Africa’s Digital Media Space: A conversation with Mark Kaigwa

By Edem Torkornoo

First Published in Ayiba Magazine (September 2014)

Mark Kaigwa lives at the intersection of storytelling, technology and entrepreneurship. He is the founder of Nendo, a Nairobi based consultancy firm, focused on strategy and digital storytelling in Africa. He is also the co-founder of Afrinnovator, one of East Africa’s leading blogs on technology, innovation and startups in the region. In 2008, Kaigwa co-wrote, Pamoja Mtaani, a Warner Bros. project and Kenya’s first animated video game. Pamoja Mtaani, which means “Together in the Hood” in KiSwahili, centers on bringing HIV awareness. Kaigwa has also written five short films for Warner Bros. and debuted his first film, Dawa, at the Durban Film Festival in 2010. He went to Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya where he studied Business and Information Technology. Ayiba Magazine’s Edem Torkornoo spoke with the 25-year-old Kenyan about what storytelling means to him, Nendo’s work and the digital media space.

Edem: Tell us a bit about your work with Pamoja Mtaani.

The idea behind it came from a private-public partnership called “HIV Free Generation.” This was a collaboration between the U.S government’s PEPFAR program, some public partners and a number of different countries. The approach to HIV awareness hasn’t always brought great results. So we created a video game to combat HIV/AIDS. My job was to create the most convincing creative, authentic, and culturally relevant world that people could explore.

Edem: What were you doing prior to Nendo?

I was in the start-up space. I still am. I’ve always been blogging. I’ve been pretty consistent with that. That’s part of the work itself. I’ve been running a number of blogs and been on executive teams. I’ve been involved with different start-ups. There’s one called ”Got Issuez?” an online platform where companies and consumers can connect.

The previous chapters are important for context, but what’s more important to me is the immediate past and projecting forward. That for me is an enriching conversation.

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Inside the Diaspora with Fatima Sesay

By Edem Torkornoo

First Published in Ayiba Magazine (September 2012)

Fatima Sesay is the host of SaharaTV’s Youtube show Inside the Diaspora with Fatima. The show covers any and all things that affect the African Diaspora community in New York. Ayiba’s Edem Torkornoo spoke with Fatima about how she came up with the concept of her show, producing it, and being part of the Diaspora community in New York.

 Edem: What inspired you to start your show Inside the Diaspora with Fatima?

Working at SaharaTV or SaharaReporters and realizing that there was no connection to the Diaspora. We had stories that were connected to the Diaspora, but I felt like having a show that catered solely to that demographic was a good idea.

Edem: Do you remember your first show?

Yes! I had Solome Lemma. I remember before I started the show, I had a sit down with her and she was very kind. She gave me some guidelines like “you don’t want your Twitter handle to be too long, @insidethediasporawithFatima” and stuff like that. I do remember that I was very nervous. I did not do broadcast in school, I did print, so this was something very fresh for me but I have to say it was a learning experience and every day I’m learning something new.

Edem: How do you pick your guests for your show?

Some of them I have known for years, some of them I come across and I find them interesting. There’s just something about them that pops and so I want to tickle their brain, I want to know what’s going on in your head. For example the last guest that I had, DJ Tunez; I don’t party much but whenever I do, he is there. I’ll say like 85% of the parties I go to, he’s been the DJ or he’s mentioned on the flier or something. So I feel like someone like that needs recognition. If you are doing something that is grabbing people’s attention, you are doing something right. I want to give people the exposure and have people learn a thing or two from them.

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Shuffering and Shmiling : A review of Teju Cole’s Every Day is for the Thief

By Edem Torkornoo

First Published in Ayiba Magazine (June 2014)

If you have ever had a Yahoo! address then chances are that you may have received an email from a Nigerian “business man” promising to sell you something if you transfer an advance fee of usually $5,000 to a certain bank account. These “business men” are probably in reality unemployed young men, sitting in a hot Internet café somewhere in Lagos and participating in the popular email scam known as “419.” Teju Cole’s Every Day is for the Thief explores the phenomenon that is “419” in one of its short chapters and touches on other forms of corruption in Africa’s largest nation, Nigeria.

