A day at Africa Gathering

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The Austrian Economist Ludwig Von-Mises once said “The worst evils which mankind has ever had to endure were inflicted by bad governments”. A cursory glance across the African Continent will leave one with no doubt as to the veracity of this statement. From Sudan to the Ivory Coast to Nigeria, bad Government blights the life of many Africans’ trapping them in Poverty and a miserable existence.

The hope amongst the 100 or so delegates at the 4th Africa Gathering event held at the offices of the Guardian Newspaper was that Technology & Social Media can play a role in fixing the issues and problems that blights the continent.Some might argue that this is unbridled Idealism of the Wilsonian sort, I for one believe that Technology Driven Development coupled with strong leadership, good governance and pro-business policies is the only hope that Africa has to achieve its aims of moving its people from poverty to an acceptable standard of living.
Currently in its fourth year Africa Gathering is the brainchild of Ed Scotcher and Mariemme Jamme, with their passion for Africa and development the event has gone from strength to strength, with events taking place in Washington, Accra,Nairobi and London.

Deviating from previous events where the agenda has been driven by people from all over the world sharing their Africa focused projects, yesterday’s event focused mainly around the impact of Social Media onDevelopment and Governance in Africa. As a regular at these kind of conferences I’m used to usually beingthe only other African in the room or one of a few,however on this occasion there was a good representation of Africans in the Diaspora,however the majority of  delegates as always were Europeans working for NGO’s, Consultancies and others parts of  the “Development Industrial Complex”.

Discussions centred around  amongst other things the need to help Africans generate their own content, the role that Social Media is playing in bringing forward the voices of the previously unheard through mediums such as  Twitter,Facebook and free blogging platforms.There were presentations from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The BBC Africa Have Your Say Team, the All Africa News website and a host of other interesting organisations all using the latest new media tools to promote interaction  with a young African audience keen for their voice to be heard.

What made this particular gathering stand out from previous ones I have attended was the passion demonstrated by the delegates (mostly the Africans in the hall), led by the talented, formidable and sometimes rambunctious Marieme Jamme. This educated, articulate and well reasoned group werent going to sit down and accept whatever  was being put forward by the speakers, they constantly challenged some of the notions and ideas that were being spouted.
One such intervention which I found quite interesting was a gentleman who called out the Panel and some of the speakers for talking about Africa as if it was one country, his point which I couldnt agree with more, was that different eco-systems existed in Africa and the idea we could all sit in a cozy office in London and put together plans to help Africans use social media was rather naieve.

The Guardian Global Development platform which hosted the event was also called out for its one sided coverage on the Development/Aid debate, with the Community Manager agreeing on the need for  other views to be shared on the platform, one looks forward to reading pieces from the likes of Douglas Carswell MP, Dambisa Moyo, Bill Easterly, Prof. Stephen Booth  and others who have different views on the Development debate than  those espoused by the likes of Madeline Bunting and Jonathan Glennie who happen to be regulars on the Guardian Global Development blog.

The climax of of the event however was the ambush of the  Communications Director from the Africa Progress Panel, having been invited to share with delegates how the Africa Progress Panel was using Digital media to promote its work in Africa, she met a rather hostile reception from sections of the audience led once again by Mariem Jamme. They made their views on “Panels” (e.g Africa Progress Panel, The Elders etc etc)very clear, put succintly; They are waste of time and hardly achieve anything. It was interesting to see Kofi Annan, the darling of most Africans being criticized for his role on the African Progress Panel, Bob Geldof, Tony Blair and others also came in for harsh criticisms for their role in  Africa.

The anger amongst Africans in the Diaspora and even young Africans on the continent at their leaders is very palpable, people feel let down by their leadership and its rare to hear anybody say a good word about an African President or Prime Minister. Most Africans it seems now blame their leaders for their plight not Colonialism or Slavery or any other made-up reasons that African leaders like to parrot. This anger can be felt on Twitter,Facebook and numerous blogs springing up all over the web. This generation of Africans are not going to make the mistakes of their parents who accepted wholeheartedly the assertions cast by the African leaders of the time, that all their problems could be traced to the White man. There is an element of armchair-revolutionarism about all of this, however the revolution has to start somewhere.

Events like Africa Gathering help to reinforce the belief that Africans should hold their leadership to account, I interacted with many Africans during the event who all shared very similar views i.e the problems facing the continent will not and cannot be solved by Aid or money from the West but a radical reform in the way Africa is governed. This new state of mind bodes well for the development of the Continent, and with the help of Technology, Mobiles and Social Media a growing mass of Africans are making huge strides towards a successful future.

The next Africa Gathering events are as follows Tanzania : October 2011,Washington: Sept 2011,Uganda: December 2011,Kenya: Sept 2011

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