Chinua Achebe Wins Lifetime Award

achebe128.jpgChinua Achebe, one of the founding fathers of African literature, this week won a Man Booker International award, in tribute to his lifetime contribution to literature.

Achebe has been championing a positive view of Africa since he first wrote his novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ in 1958 to provide an alternative narrative to the notions of Africa as a place that needed rescuing from the white man from its supposed savagery.

Many believe that he has been denied other awards (particularly a Nobel prize) precisely because he has always contested the stereotypical Westernized views of Africa which were often perpetuated through Western literature. In an essay  (‘An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness’ written in 1975), he accused Conrad of, amongst other things, making Africa into “a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognisable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril”.

The written word is a powerful one, and we need even more authors such as Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (who recently won the Orange prize for fiction) to use the power of their pen to re-shape and re-write the African narrative as told to us by non-Africans. Props to both of them for their important contributions.

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Madonna’s Not Our Saviour

On Wednesday, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Orange prize for literature for her novel, Half Of A Yellow Sun, about the Biafran war. (Congratulations to her!) In an interesting interview in the Guardian entitled “Madonna’s not our saviour” she talks about showing a different side of Africa, a more positive and balanced side of the continent, beyond the stereotypical stories that we’re all familiar with. She makes some great statements such as : “People forget that Africa is a place in which class exists,” she says. “It’s as if Africans are not allowed to have class, that somehow authenticity is synonymous with poverty and demands your pity and your sympathy. Africa is seen as the place where the westerner goes to sort out his morality issues. We see it in films and in lots of books about Africa, and it’s very troubling to me.” Do check out the article.

African business leaders meet…

and no, it’s not at TED Global this time.

I found this article on the BBC’s website about a group of African business leaders meeting in London ahead of the G8 summit to discuss their own ideas and solutions…Discussion included the limitations of aid and the G8’s contribution, the importance of trade, and the desire for African nations for independence and autonomy when it comes to their own economic future.

I love this quote from the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni:

“There was a rumour that the G8 needed advice…We have gathered here to become consultants to the G8.”

You tell ’em!!

Vanity Fair’s Africa Issue

Vanity Fair’s July edition is dedicated to Africa… I haven’t had a chance to buy the mag yet, so I’ll be going along to Borders tomorrow to get myself a copy.

The list of articles looks, um, interesting… There is one entitled “Madonna’s Malawi”…mmmm… Another one is called “The Lazarus Effect” – that’s on how buying from Bono’s Red brand will benefit Africa… yawn. Oops, I didn’t mean that. No I shan’t be cynical – I will wait until I have read it first. I must bear in mind that these people are trying to sell magazines!

20 cover shots of a range of personalities and public figures were taken… They are very Ameri-centric (unsuprisingly) and feature people such as Madonna, Brad Pitt, Mohammed Ali, George Bush (why?!), Condoleeza Rice, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys and of course Bono (who is in fact the guest editor)… Archbishop Desmond Tutu is in there too, as well as Benin-born actor Djimon Hounsou and model Iman. (Well, 3 Africans is better than none!)

There has been a lot of media interest in Africa over the past year… Films (Blood Diamond, The Constant Gardener, Last King of Scotland to name a few), magazines, Bono (ha!) , the Chinese government (haha!), TED Global… I’m just wondering where it has all come from. Is it that the positive African voices are getting stronger and are now being heard on an international level? Or is it, as the fashionistas say, Africa is the new black?

Whatever it is, what’s important is that we are able to leverage and sustain the interest, and use it in a way that benefits Africans….

Success Story: Nigeria Leadership Initiative

nli28.gifOn the weekend my mum had a birthday party. It was a great day, full of lots of Nigerian ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ (i.e people older than me who I address that way as a sign of respect), friends and family. It’s only as I get older that I’m starting to appreciate these ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’…Rather than being annoying older people who boss me around (!) I am now able to talk to them as an adult about topics that I’m passionate about such as Nigeria, Africa, business in Nigeria, and opportunities. I have also realized that they are a great source of information, as well as wonderful contacts, as many of them work within the highest levels of Nigerian society (thanks Mum for having such great friends!).

