American Design Students Service Learning with Kofi Boone in Ghana


by Atim Annette Oton

This is the second blog in my series, The Pulse of Africa talking with Global Africans working in Africa and across the Diaspora. It takes an inside view on Africa’s progress, issues on arts and culture, technology and opportunities in this decade. See the first here.

In 2000, when I joined Parsons School of Design as the Associate Chair of Product Design to work with the chair Tony Whitfield, he was clear about his mission: design and social interventions, collaborations with not profits and global engagements. From Guyana, Sweden to France, we took Parsons design students across the globe to educate them about the role of design and thinking outside the box from social entrepreneurship to designing for social good. Then, it was impossible to get design publications to pay attention to this unique sector and focus. We walked alone in the world of glamour design. How time has changed and shifts things. Now, it is all the rage in design schools and publications.

See more here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/atim-oton/global-design_b_1459468.html

Nigerian Collaboration Sparkles with the Bronx Museum’s smARTpower Initiative


by Atim Annette Oton

This is the first blog in my series, The Pulse of Africa on Huffington Post Black Voices talking with Global Africans working in Africa and across the Diaspora. It takes an inside view on Africa’s progress, issues on arts and culture, technology and opportunities in this decade.

Early this month, artist Brett Cook sent me an amazing email that added pep and sunshine to my sluggish Brooklyn Monday morning. I say this because Mondays are generally my day off. And very few things pep me up these days, though I am excited about Spring bringing warm weather to New York.

The news: Brett Cook would be working with Women and Youth Art Foundation (WYART) in Lagos and Ibadan. This brought a great big smile to my Nigerian face. The email was about smARTpower, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State that pairs American artists with their counterparts abroad. As a New Yorker who knows that Bronx has the most number of Africans in this city; I was pleased. And the fact that the Bronx Museum of Art was the partner with the State department made me even more excited about this news. It is absolutely brilliant.

Read more here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/atim-oton/bronx-museum-smartpower_b_1413719.html?ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false#sb=1950933,b=facebook.

The Pulse of Africa: C. Paschal Eze, a Nigerian Author and Tourism Consultant


by Atim Annette Oton

The Pulse of Africa is a series by Atim Annette Oton talking with Africans in Africa and across the Diaspora on Africa’s progress, issues on culture, technology and opportunities in this decade.

C. Paschal Eze, author of 14 well regarded books, is a widely traveled Nigerian-born American inspirational speaker and tourism consultant who serves as Vice President Africa for the Hawaii USA-headquartered International Council of Tourism Partners (ICTP). A former daily newspaper and monthly business magazine editor-in-chief and news agency correspondent, Eze has also served as speech writer to VIPs, business communication advisor to businesses and nonprofits, media consultant for a German tour operator, tourism reporter and columnist, entertainment manager of a tourist resort, advisor to hotel owners and managers, and member of organizing committee of tourism related events, among others. His December 2008 interview with Barack Obama resulted in a January 4 2009 Iowa Press Citizen newspaper column titled “Ignoring Kenya in Crisis.”  Eze has been featured or favorably cited or mentioned in New African magazine London, Ode Magazine, Voices of the Tri-State on Radio Dubuque Iowa, Iowa City Press Citizen, Daily Iowan, award-winning international trade magazine Christian Retailing, Dubuque Telegraph Herald, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), American Black Journal, RAP 21, Ovation Magazine, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Wichita Eagle, Detroit Free Press, GRTS Television, Radio Gambia, 2001 Africa Report of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Dotty Ray Show on KXIC-AM , Michigan Chronicle, West Africa Democracy Radio, Wikipedia, and very many other respected newspapers, magazines, radio and TV programs and websites around the globe. His Iowa USA-based Global Mark Makers (http://www.globalmarkmakers.com) publishing company has published books of well known personalities. 

1. How do you feel about Africa’s progress and opportunities in your industry and city this decade (2010’s)?

 Well, I am involved in at least two industries: tourism and book publishing. I am happy countries like South Africa,Tanzania, Ghana and Gambia have been making appreciable gains in tourism product development and marketing but there are over 50 tourist destinations in Africa and they need to significantly improve their game. Why? They have amazing tourist attractions that, if well promoted and supported with better social infrastructure, should fetch them huge numbers of tourists (especially responsible ones) from major source markets in North America, Europe and Asia.

