Ms. Prosy Nabwami, Master Artisan and Weaver

sm-Ms-Prosy-Nabwami3

Ms. Prosy Nabwami is the current group secretary and a master artisan in the Balikyewunya Women’s Group and the district at large. She is an active mobiliser and trainer with a passion of seeing her fellow artisans develop and improve their standards of living. She also runs the group’s store/showroom in one room on her house.

The group makes a number of natural fiber based products which mainly include:

– Fruits Baskets, Hats, Placements
– Shopping Baskets
– Assorted house accents

Recently, Ms. Prosy Nabwami was one of the first recipients of our “Light Up Their Lives!” project to provide solar kits to our cooperative members in Uganda. We have put much thought into our process and will be distributing kits based on how many children they household has, followed by their level of participation in our cooperatives. Thus, based on her long-term and important level of participation as a master weaver, trainer and group secretary; coupled with the number of children in her household; Ms. Nabwami was among the first on the list.

We forwarded some questions along with the solar kit and Ms. Prosy was kind enough to take the time to reply to them. Here, then, is our (remote) interview with her:

“We are very pleased to receive the solar kit; this is a catalyst in our development” said Prosy.

1. What is the greatest advantage you will see from having this solar kit?

– Better light for everyone in my house to do their work by at least 2-3 hours in the night. During this time, our children and grandchildren will be reading their books.
– For me, I will be able to add some working hours to my craft work/ especially weaving.
– Apart from my immediate family, 6 members of the group in the neighborhood work from my home for some hours in the evening, they charge their phone during the day.

– For my children and grandchildren, they will be able to do read their books/do their school homework in better light.
-I also used to pay UGX 500 (about $0.20 US) each time I took my phone for charging and have to charge it 3 times a week; I now save this money.

2. How many people will benefit from using the solar kit?

– Six (6)members of the group who are close to my house will be able to meet at my house in the evening from 7-9pm as we work on our products.
– During the day we are able to charge our telephones at my house instead of walking a distance and paying charging fees.

3. What will you now be able to do that you couldn’t do before owning the kit?

– It was not possible to weave/ make crafts after sun set. With light of the solar kit our working time is extended.
4. How much time, energy or resources will you save because you now have a kit?

– I have been walking at a distance of ½ Km to take my phone for charging and I pay UGX. 500 ($0.20 US) per charging; It stays there for almost one full day then I collect it. In total I have walked two km and unable to receive calls when charging. With an old phone like mine, I have to charge it twice a week.

5. If you have children, how will owning the solar kit specifically make their lives easier or better?

– Reading light is far better and each individual is reached in the house. Children no longer have to gather around one kerosene lamp to read their books.
– Because of better light, they will now read their books a little longer without headaches or worries that the fuel is soon running out.
– Solar lighting is brighter than kerosene lamps. I couldn’t afford to buy several lanterns so children have to congregate around one lamp and read their book. They complain about headaches and pain in the eyes from time to time. I think over exposure to the kerosene lamps could be one of the causes.

6. What one thing do you want people who are considering making a donation to know?

– The Solar lamp is a key catalyst in development of our grassroots communities. The benefit of enabling us work longer, in better light is unmatchable.
-The initial cost of a Solar Kit is high for most people but again using kerosene lamps for light is expensive in the long term for example I use Uganda shilling 1,000 (about $0.35 US) for kerosene per night (6:30pm till 10:00pm).
– Most of us cannot afford to buy solar because the initial cost is high. We end-up using kerosene lamps but these too are expensive in the long run. I spend Uganda Shilling 1,000 per day on kerosene for one lamp, (approximately US$ 0.35).

If you want to help in an even bigger way, buy a product that is made by women like Ms Prosy over at our website. This is an amazing way to help us sell the baskets being woven by the very women in Uganda that you are proving light to. You’ll be giving twice!  For every Ugandan basket ordered in 2015, Mama pledges we will donate a part of the proceeds to our Light Up Their Futures! campaign.

Mama Welcomes Neritia to the Round Table: Dialog with an Unexpected African Woman

 Images of Africa often include some basics: elephants and lions, jeeps with their tops off taking people on safari, the open savanna and African people with their skin the color of dark chocolate.

Although all of those images do describe Africa in part; there is much greater diversity to Africa and Africans.  My guest today is someone I’d describe as unexpected in more ways than one.

NeritiaYou are probably wondering, quite naturally, what I mean by “unexpected”.   She is a woman and not afraid at all of using her voice.  She is African; but doesn’t have the face many first imagine.  She looks sweet (and is); but talks tough (when needed).  As the quote she uses on her Twitter account says: “ Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.” -DH Lawrence.  I look forward to hearing her “say it hot”.  So, here we go:

Neritia is a proud South African woman.  I’ve invited her to the Round Table to discuss a few things that are in the minds and hearts of many South African women: women’s rights, employment, China and of course that word you know I dislike so: “race”.

Welcome to the Round Table, Neritia.  I know that you’ve been here before to sit in on other interviews from time to time.  I’m really happy that you are here, especially because I’ve really wanted to invite you for a while.  So now that you have your cup of Red Bush tea, let’s settle in for a few questions:

1.       How do you identify yourself… who are you?  I’d also like to follow up on that question.   As a person of mixed heritage, I am always interested in how people identify themselves.  :  What matters most to you, your: ethnicity, culture or nationality?

I am Neritia.  I laugh, love, cry and work hard and loud!  I am woman, wife, sister, daughter and friend.  Injustice will probably be the end of me – but I have an enormous amount of hope that’s a constant in my life.

My nationality matters most to me! I am South African and I am African  – my skin colour might tell you a different story – but the drumbeat of this continent is what continuously shapes and challenges me to grow into someone who can rise above the history of our country!

2. What is your biggest daily challenge living as a woman in South Africa?

My biggest challenge is both self-inflicted and part of my history.

I need to continuously remind myself that being a woman does not equate to being less than a man.

 

3.       “As the Nigerian proverb goes: it takes a village to raise a child.” With this in mind, what do you think is the most important lesson that we should teach “our” children?

