October 20, 2010

History of Somalia and a little East African Hip Hop

- I found a great website today that has saved me a lot of frustrations, Mogadishu Images.  For weeks I had been tracking down antiquated photographs, maps, and postcards of historic Somalia and attempting to locate the existing structures on google maps, only to discover that someone else was likewise doing the same thing!   I strongly suggest anyone with an interest in the anthropology, architecture, or history of the region to check it out.

- The initial research for my current project in East Leigh has been concluded.  I'm still working on the write up, but I plan to submit the document next week for publication.  It will surface sometime in January.  Once I know more about the date of public release, I intend to supply a brief video version of the article online.

- After some phone calls, Waaya Cusuub, the hip hop group  I had mentioned in my previous blog entry about  Somali hip hop protest of Al Shabaab in Eastliegh, is interested  in collaborating with me for a new track. Although I presently work with some hip hop artists in Nairobi,  this will be a opportunity to expand into a new market with increased visibility.  I just finished a track last week that I'm going to send them.  You can listen to the rough draft below.
If it says unavailable, just click the track name at the bottom, The Sand Beneath The Whale.


 The Sand Beneath The Whale by Mitchell Sipus

October 15, 2010

Eastleigh Hip Hop Boys -Waaya Cusub - Straight from the Streets of Nairobi's Little Mogadishu

Waaya Cusub, the New Era, is a hop hop group based in Eastleigh Nairobi, also known as "Little Mogadishu."  As Somali refugees living in Kenya, they live with the frustration of not being allowed to access viable employment or education opportunities, and are stuck in Kenya with no near chance of ever repatriating back to Somalia.

Yet these particular boys, and their female partner Falis, have directed their frustrations into hip hop music that not only discusses their situation, but also criticizes Al Shabaab as the basis of their problems.  Within the song Al Shabaab Al Qaacida weeyan, No To Al Shabaab, they accuse the militant group of causing more damage than good.  They also perform in Af Soomali, English, and Kiswahili to access the wides audience possible.   

The chorus of the song roughly translates as:
" Who is responsbile of that massacre? Al-shabaab."  
"Who is responsbible for the setback? Al-shabaab."

I don't really know any Somali, but the Swahili part's that I understand basically say that these guys love peace and Al-Shabaab is killing their freedom.  Oh yeah, and there is a part I must be misunderstanding, because I'm hearing "Unanua paka" which translates as "You kill cats."  That can't be correct.

As Al-shabaab's presence extends deep into Eastleigh, owning local businesses and maintaining an imprecise but noticeable social presence, the songs of Waaya Cusub have put them in danger.  Al-Shabaab retaliated by issuing a fatwa against the group, demanding that they are killed.  So far nothing has happened to them, as few people are going to acknowledge such crazy extremism by this militant group, but it is clear that raising their voices on behalf of their community has been at great risk.

Going to Nairobi? Stay with my friend Tom at International Guest House.

Today while figuring out some logistical issues for a research project I'm coordinating in Eastleigh, Nairobi, I happened to stumble across the website of my good friend Tom Kamau.  Today I when I found his new website, International Guest House, I felt that I should make a point to share with everyone. I'm not normally inclined to promote a particular business or product, but this is an exceptional case.

Last time I was in Nairobi, I was in a very difficult situation.  Given the large gap between rich and poor, it can be a challenge to find a place to live.  To find an apartment in Nairobi with only a couple hundred dollars in my pocket, I had no visible options.  It would not have been safe to move into one of the slums, nor could I live with my friends in East Leigh.  I also wanted a place within walking distance of downtown where I was working everyday.   I was left to wander the city and find a place, with only a few days to do so.

One day I was wandering through Upper Hill, looking for a particular guesthouse  I used to frequent, only to discover it had been fully abandoned.  Walking down a side street I saw a sign for the International Guest House, and after passing through the gate, I met Tom Kamau and discussed my need for housing.  When I met Tom, he was a long time successful businessman who was struggling with the sudden loss of tourism prompted by the US recession.   He also understood that I was in a difficult situation and out of kindness offered me an apartment on his property within range of something I could afford.

