African arts, culture + politics

Interview: Director Samba Gadjigo

sembene

Sembene! director Samba Gadjigo on preserving the legacy of the ‘father of African cinema

As co-director of Sembene! – the acclaimed new documentary about Senegal’s legendary film director – Samba Gadjigo has had to (grudgingly) get used to walking the red carpet. “If there is one thing I’ve hated so far in my experience with the film it is that kind of artificial world,” he admits. But he’s also had to content with the restrictions and roadblocks still hampering Africa cinema, both locally and globally: “I’ve witnessed some horrific scenes; [like] when a director is invited to a festival at the other end of the world and they’re hopping from plane to plane with a suitcase full of reels … Many of the film directors unfortunately do not have distributors or they self distribute.”

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Read full article: http://whatsonafrica.org/interview-director-samba-gadjigo-i-dont-think-with-sembenes-films-its-a-memory-of-a-continent-the-issues-he-dealt-with-are-so-timeless/

African arts, culture + politics

Airbnb in Africa: Airbnb makes its move on the growing African tourism market

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Since it launched in 2008, Airbnb has revolutionised the way many of us travel. Goodbye bland hotel room, hello chic artist’s loft apartment. It’s not hard to see why millions have joined the site. In South Africa alone, the number of people using Airbnb has shot up by an incredible 255 per cent in the past 12 months with 11,000 properties now listed in the country. This spike in popularity has not gone unnoticed by Airbnb, which in July announced plans to “accelerate its growth” in the rainbow nation.

Read full article: http://www.nataal.com/airbnb-in-africa

African arts, culture + politics

Groundnut: London’s Afro-European food collective prepare to go global

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When you look on a menu and find moin-moin alongside sukuma wiki and sweet pepper frozen yogurt, you know you’re in for a treat. And it’s thanks to South London foodies Duval Timothy, Folayemi ‘Yemi’ Brown and Jacob Fodio Todd who are drawing on their varied African roots to start a taste revolution.

Read the full article: http://www.nataal.com/the-groundnut

African arts, culture + politics

Getting the message out: Working on the BBC Ebola WhatsApp Service

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The BBC Ebola WhatsApp project began in September 2014. When I came on board in December to take over from BBC UGC producer Andree Massiah, the service was already up and running – sending twice daily messages to affected communities in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

My role was to continue sending those vital daily messages – as well as manage the BBC Ebola Facebook page. Time constraints meant I was limited to sending one message a day rather than the previous two or three. But there were plenty of options in terms of material.

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Courtesy: WHO

There were simple but effective infographics in English and French produced by the WHO, Unicef CDC and other bodies, which we had permission to share;

There were audio files produced with the help of BBC science reporter Smitha Mundasad, which answered popular questions about Ebola in more depth;

There were news snippets from other BBC platforms, which BBC Afrique staff (special thanks to Genevieve Sagno, Mamadou Moussa Ba and Clarisse Fortune) helped translate into French;

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Courtesy: WHO

There were weekly Ebola case numbers from the WHO.

And much more besides…

The challenge was keeping the messages short, clear and practical. Large audio files might either crash the phone we were using to send the messages – and prove costly or difficult for our followers to download. Video files were far too bulky. Lengthy text messages may be hard for some to read (literacy levels are 43.3% in Sierra Leone, 25.3% in Guinea and 42.9% in Liberia). And messages about vaccines and trials, while popular, were frustrating and impractical for followers, who would often respond wanting to know exactly when and where the vaccine would be available for them to use.

This was not a one-way communication. Some people would just respond ‘thanks’ or tell us how important the service is to them: how they would share the messages and information with their friends, neighbours or students. Some would add us to their own groups, in which they discussed Ebola prevention, shared photos from sensitization campaigns or discussed other unrelated issues. Many would ask follow-up questions. We responded where we could – myself or the project’s admin assistant Sandrine Lungumbu copying and pasting answers to similar questions, or seeking out answers to new questions from the WHO, the BBC health team or elsewhere.

We realised this captive audience had lots to say – and could help inform our news reporting about Ebola. Already on the Facebook page I had been making contact with keen commenters and carrying out interviews with them, which I edited into personal stories and published using the Facebook ‘Notes’ function. Conrad Kamara in Freetown told me how people were getting frustrated and angry. Joseph Khanu spoke about not being able to go to school. While Fifth year medical student Haja Safiyatu Sovula shared photos and stories from her workplace – screening visitors at Lungi Airport in Sierra Leone.

