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Category Archives: Sub Saharan Africa

(Some) African kids changing the world

1) Kelvin Doe

Kelvin Doe is my hero and the most inspiring person on the planet in my book. He’s only 15 but recently became the youngest person EVER to be invited to MIT’s ‘Visiting Practitioner Programme’. His claim to fame? His incredible ability to turn trash into batteries, generators and even radio transmitters. Completely self-taught, he has used these skills to create a community empowerment radio station, which he runs as “DJ Focus”. But despite his genius he is incredibly down to earth, humble and the sort of person we should all aspire to be. Be warned, this video is the most motivating and heart-warming I’ve ever seen, tissues will be required!

2) Richard Turere

A 13 year old Maasai herdsman from Kenya was losing his family’s livestock to lions from the nearby Nairobi National Park. Rather than trying to kill the lions, like most people in his community felt forced to do, he used incredible resourcefulness to invent a solar powered lighting system that now protects the cattle from his own and several other villages.  By providing a different way of protecting the cattle, he has also done a lot to help the lions.  By safeguarding human lives, protecting livelihoods and building harmony with the natural environment, Richard shows us how little it takes to come up with completely new solutions when we truly pay attention to local circumstances.

3) Nadege Iradukunda

Nadege is an 18 year old Rwandan who is dramatically reducing the cost of running schools by setting up bio-digester plants. A bio-digester plant uses natural biological processes to converts food waste into energy! The plants help schools in Rwanda not only to reduce their environmental impact but also to save on heating and lighting costs by as much as 40%.  This in turn makes education much more affordable and accessible to more Rwandan children. Since the inception of the project she has overseen the deployment of 15 bio-digester plants, serving more than 15000 students.

4) Ludwick Marishane

This 17 year old South African is no stranger to invention, and when in Grade 9 (12 years old) he even invented his own bio-fuel! The invention featured below is called Dry-Bath and is a way to properly cleanse your body without using any water. Ludwick says he specifically invented this for the millions of people across the world who don’t have enough access to clean water, and so help with the prevention of diseases such as Trachoma. Beyond this though, he sees this particular invention as a way to save water, protecting and preserving this scarce resource.

5) Laetitia Mukungu

Laetitia (18) founded and steered to success the Women’s Rabbit Association of Kenya. After a volunteer teaching stint she realised that the biggest impediment to quality education was a lack of funds at home, which impacted on the schools’ resources and even affected their ability to provide uniforms and stationery. She decided she needed to start an income generating project and decided on rabbit breeding! Watch this to find out why she chose rabbits, as well as how 15 families have been transformed by this one inspiring individual.

6) Miriam Nsekonziza and Precious Nyabami

Having only very recently been announced as the winners of a regional science, technology, engineering and mathematics competition (March 2013) little information is currently available on these two 17 year old’s achievements. What is known is that their study can be considered, in the inventors own words, ‘as a major breakthrough in the wake of concerted efforts by the government to ensure access to clean water for all households in the country.’ Their studied covered methods of tapping of rainwater from rooftops.

Rwanda article

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A response to Robert Bates’ piece ‘Africa through Western Eyes: The world’s dark continent or capitalism’s shining light?’

Robert Bates recently wrote a piece (http://thinkafricapress.com/culture/africa-through-western-eyes-worlds-dark-continent-or-capitalisms-shining-light) documenting his understanding of the history of and reasons for Africa’s image in the West. I found the piece thought-provoking but have to say I don’t agree with everything he said.  After reading it I felt it necessary to respond to some unsubstantiated claims, particularly relating to what I saw as his unfair and uninformed portrayal of the organisation Africa The Good News. Let me at this stage declare that I have written for them (as an unpaid volunteer) in the past and plan to do so again in the future. I support Africa The Good News’ mandate and believe that they have an important role to play in inspiring, informing and mobilising the people of our continent – our greatest strength and resource.

He wrote: “It is partly because some people think the best way to repudiate the negative stereotypes of Africa is to pump out wholly ‘good news’. An account on Twitter called @AfricaGoodNews is a case in point. Its handler tweets links to positive reportage of Africa: such “Angola May Produce One Million Eggs a Day…” and “Doing Business in Fast-Growing Africa – Europe Edition…”.

It is one facet of a larger rebranding project. Whilst some observers may approve, seeing them as necessary correctives to the boilerplate journalism mentioned above, others are already finding them clichéd and boring or downright misleading; a facile PR exercise designed to encourage (mainly Western) investment.”

My first objection is to the selective representation of the sort of information shared by Africa: The Good News’ Twitter account.  In it the writer has quoted (out of context and incompletely) two mundane, banal and Eurocentric tweets. He doesn’t show the tweets about opportunities to be involved in volunteer-created textbooks, feedback on research and census studies, economic market information and news of general political, cultural, environmental, economic and even entertainment events from across the continent.  All these, I would like to add, seldom appear in Western media, even in the “back pages” so to speak. Is this news primarily positive? Yes, that is the entire point of the organisation, but more on that later.

