Photo Friday: Macaron au chocolat

Macaron au chocolat

Just another delicious way to support fair trade: French style macarons made with our Omanhene cocao powder and filled with a chocolate ganache made with our 80% dark chocolate… ethical trade never tasted so good!

The Full recipe can be found over at Mama Europa’s blog.

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Mama to One, Mama to All… Meet a few of “my” kids in Ghana

Ghanian child with babydoll on her backI’ve received hundreds of pictures over the years from our cooperatives in Africa as well as from those we’ve helped through your support.  But there is just something about photos like these that brings tears to my eyes every single time!

I have to admit I love getting photos from our cooperatives of their training sessions, the ladies getting paid for their hard work or just sitting around together laughing while they attend training courses or work together.  But the kids… oh the kids…

The whole class

As a mama, my heart has a special warm place in it for Africa’s children.  As I often say: “Mama to one, mama to all.”  So, meet a few of “my” beautiful children enjoying a few of the recent donations that were sent to their school in northern Ghana.  And most of all, thank YOU for your purchases which made this possible yet again.**

Oh, and if you are curious as to why we sent dolls and art supplies, be sure to check out my previous blog post about Black Dolls and Dreamers

Ghana dolls Standing proud

** Mama Afrika offers fair and ethically traded products and then donates a percentage of all proceeds to small local projects across Africa which are working to improve the lives of women and children.

Bloom Where You Are Planted

“Bloom where you are planted.” –Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622)

When I first read this quote, I had no idea that it was initially written by St. Francis de Sales.  In fact, it was a regular old day in the Paris metro, when I saw a sticker placed on the dreary grey walls of the underground tunnel leading from one metro station to the other.  It first caught my eye because it was written in English and was printed in cheerful, bright colors.  For some reason it has stuck with me all these years.

When thinking about what to write for today’s blog post, my mind kept coming back to all of those men and women who are living difficult lives and yet smiling through it.  We all know them, be they a grandmother, neighbor or friend.  We meet them on the street or in the market and we already know their circumstances: difficulty finding a job, family member battling a tough disease, suffering depression or just struggling daily to make ends meet because they make very little at the only job they could secure for themselves.  But somehow, they manage to smile when they greet us; they ask us how we are doing and seem genuinely concerned.  They are the kind of people who do what they can with what they have.   Then, instead of complaining about the missing parts, they look for solid solutions and opportunities to improve their lot.

I’d like to thank them all, wherever they may be and most of all; I’d like them to know how much they mean to me.  You see, perseverance is a form of encouragement.  Doing the right thing is a way of encouraging others to do the same.  When I see a friend or stranger who clearly lives by the principle “Bloom where you are planted”; I am inspired to try too to make the best of the conditions I have.

I don’t write this to say that it is wrong to feel discouraged.  I understand completely that there are times that we feel like we are spinning our wheels and getting absolutely nowhere.  I know what it’s like to work on a project only to see that it isn’t growing as fast as I know it needs to.  There are times that I wonder what kind of impact one person can make on issues as broad as poverty, human rights or showing others the infinite possibilities there are for a continent as rich in resources and talent as Africa is.

Sunflowers

Yet, it seems that each time I find my mind entertaining these thoughts which enter like a cloud blocking the sunlight; that little light pierces through in the form of a person who is doing it: blooming where they are planted.  And by means of their tenacity, they inspire me to do the same.  They also remind me that a field of flowers is made up of single blooms which happen to be in the same location.

So, as we work to help others, let us also remember to help each other along the way.  I know how much it has helped me to know good people like Geoff, Nigel, Freweini, Neritia and the many others who inspire me to do what I can do and understand that it might not be enough to “change the world”; but that it does have some impact, even if just to be one of the many flowers which make up a field that is in full bloom.

Blessings,

Mama

Lent: It’s Not What You Give Up

Photo source: CatholicFreePress.org

Photo source: Catholic Free Press

While talking to a friend of mine recently, he asked: “What is it that you say to people on Ash Wednesday? I mean, is it Happy Ash Wednesday? Nah, probably not, right?  After all, it’s when you have to give something up… probably not so happy.”  I found the question an interesting one as well as a great reminder of the Joy of the Lenten season.  You see, most people tend to focus on the sacrifice and absence of things that they give up.