We need to teach our children that all people are equal and our differences should be celebrated.  This will allow children to grow into balanced adults who understand their own value as well as that of other!

4.       China.  For some Africans, the name is almost synonymous with opportunity?  For others, it brings to mind the new face of colonialism.  Where do you stand on the issue?

This question is both interesting and scary!  To me it looks a lot like the years when colonialism was widespread in Africa.  It is my opinion that Africa is treading on dangerous ground when believing that the billions of dollars China “invests” in Africa through funding is for the benefit of Africa and her people.  China has the money…and they play the fiddle.

The funding goes to African Governments – and although I hope I am wrong – the people and not those in Government will be the ones who will suffer the most when China starts to pressurize countries who cannot meet their debt repayment or when they have exhausted our resources. China’s need for resources is insatiable and they will be the only true beneficiaries of their largess.

I don’t think we (me) realize the magnitude of Chinese involvement in South Africa and Africa.  Forget about the pressure on resources – just think about what it does to local employment.  In South Africa, where unemployment is constantly on the rise – Chinese involvement and the fact that they bring their own laborers are putting huge strain on job opportunities.

I believe that we Africans need to start looking out for our own future and we need to realize that not all “aid” is good.

 

5.       1994 was an incredibly important year for South Africans. Can you tell me what you first think of when you hear “1994”?

I think of long queues of people – sitting and standing in the sun.  I think of colour – a true reflection of our country.  I think of the excitement, the exhilaration, the hope and the noise!  It was absolutely divine!

 
6. I am still struck by a comment made by a professor while I was a young student in university: “The only two countries that require people to be classified by ‘race’ on official forms are South Africa and the United States.” How do you feel about the word and its importance or relevance in South Africa today?

I still cringe when I think about the role apartheid played in engraving race into the soul of our country. We might be in our 19th year of post-apartheid, but it doesn’t’ change the fact that decades of segregation still have us reeling from the after-effect. The journey towards racial healing is long and needs to be addressed with utmost care.

We can never forget the importance of the word ”race” – it shaped South Africa and her people much more than most care to acknowledge.

 
Our Government is making the word relevant. There are days when I am shocked by how deep-seated the classification of people still is. I am also tired of the word…it feels to me as though we’re just not moving forward!

 
7. Policy and reality are often miles apart. Many of my readers know about changes that have been made in government policy in South Africa concerning ownership of land, businesses and other programs intended to encourage equality between ethnic groups. How have you seen things actually play out on the ground?

 
Yes Mama – in South Africa policy and reality can sometimes be as far removed as the east from the west!

On paper we have excellent policies in place…but in reality it’s not aiding the people that it was designed to help.

I do feel the need to boast a little though! Finally it looks like our policies on HIV/AIDS are starting to reap fruit – and I am cautiously optimistic about the fact that we are starting to win the war against this horrific plague. The positive results we’re receiving through our HIV/AIDS policies just proves that where there’s a will there’s a way – and if we could apply the same sense of urgency to other critical policies in South Africa I am sure we’d be able to eventually eradicate corruption too.

 
8. I know that you take women’s rights seriously. For years, the discussion of rape and violence against women in South Africa has been vigorous and animated. How do you think the current Reeva Steenkamp case is changing the face of spousal abuse from that of poor Black men to something more generally prevalent? Do you expect it to polarize or broaden the national dialog on the issue of women’s rights?

I am so glad that you’re asking me this question!

I believe that rape, violence against women and spousal abuse cuts across socioeconomic, ethnic and religious groups. It happens in affluent homes in upmarket neighbourhoods, it happens in the workplace, it happens in schools and it happens in poor communities. It’s an issue that should unite women across South Africa, Africa and the world – irrespective of identity.

You know, I often wonder whether we compartmentalize these issues and the abusers in order to cope with the staggering and horrific assault of facts and violence on our hearts and minds. Life without the bewildering stats that a woman is raped every four minutes in South Africa would be sublime! If you’re in the fortunate position to not be part of the statistics, it’s easier to pretend it doesn’t affect you or that which you identify yourself with. When you are one of the millions who make up the statistics and depending on whom your abuser is, you almost effortlessly slip into the “comfort” of categorizing! It’s extremely hard for the abused to not categorize. It’s hard for family and friends of the abused to not categorize. It becomes a coping mechanism for some!

You need to keep in mind that violence in South Africa is nothing new. The lack of respect for women was as rife prior to 1994 as it is now. Growing up as a white, Afrikaner, attending the Dutch Reformed Church and being called privileged did not protect me from seeing and experiencing rape, violence or spousal abuse…the difference however is that no one spoke about it.

Post 1994 and with the explosion of Internet in Africa women have become more vocal about abuse and their lack of rights. I think the anonymity of the Internet made it easier for women to share their stories and to discover that there are other women going through the same thing and dialog, sharing and sisterhood grew from it. The world became smaller and the average South African woman now has access to resources (information and people) she never dreamed of having before. The borders of South Africa enlarged in a virtual world.

My heart would like to believe that what happened to Reeva Steenkamp will broaden national dialog on the issue of women’s rights, but unfortunately I am not convinced that it will. Although this case is a high profile case, with much international interest, the fact remains that the attention the case receives has much more to do with the man who held the gun than the woman who lost her life.

Anene_Booysen_i2e

Anene Booysen

The recent gang rape, mutilation and murder of Anene Booysen’s is but one example of what happens to dialog in South Africa. Friday, 15 February 2013 became Black Friday for Rape Awareness in her remembrance of her – but the story of Reeva and Oscar overshadowed Anene’s death. Dialog did not stop completely, but it’s not receiving the attention it deserves.

 
9. “Corrective” rape, rape to cure AIDS, gang rape and spousal abuse? With issues as important as these on the table; where and how do you find hope? What concrete steps can we take to ensure that our continent’s daughters and granddaughters discuss statistics like “every 46 seconds a woman is raped” as figures from their distant past?

