Africa’s first fully tech-savvy generation, known as Generation Z, is coming of age, bringing to business more innovation and disruption than the millennials (also known as Generation Y, born from the 1980s) before them.
They are the “i-everything generation”, because they are hyper-connected, always plugged-in to devices and daring dreams. These professionals, now entering the workforce, have never known a world without smartphones or social media. As national development plans and Sustainable Development Goals set 2030 as their target for change, the first generation of real ‘digital natives’ that could make that possible, are here.
In South Africa, Generation Z is also the ‘Born Free’ generation, born after the end of apartheid.
These are today’s young adults, born around 1995, who have seen the impact on their parents of the ravages of the global recession and the threats of terrorism.
“It’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be born between 1996 and 2000 and have a strong, emotional connection to 9/11. Your brain is simply too young to put the event in a cultural, geographic, or other context. From our research-based vantage point, if you were born in the US and 9/11 has always been history to you — something you literally cannot remember — then you are not a millennial but a member of Generation Z.”
These are the well-articulated words of Jason Dorsey, president, co-founder and a millennials and Gen Z researcher at The Center for Generational Kinetics, on the phone with us from Austin, Texas, in the United States (US).
His research has led him to become a specialist in studying millennials and Gen Zers. He has also delivered many TED Talks on the topic.
According to Dorsey’s research, members of Generation Z need to be connected instantly and constantly, to experience stability, and to make an impact on the world. So much so that they have more in common with their friends on social media,who they’ve never met in person before, than with their own grandparents.
“What we find is that an inexpensive mobile device really does begin to connect people to the world and that internet access changes not just how young people see the world, but how they see themselves in relation to the world. That’s what’s so powerful,” says Dorsey.
“It’s pretty shocking when I go to work in some place like India and to see the similarity [to the United States]. The language may be different, but the interaction and the expectation are very similar. The key to this is they’ve got to be younger but old enough to use some sort of mobile device, or have some sort of a mobile experience.”
Not only are Gen Z well-connected, but they show signs of being a generation focused on spending money on experiences; are less accepting of information presented to them; they strive for realistic stability in the job world; are more advanced in searching for information; are curious to experiment on their own.; and demand a personal touch when it comes to buying or selling products.
“[It is a misconception] that Gen Z are big spenders. But the truth is, Gen Z are increasingly savers that are dealing with the aftershocks of the great recession. Many Gen Zers, and this is the quote that they give during our interviews with them, say ‘I don’t want to end up like the millennials’,” says Dorsey.
Linda Ronnie, a Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and People Management, Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town, in South Africa, says Gen Z are going to be a dominant force in the world to come. With almost five generations of humans now working alongside each other, Gen Z will take up an estimated two billion worldwide. In South Africa, a third of the population is under 21.
Gen Z are authorities on tech trends. They have never known a world where a question wasn’t able to be answered by Google. So what looks like disruption to older generations is a Gen Z norm. Fundamentally this means that they have a completely different view of technology from other generations.
“What we’ve found recently, is that we looked at how millennials and Gen Z go about ordering food for delivery or To-Go, which is a very big trend that we think is going to reshape the restaurant industry. What we’ve found is that millennials will use their mobile app, or restaurant digital website, to go and place an order. They went there because they knew what they order and it was a fast efficient way to order it. When we talked to Gen Z, we found that Gen Z wanted to see what the restaurant offered.
“So one went to order, the other wanted to search around and see what they had. Again not a huge difference in age, but a very different expectation of the digital experience and what drives them to use that channel,” says Ronnie.
Then there is the fourth industrial revolution. As Gen Z is coming of age, it will mean many will have jobs that have not even been created yet and they will be fighting for jobs with non-humans. We are entering the era where machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) will impact the workforce.
This does not mean parents should panic and teach their kids to program instead of Mandarin, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea.
“There are three things we focus on in Gen Z in particular. First is, we want to make sure we teach kids problem-solving and critical thinking skills, because that helps them everywhere and anywhere. It’s a core thing that we want to make sure we are doing. The second thing we want to teach them is to work technology very well, because technology is the grand connector and opportunity creator. Then the third thing is the idea of creative and open-mindedness. Because we are going to go through a time of transformational change, rapid incredible change, we want the next generation to not be fearful of that change but embrace it, embrace that newness and the unexpected because that’s what’s going to give them an advantage going forward,” says Dorsey.
For the Gen Zer, topics like equality and diversity will become even more important in the workplace. Major life events, like marriage and parenthood, are being pushed back around the world, even though it looks different in various countries. There is also a different attitude toward entrepreneurship with this generation.
“If you ask people ‘are the millennials the most entrepreneurial generation’, people will guess of course they are always starting their own business. In some case this is true, millennials are very much interested in entrepreneurship, they place it top among career paths and their heroes are increasingly entrepreneurs rather than celebrities and sports stars,” says Dorsey.
“But because of the recessionary aftershocks, Gen Z really does seek out stability right now. They want predictability. They want to know when they are going to work and how much they are going to be paid when. At this stage they seem more risk-averse.
“It is a very pragmatic approach to work and making money. So we think Gen Z will continue to be entrepreneurial but they are really serious about building stability. Being an entrepreneur is not the fastest way for that. What we believe is going to happen is Gen Z will build a business on the side but still keep a predictable income rather than what millennials did and went all in on businesses and it didn’t work and they had the safety net of their parents.”
So what does this mean for African business and emerging markets?
“They are going to be the drivers of consumer growth, they are the drivers of trends and they are increasingly the drivers of the workforce.”
In many cases this will mean developing countries, like many in Africa, will leapfrog and skip generations of infrastructure and move straight to the next big thing, vis-à-vis becoming forerunners of disruption themselves.. Look at the impact of mobile telephony in Africa for example.
“You don’t bring the mindset of a laptop or a desktop or dial up or a landline. You’ve both never had that experience nor been limited by it. So you come in a whole different level without being anchored to something in the past, which we believe is very powerful and can springboard you forward,” says Dorsey.
As the world waits with bated breath, hoping this smartphone-wielding generation will bring fresh ideas and profits, Africa must embrace them too. The disruptors, here they come.
Pectin, Polysaccharides And Orange Peels To Combat Drought
Kiara Nirghin, 17
Johannesburg, South Africa
It’s the forward-thinking game-changing idea scientists spend their lives developing and a teenager from Africa beat them to it.
The source of inspiration – powder, found commonly in babies’ nappies that can soak up and retain large amounts of water like a sponge, and that’s now being used to combat drought.
“It’s a low-cost, biodegradable, super-absorbent polymer made out of orange peels and avocado peels.”
It’s not the conventional way to start a conversation with a teenager. While many adults would be left scratching their heads wondering what this means, Kiara Nirghin, the 17-year old science buff, explains.
“The idea came about was when I was looking through newspapers; any media I came across and everything was about the drought in South Africa and what 67% of the world faces. I realized this is a worldwide epidemic and there isn’t really a solution to the drought, or assisting crop survival, and helping poor communities, which it mostly affects, to combat this problem.”
