Archive | July, 2011

My final night

22 Jul

As predicted, gaining reliable internet was difficult as I travelled south down the Rift Valley. My first stop was Shashamene, known widely as the town which emporer Haile Selassie gave to the Rasfafarians. Well, he gave them some land there anyway, and it remains today. From the town, I travelled up to Kofele, a compact market town.

Describing the journeys is hard to sum up in a little blog post. Cars don’t rule the roads in this part of the rift valley. Infact nothing really does. Most of them are simply seething with cattle, minibuses, children, horses, donkeys pulling carts, ‘bajaj’ (or tuctucs) , the odd 4×4, cats, dogs, goats feeding from others… Somehow though, everything seems to get where it sets out to go. With a little bit of Ethiopian patience. Beyond the town, we met with farmers and their famillies to ask them about how their mobile phones are helping them to make more money from their farms. They also have profound social impacts which was interesting to see. Of course, we couldn’t avoid questions about the rain and drought, but this part of the country is very high and damp most of the year, so the effects are less severe.

On Wednesday, I took a hot dusty drive north, to the lakeside town of Zewey. Beautiful Zewey, flat fertile ground with a backdrop of deep blue mountians. Most of the farmers I met with here are irrigation farmers who have large plots and water pumps. Others grew seedlings in their yards to sell on to the bigger scale farmers. The hotter climate and flatter geography does mean they are more prone to drought here, and with rains falling at different times, some were fearful for the future. Many simply told us “Only God knows about tomorrow”.

So, back in Addis Ababa for my final night here in Ethiopia. The city has changed lot in a year, since I was here last. Still managed to find my favourite cafe and my old internet haunt.

But home tomorrow. I’ve met some interesting and incredibly warm, helpful people and have a heap of material to trawl through on my return. Fingers crossed I’ve not forgotten anything!

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Salem Addis Ababa

17 Jul

I woke up this morning to the sounds or a busy Bole road and arrived at breakfast for a hot, sweet macchiato. It can only mean one thing, back in Addis Ababa. I spent two months here last year and it’s great to be back. But this time, my stay will be a brief one. Tomorrow I will travel south, down the rift valley to meet with communities of farmers and continue my documentary project.

Its reasonably cold here. It’s rainy season, and although none has fallen since we landed late last night, when the rain comes it falls hard and heavy. Addis Ababa is one of the highest cities in the world. The altitude proved itself when exiting the airport last night, a fellow travellor dropped his lighter and it instantly exploded! Quite extraordinary.

So I have a day to catch up with friends and re-focus after a fun day in Nairobi yesterday. I’m looking forward to finding out about the progress Ethiopia has made with mobile networks, and how this is affecting the farmers, many of whom live out of reach of mobile signal. I’m hoping to incorporate the very topical issue of food security and ‘drought’, and find out how farmers think that their mobile phones might help them as rains become increasingly unreliable.

I’m looking froward to a busy week…

One week down

15 Jul

 So back inNairobi. It’s crazy that my time inKenyais almost up. I’ve had a varied and interesting week. It started in the city. I visited John Cheburet, who produces the organic farmer radio programme on Monday. He uses FrontlineSMS to communicate with farmers. Straight from there, I went back to Jomo Kenyatta international and flew to Kisumu, a city in the western province on the shores of lake Victoria. I think flying low over the lake as we came into land was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Perfect timing, the sun was setting. I was whisked off in a taxi towards Mumias where I spent the next three nights, actually living within the huge Mumias sugar factory. Bright lights, steaming chimneys, noisy engines, all amid miles and miles of sugarcane. Quite a sight. The main purpose of my trip was to conduct interviews with small scale farmers which involved a lot of travelling down narrow uneven roads- fortunately I wasn’t driving. I’ve made some enlightening discoveries and interviewed some fascinating people. very excited about getting back and putting the documentary together. Get ready for a photo overload on here too! In terms of my planning, so far so good. I’ve been lucky enough to meet great people every step of the way who have been a massive help to logistics! But I’m scared about speaking too soon when I’m only half way through. I’ll be back in the countryside on Monday. So until then I’ll be soaking upNairobiandAddis Ababa…

Day One

10 Jul

I arrived in Nairobi after an eight and a half hour flight and a two and half hour queue for a visa. It was an interesting place journey. Big groups of teenagers heading out to take part in development projects and a noticeably large contingent of journalists, spending the night in Nairobi before heading out to the east to report from the refugee camps. Fascinating. Although after a day of exploring the city today, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad that it takes such a tragedy, such a disaster for the world media to descend. Yet again it makes me question the picture of Kenya and east Africa which we have painted for us in the UK.

Anyway, I’ve seen some of the sights- parliament, the national museam, Victory park. And some less conventional- ambulances dodging the traffic by crossing the middle of the highway and driving toward ongoing traffic, riding in a bus which mounted the pavement for 200 metres to dodge yet more traffic, and a group of men pushing a huge bus to get it jumpstarted…

Tomorrow I have an appointment to meet with the producer of a leading Agricultural radio programme to find out how he uses SMS technologies to communicate with his listeners. My first interview… lots of things to remember currently going round and round in my head. Then I head back to Jomo Kenyatta International to head to the west of the country. It’s all go!

More soon!..

5 reasons to watch East Africa.

8 Jul

Tomorrow morning I  fly from London Heathrow to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International. I’ll leave behind hacking, hikes and HRHs, silly hats and all. I’ll miss out on Olympic tickets (again) my beloved Latitude festival and HP: the finale.

But you won’t have failed to notice that I’m heading to east Africa at a time of dramatic upheaval. Even if I’m not a direct witness, I’m preparing for interesting discussion and comment on some monumental issues.

