Being a new CEO is always an interesting and immersive experience – you simultaneously must project a sense of mission and authority, develop a thorough understanding of your new organisation (staff, board, systems, stakeholders etc) and begin to appreciate the extant and emergent complexities of the wider sector you are now a part of. You benefit from the good that has come before you while assuming responsibility for issues that you might have never even been aware of. When the organisation that you are now at the helm of is a venerated cultural institution such as The Africa Centre (TAC), all these are amplified a hundred-fold, as the sense of history and rich heritage can be as empowering as it is almost overpowering. I stand in these new shoes at TAC humbled and excited by this responsibility.

I am particularly honoured by the many expressions of support, congratulations, and solidarity that I have received over the past month as people have become aware of my appointment. So far, I have received over 300 messages of support, from colleagues and friends from all over the world – From Canada to Australia, across Africa from Tunis to Cape Town, from publications in Kenya, blogs in Nigeria, magazines in Brazil, personal messages from South Sudan and opinion pieces in Singapore. I appreciate the immense sense of goodwill that people have towards The Africa Centre in general and particularly, myself. I apologise to those that I’ve not been able to get back to yet. But I feel reassured, having a global village of support to fall on as we work together to re-establish TAC to and beyond its previous glories.

One of the key attractions for me to this job has been the interesting moment that TAC is in – recently launched a new flagship building in Southwark, London (the heart of African Britain™J) and preparing for its seminal 60th anniversary next year. 2024 will be an exciting opportunity for us to not just look back at six decades of the organisation’s amazing history that has mirrored the transformations and vicissitudes of Africa and her global diaspora, but to also interrogate what that rich heritage is telling us and how it should be utilised as a platform for future growth. It has been fascinating looking through our archives, as this reveals not just what we were, but what we have become. (And it was cool that the team managed to find a picture of me in the archives at a TAC event from over 20 years ago – amazed they recognised me with hair!).

In interrogating this heritage, we will be activating the archives in new and exciting ways. We will not look to replicate what we were – 2024 is not 1964, 1974 or even 2004, after all, - and therefore like all dynamic cultural institutions, we are only as relevant as how we reflect the current and anticipate the coming changes in culture, technology, arts and people that will inform, educate and positively challenge ourselves and provide a platform for others to so do as well. Recent events on the continent and around the world demonstrate that the importance of history has never been more important yet never more under threat. This is why it was so important for us to recently take a stand on the University of Chichester’s recent decision to axe its MRes on The History of Africa and Africa Diaspora.

2024 also marks the final year of the United Nations' declared International Decade for People of African Descent. It will be important for TAC to be the place where through the year, we explore what, if anything, this has meant to us and how, if possible, we can build on this for future elevation. I am particularly excited at how we are facilitating the next generation of African/African Diaspora leaders through our Young Africa Centre initiative. Please pass the word around, support and join them as they unroll their programme for the next year.

I will be delighted to hear from you with your thoughts, ideas, and reminiscences of The Africa Centre in the coming months and years. Your support – morally, logistically, and financially, is needed now more than ever. Please sign up for our newsletter, drop by and let’s work together to make TAC ‘the’ place, physically and conceptually, for Africa and her global diaspora to find celebration, harmony, pride, positive challenge, and intellectual stimulus.

Our decade may have ended but our century has just begun!

Olu Alake

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