Set in Lagos, Every Day is for the Thief tells the story of a nameless young man who sets out to visit his home country Nigeria after being away for fifteen years. He is currently a psychiatry student in New York. During his time at home, he re-explores the city by foot and bus, visits an old flame who is now married, reconnects with old friends and family, and shares his daily encounters with corruption with the reader.

The novel begins with the nameless protagonist’s trip to the Nigerian consulate in New York to renew his Nigerian passport. He has dual citizenship. Here, we learn that the passport officer requires an unofficial expediting fee before he can help customers get their passports back early. However, this is not indicated on the website. This begins the book’s exposition on the democratic nature of corruption as it is not limited to only those in positions of extreme power but even includes touts whose modus operandi is to use intimidation to get money from their victims. Cole writes, “there is in every tout the same no-nonsense attitude, the quick temper. The willingness to get into a fight over any and all conflicts. There is a strut they do, a swagger, these are the original wiseguys of Lagos; some of them are as young as fourteen.”

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Between the Lines: Chimamanda Adichie and Zadie Smith on writing, hair, race, feminism, the Obamas and love.

By Edem Torkornoo

First Published in Applause Africa (March 2014)

Two of the greatest female novelists of our time Chimamanda Adichie and Zadie Smith sat down to speak at the Schomburg Center in Harlem about Adichie’s new novel Americanah two weeks ago. The hour-long conversation spanned topics such as writing, race, classism, feminism and black women’s hair. Smith served as moderator whilst Adichie answered questions about the book.

With the opening statement “I think it’s very important that brilliant women step out there to be hot babes,” in regards to Smith, Adichie shows why it is easy to fangirl over her. The candor that is evident in her written work is quickly seen throughout the conversation. Smith points out that Adichie’s work has a “psychological acuity” which makes her characters very real and much like the people we meet in our everyday lives.

When they speak about feminism and the notion of strong women, Smith points out how the women in Adichie’s novels are very confident and not afraid to speak their mind. Where as in a lot of American fiction today, women are written in relation to their men or as status objects, Adichie gives them a strong “stand-alone” voice.

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Start-Up Stories: Heel The World

By Edem Torkornoo

First published in Ayiba Magazine (March 2014)

Fred Deegbe is the founder and CEO of the Ghanaian shoemaking social enterprise Heel the World (H.T.W.). Fred, who describes himself as a shoemaker, graduated from Ashesi University with a degree in Business Administration. At the end of 2011, he decided to leave his job in banking to start a high-end shoemaking company aimed at showing the world that some of the best things can come out of Africa. Today, H.T.W. is more than a business that makes bespoke shoes. It has become a brand that empowers young Africans, be it through its popular beads, shoes, or startup consulting unit. Ayiba’s Edem Torkornoo spoke with Fred via Skype about his thoughts on the concept of African Renaissance, building a business, and what he has learnt so far.

Edem: What will you define African Renaissance as?

Fred: For me renaissance is a beautiful way of tackling social issues. When I think of renaissance, I don’t think of uprising or rebellion, which are usually the things that people tend to turn to when they want to change a situation. It’s something that people can hold on to, like the “Africa rising” tag as opposed to “the youth are tired of the government” or “give us jobs.”

Edem: What will you say is the role of companies like H.T.W. in the development and renaissance of Africa?

Fred: We want to be a brand that lets people around the world know that there is something incredible happening in Africa. We are not just about fashion. You can call us anything dope or unorthodox coming out of Africa. This is what we intangibly represent. We started with fashion because it’s easier on the eyes and has a wider appeal. Tangibly, we make beautiful handmade bespoke shoes and leather accessories – for now. We’re going to expand soon. We are the real deal.

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