You know how people always say your body has a muscle memory – well I think my body has a “hope memory”. My relationship with God gives me hope. Conversations with women give me hope. My girlfriends give me hope. Good deeds of individuals, a solitary voice rising above the noise and women rising above their circumstances – these are the things that fill me with hope. We’re a resilient nation Mama – we’ve overcome much – and we will rise above and beyond this too.

I believe that each and every woman in Africa should be actively involved in eradicating all forms of rape and spousal abuse. We’re all aware of the fact that education is of utmost importance. We know that we need better policing, more convictions and harsher punishment – but I would like to address other social issues here.

Women raise the men who rape…and every rapist is born to a woman. Can you imagine how different the world might be if women and men were treated the same. In being treated the same there should be less reason for men to want to dominate women through acts of violence!

We need to educate our daughters and mothers need to educate their sons. We need to use storytelling and role models as a tool to create awareness of the wrongs of any form of violence against women. It needs to start at home, it needs to be carried through at school and it needs to be in the media on a daily basis! Every communicative resource needs to be applied in fighting this war against women!

Men need to be involved in raising children and fathers need to teach their sons what masculinity is. I don’t believe that boys are born violent – we make them violent! Men need to understand that dominance and aggression is not what defines “manhood”.

Through the collective actions of individuals who are prepared to safeguard the daughters of our continents social change will ensue!
When girls realize they are not objects they will flourish!

 
10. I ask this next question of all of my guests, presidents and farmers alike. Now, I will ask it of you: If you could wave a magic wand over Africa and change just one thing, what would it be?

That all people in Africa can learn to respect themselves, which will ultimately lead to respecting others!

Neritia, I love your blog and have always enjoyed dialog with you. We’ve talked about everything from politics to faith, from women’s issues to work and I have to say that despite that, I hesitated, just a little, to pose a couple of these questions. After all, color is a touchy subject in South Africa and tends to instantly create a heated dialog. In my youth, I’ll be honest in saying I wasn’t sure what role (if any) Whites had to play in South Africa’s future. I was blinded by the injustice of it all. After all, apartheid was such a dirty way of dealing with your fellow man. I feel a need to not only “confess” this to you; but to thank you. It is in part through our friendship and via our discussions that I learned that we do, in fact, have a very similar vision for our beloved continent. Your openness and frankness have allowed me to evolve my view of the world, and for that I sincerely thank you. I am proud to call you “sister”. Keep fighting the fight for African women and women everywhere.

 
If you have any questions or comments that you would like to add… please do so in our comments section below. After all, you know what I say so often “Dialog matters, without it no lasting solutions or friendships are found.”

Celebrating the 4th of July with Alexis La Pollo at Mama’s Round Table

I am so incredibly proud to have a guest at Mama’s Round Table that I can honestly tell you I love dearly, my daughter, Alexis La Pollo. Only 18 years old, she is a self-published author, president of her graduating class and someone you will certainly be hearing more about in the years to come.
As a member of the first generation of African from our family born in the United States, it seemed fitting that she be the guest at my table this 4th of July. I am her mother, so of course, there are lots of other things I could ask her about which are fun and interesting. But, this is Mama Afrika’s table; so don’t worry, we will stay on topic.
Hello Alexis and welcome to the Round Table. I know that you have read other interviews conducted at this table and I’d like to begin by welcoming you to this space which is so important to the future of Africa: A place where all viewpoints are welcome and respectful dialog is encouraged.
So, let’s get started:
1. Who are you? Can you describe yourself in a couple of phrases?
I am a daughter, sister, friend, and leader. I am African, Italian, French and American, all at the same time.
2. What does it mean to you to be African?
It means the world to me to be African, even though I may not look African in appearance it is a big part of me. Growing up I met plenty of Africans both in the US and in Europe and the bond that Africans share, whether you are from Senegal or Madagascar or whether you now live in Sweden or China is undeniable. Africans have built a strong community and a bond worldwide and I am privileged to be a part of that.
3. What does it mean to you to be American?
America, to me, is one of the greatest countries in the world. It is a beacon of freedom and hope to many around the world for good reason, it is a nation built on hard work, equality and diversity unmatched throughout the world. I feel proud when I tell people I am American, our nation may have made mistakes in the past, but we have overcome them and set a wonderful example for the rest of the world. I am proud to live in this land of opportunity.
4. Do you think that members of the African Diaspora, especially those born abroad, have a greater allegiance to their nation of birth or the nation of their ancestors’ roots?
In many ways I feel that it greatly depends on how close the person has remained to their roots; however, I also know that no matter how detached a person becomes from Africa while living abroad they still consider Africa their home. In this way, there will always be an allegiance to Africa that runs a little deeper than the newer bond they have with their adoptive country.
5. How do you imagine your life if you’d have been born in Eritrea instead of the U.S.?
I can truthfully say that my life would not be as great as it is not. Living in Europe and the US has given me the freedom to follow my dreams and forge my own path in the world. Living under an oppressive dictatorship in Eritrea would not have allowed me to voice my opinions, continue with my education the way I wanted to or even to be able to write my book. On top of this, living in Eritrea would mean being in fear of my government instead of being able to vote and give my opinions like I can here. Just being able to take part in the political process is not something I could have done in Eritrea.
6. What are some of the things that you think any young African can do to contribute to the betterment of Africa without necessarily dedicating their life to politics or running a non-profit organization?
One of my favorite quotes, by Margaret Mead, reads “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” As cliché as it sounds, small thoughtful acts done by everyone could really change everything. Donating your time, talents, or funds to an organization that you can see doing good in the world is a great start. Even spreading the world to your friends about the issues facing Africa today is a great help. The more people know about an issue, the easier it is to be solved. We cannot count on the media to spread the word for us, we must do it ourselves; and in this age of media and social networking it isn’t even difficult. Share a link, like a page, re-tweet something powerful, it is as simple as that. You may never know who will see it and be able to also contribute their time, talents or funds.
7. In what ways do you feel your African heritage has driven your goals for your own future?
I think that the main driving force in my choosing to major in International Relations has been my background. Being African in particular has made me really want to make a change in Africa through the political arena. I want to see the day that all countries, especially Eritrea, see the freedoms that I had the privilege in growing up with in America and I now plan on working towards that every day.
8. If I say “tiger mom” many think of high pressure Asian mothers which push their children to attain success in all things academic. If I say to you “lion mom” what do you think of?
Immediately I think of African mothers, though Asian mothers get a lot of the attention, African mothers are just as fierce. I grew up, as I’m sure most members of the diaspora have, hearing all about family that still lived in Africa. Every time I brought home a bad grade or misbehaved in some way I heard all about this cousin or that aunt who would kill to have the opportunities that I do in the west, and how it was wrong and disrespectful to them for me to squander those opportunities. I have not met many Africans, especially in my family, who have not risen up to every challenge and met every goal they set for themselves; not just for themselves but for those back home who never could.
9. OK, my signature question: “If you could wave a magic wand over Africa and change any one thing for women and children, what would it be?”
I would stage fair and just elections for all oppressed countries so that the voices of the people, the ones who really know best for the country, can finally be heard.
10. Finally, please tell us all about your book and what made you write it.
My book, Patchwork, began as a school project in my senior year and grew into something bigger than I ever thought it would be. I, and many others, struggled with my identity as a child. Where was I really from if I had so many cultures as part of me? I was filled with questions, what really makes a person American in a nation comprised of immigrants? How strongly to others feel connected to their home countries? So I set out to interview immigrants to the US from all over the world. My journey, along with their interviews are what became the foundation for my book Patchwork.
Thank you Alexis for showing us a glimpse into that shadowy space where cultures blend.