Tourism is a major job creator. Jobs in the industry are not only top flight ones but also low-skilled ones. Besides, tourism is a gateway to trade and foreign direct investments which African countries need urgently. After all, many leisure tourists around the world are known to have ended up doing good business with their host countries.

As for book publishing, we still have a long way to go. Many across Africa do not place needed value on buying and reading books – fiction and nonfiction. Piracy is relatively high. Distribution channels are not yet developed, and ebooks in Kindle and Nook have not taken root though many on the continent carry digital devices around.

My city of Coralville Iowa has little African footprint. I am not sure many tourism officials and professionals across Africa know where Iowa is. May be, they do, but as far as I know, they have not yet reached out. The touristy city of Dubuque, Iowa, which I visit often, is one that African tourism administrators, professionals and investors – from Nigeria to South Africa- need to understudy. Dubuque is a must-visit for a number of reasons, one of them being its unique attractions and the other the good way its tourism is run and promoted.

2. How is technology, mobile telephones and social media changing Africa and your industry?

A lot. Many people across Africadepend on their cell phones/smart phones for social, professional and business communication. Friends, business associates and relatives on the continent who are on my BlackBerry contact easily reach me free of charge here in Iowa or wherever I am using BlackBerry Messenger. The telecommunications industry is growing at a very fast pace in Africa, especially Nigeria. Also, many Africans, especially young professionals and globally thinking businesses like ground tour operators, music and movie promoters and big event organizers, are on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and it always gives me pleasure to link with them there.

Where do people in other parts of the world go to “discover” African destinations? The Internet, of course. What is Google meant for? Thanks to YouTube, African destinations are becoming more visible and more attractive though these destinations need to do more in this regard.

Many flights and tour packages to African destinations are researched and booked online. That’s where the action is. That’s why I have strongly recommended viral marketing to African destinations, but many bureaucrats there are yet to understand what time it is. Where do many people seek and find jobs in the tourism industry and other industries? The Internet.

As for book publishing, where should every book written, edited, designed, published, distributed, marketed or reviewed by Africans be found? Amazon.com. My books are there, by the way.

3. What problems do you feel have to be overcomed by Africa in your industry?

Many. They need to be proactive and not reactionary. They need to do things faster and be international business friendly. Less bureaucracy is good, very good as far as I am concerned. Their roller coaster disposition to people who want to do business with them is very frustrating and discouraging. I am talking here from personal experience. Some friends, associates and workshop audiences have also shared their frustration with me. Why should I be given a roller coaster “call today, call tomorrow” treatment for offering to help an African country like Nigeria or Botswana get better known, better appreciated and better visited? Why? I don’t get it. For instance, I have – on my own volition, without any pay – arranged for top media interviews for some hoteliers and ambassadors, and what did I get? Disappointment. Big disappointment. The journalists called and emailed their questions a number of times but got no reply. Can you imagine that?

I believe African destinations need to tap the goodwill, capabilities and contacts of their nationals around the world. They need to mine viral tourism marketing which you can call digital tourism marketing for the gold it has. The marketing landscape has changed. Traditional marketing is very expensive and African destinations may not have the huge budget to place ads on CNN and New York Times in today’s very competitive tourism market. But an engaging, educative, exciting and entertaining non-documentary type video on YouTube can create better brand awareness —and it’s free to post on YouTube, which can even pay them for ads placed on the video. Savvy viral destination marketing has brought ample dividends toAustralia (Great Barrier Reef’s 2009 Best Job In The World), New Zealand (ongoing Pass It On campaign) and other countries.

The Pulse of Africa: Bongani Madondo, a South African journalist, arts critic, and writer


by Atim Annette Oton

The Pulse of Africa is a series by Atim Annette Oton talking with Africans in Africa and across the Diaspora on Africa’s progress, issues on culture, technology and opportunities in this decade.

