Sunday, September 26, 2010

Online African Renaissanace

The Online African Renaissance

Now that I've finally emerged from my Gambian hut and settled in my Lesotho compound I have had slightly better access to the internet and can finally take in much more of all the seemingly endless amounts of interesting content, especially that which is Africa/Photography related. I've been introduced too many worthwhile sites, I can barely absorb it all. My google reader is getting overloaded . The number of feeds I follow has risen around 60% in just the last week or two. My eyes are opening to what I would consider to be the Online African Renaissance. The worldwide interest in and capacity for sharing Africa-related continent by Africans and non-Africans alike has skyrocketed. Refreshingly, much of the sentiment of this creative force is that of positivity and pride. I see this tsunami of material as representing what African societies and African people (wherever they can be found) are about in a more comprehensive way. It's a testament to struggles and to triumphs.

The spread of technology and the rise of the African consumer has caused more people to plug in and take part in this explosion of creativity. Everything from from art to fashion to technology to literature is now covered and more! I want to share some of my favorite discoveries in various realms. I'm going to break them up into separate posts to allow each of them to receive enough attention. I want to cover: film, music, literature, fashion and tech.

This is simply an introduction. I feel like I'm just barely touching the tip of the iceberg of what's out there. As the young, creative generation from Africa and beyond gets wired, as online resources get increasingly connected and as old archives of classic African cultures get digitzed, the boom of multimedia from all over the continent and the diaspora will only make Online African Renaissance stronger.
Chimurenga Magazine states, “HE NO KNOW GO KNOW.” You've been warned.

The Ultimate Sources of African Flava Flavor:

Kate Bomz
A Bombastic Element
Africa is Country

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wake Up and Smell the Diversity

One of my pet peeves about media coverage of Africa, besides its focus on war, poverty and corruption is the absurd generalization of everything from culture to indicators. I just observed a particularly irresponsible example of this phenomenon on the BBC website. In writing about emigration from some African counties to Europe the BBC attempted to present some “ key facts” about the differences in a few indicators of standards of living between Sub-Saharan African and the Eurozone. They did so by placing all Sub-Saharan African countries in the same group. Does it make sense to come up with life expectancy figures for Sub-Saharan Africa when the numbers vary from 63 years from birth in Togo to 45 years in Lesotho (World Bank 2008)? For starting a business it takes 3 days in Rwanda and 213 days in Guinea Bissau (World Bank 2009). Using general statistics for the whole region is less than inaccurate. It's seriously misleading and it works to perpetuate the other negative stereotypes already reported by the media about Africa.

In contrast to the blatant generalizations of the BBC, The Economist magazine's website published a short piece by economist Lant Pritchett as part of a series that asks various development thinkers the question, “Is Africa Poised For Steady, Rapid Growth?” Pritchett's answer is refreshing. He starts by asking “Are mammals cute?” to illustrate the silly over-simplicity of the question. He goes on to say:
Take the 45 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Over 2000-2005 the average growth rate was 2.2%—exactly the global average—but the standard deviation among African countries was 6.1%—much higher than the global variance. This is a terrible aggregate. All knowing that country X is "African" has done for me is increase the variance—I am not sure whether it was growing very fast (as were Sierra Leone and Mozambique) or collapsing (as were Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire).

Talking about "Africa" enjoying steady, rapid growth is dangerous as in the foreseeable future there are likely to be countries with good prospects and countries in various states of disarray. Tagging the good growth countries with the same name as the bad might drag down expectations.

Another attempt to demonstrate economic progress in Africa and distinguish the lions from the laggards is a new book by Steve Radelet called Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries Are Leading the Way published by the Center for Global Development. I haven't read it so I'm not sure if its a fair representation of the economic situation and possibilities for the countries it covers, but regardless its a pragmatic approach to development in Africa. I'd say its worth a look.

