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Archive for October, 2012

The African Diaspora International Film Festival 2012 holding this November at the at Peter Jay Sharp Thalia Theatre at Symphony Space, New York will witness the New York premiere of Doctor Bello a Tony Abulu film. This movie which had earlier premiered to a global audience on 27th September at the John F Kennedy center for Performance Arts Washington DC is a transcontinental movie, produced by Black Ivory Communications and featuring a mixture of popular Nollywood and Hollywood stars like Isaiah Washington, Jimmy Jean Louis, Genevieve Nnaji and Vivica A. Fox.

Set in Nigeria and the United states, the movie is the first beneficiary of the $200m intervention fund for Nollywood announced by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010. A synopsis published in a pre-premier piece in the New York Times highlights that;

…the film is about an African-American cancer specialist in New York, Dr. Michael Durant, who tries to save a young patient by seeking the help of an uncertified Nigerian doctor — Dr. Bello — an immigrant living in Brooklyn. Under the cover of night Bello slips the patient a secret African potion, helping him recover. But Durant’s solution is discovered, and he is suspended by his hospital while Bello is imprisoned for medical malpractice.

Soon, however, Bello himself falls critically ill, and it falls to Durant to save him by locating the secret elixir, which is found only in the “Garden of Life” on a mountain range in Nigeria.

Doctor Bello in many ways signifies the gradual but steady evolution of the Nigerian Movie industry popularly known as Nollywood and its transcendence into global reckoning.

This million dollar movie industry bears testimony to the ability of Africans to create something out of nothing.  From an almost

Shooting a Nollywood Movie

obscure beginning, the industry is today the world’s third-largest filmmaking industry producing more than 1,000 titles every year and trailing only Hollywood and Bollywood in terms of revenue.

There have been efforts to document the history of this booming industry with references made to the works of Ola Balogun and Hubert Ogunde in the 1960s, the boom in Cinema culture following the oil boom in the 70’s and increased TV soap productions in the 80’s. However, many point to the 1992 release of the movie “Living in Bondage” an Igbo film about a businessman whose dealings with a money cult result in the death of his wife, as the industry’s first blockbuster and perhaps the beginning of what has today come to be known worldwide as Nollywood. Since Living in Bondage, thousands of movies have been released and with them has come a generation of actors and actresses as well as directors, script writers, cinematographers, customers etc who have not only found well-paying jobs and a platform to express their creative abilities but have also achieved fame and become celebrities and role models to a generation of young Africans.

A Billion reasons to believe in Africa

Basic infrastructure such as power might be a real challenge in Nigeria but Nigerians are equally endowed with unlimited creative energy that has seen them becomes the world’s most prolific movie producers. On a continent where economies usually depend on extracting natural resources or on handouts from the West, Nollywood is a breath of fresh air and one which represents one of the many reasons for Africans to be proud which Coca-Cola celebrates. The contribution of the industry to the socio-economic development of the country has been overwhelming. The industry has, by recent estimates, created over one million jobs – directly and indirectly and generated a minimum of $500m in revenues annually. Walls around Lagos and every major city are plastered with posters reading announcing new movie releases or “Actors/Actresses Wanted. Many young men run movie rental kiosks. Nollywood stars are everywhere, from billboards to glossy tabloids filled with pictures of red-carpet events and also many awards ceremonies have sprung up around the industry creating new streams of investment and income for many.

It is instructive to highlight here that much of the achievements of this industry has happened with very little government assistance. The industry was built by the sheer creativity, resilience and dedication of the industry players and their financiers usually private individuals looking to cash in on some quick returns.

In recognition of the role Nollywood had played in the socio-economic development of the country and as an effort to improve the quality of the movies produced, President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010, pledged to create a $200 million loan fund to help finance film projects. Mr Tony Abulu a Nigerian who lives in Harlem, was chosen as the first recipient of the fund’s first loan, of $250,000 and the movie Doctor Bello is the product of that effort.

There is no doubt that there is a huge room for improvement. A chunk of the movies are horridly put together , poorly scripted and in need of better post production edits but there is equally no doubt that the Nigerian film industry is on the right path towards enhancing sustainable growth and development.  The first Nollywood films were produced with traditional analog video, such as Betacam SP, but today a majority of the movies are produced using digital video technology and attracting world class crew members. Nigerian writer Tolu Ogunlesi writing recently from the location of the shooting into a movie of the bestselling novel  “Half of a Yellow Sun” written by award winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie brings to fore what is possible right here on our shores.

