What You Missed at The TEDGlobal 2017 Arusha

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The TEDGlobal 2017 was held in Arusha where about  600 delegates joined in the discussions with world renowned experts on different subjects under the theme Builders, Truth Tellers and Catalysts. This global forum started on the 27th till 30th of August, the speakers shared their ideas at the Ngurdoto Hotel in Arusha. The conference had 21 innovators from across the world including 10 from Africa who came to share worthy ideas.

TedGlobal 2017
Photo by Bret Hartman/TED

The TEDGlobal 2017 was divided into a couple of sessions based on themes. The first session themed “The New Map’ was aimed at showing a glimpse of the future of Africa’s tech space. Curtain raised by energetic dancing by the Qudus Onikeku with their performance called “the rainmaker”, the new map session covered topics on Afrofuturism, debunking myths that Africa has no history, and training a computer to recognize smells. Zachariah Mampilly, a political scientist, pointed out that political activism led by younger people is a powerful shaper of the future particularly Africa where he used countries like Tunisia, Senegal, Egypt, Burkina-Faso and Malawi as examples. Nnedi Okorafor, the award-winning science fiction author, stirred the conversation by focusing on ideas of Afrofuturism. Nnedi asked the pertinent questions “What if an African girl from a traditional family in a part of future Africa is accepted into the finest university in a galaxy, planets away? What if she decides to go?” To answer that Nnedi used her book trilogy “Binti” Series. To many people, Afrofuturism looks a lot like science fiction, but Nnedi argued that it’s different from sci-fi because its evolutionary roots are different. Oshiorenoya Agabi, a specialist in Artificial Intelligence and Biology, shared some ideas on neuroscience. Oshi and his team had a device called the Koniku Kore a device that can detect and recognize smells. Among the things, this device can detect are bombs and can be used in the early detection of diseases like cancer.

TedGlobal 2017
Photo by Bret Hartman/TED

The second session, themed “Pathmakers”, started off with a Q and A with President Kagame of Rwanda by journalist and media entrepreneur Vimbayi Kajase. Unlike other interviews with presidents, Vimbaye chose to break from tradition and started with, “How is the madam, and how are the kids? ” a question about work life balance which men rarely get asked. The interview revealed Kagame’s style of leadership which is based on honesty. President Kagame holds that “A president can’t do much on their own. We have to work with our people and communicate honestly.” The conversation then continued with other innovators who had already started their journeys. Peter Thiam, a chef based in New York had noted the absence of African cuisines and was on a quest to bring “fonio”, a Senegalese gluten free grain which is almost endangered due to climate change, to the world by partnering with WholeFoods. Magette Wade, a brand creator, emphasised on how African governments need to make it easier for people to start businesses. The session was concluded by Llew Claasen, a bitcoin geek, who explained the basics of bitcoins and how they are a useful tool for storage of money and for transferring ownership of things that aren’t money, like land titles or stock.

TedGlobal 2017
Photo by Bret Hartman/TED

The third session was called ‘The Leapfrog Session”. It revealed how Africa has managed to make innovative solutions to solve its own problems. Speakers like Chika Ezeanya Esiobu stressed on the untapped scientific, and cultural knowledge Africa has. According to her, the knowledge will be forgotten if we let the custodians die without passing them to successive generations. She added, “Our education doesn’t foster a sense of curiosity about our own environment.“. Chika Ezeanya is determined and committed to exploring Africa’s own knowledge systems and finding ways to mainstream this in the curriculum, research agenda and policy action across sectors. Kamau Gachigi has been consumed with empowering creators, makers and inventors in Kenya with the platform and tools to test out their ideas without needing to go to China. This drive culminated in his leadership of Gearbox, a maker space and hardware accelerator that provides a rapid prototyping environment for professionals — which includes people with no formal engineering background. Gachigi comes to the stage armed with the stories of people Gearbox has enabled to test their ideas and gain the confidence to take them to the next level.

