This African country shatters all the stereotypes...

This morning, I received this email from a friend:

"Tonight I watched an Anthony Bourdain program on CNN from Senegal. I enjoyed learning a little about the culture of Senegal, but realize that this was a program for TV, probably not based entirely in reality. That said, I was impressed with what I saw of Senegal."

He wanted to know if I had seen it and if so, was curious to know my thoughts on how Senegal was portrayed.

M and I do not watch nor own a TV, so I was not able to view the show. But I was able to read about it here. And everything I read is familiar to me, and amongst the biggest reasons I love my country so much. Of particular resonance is this excerpt:

"So let this episode in Senegal, an African nation which is over 90% Muslim, serve as both rebuke and example. It is a country that proudly elected as their first president after independence, a Christian — because they felt, in their best judgement, that regardless of his faith, he was the best person for the job. It is a country that defies stereotypes and expectations at every turn. Emerging from French colonial times as a functioning multi-cultural, multi-lingual, extraordinarily TOLERANT society. It has managed to avoid coups, tribal wars, dictatorships and most of the ills that afflicted so many of its neighbors and remains an absolutely enchanting place to visit, with delicious food, absolutely extraordinarily beautiful music, and a relatively free and easy attitude towards intermarriage, mixed race, intertribal relationships and foreign visitors. It has a powerful and proud tradition of hospitality that endures to this day. . . .

They are predominantly Sufi Muslims, with attitudes towards behavior far removed from the more loony toon, extreme brand of Islam we see too all often on the news, is a distinction unlikely to be made by haters, most of whom have difficulty (or simply don’t care) to even distinguish Muslims from Sikhs."

It gives me goosebumps, for it's so beautiful and accurate. Of course we have our problems, but the gist of the positive portrayal was entirely accurate!

Bourdain with the same people I spent a wonderful weekend with in Saint-Louis, Senegal, at the same exact place I stayed at ten days ago, "Au Fil du Fleuve", in the wonderful care and hospitality of Marie-Caroline Camara (serving) and Amadou Diaw (across from Bourdain) as I strolled back and forth between his gorgeous home and Marie-Caroline's. Even bought couple of outfits from the uber talented fashion designer, Rama Diaw (with the black and white headscarf). Sweet memories...

Bourdain with the same people I spent a wonderful weekend with in Saint-Louis, Senegal, at the same exact place I stayed at ten days ago, "Au Fil du Fleuve", in the wonderful care and hospitality of Marie-Caroline Camara (serving) and Amadou Diaw (across from Bourdain) as I strolled back and forth between his gorgeous home and Marie-Caroline's. Even bought couple of outfits from the uber talented fashion designer, Rama Diaw (with the black and white headscarf). Sweet memories...

In any case, when I read the email, I felt an outrage. Outrage at this: "probably not based entirely in reality". I could not help but think that the wonder comes from the striking gap between the common accepted perception of Africa (and Islam, should I add) by most Americans as a desolate place, with hunger and dangers of all kind and the perception Anthony Bourdain shared in his piece of an African country with beautiful people, with great cuisine and an amazing culture of peace. So I ask, what do you think the reality of Senegal is? I have never heard anyone making the comment of "is this real" when watching Barefoot Contessa cooking in the South of France, or in Tuscany. I have never heard anyone questioning the extreme beauty coming out of such footage, because you know what about all of France's Poor or the violent mafiosos terrorizing people in Italy? So why then would skepticism be the first reaction when one sees people in Africa (not the animals, because unlike people, the African animals enjoy a relative perception of respect and dignity as showcased here) looking well-adjusted and cosmopolitan, with a rich cuisine (considered among the healthiest diets in the world according to a recent review of global dietary habits published by The Lancet Global Health)  going on about their life in a peaceful environment and manner?

I'll tell you why. It's because of the decades of mental conditioning created by decades of reporting focused mainly on the negative sides of the continent. Most of it is true. But when we only talk of one aspect of things, de facto making it the ONLY reality, then you can now start to understand how I got such an email from an otherwise well-meaning person.

This is the reason why I say perceptions matter. Perception is the first point of entry to the other. If it is a good one, it opens favorable channels in my heart and mind to go towards the other, leading to all kinds of awesome opportunities. But if on the other hand, my perception is not a good one, it does all the opposite, because now my heart is closed, my mind is closed, or at the very least on the fence, and I am just not enticed to go towards that person, effectively closing myriads of possibilities between that person and I.

How have we come to this place of conditioning? Decades of media reporting only on the nastiest sides of Africa and its people, supplemented by decades of well meaning NGOs and organizations using the worst images of helplessness and victimhood among Africans to trigger your altruist heart into donating money and resources to them to help the unfortunate victims of the atrocities they showed you on TV, while most did not understand nor truly cared to understand the very mechanisms of sustainable poverty alleviation (aka sustainable prosperity creation) as brilliantly exposed in Poverty Inc, coming to Netflix this June 15th.

