Light Up Their Futures!

ProsyNabwamiLast autumn, we made a decision to start a new and exciting project in Uganda at the suggestion of one of our favorite people around… thank you Paul!  One of these days, we are really going to have to invite him to talk to us at the Round Table. He really is an amazing guy.

For decades now, I’ve watched as well-intentioned people trek off to Africa giving donations of things they deem important or helpful. The intention is definitely right; but the actions are often misguided and uninformed; thus rarely truly helpful in the long run. So, each year, we ask our cooperatives to tell us what we can do to make their lives easier, what projects they are working on, etc.

And at the end of 2014, we heard something that we got really enthusiastic about: solar power for our cooperative members’ homes. We’ve always known that fair and ethical trade should be tied to much more than just fair prices and working conditions. It is about a sustainable lifestyle for us and most issues are linked.

We have always understood that the way we do business might not always make sense to a “numbers guy”; but it will always resonate with someone with lots of heart. And, this is one project which did just that: it touched our hearts. Maybe donating part of our proceeds to projects like this one reduces our “bottom line”; but for us the real “bottom line” is treating people ethically and making the world just a little bit better. We’ve done so since day one and we’ll do it long into the future, with your continued support.

After some discussion, my family decided to forego most of our gift exchange last holiday season and do what we thought the season is really about: giving. We informed our friends and relatives that they wouldn’t be getting gifts this year and told them that instead, we’d be putting our Christmas shopping budget towards purchasing solar kits for some of our cooperative members in Uganda instead. The kits would allow them to work later in the evening and would give their children the chance to study once the sun went down. Of course, they all reacted with the grace and kindness we expected. A couple even decided to follow suit! To our personal donation, we added a portion of the proceeds from sales at the holiday season and here is the result:

Light Up Their Futures, the first round of lights are delivered and photos have arrived!!

Soon, we will be posting an interview with Ms. Prosy Nabwami, detailing her experience with her new solar kit and how it is already improving her life and the lives of others in her community.
We expected, due to our years of experience working with African women and their families, that there would be some extended benefits for the communities we sent the kits to; but wow! As we have known for a long time, each woman (and some men) tends to support more than just their immediate family. Generally speaking, every African breadwinner supports an average of 10 people. Those who have share, it’s a simple as that. But, we had no idea that the positive effects of a single solar kit would reach quite so many people.

Here is a quick overview of our project and we are really hoping that you will join us with a small donation to help us continue to Light Up Their Futures!

Solar kit initial cost: $120. Reoccurring costs per kit: ($5.50 for replacement bulbs (bulbs last for approximately 8-12 months) and 35 cents for replacement batteries (lasting 3-5 years each). We have invested in high quality solar kits which are expected to last 20-25 years.

Benefits we expected and are seeing:
• Safer, cheaper and cleaner burning than kerosene lamps. Simply put, more sustainable and environmentally safe
• Allows weavers, etc. to work at least 2-3 hours later each night, thus increasing potential for income
• Allows children to do homework after daylight hours, thus reducing dropout rates
• Phone charging ability reduces cost and time spent traveling to/from charging stations
• Ability to have any light at all after dark for those who couldn’t even afford kerosene lamps
• Light is easier on the eyes than the light given off by kerosene lamps
• 100% renewable source of energy without the pollution

Added benefits we are seeing that we didn’t anticipate:
• Increases sociability as women now gather in their homes with friends 7 neighbors to work using the lamps instead of working alone
• More flexibility to do housework in the evenings allowing for more free time during the daylight hours
• Increased quality in work done because solar lights are brighter and clearer than kerosene lamps previously used
• Children now have increased ability to read for pleasure because there is still light available after homework is completed
• Ability to use cell phones 2-3 days more per week
• Women no longer have to leave their old phones at charging stations 2-3 times per week
• Savings of time and effort for those who used to walk 2 miles each time they charged their phones
• Over a dozen people directly gaining from use of each kit.

For those of you who are interested, you can either donate the $120 for a kit or you can give a portion of the cost, which will then be added to the funds given by other donors. Hey, if those women can work so well together, why can’t we, right? You could get together with a dozen friends and each donate just $10. Your group of 12 people will, in essence, allow 12 Ugandan women to weave a better future for their kids who are studying by the very light you donated. Beautiful, right?

