TEDxExeter story: Bandi Mbubi, 2012 speaker

TEDxExeter story: Bandi Mbubi, 2012 speaker

The fourth of our short series of stories from speakers and attendees at previous TEDxExeter events. Bandi spoke powerfully about the Congo and fairtrade mobile phones, and the Congo Calling campaign was launched on the back of the enthusiasm generated by his talk. We’re looking foward to hearing from him again in 2014, when he will give us an update on the campaign.


The invitation to speak at TEDxExeter came about through Claire Kennedy. I have known her since I first arrived in England. I fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo 22 years ago because my activities there as a student activist placed my life in danger. I came to the UK and claimed political asylum and Claire acted as my lawyer. We have since been friends. She has been aware of my personal commitment to social justice both in the Congo and in the UK.

The situation when I first left the Congo was bad, but it was getting even worse every year. Since 1996 over 5 million people had died because of the on-going war. Rape was used, and still is, as a weapon of war. The vast majority of people live in abject poverty in spite of the Congo’s immense natural wealth. I felt compelled to act. Speaking at TEDxExeter offered me a precious opportunity to raise awareness and to mobilise people to act like the international community did during the anti-apartheid movement. I trusted in the ability of people to act for justice for the Congo, but I was unsure about the angle to take to appeal to them. I needed to give them the tools to enable them to act. How could they act in a way that could make difference?

Claire as a curator was both supportive and tough. She introduced me to the TED commandments of public speaking, the dos and don’ts of great talks. Her mantra to me was “prepare”. Giving a TEDx talk was unlike any talk I had ever given before. It is not about reciting facts or telling an interesting story. It is about sharing an idea. The key question for me was “how can I rally global citizens to act on the Congo in a way that helps build peace and prosperity?” The answer I came up with was to ask people to use their consumer power in a way that exerts pressure on technology companies so that they would source their minerals from the Congo more responsibly. In so doing, the trade in minerals would not fuel the war but help the local economy through legitimate trade. I enlisted the help of friends, both Congolese and British, to help me with the process. They were invaluable in reducing my workload. There was a lot to be done, including design, research and crafting of the talk. They helped with fact-checking everything, even information that I took for granted. They served as a friendly but critical audience. They were like midwives helping me deliver my baby.

I felt many emotions, mostly anxiety. Whilst preparing for the talk, I wondered about its final content. How would it be received by Congolese people and those around the world. Would I manage to condense everything I wanted to say into 10 minutes? I felt nervous about the task ahead. The preparation took every spare moment I had. I was often away from my family and friends. On the actual day of the event, though I felt nervous, I felt hopeful about the impact my message could have on people in the Congo. Anxiety gave way to a great sense of hope. The audience in the theatre was very attentive and receptive. They gave me a standing ovation. I was recalled to the stage to acknowledge properly their applause. It is then that I felt a personal sense of responsibility to carry on.

Giving a talk at TEDxExeter not only helped me think through my idea but it also gave it the exposure it needed worldwide. It gave me credibility in the eyes of many stakeholders. I received numerous invitations to speak, some of which I could not accept for lack of time. I still work full time, running the Manna Society, the largest day centre for homeless people in South London. Campus Party, the biggest technology conference, invited me to speak at their event in Berlin. At the event, moved by my talk, the lead worker at Facebook UK invited me to give a talk to their employees on the same topic. They have since offered assistance in publicising further our message.

Because of the outpouring of support I received from people, I led the formation of Congo Calling. We campaign for the ethical management of Congolese natural resources to help build peace and sustainable development. Many of those who have come on board were in attendance on the day I gave the talk at TEDxExeter. The campaign is more structured now. The organisation has charitable status and a team of trustees. The organising committee of TEDxExeter have been very supportive of our work.

The campaign demand that technology companies source their raw materials more responsibly has gained traction. With the help of student groups, we successfully persuaded the University of Exeter to adopt a procurement policy that favours technology companies that source their minerals responsibly. As a result of these student groups, the National Union of Students adopted a similar policy and recommended that their member guilds promote training around conflict-minerals from the Congo. Our increasing profile has enabled us to engage policymakers in the UK, Europe and US. We are campaigning for the political, commercial and legal frameworks needed to ensure the use of conflict-free minerals in our technologies, and are working in partnership with international and Congolese NGOs. We are now actively fundraising to increase the scale and scope of our work. All this has resulted from one 10 minute talk and the power of an idea.