Over the past couple of months, I have had a series of conversations and experiences at events that have convinced me even more that A.C.E. is the right way to professionally deal with what is going on around me and in the world today, in my own small way.
The first major instance was a Twitter conversation I had with the talented and insightful Zambian songbird Chembo about representation at the first TEDx Eucalyptus Road in Lusaka. Her contention with the organisation of the event by Bloom Management was that there were non-black faces being streamed from abroad as part of the experience. I contested that the important thing was that there was a high representation of women, particularly in the on-site break out sessions to discuss the themes, which is still unusual for Zambian events. We agreed to disagree, as she feels strongly that black people/ Zambians should speak to their own people. I agree to some extent, foreign and mostly non-black faces and organisations are given far too much freedom to come and tell us how to be ourselves without consultation or understanding of who we are, what we need and what we need to do to get to where we want to go. I feel however, that sometimes issues like Black Lives Matter, an issue borne from a minority status and amplified worldwide due to the fact that Western Media dominates global media, can obscure reality. We also are prone to jump on the cause bandwagon, designing events round things like HeForShe to show we do care about women, but not to actually really do the work to give women and girls their rightful chance to find their place in society.
We here in Zambia are in the majority, identifying as Black. When you go to events and hear speakers, the majority of them are usually black/ Zambian. The problem is they are almost always all men, and a lot of the time its the same recycled speakers unless it is dubbed a women’s event and even then there may not be a female majority. I think it is important to focus on what is salient here, not to bring issues from other places and erroneously conflate them out of solidarity, or issues brought from experiences elsewhere. I do think it is important for young Zambian women to see people who look like them doing more than myopic destiny expected of us. And I do believe both men and women need to give the female perspective chance and also realise sometimes it’s not about gender but about knowledge. Same with race. Does it matter the delivery vessel if the truth is being spoken?! I attended the TEDx event and had a transcendental experience in the breakout session with CEO of COMESA‘s business council Sandra Uwera, who I need to follow up with about encouraging Africans to buy local and products made on the continent and how this ties to how we see ourselves. I enjoyed that fact that she was in a powerful position and from her questions and comments it was clear she was qualified for her job and was the right choice to moderate. If that had not been the case however, I would have written about how disappointed I was. She made me proud to be an African Woman in the world today trying to move things forward. She is #goals!
Earlier this month, I organised at Modzi Arts thanks to Founder Julia Kaseka’s openess to the idea of showing my documentary e18hteam, with a discussion afterwards about Zambian identity, the future of youth in the country, and the importance of art in public discourse. The day of, Zesco did not disappoint and was annoyingly and stereotypically inconveniencing, deciding to loadshed that area for the first time in Modzi Art history. Though we didn’t show film, Samba Yonga and Tangu Msimiko were great panelists with insightful contributions and Julia was an awesome moderator. During the talk, an audience member asked if I had chosen the panel to be all female on purpose. I have had many conversations about how to ensure better representation and I am not for putting a woman on the panel just to have one. I believe in equality and equity. If you select the requisite people to speak on the right things I think it will all balance out. If there are no qualified women, don’t force the issue and end up fulfilling another stereotype that women are given opportunities by affirmative action without qualification. However, I do believe at this time, if you have the choice with equally qualified people, I think one should tend to favour the ladies over the gentlemen, till diverse panels are the norm. In the case of my event, I picked Samba because her company Ku-Atenga Media is one of the reasons my documentary has been well recieved and successful and she knows the film and its journey inside out. I chose Tangu because she reached out to me about mentorship and is interested in creating discourse between creatives as well as in the mechanics of film distribution. We also happened to represent young Zambia being in our 20s and 30s. Giving women a platform to speak was a coincidental bonus.
Modzi was able to screen the film the next day and I spoke with the audience after and the conversation focused on the fact that we as Zambians need to realise that the Chipolopolo’s story reflects who we are as a people. I have had interactions with young Zambians during and after the elections where they have expressed fear that the legacy of the Freedom Fighters and the current administration will be lack of agency for those of us who follow them. That they have no place in the country, and that efforts to belong are futile. I reminded the audience that just like the Zambian National Football Team, we have bounced back from other tragedies such as the deaths of two of our Presidents in the last 10 years, by coming together and persevering peacefully. I also noted that despite being blindsided continuously with things like loadshedding descending upon us without warning repeatedly ad infinitum, ad nauseum, we continue to innovate and find ways to carry on and succeed. We did not give in after the day before’s debacle, we rescheduled and made time to have the event properly. In our lives, we know we have it inside us to surmount the challenges thrown at us and eventually find the strength to keep moving. Unbeknownst to me, there was a young, Caucasian American lady moved by my impassioned oratory. She took the opportunity to express how my words gave her hope for the USA, as she wrapped her head round Donald Trump being President-Elect at the edict of her people. She was elevated to tears (I don’t believe crying is a reduction by default but can also be a expression of your strength to being open to expressing vulnerability unabashedly) as she spoke and apologised. I told her there was nothing to be contrite about, as we are all living through these trying times and it is important to reach out to one another however we can, wherever we are. I first went to America after September 11th and remember how people rallied together and was present during the first memorial commemorating the tragedy. I have no doubt America will recognise its greatness and make lemonade out of this this current batch of lemons and slay like Beyonce.
This brings me back to my original sentiments that I expressed to Chembo. You can learn and be inspired by anyone. I think opportunities globally should be given to qualified people of all races, colours, creeds, gender, sexual orientation and identities, because as humans, our strength is in our diversity and we all have something to offer. I think it is important to distinguish between local and global issues surrounding misrepresentation and the flat out blocking of certain perspectives and voices so we intervene and rig for the good accordingly, not to just jump on some cause’s bandwagon for the wrong reasons. Sometimes we need to give voice to those that irk, confuse or have differing opinions or appearance, so long as the intent is to not to promote hate, intolerance and to divide to rule and profit selfishly. Even if the outcome is agreeing to disagree, I think there is much to learn from our differences and solutions to the worlds problems will continue to come from finding common ground. Tonight my film is showing at the Southern African Institute in Basel and has been given the honour of being the Opening Night screening to officially start the Zambia in Motion Festival. The aim of the festival is to bring the curated history to life through indigenous voices, to a Swiss audience. The fact that a tiny country a quarter of the world away is preserving our history and is reaching out to better understand who we are is beautiful. It is the essence of what A.C.E. is all about: Cultural exchange. Building bridges. Learning from history. Making new paths. Learning and growing together.
Leading is not only about taking care of your own, but its also about reaching out to the other side to gain understanding, to lend a helping hand and above all letting love guide us to conquer all. We need more of this in the world right now. How are you going to spread the feels and bring people together? What are you going to do to bring about understanding, empowerment and opportunity?
For inspiration, watch e18hteam on video on demand anytime, anywhere online here.