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Posts from the ‘Kenya’ Category


Q Conversations 4: Jazz Singer and Photographer Ruth Naomi Floyd

While I was in the States at the end of last month, I had an afternoon to kill in Philadelphia. So the completely obvious thing to do was record another Q conversation. This time I sat down to chat with Ruth Naomi Floyd, whom I’d met at the European Leadership Conference in Hungary a few years ago. It’s available on iTunes podcasts, or if you prefer a direct feed, here on Jellycast.

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Q marks the spot – Treasure Map 44 (May 2012)

Sacred Treasure


Q marks the spot – Treasure Map 38 (November 2011)

Sacred Treasure


Q marks the spot – Treasure Map 37 (October 2011)

Sacred Treasure

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Q marks the spot – Treasure Map 35 (August 2011)

Sacred Treasure


Q marks the spot – Treasure Map 34 (July 2011)

Sacred Treasure

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Q marks the spot – Treasure Map 33 (June 2011)

Sacred Treasure


Q marks the spot – Treasure Map 32 (May 2011)

Sacred Treasure


The joys of Ugandan English

Not quite sure how I came across this wonderful Wiki page – but for any who have ever lived or visited Uganda, or East Africa generally for that matter, it is a treasure trove. Definitely worth printing out as a precautionary measure to keep in your back pocket.

Which reminded me of some things we wrote in our monthly newsletter when we were living there… exactly 7 years ago  – simply can’t believe it was that long ago now.

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Circling the wagons: an aerial perspective on protecting what we esteem?

I recently surfed (via StumbleUpon) to another random photo compilation, this time of the inestimable Yves Arthus-Bertrand (he of the amazing Earth from Above photos). His images are always stunning. And the compilation is certainly remarkable. But this one stood out, even though it is by no means one of his more spectacular images. It gave me this weird sense of deja-vu – and I couldn’t place it for a while. (If you’re interested, it’s of some very unusual suburbs in Copenhagen.)

Then it came back to me. But a few years ago, while we were still living in Uganda, I had the chance to go on a day’s flight around Uganda with an old friend, Laurie, a pilot with MAF. Every few years, they need to fly to each of the airstrips in the country to measure them (to make sure they’re not shrinking because of weeds and other growth), to check coordinates are right and other tests. As it was not possible to use this to take passengers, I was able to go along with them.

As we were flying over the remote and underdeveloped region of Karamoja (near Uganda’s border with Kenya), we saw these Karamajong villages far below us. Ring any bells?

The Karamajong are a people group whose lives revolve around cattle. Their wealth is measured in heads of cattle; their diet is built on the staples of cows’ milk, cows’ blood and beef; their lifestyles entirely revolve around the care, protection and health of their herds. And as you can see vividly from the air, their social planning does too. For in the centre of each settlement is an area to keep the family’ herd at night. The reason is simple – one of the other activities they get involved in is cattle rustling. Feuds with the other clans, and with the other people groups across the border like the Turkana, go back decades even centuries. This social phenomenon, probably more than any other factor else, drives this sort of town planning.

It’s especially interesting when placed alongside one I took on that trip in another area of Uganda – this time Busoga, the area around the source of the Nile at Jinja. As you can see, this is a very different arrangement. This time the protective ring is not dwellings around the herd, but trees around the dwellings. This is a fertile area of the country, as you can tell by the greenness, and these are arable farmers.

I’m by no means a social anthropologist nor do I have anything particularly profound to say. But it did provoke some thoughts about how we go about protecting what we value. Are we then to assume from the Danish image that their most important possessions are their cars? Probably not because the innovative plan is not designed to keep outsiders out as an experiment in forming new units for community.

However, what do we invest in protecting? And more to the point, what do we not invest in protecting? Simply looking for clues like what gets locked up most rigourously or protected most assiduously might just reveal something about where our hearts lie…


Q marks the spot – Treasure Map 18 (March 2010)

Sacred Treasure

Topical Treasure

  • Ushahidi – the power of the net at work in Kenya and beyond…
  • Twitter tweeters beware… Never keep a running update of where you are because burglars take note as well
  • One of my favourite screenwriters is Andrew Niccol (e.g. Truman Show, Gattaca, Simone) – i’ve given talks on his stuff in various places. But one film that is needlessly underrated is The Lord of War (perhaps because of the silly title and because protagonist is played (reasonably well) by Nicolas Cage). But here is a fascinating article about a real life arms dealer, of whom Cage’s character could almost be a cardboard cutout: Monzer al-Kassar, recently imprisoned.

Quirky Treasure


Some favourite African Musicians

Another list. Just felt the urge I suppose. In no particular order, here are some African musicians whose stuff I can’t get enough of (in no particular order). Not exhaustive, not exclusive, not definitive. Just for a laugh.

