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The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa
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The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  421 ratings  ·  65 reviews
The path to progress in Africa lies in the surprising and innovative solutions Africans are finding for themselves

Africa is a continent on the move. It’s often hard to notice, though—the Western focus on governance and foreign aid obscures the individual dynamism and informal social adaptation driving the past decade of African development. Dayo Olopade set out across sub
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Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 4th 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Ismael Hammoudi Definitely not. This is an author who comes from a vibrant, complicated place who tries, through this book, to uncover the nuance and the positive mov…moreDefinitely not. This is an author who comes from a vibrant, complicated place who tries, through this book, to uncover the nuance and the positive movement happening on a continent many in the Global North write off just because we see dirt roads and hawkers on the street. It's an important piece about re-thinking how we view development, and how we place values on cultures we don't fully understand. (less)

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Andrea
There is a lot to like about this book, which sets out to correct misperceptions of Africa as a place of hopeless misery waiting for Western saviors. Olopade covers the African spirit of resilience, the way in which living in "fail states" (as opposed to "failed states) which do not provide the safety nets or supports that we in the West expect from our modern government, has led to innovation and small scale development. She highlights the development of resilient business practices and the dev ...more
Liralen
It may be easy to read this book as a libertarian celebration of hustling, hacking, and free-form development in sub-Saharan Africa. And it is. (page 232)

Last summer, at 4 AM on an overnight layover, I struck up a conversation with a French-South African woman, a choreographer, also stuck in the aeroport. We didn't have all that much in common, but it was a pretty awesome (technical term) conversation -- scattered, wide-ranging. Politics and dance and Justin Bieber and food banks and diversity.

T
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AJ Payne
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This one was another book read at work slowly over time on breaks. So I’ve probably forgotten a lot of it.

But, overall I really enjoyed it. I think it provides a great balance to many narratives about Africa that focus on the negative or the ways that states are failing. This one looks at how states are failing, but more at how people are succeeding and thriving despite that. It presents, I think, some really good ideas and anecdotes on how people are making real change in some areas of the cont
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Gwen Cummings
Nov 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I though Dayo Olopade's overarching narrative of changemakers in Africa was powerful and an important way of looking at the future of the continent. As such, I think it's a good read for anyone working/interested in international development.

However, a friend pointed out that she uses largely once-off examples to make her point and I found that to really be true. It's not a strong data-driven approach to the arguments she is making, but more a compilation of case studies.
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Karel Baloun
Jun 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Olopade’s many experiences all over Africa as a journalist provide many interesting anecdotes and personal quotations from important people. Her genuine first person perspective on African life should not be as rare as it is in America popular reading, yet it is, and is uniquely valuable. It is a collection of stories, mostly true, that have value despite how they are organized or interpreted.

I don’t agree with her personal opinions on economics and modern capitalism. Charity and “assistance” ma
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Nmdb22
Jun 09, 2014 rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this book, truly I did. I kept reading long after I was done with it hoping I would find something that I could appreciate. Parts of it are almost stream of consciousness writing jumping from example to example and country to country of things that are kind of alike, but not really. The first worst error throughout the book is generalizing from anecdotes, illustrating preconceived ideas with hearsay from one person or place or another. Superficial, not grounded in accurate histo ...more
Megan Hogan
Aug 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Olopade perfectly captures the vibrant nature of African economies and states. AND she writes in an easily understood and engaging way. She tackles African stereotypes head-on, making a persuasive case for the continent’s future. I can not recommend highly enough.
Seth D Michaels
Jun 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Sharp, fun book about the ways African people are trying to work around their horrifically failed governments. A little too libertarian-rah-rah at times, but it's understandable to stress decentralized private mechanisms of filling governance needs in countries where governments have mostly been extractive private-equity companies with guns rather than actual legitimate authorities. Will really change the way you think about the next century of human development; in particular, African entrepren ...more
Kay
Feb 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Dayo is a lovely person and I'm happy to say that her book is lovely as well. She approaches the "bright continent" from a business-minded perspective. Through this, she bursts through (often racist) stereotypes that Africa is a place that is so far behind the rest of the world in almost every respect. And it's true that the continent plagued by colonialism certainly has problems. But Dayo does a great job of pointing out the ways in which innovation is happening there. Their mobile payment syst ...more
Jben
May 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
This is an interesting yet often frustrating read. Its stories of innovation and collaboration around the continent are a wonderful antidote to the tales of death and woe that dominate the news about Africa, and Olopade is a cheery, breezy writer.

However, despite the talk of "Africa is not a country", I got to the end with no real understand of what makes different countries tick - it's clear that Kenya and Nigeria are ahead of Mozambique, but why, for instance Nigeria has the booming movie ind
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John
Aug 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
"Bootstrapping is hard enough without having to think about electricity." (p104) Yes, people of sub-Sahara Africa are highly innovative, but without a dependable supply of electrical energy the continent cannot advance commercially, cultural and politically. Author, a Nigerian journalist, traveled sub-Sahara countries with an open eye and no obvious agenda. Her style is reminiscent of John Gunther's 1940-50s "inside" books (I wonder if she is familiar with them). Two countries impressed her, Rwa ...more
Karen Ashmore
Apr 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book and if you are an American who works in Africa, it is a must read. Dayo Olopade starts the book by correcting common misconceptions about Africa and then proceeds to map out trends related to family, technology, commerce, natural resources, youth, education and political reform. Some similarities as presented by Dambisa Moyo in Dead Aid, another good book that maintains Africa does not need aid but investment for growth. More anecdotal than laden with big data and statistics, ...more
Erika
Mar 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, non-fiction, 2016
I restarted this book a couple of weeks ago so it hasn't really taken me 14 months to read it!

