We are the one and only actors in our lives

Apr 23, 2016

I was already at a young age fascinated by the world of fashion because my mother worked as a seamstress. I decided early that I wanted to make this my profession as well. It's now been 4 years since I started my own studio at home and created my own line of clothing with the basic knowledge I had in sewing.

The only advantage I have is my passion; this is what I love to do. I can’t lie and say it's easy, it's not easy and it takes a lot of effort but the best challenge is to challenge yourself. Never create something for someone else. Always challenge yourself.

It’s true that I don’t have major clients. I built my company with my small savings and   bought fabric pieces from here and there and after a while I had enough tissues to start making clothes.

I don’t think I am special in following my dream. My biggest dream is that we Africans start to recognize our own value. Really, we need that this generation and our children learn to recognize their own potential. But first, we Africans have to start sharing amongst us, otherwise, we wont evolve. It's common that we betray amongst ourselves as we envy our brothers and when they evolve while we are struggling at the same place. This has to stop.

It’s hard, especially for those who have left their home countries and things haven't gone as planned. But we mustn’t forget that it’s we who hold the real resource and knowledge. We are workers, we just have to believe in us. For so long have we been dehumanized that we started to believe in that but we have the opportunity today to show that we can play a significant part of society.

We will remain in the back seat and always continue to lick boots if we don’t recognize this fact: we are the one and only actors in our lives.  We can’t continue waiting for others to develop us. I really believed in myself and I always believe in myself. I would not have my clothing line if it was the opposite. I hope others can find the same faith in them. 

There’s a Congolese proverb saying: how ever the night lasts, the sun will eventually always appear.

Agriphine Rolland, fashion designer at Agriphine Créations

There is now a better future for Uganda

Feb 19, 2016

Over  15 millions Ugandans will vote on the presidential election that started on yesterday Thursday 18. Some areas will vote on Friday 19. Despite of the race between eight candidates, I think the real competition is between FDC’s Dr. Kizza Besigye and the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni who has been in power since 1986.

The presidential elections, like the previous ones, have brought a lot of disappointments but also some improvements. The Electoral Commission has done a better job with equally letting the presidential candidates have representatives at polling stations, unlike the previous elections when opposition agents, particularly the FDC agents, were not allowed equal access to the polling stations.

The way Ugandans have engaged in this election really inspires  for a better Uganda; voters waited hours and hours  under the very hot sun and they still waited until they had cast in their votes. People stayed at the polling stations waiting for the vote count to get counted - in some areas, people even waited till past midnight!

The delays in delivering the voting material and ballot papers have been a very big challenge, especially in central regions of Kampala and Wakiso districts. In some areas the delay was as much as 7 hours after the official voting start-off time. This is not a good representation of a free and fair election as some people gave up on voting because they couldn’t stand the long wait. This is an election that has been planned for so many years. Such delays from the Electoral Commission is an act of irresponsibility towards the Ugandan public it serves. 

I asked a voter about her experience of the election. “I was really disappointed in the late delivery of Ballot papers, we are just here in Kampala district, we are neighbors to the Electoral Commission headquarters and we started voting at 3:30pm, 7 hours of late waiting in line. But other than that, everything was fine- I voted,” said 38-year old Irene from Kampala.
Another problem is the high number of invalid votes. I think it's because the voters haven't been well informed on how to vote with the ballot papers. 

Also, the clashes between the police and opposition candidate Dr. Kiiza Besigye place the nation, Kampala in particularly, in a continuous tumult: teargas attack towards supporters of the  FDC party, bullets in the air and heavy police deployment in areas that Besigye visit. It shall be remembered that Besigye has been detained a number of times during the electoral campaign and these election days.

One of the steps to free and fair elections is having sharp voters. I personally think that these elections will pave way for better future elections. Ugandans will be more aware and engaged in the whole political process.  I am confident about the future of my country, it’s good and fruitful that Ugandans are voting out the long term served ministers and instead vote in younger candidates. I believe they will bring the change that is already put in motion. There is now a better future for Uganda.

Why Nairobi must spread the right food message in an unhealthy environment

Feb 16, 2016

Scientific evidence shows that consuming at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day can prolong your life and reduce your risk of developing non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Yet not enough people across the world are consuming adequate amounts of fruit and vegetables. In low and middle income countries, over 75% of adults consume less than the minimum recommendation. In Tanzania more than 95% of people consume less than the minimum requirement.
In the slums of Nairobi, our research shows that less than half of the adult population are meeting their daily fruit or vegetable requirements. Instead, as global fast food outlets flood the Kenyan market, they prefer junk food which they see as a status symbol.

