Africa: Blogging TED Global

Africa's business blogosphere is known for being many things:

  • Diverse
  • Analytical
  • Funny
  • Engaging

And the list could go on and on. But one thing that it is not generally known for is uniformity. During the historic week of June 4 – 8, 2007, however, this was all to change – if only for a moment. That's because this was the week that TED Global 2007 convened in Arusha, Tanzania. This was the week that the African blogosphere and its friends made their voices known to the world. Bloggers whose writings normally cover a cornucopia of topics, ranging from social and cultural issues to technology and economic concerns, were suddenly focused on TED.

One of the blogs I knew'd be visiting often during TED Global was Hash's. Hash blogs from the States, but actually grew up in Kenya and Sudan and blogs about technology in Africa at White African. Here is an excerpt from his post about a Ghanaian technology entrepreneur that he met at the TED event named Herman Chinery-Hesse:

Yesterday’s talk by Herman Chinery-Hesse was one of the highlights of TEDGlobal for me. He is the owner of SoftTribe, the leading computer technology company in West Africa, and a dynamic speaker and visionary. He’s been a trailblazer in what he called, “tropically tolerant software.”

He stated the reasons for what he believes Africa has been left behind. His theory is that there are “hunted” and “hunter” nations. Some countries are positioned as places to go and grow businesses, others are positioned as the places to go and take resources from.

Next is Dave McQueen from the UK. now Dave normally blogs about culture and current events, but lately and prior to his trip to Arusha, I have noticed him blogging about economic conditions and perceptions in Africa at Dave Speaks. Here is a excerpt from his post summarizing his TED 2007 experience:

As I sit here a number of fellows have already emailed me, energized and ready to continue the dialogue and the plans of action from where we left off. I have added all my contacts to my addressbook and will spend the best part of this weekend replying and doing the same.

On the agenda for the next year are possible trips to Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. (I will definitely be back in Tanzania soon as well). The vibrancy and expectations of so many contacts I have met show me that many African countries are on the tipping point of something great, and it is an honour and privilege to know that I will be part of this magnificent journey of change, teaching and learning with new formed partnerships.

I will be highlighting a number of the initiatives and people I have met on this conference on my blog (yeah I know I have a few) Simphani which focuses on stories of life, health and wealth from across the Diaspora.

Next I came to Jen Brea's site, Africabeat, and of course, as a Global Voices author and a very prolific writer, Ms. Brea is no stranger to you. I enjoyed reading this post where she describes an overall feeling that she found emanating from attendees at TED 2007 — that the time has come for the continent to write her own story. Here's the excerpt:

They took the West's gaze, and killed it, stomped on it, mocked it, burned its effigy (Joseph Conrad to be precise) so that we could start an entirely new conversation using an entirely different vocabulary. We killed famine, death, hopelessness, hunger, tragedy, poverty and started using words like potential, opportunity, wealth, entrepreneurship, ingenuity, art, imagination, creativity, success, investment, growth, choice.

These are words the media use liberally when writing about emerging nations like India, China or Brazil, but not to describe some of the fastest-growing economies in the world when they happen to be in Africa.

And speaking of Global Voices writers, the next blogger is a writer and editor at Global Voices — actually he's my editor! He is the prolific multi-lingual blogger Ndesanjo Macha, who hails from the same country that hosted this years TED Global conference: Tanzania. He is also an activist, attorney, and a journalist. Here he directs readers of his blog to another influential blogger who is one of the founders of Global Voices:

For english speakers, read Ethan Zuckerman, the god/budha of liveblogging.

Next is a brief post by one of the continent's most powerful online activists and legal minds. Ms. Ory Okolloh, who makes up one half of the ground-breaking online project called Mzalendo, which “Keeps an eye on the Kenyan parliment.” Ory wrote a piece on her blog Kenyan Pundit celebrating the arrival of her and her daugther at TED. Here is the excerpt:

Made it in one piece.

Baby KP was perfect…she already has the makings of a sophisticated traveller :-) , which is a good thing seeing that mama has a bit of wanderlust in her.

Then there's the post from Mental Acrobatics, who also represents the Kenyan bloggosphere. Here he highlights some heavy statements revolving around various aspects of economics on the African continent that were made by some of the TED speakers. Here is the excerpt:

No place in the world has ever grown a market sector on the type of risk that Africa’s farmers face.
Eleni Gabre-Madhin creator of Ethiopia’s first commodities market

Forget making poverty history. I want to make Africans rich.
Idris Mohammed believes that we should be talking about increasing wealth not reducing poverty.