Makeba - Mama Africa Ayub Ogada Vusi Mahlasela - Guiding Star

Johnny Clegg Youssou N'dour Abdullah Ibrahim - Cape Town flowers

  • Miriam Makeba (1932-2008) – South African – Mama Africa, lived much of her working life in enforced exile from apartheid era SA. Was, for many, one of the voices of protest outside. Her voice has soul, soul, sweet soul. Somehow evokes a whole generation and era. Nuff said.
  • Ayub Ogada (?- )- Kenyan – was given his epic En Mana Kuoyo some time before we moved to Uganda by bro-in-law Jez – but it is now firmly embedded in my mind as the soundtrack of Kampala evenings. Mellow and yet completely compelling, this is trad Luo music given a western mix. Just wonderful. You’ll recognise some of it if you’ve seen the film The Constant Gardener.
  • Vusi Mahlasela (1965- ) – South African – has a unique and extraordinary voice and is wonderful guitarist in South African folk style. His voice just has it all – pierces the heart and captures the agony, fury, life, hope, joy and reality of Africa. Just listen to Song for Thandi, or the raw Africa is Dying; or more positive, Everytime. Also, check out his cover (with Josh Groban) of Weeping, and of U2’s Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own.
  • Johnny Clegg (1953- ) – South African & Zimbabwean (originally English, born in Rochdale bizarrely enough, but moved to Africa as a child) – he is known as the White Zulu, and formed the first racially mixed South African band in the late 70s. Often sings in Zulu, English and even French. Some great stuff – esp the popular Asimbonanga, and one of my favourites The Crossing.
  • Youssou N’Dour (1959- ) – Senegalese – draws on all kinds of different musical heritages, but clearly rooted in trad Senegal folk music (called mbalax). Hugely popular globally, and justly so… He played key abolitionist Olaudah Equiano in the 2006 film Amazing Grace. Sometimes, his voice sometimes evokes Imam’s call to prayer, piercing and resounding above the band. Many will know his duet with Neneh Cherry, 7 Seconds – but check out Chimes of Freedom or the joy of Set and you’re transported to an African minibus taxi.
  • Abdullah Ibrahim (1935- ) – South African – a jazz pianist, originally called Adolph Johannes Brand. Does big band stuff, and close-up stuff, all in all, a great and unique sound. As a random pick, I just love his District Six, evoking apartheid’s infamous clearing of Cape Town’s most vibrant community (see previous post) or the exuberance of African Marketplace.

Honourable Mentions: Soweto String Quartet (aka SSQ – exactly what it says on the tin, a string quartet formed by 3 brothers and a mate from Soweto – doing classical-pop-african crossover stuff) and Oumou Sangare (from Mali).

I’ve had the joy of seeing 4 out of these 8 acts live – true joy. But all of these folks have stuff on SPOTIFY (which you must use if you don’t already) – so check them out.


Seeing Faces in Kibera, Nairobi

Came across this extraordinary photographic project today – faces of Kenyan women have been blown up and placed on the roofs of Kibera slum in Nairobi. It is done by an anonymous French photographer called JR (shades of Banksy there?) as part of a project simply called women are heroes – the aim is apparently to highlight the plight of women who are the victims of violence, especially when it is domestic violence. It took a year of planning and covers 2000 sq m of rooftops, using water-resistant material that helps to keep the homes below dry as well.

But then get this: some of the pictures have been specifically placed so that when the twice-a-day train runs through the slum, the eyes match up with the faces!

HT: Visual Culture


Q’s AFRICA week: 4. Fun signs and sights

Here is something a little more light-hearted. I’ve uploaded to my Flickr page a number of classic signs and sights that I’ve spotted on my african travels. Some I’ve shown before (mainly from Uganda), but I’ve added a few from the South Africa trip. Check them out the whole set after this little excerpt:






