EDx: Banishing the Mundane from the Center of Accra

TEDxSYPALA – Trials, Tribulations & TRIUMPH

We just successfully completed West Africa’s first TEDx event.

Tedx.Sypala.org (more images and videos to be uploaded over next couple of days).

It was embedded into IMANI’s (www.imanighana.com) annual SYPALA program which brings rising young professionals from across the West African sub-region to stay at TEDster Patrick Awuah’s university, Ashesi, for a week. TEDx crew was extremely grateful to IMANI and Executive Director Franklin Cudjoe for their tireless support and encouragement.

At SYPALA this year, IMANI also launched a prize named after Guido Sohne, the quintessential Ghanaian-born genius who has hired by Microsoft to develop an African strategy for them last year. Guido unfortunately passed away before his dream of uniting the proprietary and open-source software worlds could be realized. This year’s Sohne Prize was sponsored by IPMC Ghana (www.ipmcghana.com) and Tropical Business Solutions, and was won by Theophilus Acheampong, a Chemical Engineer by training, and a deep-thinking, all-round, star performer by practice.

SYPALA had the honour of hosting several amazing speakers, including the first African in 850 years to become a tenured professor at Cambridge University, and the musical rebel who dared a sitting President on live television. But this post is about TEDxSypala, not SYPALAJ

TEDxSypala was held at the fabulous Coconut Grove Regency hotel (http://www.coconutgrovehotels.com.gh/Regency/regency_index.htm), nestling tranquilly in the pulsating historic center of Accra city.

Speakers ranged from a Ghanaian-born financial guru who served on one of the Clinton transition teams to an amazing young Ghanaian Designer who thrilled the crowd with his incisive insight into the developmental context of design (blending as he did artistic opinions about the redenomination of national currencies with deadpan observations on the travails of fair-trade branding).

There was also the dude building what is probably West Africa’s only Technology Park dedicated to SMEs, and, of course, TEDster Patrick Awuah was there to inspire us with a new talk about “what’s next for Ashesi”. The opening Speaker, Dr. Anyimadu, formerly of Ghana’s Legon Ivory Tower, set his talk against the background of the Thomas Fynn collection, and with irresistible panache sent us all on a mind-bending trip into the digital consciousness of fisherfolks along Ghana’s soon-to-become oil belt.

Bernard Akoi-Jackson, who we were honoured to have as the event’s impresario, has carved a niche for himself as the conceptual artist who transformed elite perceptions about the artistic possibilities ensconced in the interstices of Ghana’s best known psychiatric institution. For his TEDx performance, he strove to take the German composer Wagner to trial by distending the composer’s chords around the Ashanti trance-dance, the Akom. The Akom is a rebellion against any notion of natural order, and is the mainstay in the repertoire of the official sorcerers of the ancient and extant Ashanti Kingdom. It is not a dance to be performed lightly, even if the motive is as high as cutting Wagner down to size.

Planning and organizing a TEDx event gives you a much better appreciation of what the TED crew manages year in and year out to deliver at Monterrey, and now Long Beach (www.ted.com). That delivery, not even to mention the much eulogized talks, is itself worthy of cataloguing as one of the unsung wonders of this age.

We set up our audio-visual equipment overnight and begun testing a full 3 hours before the event. Yet, true to Murphy’s Law, we still had to contend with a hitch that saw us start 30 minutes after the advertised time. Though some performances called for lights-out, the TV crew (including our own professional videographers) would have none of it. Apparently, no one had informed them of the need to bring directional lights. The lapel mikes malfunctioned and speakers had to endure the unTEDlike ordeal of using hand-mikes. Even Africa-renowned Atukwei Okai (de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atukwei_Okai), revered for his devotion to the ideal of poetry as spectacle, was forced to wrap his lyrical fingers around the shapeless gadget, and restrict his gesticulations accordingly, very much to his consternation, as you would imagine.J

We managed to deliver TEDx to our participants and the general public and post TEDx evaluations revealed the need for a much better organization should we decide to have our future SYPALA participants and the general public go through the experience.

Still it was a day to remember: for nearly 10 hours we attempted to “banish the mundane” and stayed immersed in a world where ideas can terrify, and soothe; fortify, and melt; disrupt, and heal; and we emerged reformed from banality, and, on that account, TRIUMPHANT.

On behalf of: Remy Edmundson – Producer

Chris Kweku Benett – Production Assistant

Bright B. Simons – Curator &

Bernard Akoi-Jackson – Impresario