‘Pay Close Attention To What Is Happening In Africa’

Published 11 months ago
Rakesh Wahi

As a departure from our historic travel to Europe, my wife and I decided to do something different this year. I suggested Nepal as an alternative, which was instantly accepted. My choice was mainly because the last visit to Nepal was marred by the unfortunate earthquake in April 2015; the horrors of which remain etched in my memory. That year, I had taken 12 members of our university team in Dubai on a team-building exercise to trek up to the Everest Base Camp (EBC). Sadly we had to abandon our trip as the earthquake struck a few hours after we landed in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu. The devastation from this natural disaster stayed fresh in my mind: we had seen numerous bodies being pulled out of the wreckage as we tried to navigate through the rubble and debris without shelter or food for two days before we could fly back home safely to Dubai. EBC had remained on my mind for all these years and owing to work commitments and family pressure, I was unable to plan another expedition. More
than anything else, I realized that I could not risk the lives of younger team members who have different responsibilities than an old man who is now hobbling through the last lap of his life.

In Nepal in January 2023

One of the reasons that I wanted to get away for a few weeks was to begin writing my second book (the first, Be a Lion, was published in November 2016).

I have always found myself to be at my creative best in quiet and cold environments. Previous choices, while writing my first book, were Montreux (Switzerland), Edinburgh (Scotland) and Prague (Czech Republic).

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Kathmandu in January seemed like a consistent choice.

With over three decades of travel around the world, our experience in Nepal was one of our best. Kathmandu is not without its infrastructure challenges; nor can you miss the ugly sight of excessive and dangerous electric cabling dangling all over. What makes up for some of the challenges is the weather,
the breathtaking scenery and more than anything, the warmth and hospitality of the Nepalese people.

We stayed at the Gokarna Forest Resort about a 30-minute drive from Kathmandu. This jewel of a property was an old hunting retreat for the Nepalese royal family and is nested in a dense forest (with amazing wildlife) that in its midst has one of the most spectacular and challenging golf courses. The management and staff of the resort took hospitality to a notch above the best in the world; in short, it was a perfect choice for a retreat.

The highlight of our trip to Nepal was the helicopter ride to EBC (17,600 feet/5,364 meters) and Kalapathar (18,400 feet/5,644 meters). Since it was a clear day, we got great visibility of Mount (Mt) Everest from Kalapathar. On the whole it was one of the most magical moments in my life and
another tick on my bucket list.

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What was disheartening, however, was to see that in January, there was very little snow either at EBC, Kalapathar or on any of the towering peaks around Mt Everest. This is a stark reminder of the impact of the depleting ozone layer and the consequent changing weather patterns. The sad reality is that in the period ahead, this change is likely to impact the flow of water from the Himalayan Mountains into the various river systems across the subcontinent. Leaving Kathmandu was emotional for both my wife, Saloni, and I, but we left with the warm thought that this would form part of our periodic travel map in the years to come.

The towering peaks around Mt Everest

Traveling back home to Dubai is always reassuring as the city serves as the epicenter of all our activity. Coming home provides the sense of safety and security like no other and was perhaps the cushion needed before getting back to a more hectic routine.

Being the travel hub of the world today, most friends, family and business associates are invariably transiting through Dubai. Additionally, a distinct change over the years has been the number of African friends who have relocated to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for different reasons but most importantly, to take advantage of its strategic location at the geographic center of the business world.

The number of Africa-centered events here have also increased over the years.

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A recent event that was most impactful was the Invest Africa roadshow conducted by the Rwandan Embassy in the UAE along with the Rwandan Development Board.

The response to the presentations was resounding with many UAE businessmen looking at investing into Africa with a positive lens. I am a great believer that these outreach events by investment promotion agencies are critical for all African countries. The Middle East has abundant capital that is looking for stable investments and these presentations catalyze changing the negative perceptions of the African continent.

The global gloom has not subsided. It is not just the senseless war in Ukraine but the recent humanitarian
disaster caused by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

Over 50,000 lives were lost and thousands of people left without homes; all in a matter of hours after the
earthquake struck. What was heartening, however, was to see the global community rally together and provide much-needed medical, food and other compassionate aid to the two countries. It will take a long time for these countries to recover from this disaster. It is also a constant reminder for countries and regions on fault lines to remain proactive and enforce construction guidelines while planning infrastructure projects; there is no control over nature and the mysterious changes invisible to the human eye will continue to work silently; in this instance, the tectonic plate on which Arabia sits has been gradually moving North towards Europe.

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An important milestone during this period has been the elections in Nigeria with the usual concern regarding a fair process. As President Bola Tinubu prepares to take charge of the country, there is hope for change for the better and that a genuine effort is made by the new administration to improve the lives of average Nigerians.

The lack of power in the country remains horrific and so does the unimaginable shortage of petrol for one of the world’s largest producers of oil.

These problems, however, are completely eclipsed by the recent demonetization of the currency and the ensuing shortage during the elections.

Over the last few months most people were unable to draw money from ATMs and banks causing a major crisis in a country. It’s expected that the currency shortage will miraculously disappear now that the elections are over. Let’s pray that Nigeria reemerges from the ashes of poor governance of the last decade. We are all expectantly waiting to see some rays of hope; particularly in economies like Nigeria, that can have a material impact on the entire continent.

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You see the power of hope when over 500 dynamic ladies from different walks of life get together to discuss the future. This was the outcome at the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit (#LWS2023) in Pretoria, South Africa, on March 8, International Women’s Day. The annual event, in its eighth episode, was organized by the ABN Group as an in-person celebration post the pandemic. The event in 2021 and 2022 was held as a virtual one and we did not have the opportunity to meet some of the ladies who had participated.

This year, we witnessed an excellent day packed with wonderful conversations that was kick-started by South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Dr Naledi Pandor (whom we all deeply admire) who delivered the welcome address to a full house. She spoke about all the achievements but also highlighted some statistics on women in managerial positions and on boards of companies that needed to be improved significantly through sustained activism. An important highlight was the number of young women who participated both as speakers and as participants.

I am personally a great supporter of the development of women. In my welcome speech at the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Awards held on the same day, my key message was that while addressing the gaps regarding equal opportunities, gender-based violence, equal pay, workplace discrimination, lack of
financial inclusion etc., the key need is to focus on the education of women at the grassroots
level; this requires making sure that our girls are educated and receive the same opportunities at school, at vocational centers and at colleges. This is the important mindset change, where parents must give equal importance to the education of all their children. If we get this right within the family fabric of society, the rest of the change will be systemic.

We need a steady pipeline of well-educated and trained women in every sphere of activity who can lead their teams with confidence and not be a part of checking boxes. Since the room was packed with an inspired audience, I requested each one of them to take it as a mission to educate at least one
girl child during their lifetime. This would be truly transformative and not just an ongoing
compromise.

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The FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Awards are always a delight to witness. Other than the high-quality performance for the opening by two-time Grammy-award winner, Wouter Kellerman, various awards categories were won by dynamic women from across the continent including Rwandan sports star Salima
Mukansanga, Africa’s first female football referee at the Men’s World Cup for FIFA 2022.

The winners of the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Lifetime Achievement Award this year were Louisa Mojela and Gloria Serobe who are an inspiration to future generations, as they followed other giants like Wendy Luhabe, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka who have been winners of the award in previous years. Listening to the various conversations and imbibing the positivity in the room, we can
infer that the world must continue to pay close attention to what is happening in Africa. This is indeed a region on the move and the younger generation is not going to accept the status quo. They are asking all the right questions.