From her home in Johannesburg, Nirghin, who grew up sharing notes on National Geographic and science magazines with her sister, the solution was simple science.
“I thought if you put [the polymer] into the soil of a plant it can absorb large amounts of water and also act a reservoir. [Super Absorbent Polymers] SAPs are already being used in agriculture. But I realized they were very expensive and not low-cost and, were chemical-based and not biodegradable. Being expensive, it didn’t solve the problem because most of the time, drought is affecting poorer countries,” says Nirghin.
Nirghin’s invention, titled ‘No More Thirsty Crops’, was so cool she was awarded the grand prize as well as the Africa/Middle East regional Google Science Fair Community Impact Award at the Google Science Fair at Google’s headquarters in California. Apart from giving her instant international credibility, it also gave Nirghin a chance to take a selfie with one of her heroes, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google.
“I knew if I didn’t take a selfie with him I would be really upset,” says Nirghin.
To her, the science behind the invention was more cool than the prize. She entered on a whim, having researched months before she even knew about the competition.
“[My research found oranges] have over 60% pectin and also polysaccharide, which if you cross link it in a polarization process become the qualities of a super absorbent polymer. I was very surprised nobody else hadn’t thought about it this way. So I took a lot of orange peels and started to heat them and see what cross linking would come up.”
Once she broke the science down, it was time to begin testing. Nirghin looked at water absorption in a basil plant for three-six months. Like any budding scientist would do, she used controls and other SAPs to compare her mixture. It meant spending months measuring the soil moisture daily, every three hours, for accuracy.
“The thing that surprised me was I didn’t add any water to these crops, this was for a period of 60 days and these crops were still alive. That was the main thing, keep these crops alive without constant water supplements.”
It was all worth it as the data she meticulously recorded brought exciting results.
In November, Nirghin signed a contract with an agriculture company to begin research and development of her invention on a mass level. The research could take two years; by 2020, it might be ready to roll out and start helping people.
Apart from orange peels, which Nirghin admits she’s getting tired of seeing, she is also done a TED Talk.
“When I was 13 I had bacterial meningitis, that’s inflammation of the membrane along the spinal cord. When I was in hospital, I realized if this is the strength of the brain to endure such immense pain, how can the brain’s strength be used for something else. That’s really what got me interested in science.”
She is also a strong advocate for women in science.
“Why shouldn’t girls be doing science? It shouldn’t be something we are talking about because everybody should be doing science and the fact that we aren’t emphasizing that is discouraging girls,” says Nirghin.
Among her many other interests, Nirghin enjoys watching Masterchef Australia, cooking and coming up with ways to prevent rhino poaching – her other pet passion besides orange peels.
“It’s a misconception that just because you are young doesn’t mean you can’t stop something, you don’t have to wait till you are older.”
Having finished matric with eight distinctions and ranking in the top 5% of IEB candidates for six or more subjects, Nirghin has a slew of universities that have offered her a spot including Harvard, MIT and Stanford in the US.
“My top priority is education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and understanding these fields I am innovating in… That’s the amazing thing about South Africa, it’s untapped. Everything is very saturated in Silicon Valley. To come back with knowledge would present so many opportunities in South Africa.”
A strong message from the Gen Zer inspiring Africans to peel off their layers and experiment; age is no bar.
Paid To Play Heroes
Tayla Barter, 24
Johannesburg, South Africa
It has to be one of the strangest hobbies to come out of the internet – Cosplay or dressing up as your favorite comic book character.
For Barter, who goes by the name Kinpatsu, it’s not only a way of life but a way of earning a living. This is because Barter is part of a generation of entrepreneurs using the internet to turn their hobbies into a profession making them R50,000 ($4,300) a month.
“It comes from the word costume play and that’s the core of what cosplay is,” offers Barter.
It was a photo posted on the internet in 2013 that changed everything for Barter. A selfie of herself dressed up as character Jinx from the popular game League of Legends went viral. It was the first time people started taking notice.
Back then, Cosplay was just beginning to take off in South Africa. Barter was one of a handful of Cosplayers climbing out of cars and assembling their outfits in a parking lot before entering conventions. It was a fun thing for her to do on the weekends.
“We didn’t even think we would be leaving the country for Cosplay, getting international Cosplayers in over here so it wasn’t something we thought would be a business model in any kind of sense,” says Barter.
Fast forward to 2018 and a quick Google search later, and you will find Barter in hundreds of other cosplays. She now has 177,000 followers and counting on Facebook, 23,000on Twitter, 223,000 on Instagram. It has meant she’s now able to travel as a guest celebrity to geek conventions and compete in international cosplay competitions.
From her home in the leafy suburb of Northriding in Johannesburg, Barter has a whole business dedicated to the profession. In 2017, she finished 36 cosplays with an armory of drills; shelves of foam armor and a photo studio in her garage.
Key to her success has been selling her cosplay designs on crowdfunded Patreon, the hobbyist version of Kickstarter. Supporters pledge money and based on the money you put in and the tier, you are given a reward.
Barter found a demand to show how you could turn the characters from screen grabs into cosplays and teach others to do it. Cosplayers spend thousands building each outfit from EVA foam and PVC piping. Even more reason for hobbyists who need direction on tight budgets.
“I thought I’d give it a whole year and see where it’s taking me. By the end of 2017, I was almost completely booked for 2018. Conventions and Patreon picked up and now I can do it full-time,” says Barter.
As businesses migrate toward more online profiles, channels like Facebook have become smarter about making their own money from them. One way is to shape posts, or limit posts to your audience unless you pay to have the reach extended.
In Barter’s case, with thousands of followers, she is only getting 1,000 to 2,000 likes on each post, whereas a few years ago she could hit numbers in the tens of thousands. Another issue is what they call being ‘soft-blocked’. This is when a channel, like Youtube or Instagram, uses algorithms and machine-based filters to identify keywords and block your account.
Shaping and being soft-blocked can severely hurt a social media-based business, especially when those businesses make money from the hits on the internet.
Barter is a hero in her own right among the South Africans who dress as superheroes.
They Both Want To Be The Next Elon Musk
Lethabo Motsoaledi, 24 & Matthew Westaway, 26
Cape Town, South Africa
It was an unlikely partnership that brought two engineering students, who grew up worlds apart, together. Lethabo Motsoaledi grew up idolizing scientists wanting to be one, even though she was afraid of breaking computers. Matthew Westaway grew up in Rondebosch, programming computers and doing little else.
“My whole family was doctors, I wanted to figure out what can I not do that’s the same. It was something that needed maths and science, and then I chose engineering. I didn’t choose it because I wanted to program, I hated computers. On reflection it’s because I didn’t want to break them and have to fix them again,” says Motsoaledi.
“I was an internet person. I would always know how to fix any problem on a computer, going deep into the registry. That’s what I would spend a lot of time doing, finding viruses and where the files are. From a young age I was able to fix computers and know what you could do from the internet, solving challenges,” says Westaway.