I often talk about how important our youth are and how necessary it is to invest in them if we want to see a strong Africa. I hope that today as many Americans of African heritage celebrate freedom and liberty in this nation; we are able to take a moment to think about how to create a generation of African youth who have the ability to express themselves and their vision for their respective countries in a productive way. Our children, be they in Berlin or Boston, Beijing or Bamako… all have something to contribute to the future of Africa. Let us raise those living in the Diaspora to take what is good from where they live and find a way to incorporate it into Africa’s future in a way that respects our indigenous traditions and heritage.
Happy 235th Birthday America! And thanks most of all for giving me a safe place to raise and educate my children and for having provided me with opportunities that I’ve been blessed with during my time here. The U.S. has welcomed me and despite the glitches and needed improvements I see in this nation; I must say that today, along with millions of other people of African heritage, I am also proudly American.

My silence explained… (via Sir Nigel’s Journey…)

Last year, Nigel was a guest at Mama’s Round Table and promised to keep us updated on his progress after moving back to Zimbabwe from the U.K.. Its been a couple of months since his move home and now he’s found the time to tell us what he’s been up to.

I found his blog post an interesting reminder that day to day life often puts politics into perspective, even if politics does greatly influence one’s daily life in the end.

Thanks Nigel! And keep the updates coming 🙂

Love, Mama

I haven’t blogged properly in almost 2 months now. And if you’re wondering why the silence – sadly and unfortunately I wasn’t kidnapped by ‘’Mugar-be’s Firing Squad’’ as reported on SKY News late last week! I simply took some time out from writing to fully appreciate and familiarise myself with my ‘new’ surroundings. I’ve moved back home now and I’ve spent the majority of my time settling in, spending time with family, networking, adjusting to my … Read More

via Sir Nigel’s Journey…

Interview with President Kagame of Rwanda, Part Two

Click here if you missed the first part of Mama’s interview with President Kagame.

PART TWO:

6. “No man is an island.” What women in your life most shaped your world view and influenced you?

I have been influenced mostly by the injustice that I lived in my childhood and youth. There are women who worked hard in difficult circumstances – like the mothers in refugee camps who raised families in desperate conditions, and our female comrades fought beside us to liberate Rwanda. Their acts of courage and bravery are a continuing inspiration.  I greatly admire the women of Rwanda and how they have taken up the task of building a new country after total devastation – they are a big part of why Rwanda is where it is today. I also have a wonderful partner in my wife Jeannette, who works tirelessly through the Imbuto Foundation to educate and empower women and girls.

7. I would imagine that one of the biggest challenges to leading a nation which has seen the devastating effects of hate speech; is to then find a balance between freedom and restraint.  Considering Rwanda’s history, how have you walked the delicate line between respecting human rights such as freedom of speech and preventing hateful speech from again dividing your nation?

I think the answer has been in writing a comprehensive constitution. We looked at many constitutions and also involved citizens in determining what would serve them best, considering the experience they had just gone through and how they lived harmoniously together before colonial dislocation. Today we make sure that that constitution is strictly adhered to. Only those who do not understand today’s Rwanda and Rwandans, or those feel they have a right to influence how Rwanda should be governed, talk about lack of freedom of speech.

8. I’ve noticed a certain duality in your leadership style.  On the one hand, you have reached back to Rwanda’s traditions to implement solutions such as the Gacaca courts; yet you are also utilizing high-tech solutions like Twitter to communicate.  How do you think Africa in general, and Rwanda in particular, can best manage the natural conflict sometimes caused when tradition and new ideas meet?

I seek out the best of everything, in tradition and in modernity. I am relatively new to tweeting but I really like the way it allows me to talk directly to people all around the world about everything from African politics to Arsenal, my favourite football team. Similarly, the traditional Gacaca court system helped us try a huge number of genocide cases quickly but, more importantly, it also helped reconcile and unite Rwandans after an incredibly painful period in our history.

9. “Africa for Africans” is a phrase that is used by some to mean that Africa shouldn’t be “recolonized” by China.  For others, it means that Westerners shouldn’t be the ones that dictate the solutions to Africa’s problems.  Others use it to mean we should look invest in our African children in the hope that they will be our future problem solvers.  What does the phrase mean to you, Mr. President?

It means Africans determining their own destiny. We truly value the support and friendship with partner countries, including China and other countries in the West and elsewhere but ultimately, Africans alone must shape the future of this continent. By giving our children the best possible education and health facilities we are not only giving them the best start in life – but ensuring Africa’s continued dignity, development and transformation. This is the only way for us to be on equal footing with the rest of the world.