Bongani Madondo is a South African journalist, writer and arts critic. He is my South African friend: I call him my brother from another mother. We are kindred spirits, we think alike in many ways. A bit of a radical. So when I asked him these questions, it was both easy for him to respond and difficult to edit himself.  He responded with tons of stuff. I edited as best as I could. Bongani is truth, he says it as he means it. He is direct, brash and brazen. As a critic and writer, he is doing what he is best at: dissecting, identifying and diagnosing the truth.

Journalist and Non-Fiction author, Bongani Madondo is a multi-award winning profile writer and multidisciplinary cultural commentator working across a variety of media. His work on music, inner city architecture, urban cultures, politics of style, visual & performance arts is highly respected within academia, mainline media and the streets.                                                

                             

          

1. How do you feel about Africa‘s progress and opportunities in your industry and city this decade (2010’s)?

I have always been terribly troubled [as well as, on occasion, inspired] by the world’s media and others ways of looking at Africa as a single catchphrase: A collective. Homogenous. One black block of either violence, mediocrity, barbarism, or on the other hand, a condescending liberal anthropological of over celebrating certain quaint aspects of supposed discovery.

It goes like this: “Oh, they can use technology”!, “Oh, their music is so emotional and touching,” “Oh here’s the latest African corruption crime buster”, “Oh, here look at this African he went to Harvard”, and “Oh, they still live in poverty but so happy and pastoral…” I say bullshit to all that.

We need news ways of looking at Africa. Not even the third way, no. Just a complex, simple and accepting way of looking at Africa the way you would look at all continents, even then is hardly ever employed…people don’t look at whole continents unless there’s something supposedly sexy about them: Asian Tigers, or in literature: The new magic realists after Marquez…Oh, save me from that.

 Let’s look at two not-Oppositional views, as they might appear:

  • a. Individual countries
  • b. Individual Africans making a living without economic borders [A 21st century Pan-Africanist]

Individual countries:

Several individual countries- some of course bolstered and empowered by the Pan Africanist spirit of African Union, some experimenting with new economic models and the drive to root our corruption and reboot the economy, some by pure luck as a result of mineral/natural resources such as oil, etc- have made a steady progress since the early stages of the last decade.

Although Nigeria is always cited as the most corrupt country in the continent, many people are not looking at the anti-corruption successes of the lady now returning as the Finance Minister as well as a new spirit of renewed entrepreneurship in new media, lifestyle and arts industries in cities such as Lagos.

For example, both the nascent pop culture, music, fashion and the now “sexy” ghetto DIY sensibilities and booming industry of Nollywood should count for something, in terms of jobs creation that the government wouldn’t even have dreamt of creating it. Kenya’s economy is building up and has been building up despite that country’s much documented corruption (see Michaela Wong and the Kenyan crime buster’s book It’s Our Turn To Eat).

Same as the usual success stories, South Africa and Botswana. But others aren’t doing bad at reviving their economies and helping create a positive, vibrant outlook much preferred by the new Middle Class in Africa. Countries such as Ghana, Zambia, Namibia and Uganda are in fact creating a vibrant middleclass; and with them a new lifestyle, based on African style consumerist and production culture, as well as entrepreneurial spirit.

Of course, there are plenty of sad and despairing cases…Zimbabwe [once one of the most educated, vibrant and proudest countries not long ago] Congo, Kinshasa, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Swaziland, Burundi, etc. are really not where it is at.

But that’s life. It’s not a unique African thing. Is the entire Asiabooming with wealthy Chinese style dictatorial capitalism? Are all former Soviet countries the exact beacons of democracy and technology upsurge? Gimme a break! How about the Middle East -Arab Spring anyone? Bah!

Personally, I am a very bad African. I do not measure my personal successes by the material-o-meter of where I originate from. I travel a lot and am a citizen of the world. I am one of those you have heard enough of and you have started cracking jokes about: I am an AfroPolitan, and the world is my canvass.

Although if I had to chose I would love to live in Lagos, Manhattan, Prague, Johannesburg [my city] and Dakar. I don’t know about opportunities in my “industry.” In my country, the industry I work within -the media- is still in the hands of white folks and their “newsly” created black conservatives are guarding, fiercely, ill gained white loot in exchange of a swanky address in the ‘burbs, policies for their children’s education, and a few bottles of cognacs.