This could be why there are high levels of hypertension and diabetes in these slums where one in every five people has one of the two conditions. In addition, we found that less than a quarter of those who had diabetes were aware of their condition. And fewer than 5% of all people with diabetes had their blood sugar under control.

The increase in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes in low and middle income countries is largely driven by rapid urbanisation and preferences for high-calorie diets with decreasing levels of physical activity.

In sub-Saharan Africa alone diabetes sufferers are projected to double from 12 million to 24 million in the next two decades. Evidence from the World Health Organisation shows type 2 diabetes will be the key contributor to this rise.

Several studies from the continent show excessive body weight and obesity as risk factors for diabetes.

A review of the Demographic and Health Survey data from seven African countries over 10 years shows that there are rising trends in overweight and obese urban women. Even more worrying is that the increase is seven times higher among the poorest urban women compared with the richest urban women.

Nairobi’s slums are known for their thriving vegetable markets. So, why are slum residents not consuming adequate amounts of fruit and vegetables?

Initially we thought that the price of the fruit and vegetables was prohibitive for slum residents given that the majority of them live on less than $2 a day.

But the price is not the main deterrent. While imported fruit such as pomegranates may, understandably, be expensive, local produce such as bananas or the trendy superfood kale – a Kenyan staple for generations known as sukuma wiki – are affordable.

When we dug a bit deeper through focus group discussions, we found there was a social desirability issue: slum residents wanted junk food because it reflected a higher socioeconomic status.

Their aspirations are linked to a combination of clever marketing, celebrity culture and the social media frenzy around global fast food outlets opening in Kenya.

And who could blame them? In the past few years, several major global fast food brands have set up shop in Kenya including KFC chicken and Pizza Hut. And more are said to be eyeing an entrance into East Africa’s largest economy.

Trying to find ways to promote fruit and vegetable consumption among slum residents isn’t easy. To add to the problem one of Kenya’s major dailies recently published a bombshell article slamming fruit and vegetables.

According to the article, laboratory tests conducted by scientists on samples of fruit and vegetables from across Nairobi found toxic levels of various substances.

It argued that samples of sukuma wiki had shown high levels of lead, most likely from contaminated riverbeds where the vegetable is typically grown. And samples of bananas and oranges had high levels of calcium carbide, which is used illegally to hasten the ripening of fruit.

The article sparked widespread negative reaction and has exacerbated the challenge of those living in urban slums not eating vegetables.

The World Health Organistion’s recommendations for improving fruit and vegetable intake are pitched at a high policy level. For example, one recommendation is that marketing of food and beverages to children should be restricted.

But for health practitioners on the ground suggestions such as these do not necessarily translate into practical steps to change eating habits.

The challenge health practitioners have is what message do we pass to the residents of Nairobi’s slums? Do we ask them to eat more fruit and vegetables given the revelations in the news article? Or do we ask them to stick with junk food until the relevant authorities get their act together and halt illicit practices affecting the fruit and vegetable industry?

Clearly this is a catch-22 situation. The newspaper article highlights the need for developing countries like Kenya to review their food and agricultural policies.

There is an urgent need for policies that protect the lives of people by:

  • promoting access to healthy food
  • regulating the production, sale and marketing of junk food (and drinks)
  • ensuring that the food supply chain is free of toxic chemicals, drugs and other contaminants, and
  • minimising the effects of food production on climate change and vice versa.

The policy environment for these interventions is currently weak. And unless the government takes urgent steps to put these policies in place, there is no way to stop people from lining up at the next fast food outlet.

This article was originally published on The Conversation, Februari 16, 2016

Africans in Nazi Germany- they did exist

Jan 27, 2016

​Borders are narrower and walls higher. We, here in Europe, are protecting ourselves from them. A them that does not share the same values as us. The same culture. The same understanding for human rights.
It is needless to say that history is repeating itself. Or rather, we are repeating history.

The 27th January is marked as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day is to commemorate all the victims of the Holocaust. Although we know that over 6 million Jews and over 2 million Romani people lost their lives, little is known about the African fates.

This is not to compete which group suffered the most or is most neglected, but let us talk about the Africans in Nazi Germany. Because they did exist. Discover Hans Hauck, Hans-Jurgen Massaquoi and others in this week’s Kalangu.

Take care of each other and remember that we are the ones choosing to repeat history or not.

What’s holding back Ghana’s progress in reducing maternal mortality

Sep 21, 2015

Ghana has made significant progress in reducing the number of mothers who die from complications during labour and after childbirth in the last 25 years.