The truth is up until now the only story of Africa is the misery side, with this idea we Africans need the help of others on terms that are not ours. I do not want anyone's pity and I am not mad at anyone. I know we have all been "brainwashed" to see the same things when it comes to this. My goal in all I do, and specifically with Tiossan, is for all of us to deprogram ourselves together, and rewrite a new narrative about Africa together, more in line with our 21st Century vision of the world and each other. That will be achieved only if we work together. Everyone's story telling matters, from chef stars like Antony Bourdain and Pierre Thiam (of Senegal) to the little boy in a classroom somewhere in Minnesota to the elderly woman on a farm in Sweden, to the poet in Buenos Aires ... and all their counterparts all over Africa. We have much work to do to counter the current narrative. But what an exciting and uplifting endeavor, for all it requires is your most positive, whimsical, hopeful and happiest self! And the best is that everyone can partake in. No gatekeepers of any kind as long as we have each other... and social media :) 

 

 

From the little girl whose grandmother taught her to be an Explorer

Thank you to all of you for all of the wonderful birthday wishes! Today as I embark on a journey back to my Beloved continent (this time Rwanda) on the precise day of my birth (I was born this same Monday a few decades ago), my heart is full with gratitude for all the messages you are sending me. They remind me that the journey is worth it. I am very grateful to my grandmother who raised me with a tremendous feeling of confidence and boundless opportunity.  Her words and example inspire me when I want to give up.  When I am upset at so many in the world for thinking that Africa is permanently the land of tribes and rural villagers (how charming!), I remember her confidence in me and I vow not to give up. She used to tell me that I was special, that I came to this world with "something" special,but I had to discover that "something" for myself she said. And I believed her! So much that I started to explore life, to find my "something". she used to tell me she could see the Universe and the stars in my eyes. It is true that I reside in my dreams :)

Often I get asked why I did not take the "easy route."  Entrepreneurship is very hard work with tremendous uncertainty.  It took me a while to understand that the "easy route" is the conventional route.  At some point, I had to accept the fact that my life will never be easy, because I refuse to settle for conventional. You can't reach the stars if you settle for Earth, after all. Behind all the glitters and the glam, there has been (and continue to be) a lot of sacrifices, hurts, losses, doubts, fears that I cannot begin to express here. Just trust that they are here. Some days are good, some days are challenging, but I have learned that my job is to show up, everyday, relentlessly. I still complain more than I would like, but I am getting better at being more courageous. I do what I do because of my love for Humanity. In my culture we say, "Nit Nitey Garabam", meaning "Man is the cure for Man"as in "Humanity is the cure for Humanity". Thank you to each and all of you for being my cure and balm along the journey I have chosen.

Much love,

 

Magatte

Rape and Joke: two words that don't belong together

Rape is not a joke My personal goal is for Africans to be respected around the world before I die. While we Africans can certainly blame slavery, colonialism, racism, etc. for our troubles, if we want to be respected we need to be worthy of respect. We need to be exemplary human beings.

Recently a Nigerian comedian made a joke about dating white women vs. dating African women which ended with a "joke" about raping the African woman. The joke was tasteless and stupid, and the comedian has apologized.

But the fact that he would think this way, and that others would laugh about it, shows that rape culture is all too alive and well in Nigeria. I don't know how this man was raised, but I was raised to believe that men should respect women and that, above all, they should not violate women. Moreover, around the world women are reclaiming their rights as human beings - this is the healthy and important work of first generation feminists. Going forward, the morally respectable cultures and subcultures will be those cultures that authentically honor and respect women and which harshly repudiate any suggestion that violence against women is acceptable or legitimate.

As a woman I'm disappointed in the joke and the response that it received. As an African, I'm even more disappointed.

I believe the comedian's apology was sincere - it was an act of stupidity rather than viciousness. But there is justice in judging a culture by its humor, and the fact that the comedian thought he could get laughs by a rape joke is as much an indictment of his audience as it is of him.

I hope that we will see more and more moral leadership from both male and female Africans going forward, both high profile individuals as well as ordinary people. I would expect that we all want to deserve respect, and we should confront those among us who do things that are not worthy of who we really are.

P.S.: See here for an excellent, passionate diatribe on the reality of rape to give you a very vivid sense of why no one should EVER joke about it.

Scarier than the day I ran into a pride of lions on the Okavango. And just as beautiful

Note: this is the music I was listening to while writing this post. Earlier today, I was looking for something and stumbled upon this video of the highlights of the Global Competitiveness Forum I spoke at in 2011 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. My panel was called "The power of Unreasonable People" and I come at around 4:46.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lfk1sFvIwq0&w=560&h=315]

It reminded me of a horribly scary situation I found myself in at the same Forum 2 years prior to the 2011 one. Something happened that could have aborted my speaking career on such prestigious stages.

So what happened? I am very embarrassed by it, but I am one who likes to laugh about and share my misfortunes once the stinging stage has passed.

When I received my invitation and saw the list of speakers, I first thought there was a mistake in my being invited. I mean the list was full of titles like CEO of Airbus, Chairman of Goldman Sachs, CEO of 3M, Former Prime Minister of Canada, Former Prime Minister of Great Britain, and so on and so forth. And then me, Magatte Wade, this very young woman, barely out my 20s, President of a small company, with my name on a list of the Who's Who of world leaders. I remember turning to M and saying "Could they not find a better African token? This is ridiculous!". To which M responded: "I do not think that is what is going on. You need to give yourself more credit. And even if it was, you will show them that you earned your presence there". I liked that!

And then, I learned I was set out to debate Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the Chairman and former CEO of Nestle, on the importance of Organics. It turns out that the organizer was 100% sold to my commitment and engagement in sustainability.

I remember coming on stage full of confidence. After all, I had nothing but disdain for Nestle and most of their practices. They were one of the reasons I started my first company. I remember how in front of a crowd of several hundred of the world’s leading movers and shakers – at one point, in the midst of a passionate debate on organics, I turned and pointed to him saying “I believe in criticizing by creating.  You are one of the reasons that I created Adina,” a line which pleased the crowd greatly, putting him on the defensive from there on out :). I was doing good until our moderator, Riz Khan (prominent BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera journalist) asked me the question that almost ruined everything. He asked a minute long VERY technical question on water. Water is one of Nestle pet peeves and Brabeck's specialty. M had wanted to prep me on that topic and I brushed it off because I found it too technical. Poor M, he was listening on via Skype through my computer that I set up next to me. He was cringing, but there was nothing he could do for me anymore at that particular moment.

