This blog post is coming a bit late for my Ghanaian audience but I wanted to write about the New Africa Nation Conference of the TINA Festival, and I am just getting home from its closing. The event is part of a 3 day festival organized by Ghanaian afrobeats star, Fuse ODG, to celebrate Afrobeats culture and lifestyle.
The conference opened with a lovely rendition of Osibisa’s Welcome Home followed by two insightful panel sessions and a passionate audience talk-back/ Q&A. About 800 people attended the event and from audience participation, it appears that different parts of the African Diaspora - Ghanaians in the US, UK, Canada; African-Americans, Nigerians, Caribbeans - were represented.
Panel #1 on the Creative Industry
Ghanaian media mogul, Bola Ray, talked about building media platforms across Africa and not only in Ghana, ie. ECOFest in Sierra Leone; the importance of supporting our celebrities and heroes; the need to push Ghanaian artists beyond the local scene to the global stage; and understanding the business of the creative arts.
British-Ghanaian actor, Reggie Yates, talked about the changing tide with Africans in the Diaspora, from once being ashamed about being African to this moment where we all deeply embrace our heritage; he acknowledge the contribution of Fuse, among others in making this moment possible.
Ghanaian actress, Ama Abebrese, made an excellent point about the business of TV programming, ie. why are there so many Indian and Mexican telenovelas on Ghanaian screens. She even challenged Bola Ray who owns GHOne about why he has these shows on his network . She also talked about the unique challenges the film industry faces that are not present in other industries, ie. you still need a lot of money to produce a good quality film where the same is no longer true for making music, being a photographer, etc.
Fuse made an excellent point about not just creating things for the world, especially considering all of the hype around “Ghana/Africa to the world” but thinking about the soul and spirit in the things we produce; that is, whatever we take to the world should uplift our people. He also shared his plans to build the Black Star Line - an airline with direct flights between Ghana and Jamaica.
Panel #2 on Pan-Africanism
PanAfrican activist, Chakabars, talked about Christianity’s diametric opposition to Africanness, as in the "Christianity is not African” line of thought. He made note of the need to build for ourselves in other countries just as others are building for themselves in ours. He also talked about melanin being the common thread that unites us all, the science behind it, and the need to build our labs to study ‘melanin’.
Ghanaian entrepreneur/investor, Sangu Delle, came back really hard at Chakabars about Christianity not being African, passionately proclaiming that he is not any less Pan African because he is a Christian. Chakabars and a few others sort of insinuated that Christianity was to blame for racism and especially patriarchy and sexism, and Delle pointed out that sexism is also inherent in many of our traditional belief systems, thus Christianity isn’t to blame. Overall, from questions on poor leadership to China to Diaspora contribution, Delle advocated that we sort out what we are doing wrong first. He once responded, “We have a problem of bad leadership but we also have a problem of bad citizenship” referring to tax contribution, political fundraising, etc from citizens, when someone asked about what we can do to hold our leaders responsible.
The audience talkback and Q&A was really insightful. Events like this tend to get academic, technical, or professional, but the moderator gave people an opportunity to share their personal stories and beliefs. Those moments were raw and emotional. I believe the young diaspora, above being lectured at and preached to about the merits of coming home, simply want a platform to be listened to…to speak among their peers and other influencers and know their experiences, pains, and beliefs matter.
My General Sentiment
I sense that this will be a yearly African festival for dialogue and celebration and that is a wonderful initiative.
As I told a friend during the conference, our focus on the diaspora is sadly limited to experiences in the U.S. and the U.K. There is a large and growing group of young Africans in Asia who need to be plugged into these conversations, especially as we fret over China’s presence, ie. neocoloniasm. They have expertise in these areas that we need to hear.
A good part of the dialogue focused on mental slavery, self consciousness/awareness, and love of self. This, in fact, is what I believe Fuse and co mean by the New Africa Nation - the African in our minds and spirits and its ability to transform the current realities of our continent.
There is/ will continue to be a huge movement of young Africans back to the continent and I believe there is the right combination of resources and inputs that will make them successful where earlier generations of “returnees” were not.
As the audience mentioned, most of the panel members were men…the panelists on Pan-Africanism were all men. Women’s experiences in the Diaspora/ moving home journey are different; we cannot assume that they will be accounted for in the larger conversation - we must be intentional about giving them the mic.
More needs to be done to foster dialogue between projects that local or earlier generations of returnees are doing and those people in the diaspora seek to do. A lot of the problems people in the diaspora fret over are being worked on in some way by someone already here. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we need to foster dialogue that allows those who want to contribute to discover what is already on ground and contribute to it.
Were you at the conference? Any other insights you gleaned?