Leaders in India and Nigeria often seem to wish their own people would just go away. But Nigeria's population might double to 300 million by 2030 (the size of the U.S. population today).
And this despite the fact that in Nigeria, "Getting pregnant is the most dangerous thing a woman can do -- more deadly than HIV, car accidents, and malaria combined." So says Nyimbi Odero, a serial entrepreneur, former Google executive, and adviser to the Nigerian election commission who spearheaded the digitization of voter registration for over 75 percent of the country's population.
Odero is now turning his attention to the plight of women, 1 in 23 of whom die during childbirth (compared with 1/7,600 in the U.K.). Like Thailand, Nigeria is already rolling out free contraception programs and discouraging having more than four children. But Odero reminds that planning for pregnancy is as important as planning against it, so he is investing in lowering the cost of fetal heart monitors, ultrasounds and other medical devices to under $100 and spreading them around the country.
The government can do a lot more to open doors for such social entrepreneurs. The sheer number of new start-up venture capitalists, micro-credit operations, SME boosting private equity funds, and other "financial supermarkets" exploding in Nigeria is inspiring.
One entrepreneur showed off his investments in a budding cocoa distributor and bottling company; another is ramping up the e-waste sector, rapidly dismantling and recycling parts from the thousands of tons of discarded computers, monitors, printers, and copy machines shipped from Europe and Asia to Nigeria.
These are the stars of the Nigerian economy as much as the country's noted billionaires such as Aliko Dangote, the cement and sugar magnate worth more than $10 billion, and Tony Elumelu, a banking titan who is the latest darling of the Clinton Global Initiative.
The ranks of Africa's billionaires are growing, and fortunately many of them are giving back, creating thousands of jobs in export businesses and setting up vocational academies to train future managers of construction sites and factories.
What they and the government need to do now is support the small-scale entrepreneurs who want to train legions of wood workers, home builders, machine-operators, and plumbers. Nigeria won't succeed unless they do.
Africa's move into a post-post-colonial phase is also a chance to shift towards a more postmodern form of governance. Governments alone will never solve social problems of such magnitude without the help of billionaires, social entrepreneurs, religious charities (Jonathan has just launched a "One Year Prayer" movement to bring the Church on board for his reforms), and of course, foreign multinational corporations.
Shell has been operating in Nigeria since the 1960s, but briefly vacated its personnel during the 1993 coup that brought General Sani Abacha to power and witnessed the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni activists.
Since that time, Shell has convinced the government to spend more oil revenues in rehabilitating oil producing regions, even lending $3 billion to the Nigerian government in 2009, and committing over $100 million of its own profits to schools and health clinics in the Delta region.
But where Shell could have the most impact is simply in upgrading the very energy infrastructure it relies on: the leaky pipes that spill 11 million gallons of oil into the Delta each year, or the dilapidated refineries that force Nigeria to import 70 percent of its gasoline. Either way, mega-corporations like Shell are realizing that they are often as much a part of a state's governance as the government.
Everyone seems to have a one-word answer to the plight of African nations today: democracy, secession, micro-credit, literacy, vaccines, and more. But African states won't survive at all in their present form without one other basic physical investment: infrastructure.
There may not be any widespread African Spring in the offing, but Nigeria and dozens of other African states could very easily continue to devolve into self-governed or ungoverned clusters even if they don't outright fail.
Colonial powers only haphazardly cobbled together African states; they didn't knit together cohesive societies. What will make the difference between celebrating independence and celebrating success is not just political nation-building, but physical state-building.