Monday, 30 January 2017

The New Africa - in Black and White

"It doesn't really mean anything when you take a step back and look at the bigger picture."

The voice, distinct and clear, belonged to a Lupita Nyong'o lookalike and it cut through the rising hubbub of the venue.

Her group, smaller, but much more spirited than ours, was a smorgasbord of dandy characters.

"Never buy into the idea that one individual cannot make a difference, talk less when we are discussing about the world's most powerful individual," said the guy with the Einstein haircut.

Eavesdropping has always been one of my many social flaws, but today, I was literally on fire, with my blazing ears. The mind-numbing topic on my table left me with no choice.

Besides, the whole world is talking about the choice made by the American electorate a few months ago and very few topics have captured global attention as this particular outcome. Never has the idiom; between the devil and the deep blue sea, rang so true.

The venue was now filled to the brim. As the conversations bumped into each other and laughter and discourse filled the air, I suddenly remembered the real reason for my presence here.

"So, tell me about this guy of yours then," I said, elbowing my friend.

"Ah yes, you are going to love him. Let me just get this thing up and running," she said, as she fumbled with her tablet.

She was right. The piece of work she was sharing with me was not only engaging, it was endless in beauty.

Oh, did I mention I was in Lagos, Nigeria?

I love coming back every now and then, to explore the new energy flowing in from the new class of returning Diasporas, who have abandoned Western comforts for the raw dynamism of Africa's biggest economic hub. Their brewing optimism combined with the resident creative bravado of the locals, has produced a vibrancy unseen here for a long time.

"He goes by the alias Logor, and is a fabulous creative talent. This recent work is ample evidence. Now, the world needs to know what is happening here."

Ten minutes later, still mulling over a credible strategy and a viable offer to move negotiations forward, an impeccably dressed gentleman joined our table, shaking hands vigorously with my friend as he sat down. It turns out he is also here to see work of other emerging talents, with the sole aim of returning to London, with a few clients on his register.

"This is the new economic Wild West, but there's no one dying. All the blood is on canvasses, in images and print," he quipped.

My friend nodded in agreement; "five years ago this artist was selling his pieces for two hundred and fifty dollars tops. Today, his pieces are going for five thousand and that is one of the modest ones. It's the only thing bucking the trend!"

"Maybe Trump will buck the trend," I whispered.

Admittedly, it was a clumsy return to the original conversation, but one that allowed me attempt distraction from a subtle bidding war. My debonair rival, was outstripping me with every nod as he flicked through the chunky portfolios.

"I really hope so," he replied, with his head still buried in the goodies.

"When you can have Obama's Vice-President calling Africa a nation, maybe a change of direction wouldn't hurt. For an individual with African blood running their veins, Obama has been an abject letdown, It was a golden opportunity for Africa, one that I believe will take a while to return. A Trump presidency cannot be any worse, in my humble opinion. Remember, there has been no better friend to Africa in the White House, than George W Bush!"

It took a while for his words to sink in, but when they did, I did sympathise with his position. Here we are in a venue that could well be anywhere in the world, with superb ambiance, highly educated and sophisticated clientele. An Africa, with the fastest accelerating economies, and the Africa they never show on television.

In today's Lagos, with all its challenges, business is brisk and products of  local citadels of learning and the Ivy league, jostle for contention, whilst bouncing ideas around with jocularity. A cheerfulness etched with a steely tinge of unerring professionalism. This scene is replicated across many African cities and still, the rest of the world has not been let into the secret.

I begin to wonder whose job it is to make it happen.

Looking through Logor's monochrome pictures, it is as clear as black and white.

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