First, the movie was being shot (with a world class crew) at Tinapa Film Studio an ultra-modern studio built by the Donald Duke government in Cross River State. The cast was star studded comprising Britons and Nigerians: Chiwetel Ejiofor (Kinky Boots, American Gangster, 2012, Salt); Thandie Newton (Mission: Impossible II, Crash, The Pursuit of Happiness, Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, For Colored Girls); Joseph Mawle (Women in Love, Game of Thrones); John Boyega (Attack the Block); Nigerian singer and actress Onyeka Onwenu, and Nollywood stars Genevieve Nnaji (described by Oprah Winfrey as Africa’s Julia Roberts) and Zack Orji. And even more heartwarming, it was directed by a Nigerian, Biyi Bandele.

Inspired by the successes of Nollywood, similar industries have sprung up over the years in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and all across Africa.

This creative expression by our people which has created jobs, provided entertainment and placed us in global reckoning is indeed one of the billion reason to believe in Africa.

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Nigerian rapper MI is one of Africa’s best

 

Last weekend the 7th edition of the Hip Hop World Awards also known as The Headies took place at the Eko Hotel and Suites. The award which prides itself as the biggest and the most prestigious music Award in Nigeria aims at celebrating deserving music stars. The Headies is one out of a list of high profile music and entertainment awards among which includes the likes of MTV Africa, Channel o, NEA, CORA etc., celebrating creativity and excellence among musicians of African origin.

These awards bear testimony to the fact that African music and artists of African origin have not only stepped into the spotlight but are also currently ruling the airwaves, enjoying generous playtime across the globes on radio stations and in club houses and winning for the artists, fans and followers of all colours and tongues. So popular is our music today that they have become regular features at parties in places outside of the continent  while within the continent, they have become to a large extent the only kind of music played everywhere.

But this was not so a little over a decade ago. Though some of our music genres like juju, Afro beat and Highlife have always been popular beyond the continent with greats like Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade being their main promoters, there existed a need to fuse these genres with other internationally established genres like Hip Hop, R & B and Reggae to create a unique genre that not only resonates with the younger generation in the continent but also with music lovers outside of the globe.

That fusion has happened and is happening across the continent today. It is amazing what youngsters, bearing influences adopted from global pop culture and inspired by the successes of their fellow young people, are doing, forming bands, creating beats, recording, going on tours and keeping the entire continent gyrating on a whole different rhythm. For every international band trying to sell a song, five hundred African bands go live and as they do so, they lifting themselves and their dependents out of poverty and into fame.

Nigeria in many ways leads this music revolution on the continent. In the last decade, many Nigerian youngsters have become global stars and household names through their musical exploits. Today the Nigerian music industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the country and perhaps one of the largest employers of labour behind nollywood. Names like D’banj, Tuface Idibia, P-Square, Asa, Wiz Kid, MI, Omawunmi, Tiwa Savage, Inyanya, flavour etc have emerged from obscurity to become reference points for the “from poverty to riches” story and have become role models from many.

The above presents a story of sheer creativity, resilience and hard work all of which are ideals which Coca-Cola celebrates. Many of these stars had no previous training in music. A majority of them did menial jobs in the day in order to save money for studio time at night. A case in mind is that of Vocal Slender who got his shot at limelight after the BBC2 documentary “Welcome to Lagos” aired in 2010. The whole world had been moved by the dogged determination of the then 28 year old who scavenged waste reusable materials at a Lagos dump site to raise funds to finance his music career dream. His debut single “Owo Yapa” was an instant hit.

In appreciation of the rich abundance of talents on the continent, many music talent shows sponsored by corporate organisations have emerged over the years to give light to the dreams of many, some of who given their economic  statuses might never make it to a recording studio without help. Remarkably, so many new acts have emerged from this process to continental and global acclaim.

Perhaps one of the greatest testimonies that our music now enjoys global acceptance is the increased collaboration between African Artists and global stars. Topping the list is the signing of D’banj onto Kanye West’s G.O.O.D music record label. In a recent interview with UK Radio DJ Tim Westwood, D’banj revealed that he would be featuring Kanye on the remix of his song ‘Scape Goat’, which should be released later this year. That will be following in the light if P-Square the twin acts who recently featured American rapper Rick Ross on the remix of ‘Beautiful Onyinye.’ The duo had also feature Akon in their hit song ‘chop my money ‘alongside new sensation, May D.

