L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

21 June 2007 Blog Home : June 2007 : Permalink

Nourishing African Obscurity

In the spirit of finding blogs that few people have heard of may I present to you the Malawi Windmill Blogger. The blogger, a gentleman by the name of William Kamkwamba, has become a blogger because he built a windmill generator out of scrap for the family farmat the age of 14. He followed instructions from a book. "I tried it and I made it," he said to a standing ovation at the TEDGlobal 2007 conference in Arusha Tanzania.

This all comes (including some of the phasing because I'm lazy) from the excellent Meskel Square blog run by a Reuters journalist in Addis Ababa. The journalist is apparently now moving to Sudan because his wife, a journalist for the BBC, has been posted there and he has decided to follow.

Amongst the recent posts at Meskel Square as his coverage of TEDGlobal 2007. It is well worth reading the whole hting but I think the key is this part where he explains how different TED was to the usual bureaucratic development conference in Africa:

So how does that differ from a typical tech conference here on the continent? Picture any of a dozen that have been hosted in Addis Ababa's UN complex or African Union HQ over the past year or so. Imagine a parade of government officials and state-appointed telecoms execs spouting phony African proverbs and development platitudes. At the last one I went to, the keynote speaker spent an hour going through his ten priorities for African development – "Last but not least let us remember the need for capacity building...". At the one before that, the event only came to life once a day after lunch, as people rushed to the front desk to receive their DSAs (daily subsistence allowances – the lifeblood of any UN-funded conference circuit).

The difference between all that and what happened in Arusha was best summed up by TEDGlobal speaker and Africa Unchained author George Ayittey when he talked about:

The Cheetah Generation - made up of the youth, specifically the TED Fellows present here, the saviors of Africa who are not going to wait for government and aid organizations to do things for them.

The Hippo Generation - the current political and business leaders who are happy to wallow in their water holes, complaining about colonialism and poverty, but doing nothing about it. [Thank you White African for the summary.]

I have only ever attended conferences with hippos on the centre stage. Arusha was full of cheetahs. There was barely a government official in sight – apart from Tanzania's president Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete who rushed in on the last day, mesmerising the crowd with his diamond-studded watch. I only heard the phrase "capacity-building" mentioned once, and I am sure that was a slip of the tongue.

(Cross posted to Nourishing Obscurity where I'm guest blogging for a while)