If you aren’t Catholic or Orthodox Christian (Copt, Russian or Greek Orthodox, etc.); you might be interested in knowing that Lent is not just about sacrifice.  It is composed of 3 parts in essence: 1- sacrifice, 2- prayer and 3- charity.  Some could read this to mean: 1- quit eating chocolate and have fish sandwiches each Friday 2- go to church on Sundays and 3- drop a few dollars in a donation can for <fill in the blank> charity the next time you see one.  Those people couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I’ll skip over the obvious spiritual argument as to why that line of thinking leads you nowhere.  After all, I’m no religious scholar and each person’s faith is their own.  But, it is also clearly flawed logic for another reason: it does what I think we can agree is a silly mistake to make in life: missed opportunity.  Regardless of whom you are and what you believe: this is a 40 day long opportunity to be better and to help others live better in the process.  To dig down deep and do those things we say we’ll eventually get around to, you know?

So, I have been wondering a lot over the past couple of weeks how I could turn this Lenten season into something that benefits Africa.  You see, each year when my children are young, I explain to them that there are really two purposes to the Lenten season.  The first of these is a sense of preparing ourselves through cleansing, prayer and fasting for the great celebration of Easter.  But the second is a matter of using this wonderful opportunity to improve ourselves, our families and our world by creating new habits that we will ultimately make permanent.  Lent offers us an extra chance to create good habits while mutually supporting each other as we do so.  It is always easier to accomplish goals when others are routing for you.

Thus, let’s use this blog as a way to keep a dialog going.  Whether you are Buddhist, Jewish, Agnostic or Baptist… take up the 40 day challenge and let’s talk a bit each day about how we can (each at our own level and in our own way) help Africans live better lives.  I’ll pop in each day to give you a suggestion and to hear what ways you add to the list.  And you can do the same.  Let’s challenge each other, support each other and share our ideas as to what little (or big) things we can do each day… whether those be one-time ways to help or new habits to make… share them here!

After all, Lent isn’t about what you give up… it’s just about what you give, be it prayer, time or talent.  What will YOU give to Africa these 40 days?  What talent do you have that could be of use?  How will you use a few minutes of your time to change a life for the better?  How will you use your resources to bring focus to an area of Africa’s development, challenges or beauty?
I’m really looking forward to your ideas.  And, now that the first day is almost over… just 39 left to go!

Blessings,
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

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

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

Beginning the Year on a Good Note

Black dolls; school, art and office supplies and toys being packed for Uganda, Rwanda and Ghana

When I was a child, I was told that it was very important to start the New Year in the same way that you want to spend the entirety of the year.  I can clearly remember my mother cleaning, cooking… in short doing all of those things she liked least in the days leading to the end of the year.  All so that she wouldn’t begin the New Year doing those things. New Year’s Day was reserved for fun, food, family and friends.  I came to learn, while growing up, that this tradition is one shared by many cultures throughout the world.

It is in this spirit that I held off a few days instead of sending the donations at the end of this year.  On the 2nd of January, you’ll find me in line doing what I hope to spend my year doing: making African children and their mothers smile.  I’ve enclosed a picture of what I’m up to right now.  I am taking a break from the packing to write a quick blog post to remind you to do the same… Don’t bother with useless resolutions about never touching any chocolate or never again losing your patience with the guy who shares the cubicle with you at work!

Instead, make a vow.  And take it as seriously as you would any other serious vow to God.  If you are a particularly grumpy character, I’m sure God will be just fine if you just make it one act of kindness per week (it is progress right?) 😉

I am setting the tone for my year of greatness, 2011.  I’m doing so by doing what I love best and hoping that it will grow again into something beautiful.  I’m sure it sounds a bit silly; but I’m choosing my first day of work in 2011 as the day that I make the first donations for the year.  But, I’ll just be the one standing in line for you.  After all, you have to get to the office, feed the kids and get them off to school on time, work off that Christmas dessert and make dinner.  I’ll be there because YOU were supportive this year.  Because you chose to offer a fair trade birthday gift to your best friend, because you chose a gift basket full of Omanhene chocolates for the office party instead of buying the usual gift cards from the big chain coffee shop around the corner.

I don’t know what the New Year holds for you.  I am not a fortune teller.  But, I can tell you one thing with no reservation: thanks to your prayers, your support, your donations… this year will start well for lots of children in Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda.  There will be a sick little girl in a hospital or a child in an HIV clinic waiting room who is holding a doll that looks like her.  There will be a young boy discovering the magic of a special pair of scissors that cut beautiful designs in the card that he is making for his mother.  There will be a teacher who is thankful for the relief he feels when opening a box full of supplies which make his job just a little easier.  And that will be thanks to you.

After all, I am just the woman who stands in line to ship that joy for you.  I’m just the messenger.  And I pray with my whole heart and soul that 2011 will bring many more opportunities for me to deliver good news and gifts on your behalf.

God bless you all in the New Year!

Love,

Mama

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

All that glitters… isn’t gold!

