I was 18 and not yet started on my quest to be a fashion designer when I, along with millions across the globe, watched Sir Bob Geldof passionately implore a Live Aid crowd to “Give us your fooking money”.
Since then I’ve watched with admiration as people like Bono have gone beyond the call of duty in a bid to fight poverty and raise awareness of the issues faced across Africa.
So the tactics of the Live Aid generation have not been lost on me. But I believe the time has come to push things further. Now, as the African Union celebrates its 50th anniversary, it’s time for Africa and Africans to put away the begging bowl and start doing things for themselves.
I am a proud man of Ghanaian descent and truly believe it is time for Africa to take its own lead, with support from the rest of the globe. We can’t go on relying on hand-outs, especially in times of austerity. Neither can we rely on millions of posters, however well meaning, showing our babies starving with flies in their eyes.
I have been fortunate enough to meet and with mix with great talents from the African diaspora. As a fashion designer I look for harmony among contrast. And in my meetings with presidents, finance ministers, bankers and entrepreneurs I found they shared a common desire to make things happen themselves. However, they have often been hindered by a lack of transparency, mistrust and endless bureaucracy.
That is why I decided to set up the Made In Africa Foundation. With the support of a fast growing Nigerian business, Atlantic Energy, we aim to through cut through all the perceived obstacles to encourage investment in some of the biggest infrastructure projects in the world.
The Africa Development Bank (ADB), which is also celebrating its 50 birthday, has come up with an audacious plan to transform Africa by building railways, roads, clean water supplies and the basic communication and trade infrastructure to help improve lives around the continent.
The ADB’s plan is to raise upto $68bn through a guarantee backed by the African nations.
It’s about Africa helping Africans, the ultimate trade not aid policy. Speaking at a Made In Africa luncheon I hosted in Marrakech yesterday, Mos Def, the hip-hop star said to Kola Aluko, one of Nigeria’s richest men and philanthropists: “It’s about self-sufficiency and about how Africa can benefit itself having benefited so many nations through its natural resources, culture and its people . Now its about a fair exchange and what Africa can do for itself.”
This plan will kick off projects like the Inga Dam, the world’s largest carbon emissions reduction project which will also, when completed, produce 44,000mw - doubling the light and energy presently available to Southern Africa.
When change comes, it comes all of a sudden. Years ago, prior to the granting of independence, Harold Macmillan realised that there was a “wind of change blowing through this continent, whether we like it or not”. It is this wind that now blows again over Africa.