A Fresh Start

Monday, 27 November 2017
Nicholas Westcott

I arrived at the Royal African Society on 1 November from seven years working on Africa and the Middle East in Brussels. It is invigorating to make a fresh start working with the continent I know better than any except my own, and the RAS is the place to do it.

My first few weeks in the job have already illustrated the strength and breadth of the RAS’s work. Film Africa was in full swing during my first week, with some remarkable productions from the continent that really deserve the wider audience they get here in the UK. The Society was also in the thick of preparing the visit of the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo Addo to London on 21 November to present his vision for an “Africa beyond Aid” to the world. At the same time, with the latest developments in the long-running saga of Zimbabwe and the future of its President, the African Arguments website has provided a platform for lively debate on what the recent moves mean and what is likely to happen next. In addition, in Parliament, the African All-Party Parliamentary Group conducted hearings in the prospects for trade with Africa after Brexit, with the usual support from the RAS.

It was a particular honour to host President Akufo-Addo, an old friend from my years in Ghana when he was successively Foreign Minister, Presidential candidate and leader of the opposition NPP. He brought a stirring message that Africa needed to seek its own economic and political salvation, and that Ghana was ready to lead the way in that respect – a message strongly supported by the panel of private sector representatives, including Fuse ODG, the award-winning Anglo-Ghanaian Afro-beats artist. Nana Akufo-Addo’s own story is an object lesson in the benefits of perseverance and genuine democracy in an African context, not just for him, but for the whole of Ghana. Live-streamed through Facebook from the V&A Lecture Theatre, it also illustrated the valuable platform the RAS can provide and wide audience that it can reach.

It was altogether a typical month for the Society. The agenda is forward-looking, economic, political and cultural, and informed by the depth of knowledge and expertise that the RAS can bring to bear on all these subjects. It is in joining up the dots and demonstrating the inter-connectedness, that we can help people understand British-African links better.

There is still much more to do. An immediate challenge that the RAS is facing is to find more reliable ways to finance this activity. I have been very impressed by how much is done by so few in the Society’s offices here in Gordon Square. While extremely efficient, if we are to reach out to a wider audience in business, in the diaspora and in the regions beyond London, to do the many things that we and our members would like to do, we need to adequately resource the effort.  We will be working hard on that in the months ahead.

Encouraging people to join the RAS is a good start. We are a membership organisation and the more members we have, the more we can do for them.

I therefore intend to make a priority in the next few months of meeting as many of the Society’s members as possible, individual and corporate, to hear what more you would like us to do. I also want to contact our many sister organisations and collaborative partners to see what more we can do in common with them to achieve our goals. And I will work with the team here to encapsulate those goals as clearly as possible to ensure we have a strong and purposeful sense of direction.

So all contributions will be welcome to this process of reflection. Do not hesitate to get in touch with us through this google form: https://goo.gl/forms/jxhm6RlOQuEmLRGF2

All in all, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…” as someone once said.