BBC Africa Debate 2018: To Say The Thing Without Saying The Thing

Last month (Feb 23rd), I was invited to the Annual BBC Africa's Komla Dumlor Award and Africa Debate held at the Alisa Hotel in Accra. The topic: Is the older generation failing Africa’s youth? It was hosted by BBC journalists Akwasi Sarpong and Amina Yuguda. 

The debate is now available online. Perhaps you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with a  side, perhaps you are in the middle. Nonetheless, you wish you had a visual aide to help you place the people and their perspectives you hear on audio in its proper context. Below, I "say the thing without saying the thing" - I answer the question without answering it. Take a read at my synopsis/context analysis and let me know your thoughts. Which side of the debate do you fall on?

On February 23rd, BBC invited a mixed crowd of about 100 Africa enthusiasts to Accra, Ghana for an intergenerational conversation about the future of the continent. We are to debate the question: “Is the older generation failing Africa’s youth?”.

I am there with the Accra discourse usuals: Will Senyo, the visionary behind Accra’s tech enclave in Osu, discourse peddlers like members of the World Economic Forum’s youth initiative, Global Shapers Accra Hub, and the heralded Mustapha Hamid, Ghana’s Minister of Information.

There are socialites like actress/artist Sister Deborah, impassioned students from oft-cited Ashesi University, and acclaimed journalists like Joy FM’s Kojo Yankson. The panel for the day’s debate is also to note: Zanetor Rawlings, Member of Parliament in Ghana; Patrick Awuah, founder of Ashesi University; Fatima Tambajang, a 24 year-old Gambian woman who returned from Denmark to live in Ghana; Ethel Cofie, entrepreneur and founder of Women In Tech Africa; and John Kufuor, former Ghanaian president and African Union Chairperson.

Like the event’s venue, the attendees and panelists are unassuming. No fancy suits or thousand dollar shoes or purses, a few young people notably wear ankara print, or ‘African wear’ as is the traditional Friday fashion in Ghana. Decorations are sparse - there are just a few pull up banners projecting a smiling Komla Dumor, the iconic Ghanaian journalist who worked for the BBC and in whose honor the mornings event was held. There are light refreshments a few people meander around.

The ambiance is genial, people in the room are generally familiar with each other, or at least, each other’s work. There is no trophy to be won, no points to be scored, and no money to be earned; we are freed our our usual African competitiveness and let their guards down. With the exception of the launch of the Komla Dumor awards prior and a five minute run down on the opening and closing applause for the show, no parts of the conversation are contrived.

The debate is how you hear it- the magnetic moderators, Ghana’s Akwasi Sarpong and Nigeria’s Amina Yuguda, guide the audience through a build up of questions on the state of affairs between African youth and and the older generation. Like one blows into a balloon, Sarpong and Yuguda effortlessly guide the conversation between the panelists and one or two audience members, till, pop, twelve hands shoot up and stay up, and Yuguda must choose who can speak. The room becomes measurably opinionated, energetic, and spirited. By the end, Sarpong notes that even the Minister for Information did not get to speak.

You will hear or have heard the meat of the show so what is of essence here is I paint a picture of what you cannot hear: the humor with which former President Kufuor courts the crowd despite vivid protests on the face of many when he affirms traditional gender tropes in his arguments. It’s almost like knowing both the intention and harmlessness of a person so forgiving him before he is remorseful.

Many may not agree with the former president but the man is endearing. It is also important to note the sympathy, despair, and concern with which many listen when a young Ghanaian man talks about his to journey to Libya. He talks about starting a business and losing his money in the mid 2000s. Pushed to the wall, he decides to head to Libya. Just like the saying goes, he too is saying the thing without saying the thing. Many of us know too well the uncertainty of the African marketplace, the plight of economic migration, and the reality of our precarious existence as young people in Ghana and Africa at large.

Finally, it is worth noting the agnst with which the students from Patrick Awuah’s brainchild, Ashesi University, speak. These students are among the youngest in the crowd and are armed with budding consciousness about our society and world. They are innocent and moral enough to seek justice and repair. If this is any testament to the temperament of the audience assembled, when they speak, we become silent and deliberate. Many times, we know they are right.

In fact, the debate closes with no clear answer to the question posed but prescriptions from audience members and panelists alike are commendable. As we prepare to usher in a new decade, Africa, like the rest of the world, is anxious about what the future holds. The continent, perhaps unlike its counterpart, contends with a hyper-charged reality, a growing and more vocal and visible youth, the world’s largest and youngest population.

As old paradigms disintegrate and shift, discourse is imperative to imagining and creating new systems and beliefs. If the continent can exhibit the attentiveness the BBC Africa debate audience extends to the ferocious Ashesi students who speak, we might be in good standing to create a prosperous continent for the most affected: our youth.