Sunday, 27 November 2011

TEDxEuston 2011

This weekend (26th November) saw some of Africa’s inspirations take the stage at TEDxEuston 2011. For those of you who do not know about TED follow the link to learn more. Briefly it is a conference which creates a platform for participants to share ideas worth spreading.

The theme for this year’s TEDxEuston event was “Africa: Redefine; Reimagine,” and the organising team selected 14 speakers with roots from all over Africa to share their ideas on re-defining Africa. (Find out about the speakers here

The speakers covered vast subjects on re-defining Africa from sexual violence to politics to agriculture and technology. There were interlude of performances from renowned guitarist and jazz musician Femi Temowo, musician Kadialy Kouyate and an eco-friendly themed fashion show by Josė Hendo .There was a lot of humour from all speakers and a buzzing atmosphere from all members of the crowd.

The first speaker to take the stage was Lola Shoneyin of Nigeria talking about the increase in sexual violence in our continent. She highlighted incidences of gang rape, Swaziland’s king, corrective rape cases in south and east Africa, Men rapping children and the stories of some of the women recruits of the late Gadhafi. Her message being: What is the government doing about it? What message are we sending to our young boys?

Lola was followed by Kwame Kwei Armah, an actor, play wright and director of Jamaican decent based in the USA. He talked about turning points in his life and using the arts to celebrate African and Diaspora culture. He talks about life as an immigrant, the bizarre feeling of being foreign and always having to play catch up. However he learnt not to complain and encouraged immigrants in Britain have to build the UK too. Kwame got a lot of people in the room thinking with his thought provoking statements. He mentioned how he was filled with tears of anger and rage whenever he read that the community he came from was being blamed for the riots in London. He ended with question, how do we construct the 21st century role model?

After a beautiful performance by Kadialy Kouyate – a musician of Senegal decent, Paula Akugizibwe, a writer and activist of Nigerian decent took the stage with her thoughts on commercialisation of healthcare and its impact on human survival with focus on HIV and TB in Africa.

Labour Politician Hon Paul Boateng (Retired) graced the stage with his presence next. He begun by giving gratitude to his grandfather, a nobel rural cocoa farmer from Achim without whom he would not be where he is today. According to Mr Boateng, to redefine and reimagine Africa we need to recognise where we come from."  You constantly have to fight because there are others who constantly wish to destroy. His focus was on the Importance of agriculture, Science and technology and highlighted the need to focus less about governance. To him improvement in agriculture in Africa will reduce poverty as agriculture linked with science and technology leads to employment opportunities. He ended on the note that African needs do more about agriculture, science and technology and move from sentiment to strategy.

Moky Makura ended the first session on a subject I personally relate to. The need to share our stories.  African's are very secretive about what they do and why they do it. She quoted Martin Luther king – “Our lives begin to end when we stay silent about the things that matter.” Share your story to inspire the next person.  She left us with a line from writer Achebe - Until lions learn to write, hunters will tell their story. It is our job as Africans to put our best foot forward.

Kola Karim, the Chief Executive of Shoreline Energy International spoke about entrepreneurship being the key to re-defining Africa. He said you can't separate development and culture nor can we keep looking outside Africa for salvation. There is the need to mobilise the African Diaspora and build sustainable businesses. Africa has the biggest cocoa plantations and the biggest gold mines, yet how many chocolate or jewellery factories do we have located there? Africa spends too long worrying about what people think of us. Instead, we should spend time creating the image we want people to have of us.

After such powerful and thought provoking topics from the morning it was perfect to have Jerome Okolo from Nigeria take the stage next. He was full of humour and got the crowd laughing without missing the focus of his talk. His opening line was this: first of all, I'm a Nigerian I have never sent an email or fax to anyone saying I have 5bn dollars in an account.  He moved on to share his story about life during the civil war with tales of his days as a Nigerian in Russia. To him the Nigerian civil war did not end in the 1970’s because it is still going on today.  He posed the question '’How Many Nigerian's does it take to change a light bulb?” It boils down to trust. To quote him, "The Nigerian story cannot be told until all Nigerians feel comfortable under the Nigerian roof.” Re- phrasing president Obama’s famous lines, he said Africans cannot stop at Yes We can, it's time to move on to Yes We Will. Jerome Okolo ended with the day's 1st standing ovation. He hit the nail right on head.

There was a musical performance by Femi Temowo accompanied by Ayan and a fashion show by the eco-friendly designer Josė Hendo.

Next to take the stage was Africa’s own bill gates Herman Chinery-Hesseco- cofounder of the SOFTtribe Limited with thoughts on technology as being a part of the way forward. He was followed by Hadeel Ibrahim with the message to African leaders: do your job and leave on time.

Mr Arnold Ekpe CEO of ecobank shared the message on the need for Africa to integrate and break down the barriers we have created to allow for free movement of business. We need to stop looking for solutions abroad. Our future is in our hands. Helen Lieberman followed by talking about how she started in 1963 in apartheid South Africa and how ordinary people change lives at great personal risk.

The sharing of inspiring ideas about Africa ended with Toyin Saraki, Founder of The Wellbeing Foundation telling harrowing stories of healthcare in Nigeria through her own experience.

By the end of the event everyone was left feeling inspired and proudly African. Congratulations to the TEDxEuston team for such great work. Personally Looking forward to TEDxEUston 2012. It can only get better. Africa’s future lies in the hands of Africans. From Jerome Okolo, it is time to move on from "yes we" can to "Yes We Will". 

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