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Lest We Forget – The Inaugural TEDxNairobi

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It was a very good year, 2009. Josh had just returned home from a decade in the US and I had finally landed a job in Nairobi doing what I love, science communication. We were part of a brilliant group of amazing people declared the Inaugural TED Fellows at Long Beach of all places! LA California!

So, like many African returnees from the diaspora, our optimism was a little off the Richter Scale. Fueled with the idea that everyone we met had some incredible hidden talent, just waiting to be discovered we began to plan how best to showcase them. That was how TEDxNairobi was born, July 2009, in a very good year.

The event itself featured techies, creatives, designers and many other rising stars like Muthoni Ndonga aka “The Drummer Queen” who had just started her monthly sell-out event “Blankets and Wine.” Then, off course, that heart-wrenching moment when the sun was setting and Boniface Mwangi told his personal story, about those pictures of the post election violence, that won him CNN Photographer of the year award, twice (2008 and 2010). The sun was setting in a sudden red-gold rush of glory behind us, tossing it’s light like a cape and changing the colors in the room. There seemed to be a gilded magic framing us all, through those patio glass doors that encircled the audience in the British Council building.

We could just see the walls in the courtyard below us too, painted all round with graffiti art, from street smart young artists who drew on the boundary walls as our “Creative Rapporteurs”. And it seemed to me, at that moment that a bubble burst. Our naive romantic understanding of who we are as Africans shattered, because those shocking images finally forced us to see what we are capable of doing to each other in this beautiful country. The blood of men, women, children torn and hacked to pieces, through the senseless violence triggered by fears of tribe or  hopeless dispossession or something deeper and darker that we cannot name.

TEDxNairobi was born in 2009, perhaps it was not a very good year after all, because the country was still nursing wounds and bearing losses that we could not understand, even now. Perhaps the good we saw was just that essential good in all of us, that kernel of innocence that still abides…. in spite of all, lest we forget. Perhaps that is all that we can and should celebrate in ourselves and each other, each year at TEDxNairobi.

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