Category Archives: Brought To You By The Letter A for Africa

Maintaining Social Responsibility In A Social Media World


Some of you may have seen the latest viral video making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. It targets Ugandan rebel leader, Joseph Kony, and aims to use social media as a means to capture and try him as a war criminal in the International Criminal Court.

Invisible Children caters to our national instinct to form impressions based on an emotional response. Whether you agree with the discourse on the subject matter, there is little controversy over the effectiveness of the video as a marketing tool, as evidenced by the fact that the video has garnered millions of views in the span of days.

I think the real question is how this will change nonprofit’s tools in the social media realm. As the hashtag, #Kony2012 continues to trend and bring awareness to an issue many Americans have never heard about, how will this change our dialogue?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of nonprofit and governmental agencies of all sizes and scope focusing their time and resources on Africa, and in particular, Uganda. These agencies provide services ranging from housing, food security, education, to entrepreneurship. Their missions vary but their common goal is to provide resources that will help Ugandans become independent, as well as, economically and socially sustainable.

IC’s Kony2012 video simplifies a complex issue and creates a straightforward call to action for the organization’s youthful constituency to make an impact the best way they know how; through small donations and purchases of bumper stickers and bracelets. My question is, what can other nonprofits learn from this social media success? (Regardless of your opinion of IC and Kony, 70 million YouTube hits and a public dialogue on the subject is a success in my book.)

It’s evident a social media revolution has arrived; its beginnings were embedded in the Arab Spring and slowly took root in the Occupy movement. Now is the time for nonprofits to enter this revolution and carve out a voice and implement a call to action within their own constituencies. 

In my work with nonprofits we have had numerous and ongoing conversations since the Kony2012 viral sensation opened up a new dialogue and started to ask the tough questions of how they will use this opportunity to carve their own niche in a rapidly changing and media driven society.

I anticipate that this will be the kickstart that nonprofits need to create a new era of community and donor engagement. However, only time will tell.


Pipe Dreams


In the Kaokoland region of Northern Namibia the Himba people are a tribe of nomadic pastoralists who are descendants of a group of Herero herders who fled to the remote north-west after being displaced by the Nama. The Himba continue their rich traditions such as wearing loin cloths and goat skinned skirts, rubbing their bodies with red ochre and fat to protect themselves from the sun, and developing intricate hairstyles and traditional jewelry.

Image Courtesy of Clay O

The Himba have held on to their traditions and adapted to outside influences in their own way. For instance, the Himbas have developed handcrafted bracelets; while these would have once been made from ivory the modern version are made from recycled PVC pipes. This unique fusion of a modern material into a traditional art form has started a popular trend and when I’ve had the opportunity to sell these bracelets they have sold out in a matter of days.These bracelets have become popular among tourists and trendsetters who support environmentally friendly, fair trade products.  Due to their success, other tribes in the Okavango region in Northeast Namibia have created a similar product.  I have a new selection of bracelets, purchased directly from the artisans, that are made from the same materials but infuse color into the bracelet’s design. I currently have 15  bracelets, shown above, on sale for $20 per bracelet plus shipping ($4.95).  I also have a selection of 10 keychains on sale for $5 plus shipping ($4.95).  When ordering please let me know what color/design you prefer (all of the bracelets are shown above).  I will try to accommodate your request but please know that supplies are first come, first served.While I may get more of these bracelets in the future, I have a limited supply at the moment. Don’t worry, if you aren’t one of the lucky few to purchase a bracelet I’ll be hosting a giveaway for one of the bracelets soon! 

Update: My PayPal account is having problems. If you’d like to purchase a bracelet or keychain please contact me at rbranaman(at)gmail(dot)com. I’ll give you details on where to send payment and when to expect shipment.

The Shitenge Project: Eye Mask


As you may recall I am currently a) trying to figure out how to integrate a plethora of shitenges into my daily life and b) looking for ways to amuse myself between freelance projects, thus The Shitenge Project was born.

Last week, a migraine took me out of commission for several days.  During that time I doped up on meds and kept a cold compress handy for my neck and forehead.  Out of this experience, this week’s project was born.  It’s a variation of an eye mask and is designed to hold a cold compress or a scented sachet.

