Monday, July 30, 2007

Cartoons that aren't so funny

Zimbabwe continues its descent into complete chaos under the rule of President Robert Mugabe. The 83 year old dictator is intent on distroying his country any way he can and seeing how many years in a row he can achieve a shrinking economy shown by negative gross domestic product growth. The economy is in shambles as brutally enforced price controls have caused the prices of staple products to drop while at the same time forcing the people selling them to losing incredible amounts of money and encounter huge shortages. Refusal to comply with the price controls brought strict punishment from the thugs that take orders from Mugabe resulting in the beating and arrest of many suppliers. Now Mugabe's corrupt party the ZANU-PF is trying to get their faithful leader elected as president for life as opposed to elections to be held next year. Brainwashed and corrupt cronies of the ZANU-PF have declared, "There are no vacancies in the presidency." The news gets scarier and scarier as flames seemingly continue to engulf Zimbabwe.

The lucky ones either have fled to nearby South Africa or are privledged enough to hold only foreign currency instead of the cursed Zimbabwe dollar that loses value by the minute. It is pointless to note that percent of annual inflation anymore as the numbers given by the government cannot be trusted and other estimates vary widely, some suggesting figures over 10,000%. All this as Mugabe announces plans to print more money to fund stalled municipal projects. To go along with such events I'd like to showcase some cartoons by the artist Gado who works for the respectable weekly newspaper The EastAfrican.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Polaroid (d)Evolution

In honor of my purchase of a Polaroid Spectra camera from the ultimate classifieds website craigslist, I want to show some interesting polaroid galleries to demonstrate what they can do. Behold the power of Polaroid.

One of the shots taken with my new camera (the scan doesn't do justice to the clarity)

My new camera, a Polaroid Spectra, is an older model, popular just before the current standard 600 film models came to flood the market. Interestingly enough, as I've found in my research and experimenting with Polaroid cameras, it seems that the older models are (and sadly in some cases were) capable of better quality images than the current versions that are most widely available today. The Spectra camera takes Image film, a film much its more popular 600 film cousin, but with supposed increased clarity. The camera itself is more adept at focusing than the 600 cameras because its autofocus actually tells the shooter how many feet away the subject in focus is and that number can be changed as desired.

Manipulated Time-Zero Film

While I'm currently experiencing the joy that goes hand in hand with Polaroid cameras as I use my Spectra, I fear the demand will not be enough to sustain the production of its film far into the future as Polaroid struggles to compete with its also-instant rival, the digital camera. The same fate fell upon the much loved, alterable film Time-Zero, used in the cult classic SX-70 cameras.

A series of polaroids found on polanoid

While online havens like, Polanoir and have kept the spirit of polaroid photography alive, the whole entity that is Polaroid could fade away as digital takes hold in future generations, rendering any kind of film as archaic. That's a bit drastic, film will live on for quite some time, but companies like Polaroid may be left behind as earnings and interest plummet. In the meantime, there are a number of truly remarkable Polaroid images and series' that deserve to be mentioned.

The beautiful look of a large format polaroid, recognizable by the trademark dots

Here are a couple of projects found on the photo site File Magazine:
Matchmaker-by Alison Garnett

and Two Thirds Primary-by Rod Hunting and Tiffany Paige

Finally, a guy that goes by the Polaroid Kidd has another cool gallery at

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Summer of Legacies

Wisconsin is truly having the summer of legacies this year, at least in the realm of African music. A few weeks ago I was able to see Seun, son of the great Fela Kuti, then my parents saw another of Fela's sons, Femi, at Summerfest in Milwaukee, and last night, Vieux Farka Toure graced the stage, son of the legendary African bluesman from Mali, Ali Farka Toure.

Vieux's show was the epitamy of a great summer performance. He played in the evening, as the sun went down behind him, on an outdoor stage, at a free Madison music festival, Le Fete de Marquette. Like his late father, Vieux and his band strummed and drummed rythmic African grooves with smiles on their faces. It was hard not to smile back. Vieux and his elderly guitar accompaniment played off of each other, back and forth, as the crowd fell into a dancing trance.

