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Posts Tagged ‘africa’

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Photo: Yagazie Emezi for the New York Times
“The neighborhood of the Médina in Dakar has welcomed street artists from all over the world to practice their craft in what the founder of the project calls an open sky museum,” writes the
New York Times.

You can’t keep a good artist down. Art will out. It’s a reassuring thought. In the course of history, we’ve seen governments that think they know best, branding cutting-edge art and architecture as “degenerate.” Fortunately, such governments don’t last.

In Senegal, Anemona Hartocollis of the New York Times discovered a vibrant street art community that has grown up almost spontaneously.

She writes, “On one wall, the painting of a marabout, a Muslim holy man, peers out from behind a line hung with laundry. Nearby, a poster of an African woman in a bustle has been pasted to a house. …

“These are the painted houses of the Médina, a poor and working-class neighborhood near downtown Dakar. The neighborhood has welcomed street artists from all over the world to practice their craft in what the founder of the project calls the open sky museum. …

“Artists from not just Senegal but Burkina Faso, Algeria, Morocco, Congo, France and Italy have come to paint on these walls. They in turn have brought art lovers and tourists into a neighborhood where they otherwise might not go, to mingle with people they otherwise might not meet. …

“Street art seems to come naturally to Senegal, where many small shops are adorned with images of what they sell. Paintings of scissors signify tailors; heads with fancy hairstyles advertise barbers; images of cows and bowls of milk herald the ubiquitous sweet milk shops; a drawing of a sheep broadcasts the presence of a vendor serving grilled meat.

“Shop art is commissioned by the shop owners, and sometimes painted by them too. But to paint on a house in the Médina neighborhood, it helps to go through Mamadou Boye Diallo, known as Modboye.

“Mr. Diallo, 31, was born and raised in the Médina, the son of an elevator operator. He dropped out of school at 15 to become a break dancer and rollerblader. He got to know the art scene by working as a messenger, delivering fliers on roller blades for art galleries.

In 2010, he created Yataal Art, a nonprofit arts collective, and painted the first wall in the Médina with friends. The beauty of it is that ‘you don’t have to take a nice shower and wear perfume’ to see the art, Mr. Diallo said. …

“ ‘You have to pass by him in order to work in the Médina,’ one of the street artists, Doline Legrand Diop, said. ‘He functions a bit like a curator.’ …

“In the beginning, it was not always easy to convince homeowners to let people paint on their walls.

“ ‘They wanted money,’ Mr. Diallo said. But as the project caught on, they wanted to keep up with their neighbors. …

“The painted-houses project has gotten so big that this year, Delphine Buysse, a Belgian curator, has arranged for artists in residence to live at a luxury hotel in Dakar, the Pullman, for a week, while painting in the Médina.

“One of the most recent wall paintings was a collaboration between Kouka Ntadi, a Congolese-French artist, and Barkinado Bocoum, a Senegalese artist. Mr. Ntadi painted abstract portraits in black-and-white, and Mr. Bocoum added folksier portraits in bright colors.

” Mr. Ntadi loved sharing the neighborhood with the commercial artists of the barbershops and the milk stores.

“ ‘I would say there is not really a border between the two in Africa,’ he said. ‘It’s not like in France or the U.S. where there is a snobbism about art, and you can’t be in marketing. So for sure, we can still be an artist and make a design for a bottle of milk or a side of beef.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Kudra Maliro
Regina works at the Ebola treatment center in Beni, Congo, where she was once a patient. She often tells other patients, “I had this horrible thing, too, and look at me now. You can’t give up.”

When people recover from a natural disaster or a disease that loved ones did not survive, rather than feeling elated to be alive, they may feel only darkness about their losses. Some have learned to try healing their spirits a bit by helping others in similar situations.

Ryan Lenora Brown writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “When Regina Kavira Mbangamuke’s toddler son fell sick late last year, she did what any mother would. She pressed his feverish body to hers. She wiped away his tears and his sweat. She whispered tiny comforts in his ear. Don’t be afraid, my baby.

