It was sitting in a conflict resolution lecture – an intern in my early twenties and eager for life – when I knew that was it, I wanted to be an aid worker. I wanted to be the one who makes the difference.
I started my career as that obscure national staff member who took the minutes at important meetings and was good at it. Many times however, I would be the only African in those meetings and my role would solely be to take minutes. Strangely, and contrary to popular belief, minute taking is the best way to learn and adapt to new concepts. Nobody noticed me, or asked for my opinion; even when what they discussed affected how much food I had at dinner. So I listened, took notes and learned. Soon I knew more than most people coming to the meetings.
‘It has become my responsibility as the only African in a room to bring the reality of my home, my continent.’ Photograph: Alamy
A few years later, I landed my first international job. I had managed to convince a HR officer that I knew what I was doing better than anyone else going for the position, and that I deserved the job. This time, I became the obscure African girl who could relate to the context and whose opinion was closest to the reality of those affected by crisis. The room would fall silent when I spoke, and I felt relevant. I was making the difference, and I thought I was good at it.
That was until I was told: “you speak African, we cannot understand what you say”. That was actual feedback I got from one capacity building initiative set up by an organisation specifically to raise the profile of its “native” staff. I wanted to get on though so I changed my accent, pronouncing phrases like IDP camp as “IDP kemp” instead of “IDP kamp” in order to appeal more to an American audience. Now I start to construct my sentences before I pronounce them. I’m no longer making the difference, I’ve become an illusion of it.
The continent I call home is now “the field” for me and my colleagues, and the people we are contracted to serve have become indicators in the reports we churn out. When I’m in the field, the only difference between me and the starving mother of seven who I’m excited to photograph (in order to attach to my trip report), is the sheer fate that life brought us. Because I know how it feels to be hungry and desperate, I take it upon myself to make the field more than just numbers and check boxes. At the next meeting, I make a point to remind everyone that we are here to serve human beings.
The room falls silent when I speak. I notice a slight look of surprise from those around the table. I’m used to this, an expectation that I, like others would attend and take notes, agreeing to everything. But I’m no longer the obscure African girl that impressed her European audience because she is fluent, outspoken and confident. I am part of the decisions made on the lives of people. That is enough to outweigh comments like “you have such impressive intelligence” or “you don’t sound like most natives” that often come from well-meaning colleagues but are condescending and disrespectful.
I speak out when the politics of aid stops it from being useful, when we get derailed by bureaucracy and forget the starving mother of seven who hopes that her picture attached to a foreign report will provide her next meal. It has become my responsibility as the only African in a room full of white faces to bring into the room the reality of my home, my continent.
The silence in the room has stopped bothering me, and I no longer care that I must introduce myself multiple times to people because “all Africans look the same”. I am making a difference, even when it is sometimes difficult to see it. I remind myself that my place is deserved, I earned it and that I owe it to myself and others to let my presence be the difference.
There is no décor. The only art on the pumpkin colored walls are vintage posters of bare shouldered black women with elaborate hairstyles. Two women, one from Senegal, the other from the Ivory Coast, split 7 feet of black synthetic hair into sections before they begin to braid.
Behind them is a restless elementary school girl; she swings her legs so vigorously her timberlands thump on the floor. Her hairdresser, Tenin, has tightly wrapped the ends of each braid with string until they resemble sooty bees nests. She dips the ends of the braids in boiling water; acutely aware of the risk involved, the child is finally still. The final step of the three-hour process is simple — Tenin lathers the girl’s head with white mousse.
Aicha Hair Braiding Salon is one of a number of African braiding shops that are clustered around 125th street in Harlem. Much like the Apollo Theatre and Abyssinian Baptist Church, the braiding shops and braiders that work in them are a Harlem landmark.
Hair braiding is a tradition that has been practiced in various African societies for centuries. Across the United States, women from countries such as Senegal, Ivory Coast and Togo, have used braiding as a bridge to a better life. In the 1990’s and 2000’s, entrepreneurial instinct and the ability of braiders to amalgamate traditional braiding styles with hair trends within African-American culture, meant braiding was a secure source of income.
According to Professor Cheikh Anta Babou, an expert in African history and the Africa diaspora, although it was generally confined to the informal economy, braiding was once such a lucrative profession, in the peak season braiders could earn $200-$300 a day. Babou estimates 70% of Senegalese immigrant women in the United States are hair braiders. Braiding is so pervasive it has reshaped and transformed Senegalese life in the United States. For instance, the economic independence women gained from braiding meant patriarchal norms were resisted; consequently divorce has become more frequent within the Senegalese community.
In recent years, however, a combination of demographic shifts in neighborhoods, rising rents and technological disruption, has meant braiding is no longer a trade immigrants can rely on.
“This country’s not like before. You don’t get money like before,” said Tenin, the hairdresser who hails from the Ivory Coast. “It was more busy than this. When tax season comes you’re very happy. But now?” she shakes her head in dismay and returns to her work. Two months ago, Tenin gave birth to her fourth child. The uneven nature of her job meant she had to come back to work. On some days she has no clients, while on other days she has eight. Staying at home was far too risky.
