Monday, August 27, 2012

First Thoughts: A Journey With The Lights Off – Equatorial Guinea

Africa is many things. It’s a continent, it’s 54 nations, it’s oppression, it’s freedom, it’s rich, and it’s poor. It’s poorly governed nations, it’s a rising global powerhouse, it’s conservative, it’s liberal, it’s music, it’s silence, it’s in me and it’s not me - all at the same time.

It is this understanding that led me and a close friend of mine to bring a dynamic group of young professionals from the United States to the continent to experience it under an unlikely scenario. “The Afripolitans”, a final group of 80 artists,media moguls, scientists, technologists, strategists, fundraisers, and non-profiteers, went to the continent against a media onslaught, to define Africa for themselves, many for the very first time.

For me, this trip was about connecting people to our continent of origin in a way that we haven’t seen since the end of Apartheid. At its height, African-American engagement on the continent was very much focused on one common “oppressor”. Civil rights and the struggle for freedom was something we could all identify with. Since then we’ve seen a sputtering of interest in the continent that has pretty much dried up in the generation oft he “millenials”. Non-profit and plain form development people aside, the conversation on African Affairs has emerged to something most people don’t find tangible.  It involves rightfully complex issues, and situations which the everyday person can’t relate to.  Beyond this, the picture of Africa in most people’s minds remains a dated one, “raw” is how one person put it on Facebook.The beautiful skylines, the rich music, the burgeoning economies, the talented creatives,and the intellect are almost always missing from the conversation.

When I think about these characterizations, none of them reflect my experiences on the continent. I’ve toasted champagne with filmmakers in Nairobi, debated politics in Ethiopia over buna in a village, I’ve partied the night away in Sierra Leone, waking up the next day to talk about maternal health with a First Lady. This dynamic experience is not only my Africa but a reflection of me; A very real representation of a continent that I am very much connected to.

Some would argue that we shouldn’t have gone; others would focus so much on the political, ethical, and human rights record of our host country, Equatorial Guinea, that they would take the entire experience away.Others will smirk at the thought of African-Americans wanting to set foot on the “motherland” for a spiritual renewal and connection as a trivial thought and sentiment. I’m ok with all of that. Our experience, while not at all whatwe expected was everything this set of 20 and 30 something’s needed at this particular point in their lives. We strengthened this experience by moving beyond ourselves and including the children of African immigrants as those interested in community and it's reflection in African lives.

We came with the intent on participating in the Leon H.Sullivan Summit, delays, cancellations and other items forced us to design our own agenda. We made a pact among ourselves to harness our collective energy,make connections with local Equatoguineans by exploring Malabo beyond the conference center and hotel, and connect with our ancestors in some way before we left. I am proud and happy to say we did all three and came away with an overwhelming sense of pride in ourselves as a collective and an interest in looking strategically at our strengths to find out what we had to offer the continent and what it had to offer us. Being able to simplify, and engage at this level will help us build support, interest, and engagement on the continent that is left out of the twitter debates and headlines.

If I learned nothing else from my week in Equatorial Guinea, I learned who I am and who I am not in the space of people concerned with the prosperity of Africa and its diaspora across the globe. I also learned lots about spirituality, self-respect, rejection, disappointment, trust, and leadership. It was a transformational experience for me that in some ways was very personal and in others was very much a group exercise. I’m excited about what’s ahead for “The Afripolitans” and continuing this organic journey on our own terms.  I’ll go into specific details on different aspects of the trip throughout the week - in the meantime check out the pics of some of our Afripolitans on the journey over.

As always….ciao!



  1. I just happend upon your blog via IG and have to say how inspired I am by you. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your adventures and self discoveries with us. I'm interested in knowing more about Afripolitans and maube how one can go about joining.

    1. Hi Fajon,

      I love seeing your beautiful face on IG. Thanks for the comment. I'm glad you enjoy the post. Like our fanpage on FB to get updates, we're still building but there will be time to widen the net in 2013.