I was privileged to attend this year’s 7th edition of TedxEuston event. It was very exciting to join the team once more this year. I was keen to as they said in their own words, share in the vision to “ build a community that surpasses the participants’ and wider social community’s expectations and inspires the next generation of African leaders to Dream, Discover and Deliver.” Inspiring speakers were drawn from all walks of life across the world. I am giving you my dear readers, a summary of TedxEuston 2015 that will illuminate you imaginations just like you were there. Relax and let your visions become reality as you read.
December 5th 2015. TedxEuston Vision to Reality after having been declared open by the trio above; our day started with a lady I describe as the ‘red haired enigma of our time’. Tedx Euston 2015 came alive when Mona Eitahawy the award winning Egyptian- American Journalist and Author, a passionate feminist par excellence asked us “who owns my body?’. She went on in this earth moving speech to recount her Arab and Muslim background as well as her experience of sexual abuse. Today, she tells the world “ stay out of my vagina except I want you in there!” This award winning author of “Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution” emphasized the need for women to be raised to stand up for themselves always.
Enter Chi-Chi Nwanoku (MBE) the elegant lady who exuded such serenity that most persons in the hall, including my humble self, immediately fell in love with her.
Chi-Chi told us how ‘we are all born musicians’. This graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London and founder of Europe’s first classical orchestra of Black and Minorrity Ethnic (BME) Musicians- Chineke Orchestra told us how dedication, perseverance and focus is the foundation for success. She told of her uncommon courage as a child to take on new challenges. Definitely, this attribute was noticed by one of her teachers many years ago, who asked her “ Chi-Chi, whenever have you been phased by a challenge? ” She told us how ‘music helps us listen ; not only to our selves or by our selves, but it most importantly, it enables our ability to listen to each other.’
Chi-Chi who was awarded an MBE for services to Music in the 2001 Queen’s Birthday honours, has created a cultural revolution of Orchestra. She ended her speech with these words that have the power to heal the world and motivate the next generation: ‘music does not discriminate ‘ and “I had a dream- if you have a dream, you can do it”
Abdoulaye Samb Senegalese guitarist was on hand to perform for us ‘all the beautiful people’ as he called the audience. The hall came alive with Senegalese traditional soul touching blues. The second rendition about respecting women and children got everyone clapping along.
Christian Purefoy the Nigerian Yoruba Chief and former CNN Correspondent for West Africa was the 3rd speaker. He is currently a director at BattaBox.com. He is aptly described by the Tedx Euston team as “the most original video entertainment you will see out of Nigeria since Nollywood”.
Purefoy told us about his experience working in Nigeria over the last 12 years. It was mentally stimulating and very liberating to listen to him say “News is dead! Long live notifications”. Immediately, I could visualize in my mind, how even the Nigerians in the hinterland now have phones that go ‘ping, ping ping’ notifying them of a new messages; new information – which is news depending on how one looks at it.
He told us how in days gone by, Nigerians got their news from himself and other Journalists alike. “If you were unhappy with our news, you could write a letter to us about it – i.e if the old Nigerian postal service (NIPOST), ever let it get to us.” “However, now, information is at the click of a button and the concomitant sound of notifications – Facebook happened and Twitter came along”. ‘You now do the job for people like me’ He went on to talk about the on-going information revolution and how the mobile phone along with her neophyte democratic process has had a most profound positive effect on information dissemination in Nigeria. This along with the dedication and focus of himself and a team of hard working Nigerians gave rise to the birth of Batabox- the platform where “ we are now accountable for information going out there. So we can hold every one of us accountable”.
