In a humid Mombasa, Kenya, the African Crossroads 2019 with the theme ‘Sensing the City,’ started with a panel discussion led by Dr. Njoki Ngumi. The panelists included Lola Pedro; the co-founder of Nigeria’s craft spirit brand, Michael Nkonu; who works on food systems; Tatenda Kanengoni, a writer and journalist and Omar Nagati, and Egyptian architect and urban planner.
Exploring the theme, ‘Sensing the City,’ the way African cities have changed and affected how Africans live, Michael Nkonu spoke about how living in urban cities affects the different kinds of food cooked. The Ghanaian food systems expert explained how pounding of yam to eat pounded yam in apartments is no longer the norm. He said, “our environment influences how we eat and taste; hence our food patterns. If we move from rural to an apartment, we cannot grow our food and grind it. Processed food becomes the norm.”
Egyptian architect, Omar Nagati who spoke on informal settlements and said, “informality is the flip side of neoliberalism. . .informality is a transition because we live in a crisis.” Omar further explained how the word traditional has become a political term used to remove people from their settlements and governments turning such settlements to places of cultural heritage.
Kanengoni said, “involving the people in the development of spaces they want to live in is ideal.” Many African governments however do not include or consult the citizens in many of the development projects.
How have African cities changed? How has that affected our lifestyle? Dr. Njoki, the facilitator questioned the gendered roles, asking pertinent questions such as who cooks in the house? How does that affect families and who bears the bigger burden? While cities have changed, have people changed with the cities too? In a continent where most young people live in the cities and migration to other countries is on the rise, change is inevitable.
Lola Pedro who founded the African spirit brand called Ogogoro said, “there is a system that is trying to perpetuate a negative image of what is ours and what is local.” Ogogoro, which is local gin is frowned upon by many urbane young men and women in Nigeria. In her panel discussion, Lola expatiated on how registering with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration was a huge turmoil because of the name Ogogoro.
While this is the first day of the Africa Crossroads 2019 session, it comes heavy with a lot of brilliant ideas.