“And when he died, she fell into a sadness so deep and physical it took a week for her to realize there might be something else wrong.

“Ebola can be like that, Ms. Mbangamuke knows now. First it tries to take the people you love most in the world. And then it tries to kill you too.

“But as she tells her story to her patients at the Ebola treatment center in this city in eastern Congo, where she now works as a nursing assistant, it has a more hopeful postscript.

‘I say, my brother, my sister, I had this horrible thing too, and look at me now,’ she says. ‘You cannot give up.’

“Like nearly every one of the 1,000 people who have survived Ebola in eastern Congo in the past 15 months, Ms. Mbangamuke’s survival is interlaced with profound loss.

“But Ebola also affords les guéris – the cured – with an unusual opportunity. They are considered likely immune to the disease, and so also to the cruel distance it demands. They don’t need to wear the spacesuit-like protective gear that other Ebola responders don to avoid touching the sick. They can hold hands and rock babies. They can hug and clean and console. And in a place where trust in outsiders is in short supply, the hundreds of survivors who now work in the Ebola response provide something else: familiarity.

“ ‘This work helps the response, but it also helps the people doing it,’ says Solange Kahambu Kamuha, a psychologist with UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, in Beni. …

“[A] young man in bed shakes his head weakly. No, he says, he won’t go. He heard that everyone who goes into an Ebola treatment center dies. From the outside, rumors like this can sound fanciful. The disease was invented by the rich to make money. The disease was brought in to kill the political opposition. Hospitals inject their patients with Ebola to keep the outbreak going.

“But each outlandish-seeming rumor contains a kernel of truth. … Even the idea that patients are being infected in hospitals is rooted in the truth that many have gotten sick after visiting one. …

“There is simply little reason to believe that outsiders ever have their best interests at heart, says [Dr. Maurice Kakule Mutsunga, the chair of the local Ebola survivors organization]. ‘All around, people see tanks and U.N. soldiers, and still our war doesn’t end,’ he points out, referring to the decades of civil war that have roiled this part of Congo. Why should Ebola, and its new army of outsiders, be any different?

“Ms. Mbangamuke sees the skepticism, and to her too, it makes sense. Ebola has broken all of society’s rules.

“ ‘Here in the Congo, to take care of people is the normal thing, but in times of Ebola people cannot do the normal thing’ for their own families, she says.

“For her, it is still nearly impossible to make sense of a world that would take her child and spare her. The camaraderie she feels with her colleagues, their unspoken understanding, the easy laughter that passes between them as they mix sugary cups of tea in the break area, none of it gives meaning to her son’s death. But it is a way for her to try to restore some measure of balance.

“ ‘Every old woman I see [in the treatment center], she becomes like my own mother. Every baby, it’s like my own baby.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Noah Nasiali-Kadima
Noah Nasiali-Kadima, foreground, takes a selfie with members of the Africa Farmers Group during a tour of a member’s farm in Machakos County, Kenya. 

I was reading in the Boston Globe yesterday about a guy who, after surviving a life-threatening brain aneurysm that his doctor misdiagnosed, launched a new career as an activist for aneurysm patients. You have to hand it to such people.

In another example, see what Diane Cole of National Public Radio (NPR) learned when she interviewed an African farmer who turned a major cabbage liability into something much bigger than cabbages.

“Making lemonade out of life’s lemons is one thing. But what could Kenyan IT consultant-turned-farmer Noah Nasiali-Kadima do with the 75,000 fresh cabbages he had been stuck with?

“That was the dilemma he faced in 2016, when the buyer with whom he had a contract simply walked out on him, refusing to pay and leaving him with six acres of ripe cabbages that had cost most of his savings to produce.

“He was uncertain how to proceed, to whom he could turn for help or whether to give up altogether. So he came up with a different idea: That year, he started a Facebook group so that he and other farmers — including new ones like himself, and experienced farm veterans — could discuss and come up with solutions to problems just like this.