Today, it’s not uncommon to see braiders hustling for potential clients at the busiest intersections in Harlem. Some even wait at subway turnstiles, hoping to find a customer. According to Aicha, Tenin’s mother and the owner of the braiding salon where they both work, the spread of braiders onto the streets hunting for clients is a relatively new development. Aicha has worked as a braider in Harlem for over 20 years. She believes the demographic shifts in the neighborhood and rising rents, has meant they have a smaller customer base and have to fight harder for what’s left. “I don’t like to beg on the street for customers. I used to, but not any more. But I understand why women do” she said.
Aicha is correct in her observation about rising rents and dwindling black customers. A report by the Community Service Society, showed between 2002 and 2014 average rents in Central Harlem rose by 90%. Recent census data showed that Harlem’s black population is the smallest it’s been since the 1920’s and they are now only 40% of its residents. The ramifications of this on the informal braiding market are palpable. A number of braiding stores have been forced to close, and some braiders even left New York in search for work elsewhere. However, there’s another force working against women like Aicha and Tenin — technology. In particular, the proliferation of social networking sites, which have created virtual communities centred on sharing information about black women’s hair and an increase in women finding their hairdressers using the Internet. In an unexpected twist, it seems that immigrants aren’t taking jobs from Americans, instead technology is taking jobs from immigrants.
In 2008, a shift occurred in the black cultural zeitgeist that reshaped how black women decided to style their own hair. According to “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America” by Ayanna Byrd and Lori Tharps, the natural hair movement caused a critical mass of black women to stop chemically straightening their hair and wear their hair in its natural state. Historically, there have been other waves where black women have favored natural styles however this was the first in the era of online social networking.
Conversations about black women’s hair are constantly happening on the Internet. They occur in YouTube comments, hair forums and an amorphous subculture within Twitter called “Black Twitter”. The #naturalhair hashtag on Instagram has 7.4 million photos. In theory, this movement should have meant African hair braiders were perfectly positioned to exploit a new and hungry customer base. According to Mintel Black Consumers and Hair care 2015 report, the black hair care market is worth an estimated $2.7 billion — there’s more than enough money to go around. But a cornerstone of the natural hair movement and the digital conversation surrounding it is an emphasis on autonomy and agency. An important expression of this agency is the ability to understand and do your own natural hair.
The emergence of social networking and the fact that the web significantly influences black women’s hair choices, places braiders at an acute disadvantage. The informal and underground nature of the braiding industry has meant there’s a natural and almost instinctive aversion to social media. Despite their presence on the streets of Harlem and Brooklyn, most braiders prefer to be or remain inconspicuous. Some braiders are undocumented or in regular contact with people who are undocumented and this creates a reluctance to create a visible online presence. Very few of the braiding shops have Facebook or Instagram pages, websites are rare and most salon owners don’t respond to reviews on Yelp. Furthermore, in West African culture, privacy is viewed as virtue and openness is a vice. All these things are diametrically opposed to the relentless self-promotion and hyper-exposure the digital age requires. In the meantime, the savviest natural hairdressers are exploiting technology for their benefit and gaining customers.
“I did it in college just for fun, just one video — and it went viral” said Sadora Paris, a popular natural hair blogger. Since Sadora posted her first video tutorial two years ago, her audience has grown to 120 thousand YouTube subscribers and almost 25 thousand Instagram followers. She has leveraged her fan base to become a fulltime brand ambassador for natural hair care lines such as Carol’s Daughter and Shea Moisture. Sadora also earns additional income as a hair coach and beauty consultant.
Sadora views the relationship between the African braiders and their customer base as a complex one that is fractured by generational differences as much as cultural ones. African braiders aren’t the only segment within the black hair industry that struggled to keep up with how technology has transformed it. Many older African-American salon owners who catered exclusively to black women with chemically straightened hair failed to keep up with the times and are also struggling. Additionally, the women she coaches who no longer go to African braiders cite three main factors — saving money, time and their hair. Traditional braiding methods favor tight, neat styles and an aesthetic is valued over the health of the hair. However many black women have concerns about their hair, particularly the perimeter of the hairline referred to colloquially as their “edges”. For Sadora and her clients, the choice to do their own hair is less about the African braiders and more about how they prefer to do their hair.
Dr. Shartriya Collier is an expert in immigrant women entrepreneurs, who has done extensive research on the braiding industry in the United States. While she agrees that technology and other variables have contributed to the difficulties the braiders currently face, she cautions against overstating their significance. In her view, there were no real glory years in the braiding industry– it’s always been a difficult trade. “There was always a tension between African shop owners and their African-American clients,” she said. The intersection of language and cultural barriers meant exchanges between African braiders and their African-American clients have always been characterized by difficulties.
In their economic transactions, most braiders tend to occupy the grey space between legal and illegal activity. Cash is the preferred, and often the only form of payment. Most financial transactions aren’t documented in official records and braiders aren’t paid an hourly wage; instead they pay the shop owner a commission on every client they get. And while technology has had an adverse effect on their cash flow, it’s been advantageous for most parts of the informal economy. Professor Justin W. Webb, of The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is an expert on entrepreneurship within the informal economy. In his research, he has observed how technological advances have created more opportunities for entrepreneurs who operate outside of the formal sphere. “Technology is presenting a larger market and in a way they’re able to skirt [legislation]. They’re less visible to those who are monitoring and enforcing them,” said Webb.
In his years of studying informal economies, Webb has frequently come across a phenomena he calls the “stepping stone effect” This occurs when a worker gradually formalizes and legitimizes their trade or they accumulate enough capital and knowledge to leave the informal sphere and work in another part of the formal economy. But braiders face a challenge that impedes this effect — language.