They saw opportunity where other entrepreneurs see the internet and disruption technologies like 3D printing and machine learning as treacherous rocks rising from stormy waters. They also both want to be the next Elon Musk.
It led them to open their business, Motsoaledi & West (M&W), a Design Thinking consultancy that launched in January 2017. In just one year, they made R1 million ($86,000).
Now, the two graduates work through the night until 4AM to build their ideas. From their offices at the innovation hub, Rise, in Woodstock in Cape Town, they are infamously known as the post-it kids, leaving reams of the sticky squared blocks of paper in their wake as they bounce their ideas off the glass walls.
“Innovation comes exactly in a pack of post-its,” says Motsoaledi.
In their words, they help companies fast-track innovation through applying accelerated design thinking methodology. In an environment that’s so volatile a 17-year-old teen can make your business irrelevant, organizations need to equip themselves.
This is because those companies that are best able to adapt and embrace uncertainty and find creative solutions are growing faster and have higher profit margins than their competitors.
“People tend to think you buy the new technology and then you become innovative, but that’s not the case. The mistake is thinking that you just need to apply a whole lot of technology and algorithms in order to fix the problem. The first thing is solving the problem – what do the people need? Then you can start with using technology to improve the challenge,” says Motsoaledi.
Design thinking is the latest strategy for driving innovation in business. What they do is get companies to understand their customers’ actual needs and desires rather than focus on bottom-line profits. The duo believe that in order for businesses to thrive they need to transition toward customer-centricity.
This is where their self-designed machine learning can help. Using algorithms, the duo can analyze and automate transcribed text and pick up on the keywords from interviewees. It brings the data to life and can aggregate insights in minutes, saving companies thousands of hours.
“When you are using this kind of software and programs, sometimes you don’t know what it is you are looking for, or you didn’t know if it would have meant anything. You have to analyze it and let the data tell you what it is it is finding,” says Motsoaledi.
They can tell you firsthand how powerful this data can be. Using their own design thinking the duo established their 3D printing business in 2014, from which successful projects emerged; Printing a 3D ultrasound scan called Hello Baby 3D Prints; and The Hourglass Project, an interactive design piece that helps corporates encourage and track participation in Employee Volunteerism Programs.
“You pick up on a new technology and you figure out what it is that you can do to leverage it. When we were running 3D power we picked up a much more pertinent need that we needed to focus on the – design thinking,” says Motsoaledi.
And should we be teaching our kids to program?
“Girls have a lot of unlearning to do…Where I grew up, girls didn’t program. The way we think about maths and science, we should start thinking about programming…Thinking about all these innovators and inventors, as a kid, I always loved them. Back then, scientists were the celebrities. What I don’t like about society today is that a celebrity is not considered a thought leader or a celebrity is someone who only does acting. I like that Elon Musk changed that. I hope that in South Africa, people become ingrained in the culture of making entrepreneurs our heroes,” says Motsoaledi.
Maud Chifamba, 19, Zimbabwe
At the age of 14, Maud Chifamba, unable to afford high school and having taught herself at home, became the youngest student to enrol at the University of Zimbabwe. Four years later, she became the University’s youngest graduate walking away with an honors degree in accountancy.
There were signs of her proficiency from early on. Chifamba was pushed up a grade when she accidentally was given a Grade 4 exam and scored 100%. That same year, she requested a Grade 5 test paper and was pushed up even further.
When she was seven years old, her father passed away and she fell under the care of her step-brother living on a plot in between Kwekwe and Gweru, Zimbabwe. Having been unable to afford high school, Chifamba home-schooled herself, where her work and innovation earned her a scholarship of $9,993 to go to university. Online searches show her as “Africa’s youngest university student”.
Currently, she is completing both a Zimbabwe Certificate in Theory of Accounting at Chartered Accountants Academy, and a Masters in Accountancy at the University of Zimbabwe.
Abelwe Ndiki, 17, South Africa
At 16, schoolgirl Abelwe Ndiki, noticed many of her peers were overwhelmed with their future career choices. She saw that many young people, especially those that grew up in underprivileged communities, were unaware of the entry requirements for universities. So Ndiki built the Guide Me app to help them find their way.
“I noticed that there was no application that was currently catering to the students’ needs. My app is different from other programs that try to tackle this problem because as a student I am able to efficiently communicate information in a language high school students understand,” says Ndiki.
“My inspiration moment came earlier in 2017 when I noticed a trend of senior students not having a clear idea of what they are going to do in universities or how wide the options are for those seeking financial assistance.”
Along with courses, the app lists bursaries and their requirements. A move which Ndiki hopes will improve the quality of life for students by opening them up to financial assistance options.
“It is also beneficial to students who cannot afford to regularly commute to town to access internet cafés, the fact that they can access the information from their phones was my main focus,” she says.
In matric this year, Ndiki took the app down off the GooglePlay Store while she focuses on her own education. She is on the lookout for a mentor who can help guide her career and business.
Rebecca Andrianarisandy, 21, Madagascar
With just $15, this team of four young women from Madagascar started GasGasy, a bio-compost and bio-gas company. They wanted to tackle the rising issue of deforestation in the region of Itasy in central Madagascar, devastated by charcoal makers cutting down tapia forests.
“What is sad about it is that eight trees have to be cut out in order to have one bag of charcoal,” says Rebecca Andrianarisandy, one of GasGasy’s founders.
Taught by foreign volunteers who specialized in biotechnology, the friends thought this would be a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution for people instead.
“Now, I am 21 and the business has been running for two years now. Up to now, we have sold 27,000 liters of bio-compost considering that one liter equals $0.5.”
The bio-compost becomes a fertilizer combined with an insecticide. Andrianarisandy claims compost not only stops farmers using chemical fertilizers but also stops the soil from becoming infertile for years after, compared with chemical fertilizers.
“FamBIOlena is already proven to have improved 38 farmers’ lives by increasing their harvest from 10% to 65%. As a result, the product will create food security for the farmers and their community as well. ”
While the bio-compost is already being sold to agripreneurs, the team isn’t going to stop there. By 2019, they plan to sell bio-gas as well, having tested their cooking fuel in three households.
A true green innovation first for Madagascar from a young team of teenagers who believe they can change a nation’s ecological destiny.
Sharon Waison, 25, South Africa
Imagine a job that pays you to play computer games. Well Sharon Wiason, is doing just that. Fresh off a plane from a tournament where she competed alongside South African all-girl team Leetpro in China, Waison is part of a growing industry that plays computer games as a profession, known as esports.
“I started playing competitively at around the age of 14-15, I am now 26, so yeah, you do the maths,” she says with a smile.
“I think esports helps innovate my community as it provides job opportunities. I have made a fair amount of money, not enough to live off but a decent amount. I remember in matric it’s how I had money to go out with my friends… just won little tournaments here and there was great.”