I call it the African shuffle.
Idris Mohammed describes yet another graph that shows stagnant economic growth in parts of Africa where instead of rising the graph remains a flat line.

Dignity is more important that wealth.
Jacqueline Novogratz

Understand the power of patient capital.
Jacqueline Novogratz explains that taking time to engage with the communities you invest in helps the money do more.

Rafiq Philips of South Africa is a South African blogger that you should keep an eye out for, as his posts typically revolve around technology in Africa, as the one I'm going to cite below. But he also echoes the call to help the continent through providing tools that help the continent empower itself. This an excerpt from that post:

Screw the handouts to Africa, give us the tools that allow us to solve our own problems.

The “Mac or PC?” question was asked to all the fellows during the last breakfast at TEDglobal2007. Looks like they’ve been listening as Google and AMD have decided to give each of the 100 TED Fellows a bradnspanking new notebook. The only thing we have to decide is Mac or PC.

I have to wonder though, will it not be easier to source local Laptop suppliers in the TED Fellows countries with vaious keyboard, language and power requirements? Not to mention technical support? Unless… the noteboks will be those supplied by a manufacturer that already offer support in the countries the TED fellows are making a difference in?

And speaking of technology no post containing the words technology and Africa would be complete without the name Ethan Zuckerman. Here is an excerpt from him summarizing his after thoughts of the event:

Conferences like TED Global are only a couple of days long, but I find I can get surprisingly used to them – wake up, absorb a mass of new and provocative ideas, have a few dozen conversations, stagger back to the hotel, rinse and repeat. And then, all of a sudden, they’re over. It was almost humorous how quickly TED ended – Minister Okonjo-Iweala left the stage at 1pm, and half an hour later, many of the participants were on buses heading to basecamp to climb Kilimnanjaro.

Bankelele is one of the foremost bloggers in Kenya, and one of the things that makes him such a force to reckon with is the fact that he's a banker in real life and does not mince words. He dispenses industry-specific knowledge on banking in Kenya, as well as on the state of Kenya's economy. In this post, he compares his experience at TED to the excitement he felt during some of the world's most memorable sporting moments.

Mentioned earlier about being blessed/fortunate in life to see people like Michael Jordan (destroy Washington in their last game as the Bullets, though Scottie Pippen provided the winning dunk), Michael Schumacher (win the first US grand prix) and Tiger Woods (not enjoying his first US open). That all compares with being at TED Global in Arusha at which Kenya is well represented.

Afromusing blogs from Kenya too, I believe, and her posts are always thought-provoking. Here she writes about a speaker at the event who is from Nigeria who holds the distinction of having started computer manufacturing on the African continent. Below is the excerpt:

Florence Seriki: An African woman in computing. Omatek is the first African computing company.

She switched from Chemical engineering to computing where she started by selling hardware and training professionals in Nigeria. Keep doing what you are doing she says. In 1988 Omatek was incorporated and soon her company became a premier partner with Compaq and IBM [>$7mil in sales]. In 1991, she visited Asia she saw the supply chain and noticed the Chinese tech was developed in house.

While surfing the blogosphere for TED posts, I was very fortunate to have stumbled upon the blog of the world reknowned hip hop group called Soul Fege. They are a seven member group with a heavy Ghanaian influence. They are based out of California and their message is one of hope and empowerment for the youth across America. Here is their post about the event:

Wassup y’all. I’m BACK! Here on my first overseas trip of 2007. Yes, I’ve been keeping a low profile plotting ye’ ole’ renaissance, from my new digs in N. Hollywood CA! Loads of stuff has happened since I flipped to the West Side. Honestly I’m not even sure where to begin breaking it all down for y’all. But suffice it to say it’s been off the hook.

But to bring it back to the present, today is my first day at the TED Global Conference being held here in Arusha, Tanzania. ‘Tis the first time TED has come to Africa and I am straight up meeting the most AMAZING people every few minutes. It’s almost like a brain overload kid. I already have a bunch of folks to followup w/ and some potential collaborators and I haven’t been here 24hrs yet.

Next I came across a computer scientist who blogs from Malawi, named Soyapi Mumba. This was actually my first visit to his blog and I like his style of writing, which it is very to the point. Soyapi blogs about technology in Malawi, and here he writes about the impression that TED had on him and expresses a heightened sense of connectedness to the continent's emerging young minds:

Before going to TED Global, I kept hearing voices blaming governments for not doing this and that plus several other reasons why African countries cannot prosper unless some one from outside Africa does something.

