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What value are these conferences to Kenyans?

By Mohamed Guleid | September 5th 2016 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Mohamed Guleid

Last week, Nairobi hosted the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD-VI). This and several other international gatherings such as UNCTAD meeting in July or the Global Economic Summit, the visit of US President Barack Obama and Pope Francis have made Kenya a major conferencing centre.

This will most certainly boost our hospitality sector and bring back confidence into our fledgling tourism industry. From an optimistic point of view, Africa will gain much from the direct investment by the Japanese government.

As the conference climaxed, I became curious to find out what the rest of the world was saying about the TICAD conference. I perused through the websites of major international news agencies to see if or whether TICAD would feature in any of the newspaper headlines or be a news item.

My Google search efforts produced almost nothing other than a page 3 report from the Japanese Times that just mentioned “Abe (the Japanese Prime Minister) being in Africa for TICAD”. The rest of the world hardly noticed.

I visited Wajir county the Monday after the conference, I asked the locals whether they had heard about TICAD. Even after explaining to them what TICAD was in the local Somali dialect, none of them knew what it was I was talking about.

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The people (and they were very good engaging people) had no idea, instead they were more concerned with the disbursement of cash by the government in the Hunger Safety Net Programme funded by the World Bank.

I saw a long queue signing off vouchers for Sh5,000 doled out to them every two months to cushion them from the shocks caused by the persistent drought and high levels of poverty. Even Deputy President William Ruto complained on Tweeter that the local news media had given the conference a blackout. Many of his Tweeter followers agreed and responded in the affirmative. Perhaps it is because the media couldn’t connect with the conference. Like to the people of Wajir, it was removed, remote.

Meanwhile, major international news agencies were more concerned about the war in Syria, or Turkey’s new found love in Russia and the possibility of Turkexit from NATO.

Television channels included Doha-based Al-Jazeera, were discussing the rescuing of thousands of African migrants by the Italians border patrols deep in the Mediterranean Sea.

Apparently, a Somali woman migrant gave birth to a bouncing pair of twins on the high seas in one of the overcrowded, but also dangerous boats that was ferrying them to their dream land. Generally, stories from Africa were depressing. CNN had in its headline news an Al-Shabaab suicide bomber who killed ten in Mogadishu.

On the other hand, the weekly news magazine, The Economist , had a more optimistic front page story, the discovery of new planets. A recently discovered planet showed signs of life after a liquid believed to be water was found on its surface. In that story, scientists from America were pursuing the benefits from such discoveries.

Coincidentally in the same week, the Western world was celebrating the 60th anniversary of the launch of the first satellite into the space. After it was launched in the 1950s the satellite Sputnik became one of the most important innovations of the Western world.

As a result of that expedition, we can today enjoy the services of the Internet, mobile phones, drones, Global Positioning System (GPS) that helps us navigate our cars and guides the missiles that kill unwanted individuals. Back to Africa, the stories remained the same. The much hyped Africa is raising discourse is not giving any dividend. Instead, we are still conducting conferences that are reminiscent of the Berlin Conference of 1889 that led to the scramble for Africa by the European colonial powers.

Back then, even the Berlin Conference was more about mercantilism and possibilities of extracting resources from Africa (isn’t that why the Japanese and the Chinese are pitching camp).

Today, even though chances of re-colonising Africa remains remote, by any measure the African continent still remains the “dark continent” “discovered” by the Europeans back then. It is still viewed as a potential market for goods processed elsewhere. Most of the global economic giants that now include China and India, are seeing Africa as their own new version of an overseas market an extension of their territories.

It might be true that we claim sovereignty and boast of being democratic and all that brouhaha, but compared to the developed world, the African people are still downtrodden and poor. And the distance to cover is huge.

As long as we continue depending on support from outside the continent, we shall continue remaining poor and mere recipient of donor money. In the 18th century, our ancestors could be forgiven because they had no knowledge of what was happening outside the continent.

When the British and other European explorers came to Africa, the tribal chiefs had no knowledge of their neighborhood let alone following the transformation Europe was undergoing during the industrial revolution.


Nairobi TICAD UNCTAD
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