Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Five Questions: Salha Kaitesi, from Beauty of Rwanda

Salha Kaitesi, owner of Beauty of Rwanda.
Salha Kaitesi is the founder of the UK-based online business Beauty of Rwanda. Being of Rwandese extraction, she decided in late 2010 to start a business that provides an online platform for her compatriots to sell traditional crafts to the wider world in a way that rewards the artists and craftswomen fairly in the process.

Recently, she has commenced the 'Only One Basket' campaign (see #onlyonebasket on Twitter) and is preparing to formally launch the campaign in London and East Africa.

Salha took time out of her busy day to answer the first ever Friday Five Questions for Ayohcee.

Ayohcee: Something that you’ve mentioned a lot during our conversations is this expression “fair trade, not aid”. Why is it so important to focus the world’s attention on the fact that your project is not just another aid project?

Salha Kaitesi: I think it’s because every time Africa is mentioned, especially here in the West, everyone just concludes that we are asking for aid. I want the world to know that Rwandans and the rest of the African continent can actually sustain themselves! In most cases they just lack a platform from which to do it. I do, however, appreciate that there are organisations that are working in Africa, and for Africans, that could not go on if it wasn’t for the aid that they receive.

AÓC: The main beneficiaries of your work are the Rwandan females who make the craftwork that you are selling. Why is it the females that you have chosen to focus you attention on?

SK: I stumbled upon the weavers. I saw what they did and how they lived and just knew that this was where I wanted to help the most. The art of basket weaving was and still is being taught to girls in each family. I don’t know about male weavers, but there must be some. I just haven’t met any yet. Also, women are the majority when it comes to heads of households in Rwanda. Most men got killed during the 1994 Genocide or are in prison for crimes they committed during the Genocide.

AÓC: Your online business Beauty of Rwanda is gaining more and more momentum, thanks in part to your Twitter presence – Klout.com has your Klout score at 60 and considers you a ‘specialist’ in your field – have you always been a tweeter?

SK: Ha-ha. Is that so? You don’t know what you have just done to my ego! A specialist in tweeting? I don’t think so.

Over the past couple of months I have decided to have a go at tweeting. My account had been open for some time, but I had never used it much. I hated Twitter because I didn’t get it. Now it is one of the best things that I have ever been involved in or joined. It has opened up so many connections that I never thought I would get in such a short time. Twitter comes highly recommended for all businesses!

AÓC: With the recession and continuing economic uncertainty in everyday life for many Britons at the moment, why should your average man or woman in the UK want to help those many miles away in Rwanda?

SK: This is how I look at it: you can choose to walk into any shop and buy anything and you get a "thank you"; or you can buy one of our crafts and also know that you have made a difference to someone’s life - someone less fortunate than you. Helping us cuts back on aid dependency which to most people is a better option! I think it is up to the individual's decision and conscience. We should all help out whenever we can and I don’t think location should matter

AÓC: On March 11th Beauty of Rwanda has a launch event planned to take place at the Rwandan High Commission in London, before you move on to Kigali on 26th March and Kampala on 2nd April. What are these events all about and what does the future have in store for your business?

SK: We currently have a campaign going on called 'Only One Basket'. This is where we get to ask each and every one of you to buy at least one of our crafts in support of our mission to end poverty in rural Rwanda - this shouldn’t stop those who want to buy more than one from doing so!

We will officially be launching the campaign on the 11th in London and then take it to Kigali, Rwanda. I believe Rwandans should take part and lead by example. They should be the first people to support our campaign as charity begins at home. This is a chance for every Rwandan to help their fellow Rwandan and thus help Rwanda as a whole. The next part of our campaign will be in Kampala, Uganda. We have a huge fan base and lots of Rwandans still live there. 

In the future, we hope to introduce new lines and design new crafts. The future has a lot in store for Beauty of Rwanda and everyone who loves our work. All we ask is that you all continue to stay with us on this eye opening journey.

Ayohcee would like to thank Salha for her time. You can follow her on Twitter (@BeautyofRwanda), explore the shop at http://www.beautyofrwanda.com and 'like' Beauty of Rwanda on Facebook.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Les Journaux Africains: Byoona Amagara, Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda - 19.31 10/04/2010

All photos © 2010, the author.
With the busy morning over, the day's tempo has finally dwindled to the pace it is now - slow and relaxing.

After setting off from Kigezi High with a mixture of UK and Ugandan students and staff, we arrived at the Byoona Amagara jetty on the southern edge of Lake Bunyonyi. Here, after unloading all of our gear for camping - including my cricket set - from the Kigezi bus, we immediately commenced to reload all of it onto the boats ready for the twenty minute journey to the island.