Anyway, whilst chatting away with one of my ‘uncles’ (a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs Europe) he told me about a non-profit venture he started a year ago. In January 2006, along with the Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK, he launched the Nigeria Leadership Initiative. It’s definitely something that I had to write about here, as it’s yet another great example of what Africans (Nigerians in this case) are doing for Africa.

The Nigeria Leadership Initiative brings together a group of successful, highly accomplished Nigerians from around the world in order to make changes within the country. They meet once a year at a 3-4 day conference where they discuss not only issues and problems within the country, but also solutions and possible actions. They also discuss philosophy, study political ideology and talk in a more holistic way about topics such as what makes a good society and how they can take success stories from other places and apply them to Nigeria.

The thing I love most is that not only is the Nigeria Leadership Initiative a think tank, but after the conference each and every member is then given a project to effect within the country. They are guided and monitored to ensure that they complete their project and because they are a powerful and well-respected group they are already working at the highest levels, including government, to effect change.

The NIL has also started a ‘youth’ chapter, which will bring together a number of 25 – 35 year old Nigerians who are considered to be those who will have a significant impact upon the future of Nigeria. The first conference for them is a 3 day leadership seminar in Lagos, which will then lead to a project.

Each and every person who is part of this project is a Nigerian, working for change in Nigeria. The NIL is leveraging the so-called ‘brain drain’, in which people leave Nigeria (or Africa in general) to go and use their skills abroad, to benefit the country to their advantage. They harness the skills those people have acquired outside Nigeria for the benefit of the country. Take a look at the leadership group of 2007 and you can just see the level of skill and capability that is being used for the country’s growth.

This is a great initiative, and another success story…. I look forward to posting more about the Nigeria Leadership Initiative as time goes on.

The Africa of Change

ngoziokonjoiweala.jpgNigeria’s first female (former) finance officer, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, addressed the TED conference on the new Africa… She talked about the Africa of change, in which steps are being taken by Africans for Africans to make positive changes across all areas: government, economics, society, culture.

Her speech is inspiring, and full of concrete stats and facts. She’s very clearly someone who knows what she’s talking about, and is a highly intelligent and articulate individual. Only a real sceptic (or an idiot) is going to argue with her.

I have a real respect for her and all that she has achieved. As well as being a savvy business woman, she is also a mother raising very successful children. Her son, Uzodinma, is a Harvard graduate and despite being only 24 is also an award winning novelist. His book ‘Beast of No Nations’ about child soldiers in an unnamed African country is a must-read.

Anyway, back to the point in hand. It kinda amazed me that Dr Okonjo-Iweala even had to say some of the things she said in her speech…What she said was great, and totally valid, but I guess it just frustrates me that we needs stats, and facts and figures, and an acceptable face in order to prove to the world that Africa is a place that has some worth and value.

It frustrates me that anyone would actually believe that African countries really want to do nothing beneficial for themselves. It frustrates me that anyone who is able to think believes that Africans are just sitting at home, waiting for a handout from Sir Bob, Bono or the G8 to drop from the sky. It frustrates me that people can’t use their common sense to think that in a continent of nearly 1 billion people, there must be at least something positive going on!

Do we really need to convince the outside world that African people want to build business, fight corruption and invest in their individual country’s infrastructures?… It seems we do…but surely people are intelligent enough to realize that in a continent with 53 different countries in which people live, work, earn money and raise families there must be (even just by virtue of statistics) more than just famine, disease, civil war and corruption?!…It seems not.

It’s just bizarre to me that perceptions of Africa can be so skewed that regular people in the West who have unlimited access to information and education have so willingly eaten up such one-sided, unbalanced and damaging attitudes that have been given to them particularly through the media.

Or is it that it’s convenient and easy for people to believe these negative stories because it serves an agenda, a deep seated and long-sown belief about the capabilities (or incapabilities) of African people to look after themselves??

Dr Okonjo-Iweala makes a very pertinent point when she talks about the complicity of the West in supporting corruption by allowing funds that they know to be stolen to be kept in their bank accounts. It’s clearly in the interests of some Western countries to allow corruption to prosper, yet at the same time they bemoan how corrupt Africa is!  Grrr!

Anyway, clearly there is a fight on our hands to reclaim Africa’s image and turn into one that supports the people and the continent. Respect to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and everyone else (including us bloggers) who are, through word and actions, doing that.

Check out her speech here: http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/127