Monday, June 4, 2012

Open Forum 2012: Power

I was primed for a day of powerful and passionate dialogue on the POWER day... but then I went to the Google Zone to charge my laptop with the dicky battery when I saw Binyavanga Wainaina in the corner being interviewed. In a lime green Kitenge jacket. That was the end of any morning session plans. 

After I managed to pull myself away from Binyanvanga, I just about barely made it to the main auditorium for a session titled: "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: how elections in Africa confirm and confound what we know about inequality." On the panel: Joaquim Chissano, Mamphela Ramphele, L. Muthoni Wanyeki and Brian Kagoro. Moderator: Siphamandla Zondi

1. When there is a Head of State in the room, no matter how former, S/He will absorb the attention in the room like a dense star. This as the case with H.E. Chissano who, to be fair, didn't maunder on endlessly as some of his agemates are wont to do. It is what it is. I didn't mind so much except that it meant that quieter voices like L. Muthoni Wanyeki didn't get as much mike-time as I was hoping. EA columnist in the house! I wanted to hear more from her, for what she was saying was demanding of reflection. 

2. Mamphela Ramphele and Brian Kagoro frankly got me overexcited. Ms. Ramphele is the kind of leftist I thought were extinct: erudite, confident in her arguments, able to convey her ideas with such intellectual certainty, panache, exquisite 2012! And then there was Brian Kagoro, inserting humour into what could have been a terribly dense experience and getting away with saying some rather racy and daring things. I want him, quite badly, to be President of Tanzania and of East Africa though I didn't get a chance to tell him so. That campaign is coming. There will be t-shirts. 

But really, the highlight of the day was the panel with the artistes in the afternoon: A New Generation of African Artists and Activists Talk Politics. There were the aforementioned Binyavanga Wainaina, songstress Simphiwe Dana (huge voice in such a tiny body), writer Petinah Gappah, Google lady Ory Okolloh and Femi Kuti moderated by Bibi Bakare Yusuf co-founder of Casssava Republic Press. Some parts of that panel were a holy rolling mess- it only took about five minutes for the yelling matches to start. But, you know: where there are creatives, there will be passion. 

I just want to focus on one little thing here: the pan-Africanist question. Things were moving along just fine until someone raised the issue of language on the continent. And then it got very, very interesting. There are apparently quite a number of Africans who are down with the one-continent-one-language idea. I can't really imagine the politics of that, and I live in a country where we've managed quite well in using a Bantu language administratively without the usual heinous violations of culture that accompanies such nationalist projects. What made me sad was that instead of aiming for real brilliance- such as continuing the African practice of being the most multilingual continent on the planet- we're having arguments about whether it should be Yoruba or Zulu or Kiswahili. Sometimes I think it's not that pan-Africanists are misguided, I think the visions are limited and perhaps not in keeping with the times. 

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