Why I Blog About Africa

On Globalvoices, Elia translated a meme that is going on in the African francophone blogosphere, a meme that i hope can spread in the English speaking blogs of Afrophiles and Kenyan bloggers.

afrimeme_positive.jpg

So here is the question that Théophile Kouamouo came up with.

Why do you blog about Africa? Do we blog for the diaspora and for the world at large, cut off from our contemporary on the continent? Is blogging about Africa done in the same way as blogging about Europe or Asia? Does the African-oriented blogosphere have something specific to offer to the world version 2.0?

I blog about Africa because it is fascinating, fantastically diverse culturally, beautiful and cool. Like other Kenyans who grew up watching URTNA on the one TV channel (gosh I am old!), I am fascinated by the different types of music from Cameroon (Zangalewa!! eh eh eh – Kibe Zangalewa!), the chilled romantic grooves of Madagascar, Tabu Ley of the country then known as Zaire, Jolie Detta of Congo -even though I thought that was only music for my parents, to my current obsession with Kizomba music from Angola. I really could say more, but i will be brief 🙂 Being an Afrophile is musically, intellectually and artistically very interesting. There is so much to learn! Not only from the past, but also from the present, how we are innovating and reshaping our continent positively. I touched on this awhile back in the post ‘Memes, Markets, Africa’. Without further ado, I tag:

Forota

Sci-Culturist

Mweshi

Rafiq

So why do you blog about Africa?

Ory’s Video on TED.com

crossposted on the Ushahidi blog

Ory Okolloh is not only a blogger, founder of Mzalendo.com, co-founder of Ushahidi and colleague, she is also an inspiration to all of us. Below is the video of her talk at TEDGlobal 2007 – Arusha Tanzania.

The making of an African Activist

Ory, we are sambazaing this whether you want to hide or not 🙂

Odds and Ends – EOY

Odds and Ends
Before i head upcountry and not have much in the way of internet access here are a few observations.

In as much as the country is in the grip of elections with incendiary sms from phone to phone; and tribal tensions appear to be escalating, I noticed that there are messages promoting peace and unity during the elections; in likely places – church, and unlikely, sms messages confirming that a recharge of airtime is successful.

Church – Attended a service where the pastor called for one person from different parts of the country (rift-valley, coast, north eastern, western etc) to come to the front of the church. He also called for people from other parts of Africa and the rest of the world to join in. A lady from the netherlands was present i think… They held hands as he prayed for the country, reminding everyone that even after the elections, we will live together in peace.
SMS – When recharging safaricom airtime, the confirmation text reads something along the lines of
“The recharge is successful.Chagua amani zuia noma (choose peace, avoid violence/disturbance)”

The electoral commission of Kenya has done a good job of running ads promoting voter turnout. other organizatons such as Eric wainaina’s Umoja Pamoja also run ads appealing to young people to vote for young MP’s and progressive leaders.

KJ – John Kiarie is a popular performance artist who decided to get into the political game, running for the Dagoretti parliamentary seat on an ODM ticket. He has a facebook group and a website too. I think his run for parliament shows an interesting Intersection of art, politics and Tech. Many aspirants have websites and facebook groups too, but his is probably most interesting to watch because he is witty and really speaks for young kenyans. With his humour and style he is purported to have said – very rough translation

“Siku ya Kura nataka kusisikia Kiarie! Kiarie! Kiarie!, Mugo and Raila!, Raila!, Raila!, Kibaki” Alluding to the percentage/number of votes for the ODM candidate vs PNU come election day. I think he was courageous to take chance on young people despite the danger to his life (He was hospitalized last month after being attacked by people suspected to have been paid by his rivals)

There are huge billboards everywhere you look, the most numerous being those of President Kibaki in a nice suit, blue background and the words “Kazi iendelee” I have seen a couple ‘Adopt a light’s with ads for Kalonzo. Paper posters are pasted on electricity poles, telephone poles, kiosk doors and even trees. Some have been ripped off and new posters placed, it does not look good 🙁 There is a general feeling of disorganization, which can be felt from the moment you get off the plane. (see Josiah Mugambi’s post, KP’s woes with luggage, and Shashank’s post on parking) things just seem off. Its disconcerting because in June when I was here…I loved how efficiently the luggage was handled, and the CBD was just nice. Once this election is over i hope Nairobi can revert back to the beautiful city it was.

