One of those moments at TEDGlobal that made me feel jazzy inside was when two performers from the Zip Zap Circus School came on stage to entertain us. I didn’t know what to expect because I’ve never heard of them before. Rest assured I will be on the lookout for future performances back in South Africa. When I spoke to one of them during a break they told me that they lost their sponsorship from Old Mutual. So if anyone can help please contact Zip Zap through their website here.
Next up was Idris Mohammed, a Private Equity Pioneer. One of the most memorable quotes from the entire conference came from Idris, “Make Africa rich will you will make her less poor.” Idris talked about the link between GDP, multi party democracies, one party states and monarchy’s. The problem is not with the economies as such it’s with African Leadership.
Private investment in Telecoms in Africa reached $15 billion in 2005. MTN Nigeria experienced a 90% return on investment. One of the constraints it seems in Africa is the lack of energy sources and over 600 million megawatt hours are needed. A comparison was made between $35 billion in aid versus $5 to $10 billion in private equity investment. The stock market capitalisation in Africa is about $605 billion and excluding South Africa it drops to a meagre $34 billion. And every time you look the needs of Africa instead look at it as an investment opportunity as big as $200 billion currently.
I cannot believe the first day of TEDGlobal is over. We had a dinner party sponsored by Google on Monday evening and today it’s a jam packed. Later I’m attending a lunch sponsored by Google.org where they’ll mention some projects they are involved with in Africa.
Eleni Gabre-Madhin, is an Economist, who is working to set-up the first commodities exchange in Ethiopia. This is nothing new in the West and also in South Africa as we have had a Futures exchange for a long time. She starts out her talk with a story about the people from Bhutan who decided to measure their Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product. African farmers are under-capitalised and only 7% of land is irrigated in Africa compared to 40% in Asia. And hence hunger and malnutrition goes up and not down.
Africa’s market problem is a market challenge. Price volitility in the food market is the highest. And you experience arrested development because of this. There were several examples of the extreme fluctuations of Maize pricing from season to season. And how Africa imports substantial amounts of Maize now compared to a few decades ago when it was the largest exporter of Maize. She draws comparisons with the role and impact of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the biggest in the world. Again although this may be common practise it’s a evolution for African farmers to conduct trade without seeing the goods first. Part of the solution will be to bring Internet cafe’s to rural communities so farmers can trade in real time without physically being close to the exchange.
This talk was followed by a quick re-issue of a challenge from long-time TEDster and founder or Priceline.com Jay Walker. He asked if they audience can come up with a way to create 10 million new jobs. The only proviso is to figure out what people in Africa with 10 million cellphones can offer as a service to the West.
Dr Kenneth Vickery filled in for George Ayittey during this slot. We would have to wait a little longer for Big Goerge and it would be worth while.
Ken is the author of Black and White in Southern Zambia. The essence of his talk was a quick, very quick history lesson on Africa. He came to Africa about 35 years ago as a young man and was instantly hooked on the adventure. In one incident he ended up having this very involved conversation with the driver who ended up rear ending another car because kept looking back to speak to Ken.
As he travelled widely across the continent he met many people with amazing stories. He quotes Mark Twain as saying history does not repeat itself, it rhymes. There is a Gary Larsen joke, about the Natives American who are waiving at the Europeans leaving and saying to another, “Did you feel nervous when they said, ‘see you later’?” There was a story of a Kongo king in the 1500s, the Ja Ja King of Opobo in the 1880s. The GDP continued to growth in Africa throughout the the 1960s and early part of the 1970s. Africa worked hard at keeping its promises on improving education, etc. To some extent things started to fall apart in the 1970s with the US dollar nearly collapsed, oil prices surged and gold sky-rocketed to $800 an ounce.
Session 2: Looking Back to Look Forward, was kicked off by Dr Zeresenay Alemseged, a palaeontologist from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Dr Zeray discovered the remains of the oldest humanoid child in Ethopia in 2000. The discovery is affectionately named â€œSelamâ€, a 3 year old hominid child, and announced in 2006. He explains that we share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees. While talking about how â€œSelamâ€ was extracted he relates it to a sort of 2nd birth. That is how long it took him to remove sandstone grain by grain for five years. One of the way to compare skeletons from thousands of years ago to determine if they are our ancestors is to figure out they were walking upright or not. Homo erectus is the great ancestor of homo sapien, modern man. Comparing the size of teeth you can determine if it’s male or female. In this case it’s smaller teeth which confirms it’s a girl. We are by far the most successful species in the history of the world â€“ I would add especially if you consider how our population size keeps growing with almost no end in sight. And by further extrapolation that we are doing this at a substantial cost to the environment and many, many other specifies on Earth.
