A men’s clothing store in Nairobi has an interesting new product for sale: chastity belts with an iron padlock for $20 each.
The product was designed to help men to protect themselves from being sexually harassed by their wives, after a woman was charged in court for chopping off her husband’s penis because of a quarrel over money.
Maendeleo ya Wanaume, a men’s lobby group, wants women who chop off man’s genitals to be sentenced to life imprisonment or to the death penalty.
“Newzbeat” makes a catchy change from a standard news bulletin: Ugandans call the broadcasters “rap-orters”, a youth team of hip-hop artists-turned-journalists rapping the headlines.
“Uganda’s anti-gay law is making news/Some countries have found it befitting to accuse/Uganda of treating gays as German Jews/Nothing to gain from this and more to lose,” rapped the artists in one recent episode.
That song focused on a law signed by President Yoweri Museveni banning homosexuality, which drew widespread international condemnation. US Secretary of State John Kerry likened it to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany.
“President Museveni says he won’t bow down to the West/Uganda has a right to decide what’s best,” the rap continued.
Hearing the news in hip-hop style may sound strange. But in Uganda, where the press faces censorship pressures and the country’s huge youth population often takes little interest in current affairs, a programme where “rap-orters” broadcast with “rhyme and reason” has become popular.
“NewzBeat“, screened in both English and the local language Luganda on the popular channel NTV every Saturday afternoon and evening before the station’s traditional news bulletins, took to the air last year.
‘Push the boundaries’
The show is presented by Sharon Bwogi, Uganda’s “queen of hip hop” known as Lady Slyke, the dreadlocked and eloquent Daniel Kisekka, dubbed the “Survivor”, and teenage rapper Zoe Kabuye, or MC Loy.
It aims to “promote diversity and visibility for marginalised groups” and “push the boundaries of press limitations” in Uganda, according to Lady Slyke.
“At first we had some complaints, people were saying ‘We’re not really understanding what you’re doing’,” the designer and artist, who was inspired by church music to start rapping when she was 13, told AFP.
But Bwogi added that today people from all walks of life followed the programme, including businessmen and government ministers.
“People keep asking for more and asking me questions about certain topics,” said Bwogi, 28, who also raps at venues across Uganda professionally. “I think they love the whole flavour.”
“NewzBeat”, which runs for about five minutes an episode, usually features about four local, regional and international stories.
Nothing is off limits. The programme has “rap-orted” stories on Uganda’s anti-pornography laws,the political situation in Ukraine and Ebola updates from west Africa.
Challenging political leaders
Corruption is another favourite topic.
“All around the world this problem remains/The abuse so far is keeping people in chains,” rapped Kisekka in a bulletin on graft. “But lately some signs of hope have made the headlines/Of corrupt officials being handed heavy fines.”
Bwogi said “NewzBeat” talked about corruption since graft was a major problem for Uganda.
“Sometimes if you want to be attended to… you need to pay a little something,” she said.
Often local reporters run into trouble trying to highlight this problem.
Uganda’s Human Rights Network for Journalists and other activist groups have repeatedly warned that the space for reporters to operate freely in the east African country is shrinking.
Last October, one journalist was ordered to pay damages or face jail after accusing a government official of corruption, and there have been other similar cases.
Kabuye, 14, who has rapped on everything from the Egyptian single mother who spent 43 years living as a man to the national identification registration, said many of her friends are disinterested in the news.
“They used to say it’s boring, but when they see ‘NewzBeat’, they’re like ‘what’s the time?'” said the student, who has been rapping since 2009 and now juggles her “NewzBeat” commitments with her homework.
Kisekka, 40, said that in the beginning many viewers dismissed the show as “just entertainment”, but they have come to “appreciate the art form and start listening to the news”.
People were now taking rap more seriously, the artist said.
“It is not just talking about women and booze and all that, it’s delivering the news,” said Kisekka.
For the future, “NewzBeat” staff are looking at recruiting specialist “rap-orters” to cover fields such as science and technology. They are also keen to expand across Africa.
In Tanzania, a mini-season of four episodes recently aired and another four are set to run in the lead-up to the country’s elections, scheduled for October.
“Media belongs to the power of the day,” Bwogi rapped in one episode. “The Chinese have CCTV/the British have BBC/And we too are making our voices heard on NTV.”
Barefoot, with sweat pouring down their naked chests, 50 men slave in the depths of the Central African forest digging for diamonds in a sandy pit half the size of a football pitch.
They all share the same desperate hope – that one day they will find a diamond that will change their miserable lives forever.
The mine at Banengbele, near Boda in the south of the strife-torn Central African Republic, is one of many in the region where groups of diggers – or “Nagbata” as they are called – toil like ants with shovels and spades for the equivalent of three dollars a day.
The owner of the mine takes a cut of that for food, with many of the miners supplementing their meagre rations with bush meat like snake caught in the surrounding jungle.
Conditions in the camp are grim. Four men sleep in a makeshift shelter no more than 1.5 metres wide made of sticks, plastic sheeting and a mosquito net.
After long days of back-breaking labour in terrible heat, many numb themselves with cannabis and palm wine.
“We work hard. I ache all over,” said Jean Bruno Sembia.
Widow Huguette Zonki had no choice but to follow the miners into the bush to feed her four children.
“I have to survive somehow,” she said holding her baby, whose head was covered in pustules. “My husband was killed in the war. I earn three dollars a day cooking for the men and I spend between five days and a month at a time out here in the camp.”
