think Hash is optimistic – we’re a long way away from Hippo obscolenence, but I agree that’s the path we’re starting to follow. One of the challenges is to bring this Cheetah narrative into mainstream usage, so that we’re seeing stories framed in those terms, either embracing or challenging that concept, but not ignoring it. […]

    Pingback by …My heart’s in Accra » Pushing the hippo out of the frame… — June 27, 2007 @ 12:36 pm

  5. […] If the plan of the Cheetah generation is to “wrestle” power from the Hippos, acquire more clout and/or attain widespread social impact via their ventures, they need to find ways get into the heads of the Hippos. At the very least present some notable Hippos the opportunity to listen to their messages. This kind of communication and interaction is yet to happen in Africa…maybe this ought to be the next TED agenda for Africa or in the minds of the TED Fellows as they continue their post conference discussions. Bookmarks:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

    Pingback by Grandiose Parlor » Blog Archive » Is the Hippo Generation Becoming Irrelevant? — June 27, 2007 @ 11:01 pm

  6. […] who condemns a generation of African leaders as “hippos” and talks of his hopes for “the cheetah generation”, whose independence and speed was exemplified by many of the conference speakers. Ayittey’s […]

    Pingback by …My heart’s in Accra » Something to chew on: TED talks posted online — August 1, 2007 @ 4:18 pm

  7. The Cheetah Generation faces the blind leading the clueless

    Emeka Okafor introduces Ghanaian economist George Ayittey as the inspiration for his blogging career, especially for the creation of his Africa Unchained blog, named after one of Ayittey’s books. A

    Trackback by VillageTalk Mediadesk — August 2, 2007 @ 6:41 am

  8. […] Read ‘The Cheetah Generation faces “the blind leading the clueless’ also from Ethan’s blog […]

    Pingback by Szavanna_blog | The cheetah and the hippo - I am because I am or I am because we are — August 3, 2007 @ 5:31 am

  9. […] Mwacharo, an entrepreneur based in Nairobi, Kenya who a great example of what George Ayitteh has so aptly described as “The Cheetah […]

    Pingback by AfriGadget » Blog Archive » AfriGadget Innovator Series: Simon Mwacharo of Craftskillz — April 30, 2008 @ 11:11 pm

  10. […] support his project. In that light, I would encourage anyone interested in helping Africa’s Cheetah Generation develop their continent to please checkout the Solving Africa website and join the Solving Africa […]

    Pingback by Solving Africa, by Junior Kanu « Perfectly Ordered Chaos — December 16, 2008 @ 12:34 pm

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