We will continue to use part of the proceeds from all online sales to fund our Light Up Their Futures! campaign.

And, if you want to really help out in an even bigger way, buy a product that is made in Uganda over at our site. This is an amazing way to help us sell the baskets being woven by the very women that you are proving light to. You’ll be giving twice!  For every Ugandan basket ordered in 2015, Mama pledges to ensure that the usual donation we set aside goes directly to our Light Up Their Futures! campaign.

If your coworkers, classmates, friends or church want to make a larger donation or sponsor a few kits; please do so here, or contact Mama directly.
Blessings to you and yours. May your life be filled with… light!

Love,
Mama

Ooops, No End of The World…. (again!)

So, here we are, facing the end of the world (again).  What to do?

I will avoid the jokes about those who have stockpiled food, joined cults who convinced them that they were the only way to avoid sudden death, or those who hiked to far off mountain tops in France or Peru hoping to meet aliens who would sweep them off to a planet where all would be well… After all, I’m sure there are lots of people who have dedicated their entire day to making others laugh with punch lines they’ve worked long and hard on.

Luckily, the Mayans were right on one count: the world didn’t end today (—yes, most people miscalculated).  I am hoping though that instead of worrying ourselves silly about what the exact date is for the end of time; we will instead focus on what matters: HOW we are living each of those days that we wake up and have opportunity.

Look, none of us know when the world is going to end.  But, I suspect we’ll have a little better clue than a pretty, round calendar which even the Mayan people says doesn’t mean the end of the world; but the end of an era.  To be honest though, even as a Christian woman, I hope that the Mayan prediction is right.  I hope this will be a new era.  One in which we think of others before we think of ourselves.  One in which we think about the impact of our actions and choices before we decide even the simple things.  I hope that we have used this opportunity to think about the fact that anyone can die at any time.  For some, it is a tragic accident or disease that no one can cure.  But for others, it is ultimately poverty that causes their death.  Whether they cannot afford to eat healthy food, have access to clean water or pay for medications which would be readily available (and sometimes free) if they lived in another part of the world.  Some will die because they had the misfortune of being born a girl in a land where women aren’t respected.  Others will be killed for their religious beliefs, their desire to speak the truth or because they hold hands or kiss someone before they are married.  And yes, many will be killed before they are born because they have the misfortune of being a girl child in a nation or culture which has a preference for boys.  Still others will live, only to be denied the most basic of human rights.

Well, today you and I are given an opportunity, as we have been given every day thus far: We have the opportunity to make this day matter.  Whether by a gesture, a donation, or just the way that we choose what gift to offer to a friend, what food to feed our own children or what words we speak… we have a great opportunity to become the “New era” that people are talking about in the Mayan culture.  Ultimately you see, we are all people and we could all use a new era: One in which we put others before ourselves.  Not in that awkward “New Age” mumbo jumbo kind of way which implies we all have to dress like hippies or risk being called hate mongers.  But, rather in a concrete manner which creates, choice by choice, word by word, a new lifestyle.  One where we enjoy life every day and work toward helping others enjoy their lives too.

I’m not talking about religion or telling you to change your belief system.  I’m saying this: There were millions of people discussing this latest round of doomsday predictions.  Heck, I think that in 2011-2012, the world “ended” 20 or more times, right?  Well, I can’t help but think that if just half of those people talking about it decided to instead spend the same amount of time living as if it might actually be true every day of their lives… there would be a lot less suffering in the world.  At times like this, I keep coming back to the tune that so many of you already know:

Some of you might know that country song by Tim McGraw called “Live like you were dying”

I’m going to spend today like I spend most of my days: Living like I were dying… and like I am able to prevent someone else from dying through my choices.  I’m dropping off a couple of Christmas gifts to friends that are gift baskets full of organic and fair trade items that they can enjoy with their families.  I’ll touch base with the cooperatives that I work with and see if I can be of service to them today.  I’ll talk to a lady I know who is having a tough time this holiday season because she is alone.  I’ll drink another cup of fair trade coffee from Zimbabwe and pray for the farmer’s hands who picked the beans.  I’ll connect with friends on Twitter and Facebook and I’ll thank God that I’m here another day to do it all.  Then, tonight, I’ll hug my family members and tell them how grateful I am for their love and support.