Most braiders come from French-speaking African countries, so if they do speak English, it is often their third language. French or Wolof tends to be the lingua franca inside the hair shop and English is only used while establishing price or in brief exchanges with clients. The lack of English fluency makes it difficult to leave the industry. On the other hand, braiders from English speaking African countries often use braiding as a job on the side, to support them while they attend night school or while they learn a more economically advantageous trade. As soon as these women achieve their goal they stop braiding.
In 2002, Mama (as she calls herself), made the trip from Nouakchott, Mauritania to the United States. At the time she was fluent in Wolof and French, and could speak only broken English. She found accommodation in the Bronx and was embraced by a network of African immigrants. They told her to go to Harlem and start braiding hair. Mama is middle aged and braiding has taken its toll on her body. Some days she works for 12 hours at a time at Barry’s Good Braiding, she has constant back pain but can’t afford the surgery. What was supposed to be an opportunity has become a trap and Mama wishes she picked another trade when she first moved to America. Braiding is so niche that her years of experience aren’t easily transferred to another industry. “It’s not a job I’m doing and love it. I don’t have a choice,” said Mama.
Walk into any braiding shop and you’ll notice the incredible speed at which braiders move their wrists and fingers. No matter how long you stare, this speed makes it difficult to decipher each step of the process. It’s wondrous to watch because the women maintain this speed for anything from 3 to 6 hours. And on a particularly busy day they may braid for a total of 10 hours.
Ask any woman who’s had her hair braided the worst thing about it and she’ll probably mention the pain. Most people don’t think about the pain the braiders endure. The physically taxing nature of the job and the mental strain of hoping for clients mean that braiders often end the day exhausted. Over the years this accumulates and has acute physical manifestations. Back pain, shoulder pain, it isn’t rare to come across braiders with ganglion cysts on their wrists — big bumps that are the evidence of years of strain.
For those that have the option to work in the formal economy, the decision to become an entrepreneur is often an expression of their independence and freedom. But for many of the braiders, with limited childcare options, low levels of education and significant language barriers, being an entrepreneur is the only option, rather than a romantic form of self-actualization. It is a beautiful struggle at best.
It’s 8 a.m., Congress isn’t in session and Washington’s roads are icy, but more than 100 ambassadors, academics, African emigres and heads of humanitarian groups have crammed into a basement room of the U.S. Capitol for an unofficial meeting about how Boko Haram and other terrorism groups are stunting African progress.
The regular breakfasts are the brainchild of Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), who is frustrated by a lack of attention paid to the continent and sees her own constituents with deep interest in policy toward Africa.
“In community organizing, you believe that the best policy is made by having those people that are most affected by the policy at the table. It’s not rocket science. If you do policy in a vacuum it can have unintended consequences,” she said in an interview after the meeting.
Bass first got involved in African policy because of South African apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s when she co-chaired the local Southern Africa Support Committee.
“I stopped doing international work and just focused on domestic work. One of the reasons I was excited about coming to Congress is I could do both,” Bass said. “I really took almost a 20-year hiatus away from foreign policy.”
She views it as her responsibility.
“The same way it was my responsibility to figure out how to address the gang and crack intersection in South-Central, I also felt it was my responsibility to help fight to end apartheid and especially the U.S. government’s policies,” Bass said.
When she joined the House Foreign Affairs Committee after taking office in 2011, Bass said it didn’t feel like those actually affected by the committee’s decisions had a voice.
“When I would go to hearings on Africa, you would have no Africans participating, but they are sitting there in the audience while we’re talking about their countries. That just seemed odd to me,” she said.
She is now the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Human Rights, and International Organizations. Other Foreign Affairs Subcommittees focus narrowly on one or two subjects.
“That in and of itself to me kind of says that Africa is not a big enough priority to have its own focused subcommittee,” she said. “We could go easily a month or two without having a hearing on Africa [with] so many subject matters.”
Bass said she’s gone out of her way to work with the Foreign Affairs Committee, not supersede it, by having committee leaders co-host the breakfasts or speak.
Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) said a wider group of people are excited about legislation before the committee because of Bass’ breakfast meetings. He’s spoken at a few.
“It’s effective,” he said. “Karen Bass is able to strategically use the enthusiasm of those who participate in the breakfasts in order to try to assist us.”
Royce pointed to several cases, including a bill recently signed by President Obama aimed at electrical infrastructure around the continent, the global anti-poaching act and congressional response to Ebola.
Bass said Africa may seem so far away to her Los Angeles constituents, “but we have a huge diaspora community in L.A.”
Her district includes Little Ethiopia, a block-long stretch on Fairfax Avenue between West Olympic Boulevard and Whitworth Drive.
“Even Little Ethiopia is a commercial strip. It is not like Ethiopians reside in that area. I’m sure some do, but that area’s very, very mixed,” she said.
She plans to talk with Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council about a trade mission and also a seminar to connect federal agencies with private businesses interested in investing in Africa, Bass said.
This year she wants to coordinate with the African diaspora living in Los Angeles and hold a policy breakfast in the city so her constituents can be heard too.
“I know there’s a huge Nigerian community, Cameroonian, and there are seven official consulates for seven African countries, and then there’s about another five honorary consulates,” she said. “There should always be a voice. If we come up with a policy we want to bounce it back and forth. You want the people that are most affected also pushing for the policy as well.”
