Kampala slum form above Uganda

Editor’s Note: Chude Jideonwo is the executive director of The Future Project Nigeria and the co-founder of RED, owner of the continent’s largest portfolio of youth media. One of RED’s brands, The Future Awards Africa, celebrates creativity and enterprise amongst young African leaders and turned 10 this year. The below is an excerpt of an address he gave at the Future Awards ceremony on December 6, 2015.

Lagos, Nigeria CNN  — 

In 2000, The Economist made a bold declaration about Africa: it called us the hopeless continent.

We screamed. We protested. They are insulting us. It’s time for us to tell our own stories.

By 2011, the foreign media had gotten the message, and the narrative changed: Africa, they declared, is now rising. BRICS, MINTs, N-11… the hopeless continent is now bustling with hope. The middle class now has more pot-bellies. And all of us cheered.

Chude Jideonwo

Pride restored. Victory secured. Battle won. But what exactly did we win?

The fact that many over the last ten years have succeeded in spite of broken down systems cannot blind us to the reality – that nations cannot grow based only on outliers.

We will always have people who make something out of nothing. They exist around the world, even in nations destroyed by war. But we need nations that provide opportunities for everyone.

There is a point at which resilience becomes a defect and not a virtue. It is not something to be proud of that it takes sweat and blood to register a business name in Nigeria, to open a bank account and to understand its tax laws with no help from the government. It is a problem that needs to be solved.

And until Africa has a network of nations where these foundational imperatives are engaged successfully and uninterrupted, success stories will continue to be a rarity and Africa will simply not grow

Recently we visited Libreville, and the North-East of Nigeria. Oh, the things we saw. The tragedy is not the stories you even know, it’s in the ones you don’t. It’s not just the fact that it was day 600 yesterday and yet the world’s cry to #BringBackOurGirls has borne no fruit, it is the fact that they have been utterly abandoned by their own government.

On these trips the strong disconnect between the Africa Rising narrative and the realities on the ground hit you like a ton of bricks.

Women hold banners during a march of Nigeria women and mothers of the kidnapped girls of Chibok in Abuja

So instead of simple stories, how about we focus on our reality?

Africa is not a dark continent, yet it has more blackouts than any other continent. We protest Africa is not a theater of war, but it has more national coups than any part of the world today. Yes, Africa is not a dark continent of poverty, but we have more poor people with no pathway to rising than any continent existing in 2015.

Yes, Africa is not a continent of disease, but polio was just eradicated in Nigeria this year. And not because we told better stories, but because a foreign donor worked with local change-makers to make it happen.

Brothers and sisters of Africa, 329 million mobile phone users is not growth, it is consumption. 200 million people when there are no roads for them to move goods and service is not a market. Luxury motor shops opening in our capitals is not development, it is alternative reality.

This rising tide has not lifted all boats. What is rising instead is the number of Africa’s children out of school – 18 million at last count, the number of young people living below two dollars a day - 72 per cent at last count, and the sheer number of Africa’s youth – over 75 million between 15 and 24 – who have no jobs. It is not a sexy story.

But it is a true story.

Rwanda capital city Kigali

Of course, this story can change. And in some countries, like in my favorite case study Rwanda, it is in fact changing. And from countries like this come a powerful message of hope, but it is one that does not have to rely on a lie.

That message is simple: Africa CAN rise. But it can rise if only we can urgently scale up the work that governments and then civil society are doing. Government first - because one thousand NGOs cannot take the place of a single functioning government.

It can rise when we speak truth to power, in government, in civil society, in business. And act on that truth.

We don’t need more NGOs, as much as we need more support for those already solving these problems. We don’t need more politicians; we need more people forcing governments to do what they must for more young people. We need to move from hashtagging words, to hashtagging action.

And for this, we need active citizens.

We don’t need part-time Africans. We don’t need those who are content to sit in little cocoons and substitute one simple story for another.

We don’t need part-time Africans. ‎We need full time citizens. We need a groundswell of active, engaged, involved citizens - solving problems, at the same time, across our nations.

See more from the Future Project Nigeria