NTV has been posting clips from the news, so for diaspora kenyans wanting to stay in the loop, do check it out. Uploading a video is a tortourous task, so i wont even try.

Happened to watch the new TV channel K24 ‘All Kenyan All the Time’. I liked it alot, the styling for the intro shows Kenyan people in different areas, usual day to day task such as a woman washing clothes, a woman on a boda boda etc. It appears its focus will be on local content (writing this offline so cant check for more info, GIYF though). Jeff Koinange interviewed the Director of Kenya Wildlife Service, Kipngetich about the work he does. Excellent, engaging and more so, quite pertinent. The talked abit about the Amboseli ownership drama, which i have to dig for more info on..there is some ownership dispute i think Director Kipngetich laid out the strategy for KWS; it included focus on people and Ecology. Kipngetich is an impressive guy, and just from talking to a diverse cross section of Kenyans, most of them agree that he is doing an excellent job at KWS – He will probably help KWS reposition itself in a manner that will maximize the tourism dollars and increase growth in that industry.

Thank you for reading my blog – I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season, a stupendous year ahead and…wimax. Santa you hear that?!

*sorry i didn’t include all relevant links. (For NTV just search for tags, kenya, politics, ntv and you should be all set)

Random Post: Out of Tea & Iphone ramblings

Image from forota (one of my favorite photographers, check out his other shots)

Tragedy is…running out of Kenyan tea. What to do? Get some English breakfast tea from the local grocery store and dream of pushing a cart in Nakumatt soon. This diaspora life sucks, especially when the weather becomes surly.

Reasons why I am resisting the urge to get an Iphone
1. In the US it means switching to AT&T. I am happy with T-mobile and I am not switching to a network that has less than stellar coverage (just my opinion, the last time i tried AT&T I was in college and couldn’t get signal around my Uni, which was smack in the middle of the city) An aside, why isn’t there a text message plan or package that includes international text msgs? Gosh its 2007 and didn’t Friedman say the world is flat? Why aren’t service plans getting cheaper in the US? As a consumer I don’t really see much competition in that arena…prices are just about the same across the board and It wouldn’t make much sense to get the Iphone without the data plan anyway.

2. I would want my Iphone unlocked, free and ready to roam to Kenya or any other place in the world with a GSM network…which is pretty much the whole world. I do not shy away from tinkering with phones, but I don’t think I want to brick an expensive bit of tech then go through a 19 step recovery process
. If it was 5 steps sorta like the grief process, I might reconsider…NOT! Even if you sign a contract with AT&T and ask for unlock codes when you are travelling, something that carriers do for you without batting an eye…not happening, not possible, no way Jose, *hapana (not to be confused with the amazing Bryan Habana!).
I think I would be wiling to pay extra to have an Iphone that i could use in any network though.

3. Why buy it when it doesn’t have 3G capability now, and when tested against the RAZR and even the T-mobile sidekick much favored by rappers and a certain Hilton progeny, took forever to open a page in a download race? (To be fair, the comments indicate that it may be faster than reported, but everyone has a reality distortion field around them). Oh as with apple products that are shape shifting, paradigm blasting, fat burning and calorie free there are always rumors. The rumor/confirmed fact masquerading as a rumor is that the Iphone in 2008 will actually have 3G capability and on the horizon the Iphone could even be Wimax capable.

4. The wi-fi capability is nice, but when traveling, good luck finding open networks that wont charge you an arm, a leg and kidney to connect. Special offenders – some airports like O’Hare in Chicago. I do not like paying for wi-fi esp. when its almost 10 bucks for just a few hours. Perhaps i should try Fon again.

Via 69Mb:The Iphone is Kenya bound in November apparently, which network will it be chained to and how much will the data plan for that be? Not clear from the BDAfrica article, probably in the 5000Ksh range like the Blackberries? Carrier specific phones are not a good idea in Kenya, I enjoyed the freedom to pick which carrier i would go with depending on their rates, and I think the Kenyan consumers and all consumers for that matter need to be able to make the best choice of data plans regardless of the hardware.

All this…and i still ogle at the thing each time I see it! Ok, that is the end of my little screed for today.

