My Experience at the Afrika
Design Day 2020


Peter Ekanem

Interim Board Member 2020
Founder, The School of Graphics, Nigeria


The late Nigerian Novelist, Poet, Professor, and Author, Chinua Achebe, once said, that until the lions have their historians, stories of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.  

As I share my experience at Afrika Design Day  I couldn’t help but bring up that proverb not only because it reminded me of the need to tell our own stories, but more importantly because storytelling is part of our culture, part of who we are, how we learn, how we teach, and how we project our identity as people.   

For years Afrika has been known for wars, military coups, poverty, dictatorship, unstable economies, disease, and wildlife. This is a common story told by the media in some parts of the world, a story many of us are all too familiar with, and sadly the story they want us to believe about ourselves, but this is only one side of the story, and in some cases not the true story at all.

So for us as designers and design enthusiast under the umbrella of the Pan Afrikan Design Institute (PADI) having seen the bias and having recognised that there is more to our vast, beautiful continent than that; we realised that we are a strong positive people – we are makers, creators, inventive, assertive, and resilient. And even though we see and acknowledge some of our challenges, we also see tremendous opportunities and have come together to solve our own problems and to tell our own stories using design as a tool, because we know that our time is now! 

That was part of the mind-set with which the PADI ADD event was marketed and with which I participated. It was a week-long event which began on the 17th of February and culminated in grand style on the 21st of February in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

PADI Afrika Design Day in my view was the day for us as designers in Afrika to tell our own story to the rest of the world and to celebrate design in Afrika, whether as visual designers, product designers, fashion designers, interior architects, and so on; and how we have and can contribute to solve some of the socio-economic problems facing us as a people in the continent, so as to restore the dignity of our people, and improve the quality of life for all. Which is why I was so delighted as a privileged participant and representative of PADI from Nigeria at the grand event in Johannesburg SA to showcased a few select works of designers from Nigeria. 

When I was informed that I would be a part of the panel discussion session I was very excited and a bit nervous at the same time. Excited because I knew being part of the panel would give me the opportunity to share what was in my heart. Nervous because, I would be sitting next to two of my favourite design heroes: the legendary designers Saki Mafundikwa and Felix O. Dartey. It was one of those moment you wish you sat in the pews to learn and take it all in but you have the call of duty placed on you to speak, and am glad I took the opportunity. As I sat in the panellist seat and looked through the crowd and saw the beaming eyes of people who had come from various countries outside of Afrika , all genders and races, I remembered the words of Kwame Nkrumah, who once said, 

“I am not African because I was born in Africa but
because Africa was born in me.” 

I could see unity in theirs and was convinced beyond reasonable doubt that we all wanted the same thing. We all wanted to tell the world that we have something to put on the table. Something in us that people in other parts of the world can learn and benefit from.  

The panel session featured some members of PADI, IID, and as well as Ico-D: Saki Mafundikwa, Sam Adjaidoo, Juliet Kavishe, Ana Masut with Felix O. Dartey as chair and moderator. 

During the session I had the opportunity to share my perspective on the impact of design economy and of particular interest to me was the question on how design can help meet the UN sustainable goals through design. That question brought back memories of the journey to becoming part of PADI. 

Education has always been an area I take keen interest in. As someone who has witnessed the impact of education in our part of the world I really felt this is an area in which we are not doing enough and which design can really make tremendous impact for good. 

I shared my perspective and also pointed out that for us to achieve the sustainable development goals and for us to really develop our Afrikan people we must do it by design. And the starting point is to consider what Afrika has and tap into our Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) and identify ways in which our people have contributed and can contribute to the development of human society and how that can help develop the continent further because. We must teach our people to value what they have and not see themselves as mere recipients rather as contributors so we can restore confidence in our identity as a people and do our part to improve the quality of life for all.  

The event was indeed a memorable one for me as an individual and I believe for many others especially seeing the level of participation mostly of designers from different parts of the world coming together to listen, learn, be a part of the event and showing great interest in what we are doing through PADI and lending their support in diverse ways which tells me our time is now! 

“Africa’s story has been written by others; we need to
own our problems and solutions and write our story”.
President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, 2013.

There is no doubt that as designers – whether visual, product, fashion, or interior, etc.. we are all storytellers. Storytelling is part of our Afrikan culture, part of who we are, and part of how we learn, teach, and project our identity as a people. 

That is why we as designers of Afrikan descent must celebrate the Afrikan Design Days because we recognise that as Afrikans with the spirit of Ubuntu, we through our contributions can improve the quality of life for all through design. 

The PADI Afrika Design Day held in Johannesburg on February 21 was the a grand event of a week long program celebrating design in Afrika that was held throughout the continent with individual events organised in various countries by different chapters of PADI to celebrate design from the Afrikan perspective. ­­­­It was a well-timed event in my perspective because the year 2020 incidentally also marks the anniversary of the year of Afrika.


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