My second concern is with Bates’ portrayal of Africa: The Good News as a Twitter account and no more. It is far more than that, and he has neglected to mention the organisation behind it.  A little research would have revealed that the organisation was originally founded as an offshoot of the very successful South Africa: The Good News, which had been founded a few years earlier by Steuart Pennington. Its aim was and is to counteract the overwhelmingly and exclusively negative portrayal of South Africa in the local and international media. It was not about creating an artificially positive alternative reality, but rather was aimed at ensuring that the real South Africa, both the good and bad news, got the balanced coverage it needed and deserved.  This all started when Steuart went to a ‘Farewell, and Congrats you’re getting out’ party for some friends emigrating to Australia, and found himself getting angry at the endless negative stories and statistics about South Africa doing the rounds at the event. What made him really angry was not so much that these things were being said, but that they rang true at first hearing and he did not have the facts at hand to refute or confirm them. After taking on a couple of the guests, and earning himself a night on the couch as a result, his wife suggested he do something about it instead of moaning about it.

So he started doing some research, and discovered that not only were many of these common ‘truths’ on the downfall of South Africa overexaggerated or downright wrong, but also that there were many good things happening too. He found himself motivated and inspired to join the ranks of those working towards the future we all dream of for South Africa, and so the organisation was born. After a few years of running the rapidly growing and successful South Africa: The Good News the team recognised that a similar platform was needed for the continent as a whole, which led to the birth of Africa: The Good News. Of course both these organisations are (hopefully) changing the attitudes and actions of investors (local and international) but the arrogance inherent in the assertion that Africa: The Good News is just an investor propaganda machine quite frankly infuriates me. Even if this assertion was true (which it is not) why should Africa not be able to market itself to investors by showcasing its strengths? Virtually every city and country in the world does that!

South Africa: The Good News and Africa: The Good News take the view that since the negative side of Africa gets so much coverage there really is no need for them to add to it. Does this mean they only publish naively positive stories? No. When reports such as the Global Competitive Index come out they are shared in their entirety, not just the positive parts. Does either organisation blindly act as if either South Africa or the continent as a whole doesn’t have any problems? Again, no. They do, however play an active role in correcting these instead of swooping in from afar, dismissing inconvenient details as irrelevant and rushing away without offering any solutions or alternatives. I see no reason to give more credit to negative news than positive simply because of their outlook – I’ll admit Bates never actually says this outright but the implication is pretty clear. If this analysis of Africa: The Good News had been based specifically on reliability of sources, accuracy of data or even the dates of data published etc. and then substantiated I would have paid more attention. Let me be very clear that I don’t believe any of these are in question, however a rational review of them would have at least been useful and much more fair.

My final complaint is not against the portrayal of Africa: The Good News specifically, but the general assertion that reporting on good news from the continent is found by “others” to be “boring”, “cliched” and “misleading.” Those are pretty serious claims to make and if they had been made against a specific journalist we would now have quite a row on our hands.  Why should it be any different when made about an entire group of (unnamed) journalists?  Who are these “others” he refers to?  The fact that no one specific is mentioned makes it difficult to challenge him on specific facts – probably the intention of these vague, unsubstantiated claims in the first place.   There is no logical reason why good news should be reported any less than bad news, and all reporting should be judged on its accuracy and reliability, not simply it’s positive or negative tone.

Since Bates started with Twitter let’s go back there now: a quick search  of the word ‘Africa’ shows the enormous number of people in Africa and across the globe who have warped and inaccurately negative views of the continent. Africa: The Good News is an important and laudable initiative for a grossly misunderstood and maligned continent. All Mr Bates’ attack on this organisation does is show how very necessary initiatives like this still are.

 

Sub Saharan Africa’s Tertiary Education Highlights

Sub Saharan Africa’s tertiary education figures are not really something worth celebrating at their current levels. Enrollment rates are still below global averages and the gender ratio of male to female students requires urgent attention. There is good news though and that is the rate at which our continent is changing these figures. Development and growth have not only been above global rates, but more importantly have been consistently so for over 40 years. This area has been and is receiving prioritised attention from Sub Saharan Africa’s governments, this attention is paying off and that’s always good news!

Sources:

Assie-Lumumba, N. 2006. ‘Empowerment of Women in Higher Education in Africa’ http://bit.ly/yF2HS4

UN Fact Sheet. December 2010. ‘Trends in Tertiary Education: Sub Saharan Africa’ http://bit.ly/wbXDia

UN News (as published on Africa The Good News). April 2011. ‘Education spending in Sub Saharan Africa Increases’ http://bit.ly/zGvWZF