Nothing’ has changed.

All the major mainstream magazines have white editors, white owners, white sub-editors and managing editors and the like. Although I am inspired by a new wave of young techy black generation [completely apolitical, scant if any sense of history] but creating their own narratives as bloggers, twitteratti, designers, music, merchandising business, etc, especially the pop-cultural and IT fields, utilizing latest technology.

Now I say that’s what the real battle was all about: for our children to be able to compete and create their own realities.

Individual Africans making a living without economic borders

I am also loving the new Pan-Africanist small entrepreneur. He/She who is from Ghana and opens several Ghanaian/Senegalese/Ivorian/Eithiopian cuisine joints in Johannesburg, in Nairobi, in Kinshasa and still be back home in Kumasi or St. Louis in Senegal, or Abidjan in time to celebrate X-mas or whatever religious/sacred days with the whole clan, often a traveling clan itself.

I love African entrepreneurs not looking at the governments for any salvation at all, but are utilizing mobile technology, to make borders obsolete. The thing that still saddens me is that none of the major billion dollars mobile technology firms are owned by black Africans themselves: It is either by Vodafone [European] or a slew of competing big time operators owned by Arabs, Indians, Chinese or ol’ money white South African entities.

2. How is technology, mobile telephones and social media changing Africa and your industry?

With a device on your hand, and access to an internet cafe’, better still, a PC or laptop, anyone can have a voice. The fact that a rural granny at some forgotten place can organize other rural grannies to create a sustainable small village business and still play leading role in the battle against HIV and the Aids epidemic while maintaining families where daddies and grand dads ARE STILL NOT there, either in big cities or were victims of civil wars, is a remarkable feat.

A Voice. A voice can be everything anyone needs at the direst of times. Technology has become the most influential personal space democratizing as well as conflict creating force. Which is good, cause out of conflict resolution should follow.   And that is often taken for granted. Sometimes its not even material indicators we should look at to measure success and progress.

3. What problems do you feel have to be overcomed by Africa in your industry? 

I just think the publishing “space” should be forced to be conducive to the creation, promotion and prosperity of African/black voices and black owned media. In my case, I don’t know a lot of African and black owned publications and radio/TV channels.

If and when they happen to be black, they are state owned [and you know what are the problems with state owned enterprises]; and if they are owned by independent entrepreneurs [Blink, Tribute magazine, etc], they are quickly shout out of business by the three or so traditionally white owned ol’ big boys club media owners.

Basically things haven’t changed that much in South African corporate sphere. Which is why you still hear such an integrationist Middle Class liberals like me still using quaint essentialist terms such as “white” and “black” instead of  “South Africans”- because, go around and ask everyone, it’s still that way in all aspects and spheres of life.

When the black government which has its hands tied in the back anyway, because of its own corrupt tendencies, and because it is beholden to bullying white media lobby groups and white media, tries to make a difference, they are met with stifling opposition and loudest, pre-emptive noise accusing it of reverse racism, which is of course the biggest pile of bullshit I have ever heard in any post-colonial setting] .

Back to the trades.

So, the existing advertising companies as well as clients themselves dish business to their old white clients/friends/ol’ money network I guess it is human nature to deal with the tried and tested.

New media such as online space has not done pretty well in terms of serving as alternative advertising revenue for new black media, either. Although, I’m sure all of that will change and all old white traditional big walls will be circumvented or fall as more and more new markets and smart media owners from all walks of life utilize the growing benefits and possibilities of what online can/offers.

Ideally, South African needs its own Arise, Ebony, etc, and black owned radio channels. The other truth is – and this is pertinent and almost peculiar toSouth Africathan any other African country –black folks here, actually love the idea of “going to look for a job”: code word for going to work for a white man. It is part of a legacy of Apartheid and the creation of new urban/industrialization of our country.