“The Africa Farmers Group now has 138,000 online members in Kenya and throughout Africa. He has also organized in-person educational seminars in countries across the continent including South Africa, Nigeria, Somalia and Zambia. The goal is to help farmers learn the skills they need to succeed, by providing forums in which they can share their own stories of success and failure, and offer their peers empathy, encouragement and practical tips. In recognition of his work, in September 2018, Facebook awarded him $1 million as part of its Facebook Community Leadership Program. …

“We spoke to him as he was preparing to participate as a speaker at the Food Tank New York City Summit, a two-day conference sponsored by the sustainable agriculture advocacy group Food Tank. … This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

“First of all, whatever happened to those 75,000 cabbages?
“I sold some, and some went bad on the farm. I gave some away to schools.

“Drought has left almost 3 million people there facing acute food insecurity. How can local farmers be a part of the solution?
“We have a lot of food shortages and food waste. There is a disconnect between the farmers producing the food and then getting it to market and to the people. No one is consulting the farmers themselves about, ‘How much can you produce, what do you need to help you to produce more?’ …

“You started out in technology in 2001, in programming and network management. How did agriculture come into the picture?
“I started out just to make some extra money since the tech space had become saturated. My father is a sugar farmer, and my father-in-law is a tomato farmer. One day in 2007, I was with my wife and my father-in-law and I said to him, ‘I want to be a farmer.’ He looked at me, like, ‘Are you really serious?’ And I said yes. He gave me and my wife a small piece of land, one-quarter of an acre, near his own farm, which is about an hour away from Nairobi. …

“At first this was a side career, a way to make an extra coin. … We started with green bell peppers, switched to tomatoes and watermelons and other crops, one of them cabbages.

“Then you faced the cabbage fiasco in 2016. Was that a turning point for you?
“I thought, this shouldn’t happen to any farmer. How come I can’t sell this produce? I did not know how to market or pitch what I had, or explain the particular quality or type of cabbage I had. …

“I saw how farmers were suffering. We have very many NGOs and very many tech solutions being funded but none that involve the farmers. I also wanted to make a difference, to see if I can start a group with farmers around me where we can talk about problems, who is buying what, what they are doing that is working and what is not. And I just opened a group on Facebook.

“The target was to sign up 3,000 farmers in three months. By the end of those three months, we had 16,000 farmers from across Africa. Some said, ‘Please post in English because I cannot speak Swahili!’

“It was a venue where farmers could talk to each other. I set up weekly online conversations with expert farmers from different regions who have worked with different kinds of soil and crops. Farmers listen to other farmers, so people could ask, ‘What were the challenges, how can we learn from you?’

“Now we have 138,000 members and growing. We also have more than 100,000 offline members in areas where internet connectivity is a challenge. Our motto is sharing is caring.

I have seen farmers who had given up. Then they hear from other farmers who have been through similar experiences. They see what they can do different.

“They learn they can contact this agronomist for more information about this problem, or try a different crop at this time of year, or maybe a particular variety that will do better in a particular climate, or maybe the soil is not right. These are success stories. They learn how to keep going or start again.”

Read more on how the initiative has grown and flourished, here.

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Photo: Stockholm Resilience Centre
Discussing the Great Wall of Africa among drought-resistant plants in the village of Koyli Alpha in Senegal. Reforestation efforts include providing fodder for livestock.

Sometimes the places with the biggest needs are the places with the biggest innovations. Consider the greening initiative that Africa is taking on to fight drought.

Aryn Bakerwrites for Time magazine, “The seedlings are ready. One hundred and fifty thousand shoots of drought-resistant acacia, hardy baobab and Moringa spill out of their black plastic casings. The ground has been prepared with scores of kilometer-long furrows leading to a horizon studded with skeletal thorn trees. It’s early August, and in less than a week, 399 volunteers from 27 countries will arrive in this remote corner of northern Senegal to participate in one of the world’s most audacious efforts to combat the effects of climate change: an $8 billion plan to reforest 247 million acres of degraded land across the width of Africa, stretching from Dakar to Djibouti.