In any case, and as Riz Khan was finally finishing his question, I realized that I had no viable answer for him. I felt a horrible feeling of disappointment growing in me. I had no place in being there in the first place. The fact I had no relevant answer to this question was the proof. Big swollen tears started to form , and as I was getting ready to get up and leave the stage crying, the miracle happened. Brabeck, who had been stung by what I told him earlier, lost all his manners and did not let me answer the question, but instead went into defending himself from my attack of him earlier. Riz Khan tried, as a gentleman, to give me a chance to answer his question, but then the same thing happened again. By then, I just told him :"It is okay, Riz! Let's move on."

And from there on, I just picked up the ball and pulled them all back into my turf, one that I knew I controlled very well, because Organics and sustainability is something I live for and believe in in my core. Brabeck was so mad he blurted out "Organics is just a marketing gimmick!" Wow! Really?!? From the man who had declared that his Chairmanship would be under the sign of "Organic & Fair Trade". He was lucky Twitter was not en vogue yet...

A few years later, the Forum's Director emailed my husband the following:

"You know, the highlight of my 5 years doing this GCF was the year Magatte spoke and just before she went up on stage, on a session in which I had deliberately placed her and the Peter Brabeck-Lethmate, she looked at me and said something like, “Ray, this is real drag. I’m going to liven it up a bit.”

That was even scarier than the day I ran into a pride of lions on the Okavango. And just as beautiful.

Sometimes, all you need is luck!

 

 

The middle game IS the game

As a couple committed to that which is True, Good and Beautiful (add Noble specially for me), it is fair to say that my Beloved and I have not chosen an easy path. M wrote this on his FB and I got compelled to share it here because it is probably the most succinct way to express the depths of M.

When, like M,  you have a brilliant mind working in perfect harmony with an equally amazing heart, and have the patience of a baobab tree, you are destined to achieve amazing things. It is  fascinating for me to live by the man's side, surrounded by his wisdom. My hot temper makes me sometimes lose sight of the goal, especially when the middle game is so complex and takes forever, but a glance at him and I am back on track. I then hold his hand tighter, and together we make our moves.

So here is what my Beloved posted on his status:

"When I was in high school I played pick-up chess at the public library in Aspen. At one point, a chess junkie who used to be Spassky's tennis partner on the tours played me several games with me and then told me, "You've got an amazing middle game. Your opening game is mediocre and your end game is terrible. But I can train you how to do those. The middle game is the hardest part to train - it requires a deep intuition." I chose not to train with him because I didn't want to give my life over to a game, but ever since I've identified as a middle game player. In a sense, I feel like I'm always playing middle game, trying to intuit how to get where I'm going, but never having the satisfaction of playing the decisive moves of the end game."

To which, one of his friends asked him to discuss further. He then replied:

In order to explain I must first explain the nature of the "opponent" with which I struggle. Coming out of St. John's, I wanted to pursue the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. One of the most obvious forces opposing the Good seemed to me to be free market economists, who advocated for a system that rewarded greedy business people for stoking the flames of materialism and consumerism. As someone in love with the Greek ideal of a virtue culture, this seemed self-evidently evil. So I went to the University of Chicago to examine the Chicago economists from the inside to discover the moral and intellectual errors that led them to promote such an evil system. I discovered that I had not really understood economics. There is nothing intrinsic to free markets or economics that necessarily rewards greed nor that necessarily rewards stoking the flames of materialism. I worked within Gary Becker's framework to create a theoretical structure within which markets would reward virtue, primarily though education. At the same time on the practical side I began providing Socratic teacher trainings through Mortimer Adler's Paideia Program in order to inculcate virtues in public school classrooms. As I shifted to the development of a framework for virtue development that was consistent with economics, I discovered the fury that mainstream academia has for those apostates who work within a market-oriented framework. Despite the fact that my goals as an educator were intellectual and moral goals that most professors would enthusiastically support, because I was now identified with "Chicago economics" I was attacked, ostracized, or ignored. I then spent fifteen years actually creating schools, and again found that because I no longer believed in government schools, even though I was doing work that Enlightenment liberals should love, I was still attacked, ostracized, or ignored. I then began working with John Mackey to promote entrepreneurial solutions to world problems. Again although the substance of each entrepreneurial solution I proposed was largely aligned with the goals of Enlightenment liberals, the same reaction from the academic establishment. Finally, in my work with Startup Cities, the same thing. Thus I feel as if my most tenacious opponent for the last several decades has been the anti-capitalist bigotry of academic intellectuals. Where ever I go, their deep, irrational tribal loyalties prevent me from making progress that is as deep and wide-ranging as it should be. On my part I've been trying to establish such unimpeachable "goods" associated with improving the lives of the poor (in terms of much of my work in FLOW and Startup Cities) and developing intellectually engaged, cognitively sophisticated learners with a moral sensibility (in my education work) that intellectually honest academics would begin to concede position. But it has been a very long, difficult struggle. I had thought our side was making progress in the early decades of this millennium, but then GW Bush's hypocritical use of market rhetoric set us back, and then the 2008 crisis set us back much further. It feels like a chess board where we are fighting for the moral and intellectual high ground, and we are struggling to get the advantage of a pawn or two so that when we move to the end game we will have the advantage needed to win. Their position is intrinsically weaker, but because they've got almost all of academia, the mainstream media, and the K-12 system on their side, our side faces a very tough struggle. Worse yet, untutored human nature is naturally anti-capitalist, as Hayek pointed out, so a corrupt Krugman can pander to the natural economic ignorance of humanities scholars and ordinary people and thereby have immense influence. Thus the only way to win this battle is for the most intellectually influential individuals to acknowledge the power of the best arguments on behalf of entrepreneurship and markets. As you well know, we are still in the middle game on this issue. But at some point we will enter the end game, and if our positional advantage is strong enough, we will win decisively. I expect that you and I are young enough that within our lifetimes the anti-capitalist bigotry of 20th century intellectuals (now extending into the 21st) will exercise a morbid fascination for thoughtful, intelligent minds looking back at the damage for which such people are responsible."

