I have been hustling since I was a kid like I was a man of 35 – Olamide, Voice of the Streets

Hear me out.  The context matters.  Olamide is a Nigerian rapper, arguably one of the biggest hip hop artists in Nigeria, you can read his bio here and sample his music here.  Music, like football, is one thing that transcends culture and other barriers that still entrap us in Nigeria.

Olamide tells stories of the Nigerian experience from the view point of a young man who has grown up in a systems that has failed him.  One reason why I think his music is so popular is because he narrates a story that Nigerians at any level at one time or another could relate to.  He speaks of the challenges of fighting against all odds to be successful.  He talks about the burdens of poverty, the desperation of coming up in a system that seeks to pull you down at every turn.

Olamide also gives many insights into the traits that he developed despite, and because of the anyhowness that exists in our society.  He talks about an experience that anyone who is working to build something positive (and legally) faces.  He has attained a level of success in an environment that many of us are trying to do the same in.  An environment where there are but a few options for the average young person who wants to be productive and get paid for it.

Steve Jobs was a product of a system that works.  He grew up in an environment that did not have the structural limitations that entrepreneurs in Nigeria are faced with.  There are many lessons one can learn from Steve Jobs: the value of hard work and perseverance, the importance of great design and marketing execution etc.  Steve Jobs can even inspire and motivate but he cannot relate to the harsh realities of building something from nothing.

Innovation is the western world occurs in environments that encourage it.  In America states compete with each other to be the destination of choice for the best and brightest entrepreneurs.  In Nigeria the state does little to enable innovation, in fact the state often stands in the way of progress.

What about society? Successful startup founders in the West are treated like rock stars and up and coming founders are heralded with headlines like: “the next big thing”.  In Nigeria the story is quite different.  Start-up founders are at best seen as an enigma, and more often than not are discouraged by many who lend unsolicited advice like: “Why don’t you try to get a job at a bank like so and so”.

Successful founders in Africa will look nothing like Steve Jobs, but many will be able to compare notes with Olamide.  African innovators do not have a well written script or playbook to follow.  We are writing the book as we go.  I use Olamide as a metaphor for looking inward.  We can learn more from Sim and Tayo even though their stories are still being written.

Akin Sawyerr Author

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