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What did you expect?

18 Oct

A shopfront near Busia, Kenya

Have you ever been to somewhere new and thought, this isn’t what I expected. Maybe you’ve even told whoever you’re with, only to be confronted with the question, ‘well what did you expect?’. And you think…you know, I don’t know.

In many ways, travelling to Kenya and Ethiopia fulfilled many of my expectations. Mobile phones, as twitter would suggest, are truly everywhere. Everyone, in fact most of the adult population use MPESA to control their finances. But for some reason, if you’d told me that I would see phone masts rising amongst hilltops and eucalyptus trees I would have found it very hard to picture.

Which is funny really…

I admit, it was rather ignorant of me.

But one of the biggest lessons I learnt from the people that took their time to talk to me during my trip, I learnt from their reaction to my questions. The tilted head, the vague and baffled eyes when I asked if I could stop asking questions about their farm and speak to them about their mobile phone.

With the huge impact that mobile phones are having in the developing world, it can be easy to imagine that these revolutionary devices are the pride and joy of their owners, locked away and treasured above any other possessions.

But an egg is an egg is an egg. And a phone is a phone is a phone. True, they’ve become extrememly important to people. But they are still buried in people’s pockets, flung in baskets, and abandoned on bar tops.

In many ways this is their great beauty. In taking little steps to improve people’s everyday, they enable the big changes and make the giant statistics.

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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.

The plan cont’d…

29 Jun

Where was I? Ah yes, Back in Nairobi…

After a week in Kenya I will fly on to Addis Ababa for a week which will be a little more familiar for me after spending nine weeks there in 2010.

No more flights in Ethiopia. I will drive down to Kofele…

…on to Zeway

Then it’s back to base in Addis Ababa and on home.

Hopefully with my first documentary under my belt!

10 little days!..

All maps from lovely Google

A pinch and a punch…

1 May

The first of May.

One year ago I was in Addis Ababa…

It was the week before I traded the city for the country and went to meet some very inspirational farmers. It was also the week I made the most expensive apple crumble of my life in an attempt to introduce my Ethiopian hosts to some British cooking. (6 apples =  £6.00 )

Time goes so quickly. Which is why I’m thinking more and more about my trip this Summer. Still no flights booked, but the whole of July is free-ed up and ready. I’m still conversing with some very interesting people and hope to have more details shortly.

Today I listened to this interesting radio documentary courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio and America Abroad Media. I recommend that you do too…

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/www_publicradio/tools/media_player/syndicate.php?name=minnesota/news/programs/2009/12/15/midday/midday_hour_2_20091215_64

Connecting Ethiopia

17 Apr

http://www.ethiotube.net/nvlab/player/player.swf?config=http://www.ethiotube.net/nvlab/econfig.php?key=745740d4e8c771e011e1

Ethiotube: Linking Ethiopian farming communities to export markets

Connections are being made between producers in Africa and the international market all over the continent. So it’s probably not suprising that things are moving fast in Ethiopia too, like the video shows. Forging these connections is important when 85% of Ethiopians rely on small scale, ‘back yard’ style agriculture for their income.

It’s especially significant considering the other side of agriculture in the country. Something that that Guardian article you can read by clicking on the link above talks about. Agriculture is also big business in Ethiopia. The government have sold huge swathes of land to national and foreign investors looking to grow food cheaply. Berhanu Kebede (Ethiopia’s ambassador to the UK) writes…

“The key is to achieve balance. Commercial farms tend to become hubs that link smallholders to value chains and help spread knowledge and best practice to other farms. So the debate is not about big versus small. We will continue to support commercially viable small farms, which offer increased food supplies, jobs and incomes in both the farm and non-farm economy. This will help Ethiopia achieve wider economic development and prosperity.”

In Ethiopia, mobile technology and agirculture have yet to collide in a big way. I hope to keep looking at the reasons behind this. But you can certainly see from the video that there’s great potential for their use in developing agriculture in the country.

Which leads me to me and an update on my research. I’m currently eagerly searching for ICT4D projects in Ethiopia, and also concentrating on discerning what exactly the situation is there now in regards to NGOs administering support. Still coming across fascinating projects every day via Twitter and a host of new followee’s. Just a shame they’re not in Ethiopia!

Apologies for the video being a little bit melodramatic. Nice to see some shots of Addis Ababa though..which actually, while I’m at it, is not an ancient city like the video sort-of suggests. Addis Ababa is little over one hundred years old. The name itself means ‘New Flower’ in Amharic

…Not that I wish to be pedantic!