At TED however, everyone I met was determined to solve Africa's problems without waiting for governments or donors. So I've come back energised and connected to the right community that will hopefully keep me motivated.

Next I bumped into a blog that seems to be mainly written in French and Malagasy. And the blogger is from — you guessed it — Madagascar. It is interesting to note that Madagascar is an island off the coast of East Africa and for some reason it is one of the continent's least mentioned countries. But the people of Madagascar have a great deal to tell the world. In fact this blogger, whose name is Harinjaka, was actually asked to speak to the audience and share with them a slice of Madagascar. Here is a snippet of what he had to say:

Please Help us to educate our people

  • provide facilities
  • Spread ideas
  • Infrastructures
  • Increase awareness

Help us to provide an exposure of the Madagascar situation.

Madagascar is an island located off the eastern coast of southern Africa in the Indian Ocean. As the world’s fourth largest island.

has been isolated from Africa for over 150 million years. For this reason, most of the plants and animals found on the island exist nowhere else on Earth.
Because of its remoteness, Madagascar was not settled by humans until
around 2.000 years ago.

Malagasy is the name for the people of the island and the national language is the Malagasy language.

Next back to South Africa with Ramon Thomas who I hear is quite a coach – like the one portrayed in the movie Hitch! He has two blogs that I am aware of: one is a blog that coaches singles in online dating and etiquette; and he maintains a separate blog/ podcast about internet trends in South Africa at NETucation. Here he authors a very informative post about former Finance Minister of Nigeria, Dr Okonjo-Iweala, who was one of the speakers at the event. Here is an excerpt:

The US and UK could not have been built without Africa’s Aid. When you situation is dire, and personal, you don’t care if it’s aid money or where the money comes from. Spain received $10 million in aid from the European Union. Ireland received $3 million in aid, and is now one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. Neither of these countries felt guilty or bad in any way receiving this money.

A new set of aid entrepreneurs are emerging in the individuals who founded very wealthy foundations. They may take over from the aid received from governments one day. The question is open as to how interested they really are in helping Africa. Are they listening? Are invited to serve on their boards to help with making decisions? The answer is no!

The next blogger on the list is based in Zambia, which is bordered in all directions by eight other countries in or near the southern part of Africa. Mweshi is his name, and he is an entrepreneur who does graphic design. Here he quotes the maestro of the event, Mr. Emeka Okafor, who is also an Africa blogger. This section of his post reads:

Planted seeds

Emeka put it well when he summarized the conference and said “what we have done at this event is plant seeds.” Indeed the seeds of change, progress, and a new African renaissance have been planted!

Finally, we come to the end of this post. And who more appropriate to end with than the organizer of the event — that's right, Mr. Emeka Okafor, entrepreneur and blogger extrordinaire. Here he sends out a warm thanks to the participants:

I must thank all those that made this possible. Chris Anderson the curator of TED sincerely believed that there was something ticking below the surface of this continent of ours and provided the tools and immense resources to bring its story to fruition,Bravo Chris!The TED team. The Bloggers, and their de facto leader —Ethan Zuckerman — . The inspirational thought leaders–Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, George Ayittey– and many others too numerous to mention…

Well, as much as I wanted to continue with this post, it had to come to an end. It took me quite a while to locate some of these posts (roughly four days) not to mention that I don't want to lose anyone's attention. Hopefully this piece does enough to convey the sense of “something really major” coming out of Africa, that oozed from the keyboards of everyone I've come across who attended the event. Also, please note that although I wanted to include all of the Africa bloggers who attended and blogged about TED Global 07′, I was not able to, and therefore apologize to anyone who was not included. Please feel free to expound on any omissions in the comments section below.

Otherwise, this post has been great fun to write! And one final note, in case anyone one is wondering how this relates to the theme that I usually write about, which is enterprise in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is in fact a tremendous tie-in. To me, this event represents something that many of Africa's Sub-Saharan countries have been working tirelessly on for a long time: rebranding Africa's image. This essentially boils down to public relations and marketing. If people can connect with your story, or if they like the message. they are more likely to buy or invest in your products. And TED 2007, as well as the bloggers in attendance, helped convey the message of hope and achievement on the continent.

Amazingly, the event seems to have accomplished something that even US$100 million of public relations consulting would not have done for the continent. In a nutshell, this accomplishment has been the weaving together of a consistant, genuine, and believable story about the possibilty of Africa becoming the “next big thing”. That in a few short years, instead of the Asian Tiger economies, we might all be talking about Africa's roaring “lion economies”. And that is big.


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