Villa Janna, Eco-lodge, Palmeraie, Morocco.

African Crossroads

The journey to the future

WE FACE NEITHER EAST NOR WEST: WE FACE FORWARD.

Kwame Nkrumah

In April 1958, Kwame Nkrumah, newly appointed president of Ghana – and the pioneer of the ideology of Pan-Africanism – convened the Conference of All Independent African States. With representatives from Ethiopia, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Ghana, Liberia, and Libya – the liberation and freedom of Africa from colonial rule was the major point of discussion. Nine months later, over 300 participants – delegates from 62 African nationalist organizations, assembled for the All African People’s Conference (AAPC) between 8 – 13th December, to confront issues of domination and subjugation of Africans by colonial authorities and with the resolution to attain political independence and freedom by all means necessary.

Villa Janna, Eco-lodge, Palmeraie, Morocco.Villa Janna, Eco-lodge, Palmeraie, Morocco.

Sixty years later, a different kind of conference was being convened on the African continent, by Hivos – a Dutch NGO dedicated to social change. About 130 Africans converged on the city of Marrakech on the 11th-13th December 2018, for the inaugural African Crossroads gathering. Themed “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”, the event brought together what I would call the ‘64-bit Africans’ – future-oriented African thinkers and doers, “who meet annually to engage and critically reflect on the most cutting-edge entrepreneurial, scientific, artistic and technological developments anchored in African intellectual and technological traditions”.

As a participant, it was a privilege to be in the company of such great minds from across different regions of the motherland, and who reflect the diversity amongst us Africans. Our identity and strength are rooted in this diversity. The question that rings in my mind is, how can we become a unified continent; a people with a homogenous resolve to solving the challenges facing us all and moving forward together. And if the Baobab is considered as a symbol of the African identity, do our roots then define us or, in a contemporary context, is our identity defined by our routes?

Villa Janna, Eco-lodge, Palmeraie, Morocco.Villa Janna, Eco-lodge, Palmeraie, Morocco.

The venue for the African Crossroads was Villa Janna, an environmentally friendly, award-winning eco-lodge, set in a 2.5 hectare garden in Marrakech. Aside from the beauty of this location, what truly makes African Crossroads a unique experience, is that the entire program – workshops, roundtable discussions, art exhibitions and performances – was designed with the input of the participants selected to attend.

The plenary panel, ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’, set the three-day event in motion. The panelists included George Gachara, managing partner at HEVA Fund LLP; Femi Longe, co-founder and director of innovation consulting at CcHUB; Ouli-mata Gueye, an art critic and curator; Syrine Chaalala, co-founder and chief operating officer of nextProtein; Kunlé Adeyemi, an architect and the founder/principal of NLÉ, moderated by Ayman Ismail, the founding director of the AUC Venture Lab, demonstrating innovation across business, arts, tech, entrepreneurialism, architecture, environment and agriculture.

African Crossroads “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” panel discussion.African Crossroads “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” panel discussion.

The panel discussions, presentations, roundtables, and workshops were placed in clusters and ran concurrently. We had sessions on Hubs, Co-working Spaces and Knowledge Centres (including topics such as the importance of online platforms and hub communities); The Future of African Storytelling (exploring tools such as virtual reality and augmented reality); Digital Rights and Freedom of Expression; Vernacular Knowledge Systems; The Future of Work; The Future of African Music; Women in Technology; Rising Industries in Africa; Gaming and E-Sports; Pan African Business; The Future of African Cities. While it was virtually impossible for any participant to be involved in all of the discussions, the tea/coffee breaks, lunch and dinner times, became important moments for sharing experiences and extending the conversations.

Playing with the conventional structure of the presentation, Zahira Asmal performed a poetic time travel through a city’s history in a biographical lecture titled “Welcome to Johannesburg”, while Femi Longe’s powerful presentation came from the perspective of the many organisations that pass through CcHub. As he highlighted the political and structural conditions under which these companies are made to innovate, one of the participants asked us to consider – “can we really entrepreneur ourselves out of bad governance?”

Ayọ̀ Akinwande, Power show II: The God Fathers are not to blame, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.Ayọ̀ Akínwándé, Power show II: The God Fathers are not to blame, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

As the African Union continues with its Agenda2063 vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, a group of Africans crossed paths in Marrakech, to synchronize their very own ideas, plans and actions towards creating a  future that can be said to be designed by Africans and for Africa.

Inaugural African Crossroads gathering. Grounds of Villa Janna, Eco-lodge, Palmeraie, Morocco.Inaugural African Crossroads gathering. Grounds of Villa Janna, Eco-lodge, Palmeraie, Morocco.
Inaugural African Crossroads gathering. Grounds of Villa Janna, Eco-lodge, Palmeraie, Morocco.Inaugural African Crossroads gathering. Grounds of Villa Janna, Eco-lodge, Palmeraie, Morocco.
Villa Janna, Eco-lodge, Palmeraie, Morocco. All images courtesy of artist Ayo Akinwande.Villa Janna, Eco-lodge, Palmeraie, Morocco. All images courtesy of artist Ayọ̀ Akínwándé.

Ayọ̀ Akínwándé is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Lagos.