Madiba, My Great African Hero

Image I just learned of the passing of a Man who  had reached the Angel status, in my eyes, while alive.

I have ceased all activities,  turned all the lights off, am now laying on my bed, in the darkness, and decided to write this letter to you. The tears are heavy, the heart is heavy, but my love for you and the hope you left behind is pure as fresh water.

I am not sure where to start. Everything is so blurry before my eyes. With your passing, one of my greatest dreams died: to meet you and bask in your grace, at least once in my lifetime. And tell you face to face how much I love you, and thank you for all you have done for all of us, my Great African Hero.

I am not alone, we are hundreds of millions, children of Africa and the World, who would have loved to meet you. We are hundreds of  millions, children of Africa and the world, who see you like our father, grandfather. You have  done so much and meant so much to so many of us. For me, my Beloved Madiba, you are my constant and comforting proof that Good wins over Evil. That Love wins over Hate. That Togetherness wins over Division.

I  can't help but be so angry at the 27 years of your life stolen the way it was. I will never forget the first time I sat foot on Robben Island, and then stood inside what was your cell. I remember being very scared of my feelings on my way to the island, I was afraid I would suffocate with anger and hate. I started feeling such anger and hate and revolt at what Evil had put you through. But then I entered in your cell, and there something happened. There was something so peaceful about your cell. I am not sure how to describe the feeling. But there was something so graceful and celestial in that room, something that was clearly above it all. I never understood what happened in there, I just felt. Perhaps what I felt there was the resolve of a clear mind, and pure heart and unshakable commitment to Justice, Truth and the Good.

Later that evening, and as we went back to land, to Cape Town, I could not help but look around me, at the rainbow of people around me, going about their lives in a peaceful manner and think that all of that was owed to you. On the boat ride back, I had been wondering how you managed to go from that cell and the journey there to calling for Reconciliation, Peace and Love. But then, at the sight of different color babies and children, all innocent, and standing a chance to live in harmony, it hit me. The meaning of your journey hit me. And I just stood there, struck by a new reality, with a new door in my heart now open. A door in my heart I always wanted to have access to, but never was quite capable of accessing: the door in my heart to unconditional forgiveness.

In the end, Beloved Madiba, I am just so grateful that you were granted a long life. And I hope you felt the absolute love, appreciation and respect we all have for you. Too often we fail to express how much we love them to those we love while they are still alive. But I want to believe that in your case, Beloved Madiba, we have not made that mistake. I want to believe that you have known our love for you. Thank you for inspiring me every day to live a full and meaningful life, no matter the price to pay. I would have liked to have you forever, but I understand you were ready to say goodbye. So goodbye, my Beloved Madiba. You dance inside my heart, as you always have. I ♡ you.

Hold On Forever!

tumblr_mc0w6cTzam1ryr9i1o1_500 Earlier this week, I received a letter from one of my Senegalese fans, B. Her letter hit me hard, for its rawness and truth. Although my life is very hectic, I wanted to get back to her rather sooner than later, because we cannot afford to lose any such engaged person to hopelessness and despair.

I also decided to post her letter here and my answer, because I know many go through the same. And I am trying to lift them up through this as well.

Read on, and hope it helps.

B's Letter:

Hi Magatte,

It's 2h30 am in Dakar and I cannot sleep...I have been very troubled these days and my mind constantly keeps going back to you. You know, when discouragement hits me really hard, I listen to the Coran, my beloved Khasidas and I read/watch inspirational talks/quotes. Among them are your youtube videos and blog. You are such an inspiration, machallah! So, I thought I would write to you to share a couple of concerns and hopefully pick your brain and get unstuck.

Magatte, I am very concerned about our country's economic development and I am trying my best to make my little contribution. I know I am still very far and that the road will be a long one. First, because working in a so-called development agency is not the best place where you can effect meaningful change, hence I am considering making a drastic change. Secondly, because I have not identified yet a field, an area and issue that will keep me awake in the middle of the night (like you said at the Global Competitiveness Forum, I loved that). Everything is a priority area for Senegal and Africa and it can be overwhelming to pick and commit to one fight (education, health, citizenship, access to water, people's empowerment etc)! I personally believe that being spread out is not an option, especially if one want to get meaningful results. Magatte, how do you choose one cause to fight for the rest of your life when so many issues move you to tears?