Still on our global acceptance, for over a week in September this year, a bunch of 80 African and western musicians toured Britain by chartered train, performing nightly shows while spending every spare waking second visiting schools, hospitals and bandstands to play impromptu pop-up gigs (one involved beatboxer, an Ethiopian group with a six-stringed lyre, and the Hebden Bridge Junior Brass Band). This tour was known as Africa Express and enjoyed the support of many music lovers in Britain among them Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand. In an interview, Ferdinand admitted that he loved African music because of its “rawness.”

Perhaps it is this rawness, this entertaining fusion of genres delivered with the energy and showmanship that is our trademark that has ensured that shows by African artists both at home and in other climes are sold out. While there is no doubt that a whole lot still needs to be done especially in the areas of writing engaging lyrics, quality beats production and professional cinematography, African music and indeed Nigerian music in particular is set to completely take over the world music scene breaking down barriers for the great people of this continent and providing a sure weapon for fighting the worsts of the continents afflictions.

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The world’s most loved and revered man is an African. Can you beat that?

You already know who; Nelson Mandela.

Former South African President and 1993 Nobel Prize winner, Mandela easily represents the best of the human race. He is an epitome of humility, a symbol of leadership and a representation of the fight for freedom which South Africans had to endure to end apartheid. This fight for freedom is something common to all Africans, a reoccurring feature of all our histories, and a fight we are waging even today. Not with arms or street protests now, but with technology, innovation, SME’s, music and arts.

Mandela’s life story can be summarized as below:

  • 1918 – Born in the Eastern Cape
  • 1944 – Joined African National Congress
  • 1956 – Charged with high treason, but charges dropped
  • 1962 – Arrested, convicted of sabotage, sentenced to five years in prison
  • 1964 – Charged again, sentenced to life
  • 1990 – Freed from prison
  • 1993 – Wins Nobel Peace Prize                                                     
  • 1994 – Elected first black president
  • 1999 – Steps down as leader
  • 2001 – Diagnosed with prostate cancer
  • 2004 – Retires from public life
  • 2005 – Announces his son has died of an HIV/Aids-related illness
  • 2007 – Forms The Elders group
  • 2010 – Appears at closing ceremony of World Cup

Nelson Mandela, his life experiences and his legacies form part of the billion reasons to believe in Africa. Coca-Cola celebrates this extraordinary man whose charisma, self-deprecating sense of humour and lack of bitterness over his harsh treatment, as well as his amazing life story, is a global appeal any day. Many consider him one of, if not the, greatest statesmen of our time. In his books, speeches, and interviews, he has many great quotes that leave us thinking. African students and indeed people all across the world can look towards these quotes for inspiration.

Mandela and FW de Klerk

We are happy to share some of these quotes starting with what has been described as perhaps the most remarkable of them all; his statement to the court where he was facing a death penalty on 20 April 1964.

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

More quotes on FREEDOM include:

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

“Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.”

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

“Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.”

ON LEADERSHIP

“Quitting is leading too.”

At the United Nations

“Keep your friends close — and your rivals even closer.”

“A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

ON PEACE

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.”

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

“You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.”

“Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished”

“I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.”

With former wife Winnie

“It always seems impossible until its done.”                 

“A winner is a dreamer who never gives up”

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Share more of your favourite Nelson Mandela quotes here or tweet them at Cocacola_NG

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It is scary, these things that we have now become. Last year I had written a piece on this same column titled In Nigeria We Die Cheap. That was an effort at highlighting how the failure of governance evidenced in the collapse of public healthcare and ancillary utilities has succeeded in making human life so cheap in these climes. Of late however, I have gradually come to the conclusion that all the ills that years of failed leadership has dealt us does not quite measure to what we have done and are doing to our selves every day.

At this point I am pushed to resound the question Black Eye Peas asked in their hit song where is the love?  Really Nigerian, where is the love? What has snapped in us that has not only robbed us of our humanness but also of our values and respect for the sanctity of human life? What has reduced us to savages and fit only to be described as beasts? 

I grew up in these climes. It was those years when things were already going bad with the economy grappling under SAP and the gap toothed one dribbling everybody into confusion. Even then, we were taught to look out for others. If a report got to your parents that you fought another child in school, your mother first beat you well before asking what happened. Every elder was a parent to every child. Back then when we heard stories of kidnaps, they sounded like strange distant occurrences. When someone dies there was genuine hurt and feeling of depression by all. Human life meant so much and the universal brotherhood of mankind reigned supreme in our hearts.

