Interview (Part 2) with Karl Leahlander
March 15, 2021
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Arabella Seebaluck
by Arabella Seebaluck

Read Part 1 of this interview here.

Your interest in Africa is deeper than just wanting a part in the development of the continent. You have visible African roots, although you are born and brought in Sweden. Tell us about your connection with Africa and how this inspires you and motivates you.

My father is from Guinea Conakry, West Africa. He was born in Sierra Leone and, if I remember correctly, his mother was from Mali. My mother, on the other hand, is Swedish and my parents met in Sweden in the 70s. He was among the first few leaving that part of the world who found their way to Sweden. I do know that there was a lot of conflict in that region around that time, but I don’t really know what motivated his move.

The society I was born into never made me reflect on my heritage. I mean by that, that the environment I grew up in was full of kids from everywhere. They were mostly from Turkey and other countries, with very few from Africa at that time. But, we ended up being a gang of friends from everywhere around the world – a clique of outsiders, if you want – in a more homogenous Sweden at the time. So, that gave me a strong connection with something that wasn’t really Swedish. Thus, I looked for familiar role models and one of them, while I was growing up, was Carl Lewis. I’m lucky that I was named Mohiddin Karl, so I decided I wanted to be like my idol and to use Karl as my name.

Growing up with people from different backgrounds made me think of doing something of value. Even though I was conscious of being different from most Swedish people, I understood I was still privileged in a neighbourhood which was not – or so, by Swedish standards. I knew there was something for me to do. I have known this since I was very young.

Later down the years, I reunited with my father, as him and my mother had divorced. I also met with my other siblings on my father’s side. They had an African mother. So, there I was faced with my entire African heritage and I felt it even more that I needed to something for Africa. When you’re 17 or 18, you dream big… and I continue doing so. Meeting this other part of my family made me continue doing so. I don’t strop dreaming and the fantasies that I have are my strongest weapon, in truth.

I’ve never been a class topper, I have a standard education, I am no expert at maths or physics for example, but I do know a little bit of everything. That’s my advantage. And to that, I add a very high dose of my strong imagination. I thought, from very early on, that if acquired enough money, enough experience or enough willpower together with the knowledge I have, I can create an impact.

And so this brought you to Africa, somehow. Tell us about your journey there.

I travelled to Africa for the first time in 2018-2019. My aim was to go there to see how I could help bring about desired changes. I learned that my extended family in Africa is very politically engaged in Guinea Conakry. One of my uncles was even President in Guinea. Over the years, I thought to myself that that would be a starting point for me. The family name in Guinea is well known, so when I travelled there the first time, it was kind of a shock. My surname is quite strongly linked to people in power. I was therefore able to meet influential political figures and this really opened some doors.

My co-founder and partner Ruben [Teijeiro] and I went down there and were shown around by my relatives, not only in Guinea, but in neighbouring states. Travelling around this region, we understood quite quickly that it is so much of a fit for what the new world is going to be. It’s like a green field of opportunities. Ruben and I were overwhelmed with the potential of what we could do there. There is so much prospect to do great things in Africa. That part of the world doesn’t have the kind of legacy that would impede the change that its people are so eager for.

We saw people in Africa want change, as in, they want what the rest of the world has. Therefore, what we saw was the best possible environment to do that. Because people who already “have it all”, they don’t really value the kind of opportunities which you try to present to them. We realised we had to bring the decision-makers on board so that they would invest in educating people quickly, that’s in 3 to 6 months. Then, they can be employed, just as it happened during the industrialisation period. The same possibility for Africans to have a job, which scales them up the standard of living ladder, where they can afford a home, a holiday etc. This transition happened everywhere else.

One only needs to look at China and India. Let’s zoom in on China and what it has achieved over the past 10-15 years. It is now dominating the world in a way that people don’t quite realise yet. They’re doing so in an economic and geographical scale as well. I was surprised to find a Chinatown even in Guinea, when I visited the country. The country has a lot of administrative redtape, it’s burdened by a lot of things impeding the country’s economic growth. So, you can imagine how stunned I was that a Chinatown had managed to grow in the middle of this. This just speaks for China and the living standards that they now have. Compared to where they were, let’s say, 40 years ago… it’s night and day. They did it by taking some cautious decisions and with clear goals in mind.

