Africa Gathering 2012 – The Wrap-Up

Africa Gathering 2012 was held this year at the ICC Auditorium on the campus of Georgetown University and was hosted by the African Society of Georgetown. . The lineup was excellent as always but unfortunately due to the impact of Hurricane Sandy, some of the speakers could not make it to the podium physically but as african efficient as always, put together video presentations to keep the event going.

The schedule #agdc12

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The conference kicked off with a short introduction by Kathleen Bomani, the DC representative of Africa Gathering on the organization and how the idea came together and materialized in what it is today. The representant for the African Society of Georgetown was up next presenting the organization and their activities on campus. Jackson M’vunganyi of UpfrontAfrica was at the controls again this year as the MC?Moderator of the event, and he kicked it off with a video message from Kwame Andah, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Coders4Africa who presented the organization, of which full disclosure, I am an affiliate and runs the Coders4AricaRadio show for. The presentation focused on the mission of Coders4Africa in a fast shifting and evolving African market where mobile rules. How do Africans play a role in the digital and technological revolution happening in Africa. Coders4Africa wants to play a role in the global technology field. Kwame insisted on how C4A role is really about transforming Africans into competitors on the global market and not mere superusers or consumers of technology. C4A holds C4A In Action and Bootcamps which are monthly meetings held by local chapters to share knowledge. The video was interrupted short, as Jackson joked, probably because of a power outage in NY.

@MohamedToure answering @sbeheton question about on media subjugation to power and money #agdc #agdc12

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Kwame was followed up by Mohamed Toure, founder of SEADIASPORA. SEADiaspora.com {Smart Economies, Africa, and the Diaspora} is an online publication/blog on African affairs. They share diverse perspectives on Africa, from the continent and abroad, covering issues through the lenses of culture, economics, and politics. SEADiaspora is about stories and perspective. Mohamed talked about his experience using Ushahidi to monitor elections in Guinee and how people should be really listened to to get the complete story. Mohamed mentioned some trends in African Media and journalism. Western media is scaling down coverage in Africa. The Washington Post has 16 foreign bureaus, of which a lot are empty, just a single reporter officiating. African journalists are not stepping up quick enough to fill in the gap. There is a gap in technical knowledge and tools to allow adequate coverage.  SEADIASPORA has now 4 editors, 13 columnists and 10 contributors. The organization now has a defined editorial lines and standards. Mohamed insisted on the new for all in attendance to write, with rigor and discipline to command authority and respect. He also wanted the crowd to pay attention and correct media outlets when they are putting out incomplete or incorrect information because it has an impact. When confronted by Jackson about his own bias as a media outlet Mohamed explained that no opinion published on SEADIASPORA is censored as long as it is presented with facts and in a respectful manner; The QA that followed was lively especially when Mohamed mentioned that African sisters only started wearing African prints after designers started using them which drew an immediate and spirited rebuttal from the sisters in the crowd. In the closing remarks, Jackson regretted that the best writers on Africa aren’t able to practice their craft as a full time job but as side hobby or job instead. The big media outlet are writing for a certain audience, which is definitely not African so they write with a competing narrative. The discussion that followed brought a lot of interesting perspectives on the role of African journalists and how to bring what can be construed as real African news to a mass audience.

@ZacharyKaufman answering questions at Africa Gathering #agdc12 #agdc

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Mohamed was followed up by Zachary Kaufman who came to speak of the challenges of media, specifically in the role of media immediately before and after the genocide in Rwanda. Years before the genocide publications like Kunguru started publishing propaganda about Tutsis. The persecuting group will project onto the victims their own actions like Tutsi were cannibals, and nazis. The most famous example was a cover from December 1993 of a former president of Rwanda who advocated an idea of a Hutu majority Rwanda, with language advocating the use of machetes. Radio was the most successful way of communication, because of the low literacy rate, and the oral tradition of Rwanda, as well as government distribution of radios. Tutsis were dehumanized and demonizing Tutsis actively. During the genocide, radio become a source for orchestration for the genocide.  Broadcasts urged Hutus to kill Tutsis, gave instructions how to create roadbloclks, and hunt Tutsis, and gave specific information about individuals to target. On how to counteract, Zachary argued the use of jamming radio broadcast and destroying radio stations and infrastructure.  The counter arguments that could be raised in such cases are anti-interventionism and freedom of speec, to which mitigation and reason can be offered as valid responses. Words can lead to violence and there are limits of freedom of speech. Zachary then presented his work on the Kigali Public Library through pictures,  at three stories and holding about 25000 books through pictures. The cafe has proven one of the most popular part of the library and will be rented out as an additional revenue source. Kaufman also stresses promoting indigenous languages with an annual prize for books in KinyaRwanda at the library.

Abdi Latif discussing his book Cuban.

