A Coalition of the determined

From African Business, December 2015

An exciting new concept aims to put ‘conferring’ back into ‘conference’ and spark action to replace words.

If there was a direct correlation between the number of conferences held and wealth generation, Africa would be among the most prosperous regions of the world.

Since the era of independence in the 1960s, the number of conferences, seminars, forums and workshops on Africa must run into the tens of thousands. Vast tracts of forest have been felled to provide the tons of background and discussion paper this has generated and which in turn, continue to literally feed battalions of paper-eating bugs in whichever crypts these gems of wisdom have been gathering dust.

Sadly, despite all the hot air wafting over it, Africa continues to limp along with a few bright spots illuminating what remains a generally miserable landscape of want and unfulfilled potential.

No one is satisfied with this state of affairs. The frequency and volume of conferences on Africa is perhaps an indication of the sometimes desperate search for solutions to enable the continent to break free from its shackles and use its vast natural endowments to benefit its own people rather than the outside world.

The noun ‘conference’ derives from the verb ‘to confer’. The objective is to bring together involved parties and through dialogue, discussion, debate based on deep thought and observation, to find solutions to specific problems.

Alas, in many cases, the means becomes the end. How often have we heard the same speaker repeat exactly the same speech, complete with ‘the same jokes’ in conference after conference and then move on to the next ‘show’? No wonder the media, reflecting the view of the general public, has turned its back on ‘talking shops’.

But of course, when done, well and honestly, a conference can make a huge difference. This brings me to an exciting departure from the norm – an event that has set out to re-insert ‘conferring’ back into ‘conference’.

I am talking about the forthcoming African Transformation Forum organized by the African Center for Economic Transformation and the government of Rwanda, scheduled for March next year. It will not be about ‘experts’ talking to the rest of us, but a coalition of like-minded people from many walks of life sharing information, experiences and real-life expertise to find concrete, practical solutions to a set of pivotal issues for Africa’s progress.

The problems will not disappear after the forum; but neither will the conferring. Instead, representatives from governments, business, the international donor community, civil society and academia will form ‘chapters’ around specific issue and continue to meet, discuss and find solutions beyond the end of the forum. They will be expected to report back at the next gathering of the coalition and once again, share experiences – what works, what doesn’t.

This is such a common-sense approach you wonder why it has not been done before. But of course, common sense is rare and things happen when they happen. Something tells me the bookworms are going to have to go on a starvation diet – they cannot eat action.

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