I recall what huge news the Otokoto Hotel ritual story sometime in the mid 90’s was and how many families sat glued to NTA on many Nights (mostly Sunday Newsline) to get updates because of the strangeness of it.  Today that episode will hardly make headlines in comparison with what we now live with. There was the Clifford Orji ‘madman with a cellular and human parts’ story which also made national headlines and in some way gripped the people with fear…fear that we had amongst us people that could possibly do such stuff on such a scale. Today we see that Clifford Orji was like an apprentice in that trade which has now gone to become like a norm amongst us. 

Sometime in August this year I read about two brothers who killed a third brother in their house in FESTAC, Lagos and harvested his body parts which they sold not for organ transplants but for rituals. The duo didn’t think the remainder of the cadaver of their brother needed burial. It took the complaint of neighbours, whose nostrils were being harassed by the offensive smell to get law enforcements agents to discover the crime. Have we degenerated to that point?

Scary bizarre stories abound of kidnaps. Not for ransom now but for –I hate to use the word again- rituals. We are inundated with near death experiences of folks who make it out of thick forests where they were billed to become by some voodoo mechanization, ATM machines. One minute they were in a cab in Lagos and the next minute they found themselves at a shrine. Do those stories give you goose bumps? Do they keep you awake at night?

There is an accident and the first set of responders instead of helping the victims, saving those who can still be saved and getting emergency services to help focus instead on looting. Even plane crash victims are not spared. One begins to wonder how much lower can possibly go seriously? What more can the word ‘inhuman’ possibly mean?

A group of otherwise handsome and decent looking young men lured a girl from facebook to Lagos, drugged, robbed, raped and killed her. Another set earlier on had in ABSU gang raped a fellow student filmed it and released it to the world to watch free of charge. 

And while we are still trying to come to terms with things like suicide bombing and senseless attacks on innocent people by religious rascals who have turned the North of our country into a theatre of bloodshed as well as the related Jos indigenes vs Fulani herdsmen Tarka-me-I-Daboh-you overnight slaughtering of women and children which now hardly elicits any emotions from us some characters in Aluu community in Port Harcourt decided on treating us to a home video on savagery. You already know the details. And guess what? There were many camera men and women standing by, snapping and filming and doing nothing.

And what could be more absurd? Heavily armed daredevil hoodlums invaded the Crowder Memorial Primary School Onitsha where over a thousand flood victims were being camped and made away with food items and cash donated to them. The word ‘wicked’ feels inadequate.

So I ask, what is this thing we have become? How have we degenerated so much that brazen absurdities are now common practice? What has happened to our conscience and the milk of kindness every man in endowed with? No, we cannot wait for the government to fix this one. It is up to us to rediscover the things that make us human and uphold them. We either arrest the trend now or soon we all will be consumed.

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In April this year, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and coordinating minister of the Economy NgoziOkonjo-Iweala contested for the position of World Bank President. Iweala who left the bank in 2011 as Managing Director and second in command to lead Nigeria’s effort at economic transformation was without doubt the best candidate for the office, a fact acknowledged globally.

The Financial Times(FT), a world leading financial newspaper in an editorial gave reasons why they feel OkonjoIweala should lead the World Bank nothing that “Ms Okonjo-Iweala has real-world experience of policy-making in one of the most challenging developing countries. Her experience in tackling corruption would be helpful in the battle against the misuse of Bank funds. While her record as a finance minister is not flawless, her reforming drive has earned her credibility with the international community. That, and her charismatic personality, should help her to rally support for the Bank.”

Though Iweala lost the election to US backed Jim Yong Kim, at the end of the process it was clear that not only could America’s age-long absolute right to naming the World Bank president be challenged,  it also showed that Africa can produce people capable of running the entire architecture. The direct implication of that episode is that the process for electing the World Bank President will never be the same again because of an African Woman.

Iweala in many ways represents the face of Todays African woman who is overcoming various cultural, religious and economic limitations to excel in a male dominated environment. African woman have come from the relative obscurity of yesteryears and are now leaders both on the continent and globally in various fields of human endeavor from politics, to Arts, to Science and Sports.

