Tuesday, September 25, 2007

African Governance-Have Your Say

BBC Africa runs a weekly feature that I often browse called "Africa Have Your Say." The idea is to pose a question and solicit responses from Africans and readers interested in African affairs like myself. This past week's question was about "governance. Inspired by a $5 million dollar African leadership prize to be given to the best African leader proposed by Sudanese businessman Mo Ibrahim, the "Have Your Say" feature asked people how their country ranks and what qualities define good governance. The Ibrahim Index which rates Sub Saharan African states on their governance was released this week and Nelson Mandela has said that he supports this initiative to celebrate Africa's new leaders.

Mo Ibrahim

The responses as usual were quite diverse and intriguing. With some solid debate having been stimulated. Some people were happy to see a new source of motivation for African leaders to improve the standards of living for their constituents while other were pessimistic saying that African leaders cansteal much more money than 5 million if they want to. The following is a taste of some of the answers.

First the positive responses:

"With the exception of places like Zimbabwe and Sudan, most of the African nations seem to be pulling themselves up to embrace and demonstrate good governance principles. In my estimation, leaders like Paul Kagame of Rwanda deserve credit for ensuring his country is up and running just a few years after the genocide. It still remains to be seen how much democratic space Mr. Kagame allows."
Sammy Wanyonyi, Minneapolis

"The Mo Ibrahim award is a good initiative. In future, I believe, it will focus well-meaning African leaders on selfless service to their countries, banking on the 'good leadership insurance', which they can access while in office or when they leave office. I call on other African philanthropists to also consider extra-ordinarily gifted African youths for higher education and training, e.g. in science and technology."
John Odey Okache, Abija, Nigeria

Now the negative:

"Surely none of the current African "leaders" will qualify for this. The great majority of them, from west to east, are corrupt.
God save Africa."
Walelign, New York

"I don't think many of the leaders of the countries in question will care. Why would they make an effort to come top of this index when they already receive similar sums in 'Aid' from the West.It will take more than this to root out the endemic corruption in African governments."
Huge Canoe, Up a creek, without a paddle, United Kingdom

Nigeria is a country of blind guides masquerading as lords over helpless non violent people; overburdened and overwhelmed by the frauds of many years, resisting with cautions of the oppressors barrels in view. A nation of imposed lords bereft of political understanding, renowned academic misnomer juggling seats rejected by dons
Our leaders are imposed and the world is aware. May God help Nigeria
Macaulay Akinbami, Lagos-Nigeria

There are those that love their countries:

"I love my country, Zambia and its people but I'd rank my government very low over where its loyalty lies; China suspended investment in the copper mines to send a message about the diplomatic & economic consequences of Sata winning last years presidential election just because he said that he'd recognise the independence of Taiwan; seems my government puts China's interests before Zambias. China's looking after China and my government allows it to do so; my people's interest need to come first."
Samantha Phiri, Zambia

"I actually love my country Nigeria. But my problem with it is there is no law and order."
Kabeer Abdul, Gusau

Others found problems with the Ibrahim Index:

I believe the Republic of Somaliland aka Africa's best kept secret and one of Africa's few success stories, should rank somewhere in the top half if only it wasn't lumped with Somalia. Somaliland is independent although yet to be recognised as a sovereign state. In terms of democracy, good governance, security and human rights, the criteria on which this is based on, the contrast between Somaliand and Somalia couldn't be greater. The two countries are on opposite sides of the scale.
Idris, London

Not actually being from Africa myself I offered what I thought represented qualities of a good government (within the space requirements):

"Part of good governance is allowing for healthy criticism which would come from a free press. Allowing the formation of opposition parties is also essential as is ensuring their political rights, including the right to demonstrate. Corruption is a force that plagues even the most stable countries, yet a country governed well will see progress in the fight for corruption's demise. A good leader takes action, but makes decisions thoughtfully after weighing all perspectives."

An interesting forum indeed. I will be curious to see which leader eventually wins the prize (one of the judges is former Unites Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan). In the most recent Ibrahim Index, the top ten governed countries as rated on 5 main criteria (Safety and Security, Rule of Law/Transparency/Corruption, Participation/Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity, Human Development):

Cape Verde
South Africa
Sao Tome et Principe

It it interesting to see that 4 out of 10 of those well governed countries are actually small island nations, including 3 of the top 4, the outlier being Botswana.
Now lets look at the bottom ten from worst to "best":

Democratic Republic of the Congo
Central African Republic
Sierra Leone

Not too many surprises here, though with the recent victory of an opposition party in Sierra Leone there is renewed potential for stability and growth. A more in depth analysis of the criteria as well as more information about the prize can be found on Mo Ibrahim's website moibrahimfoundation.org.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Good Times

The cemetary in my neighborhood seemed like an interesting place to do some long exposure photography. There's plenty of room for experimentation with long exposures and it makes consider the complexity of photography as time becomes a serious element in the equation. Now of course the length of the shutter speed is always important, but at night time what becomes even more apparent is movement and the source of your light. Check out these couple of photos from my cemetary adventure. Don't worry, I have more ideas and hopefully I'll try them soon.