These days, ShazZ, as she is more commonly known, has been kicking ass even against men. She is part of the Pulse-Gaming’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) team and is a brand ambassador of ASUS South Africa.
“It was very hard in the beginning for me, because you are a girl in a very male-dominated industry. I had to prove myself for a few years. I got a lucky break where someone took a risk and it kind of paid off,” says ShazZ.
At the age of 10, ShazZ was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease lupus. She was unable to play sport outside, so she took up computer games instead.
“Games make me forget about everything. You go into another world, you focus on that game and you become the character in that sense,” says ShazZ.
Edgar Edmund, 17, Tanzania
After seeing floods sweep away mud houses in his country Tanzania, Edgar Edmund, then 15, wanted to make a change. He not only wanted to provide an alternative solution to the problem of expensive cement materials, which many people could not afford, but also solve the matter of pollution that was causing a wide range of diseases due to poor waste management.
“Tanzania is a developing country, hence most of the people here are low income earners, hence there is a high demand for affordable products which could at least enable many people to own their own houses regardless of their low incomes,” says Edmund.
The answer hit like a ton of bricks: make building blocks from the very waste causing the problem.
In 2015, during school holidays, he experimented by melting plastic waste in a homemade gas cooker. By mixing the molten plastic with sand he was able to mould durable long-lasting bricks, paving blocks and roof tiles. Edmund also came up with a way of filtering out the toxic chemicals, produced in the process, by engineering a dioxin filter using cooking oil.
The business is still young like Edmund, but he has high hopes for the future. By 2017, GreenVenture Recycles is a full operation with five employees. With more than 15,000 bricks made from more than 1.2 million plastic bags that would have otherwise gone into the environment, Edmund celebrated a turnover of $1,500 in December. The company is putting its profits toward expanding. He says his business has created 100 indirect jobs.
“Plastics are regarded as unwanted materials, that means we get them at a low price and that makes our products affordable but also on the other hand plastics binding sand makes a strong mix and this gives it a long life since plastic takes a long time to decompose,” says Edmund.
In 2017, Edmund was awarded the winner of the Children’s Climate Prize, sponsored by Swedish renewable energy company Telge Energi.
‘From Zero to Hero’: The Queen Of The 800 meters Caster Semenya
Caster Semenya, the Olympian, on never quitting, come what may.
It is August 2009 in Berlin, Germany, at the finals of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships.
It’s the 800 meters race; among the eight female runners is 18-year-old South African Caster Semenya, in a yellow track top and green shorts.
Thousands watch from the pavilion, loudly cheering as they await the gun to go off.
In the fourth line, Semenya waits too, blocking out all the noise in her head.
She takes in a long, deep breath and says a prayer.
“On your marks!” shouts the referee.
The women crouch.
And the race is on.
The young Semenya from Limpopo, one of South Africa’s nine provinces, runs alongside some of the world’s most famous athletes such as Mariya Savinova from Russia.
In two minutes, a winner will be crowned.
In an impressive show of might and mettle on the track, Semenya sprints ahead of the others.
With long strides, she is the clear lead.
A competitor from Kenya, Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei, then manages to run ahead of Semenya. It’s a tight race as they lead neck-to-neck.
At the sound of a bell signaling they have reached the 400-meter mark, Semenya bolts ahead of the group leaving a wide gap between her and the others.
At 1:55:45, Semenya is officially the champion.
It is a big win for the village girl from Limpopo.
“Things just went from zero to hero, so boom! Zero to hundred. It was just great,” beams Semenya when we meet her for the interview with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA.
At the end of the race, she does her signature move – the cobra – hands facing inwards and then outwards.
Holding the South African flag, she runs a few meters in a lap of honor.
Her country is proud, super-proud of its millennial daughter.
This match was the unforgettable milestone that launched the career of a simple girl from Limpopo on to the world stage.
Her name was soon going to be etched in gold.
Caster Mokgadi Semenya is the reigning Olympics and world champion in the women’s 800-meter race.
On a hot Monday morning in October, we meet Semenya in the leafy suburb of Greenside in Johannesburg, South Africa.
She arrives ahead of the appointed time with her wife Violet and her manager Becky Motumo. Her vehicle is number-plated ‘CASVIO’, an amalgamation of Semenya’s and Violet’s names.
That weekend, she had just returned from New York City, in the United States (US), where she received the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award from the Women’s Sports Foundation and from tennis icon Billie Jean King.
The ceremony was to award women who have extraordinary achievements in sport, and Semenya was one of the recipients.
As she enters the studio for our interview dressed in all-blue Nike apparel and sneakers, she greets everyone warmly.
First on the agenda for the day is makeup, something the sports star says she can never get used to.
“I like to be myself, I am true to myself. I just like myself the way I am and I don’t want anything to change in me,” says Semenya.
“With makeup, it’s the part I hate the most because I don’t like it. That’s not me, so it’s just something else. I don’t like it at all, I just do it because it is business,” she says, laughing.
Semenya opts for the natural look.
She says she loves the simple life, and has always been this way since her early years growing up in the small village of Ga-Masehlong.
As she readies, she reminisces those years.
“Growing up in Limpopo was special to me, I’m a village girl,” she says.
“When you grow up in a big family, obviously, they appreciate you for who you are and everything you do. They support you. They don’t criticize your work, they just go with the flow and they want what makes you happy.”
Her family was extremely supportive of her love for sports.
Semenya started playing soccer at the age of four, on the street with her friends, and in the bush, where they would bet on matches.
“Actually, I was the best striker in the village [when it came to] street football,” she laughs.
“Everytime I got on to the pitch, everyone wanted me, so I was that kind of a kid.”
In a few years, the young Semenya traded in the football boots for running shoes.
“Before you can kick a ball, you have to run first. Football is all about speed, it is more about agility and how you can move.”
In grade one, Semenya was introduced to athletics and immediately found her feet as a sprinter.
But due to a lack of facilities and proper coaching at the school, she decided to opt for middle-distance running, instead of sprinting.
“With middle-distance, you can run anywhere you want and you can still perform. You don’t really need to be surrounded by mentors and stuff like that,” she says.
Semenya came to realize that she enjoyed running more than football and so traveled a lot to take part in competitions.
At the age of 12, she moved from living with her mother to taking care of her grandmother who was getting older.
“She’s a great human being. I am truly blessed to walk in her footsteps,” she says about her.
“She taught me more responsibility, how to take care of myself and how to take care of others. She also taught me respect, how to appreciate and how to accept others.”
Her grandmother supported her dreams to run, unaware then of how far it would take Semenya.
In 2007, at the age of 16, Semenya ran her first international race in Botswana.
Unfortunately, she was placed fifth and returned to South Africa defeated, but hopeful.
“From there, I discovered that there are a lot of things to learn and I need to focus more and concentrate.”
Semenya worked harder and pushed herself to become better than her competitors.
It was the beginning of her international career in sports.
From ‘zero to hero’
The year 2008 was her final year in high school.
Semenya continued to compete whilst pursuing her studies.
