THE SKY IS FALLING…
Is the title of a documentary film I was driven to make; and I will come to the reason for that title pretty shortly. Recently I made a trip to Ghana. I was very excited as I got out of the plane after almost 10 hours (who wouldn’t be!)… The opportunity to finally stretch cramped muscles though, was not the reason for my excitement at all. To an extent, having so much sun, yes. A friend said to me, “bottle up some of that sun and bring it back to Boston”. In many ways, he made an insightful, poignant remark unbeknownst to him that went to the crust of the reality I faced in my six weeks in Ghana!
First, let me take some time to talk about a new product I am launching that really excites me. As I walked out of that plane, and remembered why I loved this country so much all over again; my mind made a seamless synergy between a craft I love, which is film making, and the demographic I am passionate about, young people. I noticed everyone holding a mobile phone and when I say everyone, I mean everyone. I have been working for over two years on a product that rides on the success of mobile phones in Africa and so this was really no surprise to me. What was a surprise to me was my clear underestimation of the magnitude of the success and the elements that drive it. Don’t get me wrong; I love that communication and access to technology is exploding in Ghana and Africa; after all, MobileFlik, my new product that makes movies specifically for the cell phone is based on this success, but here is the paradox…. A paradox that lead me to make a documentary called “the sky falls”
ONE OF THE REASONS WHY EVERYONE IS ON THEIR MOBILE PHONES, ESPECIALLY YOUNG PEOPLE, IS BECAUSE THEY HAVE NOTHING ELSE TO DO!
Africa is the youngest continent. Over 70% of its people are between the ages of 10-35. One Mckinsey report, reports that of every 10 people you meet, 7-8 may be considered young. A country like Kenya has over 73% of its population below the age of 30; and mind you, Africa has hit the 1-billion+ mark. This is a real opportunity for the continent when you consider what having a big market size can mean. Ask Asia anytime or China for that matter; heck, NIGERIA ALONE IS OVER 165 MILLION AND ETHIOPIA AT 83 MILLION. WITH THAT KIND OF MARKET SIZE, WHO NEEDS ANYBODY! And when you talk of Mobile penetration, it is 100%+ in Ghana. Phones in Ghana, exceed 25million, which is the sum of its population. Even counting the fact that some people carry multiple sim cards, a situation China is harnessing by making phones that carry multiple sim cards, Africa overtook Latin America to become the second largest mobile market after Asia.
This is for all the people looking for somewhere and something to invest in, I suppose; IF YOU ARE A SMART INVESTOR, GET YOUR BUTT ONTO A PLANE AND INTO AFRICA AND PROBABLY INTO COMMUNICATION AND MOBILE PHONES NOW! Voice calls revenue is maxing out fast though; except in Ethiopia off course, where overall penetration is less than 30% and for a country that size, when the government decides to deregulate the industry – let your imagination say amen to that! As a good friend puts it, “Data is the next oil.”
Seven out of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world can be found in Africa and I am proud to say that Ghana is amongst them! In 2011, the IMF actually predicted that Ghana was set to be the fastest growing economy in the world!. At average growth rates of 7%, the growing economies in Africa are unsurpassed and this trend is likely to continue for a relatively long time. Having a discussion around what this means for the rest of the world and who is beating a path to Africa’s doors, including China (I was amused by the many Chinese people I met at the airports, getting off the planes, holding plastic bags. This must really be a trip to the market for China!), is a subject of another article.
SO, LETS COME TO WHY I WORRY. IN THE CASE OF GHANA (AND MIND YOU, THE DATA IS REFLECTED ALMOST IN SYNCHRONY ACROSS THE CONTINENT), WHERE OVER 70% OF THE POPULATION IS YOUNG. ACCORDING TO SOME WORLD BANK DATA, 65% OF THE YOUTH IN GHANA IS UNEMPLOYED.
This data is staggering, especially when you map it against how many young people there are. On my journey to find out the true picture, I met “Sos.” Sos has two masters degree and hasn’t had a real job since graduating almost five years ago. Sos is thinking of going back to school to get a third masters. As he puts it, “it beats staying at home doing nothing!” I don’t consider his case dire though… Why? Because, Sos has a wife who has a full time job and works to support the entire family, including her mother who lives with them and their three children.
Two people I spoke to, ‘Franklin’ of Imani, Ghana and ‘George’ of Ghana Skills and dev. Fund, both described the situation as a ‘ticking time bomb!’
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU HAVE SO MANY YOUNG PEOPLE ON THE CONTINENT, WITH SO MUCH ENERGY, IMAGINATION, AND DRIVE, WITH NOTHING TO DO?
The reasons for this situation are many. MANY BLAME THE SCHOOLS FOR NOT MARRYING EDUCATION TO EMPLOYMENT; not giving technical skills, nor the critical thinking and emotional intelligence needed to survive in the market place or perhaps to start new businesses? After all, every successful economy relies on small businesses, which in turn feeds on the entrepreneurial spirit of its people. What happens then when ‘young people are not, conditioned and thought to think strategically?’ is the question aptly put to me by one of my interviewees who is in her early 20s….
The conversation is broad, but for me, it is simple… WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU HAVE SO MANY YOUNG PEOPLE WITHOUT JOBS AND WITH NOTHING TO DO? Many of them are on their mobile phones for now, chatting about nothing and spending obscene amounts of time they probably cannot afford, monetarily or socially, on social networks and Whatsapp…
BUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THEY GET BORED AND PUT DOWN THEIR MOBILE PHONES. WHAT WILL THEY TURN THEIR ATTENTION TO? MY HEART IS POUNDING… PERHAPS I AM CHICKEN LITTLE SCREAMING THE “SKY IS FALLING!”