Drumbeats & The Future of African Innovation

RP's Arinaitwe Rugyendo

Drumbeats & The Future of African Innovation

By Arinaitwe Rugyendo

On September 02nd, I received an e-card to an exclusive event, the kind I last experienced in Carpe Verde, somewhere in 2014.

A friend, Dr. Olugbenga Adesida, had organized the one in Cape Verde, called the African Innovations Summit. Some African presidents were in attendance, notably President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

We had converged to knock our heads on the future of African innovations.

During the summit, everybody agreed that the event had been timely, for Africa was changing. The continent was making major progress in many areas.

“Growth has been strong and macroeconomic variables have witnessed major improvements despite the difficult global circumstances,” the summit organizers posited in unison.

But why were we meeting then, if Africa was a bed of roses?

The problem then was that very few African countries could still claim to have successfully transformed their economies.

“The changed global landscape of the 21st Century requires major upgrade in African societies and economies. Success will require that African societies and economies be driven by creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship as the essential keys for socioeconomic transformation,” one presenter observed.

Consequently, the summit observed that it was crucial for the development of a knowledge-based economy to enhance Africa’s competitiveness. Nearly everyone agreed that African countries must be able to fundamentally alter the nature of their economies, become more creative and innovative to support socioeconomic transformation. A number of us from Sub Saharan Africa focused on the solution to the challenges facing the continent as being ingenuity and creativity of Africans themselves. But this is where it stopped. We all packed our bags and went home a few days later.

However, the Summit organizers kept the hope thereafter- and this is what I like about African optimists.

“The good news is that Africans are innovating. The Summit launched a process to critically review what is happening and how to learn from the emerging African experiences, what the challenges are, and how best to build robust innovation systems in African countries,” the organizers observed a year later.

Fast forward!

On September 01st, when a Public Relations company, DICTUM, sent me an email to attend a similarly ‘limited audience’ event the next day in Naguru, I was very eager.

“So what was this about?” I asked.

The sender said I was a preferred guest for ‘DrumBeats’ inaugural ThinksandDrinks256 event.’

‘Drumbeats’ is an African content project that aims to preserve, aggregate, generate, amplify and disseminate imaginative African content. Drumbeats is a catalyst for the new African story, harnessing technology, networks, partnerships and experience to bring a rich and diverse African story to the world,” the sender told me.

When I probed further, I got to understand that a group of Ugandans had decided to start a movement of people who love to think outside the box and discuss- over a drink of their choice- innovations, creativity and celebrate ingenuity currently taking place in Uganda but largely going unnoticed, hence the Twitter hashtag #ThinksandDrinks256.

It was a full house at the Dictum green compound. Africapedia, an online source of facts and data on Africa, The Independent News Magazine and Rugyeyo, an Agronomics company, were busy curating interesting presentations from an eclectic pack of innovative, creative and restless minds, exploring new ideas and paths for Africa’s future.

The topics cut across different sectors and ideas in Arts and Culture, African film, Design, Agronomics and photography.

Fred Masadde, a seasoned Marketer had his choice on “the 10 best photos of Uganda of the last 30 years.”

Urban farming expert Dr. Diana Nambatya had an intriguingly intellectual piece on why “the cool Ugandans of the future will be those with green fingers,” arguing Africa’s futures lies in the ‘Green Economy.’ Her Green Movement is taking the country by storm, making it possible for urban dwellers to grow and eat organic foods from their squeezed domestic backyards.

Controversial Elmar Stroomer, talked about “designing our future & how to lose and win the game.” The dude is from a company with an uncharacteristic name- Designers Without Borders (DWB). I had only came across Medicins San Frontier (Doctors Without Borders). He’s the guy behind the boda-boda helmets redesigned in national colors. He has also invented a cooking stove!

But it was Isaac Godfrey Nabwana, the brain behind ‘Wakaliwood,’ a shantytown film making company behind the sensational film ‘Who Killed Captain Alex,’ that really carried the day. Isaac talked about  “the spirit of Captain Alex and What Uganda’s ‘Wakaliwood’ can teach the rest of the world about film.” He got a standing ovation for his ingenuity and creativity. He said Ugandans need not invest in CNN to brand itself; Wakaliga would do it for free. No wonder his innovation has gone viral. When I asked him how much he had used to start what is potentially a global sensation, Isaac replied: ‘Passion.’

The future of African innovation is bright. We will need more of these conversations to create a critical mass of innovators, techprenuers and creators to realize the dream hatched at the African Innovations Summit in Cape Verde. But above all, we must remain optimistic about the African story. It is very rich and raw.

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