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So when Sierra Leone imposed restrictions on movement and church attendance, we sent out a message to our followers in the country (the lists were divided by country code) asking them what they thought of the restrictions. As well as many text messages, we also received some fascinating, lively and engaging audio files. We added these to a playlist on the BBC Africa Soundcloud page and shared this on the BBC Ebola Facebook page: https://soundcloud.com/bbcafrica/sets/what-do-you-think-of-the-festive-restrictions-in-sierra-leone

Encouraged by the response, we sent out more messages. We asked what people missed about life before Ebola, and I turned their moving stories into a Medium story – while BBC Africa Online published a selection on the BBC website, as did BBC Afrique. I also joined Ebola News lead Jonathan Twigg on Outside Source to share stories from the WhatsApp followers – the tyre seller who was struggling due to transport restrictions, the teacher keen to return to work, the students missing out on an education.

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Given the restrictions on touching others – to prevent Ebola spread – we asked people how they’d be spending Valentine’s Day, which producer Uwa Nnachi – who joined the project in January – reworked into an article for BBC Africa online. And when we held live Facebook Q&As, for example during our own BBC Ebola Digital Conference – a series of fast-paced live Facebook Q&As held with key Ebola figures from the WHO, UN and beyond at the EU’s Ebola Conference in Brussels), we asked the WhatsApp users to send in their questions. Which they did – in their hundreds.

We of course had to keep in mind that this was primarily a public health service, and we did not want to neglect this primary function. So the requests for user generate content were kept to a minimum or targeted to country specific lists.

The maintenance of the phone, broadcast lists and message admin also took a significant amount of time. At this point, WhatsApp had not yet released its desktop version – and when it arrived it was just for android phones – so everything had to be done physically on one phone. Adding new followers manually, responding to messages, saving audios and images sent in, reducing the sizes of broadcast lists when they became too large (and messages could no longer be sent). As the list grew, some followers messaged to say they were no longer receiving messages so we had to readjust the size of the groups and ensure we left a gap between the sending of each message to our 22 broadcast lists – to allow time for the message to send to everyone.

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The BBC Ebola WhatsApp service had only intended to be temporary. I joined as there had been outcry from the followers were plans to shut it down were announced. In the end, the project finally ended on 1 June 2015 – the day after the BBC was awarded a prestigious Peabody award for its Ebola public service.

As a lasting legacy, I worked with video producers Baya Cat and Sabrina Belaiba to create a series of videos: Ebola: Key Questions Answered; Ebola: Health tips for survivors; Ebola: Mental health tips for survivors; and Ebola: Your stories of living with the outbreak. The final video shared audio clips and photos from users of both the BBC Ebola WhatsApp and Facebook services.

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Breakin’ Convention 2013: Junior

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(ARISELIVE.com, April 2013)

Words Carinya Sharples  Photo credit Paul Hampartsoumian

For one weekend every year London dance venue Sadler’s Wells puts away the ballet shoes, flamenco skirts and leotards and gives free reign to a festival of street dance – with jaw-dropping shows, workshops, parties and more (see teaser video at bottom).

As the tenth edition of Breakin’ Convention prepares to pop, lock and boogie into town, we caught up with one of the international acts set to wow the crowds from 4-6 May.

Junior Bosila Banya aka Junior was born in Kinshasa, DRC, and moved to France age two to receive treatment after contracting polio. Since then he’s become a groundbreaking dancer; performing worldwide as a solo artist and with his crew Wanted Posse, and scooping up awards as easy as ice-cream – including World Champion at Battle Of The Year Germany in 2001 and winner of France Got Talent in 2007.

We spoke to the 32-year-old about his moves, what he’s looking forward to about Breakin’ Convention 2013 and how he came to dance for Madonna. Here are some of his thoughts…

I am looking forward to sharing a part of my passion for dancing through my solo show. I hope that I am going to be good enough to be on the main stage and able to captivate almost 2,000 people by myself. That will be a good challenge. I know how important it is to be in such a big hip hop festival.

The teams I’m hoping to see at Breakin’ Convention are Electric Boogaloos, Zamunda, ILL Abilities and Soul Mavericks.The Electric Boogallos because they are pioneers and the others because I’ve known most of their members for a long time from another competitions so I can’t wait to see them in a theatre-show environment.