10. Please forgive me for asking such an unsophisticated question to a man of your status.  But, it has become a tradition here at Mama’s Round Table, and if you’ll allow it; I’d like to ask you the same question that I ask all of my guests: If you could wave a magic wand over Rwanda and change one thing; what would it be?

I would rid Rwanda of all poverty so that everyone, regardless of background or birth, were able to enjoy all the opportunities that this wonderful country, and our abundant continent hold.

Again, thank you so much Mr. President for your time and candor.  I am sure that no matter where people stand on the issues that we’ve discussed, they would join me in thanking you for sharing your time, views and opinions with us.  As for me, I look forward to another 10 years of work with the wonderful people of Rwanda.  May God bless your beautiful nation with a wonderful and prosperous future.

Feel free to share your views with us in the comments section below. This is a round table after all and all voices are welcome!

Blessings,

Mama

Mama’s First Round Table Guest of 2011: H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda

Photo source: PaulKagame.com

As many of you know, Mama Afrika has been working with Rwandans for many years now.  In fact, I can still vividly recall the day that I first heard from Beatrice Mukansinga, the director of Mbwira Ndumva in Kigali, Rwanda.  I was still living in France at the time and had only recently launched MamaAfrika.com.  I had a little post-it note on my make-shift desk with a short list on it titled “Top 10 countries I want to work with”.  Rwanda was on that list and for good reason.  Sure I, like most of the world, had heard of the horrible genocide in 1994.  I understood that it was a nation facing a massive challenge because of it.  Additionally, while working on my master’s thesis in university, I had selected Rwanda as one of my case studies; so I guess I knew a little more than the average person about the country.  Many years before Hotel Rwanda had come out as a film; I had read the book and it touched me profoundly.

Fast forward to the receipt of the news that I was going to at long last, be able to add Rwanda to our list of trade partners… I sang, I danced and I told my children that we were going to be able to (in our very small way) help a nation of good people rebuild their nation.

Since then, we’ve sold hundreds of beautiful cards made by some of the most incredible women you’ll ever meet.  I’ve done my best to network for them when I could.  And, we’ve sent donations in the form of funds, eye glasses and other items.  But most of all, we’ve prayed for Rwanda’s healing.

I tell you all of this because I want you to understand the immense joy it brings me to have the opportunity to have His Excellency, Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame at Mama’s Round Table today.  He is a man who needs little introduction.  Thank you Mr. President for agreeing to humble me and my readers with your time, which we understand is precious.

1. I was once told that it was important to be able to describe myself (who I am, what I do and what is important to me) in just one sentence.  I offer you the same challenge: Who are you?

I am a Rwandan who has been given the great privilege of leading Rwandans as we work to combat poverty, injustice, educate our children and take control of our own destiny; my sole wish is to do this as well as I possibly can .

2. For many people living outside of Africa, even after all of these years, Rwanda equals genocide.  When you think of Rwanda, what image first comes to your mind?

My Rwanda is a country of a dignified people who have overcome the worst and are living and working together harmoniously, to advance the national interest and transform their country into a prosperous nation.

3. Leadership comes with its own set of challenges; among them balancing pleasing one’s citizens and making decisions even when you know they won’t be popular choices.  What do you say to your opponents and critics concerning the job you’ve done so far in Rwanda?

My opponents and critics must know that my decisions are the decisions of the majority of Rwandans. I am totally committed to the wishes of the citizens of this land and what opponents and critics say only concerns me if it is in the interest of these citizens. We only do what advances the welfare and progress of Rwandans and know that no country has advanced because it followed the wishes of opponents and critics.

4. As you might already know, my passion is ethical trade and its effects on African women and children.  In many African nations, women aren’t permitted to enter the dialog and development is left to men to decide, despite the fact that women are an integral part of its implementation.  How do you explain the fact that Rwandan women have taken such a forward role in the rebuilding of your nation (49% of Rwandan MPs are women) and what factors do you attribute this to?

We consider gender equality to be a fundamental human right and, just as women fought side by side with men in the liberation of Rwanda, so too have they been central to rebuilding our country. Nation building is hard work; I have never understood why anyone would want to sabotage this important task by leaving out more than half the population. I am proud that 56% of Rwanda’s MPs are women – but we continue to work harder to ensure women have equal footing in every aspect of national life.

5. As an African woman who has lived in the Diaspora for the majority of her life, I am interested in knowing your views on the subject.  There is always a certain tension between those living “at home” and those living abroad. In an ideal world, what role would the Rwandan Diaspora play in shaping the future of your nation?

Rwandans living “at home” and those in the Diaspora are on great terms.  In fact, remittances are Rwanda’s highest foreign exchange earner.  This past December, more than 2500 people, young and old, traveled to Brussels from their homes across Europe to put their questions to me. It was a great meeting – honest, lively and inspiring. There is a minority of Rwandans living abroad that are not happy about the progress Rwanda is making today, mostly because they identify with the bad politics that led to genocide, and that Rwandans today have rejected.  But these will not derail our vision for a stable, united and prosperous Rwanda. I always tell Rwandans in the Diaspora that Rwanda belongs to all of them and that we would welcome home anyone who wanted to return, but even if theychose to stay abroad, they all have a role to play in our country’s development.

Click here for  Part Two of my interview with President Kagame…

Blessings,

Mama

Mama Afrika’s Round Table 2011

After a great year of dialog with some fascinating guests like Freweini Ghebresadick,  Tendai Joe, Josef Scarantino and Nigel Mugamu; I am really looking forward to a great year ahead at Mama’s Round Table!  I have a dream list of some captivating and influential people that I am hoping will accept my invitation to meet with us here.  Wish me luck!

A big thank you to last year’s guests!  They are much appreciated and I think we’d agree that they’ve opened our eyes to some interesting issues including tech, aid, human rights and the role of the Diaspora in rebuilding Africa.  Thanks to your input, through comments on the blog, we’ve been able to have civilized, respectful dialog on a host of issues and I hope that you’ll stay with me (and maybe even invite a friend or two to join you) as we continue down the path of dialog.