Nii Akuettah, executive director of the African Immigrant Caucus, a coalition of immigrant groups in Washington, called Bass “a big champion for Africa.”
“There is a great deal of good will in the African community here for her and on the continent for her,” he said.
The periodic gatherings draw members of Congress, ambassadors from African countries, emigres or diaspora, and other people who have a stake in the United States’ policy regarding Africa, such as businesses, State Department officials and academics–and often the groups are “not on the same page,” Bass said.
The meetings began as a way to draw attention to reauthorization of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. First created in 2000, AGOA gives special market access to certain sub-Saharan countries that maintain legal, human rights and labor standards. In June, President Obama signed bipartisan legislation extending the act until 2025.
The talks continued, with a focus on trade and economic development between the United States and African countries. Topics have ranged from Ebola to elections to electricity, and the July 2014 breakfast was also about instability because of Boko Haram, the northeastern Nigerian Islamist group.
Bass said Boko Haram must be addressed when looking to set policy about Africa’s future.
“You can’t talk about economic development, you can’t talk about the implementation of AGOA in countries without security and in countries that are not stable or are being destabilized because of Boko Haram,” she said.
“When you look at the number of people that have been killed by Boko Haram, it’s more than the number of lives lost to ISIS. I think part of our job here is raising the consciousness in the U.S. that just because something is happening on the continent, that doesn’t mean that it does not have international significance,” she said.
It’s her goal to reshape U.S.-Africa relations.
“We still kind of view Africa as a charity case and not as a continent that is a partner. Unfortunately, I think the United States is behind the rest of the world, because the rest of the world sees Africa as much more of a partner than we do,” she said.
The original article was published in the Los Angeles Times.
Drones are delivering contraceptives to hard-to-reach Ghanaian villages in a program jointly funded by the U.N. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and it’s so successful that other countries want it too, HuffingtonPost reported.
Deliveries to rural Ghana that once took two days now take 30 minutes by drone, and each flight costs only $15, according to Kanyanta Sunkutu, a South African public health specialist with the U.N. Population Fund.
Sunkutu said he expected the pilot program in Ghana to encounter resistance, and worried people would associate the drones with war. So the U.N., in its program materials, referred to the drones only as “unmanned aerial vehicles” — not drones.
“We don’t want that link between war and what we are doing,” Sunkutu told The Huffington Post in an interview. “But the resistance we thought we would get has not been there.”
Less than than 20 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa use modern contraceptives. In rural Africa, a flood can shut down roads for days and cut off medical supplies, making access to birth control a massive problem.
An estimated 225 million women in developing countries around the world want to delay or stop childbearing, but don’t have reliable birth control, according to the World Health Organization. This prevents women and girls from finishing school or getting jobs. About 47,000 women die of complications from unsafe abortions each year.
“We are particularly committed to exploring how our family planning efforts can meet the needs of young women and girls,” Bill and Melinda Gates said, according to their foundation website.
The idea to use drones for delivering birth control came from a program in the Amazon, Sunkutu said.
The drone operator packs a five-foot-wide drone with contraceptives and medical supplies from an urban warehouse and sends it over to places hard to reach by car. There, a local health worker meets the drone and picks up the supplies.
Project Last Mile has been flying birth control, condoms and other medical supplies to rural areas of Ghana for several months.
Now it’s expanding to six other African countries. The goal is to revolutionize women’s health and family planning in Africa. Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Ethiopia and Mozambique have expressed an interest.
Using drones to improve reproductive health isn’t exactly a new idea — it’s just new in Africa, according to Huffington Post. In June, a Dutch organization called Women on Waves used a drone to fly abortion pills to Poland, trying to raise awareness of Poland’s restrictive abortion laws.
Project Last Mile says it is the first to develop a long-term, sustainable program for delivering contraceptives by drone.
Sunkutu hopes that eventually drones will revolutionize other areas of rural African life., starting with family planning.
“They can deliver ballots after elections, or exams for school,” he said. It becomes a logistics management solution for hard-to-reach areas. We’re going to use family planning as an entry and make it sustainable.”
Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is an author who has written a number of books on the history and experiences of African people.
Recently there have been rumors that Beyonce is planning to write and star in a film about a woman named Sarah Baartman. That is an important story that needs to be told. During the period of slavery and colonization African women endured a number of abuses. The case of Baartman is perhaps the best example of how African women were degraded and treated as sex objects. Baartman was an ethnic Khoikhoi woman who was born in South Africa. She was taken to Europe where she became a freak show attraction because of her features, especially her large buttocks. She became a sort of symbol for the hypersexuality and inferiority of African women.
Baartman died in 1815 at the age of 25. Baartman had died an impoverished and alcoholic woman who had turned to prostitution to support herself when her novelty wore off. Her sexual organs were persevered and placed on display in Paris. It was not until 1974 that her display was removed and her remains were finally returned to her homeland for burial in 2002. Although Beyonce denied the claims that she was planning any movie on Baartman, the story is one that does need to be told so that people can understand the extent to which African women were degraded and reduced to sex objects for the entertainment of European men.