I would describe my breaking style as unusual. I build it with my story, my inspirations and the energy that a crowd or any person can give.

Photo credit Mohamed Zerrouk

I’ve been to Breakin’ Convention three times before: twice with my crew Wanted Posse, and one time for another version of my solo BUANATTITUDE. I still perform with the Wanted Posse. My crew is 20 years old with almost 30 dancers.

The nicknames I have chosen are Buana, which I’ve had since I was 13 or 14, and Buanson from the Wanted Posse. The other names [such as Alien with Serial Crew Breakers] people gave to me. Some people even think that Junior is a nickname.

Thanks to my dance I have been able to visit 51 countries and I have been impressed by so many of them: Australia, Japan, Tahiti, Jordan, Cambodia… I had the privilege to dance for an emir of Dubai and big personalities. Another of my highlights was when I won France Got Talent [La France a un incroyable talent] in front of millions of viewers.

I had the opportunity to dance for Madonna two times. One time we did a show for her in a club. She liked it so we were invited to dance for her son’s birthday. She is a very friendly and open-minded person. I was so surprised to see how cool she is in the real world. And in the evening she invited us to eat at her home.

The ultimate place for me to dance would be… on a big stage like for the Super Bowl or in front of big personality. Why not the Queen!

My parents decided to leave Kinshasa because of the hard life over there. I have been back since; to see where I come from and to meet family. It was so nice to re-link with my roots – that gave me the courage to do my first solo. In Congo I felt this positive energy and dynamic that we often miss in our “developed countries”.

There is a street dance and a bboy scene in Kinshasa– they are very talented. I hope to organise a nice jam other there soon.

For the near future I am preparing my bboy team from Wanted Posse to win big battles; I’m working on my clothing brand, Buana; and I’m going to work with a company in Germany for maybe one year.

If I wasn’t a breakdancer…I would have been someone who would like to be a breakdancer!

Breakin’ Convention takes place at Sadler’s Wells in London from 4-6 May. For more information and to book tickets visit breakinconvention.com.

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

The Playwright Q&A: Bola Agbaje

Bola Agbaje colour. Pic by Brian Would

(ARISELIVE.com, March 2013) Words Carinya Sharples  Photo credit Brian Would

In her Olivier-Award winning debut play Gone Too Far, Bola Agbaje brilliantly captured the lives of young black residents on a London council estate. In her new play, The Burial, the playwright draws on her Nigerian heritage in a satire about a daughter, her late father and his two Nigerian wives.

If that sounds like a Nollywood plotline, it’s no wonder. Raised in London (bar a couple of years in Nigeria), Agbaje is fascinated by Nigerian culture and both the country’s firmly established DVD market and its burgeoning cinema scene, and carried out careful research to write the play.

The Burial is set to open at The Albany theatre in Deptford, South East London, on 2 May. But that’s far from the only ink pot Agbaje has her pen in. She has also written a play, Take A Deep Breath And Breathe – inspired by Aristophanes’ famous female-sex-ban play Lysistrata. The production, performed by young actors from Ovalhouse theatre’s Drama Company, runs from 16-20 April.

In a break between rehearsals and castings, ARISE met Agbaje in the café of the Royal Court Theatre, the launchpad for her first play. Perched on a high stool, she told us all about writing the script for the film adaptation of Gone Too Far, exciting future projects, African Buddhists and much more we couldn’t squeeze in here.

Already a fan of ARISE, she was keen to link up. “My aim is to get my work out into Nigeria so for me this is a good thing,” she declared. “It’s such an emerging market and I want to be part of it from the beginning.” Nigeria, are you listening?

ARISE: How are things going with The Burial so far?
Bola Agbaje: It’s cool. We’ve just finished casting and we start rehearsals next week, so at the moment I’m just redrafting it, because I recently had a play on here [at the Royal Court Theatre] called Belong and if you look on it from outside it was about the Black-Nigerian experience and mixed cultures – so with The Burial I wanted people not to make the assumption that it’s the same as Belong. It’s a totally different style, exploring music, dance and dream sequence and fantasy, which I’ve never done before but a lot of traditional African playwrights – like Wole Soyinka – used to do that in their work. Because we didn’t grow up learning African mythology or anything like that it’s a lot harder to incorporate that into your work. So that’s my challenge with this play.

