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mardi, juin 05, 2007

Live from TEDGlobal 2007 (2): Day 1 recap

On Monday afternoon, the conference sessions began, with the first session themed “The Africa You Don’t Know”.

  • Euvin Naidoo, the president of the South African Chamber of Commerce in America, opened with a talk on investment in Africa, stressing that Africa provides a viable investment option both from a diversification perspective and a value investor’s objective.
  • Carol Pineau, a journalist and filmmaker, showed clips of her inspiring video on entrepreneurship, Africa Open for Business. I am looking forward to her next film, Africa Investment Horizons.
  • Andrew Mwenda, a journalist and social critic, argued passionately against aid and charity for Africa, emphasizing that aid makes objects of the poor, preventing them from being active participants in their own economic development.
  • After the break, Bono who has been instrumental in pressuring the G8 countries to meet their commitments of aid to Africa, argued passionately for aid and stressing that it is not charity but justice.

Already, one thread of conversation has emerged: aid vs. investment, symbolized by the Bono camp and the Andrew Mwenda camp. The fact is, there is truth in both camps. As Bono stressed, there are emergencies that need to be dealt with, such as the 3,000 children who die of malaria each day. There is also the importance of long-term, sustainable growth and development, which is where investment and trade come in. So, in truth, I do not believe it is an either-or argument. On Tuesday, Jacqueline Novogratz, a “market-based philanthropist” expressed this perspective. She stressed that dignity is even more important that wealth, and that dignity comes from being able to achieve dreams and make self-determined progress. She stressed that aid certainly cannot solve all the problems, but that the market cannot necessarily solve all the problems either – that a creative combination of these is necessary.

The conference is being held at the same time as the G8 summit. Bono used his influence to get the German chancellor to send a video message addressing the attendees at the conference, which was shown on the first day. Her message commended the conference, saying how it was appropriate that while governments consulted on some of the challenges and opportunities of Africa, that individuals do so too.

On the first day, we also saw and heard from filmmaker Newton Aduaka and saw soul-wrenching clips from his film Ezra, a story told through the eyes of a Sierra Leonean child soldier. We learned from paleontologist Zeray Alemseged about his team’s discovery of the 3.3-million-year-old hominid child in Ethiopia. We saw photography from Andrew Dosunmu in his quest to redefine the images we see of Africa. What a diversity of experiences, what food for thought!

I came away from the first day with a deep-seated sense of humility. Humility based on the reinforced recognition of the complexity of the issues facing Africa, the reinforced understanding that each of these issues is important and the danger of painting a black-and-white picture that would suggest that there is only one solution that is important. Humility based on the recognition that for each of us, focus is important – a focus that necessitates approaching with excellence the particular sphere we work in, the particular challenge or issue that we or our organizations are addressing, because we cannot each work simultaneously with excellence on education, health, markets, investments, art, culture, rural development and any of the other issues relevant to Africa. However, with humility, we will appreciate and recognize the importance of the contributions of others, in other spheres of activity. We will not stress aid to the exclusion of investment, or investment to the exclusion of humanitarian work.

So far, the conversations I have had with other attendees are incredible. The attendees are all inspiring and interesting in their own way. I look forward to learning more in the remainder of the conference.