She had qualified for the 2008 World Junior Championships held in Bydgoszcz in Poland in July that year.
She was one of two Africans competing in the 800m-race.
Unfortunately, she didn’t make it.
Three months later, her luck changed.
She competed in the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, India.
Semenya won her first international title with a record of 2:04, which was not bad for a 17-year-old.
It was a defining moment in Semenya’s career.
“From there, that’s when I knew this is my field. I need to be in command and I need to train hard. I need to be strong physically and mentally, and everything needs to be ready,” she says.
Since then, gold has become her color.
After the win and back to reality, Semenya went back to high school to complete her matric examinations – these were two fulfilling accomplishments for the young athlete.
2009 was a year of monumental change for Semenya.
The village girl moved to the big city.
She traveled 317km from Limpopo to Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, and enrolled at the University of Pretoria studying athletics science.
While there, she trained under Micheal Seme, preparing for more career-defining races.
Semenya dedicated her time to intense training, working on improving her running time.
She ran the 800 meters in two minutes and qualified for the 2009 IAAF World Championships, but due to lack of experience, she didn’t know much about her competitors who had been running for years.
“I knew what I wanted to achieve. It was all about running good times and back then, good times take you to winning big championships,” she says.
In July that year, at the African Junior Athletics Championships, Semenya won both the 800m and 1,500m races with the times of 1:56:72 and 4:08:01 respectively.
She had improved her 800m running time by eight seconds since winning the Commonwealth Games nine months earlier.
She was the fastest runner worldwide for the 800m races that year. She had bested the senior and junior South African records held by South African female athletes Zelda Pretorius and Zola Pieterse, popularly known as Zola Budd.
But there was no time to lose.
Semenya continued to press on training to compete in the IAAF World Championship 2009 in August in Berlin.
She went on to win as a newcomer among some of the world’s best runners.
The long run to freedom
Back home, she brought more glory to the nation.
But as South Africa cheered and celebrated her, others had different plans for the teenage athlete.
At the time, news reports surfaced about the IAAF looking into the young athlete.
The reports suggested that they were conducting gender tests on her.
In a statement published by the IAAF in September that year, they declined to comment on the medical testing of Semenya but confirmed that it was indeed gender-testing.
“We can officially confirm that gender verification test results will be examined by a group of medical experts,” they said.
At the time, they were in discussion with the South African Ministry of Sport and Recreation and Semenya’s representatives, with the view to resolve the issues surrounding Semenya’s participation in athletics.
It was a dampening end to her year.
In November, the results came back.
They found Semenya to have high testosterone levels.
As a result, she was suspended from running and forced to sit on the sidelines.
Semenya’s response was released in a statement by her lawyers.
“I have been subjected to unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being,” Semenya said.
“Some of the occurrences leading up to and immediately following the Berlin World Championships have infringed on not only my rights as an athlete but also my fundamental and human rights.”
Reminiscing on the events that took place, Semenya tells FORBES WOMAN AFRICA that she wasn’t and still isn’t worried about the IAAF.
She will continue to run the race she started.
“Actually, I never thought anything about them. It was just all about me. What is it that I can control? Of course, if someone is or wants to do whatever they want to do, there is nothing you can do,” she says.
“So, I never think about such people. I always think about myself and what will benefit me… There’s nothing I can do about what organizations think and there’s nothing they can do about what I think.”
The case was complex.
Media reports and critics questioned the ethics of their testing and their methods.
But Semenya was not the first.
News items and academic reports suggest that sex verification tests at the IAAF started as early as the 1950s.
Dutch athlete Foekje Dillema was reportedly banned in July 1950 after undergoing gender-testing by the IAAF.
In more recent times, Dutee Chand, Pratima Gaonkar and Pinki Pramanik, all from India, have reportedly had to undergo gender-testing too.
But Semenya stood strong.
After her experience, she calls on all women to unite.
“I think we as women need to come together and support each other,” she says.
“Without that, you will still feel discriminated, you still feel oppressed, you still feel criticized in everything that you do and you will still feel like you are not recognized,” she says.
During this trying period for Semenya, back home in Limpopo, a 15-year-old girl from the small town of Westenburg was acting as Semenya in a high school play.
Sevenah Adonis was finishing her grade eight at Hoërskool Pietersburg when she played Semenya for the year-end school concert.
It was also the same period Adonis first heard about the track star.
Semenya’s trial had inspired the young girl.
“My general perception of Caster Semenya when I had just heard of her is that she’s a very fantastic athlete,” Adonis tells FORBES WOMAN AFRICA.
“Limpopo is a very isolated place. There’s not a lot of exposure or anything, so for her to actually make it over the parameters of Limpopo is remarkable. I do look up to her and I aspire to go beyond my borders and accomplish things that she has accomplished,” she says.
Adonis is currently pursuing a degree in economics at the University of Limpopo.
The 22-year-old hopes to meet Semenya one day, but for now, she watches and cheers on her fellow Limpopo native making a global mark.
Back in Semenya’s world, July 2010 (after six months of being suspended) was when she received the news she had been waiting to hear.
The IAAF announced that she would be able to compete again.
“The IAAF accepts the conclusion of a panel of medical experts that she can compete with immediate effect,’’ they said in a statement.
The medical details and findings are confidential.
Despite the controversy with the IAAF, Semenya had been dubbed a hero by many for the way she handled the situation.
During the interview with us, she remembers what former South African President, the late Nelson Mandela, once told her when they met.
“Be the best that you can be,” he said to her.
“He just told me, ‘people can talk, people can do whatever they want to do, but it’s up to you to live for yourself first before others. So, the only thing that you can do is to be the best that you can be’,” she says.
It was the best advice she had ever been given.
Semenya returned stronger, winning every race and championship she entered.
“My goal is to be the greatest and there is nothing that anyone can do about it,” she says.
“I’m an athlete, I train and I perform. That’s me and that’s what keeps me going. I believe in myself and I trust myself and I’m always motivated. I’m a very positive person. So even if something comes in a negative way, I always find a way to put in more positive,” she says.
Semenya went on to win a silver medal in the 800 meters at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in 2011.
But it was in the year 2012 when she showed the world her true prowess on the track.
Leading the charge in London
Semenya was only 21 years old when she participated in her first Olympic Games.
“I was more mature then I think, but I didn’t have that knowledge of understanding my body; how to train myself, you know, to calm down,” she says.
But the prestige of the Olympic games excited Semenya.
It was the opening ceremony at the 2012 London Olympics and Semenya carried the South African flag proudly in front of thousands at the London Stadium (formerly known as the Olympic Stadium), while leading the South African Olympic team.
It was a proud moment for South Africans across the world.
Thousands and thousands cheered her on.
“It shows a great quality, especially more in leadership. So, I lead the team in and then, of course, I still have to go deliver because people look up to you. Your family, your friends, the entire nation. They expect you to perform,” she says.
One of the challenges she faced was not knowing whether all her training had been good enough for that moment.
