Why I care about Africa, and why maybe you should too

Tom McDonnell
5 min readAug 18, 2020


I’m 42 now, how time flies.

My amazing late sister Angela met her Ghanaian husband Nat in Manchester when I was a kid. I can never remember what age I was, but I was young. I always found he and his family inspiring and interesting. He gave me money for cooler glasses when I admired his, and taught me how to eat – and cook – fufu and goat light soup (with my hands naturally, “don’t chew or they will laugh at you oo”).

Angela was my go-to, confidante, and since I hung around her place so much I became good pals with Nat’s extended family and friends, generally hung out with Ghanaians in my teens and learned about their culture – history, music, food, attitudes, and a lot of politics. I was treated equally and had my eyes opened to global issues. In fact, I felt embraced and valued in a new way.

Alongside my curiosity around our Irish family roots and Liverpool’s musical history, this other world opened up and was even more intriguing. My two older sisters had always loved going to Ghana so much that it gave me a target – I would get there too! I got my first job at 17 in Liverpool and saved some cash. That uni place at St Martin’s didn’t happen. I don’t regret it one bit.

In amongst the most difficult time for our families (tragedy, financial troubles, you name it), the seed was firmly planted and as soon as I could, I got on the Ghana Airways DC10 from Gatwick, the one that’s now a static restaurant, and went to Accra with Cudjoe, my mate and entertainment minister. His advice to me was “Chaley just be you”. It took a while for me to appreciate what he really meant.

It was intimidating and hilarious at the same time. And magical. Everything about being in Africa for the first time was spellbinding. I was embraced by my extended family and given the confidence I so badly needed. Our “Grandpa”, the legendary Chief gave me wise words every time we met. And the gatekeeper Sowah gave me nicknames and tried to set me up with his niece. We laughed so much.

I don’t know why but I’d always been extremely self-conscious and my first few trips to Accra in the 90s I kind of worked out who I was. It was all thanks to the respect – and privilege – I was afforded as one of the family. I had fuck-all cash, ate local, did everything local, couldn’t do anything for anyone other than chat. I poisoned my digestive system and at various points over the next decade almost keeled over with malaria. It was fantastic.

Alongside writing code, music was my passion — making it and everything else. I wanted to do something in the music business and ended up cooking up a soundclash event in Accra with the guys called Toast. London v Accra. I met Kwame in the process, still one of my best mates. And then Eddie, and Reggie, and Kofe, Benny, Ashi, Billy, Panji, Eli….and so many other characterful people that 25+ years later, numerous international-grade incidents, we are still such great friends. I love these guys.

Anyway, we put the concert on after 6 months of graft and living in Kofe’s place on the floor, and it was…okay. It was in many ways groundbreaking – we marketed it hard, live broadcast on TV3 and LiveFM, really went for it. The performances were amazing, you’d not seen live African rap, or Hiplife, live on TV quite like that before. But we charged too much at the gate and more people were outside listening than inside. Yet somehow it paid for itself because Guinness sponsored it, and so it taught me some huge lessons in business around trading, pricing and sales. Music is such a good place to learn how not to do business.

This is a most compressed and patchy version of a story that goes on and on and will continue until I’m gone.

I’ve got into scrapes, issues, illnesses, car crashes, accidents, and seen the worst of corruption and the best of political upheaval. I’ve explored the depths of inner-city ghettos and met the kind of people you’re glad are on your side. I’ve had more contact with AK47s than I should (never on the right end, if there is a right end!). I’ve accidentally witnessed the sort of drug trading that makes you sick on many occasions. I saw the side of the UK that most don’t — the very good, very bad and the very ugly. Think Tottenham estates and corrupt police behaviour. It’s no wonder people don’t trust the Met after the things they’ve been up to over these last couple of decades.

But what’s far more important, and resolutely positive, is the education I’ve received as a result of this lifelong connection – meeting people from all over the world coming home to enjoy the best side of Ghana and Africa. I’m glad that this is an increasing trend, and I’m happy to see African Americans moving to Ghana. Racism is stupid, Africa is smarter than people realise and can be the most rewarding — and challenging- of places to live.

Along this way I have learned so much about the injustices that Black people have suffered for generations. I learned about international power-plays going on in Africa between the west and China. I learned in business about international commerce, forex, pricing and positioning. I learned about Nkrumah and Pan-Africanism. I learned about how technology is transforming Africa. I learned even more about the dire after-effects of colonialism. I learned to cook soup, stew, grilled Tilapia and Suya. I realised that Christians and Muslims get on pretty well actually, when the conditions are right and people take pride in having respect. I learned that natural remedies are sometimes very effective. I found out that community institutions in pre-colonial Africa were also effective and then became supposedly “demonic”. I learned to speak some Pidgin and my version of Twi. I met a lot of Lebanese people and learned about their own history. I saw the start of Afrobeats revolution and helped distribute the early forms of the genre online. Kwame and I knew it would happen.

Because of all this I’m sitting here lucky enough to see the emergence of a generation of young, connected, driven and open minded individuals on a continent that is so badly mis-represented by the media. But this generation, and the next, have brain power, and have the internet.

In Nairobi, Accra, Lagos and so many other African cities, the connected youth will persevere with hope and smarts, drive and determination, and they will be the future.

Why? Because they care. And you know what? They care more than almost anyone else in the world.

That’s one reason why I care about Africa, and it’s why you probably should too.



Tom McDonnell

CEO at Monterosa - Real-time Engagement platform for sport and entertainment 🇬🇧🇬🇭🇮🇪