Kenyan complexities – community, tribalism and the cross

It is STILL going on – I can’t bear it. And now around 800 are dead, including a specifically targeted opposition MP. Africa and Africans have SO MUCH to offer, and indeed teach us Europeans. There is a holism and integration to the ways in which the world and life are understood that have much to challenge us in the west. In fact, I was preaching about precisely this on Sunday night – as part of our annual Partnership Sunday focus.
The sermon title was one of those that had seemed a good idea at the time (i.e. 4 months ago when we had to come up with something for the termcard) but when it came to prep last week seemed a bit of a nightmare: I BELIEVE IN AN UPSETTING CHURCH (from 1Peter 2:9-12). It sort of worked out OK in the end (I hope). But it constantly strikes me that one of the challenges we have in the western church is to build a real sense of community – the problems are exacerbated when it comes to a central London church like All Souls, which draws people from every corner of London within the M25 and some beyond (I know there are issues about that – and those advocates of the small church get sent into paroxysms by the thought). We need a greater sense of inter-dependence and mutuality. As I was saying on Sunday, this can only come about when we recognise our SHARED dependence on God’s mercy. Who am I to look down on anyone else when I know that I am just as much in need of mercy and grace as they are? The ground before the cross is level as we all (whether we are presidents or paupers) come before it on our knees. As CS Lewis once wisely wrote:
Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.’
But in our middle class, private and protective way, we usually stop there. We usually think OK, I’ve got to accept others – but I’m not going to expose my vulnerabilities or failures. I’m certainly not going to let others help me in the battle with my own selfishness. And this is where 2 fascinating African proverbs rattled in my brain (both from the Ibo in Nigeria). The first is wonderfully absurd:
No one buries himself; if he does, one of his hands will have to be outside the grave!
Then there is this one:
Both hands become clean as each hands washes the other in turn.
We need one another even in our own personal battle with sin. As Proverbs 27:17 puts it:
as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another
But here’s the irony – and perhaps it is the nature of interdependence. The greater the mutuality, the clearer the boundaries we erect. Could this be why tribalism is such an issue in Africa? For being open and anti-individualistic does create a vulnerability (which is one of our preoccupying fears in the west), with the result that we don’t feel that we can extend it too far (understandably). And so the flip side of Africa’s great positive in terms of community life is tribalism. After years of Kikuyu power in Kenya, other tribes are fed up and marginalised. (See this very helpful tribal map of Kenya from the BBC news site).
How do you correct the imbalance? With the machete. Simplistic, I realise. But this, I fear, is a key factor. It’s what went so wrong in Rwanda. It’s part of the problem in DRCongo; in Darfur, in Zimbabwe; and my fear is that it is precisely what could rear it its ugly head in Uganda – after years of President Museveni favouring neighbouring tribes in Uganda’s south-west.
True community is incredibly costly – and crossing human boundaries and divides requires considerable effort. We can learn much from Africa about how to be inter-dependent better. We don’t get anywhere near in the west. But what we ALL need to learn from Christ, is that we all alike depend on God’s mercy – which means that no one tribe is ‘better’ than another. Oh that the power of the unifying and purifying work of the cross would do its work amongst those who feel so enraged that they need to kill. Oh that it would shake us up in London so that we are not too proud to learn lessons from others around the world, including those who know how to live as a community. What we mustn’t do is use the violence we see on the news as an excuse for rejecting the need to do this.

Africa the fragile continent, the result of power-hungry dictators

Blaine Harden is an American foreign correspondent who has worked for the Washington Post and the New York Times. For a number of years he travelled across Africa, the result of which was this fascinating book, Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent. Despite now being 15 years old, it is sadly, profoundly relevant. One particular claim to fame, particularly poignant in the light of recent events, is that he was thrown out of Kenya for his persistent exposure of that country’s endemic corruption.
If you took a quarter-century worth of His Excellencies the African leader and tossed them in a blender, you would come up with a Big Man who looks like this:
His face is on the money. His photograph hangs in every office in his realm. His ministers wear gold pins with tiny photographs of him on the lapels of their tailored pin-striped suits. He names streets, football stadiums, hospitals, and universities after himself. He carries a silver-inlaid ivory mace, or an ornately carved walking stick or a fly whisk or a chiefly stool. He insists on being called “Doctor” or “conqueror” or “teacher” or “the big elephant” or “the number-one peasant” or “the most popular leader in the world.” His every pronouncement is reported on the front page. He sleeps with the wives and daughters of powerful men in his government. He shuffles ministers without warning, paralyzing policy decisions as he undercuts pretenders to his throne. He scapegoats minorities to shore up popular support. He bans all political parties except the one he controls. He rigs elections. He emasculates the courts. He cows the press. He stifles academia. He goes to church.
(p217, Blaine Harden, Africa – Dispatches from a Fragile Continent, 1993)

Chilling. Especially that last line.


What’s to be done? Well, the only resorts have ever been available are carrots or sticks – sanctions and threats, or rewards and glittering prizes (which, if one was not so cynical, could be construed as a bribe). But you have to start somewhere.

Hence the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. This was set up by an African millionaire in 2007 to do something about the problem. As Mo Ibrahim himself said:

Nothing, simply nothing, is more important for Africa than good governance

As a result the foundation will give a regular prize:

The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership will be awarded to a former African executive Head of State or Government who has demonstrated excellence in African leadership. Unprecedented in its scale and scope, the Mo Ibrahim Prize consists of US$ 5 million over 10 years and US$ 200,000 annually for life thereafter. A further US$ 200,000 per year for good causes espoused by the winner may be granted by the Foundation during the first ten years.

