By Paul Ndiho
Founded in Nairobi, Kenya in 1997 by American photographer Lana Wong, the Shootback photography project continues to inspire, empower and motivate hundreds of teens from the Mathare, one of Africa’s largest slums. The youths are taught how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through photography.
The images have captured single moments in time — of family bonds and friendship, work and community, love and survival. They were taken by young photographers who participated in a special Shootback project. Eight of the original Shootback students are now professional photographers and filmmakers according to Shootback founder Lana Wong.
“The great news is that 18 years on, the project is still ongoing under the auspicious of The Mathare Youth Sports Association. And eight of my original students are now professional photographers and filmmakers.”
The project empowers young people to tell their own stories and express their creative voices through photography, writing, and critical thinking about the world around them and this has culminated in the publication of Shootback.
“Basically this is a 200 page full colored book filled with writing and photographs taken by my students from Mathare-which is one of the biggest slums in Africa. Averaging comes about $1 a day. There are five to ten kids crammed into shanty town shacks with a pretty tough surrounding.”
Ms. Wong says that her initiative continues to train a new generation of young photographers in Mathare. And that amid all that difficulty, there are great stories of happiness and kids being kids.
“So I think the power of this the story storytelling that came out of this project that was not an outsider’s view, but through insider’s perspective on what it’s like to live in the Nairobi slums. Well, each photograph is filled with its own story. That old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words” is certainly appropriate”
Experienced professionals worked closely with the students, providing basic photography training and hands-on instruction, both in and out of the classroom. The students were given cameras and told to photograph the communities they live in through their own experiences.
In Washington, DC, Shootback has collaborated with the local nonprofits Shout Mouse publishing house for Unheard Voices to help bring photography and writing programs to at-risk youth.
“I’m really happy to be a part of an event that is giving voice to a community that is all too rarely valued or given the chance to be heard-so both through writing and through photography.”
Four books have come out of these collaborations. Mark Hecker is the Executive Director of Reach Incorporated, publisher of children’s books. His company has worked closely with Shootback to create a book about Washington.
“We introduce young readers to their ABC’s through pictures of our city. All the photos, with Lana’s support, were taken by the teenagers in our program. The text is written by the teenagers. We not only use these in our program, we also sell them to create funding for our program.”
A book featuring the works of Kenyan Shootback star photographer Julius Mwelu was also on display.
Shootback plans to hold more photography camps throughout the Nairobi’s poor neighborhoods in the coming years.
By Paul Ndiho
Bicycles are an easy and fairly affordable means of transport for many Africans all over the continent. In Uganda, a 25 year-old motorcycle mechanic is using his passion for motorcycles to design a motorized bike.
In the Seta, Mukono district of central Uganda, Ronald Kayondo thrives on repairing motorcycles or “Bodabodas”. He discovered his love for motorcycles when he was just a young boy. By his own admission, he says that he is not a mechanic by training, nor does he claim to know much about mechanical engineering. But his love and passion for motorcycles has inspired him to build from scratch a motorized bike.
“It was an idea that my friend and I thought about. We looked for some scrap metal, an old motorcycle engine and an old bicycle that we used for this experiment. Our goal was to see if we could turn this bicycle into a motorized bicycle. And one evening, we decided to take all the parts to a welder that welded everything together. After he was done, we took our motorized bike for a test drive and that’s how people got to know about us.”
Kayondo hopes to use this low cost motorized bike as an alternative to walking long distances for work and elsewhere. Since his innovation hit the streets, he has become somewhat of a celebrity — and he’s always surrounded by group of young people. Martin Muganzi, founder of the Youth Artwork Initiative, a local NGO that scouts for talent and innovations all around the district, says that Kayonda and his friends are doing incredible things.
“These young people are amazing. They’ve made a motorized bicycle. And this motorized bicycle is for all the people, the farmers, and the villagers, and people in the rural areas that cannot afford the big motorcycles. Whereby they can get onto this bicycle and moved their produce, move their product from the farms and take it to the markets.”
Parked outside a small compound in Seta, Mukono is another motorized bike. This bike was designed by Kayondo and two of his friends who are all high school dropouts. This is his second prototype. He built the motorized bike using local materials such as scrap metal and discarded parts from motorcycles.
Kayondo uses his motorcycle repair skills to be creative and builds his prototypes using information he finds on the internet.
Given a chance Kayondo wants to study mechanical engineering, but his dreams have been cut short because he dropped out of school. But despite the challenges, he remains optimistic.