I want Mama Afrika’s World to be a world like no other: a world where you and I can feel safe to talk about ALL things facing Africa and Africans.

In a world where things have gotten more and more politically correct (my two least favorite letters are now P and C because of it!)… Welcome to a safe space to come and dialog:  Mama Afrika’s Round Table.

This year, I’ll invite people to come and sit with me to talk.  I will be inviting “experts” from time to time; but all in all, I want this to be a place of equals: you and me.

Dialog is what has been lost in recent times.  We communicate with less than 140 characters on Twitter, the political scene is more and more divisive regardless of what country you live in, name-calling and accusations have become substitutes for honest disagreement or fair and open discussion.  To this, I say “STOP!”  Let’s take the time to listen, form our own opinions and share them politely and with respect.

If you are interested in the usual “anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot!” kind of thing… there are thousands of blogs, organizations and places you should be instead.  Leave now… and take your attitude with you.  It simply isn’t welcome in Mama’s house, or at my table.

If you would like to discuss anything here or if you have a guest that you’d like Mama to invite to the Round Table; please leave a comment here or contact Mama on Twitter  or via email.  Either way works just fine.  I’m open to any subject, whether it is my specialty or not.  I love to learn; not just teach.

OK, grab your favorite cup of African fair trade coffee, some Red Bush tea, or maybe a glass of red wine… and let’s start talking!

** ALL interviews conducted at Mama’s Round Table are posted unedited.  I NEVER alter answers given to my interview questions. To do so would violate the principle that dialog at this table remains open and honest. Occasionally, slight grammatical errors may be corrected; but only with the interviewee’s permission.

Mama’s Round Table: Nigel Mugamu (Part 2)

Hello again everyone, and welcome back to Mama’s Round Table! I hope that you enjoyed yesterday’s portion of my interview with Zimbabwean, Nigel Mugamu.  Let’s just jump right in where we left off, shall we Nigel?

6. Here is an easy one: freedom or food?

Give me freedom any day

 

7. You are a well-educated, successful man who is doing well for himself in the West.  What has made you decide to contribute to the reversal of “brain drain” from Africa and return home to Zimbabwe?  Would you recommend the same move to other Africans living abroad?

 

Firstly home is home and I always intended on returning. Without getting too sentimental, returning home had to make sense both financially and otherwise period! Let’s be realistic here. This is very important for anyone thinking of this. It made sense for me to return home given my work experience, exposure and the direction of my own life. I have been away from home for several years now. I was fortunate enough to spend a year in Zimbabwe 5/6 years ago so I’m not jumping into the deep end without experience. Economically things were bad then – shortages and so forth. This is no longer the case. I have been home twice in the last 10 months and I am currently involved in a startup which we hope to launch once I am on the ground. So you see it makes sense to go home for me.

 

People need to realize that this plan has been in the works for 2 years now. It takes time and proper planning and even then things don’t always go according to plan. Reversing the brain drain in my opinion is a direct by-product of my decision to go home. We need to be realistic and less emotional about returning home. I recently wrote about this issue here. I asked the question of others and many people I know personally have real concerns about moving back home. I believe that Zimbabwe or Africa is not for everyone for a variety of reasons. Some are simply accustomed to certain things or a certain life. Some have children to consider and the list goes on. I completed my MBA a few years ago now, and I have to admit that it (MBA) definitely has a direct impact on the way I think and live now. I have always been very entrepreneurial in the way I think but this program pushed me over the edge and now that’s how I live. I see a challenge and opportunity to overcome and I move forward. Others might see a roadblock and simply stop. It’s all relative. Staying here for me meant employment and going home (in my head) meant employing others. So you can see why returning home made sense for someone like me. Like I said, everyone is different and our journeys are certainly not similar.

 

8. From your experiences living in the U.K., what would you like to take home as a lesson for Africans?

I am a proud African as you know. Proud of our heritage, our ability to ‘make a plan’ and move forward. One of the things I want to take home (in any unorthodox way) is to remind myself and others like me that our way of doing things in Africa isn’t necessarily good or bad. It’s an African way of doing things and we should be proud in some cases. We often need to find middle ground. We also need to learn from others if we are to achieve our potential; for example learn about how some businesses in UK operate and the benefits of some strategic relationships they have whilst remembering the context. It is imperative that we acknowledge that UK businesses operate a certain way but we must, for fear of a better phrase ‘Africanize’ or localize certain business practices when I return. I firmly believe that humility on my part is key. Humility is critical in working out that something that works a certain way in the UK won’t necessarily work in Zimbabwe. Humility is important to realize that one shouldn’t force or expect employees or various stakeholders to adopt completely foreign and unnecessary business practices simply because ‘this is how the British do things’. It’s not right to patronize others – we must encourage cohesion and sharing of ideas. So to answer your question, humility is what I intend to take home with me.

 

9. The United States is often called the “land of opportunity” because it has become a place that people from all over the world go to live out “The American Dream”.  Do you envision an “African Dream”?  If so, what is it and how does it include foreigners coming to Africa as their “land of opportunity”?

I’m not too sure about the ‘The American Dream’ and I certainly don’t believe in Africa being viewed as just the ‘land of opportunity’ by foreigners. I want to discourage such practices – this is not the gold rush era. Like I mentioned earlier I believe in Africa first. Africans must be empowered both economically and otherwise. Inward investment is good and in fact encouraged but not at the expense of the local people and their livelihood. Wealth and opportunities must be distributed so that people are involved in the economic process. I would like to see a situation where certain sections of society are not marginalized. Let people become empowered to go out, work hard and achieve prosperity whatever that means to them.

From an investment destination, I see Africa as a place where partnerships via joint ventures and so forth should be sought and in fact encouraged. We need to diversify our partners. Traditionally we have partnered with Europe and the Americas but we need to look east as well. India is an interesting partner with similar challenges and population. I envisage a situation and you know this already, where our African governments are aid-free. Africa has sufficient mineral, land and other such resources to sustain ourselves. We already know that aid doesn’t work and those that push for it have other agendas.  I envisage a situation where we increase our intra-trade within Africa from its current levels of approximately 10%. Why shouldn’t we trade more with each other? We definitely need to. I envisage a situation where we borrow and work closely together in terms of resolving various challenges like electricity and so forth.

