Africa is rich in history, culture, diversity and most of all, innovation and capacity. However, the picture often painted of the continent is one of hunger, corruption and a general state of disrepair. We do not typically hear of the successes that Africa is driving. For example, several African countries have reduced malnutrition over the past 15 years, some by as much as 50%.
These are the types of accounts that Professor Irma Eloff, professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Pretoria, sought to relate in her recently published book, Handbook of Quality of Life in African Societies.
“I wanted to counter this idea that everything is broken in Africa. This is not the Africa I live in,” Prof Eloff said.
The book brings together positive stories about the continent from a wide range of fields, including health, food, education, economics and technology. It showcases the intricate connections between all the factors that influence quality of life. The scope of stories told ranges from global to continental, country to community and the individual.
In the final chapter, entitled “Narratives of quality of life in Africa: A kaleidoscope of hope”, Prof Eloff celebrates African innovation, which is very much grounded in ubuntu (humanity). She weaves together several short narratives told by local initiatives that support quality of life. One story centres on six Zimbabwean women who turned obstacles into opportunities, as told by John Charema, Director of Education: Mophato Education Centre in Botswana.
In 2005 in Zimbabwe, there was a shortage of wheat products, including bread. Six women went for training and created the Zunga School Bakery that produces bread, scones and other products. But they were yet to face more challenges when firewood for baking became scarce. In the “spirit of African innovation”, these women invented a biogas from dung, which they used to power the ovens.
The solutions and innovations championed by this community are not only environmentally friendly, but they also reflect the resourcefulness of Africans. These women are far removed from the Sustainable Development Goals, yet their efforts advance at least four of the 17 SDGs. They were able to provide food (SDG 2) and improve the well-being of their community (SDG 3), improve the quality of education at the local school (SDG 4), while empowering themselves as women (SDG 5).
This publication proves that Africa is indeed not broken. The continent is vibrant with innovation and a willingness to take ownership of the development of its people. More efforts are needed to appreciate and harness the capacities of African communities. We salute the women of Zunga School Bakery.
Elizabeth Mkandawire, PhD, is Postdoctoral Fellow and Coordinator: UN Academic Impact Hub for SDG2 at the University of Pretoria’s Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-being.