How are you introducing these new forms? Are you bringing in musicians and choreographers?
Well, I’ve sourced the old music myself because I like talking to my parents, asking them about traditional folk songs and stuff like that and incorporating that in it. And then talking to loads of musicians about how to do it, watching loads of different plays and reading old screenplays from African contemporary playwrights. It’s tough. [There’s been] a lot of research for this play. The others you just kind of write from memory but this one… I don’t want to get it wrong!

With more and more African and Nigerian productions coming to London stages – such as The Winter’s Tale in Yoruba, Feast at the Young Vic and the critically acclaimed Mies Julie (still on at Riverside Studios), do you feel there’s more space for Nigerian theatre?
I think so. It’s important to have those voices. Like with any culture, you want an Irish playwright to tell an Irish story, you want a Scottish playwright to tell a Scottish story and I think it’s the same with Nigerians. For too long it feels like we haven’t had a voice in London. There was a time when you had the Wole Soyinkas, the Chinua Achebes, you had all those great authors who came out and had global recognition, but then after a while it just seemed like it kind of died down completely. So it’s nice that now there are more emerging – like [Nigerian playwright] Janice Okoh, she’s got a play on at the moment [Three Birds] at the Bush Theatre. So there are loads more coming out, and there are loads of Nigerian actors – LOADS! So it’s nice to tell those stories and to be given the platform to tell those stories.

Identity has been a theme throughout your work. In The Burial you’re exploring religious identity too. What made you want to approach that?
I’ve always been interested in religious studies and my mum’s a Muslim, but I don’t practise, so it’s kind of weird in my family – where my mum and my sister are practising Muslims but me and my younger sister are not. And I went to a Catholic school when I was younger, so I’ve been exposed to all different types of religions. But I find it quite fascinating how that has an impact on people’s daily lives; how people think, how people react to certain situations – so I wanted to explore that. Tradition more than religion. Like with The Burial, it’s about what traditions do you follow when someone dies? What do you do? How do you bury someone? Because your religion has an impact.

And you brought Buddhism as well into it. That’s more unusual…
Most Africans aren’t Buddhist so I thought it was an interesting twist. I’ve met a few and you know people have raised eyebrows when someone [goes against] what religion you expect. Like [you anticipate] Christian or Muslim or atheist and then they go ‘Buddhist’ – and you’re like, this is a little bit wrong! ‘How did you get involved in that culture?’ So I thought it was interesting to explore that.

And African culture, music and creativity are hot right now in London…
Of course, completely. Whenever I explore my Nigerian culture it is a bit of making up for the lost time when I was younger and wasn’t so proud of it. My sister’s 18 and I find it so fascinating watching her growing up and she can’t believe there was a time when it wasn’t cool to be African. She’s like ‘How is that possible?!’

“We’re at that stage where it’s not about fitting in, it’s about standing out – and [being African] it’s the thing that gives you an edge”

Why do you think things have changed?
I think there are more of us [Africans] in London, in England, and more people are tapping into that. My parents came over in the 80s and, like a lot of parents, their whole idea was to set up a new life and fit in. Whereas now we’re at that stage where it’s not about fitting in, it’s about standing out – and [being African] it’s the thing that gives you an edge.

What would be your ideal project to work on? A TV series? Another film?
At the moment I’m developing a TV series – actually I’m developing a web series that I’m really keen to get off the ground because I’ve seen loads of web series online. Have I heard of Awkward Black Girl? It’s amazing! There’s also a Nigerian one that comes on at the moment called Gidi Up which is only about 8 minutes long but it’s so fascinating so I want to be a part of that movement.

Have you got a concept in mind?
Yeah but I can’t say yet, it’s not out there – someone could steal the idea. But I’m quite excited about that. And I’d love my [theatre] work to be performed in Nigeria and do more TV and more film stuff. I’m working on a collaborative piece for a film idea with Destiny Ekaragha, she’s the director of Gone Too Far. I’ve known her for a while now, we’re worked together closely on this film so I know what I’m in for. We’ve got a similar sense of humour so it won’t be a shock.

Last October [through 2Far Media] I also produced my own play [House Of Corrections at Riverside Studios]; funded it myself and put it on myself. That was quite an experience, a hard experience – I learned to appreciate other aspects of what makes a play come alive. But I want to do more of that – I got a buzz from it.