As important as Baartman’s story is, I also think there are many other African women whose stories are worth being made into films as well. In the media there is definitely an under-representation of strong and powerful black women, which is a stark contrast to Africa’s own history, which is filled with examples of powerful women that ruled kingdoms. In speaking of his native Guinea-Bissau, Amílcar Cabral stated: “You know that in our country there were even matriarchal societies where women were the most important element. On the Bijagos Islands they had queens. They were not queens because they were the daughters of kings. They had queens succeeding queens.” For this reason I will present a list of some other African women that also deserve having movies made about them.
Queen Makeda is held in Ethiopian tradition to be the Queen of Sheba that is mentioned in the Bible. The Bible briefly mentions the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon, but provides very little information about the Queen of Sheba herself. The Kebra Nagast tells the story of Queen Makeda, who is described as the powerful ruler of a wealthy kingdom who is curious to test Solomon’s purported wisdom. She decides to visit Solomon in Israel. The Kebra Nagastrecords that Makeda was impressed by Solomon’s wisdom and was so interested in “the God of Israel” that Makeda converted to Solomon’s religion. Makeda returned to her kingdom in Ethiopia where she gave birth to Solomon’s child, a boy who was named Menelik. This story forms the basis of Ethiopian monarch’s claim to have a direct lineage to Solomon.
Nzinga was the queen of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms which were located in present day Angola. She is best remembered for the resistance that she put up against the Portuguese slave traders in her nation. Nzinga was a brilliant stateswoman who fought the Portuguese for decades until the two sides came to form a truce. Nzinga was described as the greatest military strategist that the Portuguese had ever confronted and as someone who was dedicated to destroying the slave trade. Among her own people she was a very respected and beloved ruler.
Yaa Asantewaa, like Nzinga, is remembered for her military prowess. Over a span of nearly 100 years, the Asante people of Ghana fought a number of wars with the British, winning a good portion of those wars before finally being conquered in 1900. Leading up to the final war the Asante ruler Prempeh had decided to peacefully surrender to the British to avoid another war, but the British provoked a war when Governor Sir Frederick Hodgson requested that the Golden Stool of the Asante people be brought to him for him to sit on. The Asante people considered the Golden Stool to be so sacred that not even the Asante king himself sat on it. Yaa Asantewaa was so angered by the disrespect that was shown to the Asante people that she urged her fellow Asante citizens to take up arms to defend the Golden Stool. In the subsequent war the Asante people were defeated by the British and Yaa Asantewaa was exiled, but the Asante people generally remember this war as a victory because they prevented the British from capturing the Golden Stool.
Aside from her role as a military leader, Yaa Asantewaa was a stateswoman who served as the queen mother of the Asante district of Ejisu. After her son was exiled along with Prempeh, Yaa Asantewaa served as the king of Ejisu. Yaa Asantewaa was known as a just ruler who hated to see people being mistreated. She would use state funds to settle the debts of some of her poorer subjects to prevent them from becoming debt slaves.
Funmilayo Kuti was the mother of famed Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. Funmilayo was a nationalist who fought for the independence of Nigeria and along with her husband, Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, Funmilayo was involved in anti-colonial organizations such as the West African Students Union. In 1947, Funmilayo led a group of women in protest against the District Officer of Abeokuta. Fela later spoke of this incident with pride, recalling how his mother had insulted the highest representative of the British crown in Abeokuta. For the courageous manner in which Funmilayo took on the colonial government she was popularly known as the “daughter of Lisabi.” Lisabi was a famous warrior who led the Egba people in their war of resistance against the powerful Oyo kingdom. Funmilayo died in 1978 from injuries that she sustained from being thrown out of a third floor window when the Nigerian military had raided her son’s compound. The raid was done in response to a song that Fela had preformed which criticized the behavior of Nigeria’s military.
The article was published in Huffington Post’s Black Voices.
This week the authors issued a note explaining the mistake in their October 2015 Science paper on the genome of a 4,500-year-old man from Ethiopia1 — the first complete ancient human genome from Africa. The man was named after Mota Cave, where his remains were found.
In the Science paper, researchers confirmed this finding. The paper also suggested that populations across the continent still harbour significant ancestry from the Middle Eastern farmers who were behind the back-migration. Populations in East Africa, including Ethiopian highlanders who live near Mota Cave, carried the highest levels of Eurasian ancestry. But the team also found vestiges of the ‘backflow’ migration in West Africans and in a pygmy group in Central Africa, the Mbuti.
Andrea Manica, a population geneticist at the University of Cambridge, UK, who co-led the study, says the team made a mistake in its conclusion that the backflow reached western and central Africa. “The movement 3,000 years ago, or thereabouts, was limited to eastern Africa,” he says.
Manica says that the error occurred when his team compared genetic variants in the ancient Ethiopian man with those in the reference human genome. Incompatibility between the two software packages used caused some variants that the Ethiopian man shared with Europeans (whose DNA forms a large chunk of the human reference sequence) to be removed from the analysis. This made Mota man seem less closely related to modern European populations than he actually was — and in turn made contemporary African populations appear more closely related to Europeans. The researchers did have a script that they could have run to harmonize the two software packages, says Manica, but someone forgot to run it.
Pontus Skoglund, a population geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, says that he was surprised by the claim that as much as 6–7% of the ancestry of West and Central African groups came from the Eurasian migrants. But after obtaining the Mota man’s genome from Manica’s team, he and his colleague David Reich carried out their own comparison and found no evidence for that conclusion. They informed Manica’s team, who then discovered the processing error.
