Have you ever been to a conference on African development? You know, the type of conference where Africa is discussed, debated and evaluated in its various shapes and forms? Have you ever been to such a conference?
Last month I went to one of these conferences, the Oxford Africa Conference at Oxford University organised by the Africa Society University of Oxford. It was my second time attending and as such I had high expectations. The theme for this year’s event was “Challenging Narratives: Governance, Youth Leadership, and Business in Africa”, and as such, keynote speakers like the activist Fatou Wurie, and business and social leaders like Obiageli Ezekwesili made valuable points on the necessity of young people in positions of governance and leadership.
Listening to their experiences as women in a field that has not been historically catered for them – because of gender and/or age – instilled in me a sense of hope and faith in what we can do when we remain true to our very nature of womanhood on one hand, and youth on the other. Sessions such as the one with Ghanaian investigator Anas and the Nigerian journalist Chude Jideonwo pushed me to reflect on what safety means in Africa, and how their job has become a symbol of the power struggle in everyday Ghana and Nigeria. In these countries – or at least in Ghana, my homecountry – often times I feel as though there is a resistance to a corruption-free society; thus the work of these men is a testament to how change can be created.
These are few examples of some of the conference’s sessions and how one can change perception and acknowledge the good work that is being done on the Continent. But, whilst I received valuable information about what is current, I found myself reflecting on the meaning of this platform. In the back of my mind I had this question: “What is the usefulness of a conference organised by Oxford University on African development for Africa?”
Now, I understand and appreciate the debates and learned opinions that are shared in these spaces; I acknowledge the importance of the dialogue offered by institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, and LSE. But, when it is all said and done, what changes would have been made for the African Continent? Are these spaces created to trigger in us a sense of solidarity and to push us to dare to do what we have the power to do, or are they places to exercise our elocution and feel good about ourselves?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not dismissing the usefulness of these conferences. I think they do great things! In Oxford, for example, every year young African entrepreneurs with start-ups and small businesses in Africa are invited to compete for funding. Apart from this, they have the opportunity to network with world class business men and women and find partners, which is vital to the success of their work. I also understand how inspired a young African in the Diaspora may feel after attending this conference. But, what is the very essence of this space? Why not host them right where the issues we discuss are happening? Why talk about Africa and its development outside Africa? Is it the “saviour complex”?
I know I am not the only person thinking and questioning, and I wish these questions could be asked during sessions at the conference. If you have answers, share them with me. Let’s talk.