10 must-watch TED Talks by Africans

Saki Mafundikwa, graphic designer from Zimbabwe. (Image source: Google/blog.ted.com)

Since inception in 1984, the global TED forum has grown in appeal as a meeting place for thinkers, innovators, experts and entrepreneurs.

Over the years, TED.com has showcased a number of speakers from Africa. They have introduced and led discussion about a range of topics, from investment in the continent, to the impact of innovation and the best approach to economic reform.

We have selected what we believe are the top ten must-watch TED Talks from African presenters, selected because of the influence they have had – and the impact they could have on Africa and the rest of the world.

1. Elon Musk,  originally from South Africa

The South African-born technology entrepreneur and innovator featured recently in global news because of the release of his Hyperloop rapid transportation system design. He is the founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX. In a talk on TED, Musk speaks frankly about the importance of sustainable transport, particularly in light of environment concerned.


2. Ory Okolloh, activist, blogger from Kenya

Ory has been covered extensively by global business, financial and technology press, primarily for co-founding Ushahidi.com (the Swahili word for ‘patriot’), which, as the site explains, is “a non-profit tech company that specialises in developing free and open source software for information collection, virtualisation and interactive mapping.” In a presentation on TED, Okolloh explains how she became an activist and blogger.


3. Erik Hersman, from Kenya

The man behind the ‘WhiteAfrican’ tech-focused blog and AfriGadget (focused on African ingenuity) is a TED Senior Fellow and guest-curated a session at TEDGlobal 2103 called ‘Forces of Change’. He is a fulltime member of Ushahidi and one of the people that contributed to the development of the GoogleMap mashup.


4. Bandi Mbubi from DRC

TED profiles Bandi as a Social Justice Activist and his presentation, called Demand a Fair Trade Cell Phone, highlights the fundamental importance of having a fair trade mobile devices for communication. He explains why technology can be used in conflict and what is and should be done to address this issue.


5. Juliana Rotich, co-founder, exec director of Ushahidi from Kenya

IT professional Juliana Rotich is immediately associated with the development of web tools for crowdsourcing crisis information – she is the co-founder of Ushahidi, an open source platform for collecting and mapping information , as well as iHub, collective tech space in Nairobi.


6. Saki Mafundikwa, Graphic Designer from Zimbabwe

His profile on TED explains how Saki moved from New York and returned to Zimbabwe to open the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts. The site explains that the term ‘vigital’ refers to the use of digital tools to teach visual arts. He has penned a book about Africa’s graphic design heritage. In a TED presentation, entitled Ingenuity and elegance in ancient African alphabets, Mafundikwa explores the history and legacy that is to be found in written words and symbols.


7. Richard Turere, inventor from Kenya

Just 13 years old and this young inventor and innovator from Kenya has achieved worldwide acclaim for his ‘lion lights’ solution. According to research, this solution is a fence made of basic pieces (including solar charging cells, flashlight parts) that is designed to keep the predators at bay.


8. William Kamkwamba, inventor from Malawi

Another very interesting speaker featured at TED is William Kamkwamba, who, in 2002, constructed an electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and scrap. According to TED.com, his endeavours have been documented in a book called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and a film called William and the Windmill.


9. George Ayittey, economist from Ghana

George Ayittey has provided the global market with some economic food for thought. In 2007 he delivered a presentation introducing what he called the ‘cheetah generation’, entrepreneurs leaders to lead economic reformation in Africa. He spoke frankly about the condition of the continent and delved into detail of investment and wealth creation.


10. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, economist and former Finance Minister from Nigeria

Ngozi’s online profile includes reference to her positions as Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, as well as her tenure as a Managing Director at the World Bank. This economist featured on TED in 2007 and made a significant contribution towards a discussion about trade vs aid. She emphasised the importance of reflecting on Africa, the next chapter.

Chris Tredger – Online Editor