The Fete de Marquette is a French themed festival put on by the Williamson/Marquette neighborhood in Madison. That neighborhood, true to Madison, is quite progressive and somehow is able to pull off this festival as well as a couple other festivals throughout the year for the enjoyment of its residents and the entire city (Thomas Mapfumo is coming to the next festival in August). Food and beverage booths of local restuarants line the park that the festival is held in, and there is even a booth promoting the use of solar energy. Because of the time of year and theme of the festival, the biggest audience is simply adults with and and without children, as the students have vacated the city for the summer and the ones that remain, apparently have poor taste. I, along with a few others, had to represent for the youth.

Vieux energetically played songs from his only studio album before dedicating songs to his father and both of their birthplace, the small dusty town of Niafunke in northern Mali. The energy of the performers was certainly there as they jammed, equalled by the energy of the humorously enthusiastic dancers, while the sky darkened all around. Vieux's marvelous music brought me visions of how I had discovered his father. A fellow photographer/teacher had lent me Ali's CD called Savane last september as I watched over the darkroom used by his class. It was incredible and I recommend everyone check it out. Later when I found out he had a son, and heard Vieux's music, I knew he would be a great musician to see live. And he was. After the show as I ventured over to the Merchancise Tent to look at a remix album of Vieux's songs, he was there and I shook his hand and told him he played a good show. That brings the official African musician handshake count to 2. Enjoy my photos.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Can you hear it? A Rising Voice

The Miami Herald recently produced a nice feature called A Rising Voice: Afro-Latin Americans in mid June. The feature consists of a series of slideshows depicting life and culture for African descendants in the Latin America countries of Cuba, Brazil, the Dominican, Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras. A central theme is the continued exitence of racism and separatism that some of the societies claim to have overcome.

The photos in the slide shows do a great job of shining light on black culture in the different countries showing how they interact with each other and with those of light skin. Strewn throughout the photos are quotes that gives a voice to those shown in the photos. Michael Espy Campbell, a Nicaraguan activist says, "The key to our future is to strengthen our identity, to say we are black and we are proud."

Overall this is really an interesting section of the newspaper to navigate. The photos scream color. Of skin, of clothes, of culture, of music, of lifestyle. Its always appreciated when a paper takes the time to put togehter a more in depth section about an issue that is relevant to the community that it is distributed in. With such a vibrant Latin-American community in Miami itself, this is exactly the kind of feature people would be interested in. It also never hurts to spend a little extra time on an article when in the pursuit of a Pulitzer Prize.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The More Pressure the Better

Speaking of poor leadership, I have seen a preview for a new commercial made by the Save Darfur campaign about Sudan's president Al Bashir. He has continuously used delaying tactics to prevent a United Nations/African Union hybrid peacekeeping force to substancially beef up the meager 7,000 underfunded African Union troops currently on the ground in Darfur trying to maintain order in a region the size of Texas. The job is not easy, but it is important and the current troops need help. The commercial points out that Al Bashir has lacked the sense of urgency or desire to bring in the reinforcements, first rejecting the idea as imperialism, then accepting the idea, but delaying the deployment.

Watch the commercial, inform yourself and take action to bring an end to the suffering of those who have experienced genocidal conditions in Dafur. Demand action from your politicians and if they fail to deliver when they in fact have the power to forcefully apply pressure on the Sudanese government, as is currently the case in the United States, that's a sign that it's time to elect leaders who will make us proud by seeking solutions for the betterment of humanity.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Sorry Nick Kristof (Kind of)

A while back I lambasted New York Times columist Nick Kristof about the simple nature of his "Win a Trip to Africa" contest (though he has always been my favorite). Having just completed its second year now, the contest brings a student and a teacher along with Nick for a week or two as he travels through neglected regions of Africa. My argument was that in Nick's quest for fresh eyes, he may only find people willing to state the obvious, that many parts of Africa are severely impoverished and that disease is taking its toll, etc. These revelations that Nick's companions would encounter, I was afraid, would lead to overly negative and boring reporting.

After viewing the progress of the trip the second time around as the three of them visited Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and viewing an interview of Mr. Kristof by ABC, I have slightly changed my opinion. I realize that while I still think uninformed perspectives are uninteresting, the idea of bringing a youth along for the ride, as well as an educater with the ability to compare and contrast experiences is what is actually important. I now have come to agree with Nick that if young viewers and readers see the thoughts of young people like them they will take more interest.

