When invited to review Ashish Thakkar’s book, The Lion Awakes, I was also asked to do a Q&A with him about some of the topics that he explores in the book. Thank you to Ashish for taking the time to answer my questions so fully!

  1. How do you view the importance of aid versus trade (or both) in the development of Sub-Saharan Africa?

The past 50 years has shown us that aid does very little in terms of longer term and efficient development of Sub-Saharan Africa. I am a huge advocate for increased trade and less aid in order to fuel sustainable development across sub-Saharan African countries. Africa is not an ‘aid basket’, and we aren’t waiting to be saved; on the contrary, they are creating innovations, contributing to their economies, building infrastructure, and increasing their standards of living.  Once the perceptions of poverty, famine, and corruption are shed, and the realities discovered, Africa is in fact a perfect investment destination.  With fast growing economies and ripe business opportunities, trade is necessary to ensure that Sub-Saharan African countries can continue on this trajectory.

  1. What impact does the impression that Africa is a place of war, famine, disease and corruption have on business development, especially tourism?

The negative impression of Africa as a place of corruption, disease and famine is exactly that- only a perception and very far from reality. This perception has been mainly portrayed by Western media which then leads to reluctance for investors and tourists to visit these countries and see for themselves what the realities are. Most people are completely amazed when they travel to Africa as they find beautiful places full of life, e-commerce and innovation, the complete opposite of what is often portrayed by Western media.

  1. What difference do small businesses make in a community’s development?

Small and medium sized enterprises are the backbone of community development, and this is even more apparent in Africa. SMEs account for 90% of businesses in Sub-Saharan African making them a considerable part of the labor market and a large contributor to local and national economies. Furthermore, these businesses are often socially oriented and strive to ensure that they leave a positive impact in the communities they work in.

  1. Why is volunteerism in Africa important and how can it be encouraged?

Volunteering is ingrained in our cultures as a guiding value of our people. African cultures tend to be communal rather than individualistic and it is taught from very early on to help your neighbours, community, and country. Volunteering in Africa is a lifelong duty.

  1. Why should people decide to visit tourist attractions “off the beaten track” such as West Africa?

Africa is home to the most dynamic, vibrant, and beautiful places in the world. Visiting these destinations shouldn’t be perceived as being “off the beaten track,” but rather as a trip to any other country in the world. There are always risks when traveling to an unknown place whether it be Europe, Asia, or Africa- however, the perceived risks of traveling in Africa are higher due to a negative narrative promoted by Western media.  I am confident that anyone who sheds the perceptions and decides to visit these countries will be mesmerized.

David Coles is the Volunteer Coordinator at LSE and helps run the charity KickStart Ghana. He also blogs at Dave Coles where this article was first published. Follow him on Twitter @dave_coles. 

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