Friday, June 8, 2012

Wisconsin Recall Night

Below are photos I took at the state capitol in Madison during Wisconsin's historic June 5th Recall Election. (Click on any photo to view as a slideshow.)

A journalist reports on early election results as a crowd forms at the capitol square in downtown Madison.

The mood was somber as initial results suggested Governor Scott Walker had defeated his challenger Tom barrett. Yet, as more results were released from urban areas, the race got closer and the spirits of the crowd became fierce hopeful  

Eventually however, it became clear that Walker had indeed won the election and kept his job. The crowd  then became increasingly angry and confrontational. Pro-Walker supports appeared at the gathering to taunt the crowd. Police had to step into to prevent physical quarrels.

A series of impassioned speakers took to the capitol steps to motivate the anti-Walker crowd for the next phase of the battle over worker rights.

Some protestors went as far as calling for a general strike and even revolution against a failed political system supported by corporate money, much of which has come from outside the state.

By the end of the night a massive protest failed to materialize and the gathering devolved into further squabbles with the Walker supporters. With hugely divergent perspectives moves arguments ended with an agreement to disagree. The state remains hugely polarized.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Lesotho Votes

Student at Katse High School Salute the Lesotho National Flag during the singing of the national anthem.

Yesterday, voters in Lesotho cast their ballots to determine who should lead the country. To prepare for the elections I wrote a piece about local vs foreign constituents that was published on Africa is a Country. On Sahel Blog my story was featured and quoted as part of the Africa Blog Roundup. 

Below I will reproduce the text of the article. 

Perched high above South Africa, Lesotho usually does not receive much international media attention. The little coverage it does garner often assumes readers are completely ignorant and takes great pains to emphasize dismal statistics about rates of HIV/AIDS and poverty. Of course since the last time you heard a story about Lesotho, you’ve surely forgotten how dire it is and must be reminded. In embodying banal, perfunctory reporting, some articles about Lesotho have tried to draw readers in by focusing on the recent visit to the country by the illustrious Archbishop Desmond Tutu, while others have stressed the risk of political violence during and after today’s elections. The Economist deserves special recognition for going to print with the wrong name for the political party of the incumbent Prime Minister. Kind of makes you question their expertise in intelligence. Overall, few articles have attempted to move beyond superficialities and actually delve into the complexities of the local political atmosphere and the implications of the election outcome.

Lesotho politics has been far from mundane as of late. In February of this year, the Prime Minister of Lesotho, Pakalitha Mosisili, formed a new political party called the Democratic Congress (DC), taking most members of parliament with him. With the formation of this new party, Mosisili effectively broke away from the party he had led for 15 years, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). In his stead, former Minister of Communications, Mothetjoa Metsing, has taken the reins of the LCD. A third major party, the All Basotho Convention (ABC), is another breakaway from the LCD led by veteran politician Tom Thabane. Following their break from LCD, the DC party’s new logo was originally to be a cross, however such allegory upset local religious groups and DC leaders eventually adopted the three-legged cooking pot instead. Further controversy was stoked when the DC party was accused of holding campaign materials owned by the LCD in 19 constituencies across the country including the capital city, Maseru and other urban areas. Lesotho’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) responded with a one-week campaign ban for the DC in the 19 offending constituencies, an order that the DC party flat out ignored without consequence.

Despite the controversies, this year’s National Assembly contest has been marked by massive voter engagement with an especially strong showing for young and first time voters. Rallies, famo music performances and to a lesser extent, social media, have been used to generate support for parties and candidates. Key issues that affect the majority of Basotho include: employment, agricultural investment, union wage negotiations, access to education and labor mobility to and from South Africa. Because no party wants to resort to forming a coalition government with their rivals, competition for voters’ allegiance has been rather intense.

