What we could do for the culture war–Stop exporting R. Kelly to Uganda

[Update: BBC reports that the Ugandan parliament has actually passed this absurd life-in-prison anti-homosexuality law that has been lurking in recent years–what a mess. While Museveni is said to have sent troops to South Sudan and has been called on as mediator by AU. Will hope that he will have the sense and decency to keep this on the shelf.]

What did I see of America during my two weeks in Uganda? The thing that really stuck in my mind was the banner advertising the R. Kelly concert. Surely this violates any sense of “first do no harm.” This was five years ago, after everyone should have known better. interesting to see people waking up to this finally.

From twitter: @Nnedi: Is there really a internet mob going after R. Kelly (FINALLY) or does it just seem that way because I surround myself with thinking people??

Veterans Day–America and Africa

Happy Veterans Day to my friends and readers in and around the Armed Services.

I always think on these occasions especially of my Uncle Gid and late Uncle Elvin who went off to fight in World War II as farm boys. And my grandfather’s older brothers who fought in Europe in World War I, through that eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, even though their father was a German immigrant (of more than 40 years in Kansas by then) who wondered whether his neighbors would let him continue to live in the area with the country at war.

At my AfriCommons Flickr account I have started a small gallery for photos of Kenyans serving in the U.S. military. The first image below is the only one that has a Creative Commons license for me to repost here. The second image is just for entertainment.

Cleaning Up for Veterans Day


SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (Nov. 13, 2011) Logistics Specialist 3rd Class Julius Okeyo, originally of Kenya, reaches for a small bit of debris during the community beach clean-up conducted by the crew of USS MILIUS (DDG 69). The Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided missile destroyer was invited to the coastal city to participate in a weekend filled with community events including marching in the Veteran’s Day Parade, a hospital visit and ship tours for the public. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kim McLendon)

“Marines Support Shared Accord in South Africa”

Marines support Shared Accord in South Africa

Basil Mills, a wildlife conservation expert, shows Marines from 4th Law Enforcement Battalion various reptiles and wild life they might encounter in the South African wildness, where they will stay for the length of Exercise Shared Accord 13. Marines from 4th Law Enforcement Battalion supported Exercise Shared Accord 13, a multilateral training engagement with more than 700 servicemembers from the U.S. Marines, Army, Navy, and Air Force along with more than 3,000 South African National Defense Force counterparts in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, from July 24 – Aug. 7. (U.S. Army Africa photo)

Sunday music: Sauti Sol


Nairobi’s Sauti Sol featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition for a “sunny” but authentic appeal: “Native Sons Sing Straight to Kenya’s Youth”.

Here is “Blue Uniform”, video with lyrics, at Ghalfa.com.

At the Ghalfa Blog: “Sauti Sol is the Finest Kenyan Band to Walk the Earth:  Here’s Why”:

They have cross demographic appeal

Whether you are from the hilly valleys of Kakamega, or from the concrete jungle in Nairobi, Sauti Sol don’t leave you feeling alienated. Why? They sing in fluent English, Kiswahili and their native Luhya dialect. That’s a rare triple threat that you don’t get from many Nairobi bands, ESPECIALLY those from suburbia.

They have cross border appeal

These guys top charts from Kenya to the Netherlands. They also have mzungu fans screaming their name at international festivals such as South by South West in Austin, Texas. But don’t take my word for it, just take a look at the video . . . for their spellbinding performance of ‘Awinja’ at SXSW earlier this year . . .



“KONY2012”: Bigger than “Out of Africa”, and probably better

More than a week ago I promised my daughter a post about KONY2012.  Seeing as how I changed her life by moving her to Kenya for the seventh grade four years ago I allowed that this was a reasonable request, and agreed to do my best (even though I was inclined to not to write on the subject otherwise).

In the meantime, I agreed to lead a Sunday School discussion about the video for this morning, so I had to work through how to address the complexity of issues in a very brief overview for a general audience of my contemporaries who are not “East Africa junkies” who would read this blog, but who came to the issue initially primarily as parents of children impacted by an unusual and interesting cultural phenomenon in the form of this video that “went viral” in an unprecedented way.