She didn’t know what to expect.
“What’s going to happen in this championship? Am I going to win? Am I going to even win a medal?” she asked herself at the time.
“It was kind of the most stressful championship I have had in my life…” she says today.
It all came down to how prepared she was.
“When I walk onto that track, I perform. So, when I perform, I expect people to recognize my work but not just because I am me, but for the work that I do,” she says.
But once it was time for the race to take place, Semenya put all her worries aside and stayed focused.
“It is no longer about what happened last week. It’s about what’s going to go down now. We are more focused about it. It’s do or die,” she says. The pressure was on. Semenya was determined to win. Crowds in the stadium cheered waiting for the gun to go off.
The runners started off.
Semenya began to pick up pace.
As she did, she looked back and saw the other runners catching up.
It was do or die.
“The main thing was to think ‘I have to keep going’. But my other mind was like ‘you have lost the race, there is nothing you can do’… But when you believe that ‘ok, I still have a chance for a medal’, you will just keep on pushing until you get the momentum.”
In the end, Semenya was placed second, behind Russia’s Savinova.
Semenya brought home silver.
It was a proud moment and South Africa celebrated with her as the whole world watched the new face of 800m.
Francine Niyonsaba, an 800m Burundian gold and silver medallist, was a competitor alongside Semenya at the same race.
After meeting a few months earlier in Monaco, they had become friends.
“Caster Semenya is a good runner. She loves everybody and I think she is a very talented girl and an inspiration to all, especially African youth,” Niyonsaba tells FORBES WOMAN AFRICA.
Twentyfive-year-old Niyonsaba draws inspiration from her friend.
She says that the challenge women face in Burundi is that they feel they can’t achieve anything, elsewhere in the world.
“In Burundi, in our culture, women believe they cannot do something special in the world but it is just a mentality,” she says.
“A woman can do everything!”
Both Niyonsaba and Semenya are passionate about inspiring other women in sport and putting Africa on the map.
At the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio, Brazil, the two competed again.
This time, Niyonsaba won silver and Semenya won gold.
They met again at the 2017 World Championships in London and it was the same win again; Niyonsaba silver, and Semenya gold.
Despite the two always running against each other, Niyonsaba says on the track, Semenya has been very encouraging towards her and the others.
“As an African, she is trying to do something special. She is an exceptional girl, because you know as women in Africa we are afraid to do some things. So, Caster Semenya is trying to show everyone that women can do everything,” says Niyonsaba.
‘I don’t see myself
After bagging world titles and beating records, what else is on the cards for the sports star?
For Semenya, there’s no stopping her and she plans to stay on in the sports industry.
“I don’t see myself stepping down; until I’m 40, that’s when I’ll be satisfied.”
Semenya plans to become the greatest middle-distance runner in the world and she plans to break more records.
Back home, in Pretoria, she has been running the Caster Semenya Foundation aimed at coaching and equipping children who are active in sports.
The foundation currently trains 20 children aged 12 years and older.
She plans to expand it to other parts of the country.
“My main goal is to empower women and help other young men to be better in future,” she says.
“You have to show them first that education is important and we balance it with sports. If we can perform both sides, I think we will be fulfilled,” she says.
“Education never stops, you keep on learning every single day.
“Without education, your decision-making will be weak… when you are educated, it becomes very easy to make decisions and decide what is the next step.”
In 2018, she received her diploma in Sports Science from North-West University.
But she hasn’t stopped.
She is currently pursuing a degree in Sport Management at the Tshwane University of Technology.
It has been a big year for the athlete.
In September, she joined the Nike ‘Just do it’ campaign for its 30th birthday.
It featured some of the greatest athletes, the likes of tennis icon Serena Williams and former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick, with each bringing social issues to the fore.
In October, she became the ambassador of Discovery Vitality.
In November, she won big at the South African Sport Awards. She took home the People’s Choice Sports Star Of The Year; Sports Woman Of The Year, and the Sports Star Of The Year.
She was also nominated for the 2018 Female World Athlete of the Year at the IAAF Athletics Awards in December.
With all her accolades and achievements, as her star continues to rise, what about her finances?
During the interview, when asked how much she is worth, the village girl from Limpopo simply smiles and says, “I’m just priceless, to be honest.”
‘She Is So Humble; Does Not Sweat The Small Stuff’
Becky Motumo describes what it’s like managing Caster Semenya’s busy diary.
What is it like working with Caster Semenya?
I love how driven she is… Every single day is absolutely dynamic, ever-changing. It is always a rush. When I talk about a rush, I mean in a good way, because it is a very busy period for us.
I think that having a boss like her, is unique in the sense that she is very direct. So she knows what she wants. She is very assertive. I think for me it’s those little experiences that really make it special.
What are some of the qualities that make her who she is?
People are always quite taken aback by the kind of person she is, her humility. They will try to deck it out, you know roll out the red carpet.
They want to offer her the world and she is so humble. She wants to walk in and get the job done and be professional. She will deliver everything that needs to be delivered. And she respects your time as well. She gets it done and she is out, and you know you have to appreciate someone with a work ethic like that.
What is your favorite memory of her?
Every day! I think especially the times when we are traveling, when we are brainstorming and when we are talking about future plans. She is a very animated individual.
She has an incredible sense of humour and I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t enjoy being around that. It makes working with her an absolute pleasure.
Yes, we are serious, yes, we are professional, yes, we are about the business, but it does help to have those moments of humour when she is talking like Michael Jackson, or dancing, or doing something completely out of the ordinary. And that’s a side of her people wouldn’t know about unless you are close to her.
But I enjoy that, and I enjoy the relationship that I have with her wife Violet.
What kind of a leader is Semenya?
Her time is very important to her. She likes to show up on time, she is extremely professional in terms of that.
I try to arrive at a venue 30 minutes before she gets there. But, if you are late and you are messing with her time because she has such a tight schedule, then definitely she will let you know about that. She will try and be kind about it but she is very stern, so you know that’s one of the examples.
But, as soon as she has told you how she feels, we quickly move on and it’s about the work. And I think that’s the one thing I love about her. She does not sweat the small stuff.
She does not sit and harbor any ill feelings, or spend too much time worrying about anything in the past, so we move on very swiftly.
At the end of the day, it is about getting the work done and that is what we are about.
2018 African Of The Year – President of Rwanda Paul Kagame
In an exclusive interview, Paul Kagame, Rwandan President and Chair of the African Union, speaks to Methil Renuka about intra-Africa trade, how governments can drive entrepreneurial growth and why he will always find time to play sports.
The appointment is at 11AM on a November morning in Kigali, and past the tight security at the presidential offices located on KG7 Avenue, the views are of manicured lawns and a verdant paradise with hulking trees, chirping birds and cobbled pathways fringed by hibiscus and frangipani flowers. Kigali is a clean city with rolling hills and green valleys, but the foliage within Village Urugwiro, where we are meeting President Paul Kagame, is a botanist’s dream. A few minutes in the airy waiting lounge – accentuated by cream, olive green colors and a touch of wood – and the president walks in, tall and in an immaculate blue suit. He greets us warmly and is relaxed, joking about how much he dislikes posing for photographs. Yet, he obliges, against the greenery.