I was just reading your blogpost titled "My biggest fear" and this sentence deeply resonated with me: "Thus if I became famous like some freaks I will not name here or for some BS, I would not be happy, at all." This might sound like an unfair generalization but I have come to realize that our people give precedence to looks, wealth, fame, elegance, over substance, authenticity and hard work. People like to take shortcuts and being famous at any cost is what seems to drive the majority of Senegalese, hence the booming of "top models", wrestlers, actresses, tv presenters, politicians-by-training (and not for genuinely serving the community), people who indulge in multiple TV appearances where they make shallow interventions. I have nothing against people being artistic or into sports and expressing their inner talents through those means. However, the core of the matter is to be seen and "sagn-see ba diek". Even if you are selling BS, people will worship you. Sometimes it saddens me to see that the millions for whom a few are genuinely fighting for do not seem to care about development, about doing what is right, about preserving our values. People lie and take shortcuts to be rich and famous. Girls sell their souls for petty cash. It saddens me that the majority of the Senegalese population gets abused by BS-tellers who manipulate them and seek political power just to just fill up their bank accounts. Magatte, where does one find the energy to keep on fighting when the majority don't give a damn and barely listen? How does one keep on fighting when trying to be genuine+authentic in a general atmosphere where one is looked at like an alien? I am just in tears as I am writing this...

I hope you will have time to read my long message and look forward to your insights. You really give me strength to push through the disappointments.

Love,

B

 

My  Answer:

Hello My Dear B!

Sorry it took me awhile to get back to you. I have been very busy.

I know too well the feelings and realities that you are describing. It is not surprising you feel development agencies are not the proper answer to our situation and needs. Because they simply are not!!! For many reasons, that I am sure you probably understand better than most by now. So I support you getting out of there, because we cannot afford to have the very few youth (and people in general) who have their heart + mind in the right place slowly give into the ranks of the "establishment" because they got beat. So get out before you let your fighting soul die there!

All those problems you are referring to (when you say "education, health, citizenship, access to water, people's empowerment etc") have to do with ONE cause at the end of the day: POVERTY more or less directly!! And poverty is because people have no jobs. And we know jobs are created by entrepreneurs. So in a way, you already do know what keeps you up at night :) And the remedy is a "monomaniacal focus on entrepreneurship". Everything that you do from here on should focus on supporting entrepreneurship. It does not matter if you decide to work from the Education, Government, Private or NGO sector, you need to be laser focused on "How can I support entrepreneurship from my position". So pick what you are most excited/passionate about and operate from there.

As for all the crass-ness and mediocrity surrounding you that you are referring to, I can understand how frustrating it can be. And it is tempting to lift up your hands in the air with a defeated "Why even bother? I give up!". But in times like this , you must remember that you are not alone in this. Somewhere else, 10 feet away from you, or 10,000 miles away from you, someone else is fighting your fight. Your job is to find them and together create little islands of excellence in everything you do and the way you do it (especially having and taking pride in not cutting corners). At some point others will start noticing, and wanting to emulate that for you would have created something very irresistible.

Things will change, I believe that firmly. But things will change because of people like YOU! And every little thing you do counts. Cheikh Amadou Bamba, Mandela, Ghandi, Dr King, and countless others all operated within very hostile environments, and they still managed to win their battles. I am trying to give up on being mad at my fellow contemporaries, but it does not mean that I am happy to say "Oh this is the way it is". Instead, I focus on those beautiful alternatives I am working on creating for them. I know that the day those become real, others will slowly embrace them. And at some point it will become the new norm. Most will resist at first of course, because as humans we are creatures of habit. But there are always going to be those 2-3 first people to join you. And those are the ones who will change everything. But you have to create "IT" first, for them to have something to rally to. At the end of the day, "there is nothing to promote until there is something to sell". So go back to your core, remember your dreams for your country and the world you live in, and get back to work! Be relentless at it and only llisten to that small voice in you, the voice of God. Let that voice and its comfort guide you as you create your "it" and they will come! Criticize by Creating!!! Hope it helps! Much Love.

Magatte

My Book Review of Rwanda Inc.

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"Compared with the embarrassing parade of leaders in Africa since independence, Rwandan President Paul Kagame is clearly intelligent, disciplined, and principled. It is inspiring to read about the economic gains he has brought to the long-suffering people of Rwanda. In light of Kagame's unquestionable achievements, it would have been even more satisfying if Rwanda, Inc. had either shown us Kagame warts and all or definitively exonerated him from the most damaging charges against him. Instead, we are left to wonder: Is Kagame great only with respect to economics? Or might he be a truly great African leader?"

This is excerpt from my book review of Rwanda Inc for Barron's. The Full review is available here (scroll at the bottom of the page)

Unlearn. Unstick. Unleash. Be.

Ayelet Book A month or so ago, my friend Ayelet Baron, sent me the manuscript of her book, called "Unstuck" (you can read the book here Getting Unstuck - by Ayelet Baron) .

I read the book while on a trip in Guatemala. There, sitting by a gorgeous pool and surrounded by a wonderful breeze, colorful flowers and peaceful energy, I started scrolling through the pages. By the end of the preface, I decided to do something I have never been able to do while reading: I put on music. I always write with music, but I am normally not able to read with music. Very strange! In any case, in this situation, I put together this playlist and went back to my reading. That is when I experienced something a bit surreal: a situation in which I had goose bumps all over my body, filled with emotions, crying sometimes even.