Nigeria is big on your radar at the moment. Do you want to travel out there sometime?
I do, I do. I might be going out later on this year because one of the lead actors of Gone Too Far, O.C. Ukeje, is one of the rising Nollywood stars so we want to have a premiere out in Nigeria. That will be kind of cool.

Do you know when Gone Too Far will be released?
No. Before its official opening we’re going to do a series of screenings though. So we’ve got one at the end of the month [March], a couple more in May/June and then officially it launches in October – hopefully through London Film Festival. I’m really excited. It’s a good little film.

Would you consider moving to Lagos for a while?
I’d love to. I’ve got loads of family out there so it wouldn’t be a massive leap, and as I writer I can work anywhere. As long as it’s got electricity and internet [laughs]! But I just want to make my mark here, make a bigger stamp on this place first and go over. The aim is to be global, tough task but that’s the aim! And the great thing about writing, making film or having a play is that it can travel around the world. And that’s what’s exciting for me being a writer – your work can reach so many different people, it can live on. Good work lives on for a long time.

Last year I had a version of my play on in Germany, and in Italy they did a translation of my play Gone Too Far, which was really cool. I went to go and see it and it was so weird watching them speak Italian and not understanding a word they were saying but I knew where they were in the story based on where people were laughing. It was amazing to see, and to see that it worked somewhere else.

You’ve named Wole Soyinka as one of your role models. How do you feel about being a role model yourself now?
I grew up in Peckham and I make no shame of growing up on an estate or coming from that environment but if that motivates one person to go off and do something against the norm then I’ll feel like I’ve done my job… Most of the time what you’re inspired by is seeing someone else doing it, it’s those mirrors that people hold up so you go ‘Oh actually if she can do it I can do it too’. It’s like when we were filming Gone Too Far; my nieces and nephews came on set and it was the first time they’ve ever been on a film set and it was fascinating to watch them see the process of filmmaking and then go ‘I want to be a director. I want to be a writer’ – and that’s how it works really. My nephew saw Destiny directing and was like ‘She’s the boss, I want to be the boss!’

The Burial is at The Albany, London, from 2-11 May 2013. For more details and to book tickets visit www.thealbany.org.uk

African arts, culture + politics

Changemakers: Botswana

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(ARISE magazine, issue 18) Best known for its diamonds, safaris and peaceable record, Botswana is widely viewed as one of Africa’s most economically and politically stable countries. Once a British protectorate, Botswana (or Bechuanaland as it was then) became independent in 1966 under the leadership of national hero and Botswana’s first president Seretse Khama. Following presidential terms under Quett Masire and Festus Mogae, Khama’s son Seretse Khama Ian Khama took the mantle in 2008 and today presides over a country of 2million people with a GDP of US$17.63billion.

Botswana attracted attention in 2002 when indigenous bushmen, or San people, of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve took the government to court for forcibly evicting them from their ancestral lands. After a four-year legal battle the community won its fight and, with it, the right to live and hunt on the reserve.

The country is also known for its high HIV rate, with one in four adults in Botswana infected with the disease, according to 2009 figures. Though this has lowered from the 2003 rate of 37.3 per cent it’s still the second highest in the world (behind Swaziland). The government has responded by rolling out an extensive programme of free antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and launching the Zero New Infections By 2016 campaign.

Most recently Botswana hit the headlines for granting women the right to inherit (after a dogged campaign by a group of sisters, all aged over 65) and winning its first Olympic medal; 18-year-old Nigel Amos scooped silver in the 800-metre final at London 2012. The country is known as “the place to go if you want to see The Big Five in the wild” (CNN Traveller). And tourism is on the increase, with 2.1million people visiting in 2010 – in part due to Alexander McCall Smith’s bestselling series The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Set in and around the capital, Gaborone, the novels inspired the hit BBC/HBO adaptation starring Jill Scott.

Here we meet five local heroes making a difference in the southern African country.

The lawyer: Uyapo Ndadi
Lawyer Uyapo Ndadi has worked with the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/Aids (BONELA) since 2007 – first as legal officer and now executive director. Alongside implementing BONELA’s aim to advance an “ethical, legal and human rights approach” to how the country responds to its HIV/Aids epidemic, Ndadi blogs for online paper Mmegi and was invited to meet President Obama in 2010, after been named one of JCI’s 10 Outstanding Young Persons Of The World.

“BONELA is something that is close to my heart because I see the organisation bringing dignity to people’s doorsteps. People come saying ‘I’ve been fired from work because of my HIV status’ and you fight for their rights to be restored by taking the matter to court and getting a reinstatement or getting good compensation for the client.