Here are five issues, I definitely don’t expect to escape from.

  1. The birth of South Sudan Last time I flew to Addis Ababa, the plane stopped in Khartoum to refuel. I didn’t get off the plane, but I suppose you could say the sights I saw through the little window, were my first experiences of Africa. At 2100 GMT tonight (Midnight, local time) Sudan will separate and South Sudan will be born. Ethiopia and Kenya will have a new neighbour, geographically and politically. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be glued to Twitter. Take a look at The Guardian’s Eight pointers for more on South Sudan.
  2. Drought in the Horn of Africa The Horn of Africa includes Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti. It’s a peninsular of extremes, with high mountains and low arid plains, and so drought is, unfortunately, not an unfamiliar problem. But after consecutive years of unpredictable rainfall driving the price of grain higher and higher, the UN say that the droughts we’ve been alerted to this week, are the worst for 60 years in some places. The problems extend to Kenya and Uganda. In Kenya, thousands of refugees are arriving in camps having walked, sometimes for days from Somalia. It looks as if the area is on the brink of drought. I won’t be travelling to the worst hit areas, but this backdrop of failing crops, soaring food prices and people on the move is going to provide me with very interesting context for my documentary.
  3. Ethiopia to build first ever wind farm Ethiopia has long been involved with major energy generation projects. Currently Ethiopia are constructing the biggest dam in Africa on the Nile, expected to generate 5250 MW of power. In July work will commence on a €210 million wind farm in Ashegoda. It’s expected to be the biggest in Sub-Saharan Africa. These huge projects provide Ethiopia with a currency for exchange and electricity will be sold first to Djiboubti and then Sudan. It’s big business with big implications.
  4. A new phase of Egyptian protests Since the uprising in Cairo almost six months ago, African nations have had their eyes glued on Egypt to see what happens next in the country. Today, thousands descended on Tahrir Square, the site that’s now synonymous with democracy, the world over. People gathered to demand the trials of former leaders and further reforms, including the restructuring of the police force. Protests occurred all over the country. The wave of civilian protests since December 2010 was ignited by social media and dubbed the Arab Spring. As the name suggests it seems it was only the beginning. Whatever the implications, the whole of Africa will still be watching.
  5. Africa Football on the up Like him or loath him, Sepp Blatter is still the most powerful man in world football and he’s spoken out about the game’s future in Africa. There is a talent in Africa, he says, which is impossible to find anywhere else. Earlier this year, President of the Confederation of African Football Issa Hayatou expressed his determination to strive toward professionalising the game across the continent. With a pan-African campaign to get the 2020 Olympics in Durban, it’s an exciting time for African sport.
I’m so excited to be travelling at a time when not only African’s will be talking about all of these things, but the whole world will be watching.
I leave tomorrow. It’s not quite hit me yet.

“Focus Clare!”

8 Jul

I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer.

One of my biggest concerns as I pack and prepare to leave for Kenya is that I might drift from my main focus on the impact that mobile technology is having on farmers and the charities which exist to help and support them. However, the excitement and discussion which surrounds mobile phones in the developing world is constantly making me think outside the parameters of this question.

So partly in an attempt to bulk out and give background, and partly because I want this multimedia documentary to capture as much of this explosive new industry as possible, I’m giving myself a few other pointers…

 

What technologies are being used?

What are the consequences of using these technologies on charities?

What are the consequences of using these technologies on farmers’ livelihoods and agriculture?

How are these technologies beginning to support agricultural businesses?

What are the global consequences of using these technologies?

Why are countries developing at different rates?

What does the future hold?

 

With all this in mind, I hope I’ll be able to conduct relevant and interesting interviews for my radio documentary.

Back to the to do list then…

Getting to the point

6 Jul

In three days I will be on a plane bound for Nairobi so it’s about time I get to the nitty gritty of my project. I’m going to use the next few days to think about the main questions that I hope my documentary will go some way to finding answers for. Beyond that, my blog will become a bit of a progress diary, a travel log. So check back to see how I’m getting on.

Mobile technologies are changing lives, especially in the developing world. Since beginning my project, many people I have quizzed have emphasised that technologies must not simply be seen as a tool for administering aid. I hope that this argument will raise it’s head during my documentary. But my focus will be to ask…

How are mobile technologies affecting the relationship between NGOs and farmers? 

In a way, the argument which says that mobile technologies should be used for change outside of the confines of the aid industry goes some way to answering this question. Are people so empowered by the technologies that they are using that they don’t need the support we’ve come to see as ‘conventional’ from Non-governmental organisations.

On Monday, Oxfam launched it’s largest ever emergency appeal in Africa. We are, they say, amid the worst food crisis in the 21st century, as the Horn of Africa suffers from widespread drought. The Guardian have produced another great interactive map which shows some if the facts and figures. (I will stop banging on bout their maps I promise) Notice it states that 10 million are in need of ‘humanitarian assistance’.

So what does humanitarian assistance mean in an age when the internet and mobile phones make it increasingly easy to start up businesses? Have we moved into an age where aid has altered from being about Geldof and his gigs? Or are these ten million people still needing instantaneous solutions?

The reality is that I won’t be visiting the people who are really desperately in need of food aid. But I do hope to talk to farmers about how they see development projects that they are part of, and how technology is making them think differently. I’ll also be talking to people who have seen NGOs and the work that they do evolve as attitudes, politics and technologies have all had their part to play in changing international aid and development.

If the Horn of Africa really is amid a food crisis, I’m hoping that my documentary might shed some light on the future.