I think what was happening is that Ayelet was talking to every single part of my being with her book. Every page, every line, every word resonated with the life I have come to embrace 6-7 years ago. A life in which I decided I would not wait for anyone to validate me, a life in which I would create and live by my own rules, be my own original self, following my passions and dreams. I had decided to have the courage to "Find out who I am, and do it on purpose" (Dolly Parton). Ayelet's book is amazing in the sense that it does not follow traditional book writing style. You can start it at any page and it still makes sense. It is authentic, with the unforgiving wittiness of a woman who has gone through enough and is now determined to follow her own path from here on. I think that as humans we all crave the freedom to be ourselves. Ayelet's book shares the lessons of the journey of a woman who took the leap of no return towards herself so to completely deprogram and free herself from society's chains. Hopefully, you will not wait for a flight gone terribly wrong (in Ayelet's case) or the death of your soul mate (in my case) to realize that you only have ONE life and it is about time to make it YOUR life. May you find in her book the same comfort and encouragements I found. I salute Ayelet's courage.

Thank You for the Letter

   

 

 

Today is the day after Thanksgiving, and I spent the last part of Wednesday and the first part of yesterday mad as hell, and even lost.

 

My team and I had worked really hard on a project that resulted in a pure fiasco, for various reasons. At the end of the day, I take full blame for it and I also know that it is the name of the game.
In any case, the bottom line is that I have been in struggle mode, feeling depressed and like a loser because something we did everything for it to come out perfectly did not.

Just now, I saw this email letter. Let's just say that communications like this one bring life and love to my heart. And I thank its author from the depths of my heart for bringing me such "put you back on the saddle" words of encouragements at a moment it's so needed. Thank You!

 

"Dear Ms. Wade,

My name is V. M and I am the Director of Operations for XXX. Part of my job is to transcribe S.H interviews. I felt impelled to tell you that it has been a privilege to transcribe your interview, which I'm only about half-way through. Not only is your story absolutely fascinating, but you are one of the rare gems in the world that I refer to as "people who make me happy just knowing that they exist." I've even directed my teenage daughters to your website sot that they could read your principles ("mes principes").

I apologize for jumping the professional line--I have never personally contacted an interviewee without being properly introduced through S.H (out of respect for my boss, who is also a dear friend). But, one of my personal principles is that when you find someone you can look to as an example of what human potential can attain, you let them know how much you appreciate them.

So, thank you. (And, Happy Thanksgiving!)

Sincerely,

V.M"

 

Friends, Cats & Tigers

Today is my birthday. I have received many well wishes that came in all forms (cards, letters, VM, SMS, songs,...)
This is an attempt to express what they mean to me.
Thank you so very much for this most amazing gift that is your letter.
It resonates and makes my whole being vibrate, so in tune with the meaning of your words. I am about to collapse, literally!! I sincerely have no idea what is going on, but I can feel such a rebirth.
The past few days have been really scary on so many fronts. I have been on panic mode, but Michael, equal to himself is the one who keeps on pushing forward for the two of us, and I listen to his calm directions. He is the only reason why I am not trying to jump out of the racing car right now. You know that urge one has to just turn their back and run the opposite direction when faced with a dangerous wild animal? Your first instinct is to do that, but doing that is a sure death sentence because that is the last thing to do when faced with a danger like that. So Michael is the voice that has been telling me to stand in front of the animal, lift up my hands in the air, make noise and jump so to make myself more imposing and scare him into running away (while God knows I am dying with fear inside).
That is how it feels. But I must say that Hope is taking its place back, thanks especially to all the voices I heard from today. Michael has been joined by countless others today, including you. And your combined voices are forming a real beat that I now find myself in trance with, a trance that makes me feel invincible.
It is all so powerful, I can feel the Beast now being the one scared, wise in its belief that this collective is a force not be messed with.
I am so very glad that I called for help. And even more grateful that you all heard it and came to the rescue.
It is true what they say, that at the end of the day, all we have is one another. Thank You! A most grateful Magatte

My Biggest Fear

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivUs5uWvuOI&w=560&h=315]  

This video, made by a handful of African students in Germany I've never met (except for  the great Micha Ru  I met online, thank you FB), is one of my favorite YouTube videos.  I'm honored to have been included by them.  I feel accountable to this generation of young Africans around the world who are looking to mentors and models to remind them that the future will be different.

When Dambisa Moyo writes Dead Aid, or I write about Jeff Sachs, we are not criticizing foreign aid or its advocates merely to be critical.  What those who "care" don't understand is the profound injuries to the pride and self-respect that results when our only role as Africans is to be pitied.  The fact that these young Africans somewhere in Germany acknowledge me as worth mentioning in their paean to African achievement and self-worth gives me an immense sense of responsibility towards them and the future of Africa.

I know, I know, I know.... It's been ages since I wrote here. I have been extremely busy with the next phase of my company, Tiossan. We went through a complete rebranding and also opened our first retail store in Hudson, NY.  All of that happened as I continued doing something I really love doing: encourage and empower as many people around the world to follow their passions, especially as they relate to entrepreneurship and just "find out who they are , and do it on purpose" as per Dollie Parton. Freshly back from a an emotionally nerve wrecking time in Nigeria (in the good sense) and just recently Gabon where I spoke at the NewYork Forum Africa and the Dialogue For Action Africa (I had a talk each day for three days), preceded by talks at MIT and Yale. I am so passionate by what I do and sharing my vision for the world with the world that it always feels to the audience that I was born with this ability to speak in public, that it is effortless. But if only they knew that I cannot sleep for hours after I deliver a talk or speech. Indeed, when I speak, it all comes from my core, the depths of my guts and all that I am and who I am. I have this vision of a better world, a vision so pure and wonderful that I am in a complete state of ecstasy! I get such a rush of adrenaline pumping through my veins, I can hardly sleep for hours (sometimes days) after such interventions.

In any case, tonight I am back at my computer to write. Someone I know from Facebook sent me a comment saying that he intends to write a book on humans greatest fears and wanted to know if I had any words for him. This is a very compelling subject and I confess that I have often asked myself the question "What is my greatest fear?".