Btw, Liz Henry is tweeting the ‘She’s Geeky’ UnConference.

DMKW – Diary of a Mad Kenyan Woman is back!!!!!!!!

Blogged with Flock

Of Interest to Diaspora

MONEY
Last week i happened to catch a great report on NPR about Latin American immigrants preferring to move to Spain instead of the US. Why? Because…

Experts say one of the main reasons is the emergence of an entire industry of financial services catering to immigrants.

Ecuadorians are the biggest group of Latin Americans in Spain. And in Madrid and Barcelona, there are shops where they can pay for appliances and have them delivered to an address in Ecuador. One company is test-marketing ATMs that allow users to pay for grocery purchases, medical treatment or cell phones in Ecuador.

Lucia Jimenez recently visited a branch of Mundocredit, an immigrant bank set up by one of Spain’s largest banks. It offers no-commission money transfers and the option of getting a mortgage in Spain for a home in Latin America.

Jimenez said that she is thinking about getting life insurance that she can eventually take back to her native country, Paraguay.

I found this very instructive to Diaspora because remittances to developing countries are constituting a growing percentage of GDP, as evidenced by figures from around the world. Specifically about kenya, from Next billion, some stats

Kenyans in the diaspora are contributing an equivalent of 3.8 per cent of national income through remittances.

In the year 2004, for instance, Kenyans living and working abroad remitted about Ksh35 billion ($464 million), which overshadows the net foreign direct investment (FDI) of Ksh3.6 billion ($50.4 million), which accounted for 0.41 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Point is, there is an opportunity to cater for immigrants in the financial services like the Spanish government is doing for the Ecuadorian immigrants. Its a powerful incentive to bank with a specific bank over another if a line of credit specifically for investment in one’s home country, and portable life insurance is available. There are myriad financial products for sending money but i am not aware of similar products for purchase of homes, cars etc in one’s home country. I have heard of people accessing the equity in their houses and using that to purchase homes in Kenya. I am not a finance wonk, but would appreciate input from those in the know.

COMMUNICATION
mama mikes
As noted by KP, Mama Mikes is running a campaign where you send airtime for $2.49 to Celtel, Safaricom and Telkom Wireless too. You can also pay for an electricity bill right on the website. It cost $9.99 – Decent price in my opinion.

CIVIC PARTICIPATION
If you aren’t checking mzalendo.com for information regarding your constituency, i am tempted to call you a bootleg Kenyan. I am just kidding of course, but seriously, there is lots of information there to stay informed even if you are miles away.

The Kenya Community Abroad issued a press release regarding the issue of Dual Citizenship and absentee voting, which you can read more about here. The world as we know (sorry to extend the much used cliche’) is increasingly flat. Dual citizenship and absentee voting IMO would be beneficial if not integral to Kenya. The inflow of remittance shouldn’t be the only welcome development, civic participation should be too. Mid last year I do recall Kalonzo Musyoka saying that if he were to become president of Kenya, that he would pass a presidential decree to allow for Dual citizenship. He even joked that if the Artur’s had Kenyan passports in addition to their Armenian ones, then really, isn’t it about time Kenyans got dual citizenship?

MUSIC, BOOKS AND ART.
There are still concerts happening around the US by African musicians, you can check if there is one near your city here. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is touring in September and Hugh Masekela’s remaining dates are:
Aug 31 2007 Tanglewood Festival, Lennox, Massachusetts
Sep 1 2007 Planet Arlington Festival, Arlington, Virginia
Sep 2 2007 African Festival of the Arts, Chicago, Illinois

Chris Abani, whose TED Talk is posted and highlighted by Hash, has several upcoming events in NY, Chicago, Vegas, DC, Minneapolis, Vermont, Miami etc. Check here if there is an event near you. I am hoping to read one of his books before i go for one of his events. His talk was very powerful. I recall just being transfixed by him when i listened to him in Arusha and again online. Particularly the part where he says that we as Africans need to explore what it really means to be African. I am simplifying a bit, but what i got from his talk is that we Africans also need to read our own literature in our exploration of who we are. I recall a post by David Seruyange about how some, if not most of us are mashups (David Seruyange has moved websites btw, so if you are a fan of his writing like I am, this is his new home), there is so much competing for our attention, but i think in order to be fully African (if there is such a thing) African arts, books and music help reconnect your being to that which is immutably you.