 

10. Finally, I couldn’t let you leave our Round Table without asking you what has become my signature question; so here it is.  If you could wave a magic wand over Africa and change one thing; what would it be?

 

One thing only huh? What it means to be a true leadership with respect to governance related issues.

 

Thank you so much for your time Nigel!  I am sure that many will be inspired by your journey.  I wish you the very best on your ventures as you return home to our mother, Africa. May God bless and keep you on your road to success.  Since I am a mama at heart, I ask you to always keep our people in your hearts as you walk toward the realization of your own dreams; so that you can take many others with you.  Even if you never run for political office, this is what will make you part of the leadership change you said you’d be inspired to change in Africa.

Now, friends, please join the discussion via Mama’s comments section because the most important portion of our Round Table discussions isn’t our guest or me… it’s you!

Mama’s Round Table Guest: Nigel Mugamu (Part 1)

Today, I am pleased to welcome a man who is Zimbabwean; but also unmistakably African.  He doesn’t just love his nation; but his whole continent.  You’ll find out what I mean if you take a look at his blog.   We agree on some issues and disagree on others; but I always enjoy his company and am honored to have him with us at Mama’s Round Table today.  He has an entrepreneurial spirit and a real passion for open dialog concerning issues facing Africa and her people. Please welcome, Nigel Mugamu.  OK, Nigel, let’s dive right in:

 

1. Please tell us, who are you?

I am a son, a brother, a Zimbabwean, an African in short. I often laugh but I consider myself a ‘retired idealist’ who has been smacked around a few times by the reality of life to accept that I am now a full-time realist. However I tend to be optimist about things in general. I am very passionate about my continent and her development. I work as an accountant for a US based company by day and with my MBA head screwed on, I continue to work on this online travel project with my business partner by night. I blog so therefore I consider myself an aspiring columnist. Not sure about this yet, but I have recently started having dreams of pursuing a PhD. I tweet, read plenty of literature, love travel and attempt to call my sister at least once a week.

 

2.       As an African currently living in the Diaspora, what frustrates you most and what inspires you most?

The thing that frustrates me the most is probably fellow Africans who speak so negatively about Africa or indeed their own countries without proper facts or taking into account ‘context’. Context is often overlooked yet so important in conversation. I believe we need to focus on rebranding and re-educating people about what Africa is really all about. Like anywhere else we face various challenges, for example electricity in the case of Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe and yet the fellow Africans I am referring to tend to focus on the actual challenge and not on the solutions. This I find both sad and extremely frustrating. They are sharing, in my opinion 25% of the situation.

The thing I am inspired by is our resilience as Africans. Despite the challenges I just spoke about we still find some way of ‘making a plan’ (Zimbabwean saying and trait).I read a great deal especially about African entrepreneurship, development and travel. I am inspired by stories like when you consider where Rwanda is now given what happened in 1994. I am inspired by Kenya’s current political and economic journey. I could go on really. There are so many African stories to tell that inspire me.

3. I’m sure you suspected it was coming; so let’s get it out of the way.  How much do your views on development, the economy and Africa in general have to do with your (or your family’s) political affiliations in Zimbabwe?

My parents are realists who encourage us to debate and find our own answers for many of life’s interesting questions. I couldn’t honestly tell you who they voted for in the last election but we debate (heated at times) the political, historic and economic situation in Zimbabwe and indeed Africa. Thinking about Africa now, as a family we had many family road trips that usually covered South Africa and Botswana. I was always aware that Africa was massive and I always wanted to see more of this beautiful continent – I still do! This online travel project I’m working on is testament to that. I’m hoping to travel across Africa and finally see the pyramids, Lagos and spend time in Tunisia for example. Interestingly enough, I left home to attend university and it was then that I started to appreciate and discuss Africa in more depth. I met other Africans at university and gained a proper insight into what was happening in Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique or Mauritius through my new friendships. Essentially it took me leaving the continent to look back and truly appreciate what I have and what we need to work on.

I moved home 6 years ago for about a year. I continued to work and started my MBA at that point. I had studied and worked in Australia for some time by then. Going back home for a year was probably one of the most important decisions I’ve made thus far. I still call it my ‘character building year’. I bonded with my family especially with my parents whom I am very close to. We continued to exchange stories of the Zimbabwe then and I gained another insight into the country and its history. So yes my relationship with my family has had a direct impact on the way I feel and think about Africa.  I had the opportunity to assess Zimbabwe and indeed Africa having spent many years away. I fell in love with the continent all over again to be honest. We are resilient as I mentioned before and our proper story needs to be told in full.  As I prepare to return home, I now read or research more about development and what we as Africans can do for ourselves more importantly.

 

4. We are being blessed with an insider’s view through your presence at Mama’s Round Table today; so please tell me what you think of Zimbabwe’s current leadership?

 

Coalition governments in general are never easy for a number of reasons. Decisions are difficult to make due to the agreements made to form the actual government and of course individual party agendas are also at play. The leadership in Zimbabwe is only a transitional government in my opinion. Therefore it makes it extremely difficult to assess them in the truest sense. With elections supposedly in 2011, I hope to see an elected Zimbabwean government with a full mandate to govern going forward. I believe that at this junction we will be able to see how far the leadership in Zimbabwe has come.

 

5.       Despite my sincerest affection for my African fathers, brothers and sons, I feel that Africa’s future lies in the opportunities granted to African women.  Where do you, as a young man looking to build a future for himself in Zimbabwe, stand on the issue?