The boats seem completely unfit for the level of burden that we place upon them. Once they have taken on board our bodies, bags, bottled water and anything else we've accumulated en route, they sit incredibly low in the water. In fact, they sit so low, that should anyone so much as sneeze, the rocking looks as if it may risk capsizing the craft.

Regardless of the fuss our easily frightened students create, the journey inevitably went fine and upon our arrival on the island resort of Byoona Amagara - Rukiga for 'the complete life' - we were met by a smiling and friendly group of people, led by a man called Friday.

We wasted no time in unpacking the tents in the flat area of land towards the far end of the island. The size of this island has to be roughly ten times that of Sharpe's Island where we stayed last year.

Me and Matt were sharing a tent and had the thing put up in no time and started to assist the students and Ugandan staff to put up their tents - an entertaining process in itself. It took only a matter of minutes before Penninah was in hysterics, crying with laughter at the whole experience.

There was time in the afternoon to play cricket, much to my pleasure. The revelation of the game was a girl called Ruth who had a perfect bowling action and proceeded to show up not only me, but her male teachers too, with the pace of her deliveries.

After a short while being beaten at my own game, I headed to the waterside to swim. The water was as cold, clear and refreshing as ever. As the evening wore on, I relished the opportunity of defeating my students' challenges when playing Scrabble before moving on to have an interesting conversation about geography with Esther and Penninah. A complete life indeed.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire


A photo taken in the cloisters of Lacock Abbey in July of 2010. I was staying in the vicinity of Bradford-upon-Avon whilst visiting my cousin and his wife. This picture has not been tinkered with at all, but is the product of being in the right place at the right time with my iPhone.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Les Journaux Africains: Green Hills Hotel, Kabale, Uganda - 07.01 10/04/2010

'Knotted Tree' - © 2009, the author.
It is Saturday morning and the busy week that has passed me by already is manifesting itself on my face! I have the look of a very tired teacher - anyone who thinks that our time in Uganda is a stroll in the park is sorely mistaken.

Matt also seems to be suffering a little bit this morning. Having had me as a roommate all week, with the added consequence of me having woken him up at silly o'clock every morning, he is now making the most of Saturday morning to snore away to his heart's content. He even slept through the clattering of me attempting to pack my bags.

Lake Bunyonyi is now beckoning us where the cool water, combined with the detachment from civilisation, is possibly the most restful place that any soul can visit in this life.

Before we set off to the lake we have one last mission - the training morning at Kigezi High School. This year the whole event is being organised by the Ugandan teachers. I am very much looking forward to it.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Zimbabwean Coffee from MamaAfrika.com

Coffee - with milk and sugar of course.
Twitter has a lot of faults, but these are far outweighed by the benefits that it can bring. These benefits can come in the form of cheap advertising for a small business, promoting your various philanthropic projects and getting things for free when they are offered.

I've followed a small business called Mama Afrika for a few months now. The enterprise is based in USA and working to raise the profile of fair trade alternatives and make money for a variety of causes in Africa. So, when Mama said, 'do any of my followers have a question for me?' I was always going to respond with, 'yes, do you ever give samples of your coffee to your followers?'

Luckily for me, the answer came back in the affirmative and two weeks later a package containing both Zimbabwean AA and Kenyan coffee arrived in a parcel from the USA.

On the night of the package's arrival I opened the bag of Zimbabwean coffee beans and, due to a lack of a proper grinder, proceeded to grind a portion of the beans, by hand, using a pestle and mortar.

The next day, I brewed the coffee and experienced a coffee the depth of which you simply cannot purchase in a supermarket. The most instantly noticeable feature was a slightly darker colour to the coffee coupled with a more earthy taste - a far cry from the sanitised and commercial taste of Starbucks' regular blend in their coffee houses.

My colleague, Jazzman - who was once a coffee and tea buyer - was almost instantly excited by the taste and proceeded to say that it had the 'qualities of a good cigar.' I didn't realise that he smoked! To me, one of the most striking features was the reasonably sharp taste at first, that fades into a beautiful and smooth fine-wine aftertaste.

The expectations are now high for the Kenyan coffee, but I am sure it will be equally as excellent.

Mama's act of kindness in sending us these samples will not go unreturned and we will be making a donation to her charitable enterprises by way of thanks.

If you're interested in her coffee or any of her other projects, visit: http://www.MamaAfrika.com/

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Les Journaux Africains: Kigezi High School, Kabale, Uganda - 18:00 09/04/2010

Friday fever has kicked in well and truly at Kigezi High School. With it being our last full day at the school, it has been a time of tying up loose ends - capped off with the euphoria of the 'Jimmy Cup' five-a-side football tournament. 