Then, if the sky really is falling: I won’t care.  Because worse than death, is regret.  And I won’t have any of that to freak me out. I’m really far from perfect; but I’m trying to live a life based in love for others and appreciation for what blessings I have.

If you are celebrating Christmas soon, I wish you a very merry Christmas.  If you are instead Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist or of another faith… I wish you the very brightest and best New Year to come.  And I sure am happy to know that we have the opportunity to build a new era together.  I am sure we can do it, one kind gesture, one loving word and one responsible decision at a time.

Blessings,

Mama

Mama’s After Thanksgiving Sale

Now that you’ve had your fill of turkey, watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and laughed at the dinner table with family and friends… its time to head over to Mama’s After-Thanksgiving sale.

It’s true, working through that list of gifts to buy can be stressful for a lot of people and it isn’t always easy to do it while living on a budget.  So, why not take a break from it all, sip some of our delicious Red Bush Tea and listen to your favorite music while browsing through the many items we have discounted (some up to 50%!)  You’ll get to avoid the crowds at the shopping mall AND you’ll be helping some great African women feed their families this holiday season.
Whether you’re getting gifts for Hanukkah, Christmas presents or putting a few things away for Kwanza… you can keep the true spirit of the holiday season because you’ll be giving gifts that give twice: Once to the person you offer them to, and again to the women who make them.  Hey wait, I almost forgot!  You’ll also be giving a built-in donation to our fabulous friends in Rwanda too!  Wow, 3 gifts in 1… who wouldn’t love that?!

 

A portion of all sales from November and December will go to assist our friends in Rwanda who are working to expand the number of women and families that they serve by adding over 500+ women to the already hundreds of women and orphans that they assist!  Although it was initially started to help genocide survivors (primarily women and children) to receive trauma counseling, job training and other forms of direct assistance; they now also help those with or (caring for those with) HIV-AIDS.  As you may know, women are most greatly affected in the HIV epidemic as they are the caretakers in a family.

Mbwira Ndumva is now working on completely renovating a small building so that they can offer additional job training, counseling and other services to those suffering from or caring for family members with HIV.

 

So, this holiday season, we respectfully ask that you remember those who really need you: the women of Rwanda.  You’ll be able to offer a great gift such as our African coffees, chocolates or a beautiful basket PLUS you’ll help a woman in need to provide a better life for herself and her family.  And let’s face it, there really is nothing that feels better than knowing you stepped up to help a woman who is working hard to help herself.  Mama is convinced that sustainable development like this job training program which will lead to more ethical trade in Africa is the only way to permanently alleviate poverty in Africa and to help African children have a better future.

 

Join us in saying “We love you.” through your order or donation.  We won’t end poverty this year; but we sure can work to alleviate it… one order at a time!

 

Our friends at Mbwira Ndumva thank you and so do I.

 

Love,

Mama

Resilient Rwandan Women Inspire Me!

Here, girls train to make traditional banana leaf fiber art

It has been a little over 10 years since I first heard from Béatrice of Mbwira Ndumva in Kigali, Rwanda. I, like many of you, had seen the horrific and saddening images of Rwanda during the genocide in 1994.  Like most people, I wondered how life could ever return to normal for those who survived such large-scale devastation. Many of us also asked how in the world those who were lucky enough to survive would be able to find the courage to go on, much less to rebuild a nation.

But one thing is true of the Rwandan people: they did not lose hope! They almost immediately began working to move forward and build new lives. Mothers who lost their children in the genocide decided to become caretakers to orphans who lost their parents in the same tragic way. Sisters, aunts and grandmothers began taking in their young relatives. Many others showed an act of love by doing the same selfless gesture with strangers’ children. The already poor offered to make even greater sacrifices to welcome those who were in need.