“What I need more than anything else is to get help in terms of professional training and funding so that I can do a lot of other things.”
Finding funding for his projects is difficult but hopes to take his innovation to the local innovation competitions. Kato Joseph, a Bodaboda taxi operator in Seta, has known Kayondo since he was a young boy. He says that his ability to create stuff and inspire other young people is a undeniable.
“Kayondo is an interesting young man and he is an inspiration to many of these young people. He is a gifted person, and reaches out to many young people who are also doing extraordinary things.”
Although, Kayondo’s motorized bike isn’t quite ready to hit the streets yet, he believes with the right support and training he can become one of Uganda’s best self-taught innovators. Tech analysts in Uganda say his achievement, is great, but it will take him years to perfect this prototype and have it on the market.
By Paul Ndiho
Child trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world and it’s prevalent in Africa. Young women and children from Malawi are often transported to other African nations, Europe and Asia — and forced into domestic servitude or the commercial sex trade.
The United Nations says human trafficking is a major problem in Africa, where young women and children are often transported to abroad and forced into prostitution. In the Southern African nation of Malawi it’s an underground business, driven by enormous profits. Boniface Mandele, a human trafficking activist in Blantyre, Malawi says that this heinous crime is at an all-time high.
“We have the organized networks that are facilitating especially the movement of children from Malawi throughout Africa because the 80% of the people we have managed to rescue don’t have a passport. They don’t have money to travel throughout Africa, meaning that there are some people organizing their passports.”
Mandela says Malawi is a transit point for foreign victims and a destination country for men, women, and children from Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe subjected to conditions of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. He says that given the nature of the trade, statistics on the numbers of those who try to cross through Malawi are sketchy.
“In terms of the women and men, the reports, we don’t have the particular statistics because we haven’t yet done any study on trafficking persons in general. The studies that we have done before specifically target child and young boys and young girls.”
Last year the U.S. State Department published a report that named Malawi as a source country for men, women and children to be trafficked for forced labor and sex. The report says the Malawi government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Mandela and other critics could not agree more.
“It has been a very big challenge in terms of prosecution. We have so many prosecutions that have resulted in to either dismal of the case because of lack of evidence or skills, especially for the magistrate, as well as prosecutors, but also because they don’t have that particular piece of law, which can comprehensively deal issues of trafficking with persons in Malawi.”
I reached out to Malawi government officials for comment but my calls were not returned. However, Malawi maintains that it is making progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement and prohibits it all forms of trafficking through various laws.
By Paul Ndiho
Tourism industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors in Uganda, employing nearly 600-thousand people. Now foreign investors are taking advantage of this growth by investing in high-quality safari lodging facilities such as Kyaninga lodge in Western Uganda.
Uganda is blessed with some of the most spectacular scenic wonders of the world. Its geographical diversity and wide range of vegetation and wildlife make it a unique tourist destination. The tourism industry has been growing steadily over the last couple years and more than a million tourists visit the country each year. The sector is a major creator of jobs and public records indicate the government has earned about 1.4 billion dollars from tourism.
Ugandan tourism is largely private sector driven, and as a result, foreign investors are eager to bankroll tourism projects. Putting their money where their mouth is! Kyaninga lodge, in the fort portal district of western Uganda, opened nearly four years ago and it has quickly becoming a tourist’s stop-over for lodging and sightseeing.
Set against a stunning backdrop of Lake Kyaninga and the legendary mountains of the moon, the lodge has spectacular views and is close queen Elizabeth national park and Kibale national park, Africa’s premier destination to watch chimpanzees. Richard Twesigye is the head barman at Kyaninga lodge.
“Well, this idea came about by because of the owner Steve Williams. He was traveling around Uganda and happened to hear about the chimpanzees in this area, and he came out here. As he was looking around, he fell in love with this place. Then he came up with an idea that he could start up a lodge.
Twesigye says that until recently there was nothing around this area, but since this luxury safari lodge was built, there has been lot of traffic, and land in the neighborhood has raised value. The lodge is also creating employment for the local residents.
“Indeed there is development is going on. If now you want to buy a small plot of land, like an acre, you wouldn’t really get it if you don’t have 5 million shillings and above. So it’s really interesting and surprisingly, most of the workers here are the locals so we are also benefiting from it.
The lodge offers walk – in meals, sports and other recreational activities such as swimming, canoeing, bird-watching and hiking. During my travels in Uganda I ran into tourists from the United States and Australia. Kitty pope is from Atlanta, Georgia.
