Wild About Africa

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Processing PopTech -what does it mean for Kenya?


Andrew Zolli (curator of PopTech) is a genius. Anyone who is attending PopTech and writing about it needs to think about how the sessions have been curated. . Speakers have passionately talked about their areas of expertise from youth speaker Erica who told us to wake up to the Millenial generation and the auto maker with a difference– design and build your own car. It has been super impressive and everyone is excitedly blogging.  I find that most are telling the stories as told by the speakers –  I think  they are wasting their enormous talent, we’ll have the videos for this, what we need the clever writers to do is to have a deep digestion and analysis of the meaning of the talks. This cant be done in minutes, it happens over discussions at dinner, lunch, breaks, it’s an examination of the questions . Are people listening to Andrew Zolli’s questions – he’s leading us in a direction. ….lets not get caught up in details. I think know he has a cunning plan to change America. The amazing bloggers on Poptech like Ethan Zuckerman are capturing every talk as they happen, and in detail. But something is missing… I really think that as bloggers we need to get beyond classroom notes and start analyzing and digesting what’s really happening at PopTech.

Challenging conversations was a session that hit me like a train. It started with one of the most thoughtful speakers I’ve heard in a long time was Robert Guest who writes the Lexington column in the Economist. His thesis is that we should stop worrying about Americas place in the future world. America is a great country because it attracts the best of the best and this is because it is the land of opportunity. He posits that people love America and are quick to adopt America  and feel at home here because of the freedoms everyone has here. He says it’s the only place where democracy is real – people can say anything and do anything, and if you listen to radio or TV you’ll quickly agree it’s totally true.  Robert believes that the freedoms afforded to all in America will continue to drive the massive inflow of people and talent from the rest of the world, guaranteeing that America will be great for a long time to come.

But when Rinku Sen came on stage she said the opposite. Born in India and came to USA at age 5 she struggled to feel American. She had to actually try to fit in, she talked about discrimination and how it’s holding back the talent. From her talk it was clear that many  immigrants do not feel as if they belong – look at the labour markets made up of Mexicans and latinos ‘illegal immigrants’ who play a central role in the economy of this country.

Who is right Robert or Rinku?

I think Rinku is right, but so is Robert, and that’s why Reihan Salams presentation was so brilliant. America is the land of opportunity, there are no second generation bus boys (for all u Africans bus boys are guys who wipe tables in restaurants). As a result there is massive immigration and Reihan suggests that the demography of the new America is diverse, made up of many immigrants in mainly immigrant neighbourhoods. He says that the racial, cultural and religious intolerance is leading to conflicts, and warns that the future of America will be filled with conflicts. That is a terrifying conclusion.

All of this made Paul Van Zyls talk the most important piece of the puzzle. He was an anti-apartheid organizer in South Africa. When Mandela became president, Paul became the executive secretary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and he showed us the most harrowing video clip of victims explaining how they were tortured, and the story of  Joyce Ntenkuda who got closure after the killers of her son Sipiwe revealed how and where they did it. Finally she could say goodbye and bury him respectfully even though his ashes had been dumped in a river.

Pauls message was not lost on the audience. America needs a Truth commission to help everyone know what happened, understand why it happened and therefore agree that the torture that the US military has been committing is not acceptable and should never happen again. The American public need to hear from the victims about how they were treated.  We need to feel their pain. We also need to hear from the perpetrators. We need to hear them say that they did the wrong thing. It’s not for our sadistic viewing pleasure – the exercise is mostly for them. Imagine the relief they will feel even if the result is a life of punishment by the way we look at them. If they don’t come clean they will live with this horrible information locked in their hearts where it will fester and grow into a cancerous knot.

If the American people do not know how they helped the perpetrators, by not only standing by, but by agreeing with the crazy Cheney approach. By accepting that things should be done secretly, by rewarding these bastards. America needs to purge – feel the pain of the victims, and re-imagine its self as a moral leader. If it does not go through a truth commission torture will continue to be an accepted way of getting information and every single American will know deep down hat he or she will never have the any moral authority -without it America cannot be a world leader.

America can re-imagine its self by taking advantage of the talents of people like Paul van Zyl who is now co-founder and EVP of the International Center for Transitional Justice. The country is ready for this – I can feel the awakening. But everyone is scared – and that’s ok too. Its not easy but that that has never held back anyone. Accepting a truth commission will prove to me that America is truly great.

Paul van Zyl is a genius. If America won’t use him then can we please have him back in Africa. I know at least one country that needs a truth commission right now. Paul, Karibuni Kenya bwana! We need you badly.

If you want to follow Poptech live join us live for the last day and follow the exploding twitter feed @poptech

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October 24, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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