For over 10 years now, the Mbwira Ndumva Initiative has been working with women day in and day out to: teach them marketable skills, help them heal both physically and psychologically, and to find the hope and the means to start rebuilding the social fabric which was torn apart during the months of mayhem and killing: the family. The women who make up the initiative are loving and hard-working women who are doing their best to ensure a better future for Rwanda’s women and children.

As the years went by, they offered hope to women and children who had lost everything. Eventually, they implemented a program (now suspended due to a lack of donors), which provided microloans to women for a period of one year. This $25 allowed beneficiaries to start new lives for themselves through training and the purchase of the necessary items to start their own businesses. Mama Afrika joins Mbwira Ndumva in praying that it is able to be launched again someday soon.

When Mama first started buying cards and donating funds to this incredible organization, their focus was on women and orphans of the 1994 genocide. Today, in addition to the 700 members that they work to support; there are now an additional 500 women with HIV or AIDS, over 40 young orphan girls and 40 very poor children who also depend on this organization for things such as education, professional training and counseling. They would love your help in caring for some of Rwanda’s women and children.

Your donation to their efforts will allow them to continue to serve the greatest number of people possible. And you can feel good about purchases made at MamaAfrika.com because Mama is going to stay with this great group of women until there are no more Rwandan women and children in need. We look forward to the day when the word “Rwanda” makes people think of prosperity, peace and an example of how empowered women make all of the difference between poverty and prosperity. In all honesty, I can imagine that day clearly and I’m sure that with your help; we’ll get there. After all, the Rwandan women we know are such hard working, creative women that with a little help… it’s inevitable!

If you make a monetary donation, you can select Mbwira Ndumva and Mama will get 100% of your donation to them so that they can continue the incredible work that they are doing!
We sell their Christmas cards  Now, we hope that, with your help, we’ll have a “Sold Out” soon!

Love,

Mama

The Root Causes of Famine

Regularly, there they are… those same images.  Sure the faces change and occasionally, so do the names of the countries affected.  But at the end of the day, it’s the same story: millions of people starving to death.  As someone who has been working to alleviate poverty for years now; I can tell you that many of the root causes are the same.

This is the first time that the international community has used the term “famine” since almost a million Ethiopians died of starvation in 1984.  And, as with that situation, we could see the lead-up and it was clearly predictable.

One issue is rarely discussed during the “panic stage” of the immediate crisis is bad land policy and goodness knows there is enough to talk about where that subject is concerned!  With better land policy, many governments could avoid facing the cyclical problem of starvation, food aid, starvation…  Instead, so many are content to defend the redistribution (forcibly) of the land of small family-owned farms giving millions of acres to foreign governments instead of investing in local farmers who will produce food not only for their own families; but for the nation at large.

The biggest losers in this continually bad decision making process are women and children.  Women produce 80% to 90% of Africa’s food and that means that no one eats if African women aren’t given the tools that they need to be successful.  Land is the most basic of those needs.  Unfortunately, only 5% of all titled land belongs to women in Africa and the same percentage applies to women in training and extended services.  So, the numbers are simply turned on their heads: 90% of food production by women; yet more than 90% of the time, they are not who governments look to help.  This is bad math, plain and simple.

So, understanding that women are the backbone of domestic food production, one wonders why there is little or no technical support for these women farmers.  It is even more worrisome once you learn that in places where women are targeted through even small pilot programs which encourage (and train) women to have small plots of land called “city gardens”; food production increases.  This is a huge benefit for their children who then have access to more nutrition.  Many of us who work in development in Africa can tell you that investing in women produces real and lasting results.  It is a sad shame that so many international organizations and government don’t seem to get the point!

