by Benjamina Efua Dadzie
Some weeks ago I attended the Oxford Africa Conference organised by the Oxford Africa Society at Oxford University. As always, I attended the conference with my New Africa Network* team, although a few of us were missing, unable to be there due to other commitments. Based on the 2015 conference I experienced last year, I knew I could not miss this one. This time around, I had the incredible pleasure of taking The Arena with me by way of Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. I had so much fun snapping and I hope you enjoyed the content!
This year’s conference theme was “Challenging Narratives: Governance, Youth Leadership, and Business in Africa”, and as such, the keynote speakers emphasised the necessity of young people’s involvement in positions of power. Their experience shifted the way I think about my potential and it really inspired me to reach higher. Other sessions were very specific on what is hot and current in Africa, specifically in Nigeria and Ghana. Through the help of the speakers, the audience had the opportunity to reflect on what safety means in Africa, and how their jobs have become active symbols of resistance against corruption.
Comparing the two, this year’s conference did not impress me, and at some point, somewhere, I wondered why I was there. I think one of the main issues is the fact that I didn't know many (probably any) of the speakers and the business environment and aura that surrounded the event made it less enjoyable for me. Consequently, I didn't sit at many sessions, just one or two to make sure my money had some sort of worth. While I cannot deny the fact that the conference was organised with a business and governance theme in mind, I feel as though the organisers did not take enough effort to ensure people less interested in the theme could find it useful as well.
While at the conference I developed a thought that had been at the back of my mind but that I have never had the chance to think about deeply- Why is it that we like to discuss Africa outside of Africa? Last year, when I told a friend of mine about how excited I was to attend the Oxford Africa Conference, he asked me ‘How useful is it to sit down in a hall of a top ranked university to talk about Africa and its development?’ I remember telling him that it was necessary, in order to have the intellectual framework to understand the problems we need to tackle. My words sounded so intelligent, right? But what did they even mean?
These conferences are organised every year, and while I credit them for bringing like-minded people together and giving space to innovative start-ups and small businesses for networking with potential partners - which by the why is no small deal- I feel as though the efforts and the environment we create in these spaces lack depth and real effective change. Instead of concentrating the resources in Oxford, why not host it on the Continent? What - and if you have answers I beg you to reach out to me- is the ultimate gain of gathering intellectuals and business men and women to talk about Africa outside of Africa? How does this impact positively on the life of the African leaving on the Continent in the short term? Don’t get me wrong, I am not dismissing the importance of the forums provided by Oxford, Cambridge, LSE and other great institutions; I am questioning if these spaces are agents of change or they are simply here to make us feel good about ourselves. Are these forums contributing to making us ambassadors of change, or are they making us stand proud in our ego? If nothing, I am grateful to this forum for encouraging me to start this conversation.
Benjamina E. Dadzie, founder of The African-Italian Project, is a Ghanaian born naturalised Italian, currently living in Manchester, England. She studies BA Archaeology at the University of Manchester, where she is an advocate for the cause of Black Students. She is an active member of the UoM Students' Union and a committed Student Ambassador for the UoM School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, as well as adviser to freshman International Students.
Benjamina aspires to earn a MA in African Studies and International Relations, with the ultimate goal of a future in academia, in Ghana.
*The New Africa Network is a Pan-African society founded by a group of friends and I in 2015. At the heart of this society and organisation is the commitment to inspiring young Africans in the European diaspora to connect with their home on the continent. As part of our endeavours, we host events to talk about our aspirations, if we want to make our way back home, and take measures to connect with those who are already in the field in Africa, thus allowing a not-so-rough transition. We connect young African-Europeans to organisations and businesses in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya, and we are looking forward to having significant impact in these countries and expanding to others. For more information, you can contact myself at firstname.lastname@example.org, hit us up on Twitter @NewAfricaNetwrk and via Facebook.com/newafricanetwork. Emailing is your best shot!