I learned a lot and really liked how Olopade explores progress in Africa in terms of "maps": family, technology, commerce, technology and youth. I have seen first-hand the "kanju" of which she speaks; the creative solutions to everyday issues. My favourite in Uganda was a duck farm using mosquito nets to pen the ducks and protect them from predators (and stop them from flying away)!

A great look at how
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David Sasaki
May 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: kindle
Olopade, now employed at Facebook, advocates for an entrepreneurial approach to development that works around government rather than through it. Hers is very much the libertarian techno-utopian viewpoint found in Silicon Valley that eschews government and institutions and celebrates entrepreneurs and innovation. It's a viewpoint that has become popular in in development, and it concerns me for all the reasons described by Kenyan academic Wandia Njoya. ...more
Chrissy
Sep 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book because it was inspiring. I appreciated getting a glimpse into Somaliland’s independent nature then, jumping into how Rwanda has evolved since the genocide. By exploring countries contained within the African continent, I was able to see characteristics that are pan-African as well as those that apply to specific countries. Because you can’t squeeze everything about a continent as vast as African into a book as small as this, I have a big list to books to add to my “to read” ...more
Kelli
Nov 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book to dispel tropes about an impoverished Africa that needs money above all else. This book takes a deep dive into the psychological and anthropological realities of country/region/continent by exploring systems in place that help or hurt populations they are meant to serve. How do communities make do without that support? How do some of those communities thrive without it? How can external investments be better placed by not giving gifts/ loans to governments, but rather for-prof ...more
Chuhang
May 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
Good intentions, lengthy and unconvincing arguments.
John Bonelli
May 08, 2017 rated it it was ok
Wow!!! I heard the author interviewed about her book, "The Bright Continent" on a pod cast and after hearing Olopade speak I rushed out to get the book.... which turned out to be quite a disappointment!!!
The theme throughout the book is kanju which is specific African creativity born out of African difficulty to help solve problems. The book does a decent job of describing specific examples of where government failed and ingenuity of average citizens helped solve problems but I feel that Olopade
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Glendora
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
Appreciate what she's trying to do here, and the book may be useful for people who received very little African history/current events education in school -- it may open them up to different perspectives. But for anyone who follows news from the continent somewhat closely, there's not much new here, and it relies a little too heavily on anecdotes to prove sweeping points.

Her underlying point -- "kanju," that Africans possess a kind of innate ingenuity and ability to think outside the box to sol
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Christina
Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just the right level for me to get my feet wet into investing, impact, the economy and industries across the continent. It spanned so many topics and gives a great overview with real examples. It took me about a month to get through, as I got so distracted. I couldn’t read a chapter without researching some of the businesses that were mentioned. Really. Most of my time was spent scanning websites or LinkedIn profiles. My overall take is that 1) the informal, kanju economy is key to work with and ...more
Beth
Jun 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Anthony Bourdain famously said that the great beauty of travel was finding joy in being proven wrong. Olopade seeks to shatter many myths and misconceptions about Africa's many cultures & practices and I think she does a pretty good job. She calls African innovation - often inspired by a failure of effective government - Kanju. I witnessed quite a bit of this ingenuity in the COVID response in Malawi: welders immediately designing foot controlled hand washing stations, diversion of manpower to h ...more
Ian Rose
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have definite ideological differences with the author, and the one thing that kept this book from being 5-star great, for me, was the glossing over of some points that didn't mesh with her overall political thesis, which is pretty libertarian. But regardless of that, this was an incredibly well-written, educational and thought-provoking book, and the less political take-home point of the book, that Africa is better looked at internationally and from within in terms of its potential rather than ...more
Rebecca
May 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great research and writing to illuminate the "informal", but only real functioning economy and culture of many of the countries in Africa. Eye-opening for those of us who have not lived with dysfunctional, corrupt and brutal governance. Americans, take heed. The Bright Continent should be required reading for all who interact with African "elected" governments. ...more
Naomi
Aug 23, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a wide ranging collection of anecdotes about ordinary Africans and extraordinary Africans and the policies, projects, and day to day decisions to get around state weakness. It's dated (Tom's shoes and kony 2012, anyone?) And much more optimistic than academic or scientific. Her identity as first generation Nigerian-american journalist definitely shapes the stories and the framing. ...more
Jason
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had such high hopes for this book. Despite a great premise and strong start, I found the book encyclopedic and without much arc. The author swung between railing on Western intervention and praising it via anecdotes that were only loosely coupled together.
Sharman Russell
May 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good book. Fresh perspective.
amani
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book

Loved that it showcased the entrepreneurial spirit of the continent when government and international aid has failed. She calls this "Kanju"
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Mark Laichena
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pre-2017, africa, business
Good primer on social impact stuff in Africa if you are new to it.
Michael G. Zink
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a refreshing perspective on Africa, an optimistic outlook that is anchored in its reality. Enjoyable, informative read.
Akshita Nanda
Sep 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Learnt a lot about different countries in Africa, the amazing potential of the continent, and how development aid may have actually hurt internal development. Thought-provoking.
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Dayo Olopade is a Nigerian-American journalist covering global politics and development policy. She has reported for the New Republic, the Root, the Daily Beast, the New York Times, and many other publications. Dayo is currently a Knight Law and Media Scholar at Yale Law School. She lives in Chicago.

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“After years studying informality in Nigeria, Dutch architect and planner Rem Koolhaas reach the same conclusion. In the West, he writes, “there’s a sense of infinite choice, but a very conventional set of options from which to choose.” By contrast, “in Lagos, there is no choice, but there are countless ways to articulate the condition of no choice.” 1 likes
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