In morning lecture, Angélique Kidjo to share work of Batonga, inspire supportive action

Kaitlyn Finchler
Staff writer

Influencing the world with more than her Grammy Award-winning music, activist Angélique Kidjo aspires to give back to the young entrepreneurial girls in her native continent of Africa. 

Kidjo — five-time Grammy Award winner, spokesperson for Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa and founder of Batonga, a charitable foundation dedicated to support young girls’ education in sub-Saharan Africa — will give her lecture at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater.

She said her morning lecture will focus on Batonga and the impact of empowering young women. 

“If you see the potential of someone and you’re in a position to help that person unleash her or his own potential, you got to do it,” Kidjo said. “It’s beautiful to see what comes out of giving respect and seeing the other person that needs just your attention.”

To see the transformation in a person, she said, is humbling and scary but joyful. In May, Batonga opened its second office in Senegal after the first one in Bénin — Kidjo’s native country.

“Step by step, we’re trying to cover the whole continent,” she said. “Every country in Africa is different, even if the problems are the same, the responses might be different.”

The young girls Batonga helps are from the poorest areas with “no hope of a future whatsoever,” she said. There’s no agenda, she said, so the foundation is willing to trust someone and give them what they need to be successful.

“I can’t even tell you how afraid (in a good way) I am to see the power I am unleashing (by) helping those girls unleash and changing the communities,” Kidjo said. “During the pandemic, they were up to the forefront of the fight, manufacturing soap (and) masks day in and day out.”

People who aren’t in Kidjo’s position can still help, she said, by supporting organizations like Batonga. The girls in Bénin and Senegal are savvy and can start a business with $20 and make $200 in six months.

“(The girls will say), ‘We tell our kids to wash our hands and we don’t have soap,’” Kidjo said. “So that, we can provide. … I say to them, ‘Amen, go for it.’ ”

From her lecture, Kidjo said she wants people to understand how crucial critical thinking is. To live in a world where people acknowledge each other, it can’t be taken at face value. 

“We question, ‘If I was given a chance to change the world, what will I do?’ ” Kidjo said. “You cannot change the world if you’re not free and if you don’t respect other people’s freedom.”

Born and raised in Bénin — formerly Ouidah, French Dahomey — Kidjo had to move to Paris in the 1980s due to political conflict. She intended to be a human rights lawyer, but ended up studying music — yet still became an activist in a different way.

“I’m glad I am in a position where I can give and instill hope in the young adolescent girls in my country,” she said. 

If people can face challenges and offer support in America, she said, there’s no reason not to help abroad.

“We have lived up to the challenge of being an American,” Kidjo said, “which is being above everything and seeing people as who they are, not their skin color or financial means, but just human beings in America who live in the same country.”

People share the same ecosystem, she said, but not the same reality. The Global South is underestimated, and Kidjo believes it’s one of richest regions on the planet.

“(America) tells a negative story about the Global South to justify all the wrongdoing that was done there,” she said. “We (need to) take into account what is at the core of the Global South failure — slavery and … synchronization over resources.”

Daily staffer Alyssa Bump contributed to this report.


The author Kaitlyn Finchler

Kaitlyn Finchler is a journalism and public relations graduate from Kent State University as of May. This will be her second summer at Chautauqua where she will cover literary arts, serving previously as the Interfaith Lecture Series preview reporter. In her free time, you can find her reading, cooking or flipping between “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Gossip Girl.” She’s most excited to see how many times she can slip the word “plethora” into her stories before Sara makes her stop again.