“The Great Green Wall project, spearheaded by the African Union and funded by the World Bank, the European Union and the United Nations, was launched in 2007 to halt the expansion of the Sahara by planting a barrier of trees running 4,815 miles along its southern edge. Now, as concerns mount about the impact of climate change on the Sahel, the semiarid band of grassland south of the Sahara that is already one of the most impoverished regions on earth, the Great Green Wall is filling a new role. The goal now, say its designers, is to transform the lives of millions living on the front line of climate change by restoring agricultural land ruined by decades of overuse; when done, it should provide food, stem conflict and discourage migration. When the project is completed in 2030, the restored land is expected to absorb some 250 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the equivalent of keeping all of California’s cars parked for 3½ years. …

“When people think of potential fixes for global warming, they tend to focus on big projects. But if human activity is at the root of climate change, whether it be the carbon emissions of the industrialized world or the overgrazing of the Sahel, then that is where the solution lies as well. Environmentalists celebrate the Great Green Wall for its epic territorial ambition, but its biggest impact will come from allowing people to meet their needs without destroying nature in the process.

“The Sahara isn’t expanding so much as the Sahel is shrinking, destroyed by decades of overgrazing, climate-change-induced drought and poor farming practices that have stripped the once lush grasslands of the fertile topsoil needed to regenerate. … Planting trees not only reduces carbon on a global scale—research in the journal Science estimates planting more than 2 billion acres of trees could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that human activity has pumped into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution­—it also recharges the water table and creates micro­climates that increase local rainfall. … Though it may not sound like much, the solution to climate change in the Sahel starts with getting grass to grow.

“ ‘If we can solve people’s problems by improving their living conditions now,’ says Goudiaby, ‘they will be able to help themselves by protecting the trees that protect their future.’

After all, stopping global warming isn’t about saving the planet. … It’s about saving humanity. One way to do that is by helping those who are most vulnerable to what chaos we have already created.

“Just 25 miles south of Mbar Toubab, near the village of Koyli Alpha, 50-year-old Dienaba Aka pulls her heavily laden donkey cart to the side of the road. She and her extended family have spent the day cutting grass in a ‘forage bank’ managed by the national Great Green Wall agency. … Now herders pay $1.70 a day to harvest the waist-high grass for their cattle until the rains bring new grazing opportunities. For Aka, the idea of a grass ‘bank’ is a radical departure from an itinerant childhood spent following the family herd in search of forage. Now she can feed her cattle in the lean season without stripping trees.

“Aka, like women from many villages in the region, has been planting trees for the GGW project since 2012. She earns $96 during the six-week planting season. It’s good money, she says, but most women do it because they have been told it will bring back the rain, which in turn brings the grass that feeds their livestock.

“There is another advantage to forage banking, Aka says, gazing proudly at her two 10-year-old nieces perched atop several bags of recently cut grass. ‘Before­ the Great Green Wall, the kids had to go with us when we took the cattle to graze. Now they can stay in school.’ ” More here.

Hat tip: UN Environment Programme on Twitter

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Photo: The Economist
Ugandan writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is part of an African literary Renaissance.

Other than a day trip from Spain to Morocco decades ago, I have never set foot in Africa. But I have experienced it, in a way, by reading African writers such as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Acebe. Today, a new generation of young writers is offering the world fresh insight.

The Economist writes, “In 2003 Harriet Anena was a schoolgirl in northern Uganda, a region then at war. The army had ordered people into squalid, crowded camps; insurgents stalked the bush.

“ ‘We scratch our destiny / from hands of a curtailing fate,’ she scribbled, sitting beneath a mango tree. In poetry she found a way to ask questions that children, especially girls, were not supposed to ask. ‘I started writing for therapy,’ she says.

