“Afropolitan” and intensely curious
Name: Akinyi Ochieng
Birth place: London
Occupation: Communications manager at the Global Shea Alliance
Languages: English, French, Kiswahili and slowly learning Twi
Currently reading: “White Mischief” by James Fox and “The Light of the World” by Elizabeth Alexander (on my third read!)
What is you most memorable international experience?
Each year in Accra, there is a street art festival called Chale Wote where visual, musical and performance artists come together to celebrate African creativity.
At this year’s festival at the end of August I was intrigued by how Chale Wote firmly rejected the limiting narratives of what might popularly be called “African” culture.
For example, DJ Steloo, a Ghanaian DJ who plays house music while infamously dressed in an ankara cap and often clad in combat boots, was standing near a woman dressed in a kente “kaba and slit” — traditional Ghanaian attire — dancing to high life music.
Both of these people standing together in the same space highlighted not only the vibrant creative energy that exists across the continent but also the diversity of its expression.
How did you become interested in international affairs?
While she denies that she was the first to coin the term, Taiye Selasi was the first to truly popularize the word “Afropolitan.”
In her essay “Bye-Bye Barbar,” she describes a set of people for whom culture and identity are fluid rather than fixed — people with an “American accent, European affect, African ethos.”
I’m half-Gambian, half-Kenyan, was born in the UK and grew up in the United States, with brief stints in France and Gambia, so I have always been intensely curious about all these places and the broader narrative of globalization.
The Igbo people of Nigeria say, “If you want to see it well, you must not stand in one place.”
Having a multi-cultural perspective on the world enhances our ability to understand how ideas, people and corporations function efficiently and effectively.
How are those relationships constructed? How are they equitable or problematic? How do they affect how we govern the world and how people relate to one another?
These are questions that I have pursued both personally and professionally throughout my life.
What international issue is of greatest interest to you today? Why?
I am most interested in sustainability, an issue that is multi-faceted in nature.
Sustainability focuses on crafting a present that leads to a stronger future.
In public policy, I think a lot of the most pressing issues we face today — from the refugee crisis to climate change to the recent Ebola epidemic — are the result of short-sighted policy decisions instead of long-term, sustainable strategic planning.
At the moment, I’m most interested in how sustainability plays a role in the business world and in crafting mutually beneficial relationships between communities and corporations.
I currently work in the shea industry, where sustainability is one of the big buzzwords of the moment.
When women shea collectors, for example, have a more sustainable source of income, companies not only achieve a number of global development indicators on economic empowerment, gender equality and food security, but they also improve their supply chains and incentivize the production of high quality products that attract consumers.
I strongly believe that the private sector has an enormous role to play in crafting a more sustainable future, especially when it comes to poverty alleviation.
Follow Akinyi on Twitter.