The first winner of the Mo Ibrahim Prize will be selected by a Prize Committee, comprised of:

  • Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General
  • Martti Ahtisaari, former UN Special Representative for Namibia and former President of Finland
  • Aïcha Bah Diallo, former Minister of Education in Guinea and Special Adviser to the Director-General of UNESCO
  • Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Minister of Finance and former Minister of External Affairs of Nigeria
  • Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (and board member of the Foundation)
  • Salim Ahmed Salim, former Prime Minister of Tanzania and former Secretary-General of the Organisation of African Unity (and board member of the Foundation)

It is the largest prize in the world. But it is shrewd. The idea is that such riches are on offer for those who govern well to remove the necessity/temptation to feather one’s own nest.

It was awarded last Autumn to President Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique. The citation is especially revealing, by way of contrast to the Kenyan situation, and I fear the Ugandan in the not too distant future.

  • President Chissano’s achievements in bringing peace, reconciliation, stable democracy and economic progress to his country greatly impressed the committee. So, too, did his decision to step down without seeking the third term the constitution allowed. President Chisssano took office after winning his country’s first multi-party elections in 1994. The historic elections were held just two years after he had helped the country end, through negotiations, the 16-year civil war which had devastated Mozambique, left thousands dead and forced many to flee their homes. He led a country whose infrastructure and economy were ruined, its society deeply divided and which suffered from sever natural disasters.
  • Huge challenges remain but, under his two terms, Mozambique established a stable economy with robust growth and increased foreign direct investment. Its economy has been one of Africa’s emerging success stories.
  • Although Mozambique remains one of the poorest countries in the world, poverty levels have fallen. The poverty reduction programmes also saw, from a low base, an increase in the number of children in education and improvements in health care. In addition, women were empowered to participate in the political and economic life of the country.

Finally, the Foundation offers a very helpful method of accountability – the Ibraham Index of African Governance. Perhaps this will begin to do what governmental bodies like the African Union seem powerless or reluctant to do – hold leaders to account.


These are great ideas and the foundation sounds like it is a good thing. But of course, in the end, these are realities that have been the world’s experience since the dawn of time. Which is why we need God to be a God of justice. For when we pray for God to Bless Africa (Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika – now the National Anthem of Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa) we are actually praying for him to bring the blessing of his judgment on those who think they got away with it.



“Alas an African Dream’s going wrong” – now it’s Nairobi’s turn (again)…

I’ve no idea how far in advance they plan the Telegraph Cryptic Crosswords but I suspect it is at least a few weeks. So in the light of this week’s events in Kenya, there is an ironic poignancy to 2 Across from today’s. The clue reads:

2 Ac: Alas a dream’s going wrong for African city (3,2,6)

As clues go, it is quite a nice one, though not particularly taxing (especially since the definition at the end, placed beside the unusual letter formation, gives the game away somewhat). If you are new to the wonders of cryptic clues, and want an explanation of how this one works, you only have to ask!

Ans: Dar Es Salaam

Of course, it is the wrong city – and ironically enough, Dar (and Tanzania as a whole, for that matter) has been one of the more stable parts of the continent. But go just up the coast and the situation is not so good at all. For in Nairobi, a dream really does seem to have gone wrong.


We were living just over the border in Uganda, when Mwai Kibaki swept to power in 2002. After the despotic and corrupt years of Daniel arap Moi at the helm, it seemed like a breath of fresh air (although people conveniently forgot that Kibaki had once upon a time been Moi’s Vice-President for 10 years!). His victory was heralded as a miracle for what was often called the ‘National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) dream’.


We heard amazing stories. One stuck in my mind. Police checkpoints litter Africa – most of the time they are just an inconvenience and a matter of daily life when we lived in Uganda. But in Moi’s Kenya, it was assumed that you could only get through with the help of a bribe. Within days of the NARC victory, there was one story of a matatu (minibus taxi) going through a checkpoint where the driver paid the normal bribe. But a woman in the matatu had had enough. She got the other passengers to force the driver to go back and retrieve the bribe. The status quo didn’t have to remain unchallenged.


But corruption didn’t end, political problems continued and the tribal divisions that seem to wreck so many advances across the African continent, were never healed (as proved this week). Within just a few months, it was business as usual. The British High Commissioner, Sir Richard Clay, got his knuckles severely rapped by his political masters in London, for speaking out about the corruption in Kibaki’s government back in 2005. But he was spot on. And what we’ve seen over the last few days only goes to prove his point.


Dar Es Salaam is clearly the correct answer to the cryptic clue – but a straight clue would have a different answer, at just 7 letters.


How ironic also, that at the moment when Barack Obama is savouring his first Democratic primary victory in Iowa, his father’s country is in such turmoil. If he does become President (which is by no means a dead cert at this stage), one has to wonder – could a half-African President of the United States make a difference.


Why, oh why, Lord, do African Dreams so often turn into nightmares? God bless Africa – PLEASE…



See also this very interesting article by BBC’s Juliet Njeri: Kibaki – Dream or Nightmare?