Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lira @ Lesotho Jazz (Sharp, Sharp)

South African singer Lira is coming to Lesotho on the 26th just in time for my parents to check out. The fashionable singer exudes positive vibes so I'm really excited to see her live. In the meantime all I have is her video "Ixesha" (which has a fun click on the "x"). Lira's green dress in the video is also quite magical. Enjoy.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wordle: Afro-Photo Style

Having come across a few word visualizations in the past few months that were pleasing to the eye, I enjoyed their aesthetics without knowing where they came from. Well this morning I finally found the coded source of their beauty. The website is called Wordle and it takes blocks of text and transforms them into statistics-driven artwork. Users of the site input the text and Wordle generates a image made of colored words in which words that appear more often in the user's inputted text are displayed as larger in the visualization.

Wordle looked simple and fun so I decided to give it a try. The three images below were randomly generated by Wordle's software based on the text from my previous 20 posts on Afro-Photo There are even ways to customize the shape and color of the visualizations. Go play around with it, it's quite fun. And click on any of the images below to see them enlarged.

Wordle: Afro-Photo
Wordle: afro-photo2
Wordle: afro-photp3

Wordle is a fun and statistically sound way of gauging the content of this website. According to the visualizations the most common words are:

-South (Africa)

Of course it's not a perfect tool to discover the main themes of a given source, but because more common words will dominate the images and reoccurring themes do produce words that are employed more often, Wordle doesn't deviate much from the truth. Examining the words listed above, all of them have, in some capacity, been representative of my writing over the last couple of months.

Wordle is part of a growing trend in which statistics and data are presented in more appealing and creative ways. Whether to allow obscure data to appeal to wider audiences or to push the boundaries of information expression, this is a trend that is really picking up momentum. There is actually a TED talk on the same subject. Truly data can be beautiful.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Maseru: Night and Day + Urban Africa

Two different photos of Maseru that I took, one during the day and another at night.
Maseru is a modest capital city, quite similar in population (~250,000) to my own home town of Madison, the capital of the Wisconsin. The population is set to grow substantially in coming years as laborers and families move to the city in search of work.

The chart below comes from The Economist's Daily Chart blog with data from ac recent UN Habitat report called The State of African Cities 2010. Maseru, unfortunately is not depicted in the chart. Even more unfortunate, is that upon examining the UN report, I found that growth figures for Maseru were not listed, perhaps because they were not available (The Gambia was not listed either). Too bad, because I wanted to compare Maseru to the other major African cities in terms of % of population growth from 2010 to 2025. There are, however, statistics for Maseru's access to clean water, electricity and sanitation services as well as the percentage of the urban population that lives in slums. In these areas Maseru fares rather well. With survey data from 2004, the report claims Maseru has 98.1% access to improved water, 74.7% access to improved sanitation and 33.1% access to electricity. This is compared with 82.8%, 48.8%, 28.8 respectively in fellow southern African city Maputo, Mozambique (it should be noted that Mozambique was slightly distracted with civil war from 1977-1992, though it has reemerged on the scene in recent years as an economic powerhouse). As for slums, only 35.1% of Lesotho urban-dwellers live in slums in 2005 compared with 79.5% in Mozambique and 94.1% in Central African Republic.

Another metric of urban living is the gini coeffcient, which measures income inequality. Using this metric, 0 is considered perfectly equal and 1 is considered perfectly unequal. Lower scores are thus more desirable as they represent greater equality than high scores. Lesotho's gini coefficient is not quite as impressive as it's other stats. Maseru has a recorded score of .58, though this data is rather outdated (1993). Other notable sub-Saharan African urban gini's are Johannesburg, SA with a painful .75, Lagos, Nigeria with a sad .64 and Dakar, Senegal with a less unimpressive .37.

Also on the topic of urban Africa, the website African Digital Art had a nice post showcasing photography from African cities.

Aaaand the South African literary magazine Chimurenga in partnership with the African Centre for Cities has published a collection of prose from African authors about their home towns which is called the African Cities Reader, an elegantly designed publication that I'm lucky enough to own a copy of. It's a publication that comes highly recommended, but if you are too impatient or too broke to purchase the reader, lucky you, the editors of the African Cities Reader were magnanimous enough to host it free of charge in pdf format here.

All hail the African city!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sharp, Sharp! African Video Sunday #7

After this I can say I've covered mainstream South African house pretty well here. First we have the duo Liquideep with the video for "Fairytale" featuring the South African entertainment star Nonhle Thema. I have fond memories watching Nonhle years ago when she was a star VJ on the O channel and I was a simple student at the University of Dar es Salaam. So the video reminds me of the days when she wasn't so self absorbed. It's a modern day, South African Cinderella story.

Second, I wish to share the humorously strange Zakes Bantwini's new hit song "Bum Bum". Zakes has been part of the house music scene for awhile and is known for being an innovator. He continues the trend in this video with a little cross-dressing. Show me your bum bum. I wanna see that bum bum.

I'll be in the village for the next week so no posts 'til next weekend. Should be a nice opportunity to get some photos. Khotso.

