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A few years ago, I had the opportunity to distil my entire life’s work and life philosophy into one graphic and one phrase. Having spent my career working in large companies, running my own businesses, and dedicating time to philanthropic, social, and community work, I became Master of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists in 2010. It was through this that I earned the right to apply to the College of Arms for my own official coat of arms. As part of the design process, you get to choose a motto that encapsulates your philosophy.
I gave a speech about entrepreneurship in Cape Town earlier in 2015 where I said that there has never been a better time to build a successful business. However, I’ve always believed that whilst creating wealth through enterprise is good, it’s what you do with the wealth that you create that really matters. My argument is simple: there is nothing wrong with doing well for yourself and making money, but this needs to be balanced by doing good and using that wealth to help others. Therefore, my wife and I chose as our motto for the coat of arms: ‘Do well. Do good’.
Not so long ago I would have stressed the importance of African artistes incorporating the English language into their music if they wanted it to break into international markets. I soon realised the flaw in my logic when I looked at my own taste in music and realised that, as an English and Swahili-speaking Kenyan, I still love kwaito music from South Africa, which is normally sung in Tsotsitaal or Zulu – this despite me having absolutely no idea what was being said! The lack of comprehension doesn’t stop me from listening to kwaito. (Although not strictly kwaito), how many of you have heard ‘Khona’ by Mafikizolo? Now, hand on heart, how many of you (non-Zulu speakers) actually understand what it’s about?
Exactly. And it almost doesn’t matter…
The African continent is blessed with ample natural resources, more so than anywhere else on earth. It is because of this that there remains a sharper focus on investing in the extractive industries. An understandable play. However, this focus often comes at the expense of Africa’s creative business potential. Even within cultural norms, young Africans are encouraged to follow careers in engineering, medicine, and accounting (the drill is now obvious), leaving the more creative and artistically-inclined professions deprioritised.
I’ve dedicated much of my life to advocating for the promotion, protection and renaissance of African artistry — its creativity, music, fashion, style, and every other element behind what truly is the genesis of African expression and image-based representation. What we wear isn’t just about looking good; what we wear is a silent (but very tumultuous) statement about one’s self, one’s heritage and one's way of life. In fact, fashion is one of the most poignant cultural storytellers of all time, innately descriptive of our nature, nurture, and state of being. Fashion is a grand ambassador that unaidedly speaks the most epic of universal languages, capable of influencing and positioning societies worldwide.
So, if fashion is a language, with a high-powered voice, whose tune is it singing in Africa?
If you’ve been plugged in to discussions pertaining to Africa in recent years, you’ve probably heard rhetoric aplenty along the lines of 'Africa is rising', 'Africa is the future', 'This is the new Africa' and other statements of a comparably rosy hue. Similarly, if you’re a lover of all things tech, you’ve probably heard – if you’re not one of the many tweeting it – that this is the digital era, technology is the now and the future (and other statements of a comparably rosy hue). Now pause for a second, if you will, and imagine the barrels of crude optimism pumping through the veins of someone who identifies as both a young African and a technophile. Given all this combined hype, such a person would be half forgiven for donning their dictator’s robes and embarking on a mission to conquer the planet (Google Maps app to hand - how else would we make it 100m down the road?), firm in the belief that the world really is theirs for the taking.