“Almost all of us agree there was some back-to-Africa gene flow, and it was a pretty big migration into East Africa,” says Skoglund. “But it did not reach West and Central Africa, at least not in a detectable way.” The error also undermines the paper’s original conclusion that many Africans carry Neanderthal DNA (inherited from Eurasians whose ancestors had interbred with the group).
Skoglund praised the paper — “the genome itself is just fantastic,” he says — and the researchers’ willingness to share their data and issue a speedy note about the error: they posted it online on 25 January. When asked to confirm whether and when it would publish the researchers’ update, a representative for Science said the journal couldn’t yet comment.
Manica is not yet sure if Science will change the title of the paper, ‘Ancient Ethiopian genome reveals extensive Eurasian admixture throughout the African continent’. But if the team had caught the error earlier, he says, “I’m sure we would have phrased things differently”.
We speak to young South African entrepreneur Shalton Mothwa about his project, the AEON Power Bag. Watch.
Mothwa took part in the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy, a workshop that hoped to inspire young South African entrepreneurs to collaborate, be creative and share their ideas for a bright South African future.
Mothwa’s AEON Power Bag is a laptop bag that will be able to charge mobile devices using WiFi and telecommunication signals. He says, “It’s about convenience and freedom. You’ll be able to do your thing on mobile devices without having to power your stuff.”
The 28-year-old nuclear physicist is from the North West Province. He tells us he is one month away from finalising the prototype but will still need R900,000 in funding before we see this product on the shelves.
“Bronx: Africa,” a multi-disciplinary art exhibition celebrating the expressions and impact of African cultures, is being presented next month in Bronx by the Longwood Arts Project.
The influences of the borough’s sizable African population and Bronxites of African descent are also recognized in the show of in-gallery and online presentations starting with an opening reception on Feb. 3, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The exhibition, curated by LeRonn Brooks, is on display through May 4.
The “BRONX: AFRICA,” art exhibition will open on Feb. 3 and includes works such as “Ascension or Dude Ascending Staircase, 2011” (above) by Eto Otitigbe. The exhibition, curated by LeRonn Brooks, is on display through May 4 at the Longwood Arts Project Gallery at Hostos Community College.
Photo Credit: NY Daily News
Artists on display the gallery include Seyi Adebanjo, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Howard Cash, Elvira Clayton, Dennis RedMoon Darkeem, Lisa DuBois, Nicky Enright, Janet Goldner, Ijeoma Iheanacho, Imo Imeh, Hakim Inniss, Natasha Johnson, Ahmed Tijay Mohammed, Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Ibou Ndoye, Eric Orr, Eto Otitigbe, Thurston Randall, Ibrahima Thiam, Osaretin Ugiagbe, Misra Walker and Tammy Wofsey. Online artists in the exhibition are Olaniyi Akindiya, Kenneth Anderson and Ray Felix.
“BRONX: AFRICA celebrates the influence of contemporary African cultures that strengthens and connects us with the many peoples of African descent, the diaspora, mixed heritage and migration-dispersion that call the Bronx home,” say organizers.
The gallery is on the campus of Hostos Community College, 450 Grand Concourse (at 149th St.) For information, call (718) 518-6728 and send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, from noon to 5 p.m.
The article was published in the New York Daily News.
(CNN) When Madiba Olivier set out to make Cameroon’s first video game with his newly opened studio Kiro’o Games, he had to do it with just $100 and daily power outages. And those weren’t even the most difficult challenges for the Yaounde-based developer.
An early design for Enzo, the hero of Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan
“We had difficulty finding funds and showing investors that we are not a scam,” recalls Olivier. “We had people telling us, you are just another African scam on the internet. That was very humiliating for me.”
Recently, he has proven the doubters that he means business. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Kiro’o Games has raised over $50,000 to create the country’s first African role-play game: Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan.
Unlike most fantasy games, this one features an African hero, and creates an alternative world inspired by African folklore and mythology.
“At first, the idea was to make games about ninjas,” notes Olivier. “But then I realized many gamers were bored of the same story and the same heroes. That’s how the idea to create an African fantasy came out. I wanted to break what I call ‘the exotic world’ image of Africa.”
The hero of the game, Enzo Kori-Odan, is the ruler of Zama — a diverse country free of an imperialist past but now threatened by a coup. The story centers around Enzo and his wife Erine, and their fight to regain the throne. The hero’s power comes from the collective energy of his ancestors, a force known as the Aurion.
“I think people with good eyes will see a lot of symbols about the African challenge,” says Olivier. “Geopolitics is not about who will rule the world, but about deciding what the goal of the human race will be.”
Kiro’o Games employs 18 people, and is one of several video game studios gaining prominence in Africa.
Aurion is just one example of what experts say is an industry growing at hyperspeed, thanks in large part to sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
“It allows gamers to be invested in the process. Considering that funding for a game is rather difficult to come by, crowdfunding certainly makes sense in this market,” notes Pippa Tshabalala, a South African video game writer and TV presenter.
For Olivier, the release of Aurion is just the beginning of a lifelong ambition to make Kiro’o Games the leader of gaming in Africa.
“We have an advantage with our colonial past, in that we can relate to people from different countries. We need to find a place in the games industry that will make us the center of gaming world trade,” he says.
So what are his ambitions for 2016 and beyond?
