I’ve passed the last week in Abidjan spending time with family (who aren’t allowed to live with me in my current emergency posting in Bangui, CAR), to the unfortunate detriment of my friends. However, I was lucky that my visit coincided with the first ever TedX Abidjan – a series of 15 minute talks over the course of Saturday afternoon. I remember speaking to the organiser back in 2009/10 (?) at a barcamp event when the idea was very much in its infancy. The conference has been postponed at least once because of the intervening political crisis.
I caught most of the event, though a badly timed private meeting at 4pm meant I missed a chunk in the middle. Overall, the event was very professional, with multimedia, audible presentations, and above all a packed lecture hall. The speakers were a good mix of people from the web, development, communications and business world.
A few comments:
- The theme was ‘Voyage vers le future: Abidjan 2057′ (Travel to the future: Abidjan 2057). I must admit to being slightly bemused as to why the year 2057 was chosen. The only indirect indication I caught was that Ivory Coast being 54 years old, now is the time for a new generation to rebuild (?), but I did feel it was never really explained, especially given the absence of a host on stage (there was a disembodied voice, but much of the event simply ran of its own accord from one talk to the next). It seemed a very random year to choose – not only that but rather distant. Even 18 year olds in the room would have been thinking that they’ll be knocking on retirement in 2057. As for us slightly older (but not old) folks, we may not even be around. For me, it was slightly too far in the future, making it difficult to be concrete about what needs to be done to achieve the dreams we have for that date. The year 2025 I can start imagining with some effort, but 2050+?
- Ted talks can sometimes get a bit cliched – ‘follow you dreams/passions, believe in yourself, you can do it’, etc. There was a bit of that, but there was a good variety in approaches. Some told their life story, others talked about their sector in the future, others described the type people we should all become (the excellent Nnenna). It was a good mix. I didn’t personally feel that I came away bouncing on inspiration, but it was a good start.
- For me the key room for improvement was the lack of clarity both about what the future of Abidjan will look like, and also what exactly we need to be doing to get there. Cedric Lombardo was perhaps the most clear with his presentation of the predicated weather pattern data, which looks very negative for cocoa farming in the coming decades. Irie Lou Colette’s talk was inspirational, but in her vision for everyone being able to eat well for 2,000 cfa in 2057, it was all very ‘we can do this’ rather than something with much detail. It’s a general fault – it’s rare to see any statistical data used in Ivorian newspaper articles for instance.
- I was very interested to hear Fabrice Sawegnon’s talk, one of the most interesting people in Abidjan these last few years for his work setting up Voodoo Communications. But his talk focused on teaching a personal idea, which looked a lot like the well-known law of diminishing marginal utility. The point made was that rich people gain little more by becoming richer, while the poor gain a lot by being just a little bit more rich. But it was presented without any policy propositions (although he said he was a capitalist rather than a communist). So we were left scratching our heads as to whether we should be selling our cars and giving our money to the poor, or introducing a more progressive tax system. I don’t think the speaker left on a push bike.
- A very minor gripe, but I notice local video-makers, are still struggling to get good interview audio on their videos. There were lots of great cameras being used to record the events, but perhaps $100 spent wisely on an audio recorder would go a long way. Maybe I should organise a workshop on this in the future.
Anyway, a great effort and a great event. Well done to the team.