From a Sunday School perspective, we talked briefly after watching the video about our responsibilities to be aware of things going on with “our neighbors” in the world and finding effective ways to respond. We were struck by the notion that our children were being reached and moved, and in some cases perhaps manipulated in different ways with Facebook and YouTube, etc. as opposed to what we grew up with. We touched on the issues about lobbying for a specific military response to a unique situation involving several countries. And we certainly recognized and appreciated the talent applied to making a video that had us all thinking and talking about Uganda and the DRC, Sudan and South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Recognizing the video as aimed primarily at an American audience with ancillary worldwide distribution in our spontaneously globalized communication sphere may help to see this in a different way that I think might be constructive. It’s a viewpoint that I eventually stumbled into after reading a lot of Ugandan, aid-focused, “Africanist,” marketing, tech and media commentary–much of which is important and useful, but left me unsatisfied as well.

If we look at this as a Southern California American film about East Africa, and compare it to Out of AfricaThe Constant Gardener and The Last King of Scotland, maybe we can appreciate the genius of the use of the medium in a way that has captivated so many millions of people, a way that is a little more current, and aspires to accomplish something more.

Of the cultural events in the United States in my lifetime that have some real connection to East Africa, “Obama2008” is surely the biggest, but “KONY2012” has eclipsed the big one from back in my day, the 1985 Sydney Pollack film Out of Africa starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Romanticized nostalgia for a whitewashed version of European colonialism in Kenya with two of Hollywood’s biggest and most appealing stars had some real influence, and still does to this day. The image is good for American tourism to Kenya–so from a “chamber of commerce” viewpoint this has been in a way positive–there is money to be made from this nostalgia.   But it was probably a setback toward getting Americans to grant full agency to black Kenyans and indirectly contributed to the depersonalization that facilitated our support for the “one party state” of Moi, continuing right up through the problem of Kenya’s “Invisible Voters” in the 2007 election.

For Americans of a certain age,Out of Africa is right there along with Born Free and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom in our images of East Africa.  Robert Redford alongside Ernest Hemingway.  By the mid-80s we had started to really settle on heroic images for the leadership of the civil rights movement in the United States–if Hollywood had produced a blockbuster about the Kenyan democracy movement instead of a European story set in colonial fields, some of us might have been inspired rather than just charmed and entertained.

In The Constant Gardener, a more fictionalized but topical LeCarre story, we have flawed but sensitive and aware white Europeans trying to fight the evil designs of their fellow outsiders in Kenya and the region. We even see Kibera and dance the dance and feel the vibe. But of course it is all doomed to failure.  None of that naive “new world” hope here, thank you.

In The Last King of Scotland, we move to Uganda, so in a sense we are getting warmer, and invent a white character to interact with the snippets of past history of African debauchery because that’s easier than imagining a Ugandan who could really tell us about all this, and in whom we will be as interested.

KONY2012 comes in at slightly under 30 minutes, so its quite a bit shorter than these full length feature films. But it’s more ambitious and packs a punch. It has been seen by millions and motivated thousands of those to actually read and learn something about Uganda and bordering countries today. It addresses a strange situation in which Congress passed legislation and the administration has sent U.S. troops to chase a foreign “warlord”. Most Americans were apparently completely unaware that this had even happened, and millions more now know. Sure, the video is going to strike Ugandans as patronizing (I live in Mississippi, so I know about being patronized, and how tiresome it can be, as well as the pain of an image that accentuates the worst and the past rather than the present and ignores the trajectory), but in the context of “Hollywood” film, KONY2012 can also been seen as representing some significant generational progress. We are only 18 years after apartheid and 27 years after Out of Africa. The filmmakers themselves may not be master strategists of conflict resolution and criminal justice, international relations and aid effectiveness–but there is surely here some authentic spark of passion that does recognize a common humanity with the victims of violence that when shared seems to be something more hopeful.  Something that this upcoming generation can chose to be inspired by and make use of.

And do check out the LRA Crisis Tracker alongside this academic article, “Culture, Cultivation and Colonialism in Out of Africa and Beyond.”

Kenya’s Kibera slum overflows with street art — latimes.com–Solo 7

Kenya’s Kibera slum overflows with street art — latimes.com

Feature on Solomon Munyundo, a.k.a Solo 7

Solo 7 — Toi Market

Solo 7–Kibera