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)