BALTIMORE, Maryland — What is the impact of colonialism on Africa? How can African countries move past foreign aid? Why do policies seem to fail in Africa?
The answers to these complicated questions on African politics and the economy are perhaps rhetorical, with many different ways of interpreting the continent’s current state.
Understanding perspectives and having conversations is one way these questions can begin to be answered – and to do that, media website Afrimind aims to provide a resource and place for discussion and debate on African ideas.
Afrimind, launched in October of 2012, is a platform that provides a space to examine and discuss ideas on politics, economics, and business in Africa.
Founder Amaka Okechukwu was living and working at the Brookings Institution in D.C. when the site launched, and was inspired to begin the platform as she continually noticed that many of the people making key decisions on African policy were non-Africans.
While a significant number of Africans are somewhat involved in the policy making process, Okechukwu explained that many are located in different parts of the world and that “these voices are lightly obscure.”
With the help of visiting scholars at the nearby Johns Hopkins University and other research fellows at the Brookings Institute, Afrimind was formed with the idea of getting an increasing amount of African involvement behind African policy discussion.
“I’m getting both voices on the table,” Okechukwu said. “It’s not that non-African vices are not important; but both are important.”
The website’s goal is to foster a deep understanding and knowledge of political and primarily economic issues, by welcoming contributions from ordinary Africans, academics, and the international community.
In doing this, they hope to provide a better way to turn ideas into actions, influence African policy, and empower the next generation of African leaders to make informed change.
Afrimind publishes a variety of different resources to provoke discussion and creative thought on policy change. Rather than look at African policy with a negative view, however, the site is focused on solution-driven debate and getting people to think about ways in which positive change can occur.
“We believe that ideas matter. Especially ideas that are solution driven. We take a solution driven approach with writing, and put things in a different light that people have not seen before,” said Okechukwu. “When you talk about problems you need to highlight the solutions, too.”
One particular way in which Afrimind makes their solution driven approach is through policy spotlight. Posts will frequently profile a successful policy or movement in a given African country, and show how other African countries can embody that model.
One such example is a spotlight on a successful social welfare program in Rwanda. In the country, cows are a large part of the economy and culture.
“[The cows] mean everything,” said Okechukwu. “If you have a cow, you’re rich.”
Rwandan President Paul Kagame initiated the One Cow Per Family, or Girinka, Program, which provides cows to the poorest families in society. The program was successful in providing a multitude of resources, such as milk, manure, land tilling, business opportunity, and being sustainable down the line. Unlike cash, a cow can continue to produce.
The program has also empowered citizens with the status of owning a cow, and provided them with important nutrients from dairy products.
By profiling this government policy, and highlighting its strengths, Afrimind hopes to inspire other African countries with ideas on positive change.
Visitors to the site are able to view videos, which include interviews with a diverse range of academics and business people on African policy as well as how-to guides on entrepreneurship and investment.
Articles, which aim to be informative, thought provoking, and not overly-academic, are also featured. The site provides a forum for debates, which promote discussion of new ways to approach problems in Africa and counter old ways of thinking.
Afrimind also hosts workshops, which offer a place for people to gather and talk about policy. The group hosted one such workshop in Washington, D.C., which focused on democracy and how democracy should look in an African setting.
Okechukwu says that the organization has been fortunate to work with amazing and influential policy makers across African countries. In doing so, Afrimind has built relationships with researchers across several universities, as well as think tanks, giving them a strong base of passionate volunteers.
The platform is heavily focused on involving youth and student voices in the discussion. Afrimind is working to increase student activism and representation in change.
“Youth are not being represented or participating the way they could be in government,” said Okechukwu. “We go to universities and work with students to actively engage them on a specific issue and get them more involved on that issue.”
Any interested individuals can write articles for the platform to share their ideas and get involved in the discussion.
Afrimind is a vehicle for thought, policy change, and the future, bringing together people from different walks of life to collaborate on solving the problems facing Africa today.
More than anything, however, Afrimind hopes to inform and bring the perspective of the poor into the discussion, and asks questions that people might not be comfortable asking.
To make change, Okechukwu says, this is essential.
“It’s important to think about the perspective of those who are affected most on the table,” Okechukwu said. “The question is, how do we include poor people and get poor people’s voices? It’s getting poor people and involving them in the policies that will affect them.”
She added, “Everyone is thinking more critically about the policies we’re putting on the table.”
– Julia Thomas
Sources: afrimind, Rally.org, Republic of Rwanda, Amaka Okechukwu