While each party is representing itself as the one that can best be trusted by Basotho factory workers, farmers, civil servants and students, it’s evident that other, more clandestine constituents are being courted as well. The incumbent Prime Minister Mosisili in particular has realized the value of partnerships with foreign investors, especially South Africans and Chinese. Kenny Kunene, South Africa’s infamous “Sushi King” (who also invests in mining) has reportedly been a contributor to Mosisili’s political campaign at a time when Lesotho’s diamond mines are exhuming some of the largest stones in the world. Lesotho’s mountainous highlands have long been of strategic interest to the South African government as well, with giant dams supplying essential water to the Johannesburg area for domestic and industrial use. Chinese investors, who operate many of Lesotho’s textile factories, have benefited from being able to keep wages low on Mosisili’s watch, to the vexation of Basotho factory workers. Chinese contractors have been busy with projects across Maseru. Notably, the recently opened Ying Tao restaurant in one of Lesotho’s nicer hotels, the Lesotho Sun, has quickly become a popular meeting place for Basotho elite and Chinese businessmen.

Back outside, in the hills of Lesotho’s countryside, the image of the country’s trademark woven hat, emblazoned on waving cloth of blue white and green has kept watch over the massive campaign rallies of the political parties. At each boisterous event, homage is paid to this conical woven hat and the proud statehood it represents, during the singing of Lesotho’s national anthem, “Lesotho fatse la bontata rona”.

During the first verse of the anthem, the crowds sing with great harmony, that theirs is a country more beautiful than the others, a country to be loved. There is an allusion to the country as a body that gives birth to and nurtures its children. Yet, a question remains – after the elections, which children are to prosper most from the country’s nourishment?

Sesotho: Lesotho fatse la bontat’a rona,
Har’a mafatse le letle ke lona.
Ke moo re hlahileng,
Ke moo re holileng,
Rea le rata.

Lesotho, land of our Fathers,
You are the most beautiful country of all.
You gave us birth, In you we are reared
You are dear to us.

Friday, March 16, 2012

My Photos Featured on Africa is a Country

Yesterday I was honored to have the opportunity to help the excellent media blog Africa is a Country inaugurate a new photographic feature on their website. The new weekly feature allows selected photographers with content from African countries to choose and describe their five favorite images that they've taken. It was important to me to choose images with depth that represent more than bare aesthetics and so I agonized over the perfect five. Here is how I described the theme of my images:

In my photographic work I seek to document social transformation. My images depict the intersection of various influences on people and their environments; the traditional; the contemporary; the local; and the foreign. I document how the creative amalgamation of those influences produces new social contexts that are each unique. As active participants in what could be called social remixing, the subjects of my images challenge assumptions of static, shallow, generalized culture.

In the end my five photos were these:

Go to to read background information on each image. And of course visit to see even more of my photographs from West and Southern Africa.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Signs of Protest

Indeed, this is what democracy looks like. On Saturday March 10th 2012, a rally was held at the Wisconsin State capitol in downtown Madison to mark one year since a state bill was passed by the administration of Governor Scott Walker that limited the collective bargaining rights of state workers. Citizens of all demographics came out en masse for the peaceful rally to demonstrate their disgust with Walkers arrogance in promoting divisive policies that favor corporate executives and leave school teachers high and dry.

I biked down to the protest with multiple aims:
To share my discontent for the dubious direction Walker had taken my home state.
To make up for the missing the historic Madison protests of 2011 while I was in Lesotho.
To support my parents who are both educators that saw their benefits cut as a result of Walker's policies
And to take photos of more incredible history in the making.

It has been depressing to observe Wisconsin's economic decline over the last few years, but I was proud of what I witnessed at the protest as I clicked my shutter. I hope that since the recent effort to recall Governor Walker garnered over 1 million signatures change is in the air and Wisconsin will soon move forward once again.

At least 35,000 people protested at the State Capitol on Saturday, though some reports put the figure at more than 60,000. Below are some of my photos from the event, with special attention paid the creative signs that were thrust in the air along with clenched fists in a sea of dissent. I'm usually quite selective when sharing my images, but here I figure, the more the merrier.

Click on any photo to enter slideshow mode.

The lone Walker supporter, who spent most of the day standing in the shadows of much larger anti-Walker signs.

All photographs copyright of Zachary Rosen 2012