Move over Lion King! The Invincible Lions are the new game in town (scratch that…jungle).
Invincible Lions by Pictoon
Some great animations from Africa, click here for a post by Mweshi, highlighting some cool ones in the pipeline. I can’t wait to see these!

Brain Drain – Reverse! Reverse!

Sorry if you thought this was a new dancing fad like the cha cha slide (video)
This is my little corny way of passing along information about a recruitment initiative which brings together internationally oriented African graduates and professionals who are seeking careers in Africa with multinational corporations, intergovernmental organizations and leading African companies.

Date: November 16-18th 2007
Place: Houston Texas
More Info: Global Career Company It is invitation only event so you would need to apply online first.

Companies confirmed to attend the Summit include: Anglo Platinum, Barloworld, Chevron, Coca-Cola SABCO, Cisco, Eskom, Heineken, Intercontinental Bank, Lafarge, OPS, Orascom, SAB, Shell, Toyota and United Bank for Africa. Available career opportunities range from entry-level graduate openings to senior management appointments and cover a variety of functions.

VFT, Toumani Diabate and Diaspora World Music Tour Dates.

Yesterday i was very fortunate to attend a concert by Vieux Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate’s symmetric Orchestra. They were performing at the Frank Gehry designed Pritzker pavilion in Chicago, as part of the music without borders series.

Vieux Farka Toure is the son of Ali Farka Toure, famed Malian musician who passed away last year. We were all sad to hear of his passing; Jke had a tribute to AFT. Malian music, especially the likes of AFT and Toumani diabate have always left an indelible impression to most who’ve heard it. It definitely did for me in 2005 when i wrote this post.
As the universe works in wonderful ways…Vieux Farka Toure is carrying on the legacy of his father’s desert blues without missing a beat.

I arrived a little late to the concert so i missed about half of Vieux’s set, though from the 3 songs i heard, the man is indeed a sensation. The blues rag says of him… “Mali has a new guitar god, and his name is Vieux Farka Toure”. I quite agree. Listening to him play was special. He is hyper skilled on guitar. That is the simplest way i can put it without resorting to phrases like “Oh my god he was. like. totally. amazing!”.

Click on the image below for the set of photographs i took. I also twittered it a bit.

VFT in Chicago

VFT Album

Toumani Diabate is a grammy award winning Kora player whose discography you can browse on Afropop.
He is the gentleman with the Kora in this picture.
Toumani Diabate and Symmetric Orchestra
He had reunited with Ali Farka Toure before AFT passed away and had played together in the highly acclaimed CD ‘In the Heart of the Moon’.
He took a break during the performance and explained that he is from 71 generations of griots He also pointed out the Kora, which is a 21 string instrument, made of fishing wire, calabash and antelope skin. He played with 4 Chicago jazz musicians, melding the polyphonic sounds with the jazzy in such a beautiful mashup. Its a shame the concert wasn’t streamed, it was probably recorded though, so it might show up on the world music circuit soon. I was rapt in the music the whole time, it was very cool.
Music to share (For a limited time – I will take them down in a week):
Toumani
Boulevard De’ Independance

Very short Video clip:
Lead singer of Symmetric orchestra gracefully entering the stage

The remaining tour dates for Vieux:
Jul 15 2007 Old Town School Folk Music Fest, Chicago, Illinois
Jul 16 2007 TRAVEL to CA/ Villa Montalvo, Saratoga, California
Jul 18 2007 Nuits d’Afrique Festival, Montreal, Quebec
Jul 19 2007 Grassroots Festival, Trumansburg, New York
Jul 20 2007 Institute of the Arts, Detroit, Michigan
Jul 21 2007 W. Kortwright Center, E. Meredith, New York
Jul 23 2007 Newport Towers, Jersey City, New Jersey
Jul 24 2007 Grace Building, New York, New York
Jul 25 2007 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
Jul 26 2007 Strand Theater, Rockland, Maine
Jul 29 2007 Hillside Festival , Guelph, Ontario
Aug 3 2007 Providence Parks, Providence, Rhode Island
Aug 9 2007 Skirball Center, Los Angeles, California
Aug 10 2007 Grand Performances, Los Angeles, California
Aug 10 2007 Temple Bar, Los Angeles, California
Aug 11 2007 TRAVEL to Canada/Edmonton Folk Festival, Edmonton, Alberta
Aug 12 2007 Edmonton Folk Festival, Edmonton, Alberta
Aug 18 2007 ONE WORLD InnerNational Music Celebration, Horseshoe, North Carolina