I immediately moved in, and found that Tom continued on multiple occasions to provide help with any problem I might have.  In exchange I tried to find ways to help Tom better market his business and attract more guests by discussing website development and online marketing strategies.  Unfortunately I had to leave before I could really do as much as I wanted, but as Nairobi is one of those difficult places to avoid, I'm certain that I will always continue to stay at the International Guest House every time I return to Kenya.  If anyone else happens to be in the area and needs a place to stay, make a point to check it out.

October 13, 2010

The Burundi Fund for Hope and Restoration

Bujumbura, Burundi   BFHR 2010
Within one year from now, I look forward to the Burundi Fund for Hope and Restoration being on the ground and in fully in motion.  As a member of the BFHR's Board of Directors, its been a slow process for the last 8 months as we have worked to coordinate with local agencies, refine our programming scope, and develop our fundraising processes.  However the continuous efforts of the team to work toward enhancing education opportunities for the youth of this East African Nation are finally coming to fruition.  I will be soon blogging much more on the status of this agency, as we are on the cusp of putting all the initial planning into action. 

The mission of the Burundi Fund is to assist repatriated refugee children to access the education they deserve but cannot afford.  Although primary schools are free in Burundi, secondary education often requires tuition ormany children cannot attend as they cannot pay the additional costs.  Schools may be to far away, supplies, books, and school clothes are prohibitively expensive, or the family needs the child to stay home to assist with domestic duties, such the family business or as local labor.  As a result of conflict and poverty, Burundi has a national literacy ranking of 150 out of 177 according to the United Nations Development Program.

Burundi School Children   BFHR, 2010
The Burundi Fund specifically works to assist the needs of repatriated refugee youth within Burundi. After having lived in camps for as long as 15 years, and returning as strangers to their homeland, repatriated youth are among those with the greatest challenge to access opportunity within Burundi.  The Burundi Fund addresses this problem by working to secure improved access and options to students of all ages with coordinated partnerships with local agencies and businesses so that this education may directly carry over into employment opportunities and expanded markets.  

Please join our Facebook page to receive more updates about Burundi Fund and how you can get involved.  

More information about returning refugee youth to Burundi can be found in this UNICEF video.

October 10, 2010

Building a Bridge to Africa

I've recently initiated research on the socio-economic impact of a bridge presently under construction between Djibouti and Yemen, also known as the Bridge of Horns.  While this small stretch of water is already a major trade route between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, the development of this 16 mile bridge will make a major impact upon intercontinental trade by creating a direct linkage between the oil import producing nations of the Gulf with other production sites such as Sudan, and streamlining consumption by emerging economies such as China.  However I'm looking at what other externalities the construction of this bridge will establish, in particular its role among informal migrants who steadily attempt to access Yemen at great risk.  As Yemen presently developing into a formidable conflict zone, I am curious how back-linkages will additionally occur, feeding militant assets such as weapons and ideology into existing African conflict zones.   I will be writing more about this project in upcoming blog posts.

Mogadishu, Photo by Frank Langfitt/NPR
Speaking of spreading conflict, NPR hosted a decent  4 part series this last week on Somalia.  Journalist Frank Langfitt went to Mogadishu to assess the current state of things within this war torn city.   There were two aspects of his story that I found interesting, one about how political corruption slows the process of payment to Somali soldiers who are willing to join the AU and fight against Al Shabaab, the other regarding the influence of Al Shabaab within the Kenyan neighborhood of East Leigh.   I was just talking to a Somali friend of mine who lives in that neighborhood, and while I've found it a welcoming environment at the times I've been there, its interesting to hear that some of the businesses are now owned by Al Shabaab who has slowly permeated their influence within the neighborhood. 

October 4, 2010

How to write about Africa

I love this piece, How To Write about Africa.

"In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates."

For years it has always been a frustration when reading about developing nations and internal conflicts as time and time again, the authors use  language that does little more that reveal the privilege of the author than the quality of the place.  I've done it myself.  It is in many ways, an unavoidable situation, because these romantic distortions are in many ways imbued within the geography as much as the writer.    After a lifetime of watching Indiana Jones and reading  Joseph Conrad, how can one look at South American Jungle, the rocks of Petra, or the raging Congo with a sense of detachment?   Perhaps then, following the wisdom of How To Write about Africa, it is best to completely abandon oneself to the romance, the power, the prejudice, and the absurdity.