Robtel Neajai Pailey maintained the high tempo of this event as she told us that “contrary to modern concept, there is nothing innately African about corruption”. This young Liberian academic and Mo Ibrahim Foundation PhD Scholar was listed by the Financial Times as one of “25 Africans to watch out for in 2015”. Robtely told of how in her role as activist and government adviser in post-war recovery Liberia, she along with her academic promoting team ‘sort to put the word scholar back into the term “scholarship” all the time.’ She is onto the bloodless revolution from below to celebrate excellence and empower children with their own ethical consciousness. One may ask, why children? She pointed out how children are innocent and honest until we, the adults, teach them otherwise. It is this concept that led her to write the book ‘Gbagba’ which loosely translated means corruption in a Liberian local dialect.
Gbagba is a childrens’ book, aimed to serve as a core tool in this bloodless pan-African revolution from below. The book she told us, “seeks to equip children with the ethical tools to question confusing ethical activities and actions of the adults around them”. This she emphasized will then make the children begin to hold the adults in their lives accountable for their actions. Robtel ended with “You need to join me in the fight against Gbagba”. Yes Robtel, I am sure in with you on this fight. I have just ordered two copies of Gbagba from Amazon for my two children- no they cannot share a copy they deserve to have one each as we seek to raise children who are ethical revolutionaries of the next generation!
‘What are we saying about ourselves?’ ‘We need to tell our own stories and inform our own identities’. These were the words echoing in the hall when Nancy Kacungira, the unassuming down to earth award-wining Journalist and US State Department Professional Fellow took to the stage. This winner of the inaugural BBC World News Komla Award is the poster East-African child; born in Tanzania, with parents from Uganda and now working in Kenya. She urged us to think about and understand the true meaning of being African. She sold the concept that we should move away from being only united by ‘struggles’ – be it colonialism, racism or terrorism. “ I know what it means to be Ugandan, but what does it mean to be African? What does it mean to come from Cameroon, Togo or South Africa?”
Nancy reinforced the idea that we need to understand what binds us together by seeking to know more about each other. She explained why we need not wait on other people to tell our stories and how it is imperative we stop others defining us from the outside. “Africa is not a country but rather, a continent made up of 54 countries” She asked why the African as a continent identity is hard to establish. ‘The Africa as a country narrative has to end. We need to make ourselves the protagonists of our dialogues and not subjects in the narratives of others”. This icon of the weekly show “Power Talk” sure packed all the power into this speech, which she concluded by stating “we need to write our new stories our selves- telling our stories from our own perspectives. We need to sell our story! One not based on struggle but on progress.” I do agree with you Nancy that our vision can never become our reality if we leave others to dream our dreams, tell our stories or write our future.
The walking, moving living embodiment of Art was next in tow. Multitalented Sandra Mbanefo Obiago who I first met over 15 years ago in our determined struggle to make positive Reproductive Health reforms for women in Edo State, Nigeria and beyond during the early screening and editing of the anti Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) documentary “Uncut- playing with life”. Sandra looked as beautiful and elegant as when I first met her all those years ago. Her opening sentence summed it all. “I believe that Art can change life. A song, a drama, a poem, can so touch our souls that it changes our paradigm shift”. Born in Emekuku in South Eastern Nigeria, she told us how she meandered through life to seeking to find her creative voice while holding on to her vision. Over time, she stated, we find that all our little experiences give us the tools we require to make a difference and make our visions happen. This multi-faceted educationist, writer, photographer, poet, actress, art collector and curator who is also an online editor and technical director cum producer, told us how she used the skills she developed in life’s journey over the years to move from vision to reality. ‘Communication for Change’ brought voice to the campaign to stop FGM.
Amongst their many health enlightenment documentaries was “Uncut – playing with life” the effect of which culminated in Edo State House of Assembly passing a bill banning FGM in 1999. Finally, in 2015 Nigeria as a nation, baned all FGM practices.
Today, this Fellow of the Aspen Institute of African Leadership Initiative for West Africa (ALIWA), is taking Art out of galleries and museums into main stream Nigerian lives – into hotel foyers and fashion houses, just to mention a few. She left us with the mandate to tap into the power of Art and let it move us from our vision to our reality both as individuals and collectively a people.