I started by measuring the length and width of a cold compress and cutting two strips of material an inch wider and larger than the compress.  I ended up increasing the length because I like having the cold compress wrap around my temples.  I was initially going to use a buttonhole but decided on a velcro closure so the compress could slip in and out more easily.  I also included two buttons from my great-grandmother’s button collection for decoration.

I really liked this project because the case is versatile so I can pull out the compress, toss in a lavender sachet, and have an instant eye pillow.  If you are interested in making your very own lavender sachet, it really is a simple process.   You can make a sachet packet slightly smaller than your case (suggested material: cheesecloth) and fill it with 1/2 cup of (dried) beans, 1/2 cup of rice/lentils, and 1/2 cup of dried lavender.

Please continue to leave any ideas for future shitenge projects in the comments section: comments in my last post suggested a place mat project but as I usually eat standing up, a bowl in one hand, and a spoon in the other, I think place mats might be a bit too classy for me.  However, in the same vein, everyone needs a napkin so look for a cloth napkin project coming soon!

The Shitenge Project: Jewelry


As you may recall I am currently a) trying to figure out how to integrate a plethora of shitenges into my daily life and b) looking for ways to amuse myself between freelance projects, thus The Shitenge Project was born.

While I have yet to figure out how to use a sewing machine without a tutor I decided for my second project to try a hand-stitch jewelry design.  I used to create jewelry so I had beads at the ready.  I selected a large chunky bead that I didn’t mind covering with fabric, a funky wooden bead, ribbon, and jewelry wire for the necklace.

I started by cutting two strips of material approximately twice the width of the large chunky beads (if I was really meticulous I would have measured the width of the chunky bead and then doubled it but instead I eyeballed it).  I didn’t measure the length but instead fit the necklace and bracelet to my wrist and neck.

Next, I sewed the sides of the fabric together to make a tube.  If I were an actual seamstress, I might own something called a loop turner, but instead I used “found” objects (aka a mechanical pencil/cuticle stick/small tree branch) to laboriously flip the material inside out.  Once I flipped the fabric tube, I ran a piece of ribbon through the tube (for the necklace) and inserted my chunky beads.  After placing a chunky bead inside I slipped a funky wooden bead on the outside of the tube until I hit my desired length.  Rather than sewing the ends closed, I took a bit of flexible jewelry wire and wrapped it around the ends to hold the beads in place.  I then cut and tied the ribbon to my desired length and voila, my necklace was complete.  I used the same method for the bracelet but instead of using flexible jewelry wire and ribbon I simply fit the bracelet to my wrist, tied the ends together, and cut off the excess material.

Ta-da! The finished product: A funky fabric bracelet and necklace.  This was really simple and would be a great project for an old necklace that needs to be revitalized for yourself or a child.  The best part is that if it gets dirty or you get bored of the design you can slip off the material and make a new necklace/bracelet in minutes.

Please leave any ideas for future shitenge projects in the comments section but please remember I’m a novice seamstress!

Clothing Optional Morality


Title: Traditional Attire of the Himba and Herero

Location: Near Brandberg Mountain in Damaraland, Namibia (taken in March 2011)

History: The Himba (shown left), descendants of the Otjiherero, maintained their nomadic lifestyle and traditional garb throughout the centuries.  The Herero (shown right), on the other hand, splintered from the Himba approximately 150 years ago and moved Southward while the Himba remained in Northern Namibia, near the border of Angola.

Traditionally, Himba men and women go topless, cover their bodies in ochre to protect their skin from the Namibian sun, and wear a loincloth of animal skins.  During the 19th century, the Herero, influenced by German missionaries who considered their traditional attire (similar to the Himba’s attire) immoral, adopted a distinctive style of dress.  The dress, reminiscent of the Victorian style, falls to the ankles and is comprised of long sleeves and a bodice that buttons at the neck.  Under the dress, women wear six to eight petticoats to add fullness to the skirts and often accessorize the outfit with a shawl.  The headpiece is fashioned to resemble cattle horns as the Herero tribes are well known for cattle ranching.