I think it varies from person to person but I also think there is a common feeling most people think their biggest fears have to do with fear of personal failure of some kind:  financial failure, professional failure, romantic failure, etc.

But fear of not living up to our potential is even scarier, because with all external failures one can always blame someone else, something else, some kind of circumstances.
Not living up to our potential is a failure for which the only person who can possibly be responsible is oneself.  Moreover, the only one who can know whether you have lived up to your potential or not is you (and God).
That is a very scary situation, isn't it ?  No one to blame - but yourself!
So does this change how you choose to live on a moment-to-moment basis?
It  should.
For my part, I, Magatte Wade, am VERY  afraid (actually terrified) of not fulfilling my  potential by not having the impact I want (namely transform perceptions of Africa, create many jobs, create fabulous schools to prepare the next generation to be spectacular).
Even if I became famous, if  I don't make real stuff happen I'll be disappointed when I render my last breath.
Thus if I became famous like some freaks I will not name here or for some BS, I would not be happy, at all.
It has to be real - I have to make those goals actually happen. And THAT is the source of my infinite energy and limitless passion. It is contagious and I hope you get infected.
P.S.:  With love and gratitude towards George Ayittey, who has been fighting this battle on behalf of all Africans for many decades now, and whose TED Africa talk on Cheetahs vs. Hippos will forever remain a classic.

We grow old by deserting our ideals

Tonight, I found in my inbox a poem that a very dear friend of M (and through him, of mine) has sent. These words of Samuel Ullman (1840-1924) are wonderful! Enjoy (thank  you, Leif Smith).

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. 

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust. 

Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being's heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what's next, and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the infinite, so long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.

A Model for How to Commit to a Meaningful Life While Young

Tonight I want to write about an amazing young woman. Her name is S. I met her at Columbia University when she came to me after I gave  a keynote for the 2010 Africa Conference there.

I will never forget about the first sight of her as she was simply stunning: tall, svelte, gracious, fashionable, and grave, in one word she was regal! What attracted me most to her was this feeling of seriousness and determined will that emanated from her . Her whole aura was exuding PURPOSE! But purpose for what? I became very intrigued.  Because of her bearing, she stood out among all of those who had gathered around me.

She joined a conversation I was already engaged in. I don't remember what we talked about. The day after that talk, I fell ill, completely overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response I had received from fellow Afropolitans. It was wonderful, but so scary at the same time!

In any case, few months later, I saw her again as I attended the premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival for  a documentary  featuring the genocide.  At the end, she found her way to me. There again we talked, but everything was so busy we did not get a chance to speak in-depth. But at least that night, I got to know that she was from Rwanda, and in a very strange way  I "felt" what she was all about in my bones. The documentary, the presence of all of this history and her presence in the middle of all of that gave me the clues. I finally grasped why this young woman felt so grave. And I developed a huge sense of admiration and care for her. She has gone to the place of no return: she had gone and tasted the world of Purpose! Eventually we had to go to another gathering that night, and I left full of wonders and wanting to know more .

Little did I know that God would give me that opportunity. Indeed few months later M & I went to visit  Rwanda . There we met her at a function.

Few days later, we had dinner in Kigali and that is when my heart finally translated what was going on to my mind. S lives and breathes JUSTICE. She wanted to devote her life to tracking those responsible for the genocide in her country and those who committed heinous crimes. And while I thought it was a tremendously laudable goal, I also had the sad feeling inside that this bright star of life might get her soul and heart crushed in the process of tracking down former genocidaires. I insisted that there was another way to see her country move forward, one that would not demand for her soul to be sacrificed in the process. I could see a solution in which she could use her skills, youth, person and beautiful aura to focus on the present to build the future she wanted for her country rather than chase demons of the past.

After that dinner and as we flew back to NYC, I did not see her for some time and soon stopped hearing from her as well. I feared that maybe I had been too focused on my work to maintain a real relationship. But I am so passionate about my work that it could not have been otherwise. I thought of her often wondering how and where she was and hoping she would find peace.

Well last week, and more than a year later, I got an email. It's from S. And she is telling me that she actually took my advice and left behind the past.  She then began focusing on the present and the future.  I very much look forward to seeing her happier as a result of her decision to focus on building a better future.

A GrandMother's Advice

http://youtu.be/VhfF2Bd7xj0 "Conseil" (french word for "advice") is Youssou Ndour's new single. And I LOVE it!!!!

Youssou  just entered the Presidential Election Race for Senegal, but I will not comment on that today. All I want to do today (and doing) is dance! Once again his lyrics are full of comfort for those, who like me, vowed to live their life with Honor and Dignity in a world unfortunately currently overwhelmed with  Mediocrity and Crassness, with messages like this:

"The Truth is the only thing that should be of  interest to you

If you have something grave to say, think it through

It is worth being alone with God (meditating)

If it's money, it's not worth it

If it's something else, it's not worth it

Don't sell out your honor nor your dignity

Because everything has an end eventually..."

And he says that it is the advice his grandma gave him. Mine did too!!!! I so miss my GrandMother Arame Ngom!

Will GMO Africans all be blond and blue eyed?

My friend Zach (him again) just forwarded this link on FB about how L'Oreal and western mass market beauty companies are now looking to African women in Africa as their next frontier customer base.

The only little piece of good news (and I even see that one as a poisoned one) is the jobs that will hopefully be created locally by the installation of new manufacturing plants. I say it is a poisoned good news because of all that it could mean in the long run for our cultural heritage.

