Winning In Africa Through Creativity and Innovation

This is a bit of a long one but its so worth it. It is a common assumption to picture the artiste, those who are defined by their creativity, as people who just need to let their mind wander until they find THE INSPIRATION. For example, when I first heard about Baudelaire, this huge French poet from the 19th Century, he was depicted to me in a very romantic way. As somebody who was just there, always in a state of semi-consciousness during which his inspiration would strike him and be transformed in wonderful poems. But come on, seriously?

Baudelaire rocks, not because he was doing a lot of drugs to let his spirit wande, but because he had a solid education that allowed him to properly channel his creativity. Who knows today that it took him his lifetime to write Les Fleurs du Mal? Who knows that when he was a student at Louis-le-Grand College, one of the best educational institutions in France, he won the “Concours general” second prize in Latin verses? You might wonder why I write about a French poet when the focus of this article is about Africa but I just wanted to illustrate that the common vision that we had about creativity may be altered by the myths surrounding geniuses like Baudelaire. A solid education and good work stamina are generally mandatory if one wants to nurture and develop their creativity.

When it comes to our continent, Africa, creativity could be our only way to emerge, behind this concept of creativity there is the concept of innovation. And we need to be serious about that. Africa desperately needs innovation to blossom and to catch up with the rest of the world by dealing properly with the issues of the continent. Think about two joggers on the same road, the first jogger is way ahead and runs at a greater speed than the second jogger. The only way for the second jogger to catch up with the first one is to use his creativity, to find another path susceptible to allow him to reach the finishing line on time. This is Africa, Africa is the second jogger!

Let’s continue with this jogger’s metaphor. We will assume that the second jogger will use his creativity to find a new path but this new path is totally unknown to him, nobody has ever taken it. So, he needs to be well-equipped because who knows what he will face during his journey. He will need different types of shoes and outfits to face all kind of roads and weather, he will need to know how to climb a mountain, cross a river and protect himself against all odds. He will also need to have skills to anticipate, elaborate strategies, quickly find appropriate solutions when obstacles appeared before him and he will need to use a multidisciplinary focus to have a better understanding of his environment. Those jogger’s equipment’s and skills must be provided to every African through basic and higher education.

Now that I said that, I must also say that I do believe that some people do not need a formal education to let their bulbcreativity shine. You just have to pay attention around you, in the streets of Dakar, Lagos, Nairobi, Bamako, Johannesburg, Lomé, Nouakchott, Harare etc., to see that creativity is swarming. But at a national level and continental level, geniuses who don’t need education to properly develop their creativity, businesses and participate to the development of their community, are not enough. We need a critical mass of well-educated and innovative people to be able to change Africa’s path.

I mean, look at the Republic of South Korea! In the sixties, this country had a national GDP comparable to several African countries today. In fifty years, they managed to become one of the 10th first World’s Nations. And they achieve this miracle by massively investing in education. They invented their path, they positioned themselves as an innovative country and everybody on this planet knows Brand such as Samsung which creates and innovates on a daily basis. In 2012, Psych even overtook the music world by storm with his Gangnam Style song. Not in English, not in Spanish, not in Portuguese, not in French but in KOREAN! He mainstreamed his culture globally. I mean, we must give them credit to what they have achieved!

Now back to Africa, Creativity and Education. It is clear that education should have a positive impact on creativity. But a lot of studies prove that formal education can inhibit creativity because when the formal education we know was conceived, the issues it addressed were not the same as today. The world was not spinning at an unbelievable pace. Students were put in a box, trained to find a job and to follow a unique path. Even twenty years ago, it was not common to see somebody have a total change of career.


Now, you need to be flexible and to use your creativity even if you are not an artist per se. So the model of education needs to evolve. On that matter, a UNESCO article, “The Challenges of Creativity” addresses this particular issue by stating that “While the purpose of education is to transmit knowledge and to develop the ability to learn how to learn, creativity requires that we learn how to unlearn, and question established paradigms. This is a challenge for all forms of learning and all levels of education”. That is also what Sir Ken Robinson, a creativity expert, brilliantly explains in a TedEx speech he gave on the matter, explaining that formal education needs to address all types of intelligence in order to train citizens able to change the world! This is what Africa needs, citizens able and well-equipped to make a difference on this planet by creating a new road. So we need to improve the way we educate our citizens, our African governments must invest in the first African resource, the human one! Let’s embrace our creativity and, as I am sadly not Sir Ken Robinson, I let you with two of his speeches!

Hope it will inspire you!

Elsa Dansokho is a MWF 2015 Fellow and #yalicreatives you can check her blog here