Friday, August 29, 2008

Its an African Story

TED has released some more of its talks. I enjoyed this one by Ory Okolloh: on becoming an African activist.

It has many teachable moments. I regret that she is only able to briefly touch on these moments because of the short time frame she is given. 15 minutes is not nearly enough time with her.

She opens using the tragedies of her own life as an example of the way we have of portraying Africa as the "victim" continent. The painful story of the loss of her father is "an African story". I borrow that phrase (and the blog title) from the movie Dirty, Pretty Things, which has the admirable main character, Okwe, (illegally) working his way back to his native Nigeria having experienced a wrenching personal loss which he labels "an African story". It is difficult to speak with any African, educated or not, rich or poor, who has not experienced tragedy of this magnitude. And yet, no human wants to be defined, solely by that experience. Nor does Okolloh want us to view Africa through the victim lens.

She touches briefly on the issue when she stops on a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow, sporting some face paint and bearing the caption, "I am an African." Succinctly she comments, "No, you are not." It was a powerful and delightful moment.

She moves on to discuss the Swahili Wikipedia---consisting of the contributions of 4 white men and one African. (Tanzanian students will have little to read on the Internet, even if they can afford the access. She issues a challenge to Africans to step up to the plate and contribute but I can't help but want to invoke the victim explanation for this problem. We are the ones with more than enough free time. There are no chickens in my back yard needing tending to ensure my survival.

Here is an older source discussing the founding of the (Ki)Swahili Wikipedia.

She, also, discusses the very real dilemma of educated Africans who face pressure to remain in the lands they have gone to to be educated to get the high-paying job and send money home. She stands tall at having made the difficult choice of turning her back on the big paycheck and stopping the brain drain, having returned to her native Kenya to help build a future for her daughter.

The nicest parts of the talk are the ways she is able to bring an African perspective to a wider audience. I loved her judgments and pronouncements--which, basically, all stemmed from her rightful desire to present her view of her continent, rather than accept the spin of the "bleeding heart liberals". Just lovely.

BTW, if you haven't seen the TED talk on William and his windmill that she references, you must. It is inspirational and humbling.

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