Africa Gathered……minus the Africans
A few weeks ago I attended Africa Gathering. It was the second one day conference this year bringing together people who want to make things happen for and in Africa. I’d heard about it earlier this year and had planned to attend the first one except for horrid last minute glitches.
I have a lot of time for the aims of the brand. An extract from their manifesto
“Africa Gathering brings technophiles, thinkers, entrepreneurs, innovators and everybody else together to talk about positive change in sustainable development, technology, social networking, health, education, environment and good governance in Africa.”
I went there with this aim in mind, I don’t have any projects of my own in Africa right now, but if I ever manage to get my act together and sort out my NYSC I should be fully engaged in using my skill set in Nigeria. So I went to meet new people. I took a very good friend with me, (I spammed a whole lot more), she wasn’t a technophile by any description and the event was heavy on the geekery but I think we sort of share similar views on Africa so she valued my invitation.
You might have already guessed that I have some issues with the event. Actually let me qualify that, I think the event itself was well intentioned. I think it’s aims are appropriate and not patronising and I respect the people who have come together to make it happen and are working hard to make it a brand. But there is one big factor that will make it really rock, and one of the organisers Mariéme Jamme said it on the day “The most qualified people to talk about Africa, are Africans”.
Firstly Africa is a big continent, and I although I do it myself in this post, it’s a grand aim to think one word characterises all those very unique people and places. Constantly referring to it as a single issue is part of the problem, but anyway I digress.
Most of the speakers on the day were not African. In fact, the only African speaker was Emmanuel Jal, singer of War Child and an amazingly inspiring person. That’s not to say the other speakers were not inspiring because they weren’t African. The very fist speaker Glen Mehn was talking about AppAfrica Labs which is an incubation model project running in Uganda.
I’ve actually been following AppAfrica Labs for a while and I have a lot of respect for their approach. In summary, venture capitalists and investors will often see African projects as outside their interest because of the low level of investment needed. A standard VC, may invest a minimum of $250k and want a certain amount of return on that. In Uganda, an average project only needs an investment of say $10k, so it’s considered small fish. AppAfrica Labs takes an alternative approach by providing a little bit of investment and some of the support that investment capital would be used for. Support such as infrastructure (a desk/office, business line, internet access), training (e.g. on how to develop products to international standards), a space to develop and expand on an idea. This then allows them to help the project grow and eventually turn a profit without the pressure of immediate return on investment, and within a stable environment, thereby increasing chances the project will succeed. Everybody say AMEN!
Incubation projects are exactly the type of investment model I would love to see replicated all over the continent, please take a moment to read about AppAfrica Labs.
Another really inspiring project was Africa Rural Connect presented by Molly Mattessich. This is a website aimed at putting people with ideas in touch with people with means and making things happen on any scale. They also run competitions and some of the best ideas can win $3000 to make them happen. Theoretically I really love this project but although all the projects are taking place in Africa, I feel this is one of those ideas that Africans themselves can’t access.
Africa Rural Connect would be 10 times better if there were more people who live and are from these rural communities were involved submitting their own ideas, because they have the most intimate knowledge of the problem. But where is Molly supposed to find these people? And how is she supposed to tell them about this project?
So here is where my gripe moves on to Africans at large. Africans in the diaspora, my family, my friends, me. London is full of Africans, the organisers did an amazing job of promoting the event, I emailed it out to almost my entire address book and only 1 person responded to me. Why is it, that everybody else cares more about Africa than Africans themselves? Are we so busy thinking we got out, that we can’t look back and even maintain an interest in what is happening on our continent?
Well we need to take a moment to get interested. If you’re anything like me, with all the greatest respect in the world for the wonderful intentions of non-Africans, you’ll have had enough of the charitable, help the helpless approach. We need to help ourselves. We need to invest our time and our brains into thinking how we can contribute without relying on someone else to do it. It’s not just about sending a bit of change home every now and then. We should attend more events like Africa Gathering. We should be willing to challenge the charity approach and pull people up when they are clearly looking at the problem through pity glasses.
Africa Gathering is getting global with dates announced in Kampala, Maputo, London, Paris, Dakar, Lagos and Nairobi. They could do with more Africans speaking up, and turning up.
I’m heading to BarCampAfricaUK on Saturday 7th November, if I’m going to talk the talk, I have to walk the walk.