I’m certainly not an expert on the subject; but I think that the most important things to address if we really want to solve the problem in the long-term are these:

  • Women must have independent access to land if we want to eradicate poverty.  With ownership, they will gain the ability to make decisions and get loans among other things.
  • Lack of human rights, women’s rights among them, is an issue that might not come to mind immediately when thinking about famine; but it is certainly a relevant topic.  Consider the following:
    • Currently, even amid one of the worst famines in decades, the Islamist group, Al-Shabaab of Somalia is refusing to allow food to be delivered to the starving, considering aid agencies as “infidels”.  Many governmental organizations (in the U.S. and elsewhere) are concerned (legitimately, in my view)
    • Flashback to the past:  This problem isn’t anything new or original.  Using the poor as a weapon is done more often than you may know.  During the terrible famine in the Horn of Africa, the Ethiopian government refused to allow aid through to Eritrea (before Eritrea got independence.) arguing that it could fall into the hands of “the enemy”.
    • Acts such as burning trees, crops, etc. in order to prevent people from supporting rebel or government forces is an all too common “weapon” used during conflicts.  Act such as these can even cause or exacerbate famine, even more so if there is a drought.
  • It is simply not possible to have food security without general security.  How can we expect crop returns to matter in areas where people are fleeing from conflict or being chased out of their homes and villages? The lists of countries is a long one; but one need look no further than the Horn of Africa for starters.  But the same has been true in many parts of the continent.
  • The lack of long-term planning creates strong, powerful “aid” agencies.  But, who is ultimately being aided?  It seems a fair assessment to state that the creation of hundreds of high-paying jobs in the humanitarian sector is not what will aid the development of Africa and improve the lives of women or their families.
  • Rural credit access must be available to women as well as training and information concerning markets, etc.
  • High global food prices are making (and will continue to make) buying food aid even more difficult.  We keep hearing about this; but isn’t it even more important to ask ourselves why on earth food aid is being brought in from countries like the United States when there are African countries able to export food instead?  It seems like a pretty common sense solution after all: Let the women of one African nation provide food for others who need it.  Even in urgent situations where food aid is needed; why aren’t international organizations supporting regional African farmers so that they can further prevent poverty for Africans?
  • Development policies which consider the specific needs of women (versus men).  Policies crafted around men’s needs are not always the most efficient or helpful for women; so why aren’t women being consulted at local, national and international levels when policy is being developed?

 

This is an old problem and we are in need of new thinking.  We must stop repeating the errors of the past and expected new results.  That is after all, the very definition of insanity, right?

OK, so now is the most important part: Tell me YOUR viewpoint!  As I always say: “Everyone has something to add to the discussion! Let us talk, then, get to work on the long-term solutions”
Love,

Mama

Its Our 10 Year Anniversary!

10 Years Later…

 

Where does the time go? Despite spending the past few months getting ready for our 10th anniversary celebration; I still can’t seem to believe that I’ve been doing this for 10 years already! It sounds completely cliché I’m sure; but it is still true: It feels like yesterday that I got my first sample of baskets in the mail from Africa! 10 years… it’s crazy!

One of the 1st cooperatives Mama started working with (Ghana)

So, where has the time gone? Well, over the years, we’ve managed to rebuild houses, invest in tree planting, pay for the training of new cooperative members, send eyeglasses, school supplies and textbooks to countries across the continent. We’ve made donations to the elderly, the sick and to many schools. We have added new product categories and made so very many new friends.

I’ve been invited to speak and teach in local schools, international festivals and to groups like the Rotary Club. I’ve hugged cooperative members and dear friends like Paul from Uganda, Elizabeth from South Africa and been blessed with the cheerful attitude of now world-renowned artist Janet Akii-Bua of Uganda.

Over the years, I have answered questions such as “What is a dictator?” and yes, even offered help to the occasional German, Canadian or American high school or college student when they were stumped on their homework. I’ve listened to people’s excitement about their recent trip to Africa and heard tales of a passing conversation about an issue related to African women.

I’ve sold our products online, in a shop, at a booth on a military base, and yes once even from the trunk of my car (desperate times call for desperate measures… and this lady was desperate for a gift!).

We’ve increased our product lines and the number of countries we trade with. We’ve sold hundreds of baskets, pounds of chocolate, dozens and dozens of carvings and you know what? We are just getting started!

I’ve learned many lessons, made many great connections and even more dear friends. Yes, 10 years seems like such a long time… but I’m in this for the long haul. One woman at a time, one product at a time… we are going to relieve poverty and increase opportunity for African families.

Join me and our cooperatives for another 10 years of smiles, great African art, coffees, teas and chocolates. I promise you that you haven’t seen anything yet! We’re just getting warmed up!