“I think what I’m most proud of is changing the law. There are laws now that say no one should be fired from work because of their sexual orientation or their HIV status. I’m also proud of changing mindsets. It used to be a taboo to talk about issues of sexual orientation, issues of sex workers or gay rights but these days the nation is talking. Recently there was a huge outcry after I brought it to the fore that the government had problems with ARV shortages and didn’t tell the nation. The minister of health refused to talk to me on the radio but it got the nation talking anyway. People called to say ‘No, this is unacceptable. We need to know what happened and we need promises that it will not occur again’. They’re still dealing with the backlog but at least ARVs are available and people can get a full month’s supply.

“We have about 80 organisations signed up to be part of BONELA, to infuse human rights into their work. Human rights in Botswana are like a foreign thing. People don’t believe much in human rights or see the need to talk about them. We’re trying to change that mindset.”

bonela.org

The drugs advisor: Lebo Mothibatsela
Lebo Mothibatsela is acting executive director of Botswana Substance Abuse Support Network (BOSASNet), the only organisation dedicated to providing specialised outpatient rehabilitation, support and relapse prevention services in Botswana. Alcohol is a thorny issue in the country since President Khama imposed a 70 per cent levy, or ‘sin tax’, on alcohol (later reduced to 30 per cent) and a midnight curfew on bars.

“When I joined BOSASNet I saw it as an opportunity to contribute to the mitigation of substance abuse and dependency. I’ve seen and dealt with the challenges and consequences of dependency, [so] being involved with rehabilitation and relapse prevention services has been wonderful.

“There is a lot of stigma, discrimination and lack of understanding of substance abuse and dependency in Botswana. And because of this we, as a nation, will continue to have ineffective interventions and programmes. Many people are not prepared to accept or identify problems or talk about the problems that they or their family members are going through. We need factual more than moral education and we need to ensure that we have the necessary services available.

“Like HIV/Aids, substance abuse affects all ages and backgrounds, religions or races. Our clients range in age from 15 to over 60. And the substances we have dealt with to date are alcohol, mandrax, cocaine, crack cocaine, crystal meth, nicotine, heroine and sleeping pills. We have also provided a counsellor to Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital in Lobatse since May 2011 but due to lack of donors and insufficient funding we will be ceasing clinical services in December.

“Sin tax and restrictions on the sale of alcohol can be effective to mitigate alcohol consumption, when implemented alongside complementary interventions and services. But the effectiveness of these measures
on actual alcohol and substance abuse or dependency still requires conclusive evidence. BOSASNet has been a recipient of a grant from the Alcohol Levy Fund for just under 3million pula [US$379m] from June 2010 to November 2012. Unfortunately the funds from the alcohol levy have not been sufficiently dedicated to rehabilitation and relapse-prevention services since its inception. We hope that the ministry of health will provide such services nationwide in the future.”

bosasnet.com

The poet mentor: TJ Dema

TJ Dema is a champion for poetry in Botswana, representing the country internationally and supporting up-and-coming artists through her arts administration company Sauti Arts And Performance Management. A former Chair of the Botswana Writing Society, she co-founded poetry collective Exoduslivepoetry! in 2003 and has recorded a multilingual CD of 12 Botswana poets entitled Dreaming Is A Gift For Me. In October she helped put on the first Botswana-based edition of Poetry Africa.

“Poets have a special place in our history. Weddings feel incomplete without a poet and they have always been unofficial advisors to leaders. The poet is the person that can chastise the chief. You don’t necessarily make any money from it but kids stop you on the street – they tell you that they want to be like you, they want to write like you. And their parents stop you to tell you you’re a really good role model.

“I had poets come to me saying, ‘Oh, I’ve seen you performing in South Africa, how did you do that?’ So for two to four years I would just give people advice: ‘talk to so and so’ or email them a draft of my contract. My roles ranged from mentor to editor to performance and stage management. Even today, having set up Sauti Arts, it’s more of a partnership with me and each artist than me fully managing them, because I don’t have the resources. I managed myself and struggled for 10 years; negotiating contracts, looking at fees. And I always wished somebody else were doing it.

