When I was kid, we used to go to a saturday night market in my village.
Well, I’m a village boy, born in a small village in the center east part of Togo. We didn’t have electricity nor tap water. There was a hill not far away from our home, where in the morning we could see a colony of monkeys jumping, parading, noising, playing. Sometime our big uncle would go to bribe the monkeys with banana and fruits to bring some young ones home for us to play.
I was blessed with a wonderful childhood in full contact with nature. We spent countless hours cruising wild territories, hunting, fishing, collecting wild fruits and courting the ancestral spirits in the woods for chance.
However, one of our best time was when we would go to the Saturday night market to hangout, buy goodies, and tease out competing gangs.
The market used to start from 6pm till 9pm, sometime even later. Once the dark night kicked in, one could see hundred of small kerosene lamps in front of almost all sellers display. Buyers also carry their own small kerosene lamps, and sometime a battery powered, portable handheld lamp from China.
From far away, the spectacle of the market was always awesomely beautiful with hundreds of kerosene lamps asymmetrically swinging, bowed in one direction or another by a slight whirling wind, and the whole carefully framed by a thick dark night which highlighted everything.
From much closer, the market was indeed a self inflicted chaos. Regardless of the hundreds of individuals lamps, it was always difficult to walk around, to move from one merchant to another. The whole place seemed dark. You couldn’t see far, and rocks on the ground often made visitors and the inattentive to fall, for the pleasure of bystander children who can’t help but laugh loudly at the unfortunate.
You see, Africa is not dark because people don’t want light, but like this small market of my childhood, hundreds, thousands and millions of individuals lamps are lighted all around the continent, but the whole continent is still in the dark. What is missing, like in the market of my childhood, is a leader who would emerge and merge these hundreds of lamps into only 5 or 10 big lamps, and the whole market would not have even a shadow of dark, for the great satisfaction all, merchants, buyers and wanderers.
Individual achievement is good, but would never be enough to build a society with common welfare. Like in the market of my childhood, we could add more and more kerosene lamps to the market, but overall the market would still be in the dark, and difficult to navigate.
Few months ago, I’ve told one of my clients in Lagos, “we can build one million more villas a year in Lagos, but Lagos won’t become a developed city, and tourists would still need to get tons of vaccines before coming here, and be warned with another lengthy list of precautions to be taken when they go out or do business with Nigerians. Million of individual successes won’t equate social progress, left alone development”
Our ambition should not to become the carrier of the biggest kerosene lamp in the market, but how to convince the millions with smaller lamps to have a public lighting system.
A clean man can’t spend a whole day in a garbage city and come back home clean. Like my Friend Alsu Ekinadose Odemwingie put it “Those who keep others ignorant fall victims of it. You can’t fly higher than the sky you’ve built.”
We have enough people holding their small kerosene lamp, so our challenge is to grow leaders with the ability to transform those millions of kerosene lamps into a sun which would shine for all, all the time.