Remaining tour dates for Toumani Diabate
Jul 14 2007 8:00P Vancouver Folk Festival, Vancouver
Jul 15 2007 8:00P World Festival, Grass Valley, California
Jul 16 2007 8:00P Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga, California
Jul 18 2007 8:00P Hudson Festival, New York, New York
Jul 19 2007 8:00P BAM Festival, New York, New York
Jul 20 2007 8:00P New Mexico Jazz Festival, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Jul 21 2007 8:00P New Mexico Jazz Festival, Albuquerque, New Mexico

For other african artists touring please click here. (Thanks Mweshi for the link).

The African renaissance has a soundtrack playing globally. Enjoy!

Mama Mikes’ Segeni Ngethe

The founder of Mama Mikes will be speaking shortly, a few links to get acclimatized to the energy whirlwind that is Segeni.

1. KP’s interview of Segeni about challenges faced by young entrepreneurs in Kenya.

2. Cool You tube ad of Mama mikes

** He just started with the ad, he mentioned that in his company, the idea is to have fun doing what you love, and that is what they continue to do.

KT Travel Tips

This is a follow up post on the one tip i posted, others in the diaspora contributed some useful tips for traveling to Kenya and Africa in general. (Thank you!) This post is to meant to highlight their contributions.
Lets start with the obvious: Make sure your passport hasn’t expired. Contact the Kenya Embassy, there are 3 locations, DC, LA and NY. A family member went to the NY office, where the staff was courteous and expedient in providing them with the travel documents they needed! This is unlike the passport blues of last year in DC. Way to go guys!

If you will be going through Britain, Magaidi has a tip for you:

…for those transiting through London, you might want to call the British Consulate, moreso for those changing Airports (eg. Flying into Heathrow and departing from Gatwick) in order to get a temporary VISA. This could save you inconveniences and delays once you get there.

MONEY

Credit cards and cash? Input on this came from several bloggers. Ssembonge said

Amex is only accepted in the US and in establishments worldwide that cater for business travelers. In the US, some places donâ??t accept Amex.
If going to Kenya carry cash, which can be easily exchanged at the numerous bureaus. You get a better deal in downtown than in tourist hotel and banks. If you have a huge amount you can negotiate the exchange rate up front if you convert it all at once. Since many establishments accept Visa/MC, I usually end up returning with my dollars.

EGM added –

The one thing about using cards is the length of time it takes to process transactions. As late as October this year I saw a payment I made at Java way back in January get posted. Most of the transactions were posted within a week of making them, but about 5 or so took almost 5 months on average to post. So this time I will try and use cash everywhere, resorting to the card only as a last option.

Kikuyu Moja representing Deutschland and ‘Old World’ KT’s chimed in regarding credit cards that have worked just fine…

…my Maestro debit card and Master Card work perfectly well with Barclays.

E-Nyce (could you kindly give me a link to your blog?) – pointed out a very handy tip that Kudrinketh shared over on Bankelele’s . The handy tip from Kudrinketh is:

For all diaspora investors who will be sending tons of money home for IPO investment,i have a money saving tip.DO NOT USE MONEYGRAM OR WESTERN UNION.

I have been preaching this for years yet people still burn money through these sharks.here’s how you send money home for free,with the best rate.Bank of America(BOA) and Barclays bank have an agreement whereby one can use either bank’s ATM for free.so what i do is open a BOA acct in U.S,send the debit card home and whenever i want to send money i simply deposit money in my BOA acct and instruct the recipient to withdraw cash from Barclays ATM.No fees,you get market exchange rates,no hassle,you can get money 24/7.I have been doing this since 1998 and i can say I’ve saved a ton of money

Another money saving tip,y’all know how most banks charge foreign transaction(2-3%) fees when you use your credit card when you travel abroad.well,Capital One credit card waives this fee so you can swipe you card anywhere in the world without extra penalty.

