Wish Africa Expo 2019
The inaugural edition of the Wish Africa Expo, held at London’s Kensington Olympia on June 8th and 9th, was an assembly of high-profile guest speakers from art experts to a diplomat, from fashion designers to food and hospitality professionals, as well as from tech and tourism.
Wish Africa Expo is described by its founder Omolola Emerua-Taiwo as “an annual travelling expo” with subsequent editions to be held in different global cities. The opening talk was by the Harriet Baldwin, UK’s minister for Africa and minister of state for international relations, who detailed her country’s plans to expand its trade and diplomatic relationship on the continent.
The celebrated British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare and his team of architects Elise Owosu and Papa Omotayo presented plans for a commercial cultural centre and an all-in-one artist residency, studio and gallery in Lagos, Nigeria described by Owosu as a place for “congregation and performance”.
Helen Jennings, the British editor of Nataal – a multimedia culture publication – led a panel of some of the most exciting African fashion designers in Tokyo James (Nigeria), Laduma Ngxokolo (South Africa), Ayango Mpinga (Kenya) and Fatim-Zahra Ettalbi (Morocco) on discussions about their practice and the growth of African luxury fashion. In an interview with a CNN reporter, Abdesselam Aboudrar, the Moroccan ambassador to the UK spoke in depth about his country’s “competitive advantage” and success in tourism (reportedly 12 million visitors in 2018).
The success of the expo lies in the sensible curation of a star studded list of guest-speakers which, in the UK, is only matched by tedxeuston, the decidedly pan-African convention of its type. The closing talk titled “Investing in Dangote” was chaired by Abimbola Ogunbanjo, the President of the National Council of The Nigerian Stock Exchange who interviewed Tosin Adeyinka, the head of operations at the conglomerate in place of its proprietor Aliko Dangote. In a wide ranging talk about the business interests and philosophy of the world’s “richest black man”, Adeyinka elaborated on the company’s current plans to complete a colossal petrochemical complex which will include a fertiliser plant and petroleum refinery.
In an interview with TheGuardian Nigeria, the founder of Wish Africa Expo, Omolola Emerua Taiwo, at the London venue talks about the aims and objectives of the two day expo.
Kpade: Why was it important to have a mix of speakers from different industries, rather than focus on one sector?
Emerua-Taiwo: Where the idea for the expo came about was because we cover sector specific events and it’s something that I attend personally, it’s something a lot of our collaborators feedback on. It was always the same people at these industry specific events and it becomes siloed. So I thought it would be good for everybody to be in the same place. They get to meet, they get to discuss intra-industry and see how we can partner in development.
Kpade: The list of guest speakers is quite impressive for any one operator in any industry to assemble in one event. Is this the result of professional relationships you’ve developed over time?
Emerua-Taiwo: Definitely. There are a lot of personal relationships I’ve built over the years because all those people have gone on to other places. As a media platform we [Wish Africa] cover a lot of other people’s events for instance 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair as well as Vlisco. So it’s been things like that helped to pull everything together.
Kpade: Is Wish Africa Expo the most prominent event under your Wish Africa media platform?
Emerua-Taiwo: It is the biggest, single activation because of the funds required, the personnel required but the most consistent thing that we are is a media platform.
Kpade: Could you share with us some of the planning that went into organising this first edition of Wish Africa Expo?
Emerua-Taiwo: It has been about two and a half years since I first thought about who is going to speak, what they’re going to speak about, what it’s going to look like, what are we going to cover, where’s it going to be. Yes, it took some time but I think now that we have a formula and a proof of concept, rolling it out in other cities will be a lot easier.
Kpade: Managing a two day event of this size is no small task yet Wish Africa Expo is also a travelling expo. Do you have a team in place to carry out such a huge task?
Emerua-Taiwo: Yes, so Wish Africa is the media marketing arm of our consultancy firm and our consultancy firm does things like event coordination. So we did late stage coordination for an event called the African Culture Design Festival in Nigeria and the Nigerian Arts Exchange for the Nigerian embassy in Paris. So we have some experience coordinating things.
Kpade: Why a two-day weekend expo rather than one-day favoured by TED talks and other such platforms for sharing ideas?
Emerua-Taiwo: This is the smallest version of what we hoped to do. Our initial plans were probably five times this size.