It is a Konnect Africa Interview and today, we have a rising Nigerian writer, a budding financial analyst and self-brand development expert. His Name – Akan Nelson.
He shared with us his thoughts on a number on issues. Read on and be inspired…
Who is Akan Nelson? Family, ethnicity, education, hobbies…
I was born the first of three children, and raised in Victoria Island, Lagos, in Nigeria. Ethnically, I am of Ibibio descent (South-South Nigeria). I graduated from Lekki British International High School Lagos in 2009, and from the African Leadership Academy, South Africa in 2011. I am currently studying Economics at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York.
Akan starred as a lead actor on The KKB Show, a Nigerian children’s program, which aimed to promote talents in kids and provide a platform for kids to express themselves and learn positive values, from 2004 to 2008.
I would describe myself as a young Nigerian committed to challenging Africans and people of African descent to maximize their undeveloped potential, and achieve at the highest levels of world political, economic, and cultural society.
You attended the African Leadership Academy (ALA) in South Africa. What was your experience like?
The first time I heard about ALA was from an admissions officer who came to speak at Lekki British International High School, where I attended secondary school. I remember being captivated by the idea of a pan-African boarding school that intended to develop its students to be among the next generation African game-changers, and thinking, “I have to be a part of this.” So I took the risk and applied at a time when ALA had little-to-no reputation in Nigeria – after two rounds of applications and a final interview I was offered a spot in the academy’s second class of students.
To be honest, my experience at the academy was rough. Academics at ALA are no joke, and the intensity of the required workload was one thing I really struggled with; because you’re taking standard Cambridge A-Level classes, but you also have a mandatory African Studies and Entrepreneurial Leadership class requirement to fulfil, in addition to the mandatory community service and/or student business service, which every student must participate in. All of that, on top of additional SAT prep classes, university applications, social life, and sports, made ALA a very cutthroat environment to be in.
There were many times when I considered transferring to another school. I struggled with the pressure. Now I’m glad I fought my way through because I formed so many strong bonds at the academy. Many of my closest friends today are people I met while I was enrolled.
What makes the African Leadership Academy (ALA) special?
From day one I knew that ALA was special; I could tell it was going to be big. Having so many examples of young African excellence, – students who survived genocides, students who built successful schools and businesses, students who scored in the top 10% of their country’s national exams – it made me believe in myself as a Nigerian, and as an African. It made me believe in the continent’s rising. Ultimately, what makes ALA special is its network, which supports its members through every step of their personal development. One insider joke we make is that, “You never graduate from ALA because you’re a part of the network for life.” It’s going to be a world-changing force within the next decade. I actually convinced my seventeen-year-old sister to join ALA. That’s how much faith I have in the network.
What was the biggest lesson you learnt at the Academy?
My biggest takeaway from ALA was that real positive change begins one person at a time; real change can, and often is inspired by the individual.
A good number of Africans youths have their higher education in the West. Do you think foreign study is over-rated?
I don’t think foreign study is overrated. There is value in experiencing new cultures, and understanding, first-hand, how people on the other side of the world think. Many schools in the US now have study abroad programs where students spend a semester in another country, for this very reason. What I do think is overrated is the idea that foreign schools are inherently better than schools in Africa. This is simplistic and untrue. An accounting class taught in New York by a qualified teacher is just as effective as an accounting class taught in Lagos by a qualified teacher. The difference in quality – from what I’ve seen – is mainly around subjects, which need significant infrastructure, like engineering.
What words of advice will you give to that African youth who is considering higher education abroad?
While the mentality is changing, the current politics around education on the continent is such that foreign degrees are perceived as more valuable, as a signal of class and economic status. It’s a symptom of the educational economy on the continent – we import more knowledge than we export, and value foreign sourced knowledge more, regardless of the legitimacy or relevance of that knowledge to the African condition. For this reason, I would advise African youth considering higher education abroad to approach their foreign education with a critical mind; to understand that a foreign education is just that – foreign, imported, and that you will have to unlearn and relearn certain things when you return to your country. I would also suggest that African youth abroad put in the effort to stay connected to the African world, and go back home on the breaks if they can afford to. Being able to readjust to life on the continent will play a big part in how successful you are able to be.
Racism is often an issue with Africans living abroad. What is your take on the subject?