 

I believe it is fundamental that women are empowered in general. When you listen to statistics used in the recent Clinton Global Initiative 2010 event, Melinda Gates shared an interesting one – 70% of farming in Africa is done by women. Initially I thought this was an extremely high percentage but then I looked at my own family and really thought about it. I can now see why that percentage would make some sense now. This tells me something positive i.e. women are already involved – more than I thought perhaps? My next question is whether the same 70% are then the recipients of the revenue at harvest time. This is my main concern right now. If not, this needs to be rectified. In the same token I also hope that access to capital for women in the farming sector and others is made much easier. However, I don’t share your sentiments i.e. ‘Africa’s future lies in the opportunities granted to African women’. I’m thinking it’s broader than that. I believe that Africa’s future will be determined by a variety of factors depending on the country and their individual economic growth stage. We cannot directly compare Egypt with say Namibia.  I firmly believe that one of those important factors in determining Africa’s future lies in the informal sector as I discussed here. Some economists believe that 60% of Zimbabwe’s economy is the informal sector and we also know that this sector is a prominent feature across the continent as a whole. I also believe another aspect of Africa’s future lies in what Vijay Mahajan’s describes as ‘Africa Two’ in his book Africa Rising. This is the African middle class who are spending and sending their children to school and in return raising the new generation of cheetahs. In Zimbabwe, the finance minister broke the country into 3 economic brackets: –

  • 3% top
  • 12% middle
  • 85% bottom

 

I believe that unlocking and empowering that 85% is critical to Zimbabwe’s economic success for example. So you see, there are a variety of avenues that Africa can take going forward. Ultimately we need to recognize that the informal sector plays a crucial role in the various economies and that it is also imperative that we as Africans are empowered and participate in the economic process irrespective of gender, race and so forth. Simply put – Africa first!

 

Alright, this wraps up Part One of our interview.   We’ll see you all again tomorrow for the second and final portion of this interview with our guest, Nigel.  Thanks Nige, I look forward to continuing this discussion tomorrow.  And, I of course look forward to reading your comments in the interim everyone!

See you again very soon!

Love,

Mama

Facing Our Fears

Lately, I’ve been talking a lot to my family and friends about fear.  I don’t mean those fears we all have as children of things which are under the bed at night waiting to get us.  I mean the fears that we are all called to face from time to time when we are looking something in the face that might hurt us, even gravely.  I mean the fears that come with knowing that no matter which decision we make, something will be lost.

It is in those moments that we have the real opportunities to grow, inspire others and create our futures.  It is the decisions we make in those moments which create heroes, legends and saints.  It is also in those moments that we create our own future regrets, sadness and suffering.

Until now, my words might sound a little theoretical or dreamy.  After all, we aren’t all intended to risk our lives trying to save a lady from a burning building right?  I mean, the fact that we call these people heroes means that we elevate them above ourselves.  They are like fleeting superheroes, wearing capes for an hour, or only for a moment.  But these people… they are not us.

Let us leave the concept of super-people for a moment.  Let’s not focus on people like Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Joan of Arc … Let us instead discuss every-day heroes.  After all, we can open a newspaper and read about them all the time.  Just this morning, during a 10 minute period of browsing the Internet, I came across stories a family who decided to donate their house to a charity which helps children suffering from cancer, a high school girl who decided to start a foundation to put water wells in for poor African villages, a man who decided to be the whistle-blower on corrupt government officials… the stories are endless.

Given that so many people do these things, the things that 50 years ago we might have found normal to do; why is it that we hear so much more about the negative?  After all, no matter your place on the planet, no matter your religion, or ethnicity or nation there were certain basic codes to live by: fairness, dignity, and honor.  It seems to me, that the good news wasn’t headline news because it was expected.  The corruption, lying, cheating, etc; well, that stuff was interesting because it was rare.  Now, it seems we’ve swung in the opposite direction.  We think that good deeds are rare and that the negative garbage that we see (held almost on a pedestal) is what is normal and usual.

I spent a period of my life, like most people, looking at all of the things that go wrong, that are abusive and hurtful to others.  After “bathing in” that sub-culture for a while, I can see why so many people tell me that it’s overwhelming. But in the end, it’s simple.  It comes down to choices, individual choices which add up to build a family, a culture, a society.  These are the choices that build our reputations, our character and our lives.

Do we donate to a cause because we want to do something to help; or do we go the extra step to research what the organization actually does on the ground with the money?  Do we send money home to our family in Africa; or do we work to pool our resources with others so that we can build something larger which will benefit those who don’t have family living abroad?  Further still, do we help those most in need, even if they are from a different ethnic group, region or country?  Do we upgrade our car or keep the old one and use the difference to put a water well in a remote village because we know that it will serve a greater good?  Do we opt to keep our mouth shut so that we can remain on good terms with our home governments or do we give up the ability to buy land, build a home or even visit our home nation… because that is the price of speaking out for the basic human rights of those who live “back home” without a voice.

We can publicly pretend to not know there is abuse of power, corruption and fraud.  We can tell our Western friends and neighbors that Africa is not only filled with dictators and corruption.  But we know, at night in the silence of our bedrooms… at that moment that we place our heads on our pillows and pray to God to bless us… if we are doing what we can to ensure that there is less corruption, less polarization, more opportunity, more hope.  We know in our hearts if we are a part of Africa’s solutions or if we are living in fear of speaking out because we don’t want to ruffle feathers, be ostracized within our own communities in the Diaspora or out of sheer pride.  We know if fear rules us, or if we walk through it like our ancestors did.  We know if we are too afraid to walk against the grain.  We know and God knows, even if no other soul has a clue.

As a woman who was born in Africa, I love my continent as most Africans do.  I am not special.  But as an honest and fair woman, I must take the road of facing my fears.  It isn’t popular to tell people that they are supporting corruption for their own political or financial gain.  It is natural to hesitate anxiously before saying “The leadership is selling off our natural resources to China with little hope of the poor gaining anything from it.”  It is no easier for me than it is for anyone else to risk being misunderstood, pointed at or called names.  But I invite you to join me in the dialog.  We’ll agree on some things, we’ll certainly disagree upon many others.  But, if we sit in our corners in fear of the exchange… all of Africa loses.  Maybe we won’t get permission to build our vacation house in Nigeria or Eritrea; maybe our cousin will tell us that we are crazy for airing our national “dirty laundry”.  But in the end, I promise you that there is such joy in knowing that we have answered the call of our consciences…. Come what may.

I look forward to hearing your views!

Love,

Mama