“This month Ms Anena recited those lines on the stage of the National Theatre in Kampala, melding drums, dance and poetry in an arresting evocation of love and war. Her performance was the highlight of this year’s Writivism festival, an annual celebration of creative writing, and a testament to the vitality of the country’s small but flourishing literary scene.

“Uganda was once at the fulcrum of African literature. It was at Makerere University, on a hill above Kampala, that giants such as Chinua Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o gathered in 1962 for the first African Writers’ Conference, a landmark event held on the eve of independence for many countries. …

“Yet in a place where history and politics weigh heavy, writers are finding fresh voice. A number of trailblazing authors have passed through FEMRITE, a non-profit founded in 1996 to publish and promote women’s writing in Uganda. Writivism, now in its seventh year, publishes an annual anthology and runs a short-story prize.

“And Ugandan literature can boast of an international superstar in Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (pictured), whose debut novel Kintu is a multi-generational saga that ties oral myth to a recognisable present. …

“Encountering the names of familiar places in a novel ‘just blew by mind,’ says Nyana Kakoma, who runs a small publishing house in Kampala. ‘I said wait a minute, this is me, this is my life, this is Uganda as I know it.’

“Much of this new literature is strikingly political. The Betrothal, a play by Joshua Mmali, is a retelling of a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal that he covered as a journalist for the BBC; its performances at the National Theatre in Uganda last year were greeted with whoops of recognition from audiences. Bold writers can draw on the daily chronicles of hypocrisy and clampdowns recorded by a lively press. …

“War, corruption and sexism are not easy topics, and creative expression has its limits. Uganda has an authoritarian government, presided over by an ageing and increasingly testy strongman. This month Stella Nyanzi, an activist and academic, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after posting a poem on Facebook [about] the president’s mother.

“For all that, it would be a mistake to assume that Ugandan writing is glum, pious or austere. Young writers are finding humour in struggle, and joy in the everyday. There is the promise of freedom in their work. ‘Do not miss the chance to groove, my child,’ writes Peter Kagayi, a poet, ‘at the pattering of life’s raindrops.’ ”

More here.

 

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I’ve always been interested in other countries and cultures and have tried to read books from afar if they are written in English or translated into English. Years ago, the works of Africa writers Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka were among my favorites. I have continued to read other African writers, but none have interested me as much as those two.

Recently I learned that some new authors have complained that African literary magazines — often the place to launch a writing career — have not been open to younger voices.

An article in Okay Africa provides an overview of the magazines that publish African literature and explains why the number of outlets has been increasing.

Tadiwa Madenga writes, “African literary magazines and journals don’t just shape literary culture, they offer the most rebellious responses to political and social movements. They not only respond to the cultures they’re in, these magazines also create distinct cultures of their own that reflect the personalities of their editors.

“Some are experimental and bold, some are satirical and polemic, some can also be aesthetically conservative, but they all find beautiful ways to confront the most pressing issues in society. Magazines archive stories that might not always gain the attention that books will, but are sometimes the most thrilling work in a writer’s career. Here are five of the most notable literary magazines that have shaped contemporary African literature.

“Based in Nigeria, Black Orpheus was groundbreaking as the first African literary periodical on the continent publishing works in English. It was founded in 1957 by German editor Ulli Beier, and was later edited by Wole Soyinka, Es’kia Mphahlele, and Abiola Irele. The magazine stopped printing in 1975.

“At a time when African writers needed spaces where they could simply gather and enjoy each other’s works, the magazine was started to promote African literature, publishing the works of literary giants like Chinua Achebe, Ama ata Aidoo, and Christopher Okigbo in their early career. The best part of the magazine was that it introduced literature from French, Spanish, and Portuguese speaking regions to an English speaking audience …

Transition was founded [in 1961] by Rajat Neogy in Kampala when Uganda, like other African nations, was gaining its independence. Like Black Orpheus, the magazine published notable writers like Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Nadine Gordimer, and Taban lo Liyong when they were new writers.