I think what has marred Africa’s progress are its geopolitical and demographic differences. Add to that some conflicts, whether domestic or across the borders. The common denominator for a lot of the African communities, however, are the roots. In my own family, for example, I believe my father was born in Sierra Leone, while his mother was from Mali. It’s like this in Africa, for example, you may live in one country but go to the market in another… all this to say that that the geography is less defined. What is leads to is a lot of possibilities for a region which has so much in common in terms of population, understanding, languages and even in some cultural aspects.

I really believe that, if there should be a paradigm shift in the world, it should be in Africa.

Karl leahlander

Therefore, like in India and China, you can look at the region as a mass, a whole and do something for 300 million people, as opposed to 10 million here or 5 million there. My dream is to implement a BPO solution which stretches over this geographical region. What they may be offered may not be their ideal job. I mean, coding may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But, all they need to think about is their children and not having to worry about pay school tuition or books. Or, they won’t have to worry about not being able to afford electricity or clean water. All that will be taken care as the parents have are offered the chance to provide for their family. In time, the next generation will only be thinking of the dreams they want to be achieve – be a doctor, a lawyer or engineer. This is how you break the cycle of poverty.

It also goes further… the people can then decide they want to be ruled differently. They want a different political system or can demand what they need from their governments. It’s about creating a middle class that is strong enough to bring about those changes. We can talk about China once more. A few decades ago, everyone had their say about communism in China. Some thought it was ideal, others were against the communist system there. China has a lot of negatives and positives, like everywhere else in the world. In the greater scope of things, the country is doing well and a larger number of people now are much better off than the generation before them, or even prior to that.

I really believe that, if there should be a paradigm shift in the world, it should be in Africa. My bet is West Africa. I think East Africa has already started this journey somehow, even though more at the level of individual countries, such as Kenya and Egypt etc. West Africa is a land of opportunity. They have such potential, in particular with languages which they inherited from their colonial past – Spanish, French etc. Although it’s difficult to view the colonial era positively, these nations can now take advantage of this linguistic legacy. It also puts them in a homogenous category where change can more easily happen. For example, if you’re training people from these parts, it will be easier as one programme can be run in the same language across different countries. For instance, courses in Portuguese, Spanish and French would cover a big portion of the region.

Therefore, West Africa, to me, will be the next region to take the next big leap. That will certainly have an impact on global dynamics and the world order. I am confident that the western African countries will no longer require aid packages in 50 years’ time. To use the example of India and China comparatively, they no longer require foreign assistance. To recall, once again, that 300 million Indians are living on the highest middle-class threshold in the world. It just shows how education and access to better amenities is no longer limited to the northern hemisphere or the western part of the world. That part of the world only still retains economic power.

Look at Germany, for example, they produce one self-made billionaire in 5 years perhaps. China, on the other hand, probably has one every week. Germany retains its financial supremacy because of old money, which is manages intelligently. However, people with new ideas, who take their innovation to the next level to drive the kind of new wealth being created, they are fewer nowadays in Europe. Stockholm is one of the last hotspots. There are a lot of inventions coming out of Sweden – I went to school with the guys who came up with Spotify, Skype etc. Sweden has a reputation for that, in fact.

China and India will continue to innovate. South America and parts of Africa can follow into these footsteps. These regions have to take the same type of leaps as India and China, to create opportunities for people to work. To create a new class and provide the freedom of choice to define their futures. This is the kind of thing that will potentially happen next in some parts of South America. Some African countries can not only take their inspiration from China but from South Korea, for example, to transform themselves. The Eastern Asian region also underwent this paradigm shift.

Bottom line is this: I’d rather take my dreams to the people who don’t have them and who need them. To get there, I need to build what I am building now, which are virtual entities in education, healthcare and the wider IT field. Right now, we’re expecting to overtake many of the larger ICT companies which have become old, slow and obsolete at many levels. While they think in terms of strategy, we think in terms of solutions. We are technical, we move quickly… Once I have these 3 pillars solidly built, West Africa is my oyster. My solutions may not fit all states or regions. But, if I can facilitate virtual healthcare and education in a large enough zone, it will radically alter the lives of many people.

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