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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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blackorpheus01

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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Photo: Vincent Francigny / Sedeinga archaeological mission
A large cache of recently discovered texts offers insight into one of Africa’s oldest written languages.

Archaeologists, whether professionals or amateurs like those in a recent post, keep discovering new wonders. They remind us never to make the mistake of thinking that everything has been discovered.

Jason Daley writes at Smithsonian magazine, “Archaeologists in Sudan have uncovered a large cache of rare stone inscriptions at the Sedeinga necropolis along the Nile River. The collection of funerary texts are inscribed in Meroitic, one of Africa’s earliest written languages.

“As Charles Q. Choi at LiveScience reports, the find is full of potential. … The archaeological site of Sedeinga — once part of the kingdoms of Napata and Meroe (which were jointly referred to as the ‘Kush kingdom’ by their ancient Egyptian neighbors) –- includes the remains of 80 small brick pyramids and more than 100 tombs created during a cultural period from about 700 B.C. to roughly 300 C.E.

” ‘The necropolis’ miniature pyramids were initially inspired by Egypt’s massive monuments, but during a later time, Meroitics refashioned the tombs and pyramids to include chapels and chambers where they could worship the dead. …

“In addition to the funerary texts, archaeologists also found pieces of decorated and inscribed sandstone. … One of the more interesting new finds from the dig is a lintel, or structural beam from a chapel with a depiction of Maat, the Egyptian goddess of order, equity, and peace. This is the first time archaeologists have found a depiction of Maat with black African features.

“Another find of note, a funerary stele, describes a high-ranking woman by the name of Lady Maliwarase and details her connections with royalty. Similarly, a lintel uncovered during the excavation explores the lineage of another woman of high rank, Adatalabe, who counts a royal prince among her blood line.

“These kinds of inscriptions are sure to help historians continue to piece together the story of Meroe. For instance, as Francigny tells Choi, the aforementioned finds reveal that in Meroe kingdom matrilineality — the women’s lineage — was important enough to record.”

More here.

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Photo: http://www.a-r-e-d.com
The Mobile Solar Kiosk, invented by Rwanda’s Henri Nyakarundi, is one of 10 renewable energy startups highlighted by Africa.com.

Great ideas for renewable energy are blooming in Africa, where it’s important that energy be both accessible and affordable. Africa.com recently rounded up ten of the most promising technologies.

“Africa has an immense energy crisis,” says the website. “In a continent with a population of close to 1 billion, over 625 million people are without power. According to the International Energy Agency, that makes up 68% of the population. This is ironic considering the fact that Africa has an abundance of natural resources available.

“For instance, the continent has a large coastline where wind power and wave power resources are abundant and underutilized in the North and South. Africa has much greater solar resources available than any other continent because it is the sunniest continent on earth.

“Energy is an essential factor for the reduction of poverty and economic growth. Major sectors like agriculture, education, communication, and technology all require abundant, consistent, and cost effective energy to spur the much needed development of the continent.

“Currently, many African nations already have small scale solar, wind, and geothermal plants that provide energy in rural areas. These modes of energy production are becoming very useful in remote locations, because they bridge the gap created by the excessive cost of transporting electricity from large-scale power plants. …

“Here we look at ten startups that are utilizing the vast amount of the continent’s renewable energy potential. …

“Mobile Solar Cell Phone kiosk is an alternative solar-powered mobile kiosk that charges phones and connects communities in Rwanda. It was founded by Henri Nyakarundi — a Rwandese who lived in the United States — after struggling with charging his phone whenever he went back to Rwanda or Burundi for holidays.

“He also noticed that even though many people had cell phones, they faced a challenge with charging their devices. It is estimated that over 70% of the population in Rwanda own a cell phone; however, at the same time, World Bank estimates that less than 25% of the Rwandan population has access to electricity.

“Prompted by this need, Henri sketched his first design on a piece of paper. He devised a solar-powered kiosk that can be towed by a bicycle and provides concurrent charging for up to 80 phones. The Mobile Solar Cell Phone Kiosk uses a franchise model that is low income and motivated by entrepreneurial objectives.”

Others on the website’s list include M-Kopa, which “sells solar home systems to low-income earners by allowing them to pay in installments over the course of a year using mobile money”; Shakti, “a South African startup that provides an alternative energy solution to thousands of households that do not have access to electricity”; electric vehicles; LED lights; and “batteries in a bottle.” More at Africa.com.

(I need to mention that the website seemed to slow down my computer, but no real damage was done.)

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Photo: Serena McKinney
Ludwig Göransson, composer to the
Black Panther music score, spent a month in Africa, returning home with “a totally different idea of music.”

I’m looking forward to seeing Black Panther when we can get it on DVD. In the meantime, I’m reading a lot about it. This story by Jon Burligame in Variety is on the development of the movie’s musical score.

“Ludwig Göransson, the Swedish-born composer who was charged with scoring Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ movie and has worked with director Ryan Coogler on all of his films, didn’t just visit a university library or look at YouTube videos: He spent a month in Africa.

“The result was life-changing, he tells Variety: ‘I came back with a totally different idea of music, a different knowledge. The music that I discovered was so unique and special. [The challenge was] how do I use that as the foundation of the entire score, but with an orchestra and modern production techniques — infuse it in a way that it doesn’t lose its African authenticity?’ …

“Nearly all of the unusual sounds in the ‘Black Panther’ score were recorded in the West African nation of Senegal, where Göransson spent two and a half weeks accompanying singer-guitarist Baaba Maal on tour. Maal introduced Göransson to other Senegalese musicians, and many performed on the soundtrack.

“The music that pairs with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), monarch of the film’s fictional African kingdom Wakanda, is led by six ‘talking drums,’ which Göransson explains as ‘a small drum you put on your shoulder, one that does what no other percussion instrument does — it breathes.’ The drummer squeezes, then loosens it to change the pitch. …

“For the theme associated with usurper Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the composer used another West African instrument, the Fula flute: ‘It sounded sad but also aggressive, energetic and impulsive,’ he says, and with the flutist speaking and even screaming into the flute, ‘it really resonated with the character.’ …

“Having recorded hours of music in Senegal, the composer flew to South Africa, where he spent a week studying at the International Library of African Music in Grahamstown. There he sought out recordings from across the continent and played dozens of instruments.

“At the same time, says Coogler, the score had to work as a superhero movie … ‘Ludwig is so well versed in orchestral composition, he could find a way to merge the two, and know when to go with one or the other.

“After months of writing, Göransson recorded more than two hours of music with a 92-piece London orchestra and a 40-voice choir in October and December, augmenting the African recordings and even using the orchestra to echo the multiple layers of rhythms in some of the complex drumming he first heard in Senegal. The choir sang in Xhosa, a South African language. …

“Says Coogler: ‘Ludwig really set the table for the emotion that we were trying to get across, whether it was excitement or reflection or sadness.’ ” More at Variety, here.

Have you seen Black Panther? If you are knowledgeable about African music, I’d love to hear what you thought of the music. Even if you aren’t that knowledgeable.

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