The second photo is of David Lesh, my current house-mate. Tomorrow he will be resurrected on the big screen when Level One Productions premieres their ski movie Real Time in Boulder, Colorado. You can check out a preview of the movie on the Level One site featuring my man Thom Yorke's "And It Rained All Night" as the soundtrack.

Cherish the good times while they last.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Social Entreprenuership

I recently finished the book "How to Change the World" by David Bornstein about people that fall into the category "social entreprenuers" and an organization that seeks to promote their work called Ashoka. Social entreprenuers as defined by Ashoka are people who "have innovative solutions to social problems and the potential to change patterns across society. They demonstrate unrivaled commitment to bold new ideas and prove that compassion, creativity, and collaboration are tremendous forces for change." These people basically are innovators in civil society who have created powerful non-govenmental organizations.

This book unlocked the world of social entrprenuership for me. Before reading "How to Change the World" I had no idea that such a term existed and that there exists a network to assist and fund their work. The back of the book provided a number of websites for other foundations like Ashoka and links to networks where the stories of social entreprenuers are told and discussed online.

Ashoka (ashoka.org) itself is a pretty amazing organization. Founded by Bill Drayton in 1980, it is now the leading organization that supports creative civil society projects worldwide. To date Ashoka has sponsored around 1,500 social entreprenuer fellows, lending consultation services and financial support so the fellows can focus on their programs. The process of discovering new people however is very selective, but the ones that are picked definately have an impact.

93% of fellows have had their work replicated by others.

and over 50% have influenced policy change on the national level.

(So the graphics are pretty hard to read but they back up the statistics. If you click on it it will show the graph more clearly with a white background)

Beyond Ashoka, I have found the social entreprenuer network Social Edge (socialedge.org), a program of the Skoll Foundation, very interesting. It features the stories of Peace Corps volunteers that have made a huge difference either in their Peace Corps communities or since returning with valuable experience. Social Edge has blogs from social entreprenuers as well as interviews that ask how people see what the world will look like in 2017.

One of the featured blogs is "The Kiva Chronicles" written by one of the people who started kiva.org, the website where people can lend $25 microcredit loans to small businesses all over the world. While this has been an innovative venture to start a microcredit lending system on the internet, the original concept or microloans was first discovered by Mohammed Yunus, a Bangledeshi professor, in bangledesh in the 1970's. I found the Kiva Chronicles blog a good read because I have used the service and because it is an interesting account of a growing project by the project's creater. Matt Flannery of Kiva writes about new features to the website and their implementation as well as the site's traffic prior to and after he and his wife Jessica (the other co-founder) appeared on Oprah earlier this month. In case you wanted to know, here are Matt and Jessica talking about the founding of kiva.org, an interview also found on Social Edge. They say kiva was the solution to a pre-marital problem.

Coincidentally, David Bornstein, the Author of How to Change the World is also interviewed.

I'm realizing that many things that I'm interested in are connected as I explore networks like social edge and read books like How to Change the World. There are many ideas out there that need to be perfected and that haven't even been thought of yet. Maybe someday I'll figure out how to change the world.

Friday, September 14, 2007


There's a new photo agency in town called Noor Images that was recently created by a small group of Nine photographers. All of the photographer are well travelled and have impressive client lists while maintaining diverse and unique image-capturing styles.

I was alerted to them because one of the photgraphers, Kadir van Lohuizen, has worked with Niicholas Kristof, one of my favorite New York Times journalists. And actually I had been familiar with his work even earlier, but without knowing it, when I clipped an impressive black and white photo (featured above) of people in Chad from TIME magazine to use with paper I was making. The image was one of TIME's images of the year. The agency site is worth checking out not only because of the splendid collection of images, but because the site is very well designed. The way the images are portrayed is BIG. They try to fill up as much of the browser wind as can with an image, a simple concept, but one I have never seen executed quite so effectively.

The documentary subject matter varies from refugees and conflict in North Africa (including Darfur) as well as sexual assault victims in South Africa, illegal immigrant in the United States, militias in Iraq, political and social unrest in south east Asia...something for everyone.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Grainy Goodness

While shooting color film with a 35mm camera just isn't practical or affordable anymore if you have a digital camera, it can still be fun and its a good test to see if you still can produce good photos when there's no screen on the back of your camera giving you instant feedback. Anyways, it can really be relaxing to take a stroll in your respective neighborhood and capture with your film camera anything that catches your eyes. There's just something about film, the wonder of it, it actually exists right there in your hand. And the grains, those grains, those wonderful grains... Black and white will live on for some time, but color 35mm is fading from our memories.