And from Whispering Inn:

Carry only two cards â?? one debit card for cash and one credit card for purchases. Leave all your other cards behind.

The best option, though, is to open a separate checking account with your bank, transfer a maximum of $1,500 (or however much youâ??re gonna need for the entire trip) into the account, get one of those debit cards that also function as a credit card attached to it, and carry/use ONLY that one card during your travel. Its safer and easier to keep track of your spending. Leave all your other cards behind.

Iâ??ve also found American Express TCs (Travellers Cheques) to be very convenient.

Write and keep the phone numbers of your bank, VISA/MC, and Amex in a separate pocket from your wallet â?? in case you lose your wallet.

Keep receipts of all transactions and pore over your statement when you return or online everyday if you have a secure computer. Easier to catch unauthorized transactions.

Iâ??ve found Barclays bank foreign currency counter at Queensway branch the most helpful.

He also added that if you travel to kenya more than twice a year, just keep an account there and use cash from it when there. I second his recommendation to use Barclays, the service i received was pretty good.

PHONES & ACCESORIES

From Ntwiga are two awesome tips, he has a splitter for his laptop btw, that’s another tip you can check out over at his blog.

– sign up for Skype/Vonage or some other internet service for $10-19 or so a month with a new number and forward your calls from your regular number to your new internet service number. Get a head set with a mike and you can then use any PC in Kenya to make calls to the US/rest of the world for free or stupidly low rates. I used this service to call my credit card companyâ??s 800 number for free when they decided to freeze my account.

– buy a cheap used 900Mhz GSM phone like a Nokia 6100/6610 on eBay, take it with you and use it there. Good phones are expensive in Kenya. For comparison purposes, a 6610/6100 costs maybe $40 (Kshs 3500) on ebay vs. $110 (Kshs 8500) in Kenya. A â??crackberryâ? 7100 costs $80 on eBay (Kshs 7000) vs. atleast $250 (Kshs 18000) in Kenya. You can use the phone to check email, blog or even hook up a laptop to the net via GPRS.

For how to connect to the internet using GPRS, we hop on over back to Kikuyu Moja’s post on this.

In order to use GPRS with Safaricom, all you have to do (as a prepaid customer!!!) is to send an empty short message (SMS) to 4777. Thatâ??s it!
They will then shortly afterwards send you a confirmation sms and the settings for your GPRS capable (!) phone which you will be asked to save and activate using the following PIN: â??1234â??. Simple as that.

If the settings canâ??t be received for whatever reason, but your phone is able to do GPRS, then try the following settings for Safaricom:

APN: safaricom
username: saf
password: data

Do check his site for more on GPRS in Kenya. What i can add for US KT’s – when looking for the data cable that you will need to use with your Quad band/GSM capable phone, buy it from ebay or amazon.com. Radioshack and Best buy are packaging the cable with software and inflating the price, you could have gotten it for $12 but with the software bundl its now $50.

From E-Nyce:

– do not buy power adapters (plastic thingies that allow US cords to plug into Kenyan sockets) in the US – even assuming you can easily find them, theyâ??re cheaper in Kenya! Although JKE aka kikuyumoja might have better perspective on the quality of these. They work fine for me. YMMVâ?¦

I second this, the one i took last year burnt out in no time (Jensen), found a decently priced one at walmart $20 for Travelwise international converter set. Lets see if it holds up.

MISC

E-Nyce again 🙂

– wanna buy inexpensive gifts for the folks in the Motherland? Go to Walmart if you have â??em, or better a 99-cents store, to stock up on plenty of low-cost goodies.

– if youâ??re taking a laptop, load up as much music as you can on it. Not only good to have some comfort-food for yourself, others will be interested in hearing different music. Believe-it-or-not, I got so many Kenyan friends hooked on Trip-Hop and Nu-Soul, sounds they had never heard before. Funny, considering that these genres are heavily influenced by African rhythms.

I think that’s all for now, for those in the US, if you have Time Warner Cable and get BET Jams, saturday nights starting at 11:00PM eastern, you can watch great African videos, from the Soweto Gospel choir, Fela Kuti, Lingala and more. The program is called Soul Of Africa – Cool stuff.