Transition … has had fearless takes on politics that eventually forced it to be transferred to Nigeria when Soyinka was editor, and later to the U.S. Transition is now housed at Harvard University and is still producing provocative work …

Kwani? began after a group of Kenyan writers, artists, and journalists became frustrated with the slow publishing scene in the country that mostly accommodated earlier writers like Ngugi from the Transition and Black Orpheus generation. A new publication was created in 2003 for emerging writers that has led to the incredible literature we enjoy today from Kenya. The journal has published works by writer like Yvonne Owuor, Parselelo Kantai, Andia Kisia, Uwem Akpan and Billy Kahora.

“Edjabe is a Cameroonian journalist and a DJ who engages literature, music, and politics with a rebel spirit [in the magazine Chimurenga]. Edjabe founded Chimurenga in 2002 in Cape Town at a time where South Africans were having lively discussions about life during and after political and social revolutions. What makes Chimurenga unique is not only the amazing writing that they publish, but the ways the platform evokes other mediums with literature. …

“While the other literary magazines and journals where mostly print magazines, JALADA represents the digital moment where African literature is thriving on online platforms like Saraba, Enkare, and Brittle Paper. JALADA began after a group of writers from various African countries published their work on their own website which became so popular they began receiving submissions from other writers.”

Read more here.

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Photo: Tim McDonnell /for NPR 
Samuel-Richard Bogobley holds a GPS-enabled tablet to capture the location of one corner of an underwater clam “farm.” Collecting data is the first step in protecting indigenous livelihoods.

I love reading about how people around the world come up with constructive ways to use technology. This story is about clam farmers in Africa enlisting GPS data as a first step in protecting indigenous rights.

Writes Tim McDonnell at National Public Radio, “Samuel-Richard Bogobley is wearing a bright orange life vest and leaning precariously over the edge of a fishing canoe on the Volta River estuary, a gorgeous wildlife refuge where Ghana’s biggest river meets the Gulf of Guinea.

“He’s looking for a bamboo rod poking a couple feet above the surface. When he finds it, he holds out a computer tablet and taps the screen. Then he motions for the captain to move the boat forward as he scans the water for the next rod. …

” ‘Before you can start to recognize a fishery, you need to have a lot of data,’ says Bogobley, a researcher with Hen Mpoano, a Ghanaian nonprofit that supports small-scale fishers. ‘These people don’t have any platform to fight for what is theirs.’

“The Volta River is rich with clams, harvested year-round by a bustling community of several hundred fishermen and women. The meat is packaged for sale across West Africa, while the shells are ground into an additive for whitewash and chicken feed.

“The riverbed itself is divided into intricate real-estate parcels, each one an underwater clam ‘farm’ with its own caretaker.

“The farms have become a flashpoint in a broader conflict over the land rights of indigenous peoples in Africa: The clam fishers have no legal claim to their farms, and are under increasing pressure as they compete for prime real estate with the booming tourism industry and cope with the impacts of climate change. …

“[Clam farmer Kofi] Amatey spends most of every day working here about ten feet below the surface, gathering clams into a basket. Wearing eye goggles and a weighted belt, he breathes through a makeshift scuba apparatus that pumps air from a compressor on his canoe.

“It’s a subsistence living: Amatey estimates that he earns less than $1,000 per year. And in recent years, it’s gotten even harder.

“A crop of new luxury resort hotels now crowd the riverbanks, forcing the clam fishers off of land where they used to live, dock canoes and process clams. Tourists’ speedboats and jet skis churn the water, threatening to topple the narrow dugout canoes loaded with clams. …

“Without a formal, legal claim to the clam farms, Amatey and his neighbors say they have no way to protect themselves from hoteliers and other developers who acquire deeds from the government. …

“Many indigenous land rights lack protection because of a scarcity of data. …

“That’s where the GPS tablets come in. A growing number of research groups and international aid organizations are rolling out software aimed at making it easier for anyone with a tablet or smartphone to accurately map community-held land and record basic information about its proprietors. This data alone doesn’t offer any legal protection, but it’s an essential starting place.”

More here.

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