Europeans typically see Africa as a poor, unfortunate part of the world, even though it is a huge continent with a great deal of wealth, optimism and joy in addition to its poverty.
According to Iina Soiri, director of the Nordic Africa Institute, who spoke at the opening of Think Africa Week, we should not assume that all African countries are alike.
“Development aid is great, but the system needs an update. We think we’re always right and expect to receive gratitude. Instead we should listen to what young people in Africa today want out of life and encourage them to follow their dreams,” says Soiri.
The University and entrepreneurs
Think Africa Week is so far the biggest event organised by students at Helsinki Think Company which was established last April. Think Company is a space shared by the University of Helsinki and the City of Helsinki, where students, researchers and the entrepreneurially-minded can network and hone their ideas into business proposals.
The idea for an Africa theme week arose when Tiina Juvonen, a student of development studies, was working at Think Company and tried to come up with something that could get her university friends excited.
“Social scientists tend to think about business in very black and white terms. It's interesting to see what happens when representatives from different academic fields and the private sector meet,” notes Juvonen.
A growing middle class
The researchers who spoke on Tuesday 8 October pondered the reasons for Africa’s negative image and whether change is imminent.
“The idea of Africa as wild, primitive and ‘dark’ is still reflected in the way we think about the countries and people of Sub-Saharan Africa,” pointed out historian, DPhil Risto Marjomaa, one of the speakers.
But what did the handful of Africans in Finland who were present at the opening event think about Think Africa Week?
“This is an excellent event. It’s great that there are opportunities for discussion,” said Leslie Asamoa from Ghana.
“The African middle class is growing rapidly and becoming a viable market for Finnish companies,” pointed out Nigerian Taiwo Akinremi, whose company mentors African startups in Nigeria and Kenya.
Image: Throughout Think Africa Week, Think Company will also host Meeri Koutaniemi’s photography exhibition Re-customized, De-colonized with portraits of people from the Herero tribe in Namibia.