Changing the negative perceptions of Africa. I think Africans have an opportunity

“Ask An African” is a Mettle Consult (Mettle) initiative that seeks to gauge the perceptions of what Africans think about Africa. As a continent, Africa underperforms relative to other regions with regards to economic, social, and political development. At Mettle, one of our endeavors relates to understanding problems facing the African continent and finding solutions to them. In this quest, we realized how important changing the negative perception of Africa is to driving growth in and investments to the continent. Changing these negative perceptions is an uphill climb and will require strategic changes in our mentality as it relates to priority areas that include (but is not limited to) leadership, governance, accountability, security, education and responsible citizenship. As Africans, we need to take active roles in solving our problems. History shows that no one else will and waiting around for “someone” to do it produces zero results.

So in order to further understand the African continent, we sought and continue to seek African voices, as we have to tell our own stories. For far too long, others have told our stories. To this end, we created this segment because we believe it is time we saw and read about Africa, through the eyes and voices of Africans.

Today, we read from Ateh Atabong.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Ateh Atabong. I am 41 years old, originally from Cameroon and have been in Norway since April 1999. My language skills includes fluency in English and Norwegian and I have a good, but continuously reducing understanding of French. I hold a degree in Pharmacy from University in Tromsø and am currently studying part-time for my MBA. I have a couple of startups of my own and I am a partner in Africa Connect Norway (ACN), the organization that is contributing to link business interests and investments in African and Scandinavia. On a daily basis, I work at a center at Fornebu where new ideas and startups in the healthcare sector in Norway can be catapulted from start to growth.

2. What is your super power?

I am a multi-skilled and multi-learned individual. Naturally, I have a good ability to bring people together, to see opportunity and to understand and see needs that others have. I love to sit around a table with good food and good wine and with lovely happy people. I like to raise people who thirst for something and to promote faith and love.

3. What is your impression about Africa?

My impression about Africa is the we are at a very important crossroad. The rest of the world that has moved to a certain level of material success and it appears that we – with the pressing opportunities and boundless markets needs – that we have to, and can leap-frog from where we are to where the rest of the world is. Sometimes we forget that this journey is not a material journey, but a mind-set journey.

We stand at a critical crossroad where we have to take responsibility and own our own path, define and start the long and painful road to our own self-defined destiny. I think Africa has now a new opportunity – our natural opportunity – to create a new narrative for ourselves.

4. What do you think Africans think about Africa?

I think Africans see Africa in many different ways. The ones living there who have little opportunity, the ones living there with huge opportunities. The ones who live abroad with their own impressions.

I think Africans acknowledge and respect the opportunity that exists in the continent. However, the degree to which we believe that we as individuals can harness this opportunity differ, we either believe or not believe in Africa.

Also, I have the impression that many Africans believe that the world owes them something and are waiting for the world to pay back.

5. What do you think non-Africans think about Africa?

I think non-Africans see Africa differently depending on who and where they are themselves. Businesses see opportunity, organizations see opportunity and a place to help and complete their missions; many individuals see misery, suffering and refuse to be honest about the reality of Africa.

I think Africans and many non-Africans see the negativity of Africa as the only representation of the continent and refuse to change their view and narratives.

6. What frustrates you about the African continent? And your country?

My deepest frustration is the lack of faith Africans have in themselves. Lack of faith in their own ability, use of resources and believe in each other. The believe that as a continent, we actually have what we need and we are enough is lacking.
The low level of trade between African countries frustrates me. Moreover, the level of ‘small mindedness’ in the continent is not only frustrating but also embarrassing. It is mind-boggling that ‘someone from the outside’ had and have to come and teach self-love and self belief. African leaders are of course, the primary culprits here, because they are not collected and cooperative in seeking or pursuing interests for the continent.

7. What gives you hope about the African continent, and your country?

The increasing number of Africans and non-Africans who are making their way to, and changing things in the continent.
The number of countries and governments where the leaders are prioritizing the interests of the country before their personal interest. I am also hopeful and inspired by the number of people saying enough is enough. Even though we have a long way to go, that there are many – the young and old alike- doing great things or small meaningful things, gives me hope!

8. If you could make a change/difference in your country what would you do?

My biggest contribution to Cameroon and/or Africa will be to help the young people develop a new mind. Help develop a new sense of self. This I will do through education, creating jobs and promoting businesses and entrepreneurship on the continent.

While I doubt that I would like to be in the front of political leadership, I feel that I can make a contribution on a micro basis giving my stronger calling towards teaching and ‘raising’ the individual. For this reason, I work to harness personal strength and reviving self-confidence and dignity of our youth so that they can be of service to their countries.

Interviewed by Chisom Udeze

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