This years selection of travelers was quite good. Both fairly young, Leana Wen is a recent grad of Washington University School of Medicine and Will Okun is an English and Photo teacher at an alternative school in Chicago. I found both of their views on their "Two for the Road" blog inciteful and interesting and hopefully others were able to relate to their experiences as well. Leana used her sharp intellect to point out what the serious threats to life and development are in parts of Africa. She also made sure to list possible solutions that everyday people can do to make an impact. Will's ability to compare youth in Africa with those he deals with in Chicago, as well as his great photos made his columns very readable as well.
Win a Trip Videos

ABC's interview of Mr. Kristof was what really allowed me to see where he was conceptually coming from with the "Win a Trip" series. If young people are intested and take a stand, Nick remarked, then their leaders would have no choice but to take notice. With the case of Darfur, there has been an incredible and powerful network of student activists dedicated to bringing an end to the genocide there. Since any meaningful action is still lacking, it must be the fault of our politicians, since the youth has done much to bring attention to the issue. Clearly we are in need of a change of leadership.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Nchi moja kwa Afrika? (One Country for Africa?)

The 9th Ordinary Summit of the African Union (AU) recently convened in Accra, Ghana on the first of July - the third of July, 2007. Now, you'd think that with so many countries (53) and a contested territory (Western Sahara) there would be plenty to discuss along the lines of conflict resolution, building infrastructure, increasing sustainablility, stabalizing and growing economies, health concerns and generally working towards the achievement of the Millenium Development Goals. Instead, the Heads of State of the African Union had just one main item on their agenda to debate during this rare gathering of leaders. The issue was unity.

Unity is essentially a central theme at the African Union and it rightfully should be. The issue surrounding the degree of unity and the rate of its implementation has long been discussed in depth by members of the AU's predecesser organization the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and was brought up again at the inception of the AU at the dawn of the new millenium. The question of unity, umoja in Swahili, is truly an interesting topic. I myself found it so alluring that I wrote my senior poltical science-international relations essay on the concept of African unity known as Pan-Africanism.

The problem with African unity being discussed at the summit in Ghana is that it appears to have eclipsed debate on any of the seemingly more demanding and immediate issues I mentioned above. President Gaddafi of Libya was the main proponent of a rapid transition to a United States of Africa. He even toured the West African region before the summit began giving speeches on his grand vision of a collective state that may finally have a voice in international politics. Talk of one African state continued into the summit and was clearly the dominating issue. I hope it was fun for the presidents in attendance to speak of such lofty goals, but in the meantime they largely ignored or barely touched on a multitude of humanitarian, social, political and economic crisises happening across the continent.

These crisises are precisely the reason why I think Africa is not ready for continental integration at the political level. Africa is not one big crisis, there are plenty of stable countries and even regions that are on healthy roads to development and sustainability. In some places however, battle has ensued and millions have been killed or forced from their homes. Resource management has been difficult for single countries and states within countries, how would a continent divide its natural treasures? Would the leaders of African countries that rule in an authoritarian manner be able to take orders from above? Would there be a new continental currancy released and what language would they speak?

There are too many diffulicult questions to be answered by instant integration. That is why gradual integreation based on regional economic blocs makes mores sense. This allows the institutions neccessary for unity to be created slowly and carefully so they actually have a chance to function properly. And ultimately, I think Africa is just too big and diverse for continental political unity. I would hope that after uniting political by region each region would have a loud enough voice to have some impact on the global stage. Because of their shared history, if Africans want to enjoy interstate economic benefits between regions that would be great, but the problems individual states are experiencing curently are too great and too numerous to be dealt wih by a single African authority. Before any serious political developments happen at all, I'd like to see progress towards the erosion of the culture of curruption and in some places there is along way to go.

I hope all that made sense. I really hope African leaders will work hard towards addressing serious issues at future summits. I continue to believe as Kwame Nkrumah did that Africa Must Unite, the question however, is to what degree?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Fela Lives

Just a quick review of the Seun Anikulapo Kuti concert I saw last Wednesday. The Tatoo on Seun's back said it all. "Fela Lives" The youngest muscially inclined son of the legendary African musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti played at the Wisconsin Union Theater on June 27th in Madison Wisconsin marking his debut performance in the United States. Fela's old band the Egypt 80, now led by Seun, took the stage first and after a long instumental, Seun appeared and made his way to the front. At just 25 years old, Seun is a young but commanding leader. In fact he has been leading the band for almost ten years now after his father's death in 1997.