There is a lot of debate as to “how to fix Africa”.  First of all, I’m not sure that it’s broken.  The media would have us believe that corruption, famine, HIV-AIDS and constant human suffering are the faces of Africa.  And, when that becomes boring or overwhelmingly depressing; they switch gears and show us the bright, beautiful (white) faces of rock stars, Hollywood movie stars and whatever other stars they can pluck from the sky who tell us how they are saving Africans through their latest causes-du-jour.  After all, stars matter right?  So, if they are in Africa buying children (say what you will, Madonna, it’s the case!) or improving their public relations as their publicists all recommend then we’d all better follow suit!  They are smarter simply because they are rich and on television or have been given the gift of a melodious voice.  And well, all that glitters must be gold.

Here’s the thing: I may have an incredibly sarcastic tone here; but it’s for one good reason.  I am so very tired of hearing about this or that European, American or other westerner who has come in on a white horse to save Africa!  Sick and tired of hearing how those who are more educated than the women that I deal with on a daily basis have the solutions for them.  I do not agree that it makes more sense somehow (though I’m still unable to follow the logic personally!) to have other people solve the problems for us.  What can a poorly educated woman in Mali or Uganda know about what she needs?  She hasn’t ever flown to Italy, read the latest literature on sustainable development, chatted up rich donors at an NGO conference… she’s probably so backward that she has never even left her village to visit her own capital city.  Why on earth turn to her for solutions, right?

For almost a decade now, I have been working with men and women, African people who are interested in building a life for themselves and for their children.  They have told me what I’ve already known: Africans want to EARN a living; not be handed one.  If those jetting in to refugee camps for photo ops had the slightest inkling of our history, our cultures and who we are as people; they’d seek other solutions.  African women are proud women and they want the same things that most women want: a fair chance to build something for themselves.  Given the choice between having a hand-out and sleeping in a house with no roof; I’ve seen African women choose no roof.  This might sound nuts to many of you, admittedly.  But, if you go to most parts of the world (including the US or Europe 50 years ago) the same would have been true for most people.  Pride wasn’t something negative.  It was the gut feeling you had that you don’t take something for nothing and that it was better to be poor and have your dignity than to receive hand-outs and live without it.

I’d even argue that if you asked someone in many rural parts of the world today they’d tell you that hard work is what people should be respected for, not what they own.  At some point in America (and more recently, other parts of western culture), it became a feat to get as much as is possible while doing as little as is possible.  We aren’t there yet in Africa (most of us anyway) and it is my sincere prayer that we don’t ever want to be.

Ask a grandmother, any grandmother… Korean, Indian, Kenyan, American, Icelandic (or one from any other part of the globe) and she’ll probably tell you the same thing: People want opportunity.  They don’t want to sit at home or in a refugee tent waiting for someone they don’t know to decide their future… no, even if it’s a “good future”.  Just because some people feel good after handing out charity doesn’t mean that it is something that makes both parties feel good.

Those of you who visit this blog often know that I believe that most issues are not black and white.  The same truth applies to this one.  Yes, punctual charity is sometimes the right thing to do.  There is no way around assistance after a major natural disaster for example.  Even the wealthiest countries need aid in times like these.  But, it is equally important to allow governments (and even to require) that they be prepared through long-term planning to do as much as is possible for their own people in disasters.  If governments know that they can depend on hand-outs, what incentive do they have to do what others do: planning?  If we train our young African children that living off of hand-outs is normal; what kind of future will they be inspired to build for our continent?

I’ve heard a lot of talk from some, even name-calling and mud-slinging whenever someone says “Africa needs to become self-sufficient”.  Often, people are called racist hate mongers for merely pronouncing what has become a dirty word: accountability.

Here is the thing: I am a mother. I am actually a relatively strict one judging by modern Western standards.  But, children seem to enjoy being in my home.  I have asked them why and it’s because they know that in this home, there are two things: expectations and opportunities.  We expect the best behavior; help when it’s asked for (taking out the trash, etc) and basic respect.  On the other hand, we offer opportunities: to share your feelings, views and opinions for example.  We listen to what you might need and do what we can to increase your opportunities to earn it.  We don’t give charity; we give you an opportunity to earn it.  Want to come to study every night and have dinner with us?  You are welcome to; but you’ll be expected to do the dishes.  Kids know they aren’t imposing because we treat them like a member of the family.


Sustainable employment is what will help African women; not charity.

So, I ask you to think about this the next time you are deciding what to do with your time, your money or your prayer: Consider, are you offering opportunity with expectations?  Support ethical trade, not handouts.

Because if you are just putting some cash in the till of an organization which will “fix Africa’s problems”, you might just find that in the end, they are actually making things worse for the average African woman or child.  Opportunity might not be as shiny and pretty a gift as something marked “FREE gift from charity X”; but then again… not all that glitters is gold.