Race certainly is an issue, but it’s very subtle. I suggest that any African going abroad understand, from day one, understand that it is naïve to expect access to predominantly white spaces (social circles, organizations, clubs, etc.) in the same way that the white people who created these spaces access them; and to realize that blackness automatically becomes a part of your identity once you’re outside the continent. There’s no way around it. When I’m in the US I am Nigerian/African, and I am also an African American male – a black man – and I don’t mind it. I seek out black spaces and view them as valuable. Though the continent is not racially uniform, Africanness and blackness are tightly connected in my mind. I consider Africans, African-Americans, and Caribbean people to share a sort of linked fate, in this sense.
What/Who inspired your personal blog, Akannelson.com?
I’ve always been interested in why some people are able to do things better, faster, and more effectively than others – why some cultural groups seem to succeed over others. I started reading my Dad’s self-improvement and business strategy books at a young age, and started noticing consistent patterns between people who accomplished more than others. I would experiment by applying different strategies to myself to see how they worked in real life. Many of these strategies, which I followed closely, helped me do well in my younger years and translated over to my current life.
I started taking the idea of akannelson.com seriously after noticing, around the end of my second year at the University of Rochester that people kept reaching out to me for advice on how to be better, manage their workload, and get faster results at the gym – things like that. Students I didn’t know were approaching me after class to thank me for comments I made on their essays during peer-review, and to ask that I continue looking at their work outside class. It was humbling. More than that – it was exciting. It started becoming clear that my advice was working. The friends I was helping were getting better grades, seeing improvements in their fitness, and experiencing healthier versions of their personal relationships. Then one day a colleague said to me, “Akan, you should start a blog. I would read it.” That was it.
Everything on akanneslon.com is inspired by my life and personal experiences. There is nothing on the site that isn’t relevant to how I live my life today. I believe that if African culture places more emphasis on achieving – if more responsibility was placed on every individual to develop themselves, the continent will rise at a quicker pace. That’s the whole point of my blog.
The beauty of akannelson.com is that I don’t advertise or hound people to read my articles. I write, share it on my social media, and leave it at that. For me, it’s about helping people, and if I know that my blog inspired just one person to achieve more, I would be happy. I got an email the other day from a guy my age who told me that my article on managing your spending with minimalism was, “Exactly what he needed to turn his life around.” That’s all he said. I didn’t ask for details but just knowing that I had moved another young African to do more was heart-warming.
On your blog, you referred to yourself as a self-brand development expert. Kindly shed some light on this and how you go about it?
Self-brand development is all about taking control of your story. It’s about deciding how you want the world to perceive you, and taking deliberate steps to shape that perception, because how people see you directly influences the quality of options you have in life. The car you drive, the clothes you wear, the kinds of people you associate with, how you walk and talk, all contribute to your personal brand. I consider myself an expert in personal brand development because I have built a significant base of expertise on the topic, and have practiced regularly supporting people I know in managing their personal brands.
One of your guiding principles in life is AfriCapitalism. What is this concept all about?
I discovered the word, “Africapitalism,” late last year after reading an article in The Economist called, “The rise of Africapitalism,” which introduced the concept as defined by the Tony Elumelu Foundation. However, I had been playing around with africapitalist ideas long before I read the article, while I was still enrolled at the African Leadership Academy.
If you look at the world today you will find that Africans both on and off the continent are creating life-changing products and ideas, we are changing the world, and I believe that if we made a more deliberate, consistent effort to strengthen our personal skills we could build enough collective power, as Africans, to control our stories and develop our countries in a significant and positive way.
This is why I have africapitalism as one of my guiding life principles. The africapitalist says that ambitious, ethical people and private businesses will drive wealth creation and future economic and political success in the continent. On a mentality level alone, africapitalism is revolutionary because it puts the power to self-determine in African hands, and places emphasis on our seeing natural value in Africa, Africans, and African solutions. For me, africapitalism is all about Africans taking genuine responsibility in our collective fate.
At a young age, you are focused on the pursuit of greatness. What conscious steps are you taking to achieve this noble goal?
Greatness is a mind-set.
Where do you see Akan Nelson 5 years from now?
In five years time I see myself gaining corporate experience within a major multinational company. I see myself as a growing authority in personal development and success training on the continent. I see akannelson.com as developing towards becoming an online resource for people around the world.
Thank you, Akan.
You can reach him at
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