TedGlobal 2017
Photo by Ryan Lash/TED

The fourth session was a wakeup call to Africa under the theme ‘Knowledge’. Olufemi Taio, a professor of politics, delivered a sobering realisation that Africa has a scarcity of knowledge. Africa does not suffer a resource crisis but a knowledge crisis on how to discover, tap, and distribute its resources. He emphasised that it is important that we, as Africans, make knowledge and the pursuit of it rewarding and fulfilling. Africa also has to support knowledge institutions that produce brilliant ideas around production, distribution, and consumption. Niti Bhan, who is the founder and owner of Emerging Future Labs added that part of discovering our knowledge potential is in appreciating the informal sectors. Africa often criminalizes the informal sector because it lacks a parameter for distinguishing between undocumented trade and illegal trade. According to Niti, if we tap into the informal sector, we restore up to 80% of the annual GDP for Africa. But we can all rise above the uncertainties, fears, hate, or superstition, as Leo Igwe, a human rights activist affirmed. The fourth session ended with Ndidi Nwuneli, a social innovation expert, urging Africans to support faith-based organisations in their quest to reform Africa. Despite our religious standing, we can all come together on issues affecting the continent like education and maternal mortality.

Session five, dubbed “Repatterning Culture, Identity, Language”, opened with an electrifying performance from South Africa’s songbird Thandiswa Mazwai. Thereafter, more artists came to the stage sharing how they use art to paint a brighter image of Africa. Natsai Audrey Chieza, a textile designer, observed that Africa can no longer rely on fossil fuels to produce textile dyes. Instead, we can now utilize biology, specifically, pigment producing bacteria, to dye our textiles. This way, we create a textile industry that aligns with the need for conserving our environment. We can also change how Africa is portrayed through photography as seen through the works of Ike Ude. Ike Ude, a renowned portrait photographer, borrows fashion styles from all over the world and fuses it with an African touch. Uche affirms that we can beautify the African continent through something as simple as a portrait of a person. His series, Nollywood Portraits and Sartorial Anarchy are a true depiction of his beliefs.

Session 6 was themed ‘Urban 3.0’ and focused on how urbanization can change Africa. Christian Benimana, a successful architect, uses his skill to reshape the face of urbanization in Africa. Benimana’s idea is to create urban centres that are uniquely African in both equity and sustainability. Benimana is redefining urban Africa together with a team of designers and architects he recruits from all over the continent. At the grassroots level, another brilliant mind, Robert Neuwirth, is creating a sustainable solution for the shared economy. Echoing the visions of Niti Bhan, Mr, Neuwirth studies the informal sectors in African countries drawing the similarities between them. Neuwirth believes that if these shared economies are studied, it can lead to the creation of a sustainable engine that will drive the future of Africa. But urbanization also has to be held accountable as observed by OluTimehin Adegbeye. Through her moving talk, Ms Adegbeye urged Africans to hold their governments accountable for building cities that include both the rich and the poor.

TedGlobal 2017

Session 7 was all about the discovery and channelling human potential into making Africa a better place, under the theme ‘Power Up’. What if one of the ways to realize our African potential is by eradicating a deadly disease like Malaria? Fredros Okumu, a mosquito scientist based in Tanzania, has made it his mission to find a solution for eradicating Malaria in Africa. Fredros captures and studies mosquitoes for a living with the quest of finding an answer to alleviating, or destroying completely, the malaria-carrying mosquito that has plagued Africa for years.

TedGlobal 2017
Photo by Ryan Lash / TED

TedGlobal 2017 Arusha ended on a powerful note via the 8th session themed, ‘Manifesto’. This was a call to all Africans to go out and implement the ideas they had learnt from the event. What better way to do this than to call in inspiring speakers who will affirm to everyone that, ‘It is possible!’. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim opened the stage by narrating how she is continuously creating opportunities for growth in her country, Mauritius, she is an accomplished flora scientist as well as the first female Muslim president of Mauritius. An equally accomplished female leader, Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, seeks to change education in schools by designing a new curriculum that fosters thinkers and problem solvers. Finally, the four-day event had to end on a partying note with Kenya’s afro-pop group, Sauti Sol, performing their hits Live and Die in Africa, Kuliko Jana, and Sura Yako all in celebration of our continent Africa.

Neema Ngelime
A Content Creator who paints with light.