“We want to be the biggest publisher and we plan to go into mobile gaming too,” he notes. “We have spent the past ten years running from poverty. So the next ten years? We’ll spend it running towards prosperity.”
Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore (L) and Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi (R) visit the Splendid hotel and the Capuccino cafe on January 18, 2016 in Ouagadougou, following a jihadist attack by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) late on January 15 / AFP / ISSOUF SANOGOISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
Aryn Baker @arynebaker Jan. 18, 2016
A series of recent terror attacks across Africa have raised fears of a new wave of extremist violence
From Somalia in the east to the Western Sahel, Africa’s hotspots started getting hotter over the past week with a series of terror attacks that have raised fears of a new wave of extremist violence. Terrorism analysts have posited that al-Qaeda is vying for attention and territory with upstart ISIS in a region rife with instability. But as much as terrorist groups thrive on government weakness, military corruption also plays an important role, according to a new report on corruption in military defense spending in Africa.
Transparency International, a U.K.-based research organization that tracks corruption and perceptions of corruption worldwide, gave every single African country surveyed (47 out of 54) a failing or near-failing grade when it comes to preventing graft in their defense sectors. Defense spending is on the rise across the continent, notes the report, but without better tracking on how that money is spent, there is little to ensure that it will go to the areas that need it most in a new era of terror attacks, namely counter-terror and security programs. “With such limited oversight on military spending, there are many opportunities for corruption and graft that can in turn contribute to rising insecurity in the region,” says Leah Wawro, Transparency International’s program manager for conflict and insecurity. Corruption, adds co-author Eléonore Vidal de la Blache, the Africa project manager, can lead to black-market arms sales to terror groups, or, in some cases, bolster funding for those groups.
The report’s release on Monday capped a week of back-to-back attacks across Africa. Even as scenes of a devastating suicide bomb and grenade attack on a pair of luxury hotels and a café popular with foreigners unfurled in Burkina Faso, killing at least 29 people from nine different countries, reports started coming in of the kidnapping of an Australian couple in the country’s north, then an ambush on an aid convoy in neighboring Mali that killed two soldiers. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the attack in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, and the group, or its affiliates, is thought to have been behind the kidnapping and the assault in Mali. Meanwhile, al-Shabaab militants affiliated with al-Qaeda claimed to have killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers in a Friday attack on a remote base in Somalia’s southwest, where the African Union is trying to bring peace. And on Jan. 13, two female suicide bombers attacked a mosque in a town near Cameroon’s border with Nigeria during morning prayers, killing 10 in the latest of a series of suicide bombings attributed to the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram terror group, which is based in Nigeria.
In the wake of the attack in Ouagadougou, which followed the same pattern as a similar attack in the Malian capital of Bamako in November, the prime ministers of Mali and Burkina Faso agreed to share intelligence and conduct joint security patrols in their efforts to tackle the rising terror threats in the region. But that is not likely to be enough, say the authors of the Transparency International report.
One of the biggest problems, according to the report, is how such corruption can decrease morale among soldiers, especially when commanding officers pocket salaries meant for those in the lower ranks. Such siphoning of funds is rampant in Nigeria, where soldiers have regularly deserted their posts because they say they lack sufficient supplies and weapons to fight against Boko Haram. On Friday, the recently elected President Muhammadu Buhari ordered an investigation into corruption allegations going back nine years, saying that graft among senior ranks of the military hindered the fight against an Islamist insurgency in the north of the country. Sambo Dasuki, the former national security advisor under Buhari’s predecessor and rival, Goodluck Jonathan, was arrested in December, in the wake of a government commission finding that he, along with other senior officials, allegedly pilfered some $5.5 billion meant for equipping, supplying and paying soldiers taking on Boko Haram. Dasuki has denied the charges, calling the findings “presumptive, baseless” and lacking in “diligence.”
Members of the Jonathan administration say the allegations that graft hampered the military’s counter-terror abilities are unsubstantiated. Wawro, of Transparency International, calls the claims justified. “Absolutely, corruption is undermining the fight against Boko Haram [in Nigeria]. When soldiers’ salaries are pocketed, when they see their commanders driving fancy cars while they struggle to eat, they are more likely to sell weapons and other supplies. They are more likely to take bribes, and they are more likely to allow arms or drugs to be smuggled across borders.” They are also more likely to desert, she adds, further undermining confidence in the military, and the government.
It’s not just Nigeria. Kenya’s armed forces also stand accused of being involved in bribe taking, arms sales, and worse. A recent report by Journalists for Justice, a Nairobi-based, non-partisan organization that seeks to broaden citizen understanding of international criminal justice and combat government impunity, details how Kenyan soldiers in Somalia are working in cahoots with the al-Shabaab terror group to levy “taxes” on the illegal smuggling of sugar and charcoal through the Somali port of Kismayo. “This is problematic when the KDF [Kenya Defense Force] is supposed to be fighting al-Shabaab, and when elsewhere in the country al-Shabaab forces claim to have killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers,” says Vidal de la Blache. “What you are seeing is a direct link between the ability of al-Shabaab to arm and sustain itself and the corruption within the Kenya defense establishment all the way to the top.” Rather than promise an investigation, the Kenyan government has dismissed and denied the allegations.
