For those of you who weren’t able to be at the TED Global conference in Arusha earlier this year, there are multiple opportunities for you to catch up on the event you missed. TED.com is posting talks from the conference on their website: the most recent talk posted is a provocative speech by Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda. The talk so incensed Bono, who was sitting in the audience, that he spent a good part of his time on stage attempting to rebutt Mwenda, with limited success. Very much worth watching for anyone interested in the potentials for reframing and rebranding Africa, or for anyone who wonders why so many young Africans are upset about the recent history of attempts to aid Africa.
One of my very favorite talks at the Arusha conference was Franco Sacchi’s talk about his film, This is Nollywood. The film explores the creative and fiscal challenges of making films very quickly, very inexpensively, for audiences throughout the continent. Sacchi’s film is screening in the Boston area on the 6th and the 13th – I’m trying to shuffle my schedule to see it, because the parts of it I saw were truly excellent – you should check it out if you can.
I watched the TED Talk by Andrew Mwenda as you advised. It was fabulous! Best mini-skirt style speech I have ever heard. A great deal of what he talked about re: how foreign aid undermines many SSA governments and societies was dead on target. Like Bono, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and his 114 presidential advisiors and 300 parliamentarians and 1,000’s of other useless bureaucrats will not be amused by this TED Talk.
When is Bono’s presentation due for publication to TED Talks? It’s a pity that Andrew Mwenda’s 18 minute presentation has received zero airtime in the international news media both during and after the 2007 G8 Summit at Heiligendamm, Germany. I wonder if that is intentional or just an oversight from ill-informed and distracted news editors and producers?
That miniskirt speech is still fresh in my mind.
I remember the rebuttal too!
Thanks for the reminder of the This Is Nollywood film. That brought back some good memories. That along with the other short films we saw.
I was struck by how much Mwenda’s argument resembles my own (much sketchier) one about the influence of government funds on US science and how it warps the whole endeavor. I’ve sat in a university committee to mull over research directions for the next five years. I expected a discussion about the most promising areas of biology, astronomy, geology, and all the rest. The first statement was, “The National Science Foundation’s priority is informatics. How can we insert informatics into all our grant applications?” The discussion never budged from how to hook into funding. Science never made an appearance. (I tried, and I might as well have said, “We had spaghetti at our house three times last month.”)
So Mwenda’s speech really resonated, and I’m convinced he’s right.
But I’m also struck by a couple of big omissions. One: it is essential that talk of supporting private enterprise doesn’t translate into dumping money on private enterprise. Whether that’s subsidy, or deregulation, or whatever. As he says, the point is to apply money intelligently, and that’s just as true of helping the private sector. They can be as greedy and corrupt as any government. As someone who lives in the US, trust me on this.
Two: he didn’t spend nearly enough time on Africa’s biggest potential pool of entrepreneurs. Women. The attitude to women is one huge structural inefficiency preventing the best use of resources. Study after study shows that providing microfinance to female entrepreneurs offers the biggest financial return on investment. And the biggest social return.
I remember seeing a statistic (maybe here? BBC?) that 70% of the work in subsaharan Africa is done by women, while they have 2% of the capital. And yet they keep soldiering on.
If that energy were given a productive outlet, instead of simply being used to prop up useless power structures, I suspect the truth of what Mwenda says would be blindingly apparent.
But I also suspect that if “the private sector” he talks about doesn’t explicitly and affirmatively include poor and middle class women, that whole huge source of energy will be passed over, as usual.
I hope he’ll be rounding out his brilliant talk with both of these aspects in future!
Mwenda articulated very well what many Africans have been saying in recent years. Ethiopia is a good example for a country rich with water and fertile land, yet dependent on world food program. Why should a farmer go back to farming after a drought when someone else’s providing it.
Another good example is the aboriginal people of Australia where the government gives them bigger social allowance (welfare) and a special status, yet they remain poorer than any other group and marginalized.
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