Rebrand and rebuild
Festival set on changing negative perception of Africa and Africans
“HELL!” THAT’S WHAT goes into planning this year’s multi-million rand cultural, business and educational extravaganza, says Shiru Githiomi, founder of the Celebrating Africa festival. With a new education trust and radio shows set to be launched later this year there’s no doubt Githiomi has her work cut out. Then again, nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
The Celebrating Africa festival incorporates African arts and culture, education and business opportunities. It’s described as a festival that showcases the greatness of Africa and highlights the brotherhood of African people. In short: “African people of all cultures unite and share visions, present ideas and celebrate all things African,” says Githiomi. “The resistance of the African spirit is what really excites me. What I’m doing is lighting that fire and getting us thinking that we can do things and be more than we are right now.”
In October, 14 African countries will converge on Johannesburg and take part in the third annual two-day festival. Each country has one aim: to redefine the negative image of Africa.
“People and countries are brands – just like cars. Our brand has been dented – our image has been dented. I want to be part of reshaping that image,” says Githiomi. “Africans don’t know who they are and they don’t know each other. I thought I could tell the story of who we are as brothers.”
Previously, the festival (then known as Celebrating Black) was shrouded in controversy. “The controversy wasn’t really serious – it was just the concern that by celebrating black it was anti-white and excluding people who aren’t called black,” says Githiomi. “That made people uncomfortable, because we’re living in a community trying to make everyone generic. We’ll never have a generic identity – we won’t. It’s just not possible.”
Githiomi now makes it clear the festival incorporates all races, cultures and religions. “This continent doesn’t belong to any race; it belongs to the people who call this place home. We’ve all been perpetrators of whatever happened in the past but we’ve also been contributors to the good that’s happened. I want people to understand that the identity ‘African’ is a powerful identity to have and when you carry that identity, you’re a brand. However you do your work or your business you’re reinforcing stereotypes or you’re changing them.”
Although the festival has become a multimillion rand platform for networking, marketing and education it was initially created for a laugh and some fun. “It just started off as a joke. It was never meant to be a business, it was meant to be fun,” says Githiomi. “But whoops – there was a business behind it.”
With a percentage of the proceeds dedicated to the Celebrating Africa Education Trust, the festival will now go beyond being merely a business. “On this continent we say it takes a whole village to raise a child – but a child can also raise a whole village. So that’s what we want to do,” says Githiomi.
The proceeds from the festival will be used to pay for the schooling of disadvantaged children. Those children won’t only be placed in mainstream schools but structures in their homes will also be created to support their academic performance.
“Everybody is putting money into township schools – and that’s great. But nobody is really introducing children from marginalised communities to a new reality,” says Githiomi. “I want to show them that life isn’t about shacks – there’s something different out there. It’s not just about education; it’s about working with other organisations to create a learning environment conducive for that child. I want that child to grow up well adjusted and become an actuary because he can.”
Along with that education trust, radio shows are set to hit the airwaves in July. In partnership with Old Mutual, First National Bank and the Stellenbosch School of Business, two stations promoting the creation of wealth and African development will broadcast the shows.
“The African rebirth won’t happen until we learn to accumulate wealth and preserve our capital. So these shows will talk a lot about financial empowerment, investing, stocks and shares,” says Githiomi. “I want these shows to show that we have a brotherhood – that we’re all connected. And most of all I want it to inspire love for each other,” she says.
But Githiomi has to battle the declining economy and build sponsorships to ensure the Celebrating Africa festival is launched at all.
“I’d need R35m to create the vision I have for Celebrating Africa – but that’s a best case scenario. So far we’ve managed to secure around R3m for this year’s festival and, usually, we need between R5m and R7m,” she says.
Having approached 72 sponsors already, with another 56 meetings set up before endJune, Githiomi believes she’ll get the money she needs. “We know what’s going on with budgets and the economic meltdown. We have a big dream, but it’s possible. We encounter difficulties, but we spread our net wide approaching corporate, Government and international organisations. We approach anybody who has ever given money to anything.”
Lighting the fire. Shiru Githiomi