It is impossible to know whether there is any direct link between the weekend attacks in Burkina Faso and corruption within that country’s military establishment, says Wawro. But the country is one of the worst ranked in the Transparency report. “What you can say about any country that scores an “F” [as Burkina Faso does] is that there is no one to hold the military to account about what is being done to prevent these attacks, and how the increase in funding we are likely to see after an attack like this will be put to use.” That, she says, creates a level of distrust between the people and their government, one easily exploited by terror groups.
While the report points fingers at African governments for failing to track military spending, the report’s authors aren’t letting the U.S. and France, the principal financial backers of many of Africa’s counter terror efforts, off the hook. “We are not seeing [these countries] taking the kind of actions needed to address the problem,” says Wawro. Kenya’s military, she notes, is a major recipient of U.S. military aid. “So, if you look through a winding lens, U.S. money is indirectly filtering in to support terrorism.” That, she says, is reason enough for the foreign backers of African counter terror programs to insist on greater transparency in spending, lest their assistance end up funding another terror attack.
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma speaks during his visit to the Lodewyk P. Spies Old Age Home in Eersterust, Pretoria, December 15, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s presidency issued an embarrassing correction on Monday to rectify an erroneous reference last month by President Jacob Zuma to Africa being the “largest continent”.
Speaking at a business dinner on Dec. 9, Zuma, who has no formal education, also described Africa as so big that “all continents put together will fit into Africa”.
The comments were seized upon by Zuma’s opponents, who argue that his lack of schooling makes him unfit to lead a sophisticated emerging economy.
It was unclear why the presidency decided to issue the correction after a delay of nearly six weeks.
“Africa is in fact the second biggest continent in terms of population size, and the biggest continent in this regard is Asia. The President regrets the error,” the statement said.
Zuma’s comments about Africa’s size came hours before he fired respected finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in favor a relative unknown, triggering financial turmoil that sent the rand, bonds and stocks plummeting.
(Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)
When you arrive in Europe for the first time, the first shock you get is seeing how overpopulated the place is, especially the western part.
A small country like France, which is five times smaller than the Democratic Republic of Congo, has about the same population – 67 million inhabitants. The UK is smaller than Gabon, but has a population of more than 60 million inhabitants, compared to Gabon’s population of just over 1.5 million. The worst example is a micro country like Belgium (just over 30000 km square, 167 times smaller than the Congo) which has a population of 11 million. That’s 365 people per km square, compared to the DRC’s rate of 30.
The first question you ask yourself is how they manage to feed themselves in a resource-poor continent like Europe? Why do they have so many kids when Europe is already the only continent to send more than half a billion economic and political refugees to other richer places of the world during the last five centuries? Is it because of the high fertility rate of their men or because of the cold weather which forces them to spend lots of time inside with only one activity left … copulation!
For many people concerned about overpopulation, Africa takes the centre of attention because of the recent growth of its population. But the concept of overpopulation is a fraud and a convenient ideology, because it ignores impact per capita (per one person) and focuses on simple numerics.
In reality, the USA consumes 25% of the world’s resources while its population is only 5% of the total. The west as a block – the USA and Europe – represents slightly less than 15% of the world’s population, but its consumption far outstrips most of the rest of the world, with one study finding that the US, Europe and Japan together suck up 80% of the world’s natural resources.
Africa, as a whole, has a population smaller than China, and a total GDP which is half that of a small country like France. Considering that it’s an already overpopulated continent, it’s surprising that many European countries give incentives to families to make more babies. And, for an already underpopulated continent, Africa is crowded with western overpopulation experts giving money to NGOs and governments to stop population growth. In the meantime, China is abandoning its one child policy to boost its population.
It is only in Africa that we talk about having population reduction funded by western NGOs and governments. Is it because Africa does not have resources to feed 2 billion people? No. It’s because some other nations want those resources for their own people instead.
I hope you won’t bite on this new covert war on the poor – another distraction from the real culprits. The world is overpopulated, so let’s have less rich people. That should be the real agenda.
Mawuna Remarque Koutonin is the editor of SiliconAfrica.com and a social activist for Africa Renaissance. Follow @siliconafrica on Twitter.
Some 30 Islamists have launched a hunger strike at Mauritania’s main jail saying they are being punished after a New Year’s Eve escape by a high-profile prisoner facing death over an Al-Qaeda assassination plot.
The prisoners said in a statement that they had started the protest Monday at the main prison in Nouakchott, the capital, and would continue until all their demands had been met.
These included “visits by family members and for a doctor to be present on the premises round the clock for faster access to prescribed medicines,” the statement said.
The prisoners alleged they were facing “punitive measures after the escape of an Islamist prisoner we had no connection with.”
Cheikh Ould Saleck, 31, on death row since 2011 over an Al-Qaeda plot to assassinate the president, was last seen by fellow inmates at Nouakchott’s central prison at midday on December 31.
His absence from evening prayers alerted his fellow inmates who went to fetch him and found his cell locked.
A guard smashed open the door and found a flag of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group’s north African franchise, according to a prison source.
Ould Saleck and a fellow AQIM jihadi were arrested on the outskirts of the Mauritanian capital in 2011 when the army foiled their plot to kill President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz using two car bombs.
A Mauritanian gendarme was killed and eight wounded in a firefight following the failed attack, while four suspected AQIM members died.
Ould Saleck’s wife and sister, who used to visit him in jail, were arrested on January 4.