Tag Archives: africa

Maintaining Social Responsibility In A Social Media World

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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

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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.

Where Were You When… The Twin Towers Fell

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Join me for the Where Were You When? Series and share your story about how major world events impacted your life.  

Image Credit: Where Were You? Events That Changed The World 26-episode series graphic
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A decade ago I was a new college graduate, renting a room from a family friend, and embarking on a new career path.  I was fortunate; when the hijacked planes hit the Pentagon and the Towers, I was surrounded by great friends who helped shoulder the grief, shock, and distress with good old-fashioned escapism.  A lot of people have exceptional stories about how the Twin Tower attacks greatly impacted their lives and while my life didn’t change drastically that day, the events opened my eyes to the perceptions that people around the globe hold of Americans.

In the days that followed, the aftermath of the attacks didn’t alter my life largely; things slowly returned to normal, and television returned to regularly scheduled programming.  However, America’s role as a world player became more explicit and how we were represented as a government, nation, and people became increasingly clear.  I realized that the actions of a few individuals could skew the perceptions of many, thus, it did not take long to make the conscious decision that I wanted to be a part of changing that perception.

I chose to make a difference through service; I volunteered with refugee agencies, increased my knowledge on human rights issues, and 2 1/2 years ago I became a Peace Corps volunteer in Namibia.  I used the opportunity to promote a better understanding of Americans to Africans and share my experiences of African cultures and people with Americans.  While the tragedy of the terror attacks still weighs heavy on the nation’s collective mind, I hope that one thing that we can take away from this event is that personal interactions, open-mindedness, and embracing different religions is vital to win the “war on terror”.

For another perspective on this day and a new entry into the “Where Were You When?” series visit Kenya’s Expat Extraordinaire blog Yet Another 9/11 Tribute at So Long And Thanks For All The Fish.  If you’d like to be a part of this series please drop me a comment so I can share your blog here as well.

The Gods Must Be Crazy

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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?

Thando Iwam (Marry Me)

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It’s interesting how sights, sounds, tastes, and smells can trigger a once-forgotten memory in our minds.  I often associate music with certain places or people and create playlists based on the memories they evoke.  One of the songs that immediately reminds me of Namibia is Thando Iwam (Marry Me) by South African Kwaito star, Bojo Mujo with Namibian singer, TeQuila.  The song was a hit in Namibia and you could hear it played deep into the night at local shebeens (bars), blaring from car stereos, ringing out from cellphones, and danced at weddings.  The song was ubiquitous and I immediately associate it with my memories of Namibia.

Here are a few other songs that remind me of  people I met, places I visited, and events I was involved in during my time in Namibia:

Africa by Toto
The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism by The New Pornographers
Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys
Waka Waka Time for Africa by Shakira
Waving Flag by K’Naan
Ona Mami by Ozzy, JK, and Petersen
Yori Yori by Bracket
With My Own Two Hands by Ben Harper
Thando Iwam by Bojo Mujo featuring TeQuila

The lyrics (partially in Oshiwambo, partially in English)

Oh my love
Will you marry me?
Sthandwa sam
ungo wam
thando lwam
Hole yoye ohole yange
I wanna know, do you really love me too?
I deserve to know, do you feel like I do
So come on girl, marry me, marry me
If I marry you, will you marry me?

P.S. I LOVE the video.  It is Namibian through and through with the storyline and random dancing throughout.  Namibian music videos are so entertaining!

Do you have a song that reminds you of a time or place from your life?

Where Were You When… Osama bin Laden Shuffled Off This Mortal Coil

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Join me for the Where Were You When? Series and share your story about how major world events impacted your life.  

Image Credit: Where Were You? Events That Changed The World 26-episode series graphic
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Osama bin Laden; the name has haunted the American public for more than a decade and taken on mythical status.  On May 2nd of this year, President Obama accomplished what two presidents before him could not, the assassination of Al-Quaeda’s founder and international fugitive.  While I don’t believe assassinations should be utilized as a wartime tactic I do believe that the President took the only option that he felt he had available to him at the time.  I was in Nairobi, Kenya when President Obama announced Bin Laden’s death and his announcement sent shockwaves through the country and immediately put ex-pats on high alert for possible retaliation from Al-Shabaab.

I watched the announcement and updates on BBC News  as well as read local Kenyan news sources.  News articles reported mixed feelings about the Al-Quaeda leader’s death; while some welcomed his death as justice for his role in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing others railed against the West for it’s interference in international affairs.

What struck me the most was the juxtaposition of Americans celebrating the death of a “terrorist” while the world watched, when 10 years earlier, Americans watched in anger as people on the other side of the world glorified the events of September 11th.  I realize rejoicing the death of one man, a fugitive and “terrorist”, is not the same as relishing the deaths of hundreds of innocent Americans.  However, it struck me, as I watched the reactions of people half way across the world respond to Bin Laden’s assassination that if we took some time to understand our cultural differences that we could come to coexist peacefully.  Unfortunately, the world does not work this way and wars will continue as long as the West continues in its quest for global “Manifest Destiny” and the rest of the world continues to fight the yolk of democracy.

What are your thoughts on the assassination? Do you agree or disagree with the President’s decision to kill bin Laden? Do you think this is helping to bring the “War on Terror” to an end?  What could we have done differently; now, under the Bush administration, or under Clinton’s administration?

“I Am Sick And Tired”

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Swaziland.  When you say it out loud it sounds like a made up kingdom that you would find in a fairy tale with princes, balls, and commoners that are lucky enough to become princesses.  Swaziland does have a fairy tale of its own, but this fairy tale doesn’t have a happy ending.

Swaziland, a constitutional monarchy, is landlocked with its neighbors to the West, South Africa and, to the East, Mozambique.  King Mswati III lives the lavish lifestyle of royalty; in place of balls he hosts the traditional Swazi Reed Dance where he may chose a wife.  This girl, plucked from obscurity, is showered with gifts, however, she, in turn, must share him with his 13 other wives.  Should the proletarians question their King’s luxurious habits, the King reserves the right to mete out swift justice to those questioning his rule.

Beyond the palace walls, Swaziland’s population of 1.1 million is overrun with poverty and more than 1/4 of the population (and 42% of pregnant women) lives with HIV; the highest rate of HIV in the world. The country, too, seems to be impacted by the worldwide recession and in recent days has reduced spending on healthcare, as well as, ARV treatments for HIV patients.  With hospitals primed to run out of ARV drugs in two months time, Swaziland’s King is calling on South Africa for a financial bailout.  However, it’s neighbors to the South claim that the King is holding on to a secret royal fund worth several billion rand (several hundred million U.S. dollars) that could help curb the financial crisis.

In the meantime, HIV positive Swazis have resorted to eating cow dung mixed with water before taking their ARV drugs in order to maintain compliance with the treatment.  For maximum effectiveness, the drug cocktail, requires patients to have food in their stomachs to avoid side effects such as vomiting, dizziness, and stomach cramps.  Swazis have taken to the streets in protest of its King’s spending habits and are demanding that the country make health care a priority.

AP Photo from BBC News

Where do you stand?  Do you think it’s time to look beyond the “fairy tale”?  Should the King be held accountable for “secret” accounts? Should South Africa consider a bailout package?  How should the growing HIV/AIDS crisis be handled with a growing national deficit?  What are the similarities between what the Swazis are facing and what Americans are facing with the debt ceiling standoff?