Just about the same time the World Bank election was taking place, Africa got her second female president. Joyce Banda made history when she ascended the Presidency of Malawi following the death of Binguwa Mutharika. She joined president and Nobel peace prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia who is currently on her second term in office as Female African leaders.

Perhaps even more concrete evidence that the African woman was ready to establish her position in leadership in the continent came with the electionin July this year of South African diplomat and Doctor NkosazanaDlamini-Zuma as the first female head of the African Union Commission.

All over the continent and in the Diaspora, African women continue to make huge exploits. One golden moment was in October 2011 when three women, two of them Africans; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her compatriot, the peace activist Leymah Gbowee were awarded The Nobel Peace Prize. It will be recalled that Late Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai had won the same prize in 2004.  In 2001, Most beautiful girl in Nigeria Agbani Darego was crowned Miss World, the first-ever black African winner of the title. Nigerian Writer Chimamada Adichie in 2007 was announced winner of the Orange Broadband Prize for fiction for her book ‘Half of a Yellow Sun.’This is to mention just a few.

The African Union in September 2010 honouredfive African women scientists whose works had caught world attention and

Multi talented Omawumi is a proud African Woman

contributed greatly to the body of knowledge. They included Dr.HassinaMouri, an Algerian woman for her work as a professor of geology at Johannesburg University in South Africa, Professor Mary Abukutsa of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology for her research on production of indigenous vegetables in poor countries, Dr. Grace Murillathe Kenyan principal investigator with a University of North Carolina-led consortium developing drugs to treat parasitic diseases such as trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness and Genevieve Barro, the first female professor in the Mathematics Department at the University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso for her work in information technology and numeric simulation.

In business, the African woman has equally exerted herself rising above pre-existing challenges and running successful enterprises many succeeding where many men have failed. Inspiring stories of such successes can be seen from the lives of people like Ethiopian born Bethlehem TilahunAlemu who in 2004, armed with startup capital sourced from her husband and members of her immediate family, mobilized artistically-gifted members of her community and founded SoleRebels– which has become one of Africa’s most recognizable footwear manufacturers. Following the success of her business, Alemu was invited by Bill Clinton for addressing as a speaker by The Clinton Global Initiative’s panel. Subsequently in the year 2011, Alemu was again given the distinct honor by the World Bank Managing Director NgoziOkonjo-Iweala, she was the first African woman entrepreneur to get the invitation ever. In the same year, she received global recognition for entrepreneurship by different institutions. This year, it will turn over $2m and Alemu now employs 200 staff.

Closer home, there is the story of Adenike Ogunlesi  CEO of Ruff ‘n’ Tumble  who started her business in 1996 by selling merely pajamas in the boot of her car and in bazaars and today, Adenike Ogunlesi is the proud owner and CEO of Ruff n Tumble, an apparel range for children that is based in Nigeria.  Adenike has established her enterprise as a towering business line and she was recognized as the FATE Foundation Model Entrepreneur in 2005. Now, Ruff ‘n’ Tumble is a brand opted over the others in the range of children’s clothing in Nigeria.

But besides all of the above are the millions of unsung women in the continent who keep the homes running, working on the farms, running the retail trade, hawking under extreme weather conditions, spending their days besides the fire stone frying akara, digging away all day in the mine sites, doing that 9-5 job, all in order to win the daily victories of three square meals per day, send their children to school and keep some savings for the rainy day. These are the champions of the continent. The ones who make Africa, Africa. The heartbeat of the continent pumping with each beat into her young ones, the virtues of hard work and the spirit of resilience. These are the women Coca-Cola celebrates, the women who give us billions of reasons to believe that Africa’s future is bright.

Join the conversation. Share more with us on this topic on facebook and twitter . Enjoy your week.

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Africa is the future 

One of Africa’s greatest rappers, MI signing the ‘Believe Wall’ at the official launch of Coca-Cola’s ‘Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa’ in Lagos

Last week, I read the inspiring story of Wande Adalemo, the young Nigerian Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Oxygen Broadband Networks, Nigeria’s first metro WiFi network, who dropped out of school in the process of realizing his dreams of building an Internet company. Today, he sits atop a N1bn broadband network company, which has just rolled out a WiFi network at the popular Computer Village in Lagos.

Such inspiring stories abound all across Africa, a continent that was as recently as ten years ago described by the Economist as hopeless but which today, propelled by the power of the internet and mobile phones is inspiring hope for its people and announcing clearly to the world that we can also do it.