Between 1980 and 2008, Ghana successfully cut maternal deaths from 731 to 409 per 100,000 pregnancies. The current rate of 380 is below the sub-Saharan Africa average of 510 in 2013, making Ghana the country with the lowest number of deaths in the West African region.

The long-term figures show great progress but year-on-year change has been slow. Efforts to reduce the number further is being hampered by female illiteracy, poor transport infrastructure, skills shortages and complications created by some local pastors.

Over the past two decades the Ghanaian government has recognized the need to tackle the problem of maternal mortality and has worked internally and with international agencies and governments to save mothers.

Several programmes have been put in place. One is the Safe Motherhood programme under the Ghana health service. The programme went hand-in-hand with a comprehensive review of all maternity service provisions. These include skilled manpower shortages, a lack of equipment and an inadequate supply of essential medicines.

There is also the Making It Happen programme - a collaboration between a British university, hospital and government donor agency. Ghana is one of 11 countries in Africa and South Asia that are part the programme. It involves 300 UK-based volunteers giving local healthcare teams and trainers a three-day training course in essential obstetrics knowledge and skills.

The programme has trained more 12,000 healthcare workers with an ultimate target of 17,000. It has resulted in a mean reduction in maternal deaths of 50% and a 15% reduction in stillbirths.

The programme won the prestigious British Medical Journal Women’s Health Team award this year. The programme judges remarked:

Over the last six years, this inspiring project has saved the lives of countless women and babies in 11 developing countries across several continents. In 2014 alone its UK-based volunteers have held over 100 essential obstetrics knowledge and skills training courses for local health care teams and trainers. The project has been continuously expanding its geographical reach to tackle maternal morbidity.

But challenges remain

Ghana’s progress in further reducing maternal mortality is stunted by several challenges. These include a combination of female illiteracy, poor road infrastructure, skill shortages and unnecessary interventions by pastors. In some instances, there are initiatives to mitigate these challenges – but they have not achieved major breakthroughs.

Many women in rural areas refuse access to skilled care during the delivery of their babies. This is often because of a lack of understanding of the public health messages. Female illiteracy has a role to play. Although the Ghanaian government offers free education for all children up to junior secondary school, families in rural communities are more likely to get a girl to work in the farm than encourage further education. Between 2008 and 2012, only 43% of girls attended secondary school.

Another contributing factor is that women often adhere to the norms and traditions of their mothers and grandmothers who had their babies without skilled birth attendants.

Getting to a clinic is a major challenge for many women. Road infrastructure in rural Ghana is poor and roads are sometimes impassable in the rainy season. In Ghana’s central region, communities have paired up with the Ghana health service, transport unions, the European Commission, the United Nations and Ghana’s government to address the problem. This, it is believed, will help reduce maternal deaths.

Aside from a cash injection, the initiative includes dedicated taxi drivers who leave their telephone numbers with nurses at the health facilities in cases of emergency or to transport pregnant women in labour.

Skill shortages are also a problem, mainly in rural areas. Newly qualified staff are reluctant to get postings in rural areas – and those with skills in maternity care who are posted are rotated in other departments such as respiratory and orthopedics, depriving mothers of skilled birth attendants.

Lastly, the intervention of pastors, particularly when there are complications for the women in labour, can prevent emergency procedures being performed on mothers. This too is having an impact on maternal mortality rates.

This issue was raised at an international conference in 2014. A call was made for research into the influence of prayer camps and preachers on obstetric and reproductive decision-making in Ghana.

Intervening pastors are widespread in southern Ghana where there is a predominantly christian population. It is also predominantly a rural problem, although some urban areas are also affected.

On recent visits to programme sites, trainees have recounted harrowing stories to volunteers about local pastors who prevent highly trained health service staff from doing their jobs, resulting in the unnecessary deaths.

The most common occurrence is when an emergency caesarean is required. Before doctors and midwives can operate, the woman calls her pastor who delays the operation until his arrival, saying he could possibly “save” her from having an operation. Inevitably, she and her baby die in the wait.

Another scenario is that a male pastor decides that the woman is better off delivering her baby on the church premises instead of the hospital.

Mutual respect could save the day

Although all maternal deaths in Ghana cannot be blamed on a few pastors, the matter does require the services of an organised body of religious leaders to tackle the issue.

Pastors provide good pastoral care to their parishioners and are to be commended. Mothers are dying for many reasons, some of which are being addressed through the various training programmes and enhanced health service provisions. In the broader scheme, though, the function of the obstetrics health care workers needs to be understood. Their goal is to provide the best service for pregnant women. They take no delight in simply undertaking interventions on pregnant women for no medical benefit. They do, however, need the respect they deserve as precious lives are at stake.