Lesotho Panoramas

There is a tumblr site I follow called theafricatheynevershowyou (The Africa They Never Show You) which posts a huge number of images and stories from African countries that challenge the common, lazy misconceptions of Africa as poverty, corruption, disease-ridden/a safari of lions and zebras. The misconceptions exist because in a few places, to some degree, those things are occurring, but they don't even come close to being an accurate depiction of a continent with 53 (perhaps soon to be 54) countries and 1 billion+ people who speak 1,000+ languages.

In the spirit of theafricatheynevershowyou I want to share a few panoramic images of the Lesotho landscape that I took, which demonstrate the unique mountain terrain of a country that rarely makes international news. Each of these panoramas contains 4-10 images that were merged together using a great open source photo stitching program called Hugin. The software allows you to connect the individual photos together using overlapping points that neighboring images both share. It even adjusts the lighting to be a perfect match. Wiki-what!

Since the images are quite wide, if you want to see the larger size of any of the images, I suggest you click on them so they appear in their own window or tab.

Behold the splendor of the Mountain Kingdom...

The photographs above were taken at Ha Baroana, Metolong, Polateng and Semonkong.
All images are copyright of Zachary Elias Rosen

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Google Lesotho

As part of their mission to have greater engagement with African audiences from different countries, Google has begun translating their website into African languages. The Lesotho page was recently offered in Zulu, I guess by proximity to South Africa, but there aren't many Zulu speakers here that I know of. I wondered if Sesotho, the language of nearly all Basotho (the Lesotho people), would be offered or if it is in fact too obscure for Google to care.

This morning however, when I opened up my browser, I was presented with Sesotho as the default language of A pleasant surprise indeed. Not being a fluent Sesotho speaker quiet yet, I quickly reverted back to English, but it was a relief to see that native Sesotho speakers and anyone else with an interest in the "Mountain Kingdom" could click on the "I'm feeling lucky" bar in language they feel comfortable with. In this case it says KE IKUTLWA KE LE LEHLOHONOLO. Ngugi wa Thiongo would be so proud. Now we just need more Sesotho language content on the web. And I'm still waiting for Google The Gambia to be in Mandinka. But perhaps it might not be so far-fetched anymore.

Friday, December 3, 2010

If this country burns...

My Google reader feed provided me with this gem earlier in the week. It's a video made by a Kenyan group called Kuweni Serious exhorting young people in Kenya to demand a more just, prosperous and peaceful society from their leaders. And to take responsibility as part of the movement that can bring about that change. From the group's website:
It is perhaps only when our country was set on fire that we began to see how deeply politics affects us. A few months later, we were paying hitherto-unheard-of prices for fuel, there was water rationing, and power rationing, and then food started to run out. Only then did many more of us realize that we can’t hide forever in the company of the Lil’ Wayne’s and Prison Breaks of this world. Perhaps it is only when our comfort zones were threatened that we realized that our leaders, our “Honorables” are self-obsessed, thieving, murderous idiots. Honorables, indeed.

And so we at Kuweni Serious – we’re a bunch of kids ourselves – have decided to go out there and find out: how do Kenya’s youth feel about all the chaos around us? Are we proud to be Kenyan or are we secretly wishing we could get green cards and disappear forever? Where shall we raise our own kids? Are we happy?

We intend to seek out all the young people out there who are trying to make sense of all this, the youth groups, the activists, the people who read the news and get so annoyed that they write angry status updates on Facebook, the students, the guys and girls who’ve just landed their first job and have been hit hard by the realities of the economy. We want your opinions, we want your stories. We don’t know what we’ll find, we might step on a few toes, but we’ll do our best.

The fires Kuweni Serious are referring to are the riots that took place in Kenya following their presidential elections in December 2007. Hundreds or people lost their lives in the chaos. But for what? I like how this video suggests how powerful people can be when they are informed and motivated, demanding truth and opportunity from their leaders.

The metaphor presented it that of a house. A renter doesn't have to care too much about the condition of a house. Eventually they will find another one. But the owner of a house must be invested in the house's future, as their own livelihood is tied to the house's condition. In this way, Kenyan's have their nation to care for. They are owners, not renters, there is no other Kenya to go to if their society crumbles. The same goes for Gambians, Tanzanians, American and the people of every country.

My favorite line from the video (actually the whole thing is amazing, but here's one):
It is not Obama's job to save this country. It is not the donors job. and the government has shown it's not their job either. Responsibility is not shared, it is earned. Freedom isn't given, it is taken. When we decide we want freedom, we will have to get it ourselves.

The video shows simple slow-motion shots of real Kenyans, Kenyans of different ethnic groups and different races. It was nice to see the recognition of Indian-Kenyans in the video as they too have played an important role in achieving independence for the country as well as economic growth. It is the same sentiment as that expressed by the novel Petals of Blood by legendary Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiongo. This show of diversity challenges our misconceptions and forces us to wake up to the realities of demographics and humanity.

This is truly a powerful video of exceptional quality. I look forward to seeing the future projects of Kuweni Serious and learning about how much of an impact their messages are having on Kenyan youth. I want to see this type of media coming from every country in the world, particularly those that have struggled with governance.

Knowledge is power. Strength in numbers.

The Kuweni Serious video reminds me of another video by Kenyan music group Just a Band that shares the same spirit of youth uprising with references to the post election violence of 2007-2008. The song happens to be damn catchy as well.