I recall with nostalgia how some years ago when one wants to make a call one had to queue at the few functional NITEL telephone booths. Nigeria in 1999 had less than 500,000 active phone lines. Computers then were a rear sight. Indeed many organizations had what was called the “Computer Room” in which the computers stations were covered up like some treasured works of art, the room heavily air-conditioned and out of bound to everyone. Internet service was dependent on public cyber café’s that were pretty unreliable and expensive.

But all that has changed today. The introduction of GSM services caused a technology revolution in Africa and has positioned Africa as the fastest growing region on Earth for the telecoms industry, and with it has come a recognition among African governments and people that an opportunity exists to leap the development gap through the implementation of technological solutions to some of the challenges facing the continent.

Today, the continent’s one-billion people are coming online and 600 million of us have mobile phones. The GSMA (Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association) has estimated that, in 2009, more than 31 million Nigerians accessed the web, with 30% or more doing so via mobile phones. Indeed African young tech developers are daily churning out new apps and announcing new startups that is changing technology itself and the world is taking notice.

So strong is sms in Africa that recently Google rolled out a new service in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya that lets Gmail users send and receive emails using the built-in SMS features of their mobile phones. This game changing service even takes away the need for mobile internet access and is thus even cheaper to users on the continent. Africa has taught the world that so much can be achieved with text messages from sending e-mails, running social networks or even detecting fake drugs.

I like to mention a few of the startups that bear testimony to the creativity and intellectual ingenuity of Africans and who represent the reasons to believe that Africa is the future.


There is Jobberman.com now unarguably Nigeria’s No1 jobs website, recognized by Forbes as “West Africa’s most popular job search engine and aggregator.”  This company founded by the trio of Opeyemi Awoyemi, Ayodeji Adewunmi, and Olalekan Olude, is financially strong and backed by a NY based venture capital firm. It has grown rapidly to about 9 million monthly unique users, with more than 50 Million monthly page views. They connect companies with the best candidates in their respective industries and many job seekers now depend on them for alerts in latest vacancies.

Jobberman recently teamed up with Dymore Vision Consulting, one of Africa’s leading digital media and social innovation firms to launch GAPS Academy an online Learning platform, with over 3,000 free videos for African students to learn online, an effort to build the largest learning platform for Africa by Africans.

There is 2go, one of South Africa’s tech success stories. This seven-person business has gone from startup to profitability in just four years. 2go is a mobile social network targeting users in emerging markets, particularly in Africa. The company has over 21 million registered users with more than 10 million active users in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. Indeed in Nigeria where it has become dominant with over 9 million active users it boasts of several more million more users than facebook. The app provides users a cheap, easy way to chat and socialize using their mobile phones.

Nigerian app developer and entrepreneur Bayo Puddicombe led the team that developed Danfo, Nigeria’s first mobile game app which has now been officially released in the UK, Europe and America. Bayo a graduate of the University of Lagos and fellow of the Fate Institute for Venture Design is arguably one of the most successful young developers in Nigeria.

In 2007 when Kenya erupted in violence in the aftermath of a disputed general election , a group of young techies in Nairobi created
Ushahidi (meaning testimony in Swahili), a data-mapping platform to collate and locate reports of unrest sent in by the public via text message, e mail and social media. Ushahidi has become the world’s default platform for mapping crises, disasters and political upheaval. According to Rotich, by May of 2011, Ushahidi, which is free to download, had been used 14,000 times in 128 countries to map everything from last year’s earthquake in Haiti to this year’s Japanese tsunami and the Arab Spring.

Following the Ushahidi example, tech volunteers in Nigeria in 2010 built ReVoDa which allowed voters to report as independent citizen observers from their respective Polling Units across Nigeria, having registered to map their mobile number, name and polling unit number to specific locations. It also allows voters to receive relevant information about the electoral process from credible sources.

And there are those focused on saving lives too. Tech start up Sproxil is one such. Sproxil has equipped Africans with the ability to fight fake and counterfeit drugs with their mobile phones.  The company tags pharmaceutical products in Africa with a scratch-off code (like the code you use to top up a prepaid cell phone). The customer sends the code in a text message to Sproxil’s product authentication service, which verifies if the product is genuine. Recently in August the company signed a deal with Indian telecommunications company Bharti Airtel for the latter to offer its subscribers in 17 African countries free texting for drug verification.