This article first appeared in The Conversation July 6, 2015

Breaking cultural barriers in the fight against poverty

Aug 17, 2015

I have just realized that my definition of poverty has evolved the more I’ve worked with microfinance and the more I meet various people in different communities. Poverty is not always the lack of resources to enjoy a minimum standard of life and well-being, provided that how one assesses that is anything but straightforward. Sometimes, it’s also the unwillingness to take advantages of opportunities that could improve one’s life conditions because they are contrary to personal beliefs derived from habits or traditions.

There have been various instances in the field where I was baffled by the power of culture, and thought I would share some with you. It should be noted that these observations should not be generalized to the countries I visited, or of course to the whole African continent.

"You don’t count your blessings." Therefore, some borrowers won’t answer these questions: how many children or grandchildren do you have? How many sheep, goats… do you have? I’ve learned to use a threshold i.e. more than 10? Etc.

"The man provides for the family." Therefore, there should technically be no need for the woman to take out a loan to support any income-generating activity. Some men fear that their wives will no longer respect them or submitt to them if they are earning an income. It’s to the extent where some women have taken loans without their husbands knowing at the risk of being repudiated.

In some cases, it’s not so much that the husband doesn’t allow his wife to take a loan, it’s rather the wife that choses to hide it for various reasons: (i) the husband continuously asks for money – for legitimate use or not, promising he will reimburse (of course, he never does!); (ii) the husband doesn’t contribute anymore to the household expenses, and he would defer to the wife for anything – health expenses, kids’ school fees, food, etc.

"Taking a loan is taboo." Your family or neighbors might put you to shame if they know that you have taken a loan. It doesn’t matter if your business is doing well as you are expected to succeed on your own. Thus, you certainly cannot boast about your business if you have a bank loan. Some borrowers chose not to take Kiva loans because they don’t want their pictures published online (they don’t want “publicity for their loans” they say). Or some would agree to have their pictures taken as long as it’s not at their workplace or home where some nosy neighbors would be asking questions.

"Education is not necessary." Once I was visiting a borrower at her home on a weekday morning in a suburban area. I noticed her 10-year old girl was with her and I asked if the girl wasn’t at school. She replied, matter-of-factly: yes but I’ve asked her to stay at home today to help me with some chores. There were so many things that went through my mind at that moment as I was struggling to keep a neutral voice tone and facial expression. I tried my very best to convince her with tact (and big smiles!!) to let her kid attend school without disruption. She promised to, but quite frankly long after I left her, I’ve kept thinking about this little girl.

You get the point, it takes a tremendous community education and awareness campaign to effectively fight against poverty in the most vulnerable communities. Nothing is taken for granted there. I would say that the microfinance institutions that are true to their social mission are doing a terrific job of this. Bravo!

​A market full of debts- is microfinance really helping?

Aug 11, 2015

Microfinance is a general term for the economical services given to low-incomes. The interest rate in microloans is often lower than the formal banks’. Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus’ microcredit project was in many ways innovative when launched in 1982. But is microfinance really working? Kalangu focuses this week on what impact microfinance can have for African women.

Former U.N Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that microfinance could help poor people to "move beyond day-to-day survival, towards planning their future.” Muhammad Yunus himself claims that “all human beings are born as entrepreneurs.” Does this mean that poor people are responsible for their own poverty and that everyone can be successful just given little money?

In this week’s Kalangu you will meet Belinda Kekle and Mary Hugly, two Ghanaian women who opened their own businesses with an additional sum from microloans. Read also why microfinance expert Yves Komaclo do not believe in microfinance targeted to women and why Nigerian gender expert Hauwa Mahdi is critical to microfinance's western-centric approach to African women.

And tell us what you think, is microfinance really helping?


May 26, 2014

So here it is. Finally, I've realized my dream of creating a magazine about Africa. By Africans.

As a Congolese born Swedish I've heard nothing but negativity about my country and other countries in Africa. But I knew something was wrong. How can a continent of 54 countries have no good in it? How come we Africans still have the shackles around our wrists and the mouth still tightly cuffed? It cannot be.

Africa is not a country. We know that. But it keeps being portrayed as a country. So we want to show you the diversity in this vast and beautiful continent. Sometimes there's nothing that binds an African country to another. Sometimes there are many strings attached. However it is, Kalangu proudly echoes the voices of Africans. Voices that so many times are suppressed and neglected. We believe there needs to be a pragmatic change in how Africans are portrayed.

Thank you for listening and making your voice heard!

And being a new magazine we greatly want feedback from you. What is good? What can we do better? Is there something we failed to see? Anything is of help. So thank you and please enjoy!