“I’m having a great time here in Uganda. It’s so beautiful. This is my first time here and I’m just getting started and visiting different places. The scenery is so beautiful and the people are so friendly”
Businessman Ben Anderson echoes the same sentiment.
“I’m living here in Uganda and we do some business – purchasing Cocoa from Uganda and export it to the rest of the world. So we came over here on a business trip and decided to come here to have a nice lunch at Kyaninga lodge.”
Property owner Steve Williams and a team of locals have carefully hand carved thousands of logs to create this exceptional design — the sheer scale of the main lodge is immediately apparent from the moment one crests the hill and the Kyaninga lodge comes into view.
The lodge’s eight cottages are built on platforms and set apart to offer privacy and tranquility. Rosalind McLymont, is not just an American tourist but she’s returned to the area after a nearly 40 absence. She taught at a nearby Nyakasula senior secondary school in the 1970’s. McLymont says she could not be more excited about what the lodge has to offer.
“The architecture is amazing. It’s high up-you get your exercise just climbing the stairs to get to the main building and to get to your room…and so it does a number of things. The air is so fresh and clean. The surroundings are just…listen you hear the birds. You see…you can hear the birds. It’s just a delightful location.”
Visitors on safari in Uganda can also enjoy cultural tours, game drives, boat rides, and hiking, as the country prides itself as having the best lands for exploring the real beauty of Africa. Analysts say Uganda’s robust economic growth has fostered a new middle class, adding to the nation’s appeal.
By Paul Ndiho
Internet penetration is growing in many parts of Africa. Although the economy is struggling in Zimbabwe, tech entrepreneurs say investors are jumping in to lay the foundation for what experts say is an untapped market opportunity in the region.
When webdev – a Zimbabwean it startup opened here just over 10 years ago, its founders never expected things would go well as they have. Hyper-inflation in Zimbabwe was at an all-time high and the international monetary fund estimated that it peaked at 500 billion percent in December 2008.
But perhaps one can argue that webdev was at the right place, at the right time and it developed into a successful technology solutions business just as Zimbabwe was emerging from an economic crisis.
Today the organization is one of the leading it firms in the country. Webdev runs four businesses – Zimbabwe’s first online payment solution – pay now, custom software development, web hosting and their most profitable venture is an online classifieds platform. Vusi Ndebele is one of the company’s directors.
“Our target market is very much dependent on which of the businesses we are talking about, we have our largest public facing business which is the classifieds business. It’s a double-sided business model, so our aim as classifieds.co.zw is to provide a platform whereby consumers and businesses can search for products and services that they need or want on the internet.”
The value of business generated online in Zimbabwe is worth over 500 million U.S. Dollars annually as internet penetration grows, buoyed by mobile phone penetration, which is around 40 percent, according to technology commentator, Techzim.
The revenue comes from social network advertising, e-commerce, online ventures led by Zimbabweans in the diaspora and foreign entrepreneurs.
Markets like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya lead the way in tech business growth in Africa. But for webdev, their focus is on tapping new streams of revenue in places like Zambia and Botswana where they can grow and improve the customer experience.
“We enjoyed a lot of success when the economy could sustain the development of such big solutions. As the economic activity has kind of faulted in Zimbabwe, we are seeing less of those big projects coming to us for custom software development,”
Independent economists say less than 20 percent of Zimbabwe’s residents are in formal employment and economic growth is flat lining due to shortages of electricity and capital. For many citizens, the only options for survival are petty trading or chancing it as an illegal worker in neighboring South Africa. Forced to play catch up on development issues, many engineers hope Africa can jump to the front of the technology revolution. Internet analyst Limbikani Makani says the time to invest in Zimbabwe’s tech startups is now.
“I think it’s a good opportunity now, I think for people that come in now into Zimbabwe and invest into startups are able to invest into startups at a learning phase, but also at a very low cost phase,” he added.
Ndebele says the tech market will benefit from a concentration of skills and resources on particular needs in the market.
“As technology providers, I believe that we can do better and i think where we are right now although we have a bright future with a lot of the young entrepreneurs that are coming into the space; we still have the issue of specialization in Zimbabwe. Everybody is a generalist because we have needed to survive tough economic times,”
Zimbabwe is currently rolling out its fiber cable, which is primarily allowing residents of the capital, Harare, an opportunity to connect to the internet. But, the economic conditions in the country mean that the profits from internet businesses are not likely to reach the masses for years.