“There are at least three platforms for spoken word in Botswana. We are used to performing as collectives. You don’t get the ‘Adele: performing for one night only’ type of shows. But it keeps you inexperienced; you only ever do 10 minutes so that’s all you ever rehearse, that’s all you build your muscles for. [At Sauti] we push our artists to do 15-minute to one-hour showcases, and the ones who put in the work see the benefits.

“In the future I’d like to build a team to translate poetry from Setswana to English. I would make it a two-step process: linguists from the University of Botswana with a focus in Setswana would first do a literal translation and then I would be in a position to make it a poetic translation. I could reference the Setswana and say ‘No, no, no, we’ve completely lost track of what we’re saying here’.

“The Botswanan is such a beautiful and developed language. Our similes, idioms and proverbs are built around what is most important to the people. So, for example, telling a woman she resembled a cow would
be the highest form of praise – poets often refer to cows as ‘wet-nose gods’ ”.

tjdema.blogspot.co.uk

The landrights activist: Jumanda Gakelebone

Jumanda Gakelebone is the spokesperson of the First People Of The Kalahari (FPK), a non-governmental organisation fighting for the rights of the San people. Traditionally hunter-gatherers, the San people were evicted from their ancestral lands by the Botswana government from 1997 – before a 2006 high-court ruling re-established their land rights. But the verdict did not put an end to the struggles of the San, and the FPK continues to raise awareness of fresh obstacles, such as the 2010 decision to block reserve residents from using the Kalahari borehole or drilling a new one (a move that was overturned in 2011).

“At the time FPK was founded in 1993 I was still in school and got interested in the issues they raised. My community on the Central Kalahari Reserve was having a problem with land rights and I thought ‘this is a good organisation. I have to go there to do something’. Even at school I could feel the pressure – the way they would humiliate us – so that was on my mind. So when I came across the late John Hardbattle [co-founder
of FPK alongside Roy Sesana] we had a talk and found we shared the same ideas.

“Today the organisation is still running, it’s still living but we have funding problems and depend on outside donors. The people I was going to school with are now the governors of the country – so this [matter] is generation to generation. It’s going to be very difficult for the issue to be solved. But some things have changed since the 1996 ruling. I would say about 10 per cent of the population have understood and said that ‘this is [the San people’s] right and we need to respect them’. And the man who was the head of the struggle – Sesana – is now residing there [in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve] with his family.

“But whenever decisions are made [by the government] we are not there… there are no ministers or MPs from the San communities, so our voice is less there. The government still encourages the San to move into settlements instead of staying on the reserve. I would not say it’s because of wildlife, I would call it racial discrimination – them not really respecting us. They don’t recognise us as part of the population of the country. Gem Diamonds
did help to build wells after the 2011 ruling but I will not call that [real] help – whatever they’re doing is to show the outside world they care. If it wasn’t for the ruling they would not have paid for them.”

savethefpk.org

The eco champion: Keneilwe Moseki  

Keneilwe Moseki is executive director of Somarelang Tikologo (Environment Watch Botswana), a pioneering NGO situated in its own eco-park in Gaborone. Since it was set up in 1991, following Africa’s first sustainability summit, ST has been a local leader in recycling. The organisation has represented Botswana at international platforms such as COP17 in Durban. It’s also lobbied government, resulting in Moseki winning a place on JCI’s 10 Outstanding Young Persons Of The World list for 2012.

“Setting up this park has been one of our major achievements. We used to go to schools to give presentations, to get people to understand conservation, but we said, ‘Some people are getting it and some are missing the point. What do we do?’ So we found this space, cleared away the rubble and built an orchard, an area for kids made of recyclable items, an eco café, a drop-off recyclable park and community hall, which people can hire for a small fee. There’s also our innovative green shop, which sells crafts made out of waste metal, paper and plastic by women from rural areas, students and unemployed young people.

“We do public tours to tell people which trees and plants to buy, how to plant them and how to start an organic garden at home. We also do awareness activities, such as trying to promote solar use and energy, and have worked in the corporate community.

“Working for a development office you need regular sponsors. If they become irregular there’s potential for your programmes to suffer. You find a lot of sponsors that come on board but don’t want to finance operational costs. But without those things there is no project. So we realised we had to have parallel programmes and fundraising projects that could support our activities. And we have had the support of Barclays, FNB, E.ON – and Shell Oil. I know that one is controversial to mention with environmental conservation but in Botswana they are behaving very well. They have been supporting us and are the ones who started the organic garden with us.”

http://www.somatiko.org.bw