The rhythms of the 18-piece Egypt 80 were brilliantly orchestrated in true Afrobeat style and from the moment they began I was almost overcome with emotion. You could you the passion for music in every one of their eyes. Seun, who looks remarkably like his father, shared his father's skill on the saxophone as well. Dancing in a manner, like all the best performers, that was part smooth sexual motions and part random spasms. Speaking of dancing, the booty shaking of the three dancers was on a level I had not witnessed in some time, since my own travels in Africa. They moved that thang left and right, in such rapid calculated gestures that it was almost beyond belief. You have to see such shakin' to appreciate it. Some Madison women got on stage in what Seun called "crowd participation" to try to shake it just as fast, but no one even came close.

The show started with a couple of Fela songs to pay respect to him, because as everyone knows, without him the current tour wouldn't be possible. Seun then transitioned to his own material which was actually quite good, giving political commentary along the way about his home goverment of Nigeria as well as the global heirarchy, raising his middle finger in protest against the G8 leaders for their refusal to ever walk the walk. For much of the beginning of the show it seemed as though Seun wasn't going to remove his shirt, but about halfway through he did, revealing the "Fela Lives" tatoo, the same words on the T-shirt I had worn to the show.

Overall it was a great show that far xceeded my expectations. I hadn't seen any African music live in awhile so it was some good medicine for me. And even my younger brother, who doesn't typically like that music but came on a whim, thourough enjoyed himself. As the show began with a tribute to Fela, so the show ended in the same way with the entire band doing what I like to call the Fela Power Move, both fists raised as you turn to the right, then the left and then behind. Then, when most everyone had cleared the theater I was able to shake his hand as he walked by.

As this was Seun first US show he doesn't have a ton of released material yet but I believe a single has come out since last week and I would encourage all to pick it up and continue the trend of fine African music. Information about the singe and Seun in general is likely available at Seun's myspace page. You can listen to his songs "Think Africa" and "Na Oil" there as well.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Educational Potential Everywhere

I would like to highlight a story that I came across regarding the potential of young minds in Africa and the need to provide them with educational opportunities so they can embark on the path to prosperity. William Kamkwamba, a 19 year old student from Malawi, is an example of what these young minds can achieve when they strive to be academically enriched.

William's story begins when at the age of 14 he was forced to drop out of high school because his parents could no longer afford the school fees. Dedicated to continue learning, but no longer in school, William often visited his local library to check out books about the subjects he was interested in. He happened upon a book called Using Energy, a textbook about how energy is made. Inside the book were plans for building a windmill to generate electricity. With plenty of time on his hands and considering his entire village had no electricity, William decided to try and build the windmill. Using sticks, spare bicycle parts and a few other cheap supplies, William was able to contruct his windmill for only $15. The project was successful. Over the next few years he modified the windmill to increase its output. Adding a fourth blade to the original three and raising it higher, from 5 meters to 12 meters, to receive better air flow. The windmill is able to power lights for three rooms inside his family's house as well as a light outside, two radios and his neighbors' cell phones.

Eventually, word of this reamarkable achievement spread and William's windmill was covered in the local media. He found a mentor in a local doctor and the publicity raised enogh money to send him back to school. William's efforts were deemed so admirable that he was invited to the recent (Technology Entertainment Design) TED Global Conference in Tanzania this June as one of 100 special fellows, along with Bono, Jane Goodall and many famous African musicians and scholars. Arriving in Arusha, Tanzania, on a plane during his first time out of Malawi was part of a series of firsts for William, he soon used a computer and the internet for the first time as well. At the conference, he showed a slideshow of the windmill project and was interviewed on stage.

Attending school now takes up the majority of William's time, but he has had the opportunity to visit some local Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that deal with the same kinds of energy work that he stumbled into. William plans on building a second windmill that will power an irrigation pump to water his garden. With his experiences, education and publicity, William will likely go on to do incredible things. His eagerness and enthusiasm for learning is an example for everyone. Use your educational opportunities to the fullest because there are those out there like William that want learn and succeed, but dont always have the opportunity because of poverty and other hardships. Funding educational programs for children, becoming a teacher, or even volunteering are all ways people can help make the future bright for all of those young minds out there.

To follow William's progress check out his blog called William Kamkwamba's Malawi Windmill Blog.