A discussion on Africa’s influence on global technology will not be complete without mentioning its marked influence in mobile banking: with its M Pesa service (M for mobile,pesa meaning money in Swahili), Kenyan operator Safaricom became the first-ever telecom company to create a mass mobile-banking service, setting industry standards now being replicated across the globe. Currently mobile money is undergoing an explosion in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

As venture capitalist funds find their way to the continent, the governments are now also taking deep interest.  Just in August Nigeria’s government announced plans to launch a $15-million venture fund. The fund will be dedicated for high potential businesses in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector and will be sourced from the National Information Development Agency (NITDA) and the private sector.

What is instructive about the foregoing is that none of these apps and startups existed ten years ago. This points to the fact that more of our people are expressing their creativity, adopting globally available knowledge in solving local problems and creating wealth. The only way for Africa to go, is up. We are well on our way to building fifty four different Silicon Valley’s on the continent.

The Coca-Cola A Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa campaign aims to celebrate the many wholly African startups and technological feats achieved by Africans. Share with us those wonderful apps and other services made by Africans for Africans that you know about or which you use here. Let’s keep the conversation going.

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“A man dies. But it is the widow who lies in state!”

Those are the opening lines of Ozioma Izuora’s award winning book Dreams Deferred. It captured for me in a nutshell the extreme discrimination and gross inhumane treatment of women in many of our cultures especially around death and mourning.

The loss of a loved one, a life partner in this case is a greatly depressing event. Coping with this loss is psychologically difficult. Anyone who has lived through the pain of such a loss will understand how anything to ease the loss is a welcomed. It is therefore a wicked irony and a retrogressive practice, one that should not be heard of in the 21st century, to have women still subjected to such barbarism in the name of mourning.

In most cultures here, a woman who losses a husband is an object to be punished. Indeed in most cases she is the chief suspect for his death and must endure degrading rituals to prove her innocence, or satisfy every onlooker that she has paid full respects to her deceased husband. This makes mourning some kind of forced exercise, not a spontaneous natural reaction in response to a loss. Women are forced to shave their hair, be clad in ridiculous looking attires often times black in colour and must be without any kind of Jewry for extended periods depending on the prescriptions of the culture. Even more, they lose their right to freedom and must not be seen outside the house. During her confinement, in some communities she is not expected to bathe or change her clothes. In some other climes, she is expected to drink dirty and potentially toxic water used to wash the corpse of her late husband.

At the funeral, she is positioned at a corner like some statue. She is not expected to speak more than a few words. She is even shielded from those who come to pay condolence and responds in nodes and sighs. We effectively make her dead while she is still alive. And all the while, she is being monitored lest she does anything that will be adjudged as being offensive to the soul of her late husband.

While it is ironical and downright appalling that this should be happening in this age, it is even a greater irony that it is her fellow women who enforce these rules. It is her fellow women who stand guard around and insists she does everything their memories can recall that is in the culture books no matter how archaic.

Now, the mistake should not be made to say all our cultural practices are negative and should be abandoned. Indeed,I personally believe that the rich morals values, deep respect for family bonds and the sanctity for life and marriage which is sacrosanct in African societies together make Africa the sanest clime under the sun to exist in today. But then, some of these practices which we inherited from our forefathers have become obsolete, unproductive and not in line with our current realities and must be done away with. We must note that these laws were made to meet particular needs at the time they were made and indeed were made with good intentions. However the times have changed and humanity has moved on. In the same way, our cultures ought to have moved on and our observances ought to be in line with our current realities.

Who to change it? While we all share a responsibility in advocating for and ensuring that dehumanising practices that double our pains instead of relieving them are stopped, I think the primary victims of it, the women must be at the fore front. As stated earlier, these practices continue to hold by the active connivance of women. If the women (propelled by superior argument from those that are educated and enlightened) in unison in their various communities insist on the review or stoppage of these practices, it will be stopped. Our mothers belong to strong associations and forums in our towns and villages that are both powerful and influential. I think for example the annual August Meeting ritual of women from the South East. If only they will spend more time in discussing such issues that reduces their humanness than in bickering over superiority and the fixing of obnoxious levies, perhaps some of these practices would have been repealed by now.

Culture is not static. It continues to change and we must change along with the times. Any laws that reduce our dignity as humans and takes away instead of adding to our joy is not favourable and must be done away with in our best interest.

Photo credit Spokesman.com

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