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‘Energy’ toilets meet ideas worth spreading at TED Nairobi

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By BETTY CAPLAN

Posted  Friday, May 11  2012 at  16:16
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Not every presentation was practical; Sitawale Namwalie, whose show “Cut Off My Tongue” has been seen around the world, gave us a brief excerpt that highlights the issue of tribe in a humorous way. It was devised as a response to the post-election violence of 2008. Her approach is ironic, and so audiences don’t feel they are being lectured at. And it’s a moveable feast. “It changes every time we do it,” she says. The composition of the cast itself makes a statement: three women — two African, one white — and a male drummer.

Ugandan writer Doreen Baingana pleaded with us to create spaces where things like ethnicity could be addressed in a more meaningful manner.

The Kenya Boys Choir who performed for Barack Obama’s inauguration did us proud. The movements and costumes complement their exquisite a cappella singing. Then Nigerian-born Dayo Ogunyemi told of how he has invented a sustainable ecosystem for African film-makers by transforming the humble old video shack into a comfortable attractive space lit by solar energy. So far, there are 30 pilot schemes in operation. People want to see films that reflect their own lives and problems — which is what Nollywood delivers!

Perhaps the most daring of all was the fearless Anas Aremeyawro, undercover journalist par excellence. Appearing dramatically onstage with his face obscured by a balaclava and a fringed hat, he declared that his chief purpose was to name and shame. “There is no point in doing journalism that doesn’t affect the community,” he declared.

Disguising himself in all manner of ways, he has managed to get a witch doctor put behind bars for killing albino children and produced hardcore evidence (by posing as a patient) to prove that nurses and doctors were running a drugs trade in certain hospitals.

“We need extreme remedies for extreme diseases,” he pronounced. With the support of Al Jazeera he has been investigating Chinese prostitution rings.

But no-one will forget Lorna Irungu’s radiant story of her triumph over lupus with the help of her family and what she calls her troop of “warriors.” Like all the other speakers, she has not been defeated by the deficiencies of public medical provision. She has made it her business to find out everything she could about the disease; and when she needed three different kidney transplants, she spoke of the love of her family, three of whom donated a kidney each to keep her alive and the devotion of friends who collected $20,000 to pay for the medical fees. What greater love can there be than that?

It has given her the strength and the courage to be a spokesperson not for the disease but for an attitude of triumph in the face of adversity. She is an inspiration for all those suffering from any disease. “You are not your situation,” she says. “You’re the writer and the conqueror.”

Roll on TED. This is just the beginning.

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