Remember we can help African women live better lives: one sale at a time!

From the bottom of my heart, thank you so very much for your support over the last 10 years,

Love,

Mama

** This post was originally written for MamaAfrika.com ‘s Grand Re-Opening.  Be sure to stop by and see what else is new on the site!

International Women’s Day: Support or Discrimination?

There are a few questions that are posed to me often when I’m invited to speak about the women’s cooperatives that I work with.  One of these concerns the fact that we trade exclusively with women’s cooperatives.  It is asked in a myriad of ways; but its core is the same.  Why would I choose to focus on women when men are also living in poverty?  Are girl children really of more value and worth investing in more than young boys?  Why does Mama insist that at least 80% of the cooperative members are women; don’t men need work too?

First of all, I’d like to say that there is certain compassion and a sense of equality implied in the question that is both honorable and to be applauded.  But, I think that it is incredibly important to put this into its proper perspective.  Here is a quote that states the real situation for many African (and other) women on the ground:

“Six out of ten of the world’s poorest people are women who must, as the primary family caretakers and producers of food, shoulder the burden of tilling land, grinding grain, carrying water and cooking. This is no easy burden. In Kenya, women can burn up to 85 percent of their daily calorie intake just fetching water.

Yet some 75 percent of the world’s women cannot get bank loans because they have unpaid or insecure jobs and are not entitled to property ownership. This is one reason why women comprise more than 50 percent of the world’s population but own only one percent of the world’s wealth,” (UN Development Program).

You see, it isn’t about competition between the sexes or putting men under women in status or importance.  For me, it is about two things in essence: leveling the playing field and giving families and communities a better chance by investing where we’ve seen that it pays off the best.  I won’t enter a discussion accusing men of this or that; frankly I don’t see the point of it.  I could begin listing statistics which talk about the rates of spousal abuse, etc.; but I don’t see what is gained in it.  After all, I am an African woman who has a son, a brother, uncles and cousins who are all wonderful, generous African men.  I don’t see that there is much benefit in painting a negative image of African men in a world where Black men in general already have certain stereotypes that I’d love to see changed.

On the other hand, anyone who knows me will tell you that I am the kind of person who believes in saying things as they are: directly and honestly (sometimes to a fault).  For ten years now, I have been working with African women’s cooperatives and other organizations (run and managed by women) which are working to improve the lives of women most in need.  I also know the fabric of African society is woven by women.  It is their ability to network, share and focus on others that makes them the group that I reach out to first.

For years now, I’ve seen African women do what they do best: cooperate for the collective good.  When people ask me why Mama doesn’t give donations to large organizations which already have programs in the countries we work in, I tell them that I prefer to work with small-women run organizations which know how to “turn a dollar into five”.  Somehow, like Jesus multiplying the loaves; African women seem able to produce miracles.

I’ve seen it with the hundreds of women in Rwanda who took in 5 or 10 orphans at a time after themselves losing their entire families in the genocide.  I’ve heard it from women like Elizabeth in South Africa who talked to me years ago about how she only has chicken bones to boil and make broth; but still shares it with the children in the village whose mothers have even less.  I know it because of the countless women who walk hours each day to collect water for their children, work in the hot African sun to grow their food, weave baskets during the dry season in Ghana to supplement their income and work hard despite the fact that they have AIDS or malaria so that their children can get an education.

Women, I’d argue are hard-wired to care for their children above themselves.  Of course there are exceptions; but as the expression goes “the exception doesn’t cancel the rule”.

I know some feel that men are marginalized in the process; but here is what I say to them: Men were once boys… and boys are raised by mothers.  Invest in women and you invest in the family.

The numbers are all there if you seek them out. Investment in women does in fact yield greater results for the whole family than investment in their male counterparts.  But, as an African woman, I don’t need the UN’s statistics to tell me what I’ve seen and known my whole life.  I have been called to work with Africa’s most impoverished in a way that helps women and children; and I cannot in good conscience do anything else.

God willing, I’ll still be here in ten years telling you that we’ve been able to make an even greater impact on thousands more women.  And with your help and support, one cup of coffee at a time, one glass of tea at a time and one basket at a time… we’ll get there.