The idea of mobility… movement …trekking out of home to the big cities and coming back end of the year has its roots in the creation of mining towns such as Kimberly, Johannesburg and port/harbor enterprises in cities such as Durban and Cape Town. Hundred years later, grand-grand-grand children of the first batch of migrant workers still behave like their forebears.

So what needs to be done?

Other than a mind-shift, I have no idea what should be done. Not sure Affirmative Action as understood by captains of the industry is the answer. It just creates much dependency and not industry or production diversification.

The Pulse of Africa: Kibonen Nfi, a Cameroonian Fashion/Image Consultant


by Atim Annette Oton

The Pulse of Africa is a series by Atim Annette Oton talking with Africans in Africa and across the Diaspora on Africa’s progress, issues on culture, technology and opportunities in this decade.

Kibonen Nfi is a Certified Image Consultant who studied International Trade and Marketing in the fashion industry at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. Based in New York, she is also the Founder and Creative Director for KiRette Couture, one-of-a kind label crossing racial and cultural borders by exploring, experimenting with and fusing textiles from around the world. She is also the co-founder for the Cameroon Fashion Industry Common Innitiative Group and co-founder for Super Model Search Cameroon. Her websites: www.kirettenewyork.com,  www.supermodelsearchcameroon.com  and www.cameroonfashionindustry.org

1. How do you feel about Africa’s progress and opportunities in your industry and city this decade (2010’s)?

Being in the fashion industry since 2009 and going back and forth between Africa,  the USA and UK, I am really very impressed with the involvement of the African fashion and Africans in fashion. It was like a new dawn for African fashion and Africans are now benefitting from their own fashion which had for long been exploited by the western fashion. It is really encouraging and I strongly believe the fashion industry in the near future when the industry is properly developed in Africa, it will be a great economic booster.

There are lots of opportunities in the fashion industry . So much of it is still virgin and untapped. To fully develop this industry, we have to create opportunities from scratch and this is very exciting. It is the time to exploit the opportunities which are coming up in this industry and make the best of it.

2. How is technology, mobile telephones and social media changing Africa and your industry?

It is great to see how much sales can be done on Facebook for instance. Many designers do not even have a website but have done a lot of publicity via social media. It is great that so many  young people get inspired by what their friends are doing and they have a venue they can showcase what they do. Using smart phones, you can even conduct business with less expenses, especially with the Blackberry. It is exciting. There is a boom and a dynamism which I love and which in Africa is taking place. Many yound designers do fashion shows just by seeing what we are doing abroad and they try to maintain the standards because they know the world is watching and their location does not matter. This is a positive factor and It puts a smile on my face.

3. What problems do you feel have to be overcomed by Africa in your industry (Fashion?

Africans have to respect their fashion and embrace it. We have to equally respect talent and develop it. African governments has to facilitate the development of this industry. We have to learn to embrace creativity. In Africa, creative people are despised and professions; and fashion, modelling, photography are considered professions for the underpriviledged. We have to change our mindsets and start seeing the dollar signs attatched to this industry because when it is properly developed, it will be a gold mine that creates lots of jobs and economic development.

The Pulse of Africa: Nii Commey Botchway, a South African design educator


by Atim Annette Oton

The Pulse of Africa is a series by Atim Annette Oton talking with Africans in Africa and across the Diaspora on Africa’s progress, issues on culture, technology and opportunities in this decade.

The interviews and discussions are with Southern Africans in Africa and in the West and  I interviewed is Nii Commey Botchway, a graphic designer, now a design educator in Johannesburg. Nii’s is unusual in that he has worked across Africa and Asia, and like most African educators, is well versed on his field and reads widely.

Nii Commey Botchway is a design educator based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He lectures visual communications at the Vaal University of Technology to undergraduate students, born in Ghana he grew up in Botswana and Lesotho before his family settled in South Africa. His interests lie in design and education and how both can be used as enablers in the development of individuals and communities in a wholestic manner especially in the Afrikan context using indigenous knowledge together with appropriate global learning’s. He has served as a jury member for the Danish organization INDEX: Design To Improve Life’s UNICEF co-sponsored international student Design for Education challenge, and is part of the visiting faculty at the Yonsei Index Design To Improve Live Summer School held at Yonsei University in Seoul , South Korea.