Ije Nwokorie the American born Nigerian Architect, who is now a key player on the limitless horizon of world digital technology, spoke to the audience about the power of creativity.
He spoke of how creativity was all around him while growing up in Eastern Nigeria and how this creativity still abounds till date. His everyday example of how when children want to make a kite, all they need is some old newspapers, the staple food garri (eba), which is ready glue and mummy’s hair thread resonated with a large proportion of those of us in the hall. Akon’uche is the Nigerian Igbo word for creativity. “Akon’uche or creativity is in and belongs to us all”. This CEO of creative consultancy with Wolff Olins one of the leading world influential business brands, spoke of a new generation of akon’uche employing leaders, emerging from Africa and translating her dream to reality.
Monica Katebe Musonda is the lady who said to herself that, enough is enough! “Why be a Zambian Spectator when one can be a Zambian Entrepreneur” She told us how she came from a co-operate legal background to becoming an entrepreneur after challenging herself “if not you, why not me” . After working in Nigeria for Aliko Dangote – Africa’s richest man for about 13 years, she left and went back home to Zambia with his blessings to start up in the food industry. She went into noodle making – fast consumer good production. “It was hard when I started but gradually, against many odds, spanning the African love for foreign good, lack of finance, gender hurdles and a long list of other challenges, we are gradually getting there”. “The good news is that Zambians now realize that we need to put our own goods on the shelves and not other peoples goods. ‘eeZee Instant Noodles’ in a short 3 year period has become a leading brand because Zambians buy it”
Monica told of how we all need to be determined and “challenge our challenges”. She has created an impact that other women can palpably see and feel – they know now that there is nothing stopping them but themselves. Finally, founder and CEO of Zambia based Java Foods, charged us that “things will not change for our continent if we all sit and look for jobs”. There is no way Monica, that I can get your closing question out of my mind. I am sure many of us in that audience still hear you asking, “Do you want to be a spectator or do you want to be a participant in the growth of your continent?” Importantly, like me, I hope many of us have been stimulated to do the needful.
This Ikot-Ekpene born soft ware developer who previously resided in Germany, lent his voice to on how to have a vision and run with it, no matter the difficulties ensuring we translate it into palpable reality in our lifetime.
Mark recalled with nostalgia, how while at Federal Government College Ikot-Ekpene, he first saw a computer and decided to become a computer engineer. He went to Germany at an early age and there he acquired his BSc. Engineering in Computer Hardware Engineering and MSc in Computer Science. One day, Mark decided to leave the comfort of his good life and job in Germany and headed back to Nigeria to make the difference in very much wanted to see. He started the first hotel on-line booking agency in Nigeria. He tells us that there were times he thought he should just pack up and go but he never once has he regretted coming back to Nigeria. He recounted how with great difficulty, he had to fire half of his company workers for no fault of theirs- just lack of funds. However, with perseverance and sheer determination as well as the help of others like Iroko Patners’ Jason Njoku along the way, Mark now runs Hotel.ng which now has over 7000 hotels on its listing from the about 100 they started from. “ We have fundamentally changed the hospitality terrain in Nigeria. We are making an impact, no matter the difficulty”
You have read this far! There is a lot more. Do you want to know what it feels like to fight Ebola and live to tell the tale? What about the strength of character a black woman requires to be opposition leader in South Africa? Curious to know what motivates the world famous previous vice-President of the World Bank (Africa Region) and founder BringBackOurGirls campaign? Do you want to know what she had to tell us on the 600th day anniversary of the abduction of 219 schoolgirls in Northern Nigeria? I know you will not want to miss what the teenage survivor of a plane crash that reverberated through history because it had 60 other secondary school students who died on board amongst others. How does one pick up the pieces from ground zero? Watch this space next week as I give you the final summary of how the 2015 TedxEuston speakers took us from vision into reality.You could also have a look at how other people perceived and sharing their TEDxEuston 2015 experience on #MyTEDxEustonStory