Kagame, who is also head of the African Union (AU), has been adjudged the ‘2018 African of the Year’ at the eighth All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLA).
Who is he dedicating it to, we ask? “The people of Rwanda,” he says. He shares more with FORBES AFRICA:
Q. You are completing a year as chair of the African Union. Africa is such a diverse heterogeneous continent, with each country having its own interests. How challenging is your job in bringing a balance?
A. It’s absolutely challenging, and as you rightly said, you have to deal with diverse interests, cultures and backgrounds. Yet, Africa needs to be together in handling continental matters because there are more things that similarly affect Africans than are different. There are also different mentalities. You find some people are used to doing things a certain way, even if they are shown – or they see for themselves – that doing things differently might bring better results, they still stick to the old ways.
Talking about my task… The first thing is to pay attention to people’s concerns, to people’s ways of looking at things and take all that into account, as you also create space for people to discuss openly and show how we are all together in a different time than we have been used to… The moment you create that space for discussion, which we have done, the moment you increase consultation and also allow people to participate in challenging the points of views out there that tend to shape directions, we all have to follow, especially when you are able to identify things with certain success stories that exist. For example, in a country not making good progress or that is not ready to change, you can still point to their own situation and say ‘no, but you actually made good progress in this area because these were the contributing factors’. This can always be explained even in the wider context of where we want to go as a continent by coming together. So unity and regional integration have been emphasized.
We have been able to show that entrepreneurship, business and intra-Africa trade that have been lacking are actually more important than focusing solely on the market outside of the continent… That conversation helps people understand more, it helps people come together and we keep reminding them your neighbor is more important than someone far away from you. We are all neighbors one way or the other. My country has four neighbors and then one of the other countries we are neighbors with has nine neighbors. So it cuts across. We find we are actually very closely-linked and therefore, as we look at ourselves as individual countries, we need to recognize that if it’s sub-regional blocs or the continent, we become bigger, we are actually better off for it if we work together. Businesses and economies grow multiple times when we work together.
What I discovered from the beginning was there is no magic here other than just working with what there is and being realistic about it and allowing that conversation, and challenging one another, and being real in pointing out real things that matter, and we take it from there. And I think it has been good progress. We have put a lot of effort into it and every African country, every African leader, has played their part. So we just keep encouraging and keep going. Later, we can show everyone the benefit coming out of this very short period’s effort of working together.
Q. One of the aspirations of Agenda 2063 of the AU is a united Africa. How important is it for the rest of the world to see Africa as a single powerhouse?
A. We need it. We need that backdrop from which we should see things and remind ourselves how this continent is actually great, a continent projected to be 2.5 billion by 2050. That’s huge, bigger than any other continent. Africa is endowed with all kinds of resources, and natural resources, so how do you not think it’s important? Therefore, we have to create a clear context in which we operate and understand all aspects of this value of being in a position where we have huge assets in terms of people and natural resources and everything that anyone would wish for. So what remains is, how do we harness this? How do we leverage this? So we had to create long-term, medium-term pathways and say we should develop human capital and infrastructure. This huge workforce that keeps coming… 29 million supposed to be [pouring] into the labor market every year [until] 2030; you’ve got to think about this and ask what it means. It’s a huge asset if we make correct investments. It’s also a huge risk if you just keep [pouring] 29 million people in the labor market when they have nothing to do. The framework of 2063 provides sufficient room for us to think, reflect and therefore make the right investments for us to fulfill continental aspirations.
Q. The concept of a single African market. How far are we from realizing that?
A. I was pleasantly surprised when we had the summit here for the African Continental Free Trade Area. Initially, scepticism was expressed by some people, saying ‘but this can’t work, it can’t happen, Africa is divided, it never gets things right together’. So when the leaders came to Kigali for this extraordinary summit, we expected only a few countries to sign up, but we got 44 countries signing up on the first day. But we have also seen how it has been increasing, with countries ratifying the free trade area and free movement of people, goods and services. Therefore, that is a signal Africans understood the importance of this, and it is important indeed if we want to transform our economies and allow opportunities for prosperity to our people… I think [the single African market] is making very good progress even with that background of scepticism. We have already left that behind us and are moving forward.
Q. You are a leader who looks to the future not forgetting a painful past. How hard were the last two decades for you?
A. Very hard (laughs), which is an understatement, but that is the spirit, about learning lessons of the difficulties you have gone through but not allowing that to hold you back, to make you a hostage of that tragic experience, but rather learn lessons as quickly as you can and focus on where we are going in the future and doing our best to even keep making references to that past if you will. And therefore helping you to decide which choices to make at any given time in the future. So, 20 years has been a journey of difficulties but I think of the good stories too, and that is what encourages all of us.
We have had tragedies, and at the same time, the efforts of bringing people together through reconciliation, through deciding which direction we take for our future… the people have responded with energy, with positivity, and that has not come to nothing, it has actually borne fruit. We’ve seen progress.
Even the people, when you look at their faces and you look at how they go about things, it as if nothing ever happened here, yet history is loaded with terrible experiences. And apart from those tragic experiences, we have had other external pressures – people who are quick to forget. Sometimes, the demands [are] even from the outside about how we should deal with things, what we should do, what we shouldn’t do, as if our lives are to be decided from the outside and as if we have nothing to do with determining our own course in the future.
But we have calmly had dialogue with such people behind those pressures. We have also focused and really concentrated on what we understand, even the hard choices we have to make, but the good thing is, every three or five years down the road, we were able to measure and say, ‘well, what have we gained from the different choices and efforts we made’. Could we have done things differently or even better? Even putting into account all these unnecessary external lessons, and pressures, we still listen. We don’t fall short on that. We always listen, but at the same time, we fully understand we are the ones for ourselves.
Q. Speaking about the future, Rwanda has been a pioneer in private sector-led economic transformation. What to you are the new industries and wealth creators of the future?
A. From the outset, we understood we have to deal with people. How do you invest in them, how do you prepare them for their role? As a government, we have to improve their lives but also allow this broad national transformation to take place. Then it comes to skills. You give them more opportunities to access things that cut across what they have to do, whether it is the agriculture sector and the agri-businesses around that and the whole value chain, and remembering that agriculture, for example, is very important.
The other part is we have seen, in terms of technology, infrastructure, digitalization, the internet; we have to prepare people to use that, as they have a multiplying effect in many ways, even if it is in public service, and delivery of that in the population that plays that part… Different sectors are impacted by this, therefore, provide the infrastructure to do that, and then the innovation that will come along with it… So these are things we think about – how to create wealth for our own people, how to allow people to thrive…
But then, around that are rules of the game. How do you create an environment to allow disruption and innovation? For example, if you look at how we have been preparing the ground and allowing these activities to take place, in terms of even globally in the ease of doing business – the World Bank report where Rwanda is 29th in the world and second in Africa. All these are to answer that question: how do we create this wealth? It’s the environment, it is specific things to invest in, it’s how we leverage the resources we have.