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Abdi Latif Ega, self deprecatingly referring to himself as a “prolific writer of one book” came next to talk about himself and how his work as an individual could  impact thought in the world. The work in question is  a novel Guban (burnt), which offers a realistic and nuanced take on the issues in Somalia., his native land  He started a discussion of the state of Africa being linked to its natural resources. Abdi then discussed the current state of Somalia, its very limited nation state status and the reasons why he wrote his book, Guban (Burnt), which is fiction aimed at challenging the mainstream narrative on Somalia. In the Q/A section Adbi stressed out the fact that he wanted to change the mind of his readers, through his novel, as opposed to making a movie which would have been a more efficient way. Throughout his talk he constantly defended his homeland against incorrect media characterizations and stereotypes of Somalians as pirates or warlords. Adbi made a semi serious point in answer to a question about pursuing writing as a career for Africans due to the social pressure of pursuing more financially rewarding careers that writing can be a hobby only if you are in a comfortable financial position. He argued that writing requires audacity, madness and creativity. There were some interesting questions to come in from the crowd, one of them emanating from Lakshmi (pardon the spelling if incorrext) from Liberia about how guilty she felt about using negative images of Liberians as a non profit to be able to raise money to help. Abdi’s answer was to look for new and innovative ways to raise money without being exploitative of Africans. Ega fielded a lot of questions from aspiring writes and quipped  that there was a new animal  in the US publishing called the African Writer.  Writing in the US requires to understand that the subject of Africa in the American mainstream is split between the Immigrant Story, or the African American Story. Writing about topics that are different from what is considered acceptable when it comes to Africa such as warfare and violence is tough. He also cynically remarked that writing as a hobby was a luxury that only the rich could afford. Throughout his talk, he proved to be a funny, wise and inspiring writer and I enjoyed the presentation overall.

@bombastice is breaking down some heavy knowledge on switching context. #agdc12

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After the lunch break, Bunmi Oloruntob was up at the podium to talk about his newest project. I had met Bunmi last year at the same event and it was good to see him again plus a few more grey hair. Bunmi opened up the discussion with a crowsourced discussion of stereotypes about Africans and specifically Nigerians as scammers. He brought up the stories of Nollywood and how they help with changing the negative perception of Nigerians since they offer a different and nuanced narrative about Nigerians. The crowd was involved early on and Bunmi continued by questioning how come there weren’t an abundance of stories about Africa. Bunmi argues that knowledge and power are needed to disseminate that information as  Power frames Knowledge. Bunmi believes in the need for Africans to disseminate all the information about themsleves out so they can move information from one context into another. At that point I was still wondering where he wanted to go with his line of though, which was unusually refreshing, when he finally made the connection to his project, 3bute. 3bute.com is a website where serendipity is meant to happen. To make a long story short, Bunmi and his co-founders want to virtually allow people to enter rabbit holes and watch what happens. The site features a graphic story that can be annotated in a multimedia/social fashion as to give a featured article the most context possible, in a crowdsourced way. It’s something that is difficult to explain but that is better experienced. The site was featured on BoingBoing, and went viral after it was noticed by an American cyber writer.After demoing some of the sotries on the site, Bunmi fielded questions from the crowd that allowed him to further define the idea.  To put it simply, 3bute is a crowdsourced aggregation tool but more of an advertising than a storytelling one. This was quite easily my favorite presentation of the day and judging by the Twitter reaction I was not the only one.

Emmanuel asking on how to use 3bute.com as a collaboration tool for content producers #agdc12

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Concepts for World Developmentwas up next to present their organization. The founder Renee Blundon expanded on the inspiration for the organization from a personal trip she took. The organization was formed to empower communities through an innovative business model that incorporates designing and building sustainable structures, educating local workforce in construction methods and establishing community programs that promote development. They presented their current project in Tanzania working to create an art and science teaching program working closely with an orphanage. From my vantage point, the presentation included some cringeworthy moments which included her making several references to “Tanzania, Africa”, which at an event attended by a majority of Africans is kind of redundant and insulting in a way. Not a good look there. Hai the designer on her team was next to give some background on himself followed by Lola, another designer/business co-founder on the project. I tried listening to the presentation but I got lost after a while and couldn’t tell what it was about. I don’t know if the presenters were aware but they made several little remarks that came across as offensive and the air kind of went out of the room. I subsequently reached out to the CWD team, Renee in particular after the event and offered some truthful feedback, which to her credit, she accepted her part of responsibility for what happened and promised to learn from the experience and make corrections for the future. In my opinion this was one case of “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and what is intended to be communicated gets lost in the delivery.

Unfortunately this had to be my last presentation of the day as I had to leave, making miss the rest of the presentations which I am told were great. As for what I saw, i was happy again to be part of this event, hanging out with old friends (Senam Beheton: Congrats!) and making new ones (I see you Mohamed). Kudos to Kathleen and the African Society of Georgetown for holding it down solid like they did in spite of Sandy and her funny businesses Throughout, the crowd was live and the lot of African college students that were in attendance renewed my faith in the African Youth as the questions they put forth were as sharp as their remarks!  I will definitely be back  for the 2013 edition and encourage you to show up next year as words on this blog can not describe the true experience of being surrounded by other  Africans who can be a great source  of inspiration and motivation.

Until such time!

Follow the story on Storify with Tweets, Instagram and video courtesy of Ese Emerhi

NB: This is a “from-memory” recollection and I don’t pretend to be a DVR so if there is anything that needs to be corrected/updated, roar at me in a respectful tone and if the money is right it shall be done!

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