Tuesday, June 12, 2012



By Staff Writers
December 7, 2011

Although quite a popular topic in classrooms and news sources, the African continent nevertheless ends up clouded by frequent overgeneralizations, misportrayals, misconceptions and myths regarding its issues and its people. One cannot ignore its history of violence, subjugation, poverty, famine, and disease, of course, but the truly savvy understand that there is much potential to be found in its eclectic peoples and environment alike. TED, as one can probably imagine, set out to peel back the myriad layers in order to showcase the continent’s (not country’s!) true diversity and opportunities. And despite its efforts, one gets the impression that only the surface receives a scratching. Albeit a rather deep one!

John Kasaona: How poachers became caretakers

Namibian activist John Kasaona instituted an innovative initiative to reinvigorate his beloved homeland, particularly the Kunene Region. Benefiting both humans and the endangered animals sharing habitats with them, he’s developed caretaker positions for those needing steady employment. Some of these individuals once worked as poachers, now using their knowledge for preserving the species they once nearly wiped out.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Want to help Africa? Do business here

Nigeria’s first female Finance Minister shatters many of the misconceptions regarding African economics and entrepreneurship, stories which rarely reach foreign shores. She believes that truly sustainable support doesn’t come from sending money, food, or clothing donations, but rather investors helping businesses get started. In this illuminating TED Talk, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala presents a more than compelling case for what real aid should strive to accomplish.

Wadah Khanfar: A historic moment in the Arab world

2011 saw many a revolution take place across North Africa, particularly in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, and former Al Jazeera Director General Wadah Khanfar attributes the success to social media. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter empower those pining for democracy to band together and fight “authoritarian regimes” for the rights they so desperately want. Even though his media outlet “do[es] not create revolutions,” he discusses how enthused both he and his fellow reporters were to cover such major moments in Arab history.

Emily Oster flips our thinking on AIDS

This TED lecture is sure to spark both thought and maybe a little bit of controversy, as it dismantles many common assumptions people hold about HIV and AIDS. Only Uganda and its ABC program promoting safe sex have successfully lessened the epidemic, and economic principles (not economics itself) might very well explain why the initiative works. Seeing as how public health is, in fact, both a political and an economic issue, this approach does make perfect sense.

William Kamkwamba: How I harnessed the wind

African studies majors (or minors!) with a particular affinity for alternative energy will find this young man’s story absolutely riveting; hopefully others will, too! In 2001, when he was 14, Malawi suffered a horrendous famine, which threatened William Kamkwamba’s family’s farm. With spare parts, an innovative mind, and an overwhelming love, he constructed a windmill that powered everything and guided them through a devastating time.

Franco Sacchi tours Nigeria’s booming Nollywood

The world’s third largest film industry sits nestled – and, sadly, largely unknown — in Nigeria, where a “grassroots movement” generated nearly 2,000 movies in 2006 alone. It creates jobs by the “thousands, if not tens of thousands” and (as of the time of Franco Sacchi’s TED Talk) is worth about $250 million. Unlike its Hollywood and Bollywood counterparts, guerilla filmmaking reigns supreme here, with creative crews battling both time crunches and the government to produce entire features in only (if not less than!) a week.

Mother and daughter doctor-heroes: Hawa Abdi + Deqo Mohamed

Philanthropy and courage run in the family, as this duo of inspiring doctors and activists reveal in their hopeful Somali story. Despite civil war and the crippling marginalization of females, the two reached out to all refugees they could through medicine and education alike, establishing a hospital and school to meet two major basic human rights. Their outstanding efforts established an oasis of love and peace within a nation shredded by subjugation.

Eleni Gabre-Madhin on Ethiopian economics

Ethiopia receives more food donations and aid than any other country in the world, but actually boasts numerous opportunities for farmers. Eleni Gabre-Madhin, an economist, wants to organize the country’s first low-risk commodities market, starting with agricultural investments and development. She believes that doing so will not only establish more sustainable jobs, but also reduce Ethiopian dependence on foreign food support and encourage higher household incomes.

Marisa Fick-Jordan shares the wonder of Zulu wire art

Although Marisa Fick-Jordan’s TED Talk lasts less than three minutes, what she has to share will surely delight art aficionados. Zulu’s tradition of wire weaving not only captures the society’s unique and ancient aesthetic, it provides some fantastic economic opportunities as well. Craftspeople skilled in the intricate medium reach out to buyers worldwide, earning money while simultaneously encouraging the gorgeous art style’s perpetuation.

Corneille Ewango is a hero of the Congo forest

This esteemed botanist rightfully receives much acclaim for his work in the Congo Basin’s Okapi Wildlife Reserve, which, as its name suggests, focuses on keeping the eponymous endangered species alive. Part of his responsibilities include protecting the safehaven’s fragile flora and fauna from poachers and servicemen with callous attitudes towards environmental initiatives. And he’s done pretty well thus far, here sharing some of the occasionally ghastly narratives about destruction and human entitlement issues.

Chris Abani on the stories of Africa

Poetry kept Nigerian activist Chris Abani stable, sane and self-expressive during his three stints as a political prisoner. One of his TED Talks sees him perusing the African continent for more stories, both similar to and different from his own, that might help him find some semblance of unity across an incredibly diverse continent. What results is an absolutely haunting, necessary, beautiful lecture illuminating very human, very universal emotions gleaned from unique experiences.

Dr. Seyi Oyesola tours a hospital in Nigeria

Nearly every bit of equipment in the Nigerian teaching hospital featured here came courtesy of donations, either secondhand or via generous philanthropic gestures, or hacking. Because of these lacking and sometimes inadequate resources, those receiving medical education in such facilities might not be able to assist patients to the best of their abilities before or after graduation. The world’s most economically deprived regions have been and currently are experiencing a healthcare nightmare, and without support to get them started with the most advanced technologies, things might get worse.

Vusi Mahlasela sings “Thula Mama”

One of South Africa’s most effective creative voices fighting apartheid performs a gorgeous piece at TEDGlobal 2007. He devotes this “Thula Mama” to his grandmother and shares an incredible story of her standing up to “harassing” soldiers with boiling water and threats. And, extending beyond that, all women who fight for their families and other loved ones in times of great hardship and upheaval.

Zeresenay Alemseged looks for humanity’s roots

No African studies students’ education is complete without anthropological lessons, particularly when it comes to the community’s attempts to discover human evolutionary origins somewhere on the continent. Here, paleoanthropologist Zeresenay Alemseged summarizes the story of Selam, the 3.3-million-year-skeleton of a three-year-old girl discovered in the Ethiopian badlands. The discovery doesn’t answer the question of where, exactly, mankind started, but it certainly brings scientists much closer to finding out!

Andrew Mwenda takes a new look at Africa

Presented by a respected, experienced journalist, one of TED’s most important, provocative discussions about the African continent confronts many of the myths and misconceptions perpetuated worldwide. Most tend to view it as a rather uniform cesspool of nonstop violence, human rights violations, famine, poverty, and AIDS/HIV; obviously, these issues are present and very much deserve addressing. But Africa also provides both the citizenries that call it home as well as intercontinental investors some prime chances to promote peace, equality and opportunity – it’s all a matter of being willing to take the risk and open up to promising people.