I’ve always been suspicious of TED. It’s exclusivity puts me off. I was uncomfortable with its sweep into Arusha a couple of years ago and the consequent patronising of an ambitious Malawian – though he had the sense to use the opportunities offered, it seems.
Happily, TEDxDar continued in that smartly opportunistic Malawian tradition. It was small, but it felt like we had crashed our own party rather than somebody else’s. The crowd was as interesting as the speakers: from Issa Mwamba wa Fatma, who seems to spend much of his time stuck in traffic as he pushes forward, to Thomas Maqway, who measures that very same traffic. Or Mike Mushi, creator of Jamii Forums. It was good to be around doers and not just talkers.
Speakers were on fire…The audience was keen and totally engaged. Most people were on their Blackberries, iPhones and Nokias and my assumption is that they were all twittering it. We had a great timeline with the #TEDxDar tag on twitter. Each speaker sounded very relevant and…I think the choice of speakers was the best it could have been, although Nakaaya who was still on the programme was missing from the show, I hear she had “things” to do and she could not show up. The room had life, humor, teachings, love for our heritage, culture, tradition, technology, art and no one could miss the lady in blue, Maya the poet. Her performance was stunning, her composition moving. There were great TED videos and lots of lessons for our needy economies, our corrupt political system, the rich leaders of the poorest nations in the world, the mistold story of the poverty in Africa, the imported things that we produce, the hope and promise of our generations, the eventuality and necessity of change and self engagement in being agents of change, the reality of life as it is in Africa, the cost of living compared to the so called first world, how the rich get it easy and the poor spend more money that they do not have to make a living and so much more.
This is supposed to be ‘ideas worth sharing’. So far we’ve had a mix. American Pete Mhunzi started talking about his love for the Kiswahili language, first awakened in 1970 when he started classes at his Californian university. But [M]zee Mhunzi was making a bit of a mixed-up argument about the unequal uses of Kiswahili and English. He seemed to assume that English is an unstoppable monolith that’s going to take over Kiswahili if we don’t watch out. I’m not at all so sure. Kiswahili is well protected by the state, has a vibrant use in ‘high language’ as well as street and rural use, has its poetry, that is epic ancient poetry as well as slam…And finally: Mzee Mhunzi complains about code mixing… But [he] seems to have overlooked the fact that most traditional terms for government, technology and culture have already come into the language as a result of code mixing – with Arabic. We have high-culture words like hakimu – judge, jamhuri – republic, sheria – law, hesabu – to count – all from Arabic. Even basic words like kalamu – pen, and the word for culture itself – utamaduni – are Arabic…how long does it take before loan words become ‘naturalised’ and no longer alien?
For sure, it’s commendable that these guys, apparently 8 months ago, started to work on getting the bits and peaces, that is, sponsors, speakers and logistics, together to get this off the ground, because who else would have actually done it, right? But, at the same time, having three grammatical errors on the first powerpoint slide of the day is just sloppy. And not mentioning the topics of the individual sessions except their titles and their speakers’ bios is something that could be improved on next time…Most of the speakers weren’t covering too visionary or groundbreaking topics and some were downright mediocre…Unfortunately, because I visited the goat races halfway through and because the organizers moved the schedule around, I missed half of Rakesh Rajani‘s talk, which, at least the part I saw, seemed nice enough, though perhaps a bit pretentious, as the title of his talk was Development is failing miserably lessons from 9 villages in Tanzania, which feels like a lot of ground to cover in 18 minutes.