At around 2pm I handed out the prizes for the best poems in the creative writing contest - I'm not sure what happened to Stefan who was meant to be doing likewise for the short story contest. Sebi had promised a large number of entries and a hard-fought competition and he wasn't wrong. After a good deal of time judging them the night before, the eventual winner was Martha Mpambara who basically scored full-marks for her poem.

A little while later a small pitch was marked out where the netball court usually is on a grass quadrant in the school grounds and the Jimmy Cup was off to quite an innocuous start. Yusuf Jimacale, the eponymous organiser, seemed to relish taking charge of things and everything seemed quite calm in the compound - that was until the classes finished and a curious crowd began to form around the perimeter of the pitch.

Photo © 2010 Matt Jenkins
Before long there was a complete line of Kigezi students circling the pitch chanting and singing support for their friends as music boomed out of the School Council's PA system. A true carnival atmosphere was building to something of the level that organisers of this summer's World Cup in South Africa will be hoping for.

After the group stages were played, the volume seemed to raise a few notches further, spurred on by the entirety of Senior 3 whose team, the 'Senior 3 Boyz', had navigated their way past the majority of the older teams and into the final of the competition.

The final was a no holds barred affair. Tackles flew in. Tempers flared momentarily. Open goal-scoring opportunities were missed to the bemusement of the crowd. Amazingly, after an afternoon of non-stop football, the Senior 3 Boyz managed to defeat a team made up of Senior 6 students who form the school football team.

Cue the trophy being raised aloft, a pitch invasion by the whole of Senior 3 and much chanting and ululating.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Mugabe and the White African

Photo © 2009, Robin Hammond.
I have, over the years, kept a reasonably close eye on political proceedings in Zimbabwe. It was this interest that drew the film Mugabe and the White African to my attention - the film had seemingly passed me by upon its release.

The film focuses upon Mike Campbell and Ben Freeth, his son in law, and their fight for survival as white farmers living under the constant threat of eviction at the hands of Robert Mugabe's government. We follow Campbell and Freeth as they take their case, challenging the Zimbabwean government's controversial 'land reform' policies which exclusively target white farmers, to an SADC Tribunal in Windhoek, Namibia.

Campbell, having bought his land after independence, and having received the proper permissions and allowances from the government at the time, is told twenty years down the line that he has to leave the farm. This order doesn't come about as a result of any injury he has caused the country, or to his workers, but rather because he is a white man who owns land in what Mugabe sees as being a 'black country'.

In spite of an injunction preventing the Zimbabwean government from 'invading' their property and taking possession of it, we see the deterioration of the justice. Eventually the situation becomes increasingly hostile and results in beatings of farm workers and Campbell's family at the hands of the 'war veterans'.

Despite winning their case, the Campbells still lose. Not long after the SADC Tribunal gives its verdict, the Zimbabwean government refuse to acknowledge it and 'war veterans' burn the farm buildings down.

Photo © 2009, Robin Hammond.
Throughout the film the land reform system, designed to help poor, landless black citizens, is shown to be a flawed system. It is no surprise that the land has predominantly gone towards benefitting Mugabe's rich allies, high court judges and Zanu-PF ministers' families and this is highlighted wonderfully by a Zanu-PF Minister's son who comes to claim the farm for himself - whilst driving a brand new four-wheel drive SUV. Hardly poor and, with a nice house in Harare, hardly landless.

This film is an emotional watch, of that there is little doubt. The Guardian argue that the film is too narrow and doesn't take into account the fact that 1979 Lancaster Agreement is perhaps the reason why Mugabe went about pursuing the white-owned land in such an extreme manner, but I would argue that this isn't the point of the film. 

I confess, and others will surely tell me, that I am no authority on what has, is and will happen in Zimbabwe, but, to me, this film succeeds in showing the very human impact of Mugabe's inhumanity.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Dambisa Moyo @ Cass Business School

I've briefly stepped inside another world. I'm in the Cass Business School, part of the City University, London. Walking through the revolving doors and into a glass palace, I'm catching a glimpse of the life in the kind of university campus I could have attended had I opted for business and commerce over the arts.

This aside, the purpose of my visit is to see Dambisa Moyo give a lecture for the Adam Smith Institute. Moyo is a leading light and a refreshing voice in the world of economic theory whose career as a writer blossomed following the publication of Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa - a book that strikes a major chord with my own relationship with projects in Africa and assists me greatly in my new role co-ordinating aspects of Global Citizenship into my college's curriculum.

I get to a seat, instinctively at the back of the lecture hall, where I have a decent vantage point of the whole room.

As the time approaches 6.30pm, the hall fills up slowly with a true cross-section of modern life - bankers, students, interested others; white, black, Chinese, South-East Asian. I guess this best demonstrates the broad appeal and 'fanbase' that Moyo has created for herself.