Background: I decided to share this photo to illustrate how Western beliefs influence African culture.  German missionaries are an inextricable link in the Herero tribe’s cultural shift from their historical traditional attire to clothing, which is designed to cover their breasts and body in order to alleviate immorality, sin, lust, and desire.

Unfortunately, women’s bodies and attire (or lack thereof) remains linked to morality and is viewed as a corrupting force throughout Western society.  In fact, a New Jersey court recently ruled that topless sunbathing is “inherently indecent and immoral.”  While a man can walk around shirtless (in a variety of public arenas), women cannot expect the same constitutional right to equality because they are a threat to “the public’s moral sensibilities.”

Although I am not personally inclined to walk around topless, I am an ardent believer in providing equal rights to women.  Women’s breasts are inextricably linked to our sexuality and have thus become a topic of “morality” and a form of repression.  As many conservative Americans are fighting “the threat of Sharia law” (Islamic religious law) one might think that our courts would not be so quick to make rulings based on moral decisions rather than the American Constitution.

The Gods Must Be Crazy


There are few things in this world that I crave.  When I moved overseas I knew that I would have to do without the basic amenities and foods that I’d grown used to in America however, when I left Africa I didn’t know that I’d be leaving behind one of the few things I crave, Coca-Cola.  Although Coca-Cola is one of the few truly American products that has become a global phenomenon I don’t drink American Coca-Cola products because nutrasweet/aspartame tastes like cancer and sadness.  However, Coca-Cola, produced in South Africa, remains a throw back to the original Coca-Cola sweetened with cane sugar and bottled in classic glass bottles.

When I moved back to Texas earlier this year, I knew that I would no longer enjoy the pleasures of an ice-cold Coke but resigned myself to the silver lining of saving myself 150 calories a day.  Little did I know that the  Coca-Cola gods polar bears were listening to my prayers and the pure sweet goodness of glass bottled Coca-Cola dropped from the sky appeared at my local Costco.

While I admittedly love Coca-Cola’s  African product I have to ask at what cost does Coca-Cola do business in Africa?
-Yes, they do promote corporate social investment and implement community initiatives in Africa.
-Yes, they  maintain a water initiative to provide clean water sources, hygiene education, and sanitation services across Africa.
-Yes, they support HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention, access to education, job creation, and humanitarian assistance.

But is that enough or should we expect more?  Coca-Cola currently operates its Southern Africa base in Swaziland, which is wrestling with economic crisis and protests to overturn the monarchy in favor of democracy.  Swaziland appeals to Coca-Cola as it is Africa’s third-largest sugar producer and they court King Mswati with annual pilgrimages to Coke’s global headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.  The King, whose fortune is built on partnerships with multi-national corporations, is known to have a personal fortune of more than $200 million while 70% of his subjects live on less than a dollar a day, more than 40% of the workforce are unemployed, and more than 25% of the population lives with HIV/AIDS.

Where does corporate responsibility end and politics begin? Should Coca-Cola be in business with a despot or is this the cost of doing business in Africa?  Where does personal responsibility begin and business ethics end?

One Step At A Time


Title:  Otavi Community Based Rehabilitation Project

Location: Otavi (Location), Namibia (taken in March 2011)

Background: One of the projects that I initiated in Namibia was an awareness/fund raising event that helped people living in the Otjozondjupa region of Namibia gain access to disability equipment and share disability awareness.  From that event we were able to raise funds in order to provide services and wheelchairs to residents in Otavi, Grootfontein, and Otjiwarongo.  Pictured above is a woman who lives in Otavi and was provided a wheelchair to help her with her mobility and functionality within the household.  We stopped by her home to ensure that the wheelchair was properly aligned to prevent sores and share some physiotherapy activities that her children and grandchildren could practice with her to improve her mobility.

History: Many people living with disabilities are excluded from aspects of daily life due to the prohibitive cost of rehabilitation equipment. The availability of wheelchairs, crutches, and other adaptive equipment can substantially increase the user’s quality of life by providing mobility and freedom.  In Otavi alone there are more than 50 people living with physical and mental disabilities. Unfortunately there is not a system in place to ensure that these individuals receive the care or support that they need.