Atim Annette Oton: How do you feel about Africa’s progress and opportunities in your industry and city this decade (2010’s?)

Nii Commey Botchway: As a design educator I tend to view things with two lenses (as a graphic designer and as a teacher) so my answers will try and cover those bases. From a (graphic/advertising) design point of view I think the industry locally has gone through quite a few changes since the late 1990’s when I graduated and started working. Being a servant to commercial industry mostly, it has (as have most sector’s) been changed dramatically by the explosion in multiple media options over the past decade. Information now has countless channels of being disseminated to audiences and it’s not a one way communication from advertiser to consumer. Thus the world into which I am training future designers has moved from a very linear one of them just making things “look pretty’ to having to consider design in a holistic systematic manner.

As much as we are trying to educate that way for this “uncertain” future where change happens in months and not years anymore, I still feel that industry has not moved far ahead enough to be “ready” for these kind of individuals, even though it “claims” it “needs” them. Potentially the greatest development is design moving upstream in the value chain of what it can offer clients, however not many agencies are taking up that challenge. Another huge opportunity that lies on our doorstep is servicing the needs of the so called “bottom of the pyramid” market as designers and as educators who are to train a new generation to have the pre-requisite skill needed to do so. However the industry has traditionally (and still largely) been focused on training for a largely capitalist industry which was mainly servicing the minority white population, so the huge potentials at the “base of the pyramid” so to speak are still a blind spot, as most of the practitioners and our current curricular do not fully grasp the opportunities there, however this is slowly changing and I feel South African design education and industry (if it has a vision) can be a trailblazer by bridging that  gap between “developing and developed world” and how design can make an impact in both.

Design academia in South Africa has in my view will  have to “grow up”  and lead industry now and not just be at the mercy of market forces in what and how we train our students. We are world beaters in talking to the “developed” market via visual communications as can be seen at how well South African agencies and design studios do in international awards, we just have to realize the potentials in the developing sphere not just commercially but also socially in using design to come up with solutions to solve our pressing challenges. There is much talk about the “blurring of disciplines” and within that change and uncertainty there are also opportunities to design new modes of doing for the industry going forward.

Atim Annette Oton: How is technology, mobile telephones and social media changing Africa and your industry?

Nii Commey Botchway:  For me the biggest thing is the realization that there are “others” out there like me who share similar visions about the potential for this great continent. Before I felt people where working in silos in quite challenging environments, so one tended to feel as if they where swimming upstream alone. What Afrika* needs is for an eco-system of support structures for change makers as I call them. One works to try and effect positive change but tends to be engulfed by the quagmire of systematic mediocrity around them. With the rise of mobile technologies however, linkages are made possible and one is able to network as never before with similar like minded individuals. This has the potential to broaden opportunities and markets for designers’ products and ideas as now the whole continent and world are your marketplace. So even if the eco-system is virtual it is still a support structure that can nurture dynamic change and ideas which the continent needs.

From an educational point of view we have students who are supposedly more connected and informative than ever before but there tends to be a “shallowness’ to their insights and a “laziness” to properly using all the new media tools at their disposal. So even though one can find out anything about any subject today, you still find huge areas of “non-knowledge’ in their engagements with information and how to use that in their solving of challenges. It becomes more imperative then to be able to train real critical thinkers, innovators, inventors etc who are able to properly use the huge amount of data and information now at their disposal.

Atim Annette Oton:  What problems do you feel have to be overcome by Africa in you industry?

Firstly, there is a lack of education/knowledge about the sector, the large majority of Afrikans in my view still do not fully understand the value that the creative industries can provide both commercially and in building social cohesion and dynamism for our countries, which is ironic when most of the world views Afrikans as very talented when it comes to the creative fields. We need to learn how to add value to all our abundant natural wealth and not ship it of to be re-sold to us.

How do we do that? Though innovation, creativity and design I believe. As per the following statement from Sir George Cox – “creativity is the generation of new ideas, while innovation is successful exploitation of new ideas with design being the link between the two”. M-Pesa (the mobile based means of sending money that was developed in Kenya) is a prime example of that statement. Imagine if Afrika had dozens more M-Pesa type ideas?

