Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novi

Out of Africa always comes something new. 

I came across this phrase in a book, The Zanzibar Chest, that I read for a book club I've recently joined. The utterance, which is often attributed to Pliny the Elder but in reality it has its origins in a far older Greek phrase, struck a chord with me. Despite having been said hundreds of years ago it is as true now as it was then.

I think of the technological innovations that have come out of Africa in recent times. I have spoken about them in an earlier blogpost but innovations such as M-Pesa and Ushahidi are ingenious solutions to African problems which have since found use across the globe.

There are other innovations beyond the technological. At the TED talk I attended back in May speakers spoke of new ways to tackle environmental concerns, agricultural difficulties, wildlife . Entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Africa, there is no question of that.

Pliny's phrase also connected in my head to the advertising campaign that Coca Cola have started here in recent months - 'A Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa'. All across the city Coca Cola have erected billboard proclaiming this phrase with pictures of good-looking Africans playing sports, performing, pushing cars up dusty roads...

An ad on the radio, which I can almost recite verbatim thanks to the frequency of its broadcast, tells us: 'There are a billion reasons to believe in Africa. While the world shakes and stumbles, Africa dances to a different beat .1 in 5 players in European clubs can trace their roots to Africa. The world's most admired man is African. While the world worries about the future, 1 billion Africans are sharing a Coke.' (There's also a TV ad version here.)

Both Pliny the Elder and Coca-Cola are espousing the same message, in my opinion, albeit for very different reasons. They talk of the vibrancy of Africa, the innovation, the creativity, the spirit, the dynamism, the hope. I can only really speak of Kenya but the place is constantly in motion. You can accuse Kenya, and Africa, of being many things, but being boring certainly isn't one of them. There are countless opportunities for change here, whether the change is for the better or worse is another matter entirely.

I think that's why, 8 months into my time here, Kenya and Nairobi still excite me. And why I feel like I don't want to leave any time soon. The next year holds many new possibilities for Kenya. Elections in March will be the first test of the new constitution and the opportunity to prove that the unrest of 2007/8 need not be repeated after every election here. The ICC trials of prominent accused organisers of that violence which will seek to find answers and justice in the backdrop of the elections. I don't know what Kenya will look like this time next year, but I really hope I'm here to find out.

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