Rethinking Design & Innovation From A Pan-African Perspective

Rethinking Design & Innovation From A Pan-African Perspective

Ogojiii is a striking new magazine about pan-African design and innovation.

After seeing the print version of Ogojiii magazine for the first time, I spent the next hour and a half frantically flipping pages, making notes and taking photos in case my shorthand failed me. It was the rare time I had encountered a publication that was talking about Africa in a way that was so self-assured and so modishly cool.

Ogojiii (pronounced oh-go-gee) is a bi-monthly magazine created to spotlight seemingly rare topics in the international conversation surrounding Africa: innovation and ground-breaking design.

I don't know about y'all but finding publications about the continent without the tired 'help Africa' narrative doesn't come easy for me. Ogojiii is a beautifully-designed guide to that good stuff. Their articles cover topics like the persistence of the Senegalese wrestling economy to artists using collage as a medium to challenge western standards of beauty to the development of Nigeria's first online university—to name a few.

If I sound like a fangirl, it's because I am. So, I reached out to Taweni Gondwe Xaba, Ogojiii's CEO and a woman with over 20 years experience in journalism in Africa, about how they run a magazine.


Nereya Otieno for Okayafrica: For someone who has never read Ogojiii before, how would you best describe what can be found within your pages?

People sometimes get a little confused when you say 'design' and 'design thinking' because they wonder if it will be about beautiful objects or what exactly is that about. Most people by now are starting to understand that the word 'design' is simply another word for 'solutions.' That's what design is. You design something in order to address some sort of need. It might be a need for understanding. Or it might be a need for an alternative point of view on something.

Africa is a big continent facing big challenges. It needs some big thinking to get us out of the holes that we're in. Innovation is happening on the continent. People are applying design thinking to very practical challenges and coming up with solutions. What we are daring to say with Ogojiii is that—shock, horror!—some of those solutions might actually be right here in Africa. Among us. That's what Ogojiii is.

As a pan-African publication, how do you go about representing the continent as a whole? Are there difficulties in that?

This is one of the things that makes publishing on the African continent so exciting. It is really uncharted territory in many respects. You have to invent new ways of getting content and information.

Africa is one of the most expensive places on the planet when it comes to data costs and connectivity. So, we have to acknowledge that for what it is. As we go along the costs will come down, but it is definitely more expensive than it is in America, for example. Journalists have those similar constraints in terms of submission of stories, etcetera. The problem is tapping into the network.

We are not trying to get into the pseudo-reportage that people get internationally. We want people to speak for themselves. If we're writing about innovation in Nigeria, I want a Nigerian to write it! I may have 20 years experience in the industry as a journalist—but what I will lack in that story is insight. And that is our specialty that we are offering readers in Ogojiii: insight.

Taweni Gondwe Xaba, CEO of Ogojiii. Courtesy of Ogojiii.
Has Ogojiii's office in Europe and contributors based elsewhere proved to be counter to Ogojiii's mission and identity?

It would be short sighted if one were to conclude that because the concept of the journal were borne of a Dane, it must mean that everything that follows is Danish. It is quite frankly not true. You just have to look at the team we're producing, it is a pan-African team. That is not by accident. We identified what was lacking and have now been working to fill it.

I suppose the cost of data is also what makes the physical print publication that much more valuable, along with the romance of print journals. What does it mean to be a print publication in today's society?

We are not meant to be only a print publication. We are print and digital and we are busy building our digital back-end at the moment, which will be launching mid-year 2016. The future, without a doubt is digital. But, what I think most people who are jumping onto the digital bandwagon fail to recognize is the fact that the business case for going fully digital for a publication—when you consider all the inputs and when you consider all that it costs to make good, solid content come together—the business case is not there right now for most media platforms.

Bear in mind that even telcos and washing powders these days are packaging themselves as lifestyle brands with content that is well tailored and curated for their target audiences. As a media platform, it is crucial to be able offer a real value proposition for commercial partners in terms of editorial depth or uniqueness as well as reach on a continent beset with connectivity challenges and high data costs. We are finding new and viable ways to monetize our digital presence beyond the online billboard we have at present. We are excited to share what we have been developing behind the scenes, come July.

Getting brand messaging out is more efficiently done digitally, but branding is most powerfully done in print. For us, we believe we need to be available on both platforms. We need to give our commercial partners a solid reach into the digital platform, but for our readers, we also want to make sure they can access information quickly and not have to wait.

That brings up the growing observation that people are suddenly 'time-oriented' when it comes to articles —that people like to scroll quickly through an article or know how long it will take them to read. Is this something that has come up for you at all?

From the outset we have been very clear that we are not doing throwaway articles. Ogojiii is about substance. It is about taking a very substantial and in depth look at particular topics that are within the scope of what we are about: which is looking at African innovation in design, design thinking, enterprise and current affairs. When people come to Ogojiii, they come with that understanding. It is the kind of person who wants to read. That is the kind of person we are attracting.

When our digital platform is ready, you'll be able to see that it comes in layers. You have your in-depth article but you also have little bite-sized podcasts. For those who want to skim the surface and have a little teaser or taster, the sound bites are there. For those who don't want to read but just listen, we will have in-depth interviews recorded. So we have a clear understanding that people absorb information and digest information differently and with our digital platform we are making sure to provide our content in a way our readers would like to take it.

I'm happy to hear about the coming digital edition. It will save me a lot of writing, to be honest. I usually finish reading your magazine with notes upon notes of people to follow on Twitter, art to look up and things to research further.

That's wonderful! There is something in this publication for anybody who has got a decision to make tomorrow morning about Africa and how they will engage with it. When you finish reading our magazine we want you to be like 'Flipping hell, we are going to be just fine. We have some spectacular thinkers on this continent."

Follow Ogojiii on Facebook and Twitter and pick up your subscription here.

This article has been edited and condensed.

Nereya is a writer, thinker and sandwich-eater who can often be found proudly multitasking at all three. Keep up with her at her website and Instagram.