Of late it has become a mark of corporate ‘responsibility’ or status symbol – as the case may be – for several big corporations and governments of African countries to invite well known motivational speakers and bestselling authors of inspirational books from Europe and America, to deliver speeches at well publicized events for the elites of the society or for those who can afford the usually high admittance fee. Stephen Covey – renowned author of ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective people’ and the much respected John Maxwell among others feature prominently on this list. These speakers with extremely tight itineraries and eye popping fees, are to say the least, the very best in their profession and bow out to a standing ovation from the audience at the end of each session.
Exuding charisma and armed with catchy phrases delivered with great oratorical prowess that has been sharpened by years of practice, these speakers hold their listeners spellbound with uncommon eloquence. This development is highly commendable as it portrays a level of interest by the African governmental agencies and corporate entities involved, in developing the minds of the populace and urging them unto greater heights. However, there’s need to objectively asses the speakers, their orientation, experiences and the message they bring, vis-à-vis the realities of the African society and the understanding of the audience.
It is noteworthy that the majority of the presenters are White male from middle income background in America, who are unfamiliar with the frustrations brought about by poverty and underdevelopment – the lot of sub-Saharan Africa and the black race. These speakers deliver speeches from textbooks authored with statistics pooled from upper/middle income white populace and whip their gullible African audience into an emotional frenzy with quotes, made to measure for the citizens of their countries. Some rags to riches story are slotted in here and there in a bid to identify with their African audience but the story themselves end up confusing, rather than connecting with the listeners. Take for instance a story told by a motivational speaker that came to Nigeria for a presentation, of a certain poor American who worked in MacDonald’s as a cleaner for 10 years and all the while, wisely investing in the American stock market from his wage, only to discover that he had about $100,000 in shares after 10 years of fastidious investment. Great as the story may sound, I struggled to imagine an illiterate cleaner in an average company in Africa, in tattered clothes, devoid of health insurance or any form of social security whatsoever and with a sick mother and at least four hungry children to feed, queuing up in front of a corrupt and unreliable stockbroker, to invest in shares that are as unpredictable as his government policies.
In the field of group counseling under which motivational talks closely aligns, experience remains the best way of assigning counselors to groups in order to get the most out of the program. For instance, a recovered drug addict is usually equipped with the necessary skills to be able to effectively convey the horrors of his experience, the difficulties of breaking free and the joy of living clean. This usually proves to be very effective as the mere sight and body language of the counselor would send a very strong signal to the counseled. However, when experience is unavoidably lacking, but skill abounds, then empathy, even compassion, a genuine identification with and acceptance of those undergoing the therapy on the part of the counselor can be quite as effective.
Unfortunately, Twenty First century events still point to the fact that the average white man perceives his black counterpart to be less human and fit only to be the hewers of wood and drawers of water. One wonders if these speakers stand before their African audience probably thinking they are stupid, corrupt and are only good for menial work. Neither caring for nor believing in their audience, but must mechanically smile, shout, cringe, wave, run and do whatever it takes to be believed and let the organizers and audience have their monies worth.
The greatest motivational speech I have been privileged with in my adult life was delivered free of charge several months ago by an ex-Liberian refugee who lost his entire family during the Liberian civil war as he was just about to finish high school. Shipped and abandoned on the shores ofNigeriawith neither friend nor relation years ago, he is today a university graduate with a well paying job, financially secured and married with two children. The lecture was succinctly presented without recourse to exaggerated heroic tales, acrobatic displays and carefully mastered facial contortions. It was simply a story of dogged determination and belief in oneself in the face of every negative force imaginable – most of the audience left teary eyed and vowed never to let their circumstances dictate their destiny.
These are people I want to listen to, people whose words would add value to me, a young black woman struggling to make it in a country plagued with bad leadership, inter-ethnic rivalries, corruption and gross human rights abuse. Who despite her background and environment is not lured by the ‘checking out’ syndrome, but needs a lot of encouragement to sustain the faith she has in herself, her people and her country.
It should be noted that Africa must be open to borrow (and not copy) positive knowledge from any body, cutting across color or race. However, it is important that the continent understand the high importance of the highly successful bestselling authors and motivational speakers of black extract who have had to surmount untold hardships in the ghettos of America, Jamaica, Haiti, Africa and other countries to get where they are today. Great minds like Myles Munroe, Les Brown, David Ogbueli and numerous others who have studied hard and are also endowed with the charisma to reach the deepest parts of their listeners.
Africans must search out their own heroes and export them to the world. Men and women of great commitment to Africa and Africas. People who have seen and gone through what the average African is presently being subjected to, if not worse, to become the successful people they are today. Men and women that will stand on the podium and look the African listener in the eye with every sense of responsibility, belief and faith, that determined, he too can rise above the historical incidents of slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, military dictatorship, bad leadership and the present realities of poverty, disease and malnutrition to construct a positive future for himself, his protégé, his country and the black race as a whole.
First published in 2007 by NewsAfrica London