Q. How do you promote entrepreneurial capitalism, how are you looking at youth-led startups?
A. The question you raise is important. For example, we have an initiative called YouthConnekt, where we try to encourage young people to be innovative. We give them cash prizes, but this is to excite them and make them think innovatively. It also creates healthy competition among young people, but above all, it stimulates them to think [about] what they need to do that fits in with the times we are in. We also have formed business development funds that cut across districts and the country that help people understand what entrepreneurship holds for them and that they can participate and therefore, we give them seed money, if they specifically come up with these ideas but some of the ideas may come through this support by educating them. We have created an Innovation Fund, and help thousands of our young people by combining both innovation and entrepreneurship, we hope to keep exciting our young people to be able to do a number of things. We have national entrepreneurship programs.
Every five years, we see what this has done, what impact it has had, and also make improvements. So it keeps going. It has had a huge impact. We see it has been working and draw lessons from these experiences of young people feeding back to us as government institutions and then we respond as much as we can. Of course, governments have limitations. It doesn’t have everything it requires or wishes to deploy, to reach the goals we want. We’ve been trying to be thoughtful in involving the young people. We have also provided them educational programs that include vocational training and technical programs that help them to not just study in schools and sometimes come up with no skills, but to also acquire knowledge. The skills that are required for employment are lacking so we have also tried to cover that gap and are making good progress.
Q. What really drives entrepreneurship? How do we make sure young people stay on the continent?
A. It is a combination of many things. Some of it may even be political, meaning, the political environment must be that of reassurance to the citizens in general, but to the young people as well, and reassurance in a sense that it not something you just deliver to them, but something you deliver by allowing them to participate or [by conveying that] they have a place in their own country, and politically, they can participate, which again relates to the socioeconomic part of it.
Therefore, if politically, they understand they are participants and not just observers – they need to even participate in addressing some of the problems – then the next demand is ‘what about these bread-and-butter issues, how do I take care of myself, take care of my family; every effort is being done by the government to allow us young people to really play our part; and it means I start with my own environment, in my country, but how about if we connect across borders’?
So to a great extent, it speaks to politics. How do African countries and leaders allow this cross-border economic activity that interests these young people and holds them here so they don’t reach a point where they become desperate in which [case] they go to other places? Sometimes, they reach these [other places] and actually find the situation is even worse, so we have to find a way of talking directly to the young people, but above all, create new things on the ground they can experience and participate in.
It’s not one side that is going to deliver it and put on the table, it’s everybody. It has to be everyone, leaders of countries, and leaders of different kinds who have to play a bigger role.
Q. How do you think capitalists, billionaires and African business can help this process and work collaboratively with the government?
A. We want the private sector to be in the lead of our countries’ or continental transformation; that is for sure, but again, collaboration is important and this is the big burden that lies with governments and we must address how we allow not only the private sector to thrive, to freely do what it is meant to do, but how do we work with them. For example, many times that there have been discussions about private-public partnerships, some people are uncomfortable about them. You don’t understand why. There is no question that if the government played its part in allowing the private sector to thrive and the private sector also understands that if they do their part with the government, that’s very important in the thriving of the citizens of the country, which again constitute the market in which we operate.
So if the people of Rwanda are thriving, the citizens are well, then the business person should be happy because this is the market in which they play. But you can’t be rich and continue sustainably as a businessman in a very impoverished market. It’s just common sense. So if the market, the people are thriving, it feeds back to the private sector but then the private sector should respond in the same way… I mean if you’re a government person, a political leader, you also want to see a country that is registering economic growth, registering development. I think the private sector-mind is going to respond positively to these good signals originating from the political environment, from the leadership. It’s in their interest as well. So we really should be happy with the private-public partnership. There is no question about it, it’s a win-win sort of relationship.
Q. A leader, military leader and father to four children. What is the role you cherish most and how do you find the time to do justice to each?
A. I consider myself lucky, in this sense, I don’t even have to make a lot of effort in being myself; that is the starting point. I try to be myself, I try to be a family person, a person that relates with relatives, friends, and not only here, but outside the country. So I am first and foremost comfortable with that. The rest that comes along with that is the responsibility I now hold. I need no reminder that many people look up to me to say ‘what is he thinking [about] us, what are we going to be able to achieve with his leadership’. It doesn’t matter how the leadership role I play came about, whether it was accidental or planned, but I am there, so I have to play this role effectively.
It’s really trying to be comfortable with myself, comfortable as a family person, as a person who has friends, and who relates to even those who are not my friends directly (laughs). I have the responsibility to them and I must do as much as I can fairly without fear or favor. The balance has been happening without much effort.
Q. How do you unwind? Do you get the time to play sport?
A. I do a lot of sport. I have to create time, there is no doubt. In fact, at times, I have to do things at strange hours, sometimes when others are sleeping… I even do my exercises very late in the night when I should be resting, but again, I always find ways of compensating for what I have missed because I also have to find time to rest, to sleep, above all.
I never lack sleep. Whenever I have a few hours to put my head on the pillow, without much effort, I go to sleep.
I do follow sport. I have been a good fan of Arsenal football club for about three decades now. Whenever they are playing, whatever game, whenever I have the time, I always want to watch.
I do follow other sports as well. I watch tennis, basketball – I follow the National Basketball Association (NBA).
I used to play basketball for fun, but am not a professional, and I never came anywhere near that. But I play tennis, I work out and enjoy watching games if I am not able to play.
Q. Your favorite sportsmen…?
A. They are many. For basketball, for many years, my favorite team for NBA has been the Golden State Warriors. I enjoy watching Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, but of course I also enjoy watching LeBron James, and then there are young upcoming players I have now started following.
‘2018 African of the Year’
‘African of the Year’ is one of the categories at the eighth All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLA).
The annual event (held this year on November 29) honors business excellence and leaders who have had a considerable impact on their industry and community. The nominees for the ‘African of the Year’ category, including several African statesmen, were judged based on the following criteria: their international profile, positive impact, their ability to build equality, develop society, champion inclusiveness, deal with corruption, transform society, enforce governance, alleviate poverty, lead economic development and be an African leader who is a role model.
Paul Kagame: The Rwandan president and head of the African Union (AU) has spent this year improving the economic conditions of his country, and talking continental trade. He made headlines for the partnership with Alibaba, and for improving the ease of doing business in Rwanda as attested by the World Bank. Rwanda has inked a three-year deal as the tourism partner of English football club Arsenal. As a tribute to growing regional cooperation, three months after assuming the chairmanship of the AU, Kagame hosted, in Kigali, over 50 African heads of state, for the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which envisions a single market expected to generate a combined GDP of more than $3.4 trillion and benefiting 1.2 billion people. So far, 49 countries have come on board.
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