Here’s my video podcast with Dr Alemseged in the Internet Cafe at TEDGlobal:
Bono is one of Africa’s biggest supporters. He was not listed on the official program for this TEDGlobal as a speaker and made an impromptu appearance on stage. Back in 2005 Bono won the TEDPrize and accepted with a truly riveting talk on why the West should help Africa and how they can benefit as capitalists not as donors.
Since there had been two mentions of the Marshall plan Bono mentioned that it’s the anniversary of this initiative on Tuesday, on June 5. He went on that a comedian normally says what nobody else wants to say in a room. And I think here he refers to himself saying what nobody else wants to say the world leaders and other powerful people that he meets in the course of his advocacy work on behalf of Africa. It is unfair that Africa’s grandchildren have to pay for the debt of their forefathers. When the colonialists moved out of Africa in many cases they started lending huge amounts of money back to these colonies. There was so much more to Bono’s talk but you’ll have to wait until this one is released on the TED website.
When he took some questions from the audience there was a sense of him being attacked or put on the spot because those asking the questions disagreed vehemently about the appropriateness of aid to Africa going forward. Bono is a master communicator and responded without defending himself. And in this way probably gained even more respect from the audience. This was a very fitting end to the first session on day 1 on TEDGlobal.
Andrew Mwenda is a hard hitting in-your-face kind of journalist. He is currently on a year-long John S. Knight fellowship at Stanford University in the United States. So one of the things he immediately brought to our attention is that Sub-Saharan Africa received aid to the tune of 13% of GDP while the Marshall plan after World War 2 only gave about 2.5% to countries like Germany. One suggestion I can certainly agree with wholeheartedly is that there should be more support of research into Africa. The funding of research will allow for a much better understanding of African issues from the ground up and not speculation from a distance. According to Andrew some African countries are allowed duty free exports into the European Union for goods like sugar and beef but to date none has taken advantage of this.
What is sorely lacking is a institutional and policy framework. The problems are reinforced in that governments find it easier to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund rather then their own citizens! And all of this continues to lead to tension. It’s difficult to capture the full range of what was discussed by Andrew because of his breath of knowledge and the deep conviction with which he elucidates his points.
Carol Pineau was the 3rd speaker for the first session of TEDGlobal. She is best known for her documentary Africa Open For Business. She told some of the stories from her inspiring documentary. The first was the story of Ruff ‘n Tumble a very successful clothing designer from Nigeria. Another one was the great success of Vodacom Congo founded by Alieu Conteh, also a speaker at TEDGlobal. And maybe someone who could be considered in the future as Africa’s answer to Richard Branson: Mohammed Yassin Olad, who started a private airline when the Somali government collapsed and with it the national airline shut down. This is what true entrepreneurship is about – realising opportunities in the most dire circumstances.
She further explained that there is a unusually high perception of risk in Africa. However, China is one country that is striking up alliances, partnerships and investing at a rate like no Western country is doing. And in a way this is almost like a Marshall Plan for Africa.
You can purchase the documentary Africa: Open for Business directly from her website here. And here is a great article summarising the message on the official South Africa website.
Continuing on the theme of the Africa you don’t know was Andrew Dosunmu, most famous in South Africa as being the director of the hit television show Yizo Yizo. While growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, he experienced very different images of Africa compared to when he moved to London. Andrew has directed several music videos including one for the song Birima by Youssou N’Dour and Wyclef Jean. Andrew is filled with a passion for telling real stories especially about young people and how they experience living in Africa. So he travels widely collecting stories about youth culture and portraying positive images in his work.
This week I’m in Arusha, Tanzania attending the TEDGlobal conference. Travelling is one of those experiences which truly enriches your life. When you travel outside of your country you are stretching your own comfort zone.
Back in 2000 I spent 6 months working and living in United Arab Emirates. That was a big culture shock for me coming from South Africa, a very westernised country in many respects. The Arab world is conservative to say the least. The great thing about the UAE is the large population of expats from other countries who live there. And each and every time I met someone it expanded my view of the world.
In most cases we live such isolated lives. And travel is one of those activities which brings about a sense of personal growth like few other activities. And just by observation you can learn more that you can from any book.
Travelling into Africa is a real experience for me because again I think in South Africa we have been spoiled to some extent. If you live in Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban, you are living in a first world experience. When you go into rural South Africa it’s a completely experience. But even that is a challenge which is worth undertaking.
If you are below 35 you may wanna consider the Contiki tours, which are dirt cheap travel worldwide. This is something which is on my t0-do list in the next two years. And if you are interested in following my experiences at the TEDGlobal confernece I will be blogging the presentations/speakers and conducting some video podcasts.