The Africa I know is a utopian oasis filled with memories of flavorful foods and captivating (even if at times, anti-climactic) story-telling.
My grandmother stooped over a coal pot humming unintelligible hymns, her eyes glistening with a passion matched only by the intermingling of the day’s catch effervescently bubbling in the oil below. A decade after her passing, I find myself thinking about her a lot and wonder what she would make of my life. Having grown up in a small fishing town off Ghana’s western coast with no formal education beyond age 13 and a mother before she turned 20, to say the world my grandmother and I grew up in is different is a gross understatement.
Over the past decade, Africa transformed into “a continent rising”; rapid democratization swept through the continent and focus returned to improving lives through education, technology, improved sanitation and healthcare. Four countries officially shed the title of “developing”, stepping into a much-hyped glow of middle income status. In 2015, Africa is richer, better educated and driven to reap the benefits of business opportunities across and beyond the emerging continent.
This year’s Oxford Africa Conference is an opportunity to consider just that – How the movement of Africans has shaped our thinking across business, politics and culture and what that means for Africans at home and abroad.
The theme of this year’s Oxford Africa Conference, “A Continent on the Move: People, Politics and Business across Borders”, investigates new thinking and perspectives about Africa across all disciplines, including politics, business, arts, technology and academia. The conference allows speakers and delegates to gain a deep understanding and awareness of the power and potential of an interconnected African continent.
Drawing on a truly interdisciplinary program, the pervasiveness of the “Continent on the Move” theme extends beyond migration. Over two days, industry practitioners will discuss and debate the role of technology, capital access and government policy on issues such as talent mobility, healthcare provision and transnational activism.
An Innovation Fair will showcase 12 start-ups fostering a new age of African entrepreneurialism and ingenuity, with ventures spanning digital, agriculture, fashion retail and more. Keynotes by African leaders such as Ghana’s President John Mahama, Nigeria’s Tony Elumelu (Heirs Holdings) and Zimbabwe’s Beatrice Mtetwa will offer unique opportunities to delve into critical issues impacting movements on the continent, as well as its future prospects.
The event’s organization is a manifestation of the potential for increased African and international collaboration. Representing 10 countries, our core team of 19 come from a diverse set of academic and professional backgrounds, brought together by a passion for African advancement.
Over its 40 year history, the Oxford Africa Society has become one of the most vibrant and influential societies at Oxford, fostering a sense of community and providing a united voice on African issues at the University and beyond. Together with the Oxford Business Network for Africa, led by current MBA students at Oxford’s Saïd Business School (SBS), the Oxford Africa Conference offers a unique blend of business and society that has no doubt contributed to its preeminence as one of the largest conferences of its kind in Western Europe.
That a two-day conference can cover and begin to unravel all issues pertaining to Africa, is admittedly idealistic; Africa’s rise is indubitably rife with questions. For one thing, economic growth does not necessarily equate to development.
While South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana are often highlighted as regional leaders in terms of growth, the statistics give little insight as to how this impacts measures such as inequality. More importantly, it does not touch on the potential for such growth to create a “pull” effect for other countries, regionally.
The plenary panel, “Multi-speed Africa: The role of Lion economies in fostering regional growth” featuring the likes of Dr. Mthuli Ncube (African Development Bank) and Vera Songwe (World Bank), aims to address these issues. Another question that often arises is how to create a more inclusive Africa. We have been particularly mindful of striking a balance in terms of gender representation in this year’s program, with an entire panel dedicated to the role of African women in the continent’s ongoing transformation.
Featuring Winihin Ayuli-Jemide (Founder, Winihin Jemide Series), Sneha Shah (Head of Africa, Financial Risk at Thomson Reuters), Frances Mensah-Williams (Founder, Interims for Development) and Nicole Amarteifio (Creator and Producer, An African City), the panel “Female diaspora: The meaning of learning abroad and coming back” addresses the changing perspectives on the role of the African woman in light of her pursuit for further education and increasingly so, abroad.
Panelists will debate how this translates into further advancements for African women, both personally and professionally, in addition to what barriers remain in bridging gaps in skills and leadership. Through these and many more topics, we can’t pretend to have the answers. We do however hope to prompt the conversations, inspire the ideas and ultimately build upon the foundation laid by previous conferences, to encourage more of the collaborative zeal that keeps Africa moving.
*Charlotte Ntim is the Co-Chair of the Oxford Africa Conference 2015