Arts + Culture

The Ted Talk Questionnaire: Somali Tech Star Abdigani Diriye Wants to Change the Narrative On Somalia

The Somali scientist shares his desire to change the narrative around Somalia and Somaliland through innovation.

This August, Arusha, Tanzania will be the setting of TEDGlobal 2017 Conference where 21 innovators will come to spread worthy ideas. 10 are from Africa. As part of our focus on African Futures, this month we wrote to this year’s African Fellows to ask them questions about themselves and their work. TED recently announced that applications to be a 2018 TED Fellow are now open.


Find out more information about the program and how to apply, here.

Our fourth interview is with Abdigani Diriye, a research scientist at IBM. He’s told us about his mission to change people's perception of Somalia and his work on shedding light on innovation and technology in failed states.

How did you first find out you were selected?

I first found out I was selected via email earlier in the year.

What was your reaction when you got the word?

It felt very surreal and for a number of weeks it just didn’t hit me, but once reality set in, I was deeply humbled and over the moon about being selected as a TED Fellow.

What do you anticipate the world's response will be?

A big part of my work has been to change the perception and narrative around Somalia and Somaliland to a more positive outlook. There is a lot of innovation in areas like technology that’s happening there (and on the continent as a whole), and this opportunity should hopefully shed more light on this and challenge how people view and see innovation and technology in failed states.

What would you want it to be?

I would be thrilled if I could change the perception of Somalia and Somaliland by giving people hope and inspiration that progress exists.

What made you passionate about your subject?

This is a product of my background—where I’m from, the journey I’ve taken in life—and my training and professional experience as a scientist. I’ve seen the impact technology and innovation has had on society and the continent, and fundamentally believe it can help us address many of the challenges we face.

To the next generation of intellectuals who are reading about you and inspired by you right now—what would you say?

You have the capability and capacity to effect change and impact our continent—so think big and dream big. This requires dedication and ability to get up and try again when you’ve had a set back. But, as long as you’re moving forward you’ll achieve your goals and reach your destination. And most importantly, never lose faith in yourself because every great idea began as a dream.

Where do you hope to go to from here?

We expect to receive the next cohort applications and I will continue my important work at IBM Research in Kenya where we are developing technologies for driving more innovation in the financial services space for the continent.

Check out the rest of our interviews with this year’s TED Fellows here.

Interview

Angelique Kidjo Writes a Love Letter to 'Mother Nature'

We talk to the Beninese musical icon about assembling her new album on Zoom and the "bigger than COVID-19" threat that lies ahead!

The kind of infectious energy that lives within Angelique Kidjo can't be contained by Zoom. Her zest for life reaches out far beyond any screen, and burns stronger than the fastest internet connection.

"I can't wait until we're in person hugging again," she enthuses soon after joining our Zoom meeting to discuss her latest album Mother Nature. Having been on the receiving end of a hug from the four-time Grammy-winning singer, I know exactly what I'm missing out on. "Me too," I say, as I wrap my arms around my laptop, my face squishing the screen. "No, no," she retorts. "I don't want that. You keep it. I want the real deal," she chuckles, her full-bodied trademark laughter lovingly admonishing me.

The Benin-born musician is preparing to release Mother Nature, a collection of songs reflecting our one Earth, and cementing her status as an African musical icon. Collaborating with the likes of Yemi Alade, Mr Eazi, Burna Boy, Sampa the Great, Shungudzo and more, Kidjo's crossing through time and space, over age and country through Mother Nature's themes and stories. Each track is infused with a vigor that only she possesses — the kind that shares a significant message even as the listener is called to just dance or sing along.

Below, Angelique Kidjo reminisces about making the album, and chats us through her hopes and dreams for it!

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