A note for everyone: I’ve gotten a number of requests to reuse content from this site about the TED conference. The answer is a blanket “yes”. Everything I write is available under Creative Commons atrribution license. That means that as long as you give me credit and preferably link back to here, you’re welcome to use my words whatever way you’d like.
Rokia Traoré welcomes the assembled crowd to the first session of TED Global 2007, “The Africa You Don’t Know,” with a beautiful Malian song. I’m thrilled to see Chris Anderson joined on stage by my friend Emeka Okafor, the remarkable Nigerian entrepreneur, thinker and blogger who’s put together this program. Emeka is clearly nervous to be on stage, co-hosting with Chris… but he deserves the honor given the amazing work he’s done.
Euvin Naidoo, the VP of Standard Bank in South Africa, welcomes us home to Africa. He invites the crowd to shout out the worst we’ve heard about Africa: corruption, famine, AIDS, slave trade. “But this is about Africa, the story we’ve not heard.”
Africa is on a turnaround, in terms of how it manages its public image and how it manages its destiny. Naidoo’s background is in turnarounds, beginning his work with McKinsey in South Africa. As a graduate student in the US, he wrote a case study on turnaround, focusing on Nelson Mandela – this became part of a book called “Confidence”, written by Rosabeth Moss Kanter. Naidoo has tremendous pride that an African story was used as an example of turnaround for US corporations.
Naidoo uses the NASA map of the earth at night to show us the contrast between the brightly lit North America and Africa, which literally looks like the Dark Continent. He quotes a geographer: “The only thing dark about Africa is our ignorance of it.”
One major source of our ignorance about Africa is the tendency to forget that the continent is 53 separate countries. “To say ‘invest in Africa’ is meaningless.” You can make money and lose money in Africa. But it’s worth noting that companies like Bain Capital are coming into South Africa and purchasing retail companies – that’s a bet on the emergence of the middle class. Nigeria must be taken seriously – it’s going to be one of the ten largest economies in the world by 2020, and we’re already seeing Nigerian companies capable of raising money through Eurobonds, securities with no government backing.And Nigeria currently produces as much oil as Venezuela or Kuwait. There are 135 million people in Nigeria, and 700 ATMs – that’s an opportunity, for serving tens of millions of unbanked people.
Naidoo is also bullish on Egypt, which had the world’s best performing stock exchange in 2005. He tells us about a $2.8 billion industrial park run by Singaporeans, designed to host textile and petrochemical manufacturing. Many African nations – now 16 – have soverign credit ratings. Some of these ratings aren’t very good… but they allow international investors to choose between African and non-African nations, comparing Nigeria to Ukraine, for instance.
Why is CNBC building a 24 hour news channel broadcasting nothing but African news? They believe there’s business to follow in Africa, and they want to shine a light on it. Naidoo urges us to take part in shining that light alongside them.
I’m very gratified by the response to my post last week about live conferenceblogging (or “conference liveblogging”, if you prefer), and to all the suggestions and ammendments to the tips I posted. But I got the sense from some comments that I make the process of blogging these conferences sound like less fun than it actually is.
The truth is, while it’s hard work to blog big conferences, they give me ideas to think about for the next several months to come. I’m wrestling with a constellation of ideas about infrastructure’s role in development and questions about whether African approaches to building infrastructure a piece at a time represent a new model for international development… a train of thought that never would have entered my brain but the convergence of a couple of talks at TED and a couple at the World Economic Forum.
The good folks at TED have begun posting video of the talks from the TED Global Conference in Arusha. The first set posted is an excellent introduction to the debates that took place in Arusha about the role of aid, government reform and entrepreneurship in transforming the continent. I recommend starting your exploration with Ghanaian economist George Ayittey, who condemns a generation of African leaders as “hippos” and talks of his hopes for “the cheetah generation”, whose independence and speed was exemplified by many of the conference speakers. Ayittey’s frame was adopted by many of the speakers and listeners at the conference, and his thinking about African development have had a profound influence on conference curator Emeka Okafor.
You might follow Ayittey with former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who complicates any discussion of aid versus entrepreneurship with a profoundly moving story about caring for her sick sister, and the aid worker who saved her life. Or with Euvin Naidoo, who is profoundly optimistic about investment opportunities on the continent.
But I strongly recommend wrapping up an hour’s explorations with William Kamkwamba’s talk. William, you may remember, is a remarkable Malawian inventor, who built his first windmill at age 14, working from a diagram in a library book, and provided light to his family’s home. With the help of a number of TED attendees, he’s now attending school again and has started blogging.
There’s more to come – it was a four day conference, after all – but these videos should whet your appetite and, I hope, give you some new thoughts to chew on as well.