Hopefully the media and the general public will soon get the idea that it's unfair an inaccurate to simply make generalizations about Africa. Perhaps the West should stop expecting people to know every detail of its history and culture while making serious generalizations (especially negative ones) about other parts of the world. Instead let's actually make the effort to learn about the diversity in different parts of the world. Especially when it comes to Africa it's time to wake up an smell the differences. Having lived in parts of East, West and now Southern Africa, I can tell you there are plenty of differences among African regions and countries. With information so readily available on the internet there is no longer an excuse for lazy generalizations.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New Country, new chips. And the changing of tenses.

I was reborn in early June of this year into a small village in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. As is the custom, I was given a new name amid clapping, ululations and harmonious songs. I did not however, forget my previous names. Those will be with me forever. This time, my most recent mother christened me Mpho (silent “h”), which means gift in my new Sesotho tongue. I had found another home.

So indeed, my third year of Peace Corps service has begun.

I've found myself in Lesotho, The Kingdom in the Sky. It felt very comforting to be back in the mountains. It had been too long since I felt the strain of my calf muscles after a healthy uphill hike. Even though I was in a foreign land, I felt as though there was a familiar aura about the place. Nothing like being surrounded by jagged peaks. The rock coaxed upwards at dramatic angles.

I'm here to live. I'm here to collaborate. I'm here to learn. I'm here to pry open my mind and pour in the experiences. To take whatever comes my way and utilize it to refine myself. To evolve in a ways I don't even know yet. To receive and to give.

I arrived here in the winter, having neglected to pack a coat. I could see my breath whether I had a roof over my head or not. Frost blanketed the dry grass in the mornings. Gazing into my pit latrine, I watched urine steam on its way into the dark abyss. After taking a bucket bath with heated water my shivering frame also steamed as I scrambled to get dressed. We had gas heaters in our houses. But I wanted to acclimate. I rarely allowed the heater to produce its flames. Anyway, my host family kept warm by burning wood and corncobs. I inhaled vast amounts of think, potent smoke along with them, my eyes red and tearing. It was a gesture of solidarity. Of integration. We called it the Basotho Heater (the people of Lesotho are known as Basotho). The orange glow was soothing.

It was early to bed and early to rise. All the sights and sounds and smells and sensations were fresh and exciting. I was serenaded by the accordion and the vuvuzela. The cows ambled past my house every day. I bounced around in vehicles on roads that snaked through the rocky hills. I sampled every new flavor of chip I could find. My tongue learned new tricks. I strove to master the clicks. And after 10 weeks and countless hurdles, we swore in as volunteers in Lesotho (though I already was a volunteer from the Gambia). A couple of handshakes, a few snapshots, a massive slice of cake. Done deal.

I, like many others, couldn't control the smile on my face when I was awarded my site posting. I envisioned a different experience than the wonderfully rustic life I enjoyed in the Gambia and that's exactly what I got. I landed a gig in Maseru, the capital city. Learning to tie a tie became a priority. Tucking in my shirt, a must. I had to really start acting like I knew what I was talking about. My assignment was with Millenium Challenge Account Lesotho. And there is where I remain. The tense now requires a change.

Lesotho, I am here.


The flight from Johannesburg, South Africa to Maseru, Lesotho was spectacular as the late afternoon sun illuminated the patchwork of farms and rolling hills. All available land was seemingly utilized for crop production, right up the edges of rocky cliffs. The landscape was remarkably open. I wondered where all the trees were. The few I could see hid themselves along waterways and in small patches near villages. We flew on through the tumultuous terrain of the Mountain Kingdom, sailing past numerous villages. I was envious of how close the natural splendor hugged the villages and curious to know about the cultural secrets below.

There was an air of tranquility to the place. Not much activity could be perceived from above. Few cars dotted the few roads. I gazed through the plane window in anticipation of the capital. The mass of houses and buildings that eventually presented itself appeared less bustling than I imagined. What I saw was a sleepy mountain town in the midst of canyons and rivers ablaze with light from the setting sun. A couple of taller buildings marked the downtown area. Polygon houses the color of cement flowed out from there, each with a yard and a toilet.

We landed on the airstrip, on the outskirts of town, surrounded by maizefields. We stepped off the plane and were greeted by our breath in the air.

Lesotho, how do you do?