By Paul Ndiho
Agriculture is Uganda’s most important economic sector, employing over 80 percent of the work force. Now, some of the nation’s small scale farmers are rethinking agriculture, investing in modern farming method that improves productivity
Agricultural experts say that Africa’s small-scale farmers can play a key role in ending food insecurity on the continent – if they are included in the value chain. Even though there is still a lot to be done to increase both food and cash crop production. This can only be completed through improved agriculture. In Uganda, one small scale farmer is investing in new farming methods. Rebecca Pearl Tumwebaze, is part of this growing community of farmers giving agriculture a second chance. Based in the Mukono district of central Uganda, she’s been able to utilize about 10 arches of land, to practice modern agriculture by raising pigs, dairy cows and chickens.
“All my food comes from here. I pick my banana from my plantation; i get my vegetables here. If you walk around this farm, you’d notice we have all vegetables. We have tomatoes, we have onions, we have greens, we have cabbages, we have green pepper-everything is grown here. And it’s for the reason that we save.”
Like many farmers, Rebecca Pearl is optimistic about the opportunities in agriculture for young people in Uganda. She understands the hard work and commitment it takes to find success, and knows that many young Ugandan’s are instead looking for quick money.
“I got interested in farming because I could see that there’s a chance in farming. If you look at the statistics, the population of Uganda is going up and up and up. We have a lot of the urban population-all these need food. So who is going to provide that food if we all run for the white collar jobs? Well, I decided to start this so I can be able to tap into that market.”
Pearl says that since adopting modern methods, her farm has been able to increase yields and earns her in about 3,500 us dollars a month. Lately, she has started to zero-grazing — genetically improved cows. They’re kept in stalls and fed with fodder cut and carried to them daily.
“The glory with zero grazing is that this cow rests a lot. It sits here, its food is right there…its water is right there. So it is able to drink. And when it drinks, the more it drinks, it is able to rest and its body can form the milk that we want to get from it.”
But she also admits that after noticing the rapidly evolving pork culture in Uganda, she felt the need to take advantage of the potentially huge market for pork and pork products.
Despite the success of orchard farm, Uganda’s agricultural sector faces various challenges, such as traditional cultivation methods, dependence on rain-fed agriculture, limited technological application and low productivity. Rebecca pearl is currently perusing her PhD in business information systems — looking at how to use ICT – To enhance business process, monitoring and decision making among farmers.
By Paul Ndiho
In western Uganda, a new award-winning sculpture gallery and art center called “Rwenzori Founders” boasts of a unique collection of high end bronze sculptures. The costly and rigorous casting process is rare in Uganda.
Started nearly a decade ago, the Rwenzori founders’ art center is located in the foothills of Rwenzori Mountains in western Uganda. The gallery sits in harmony with recently the restored natural landscape. Emmanuel Basaza is the director.
“Rwenzori founders is a beautiful place. We started in 2004 slowly; we got it built by us three people going to train in England. And then from there, we came and started the project itself here on the ground in 2008, and that is the bronze casting process.”
So this is bronze. It’s very precious. But the way to sell is actually to penetrate it right. Now, penetration is a process of oxidation where we now use chemicals on bronze. This is an example. This is black and green put together. Black is potassium sulfate or ammonia Sulphate. Green is copper nitrate. I hate chemistry but i had to learn it. It’s part of the process. So, you get those put together to achieve the colors. Now the catching thing about penetration is the waxing.”
Tourists are treated to a stunning display of works cast in the gallery by a group of 16 permanent craftsmen. Pure white Ugandan marble carvings rub shoulders with soapstone and the bronze pieces created by diverse local artists.
A series of more than 30 animals in bronze are permanently on display, capturing the glory of the native species … elephants, lions, buffalos, colobus, and hippos.
“Well 15 groups of people coming in a month, we might make a few sales, about 10 sales a month and on average, a basic client totem sculpture would go for $1200.”
Mr. Basaza says that these remarkable pieces of art are a reflection of the people, culture, wildlife and the beauty of Uganda.
“All of us are local to this area apart from 1 or 2. So the rest of the team is actually from this village. So we have actually promoted the same culture of bronze casting, starting with our village mates.” “This is pure bronze unhampered with. And now, this is classified as finished.”
The Rwenzori Sculpture Foundation supports the sculpture gallery, enabling cultural and educational exchanges between artists in Africa and the United Kingdom. The gallery is rapidly becoming a popular tourist destination, showcasing the best of modern African art.