As Editor of AfriPOP!, Phiona Okumu is an African Trendsetter bringing the latest African music, film and culture news to the diaspora’s masses. 

When this London-based Uganda-native is not posting a video from Rwandan pop artist Iyadede or telling readers her picks for the year’s best albums, she is lending her voice to other projects. Okumu has been a contributing writer for a number of publications, including Marie Claire, Elle, ARISE Magazine and Oprah Magazine. She is also a music curator for digital music site, 22tracks. 

Okumu calls AfriPOP! “a budding nucleus for movers, shakers, dreamers, believers, creators, influencers of Africa’s right now generation, the world over,” and though she doesn’t consider herself a leader, her work is helping to expose global audiences to the continent’s growing creative community.

AFRICA.COM: What does Africa mean to you?

PHIONA: It’s much easier for me to ascribe meaning based on what I have experienced personally so I will use the 17 African countries I have been to [including Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique], and the three [Uganda, Kenya, South Africa] that I have lived in as my reference. This is where I experienced most of my major firsts: first love, first heartbreak, first loss of loved one, first job etc It’s where all my early conditioning to do with concepts like faith, beauty, religion and success took place.

“It’s impossible to imagine myself as anything but an African.”

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

PHIONA: A leader! Wow! I think this is still a process in the works. I can’t wait to see how it all pans out. But to answer your question, to get where I am today I had to be totally blind to the magnitude of some of the risks I took. In hindsight I would probably take a more considered route were I to do things all over again. I’m totally led by my heart and instinct and that can get you in trouble. But when you get it right there is no greater reward.

Practically speaking, I have built an amazing network over the years that spans continents. I have been and continue to be mentored by the very best in the field that I am in and am constantly learning from my peers who also happen to be thought leaders and world changers. Who you associate with definitely matters.

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

PHIONA: I personally never use the phrase “Africa is Rising” however well it is intended. Both narratives are very simplistic and more often than not bandied about by people not actually in Africa to suit whatever their agendas and intentions. I come from a country which is said to be among the six fastest growing countries in the world and also has had one president for 26 years. You make of that what you will. Out here people are busy just getting on with it.

AFRICA.COM: What do you see being the role of the African diaspora living abroad?

PHIONA: The role of the African living anywhere is always the same. Your duty of excellence is always to yourself first, I think. You have to want to be and do great no matter where you live. All that separates the Africans in the continent and diaspora is access. And to that end I would say, you’d be a fool not to make the best of the opportunities that living abroad presents. In my experience living in London took me from being a passionate music media consumer with some writing experience to something of a go-to figure for African popular music. It took me relocating to the UK to stumble upon and harness that niche.

I have a few brutal writers as friends who showed me what I needed to do to become just as good as anyone with by-lines in the big broadsheets. I never had this resource early in my career in (South) Africa simply because music journalism was even less of a thing there than it is in Europe.

AFRICA.COM: You’re part of what is being called a “new generation of leaders” – what does that mean to you?

PHIONA: It means I can now call up my mama and let her know I made it.

AFRICA.COM: What is your message to young Africans wanting to make a difference, but are not sure where to start?

PHIONA: Start where you are.

“I think sometimes we get overwhelmed by the grandeur of what we imagine making a difference means. It’s sometimes as basic as doing what you love, and doing it well. The result always speaks for itself and not just to yourself.”


Follow her on Twitter: @ophiona

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