Finally, I’d like to take a moment to salute all of the beautiful, inspirational and hard-working women I’ve been blessed to know and work for over the years.  To you Janet Akii-Bua of Uganda who always has a smile, rain or shine.  To you Beatrice Mukansinga who decided to do one small thing for your fellow Rwandan women only to see it grow into a tree that provides shade to so many.  To you women who weave such beautiful baskets in the warm African sun so that your children can eat today.  To you girls and women in Lesotho who inspire me to work through adversity as you face HIV and AIDS with such courage and integrity.

To women everywhere and to the men who understand that International Women’s Day isn’t about competition with men; but about encouraging and supporting women to be better so that they can help both their daughters and sons be better in turn.

Happy International Women’s Day everyone!

Love,

Mama

Victimhood: One of Our Greatest Enemies

Many years ago, I was convinced that the majority of Africa’s problems stemmed from colonialism. I was completely persuaded that we would have been light years ahead of the rest of the world if only we’d been left to continue our own traditions and progress at our pace.

I’d like to clarify one thing before I say anything else: Colonialism did change the landscape of Africa, permanently, irrevocably and deeply. There is no doubt about that. We need to ensure that our children learn this and understand it. But what I want to talk about is the “What now?” aspect of it all.

There are many who have a tendency to get lost in our victim-hood.  People who love Africa are often trapped in these muddy waters while diving deeply into our past and are then unable to see clearly.  When they exit the water and start to discuss planning for our collective future; they seem to still have that muddy water clouding their vision.  Although I respect their dedication to Africa, I think that they do us more harm than good in the end.  Here, is why:

If you ask any scholar of history, he will tell you that there isn’t a single region on earth without a turbulent history. Rome once controlled a large part of Europe and most of North Africa; thus forcing local populations into a second-class status, if not into slavery. Native Americans lost their territories to each other; and then, eventually lost most of their land to the early American government. In Brazil, many native ethnic groups in the Amazon are still being persecuted and having their lands stolen.

My point here is that everyone has known suffering, abuse and victimization. There is no point in trying to play the “who has suffered more” game. Power comes from how we face adversity.

European powers did set Africa up for failure, no doubt about it. Our borders were drawn arbitrarily at best; with “divide and conquer” in mind at worst. But we are not alone in this either, ask the former Yugoslavia.

Queen Nzinga, who defended Angolans against the Slave Trade © Every Generation Media http://www.whenweruled.com

So now, my sweet Africa, let us move forward. Let us find the positive aspects of our past as quickly and passionately as we find the negative. Let us remember our kings, our queens and our chiefs who led well and with fairness. I grew up hearing about how our grandfathers shared their food with anyone in need. I am sure that all of you would hear the same if you asked your grandmothers. We are now missing that sense of solidarity.

We have the borders we have. Let’s work to create strong, inclusive societies within them. We are diverse like no other continent: from the desert in Sudan to Lesotho’s snow-capped mountains; from Mali’s camel-back nomads to those working in skyscrapers in South Africa; from farmers who plant in the hot Ghanaian sun to doctor’s working in hospitals in Angola. We speak hundreds of languages and have thousands of ethnic groups, each with their unique history and culture. This doesn’t begin to touch on the fact that we have the world’s largest reserve of natural resources: minerals, biodiversity (both plant and animal) and human capital (hard-working, bright and energetic).

Let us leave the labels behind.  We are not “poor”.  We are under-developed economically. We are not “backward”.  We are under-educated.  We are not “aid recipients” or “refugees”. We are people who need to focus on freedom, peace, solidarity and building our own future and destiny.  Enough with buying into the shackles of our past.  Enough with feeling that we need the West or China for hand-outs.  Let us walk forward on our own terms and pick up where our grandparents left off.  It is time to take off the label of victim and proudly wear the label African.

It is my hope and prayer that in leaving our victim status behind and boldly claiming our future on our terms… that being African for our children and grandchildren, will mean being the current generation in a long line of successful people who showed the world that from little, much can be built; as long as the focus is “us”, not “me” or “them”.