This talk focuses primarily on Moyo's new book, How The West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly and the Stark Choices Ahead, but refreshingly still relates a lot of its content to both Dead Aid and to Moyo's homeland of Zambia. She manages to balance perfectly a combination of common sense, a passionate voice, convincing arguments, statistics and theory during her lecture without ever alienating her audience. It is safe to say that, even with my lack of business acumen or knowledge of Economic theory - not knowing what FDI meant for example - I was still able to follow the line of discussion.

Over the course of the talk and the ensuing discussion, Moyo made some very good points. Borrowing from a former US General, she said that in economics, like war, we need to "start from where we are, not where we want to be," before moving on to say that governments, assisted by short electoral terms, are too quick to find "short-term tactical fixes" to win votes and are not looking at the "big picture." She went on to posit that incentives should be used to get people to do what the economy requires of them, for example, paying people to take maths and science courses - two areas that would assist an economy in a country like the UK.

I must admit, as the lecture and discussion reached its conclusion, I not only felt convinced by the weight of Moyo's arguments, but also that I had learned so much more about Economics.

After the talk had finished, I headed to the lobby to withdraw the money to buy a copy of How the West Was Lost only to find the cash machine not working. So, along with another listener, a young woman called Tsongana from Zimbabwe who similarly lacked any knowledge of economics but was equally convinced by what she had heard, I trekked off to find money and returned relieved to find Moyo still on hand to sign my copy of the book.

I would like to thank the Adam Smith Institute for organising this free event, the Cass Business School for hosting it and, of course, Dambisa Moyo for her engaging talk and for signing my copy of the text.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Les Journaux Africains: Staffroom, Kigezi High School, Kabale, Uganda - 12.45 09/04/2010

This was another hectic morning that involved getting down to Edirisa early-doors to carry on the decorating work. The plastering of holes was all but finished off yesterday, but one small corner still needed my attention. I was armed with my radio this morning and so, like a real builder, I drank tea, listened to Ugandan pop music and made a mess of my clothes.

A few of our students were on hand with Frankie being sent on regular trips to the hardware store, Sarah (who is very tall) painting the ceiling and the rest of the students attacking the walls. A notable absentee was Ruth who appeared to be running on what I hear so often called 'Ugandan Time' - late!

After a while, my job was completed. Still on my schedule for the day was to give out prizes for the poetry competition and to attend the inaugural 'Jimmy Cup' five-a-side football tournament up at the school.

During my first Fanta break of the day, I realised that Charlotte had been waiting patiently for me to finish my work, rather than interrupting me mid-plastering.

All photos © Jeff Vanderpool
We had a chat for a while and talked about how life had been treating her back home near Mbrarara. It seemed like geography was insignificant as I heard of the ups and downs of a young high school leaver finding her way in the big, bad world. Conversation naturally turned to money and chances of sponsorship. Would she ever be able to afford to get into University? How could I help?

The nature of the beast is that these conversations often turn to money. As ever, I say that I will see what I can do, fully aware of the problems that come with breeding and cultivating a culture of financial dependency.

After purchasing a banana at an inflated price - voluntarily I might add because the four-year-old seller was so polite - I headed to the Royal Supermarket. My mission here was to buy prizes for the poetry contest, but knowing that we are soon to be cut-off from civilisation when we head to Lake Bunyonyi, I took the opportunity to stock up on Pringles too.

After a crafty sidestep of the children begging at the door attempting to barracade me into the shop, I ran over the road to a group of boda-bodas and headed, like a crazed cowboy, up the hill to the school.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al-Aswany

I have Petros - a dear workmate of mine - to thank for bringing this book to my attention. He promised me that the contents of the book would be an eye-opening experience, that would shine a light into the darker aspects of not just Egyptian society, but also a great deal of African and Middle-Eastern societies too.

As you read the stories if the diverse occupants of the once glamourous, but now seedy, Yacoubian Building in Cairo, their lives seem to touch on many of the root causes of the recent events in Egypt - not least government corruption.

The fragmented story traces the lives of an aging single man, a beautiful young female, a man who turns to extremism, a corrupt politician, an illicit gay couple, a greedy sister and a would-be entrepreneur, all of whom are bound together by this architectural relic of Egypt's more 'European' past.

The winding nature of the text and its evolution over the course of the book, is countered beautifully by the short, episodic nature of the action. The narrative takes the reader on a genuine and believable journey through the trials of love, loss, hate, passion, extremism, manipulation, murder and hopelessness leading, eventually and thankfully for the reader, a happy ending.

Without being an expert on Egypt, this novel in so many ways feels as if you are getting a genuine insight into the conflicting and entwined lives of a small group of Cairo's residents in the same way Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rear Window' did, albeit less claustrophobically. A wonderful novel, worthy of the attention of the Western world.
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