Review: ‘The Lion Awakes’, by Ashish Thakkar

Africa is home to six of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Collective GDP has now reached $2 trillion, up from $587 billion in 2000. 400,000 new companies were registered in 2014 and by 2040 Africa will have a larger workforce than China.

_20160423_151310These statistics, impressive as they are, only tell a small part of the The Lion Awakes. Part personal memoir of a refugee who escaped the Rwandan genocide and dropped out of school at 15 to become a multimillionaire entrepreneur and part description of Africa as a collection of economies and peoples ready to take off due to improvements in governance, the advances of technology and a spirit of entrepreneurism. This easy to read and fast paced book, more of a collection of inspiring stories sprinkled with facts such as the ones above rather than hard headed economic analysis, is unashamedly positive and optimistic about the continent’s future.

Ashish takes us on an inspiring entrepreneurial journey from his first business transaction at 15, selling a computer to his teacher for a $200 profit, to setting up an African bank with Bob Diamond and running the Mara Group. All of this via the hustle of computer shops in Dubai, shiny tech hubs in Nairobi and trendy restaurants in Lagos. The key themes he explores include the significance of how African countries are viewed in the world, the importance of mentors in entrepreneurship and the difference that a new generation of African leaders are making. However, he explains that the most important change is the telecoms revolution and the onset of cheap technology in the hands of millions of Africans, all of whom have the drive and vision to be entrepreneurs and transform the communities they live in.

Access to technology is exploding across the globe but its impact in Africa is almost too great for the developed world to grasp. Mobile phone subscribers are expected to reach 930 million by 2019.”

Aid, in it’s western form, comes in for severe criticism with Ashish claiming that government policies of institutionalised aid has done terrible harm to Africa for decades. With over $1 trillion spent in Africa there is precious little to show for it. He doesn’t disagree with the concept of charity, but vehemently despises the way in which Africa is depicted in the West and the damage that does to potential economic growth.

“The media narrative perpetuated by celebrity-driven aid campaigns and organisations has established Africa in the global consciousness as a place of misery. ‘Saving African babies’ is now big business but it has become the entry point from which the rest of the world views the continent.”

Although he goes to great lengths to ensure the reader understands that Africa is a diverse and varied continent of 54 countries, Ashish, with his inspirational back story and business successes across the continent, is well placed to analyse the economic future of Africa and why this confidence isn’t a false dawn like so many times in the past. To his credit he is clear that it won’t be a smooth path to prosperity and there are difficulties that still exist in running a business in many countries. However, he convinces that headlines such as “The Hopeless Continent” in the Economist in May 2000 are consigned to the past.

This insightful book is for people looking to understand individual success stories, often in the most adverse of conditions, and the seeds of change at a local, national and international level. If you were brought up on a diet of Band Aid and Oxfam adverts of starving children reading this could transform your perception on Africa. Ashish is clear from the start that he isn’t an economist aiming to explain macro-economic trends and this doesn’t detract from the book. He allows the reader to dream of a better future and one with a purpose. For me it explains many of the changes that I’ve seen in Ghana over the past ten years and that people have every reason to be optimistic when looking to do business and be successful in Africa. I wholeheartedly recommend it as an excellent read.

This book was provided to me by St Martin’s Press to review.

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