Chronicle Rahel Kassahun has not waited

One evening I walk down to the hotel bar to eat something. The air condition seems to have freaked out. It is so cold in the bar that I do not know whether I should stay or not.

I walk around in the bar for a couple of minutes, trying to find a table where the cold air is not too disturbing. Suddenly I discover that a woman sitting at another table are following my efforts with an intrigued and somewhat amused look in her eyes. I notice that she wears the same badge as I do. Without it you will get nowhere at the World Economic Forum in Cape Town.

Finally I find a table and sit down. The woman at the other table asks me if the oasis that I have found is “warm enough”.

We start to talk. After a while we move our two separate tables and make them into one. When we break up from each other’s company an hour later, I think that this has been one of those surprising and rewarding meetings you have in life.

Her name is Rahel Kassahun, she’s from Ethiopia, got a PhD in economics from the University of California. Before she left the US, moved back to Ethiopia and started Africa Unbound Inc, she worked for the World Bank.

– I did not want to make only a career in general, she says. I wanted to do something more with my life. So I went back home and founded this organization.

I cannot say how old she is. Sometimes I think she is 25, as often I think she is over 40.

But that is not important. What is striking is that she belongs to a new generation of young African entrepreneurs. With intelligence, knowledge and an inviolable belief that everything is possible on the African continent. She has no gloomy premonition that she will fail. Nor does she say a word about international aid as a precondition for her business.

Her curious questions are remarkable. She has no polite attitude. She really wants to know what I think about different topics. I find myself thinking: How often in mass media do we get a chance to meet an African intellectual who can discuss the continent’s problems and possibilities with insight and sharpness. And who also has important things to say about Europe and the rest of the world.

Rahel Kassahun is about to build an organization that will help young people on the African continent to fulfill their creativity and their ideas in different ways. She started in Ethiopia in 2008. Already her organization has set up offices in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

For her this is only the beginning. Her enthusiasm is palpable and genuine. Africa is an old continent with a young population. They are the future. Their creativity will decisive. And it is them that she wants to help.

But she is realistic. When I ask her a decisive question she does not hesitate to answer.

– If you walked out of here and were run over by a car and died, I ask. Would your organization survive?

– No, she answers. Not yet. If I died today it would disappear. But in a couple of years I will have created the stability that my organization needs.

She goes to her room to collect a scarf. The chill in the bar spreads. When she comes back it strikes me that she is very beautiful. And dressed with great personal integrity. But most important is that she is so willing to discuss. What do I think about her ideas? Is there something I think she should do? And I can ask her questions. Her answers are well informed and sometimes, unexpected.

Around 11 pm we head for the elevator where we split up. I think to myself that Rahel is an example of a new Africa, which is growing at a tremendous speed.

– Nothing is too late. Everything is still possible, she says.

The day after we see each other at the congress. I am on my way to listen to a discussion about the development of telecommunications in Africa. We exchange a few words. Rahel has just listened to an African president who has talked about Africa’s future. I can see that she was not pleased with what she heard.  Then she heads off in another direction.

I think: One of Africa’s greatest challenges is to empower the women.

Rahel Kassahun has not waited. She has empowered herself.

Henning Mankell

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