Besides that, articles of this nature reinforce my urgency in growing my current skin care company, Tiossan. Not because I am afraid of having competitors. First of all, there is a lot of room for many to succeed, but most importantly l'Oreal and its like cannot compete with my type of company simply because our values are so fundamentally different. But my problem is all the good, healthy hair and skin that is about to be ruined by the horrible products they offer this demographic. Think about it: hair straightener, skin lightning skincare products and complexion concealers (that only results in a zombie-like look when women have a face that looks so light compared to the rest of their skin). All the products and brands cited in the article are full of very harmful chemicals. It is all about emulating the white woman. The picture that accompanied the article (see above) is a perfect illustration of that flagrant display of lack of self esteem.

We know that black women in the western world are returning to their healthy roots. Indeed "the number of black women who say they do not use products to chemically relax or straighten their hair jumped to 36% in 2011, up from 26% in 2010, according to a report by Mintel, a consumer spending and market research firm. Sales of relaxer kits dropped by 17% between 2006 and 2011, according to Mintel" (see the whole article here). So because these companies are now loosing revenue at a rapid rate because their usual customers have become more savvy and gained self-confidence, they are now turning their clout of toxic ingredients to those who did not bother to question what is going on, completely blinded by their complex of inferiority.

Sooner or later I know that more African women will also come to value and join the "natural hair" movement, natural skin care, and love their own dark complexions, but not before too many bodies have been ruined by these poisons in a bottle.   So the faster brands like Tiossan can grow, and with them all the proper awareness around healthy ingredients and rituals as well as a sense of indigenous pride, the more healthy bodies and beautiful African faces we will preserve. To add insult to injury is the use of brand names like "Softsheen", "Fair & Lovely", and what they imply.

So wake up, dear African sisters! Know that you can be beautiful and loved with the skin     and hair that God gave you.  My husband constantly admires me and regards me as the most beautiful woman on the planet, BECAUSE of my very dark skin and African hair.  Find a man who loves you as you are, and take good care of your healthy, natural skin and hair.

With that, I wish you all a wonderful Holidays :)

Employment ensures Peace and a Happy Society

Couple days ago, a gunman opened fire at a Market in Florence, Italy, killing two Senegalese Street Vendors, before turning the gun on himself.

Since then, friends have been sending me notes asking if I had heard of it. This morning, I got tagged on Facebook by a friend called Zachary Caceres, wondering if I had seen the news. Zac is extremely intelligent and thoughtful and hit the nail on the head when he wrote this:

"Extremely sad attack in Italy on Senegalese Street Traders. One of the unintended consequences of protectionism and government intervention is the (justified) feeling that the economy is becoming a zero-sum game. Ironically, worldwide Street Trading is a major growth and employment sector, which the Italian formal economy could only hope to rival.

Instead of growth and opportunity, you have a set number of jobs -- many of which are patronage jobs like civil service or in government protected unions -- which everyone has to fight over. Instead of the arrival of foreigners being an opportunity for cultural enrichment and trade, they are instead just another competitor fighting over the fixed economic pie. 

This brings out the worst of our tribal heritage. Advocates that believe in peace and equality and also Government interventionism should consider this."

I agree with him. Let's also add that with or without immigrants, Europe will be completely screwed if they do not manage to create more jobs & opportunities. And their current trend for protectionism and nationalism is really counter productive for that. For now they gang up against those who do not look like them, next it will be those who are not from the town, then those who is not from the traditional ruling families of the town... I said it before: "Well jobs to me are to any sustainable society what water is to Life! Lose them and watch everything die around us, including us humans" and "employment ensures peace and a happy society. JOBS, JOBS, JOBS are critical, everywhere". More here.

Where were Branson's big hairy ones?

I am just now back from Nairobi, Kenya where I attended Convergence Africa and led a Master Class on the notion of   "Executing on that Big idea".

My session was sold out and the room was packed with people eager to learn more about entrepreneurship and how to overcome challenges specific to the region.

This conference was quite well done and to the point. It's goal was simple and right on: doing business in Africa. You can see here all the reasons why I was looking forward to this Convergence. And I am most happy to report that it turned out to be everything that I was hoping for from its format, to the quality of the speakers and audience, as well as the companies that won the entrepreneurship awards at the Gala Diner.

But one thing bothered me: the Richard Branson's part. It is important I disclose my admiration for the real Richard Branson, the charismatic, flamboyant and full of sex appeal entrepreneur who built the amazing Virgin brand.  To me Virgin is Richard Branson and vice versa. You may like or dislike Virgin/Sir Branson, but you can't be indifferent. Steve Jobs is my ultimate hero when it comes to entrepreneurs, but Branson has not been far behind.

So what bothered me about Sir Branson this past Thursday? Many things. At the top is the fact that when he was asked about his attraction to Africa he basically replied that he has been spending the past 5 years on philanthropic ventures across the Continent, the biggest of them being The Elders. He made it clear that his people handle the business part.

I thought to myself "are you freaking serious"? My admiration for Branson stems from the fact that he is a superb entrepreneur first and foremost. And he accomplished it all despite his modest background and dropping out of school when he was 15, the reality of so many young Africans today. So what I needed from and wanted for him to speak about on Thursday was exactly that! Great entrepreneurs have big, hairy, audacious goals. And at this point of his career,  I expected Branson's would be bigger and hairier than anyone's. He missed out on an outrageous opportunity to inspire an entire audience enamored with entrepreneurship. THAT is what Africa needs more than freaking philanthropy! For a similar account on Branson's disappointing performance, see my friend Andrea's description here.