ON THE SPOTLIGHT: AFRICAN TRENDSETTER: MISS KATHLEEN BOMANI

 It's hard to describe Kathleen Bomani (aka Kate Bomz) in just a few words — you’re bound to leave something out. Her bio provides a start: Cultural curator. People connector. Champion for human rights, unity, and openly expressed creativity. I first met Kate in June 2012 at an event to raise funds for a documentary project she was working on with young Nigerian Nosa Garrick, called “My Africa Is“. Though our meeting was brief, when I left she hugged me as though we had been friends for many years. That warmth and energy is no doubt why she has become such a popular and respected voice among the African diaspora community. So popular that the Tanzanian-born has been featured on many lists:  There’s the “Top 50 Africans of 2011”, the “Ten African bloggers you should already know”, and the “Top 20 Diaspora African women to follow on Twitter”. Kate was also recently part of New York University’s (NYU) African Economic Forum, as a 9on9 Series panelist to explore what it means to be the “New Face of Africa.”

AFRICA.COM: What does Africa mean to you?

KATE: Africa to me is a continent that is not monolithic or homogenous. Africa to me is home, and where my origin and genetic makeup code is from. With that being said, I have a burning passion in my heart to do all I can do with my time on earth to contribute to our advancement.

AFRICA.COM: How did you become a leader within the space you operate in?

KATE: This is an interesting question, I did not wake up and decide I was going to lead, nor do I see myself as a leader per se. What I will tell you is that I simply started pursuing my passion. I started doing what made me happy at the end of the day, I started doing what was not expected of me.

“Essentially I went against the grain,
and now, I am considered a leader.”

AFRICA.COM: There are two common narratives: “Africa is Rising” and “Africa Needs Aid”. Which is it, or could it be both?

KATE: How about neither? The “Africa is Rising” narrative is a bit problematic in my opinion. With what lens are we looking at development with? With what tools are we measuring our success with? What are our indicators? GDP? Ability to afford an iPad or surf Facebook? Africa may be “rising”, but the wealth gaps are widening. The poorer are getting poorer. To me, a fully egalitarian society or an attempt towards it is what I would deem as “rising”,  not  the few stories of a “burgeoning” middle class, which to me has always existed. If we truly are to develop we need to start looking at the 80% and not the 20%, and who the message is for when narratives of our rise abound, which to me is an open call that screams “New consumers ahoy!”
On “Africa needs Aid” – NO! Enough with the handouts. We need partnerships and trade agreements that benefit us first!
AFRICA.COM: What do you see being the role of the African diaspora living in the United States and other parts of the globe?
KATE: Africans in the diaspora can be the intermediary between their home countries and the globe. What we need to do is to re-imagine ourselves in the 21st century and take full advantage of the advancement in technology where we can position ourselves anywhere at any given time, be it via Skype. Google hangout or just simple communication back and forth.

“Our role in the diaspora is to collaborate with our counterparts on the ground, and find new ways of working together.”

We already know we send billions in remittance, but there is more that is needed besides financial assistance — like transfer of skills, knowledge etc. However, we need to be really nuanced with how we approach the continent. We cannot assume we are “experts” or that “skills acquired in the west” is what is needed. That is a falsehood. The most important part is to do our research, listen and join, or else we could be disruptive.

AFRICA.COM: You’re part of what is being called a “new generation of leaders” – what does that mean to you?
KATE: It means that my efforts are appreciated. I never set out to gain titles, I just followed my heart. As it is, I remain hardheaded 60 percent of the time. To be considered a leader is heartwarming, however there is a lot of work to be done.

AFRICA.COM: What is your message to young Africans wanting to make a difference,  but are not sure where to start?
KATE: Ask yourself: What is your vision? Who is already working within that space? How can you collaborate and learn from them? There are so many brilliant Africans already doing a lot of work, the key is not to duplicate efforts but to fully leverage where we can be a part of something. I am all for starting your own, however if it is going to be disruptive as opposed to constructive, I’d rather you don’t start at all. Find what it is you really care about and want to change. Assess the skills and knowledge that you have, and figure out how best that can be leveraged to at least make a minute dent. Do not expect to make a difference overnight, but think of it as putting the parameters for our future generations.

“Do not underestimate your power as an individual, but do remember that every great leader, or person who changed the world,
had an awesome team behind them. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my team!”

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