Arts and Design (in fact the creative industries) are not career paths that the majority of Afrikan parents “respect” or encourage their children to pursue. Most black children are expected to become doctors, engineers or one of the more so-called “traditional” career paths. As much as Afrika needs quality trained scientists and engineers I believe we also need a generation of design minded individuals to look at out challenges and find ways of solving them.

Today though much progress has been made and the value of creativity, design and innovation is widely accepted and promoted by institutions and government’s world wide, it is still not readily seen as a viable career option by most in the black community. Recently Parsons: The New School of Design in New York held a conference (http://finearts.parsons.edu/home/?q=node/56) about the same challenges as to the dwindling number of Afrikan-American students within the creative industries.

Thus these issues not only affect the creative industries in Afrika but the global black Afrikan population as well. In South Africa the situation demographically is not much changed 17 years after our first democratic elections. Black students tend to be in the minority in most of the creative industries and university departments, a problem I can attribute to 2 primary factors. One: a lack of role models within the black community for young people to look up to. Thus kids cannot see themselves aspiring to being say an industrial designer.

Secondly, there is a lack of understanding of the value of creativity in our school systems which sees that those skills are not encouraged within our educational structures. Most black schools don’t have any form of art or creativity subjects, I myself never had art/design at school. I had no role models who looked like me or had my experiences, thus in stating all of the above I am making the case for a designed effort by those of us who are trailblazers in the field to remember our challenges and empower ourselves to empower the next generation.

So for me, a value has to be placed on creativity and innovation from our school systems right through to university. Our educational systems also have to fully reflect this value system. This is not just  an ”Afrikan problem” but globally, as well as we now realize that our educational systems largely built for an industrial society in the 19th century do not meet the needs of a 21st century information and creative society.

Thirdl,y as a graphic designer working in the industry and most recently as an educator, I have always felt that the scope and dimension for our craft/industry to impact more fully on the social aspects of our people’s lives has not been yet fully realized. Design as a commercially viable undertaking has been fully embraced by brands, companies and the market place and a large percentage of educational output is thus directed.

Design on the other hand as a facilitator of positive meaningful social impact for communities that have been marginalised has not yet been something fully acknowledged either by a large majority of practicing professionals or those institutions which are tasked with training those individuals for the world at large and herin lies the challenge to be able to attain that balance in educating the next generation of designers.

So our “leaders” have to be made to understand the value of the creative industries for the long-term growth and development of the continent. If you think about it we are a market of over a billion people, so instead of looking to the ‘west or whoever to come save us’, we can look at ourselves to stimulate that growth and development through well thought out sustainable design and innovation solutions that look after people and environment, something most communities globally are trying to achieve now. Afrika can take the lead we need just men and women with the VISION and DRIVE to do so and that begins at the educational grassroots level.

(* Nii prefers to spell Afrika with a “k” as a way of honoring the continent. In traditional Afrikan languages “c” is non-existent as a phonetic of its own.)

Fall 2011: Time to work on Global Africa, Afropolitans and Diasporic Africans


This Fall, I have started my engine running and working on a series of projects that are in the realm of Global Africa exploring Afropolitans and Diasporic Africans. It begins with:

  • My Blogging on Huffington Post Black Voices
  • Editorial work at Calabar Magazine
  • Growing the Brand Black Design News Network (BDNN)
  • Expanding Calabar Imports
  • Creating African Design Now Conference

Identity


Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self, in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one’s nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one’s robes.

– James Baldwin

Nigerian-born, U.S. and British educated architectural designer, Atim Annette Oton is a designer, visionary thinker, cultural writer, culture editor, magazine publisher and entrepreneur in the retail, publishing and design sectors. Her life and work experiences in Calabar, Nigeria; London, England; Paris, France; Lagos, Nigeria and Brooklyn, New York have all shaped her unique perspective on design, innovation and business.

Always looking ahead to diversify and collaborate, Oton has worked as an architectural designer, designer educator, exhibition designer, design and culture writer and publisher, art & design media and technology consultant and retailer.

 

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