Smuggling and sacrifices
The miners sacrifice chickens and give money to children in the hope that the spirits will smile on them in a country where neither Christianity nor Islam has entirely displaced traditional animist beliefs.
“Every morning I pray to God to help me find big diamonds,” said Laurent Guitili. “One day for sure I will find a big one. Then I will be able to have my own mine and earn all the money I need.”
When one of the miners does find a gem, the person who holds the concession takes it and sells it, giving them back between 30 and 60 euros per carat.
Good quality diamonds sell on locally for around three times that.
But at least in Boda miners are paid. In the north of the country, where some of the country’s richest mines are still in the hands of armed groups, they are forced to hand over what they find at gunpoint.
The Kimberley Process, the international body which tries to stop the sale of so-called blood diamonds, slapped a ban on the export of diamonds from CAR after the overthrow of president Francois Bozize in March 2013 by Seleka rebels threw the country into civil war. The mainly Muslim insurgents had allegedly funded their revolt with illegal diamonds.
Seleka and rival “anti-balaka” Christian militias have since battled to control the mines, the economic lifeblood of the impoverished country, with smuggling booming.
“If you are armed you can have diamonds,” said former prime minister Martin Ziguele. “And with those diamonds you can buy more arms and fund your rebellion.”
French and UN peacekeeping troops have tried to wrest control of the mines from the armed groups so the legal trade in diamonds can restart, vital to putting the shattered economy back on its feet.
The government hopes the embargo can be partly lifted at the next Kimberley Process meeting in Luanda in Angola later this month.
Francois Ngbokoto, of the ministry of mines, said the export ban may now actually be encouraging smuggling.
Since the sectarian violence that erupted as the Seleka rebels were driven out, the town of Boda has been divided in two, with Muslims — who used to control the diamond mines in the area — forced to take refuge in their own enclave.
The mines are now held by the country’s Christian majority having passed through the hands of both of the Seleka and the anti-balaka militias during the fighting.
“It is better to work for someone from here,” one of the Nagbata said, referring to Christian owners.
One official told AFP that jealousy at the relative wealth of Muslims had been one of the “underlying problems” which aggravated sectarian violence in the region.
That resentment has not gone away. At Boda’s mining police office a sign shows a miner selling a diamond to a bearded Muslim middleman with the warning: “Nagbata do not sell your diamonds to illegal buyers.”
Moussa Traore, a Muslim dealer who set up in the town two months ago after getting a licence from the ministry of mines, insisted he sells his diamonds legally to the government’s central office in the capital Bangui.
However, miners and the authorities claim a huge amount of smuggling is going on, with Central African diamonds being channelled through neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, DR Congo and Sudan.
All agree that without the boost in the economy that lifting the export ban would give, there will be no peace in the country.
“With the embargo the price of diamonds has dropped,” said Traore. “They need to lift the embargo so proper business can start again.”
Doctors amputated Ugandan schoolboy Jesse Ayebazibwe’s right leg when he was hit by a truck while walking home from school three years ago.
Afterwards he was given crutches, but that was all, and so he hobbled about. “I liked playing like a normal kid before the accident,” the nine-year-old said.
Now an infrared scanner, a laptop and a pair of 3D printers are changing everything for Jesse and others like him, offering him the chance of a near-normal life.
“The process is quite short, that’s the beauty of the 3D printers,” said Moses Kaweesa, an orthopaedic technologist at Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services (CoRSU) in Uganda which, together with Canada’s University of Toronto and the charity Christian Blind Mission, is making the prostheses.
“Jesse was here yesterday, today he’s being fitted,” said Kaweesa, 34.
In the past, the all-important plaster cast sockets that connect prosthetic limbs to a person’s hip took about a week to make, and were often so uncomfortable people ended up not wearing them.
Plastic printed ones can be made in a day and are a closer, more comfortable fit.
The scanner, laptop and printer cost around $12 000, with the materials costing just $3.
Ayebazibwe got his first, old-style prosthesis last year but is now part of a trial that could lead to the 3D technology changing lives across the country.
The technology is only available to a few, however, and treatment for disability in Uganda in general remains woeful.
“There’s no support from the government for disabled people,” said Kaweesa. “We have a disability department and a minister for disabled people, but they don’t do anything.”
There are just 12 trained prosthetic technicians for over 250 000 children who have lost limbs, often due to fires or congenital diseases.
The 3D technology is portable and allows technicians to work on multiple patients at a time, increasing the reach of their life-changing intervention.
“You can travel with your laptop and scanner,” said Kaweesa, adding that the technology could be of great use in northern Uganda, a part of the country where many people lost limbs during decades of war between the government and Lord’s Resistance Army rebels, who specialised in chopping off limbs.
After receiving his first 3D socket Ayebazibwe was overjoyed. “I felt good, like my normal leg,” he said. “I can do anything now – run and play football.”
The boy’s 53-year old grandmother, Florence Akoth, looks after him, even carrying him the two kilometres to school after his leg was crushed and his life shattered. She too is thrilled.
“Now he’s liked at school, plays, does work, collects firewood and water,” said Akoth, who struggles to make ends meet as a poorly-paid domestic worker caring for five children.
Sitting on a bench outside the CoRSU fitting room were three young children and their parents.
“This is her first time walking on two legs,” said Kaweesa, pointing at a timid young girl who lost both her legs in a fire.
“Because they’ve seen other kids walking, playing, they realise they’ve been missing that,” he said “Once you fit them they start walking and even running.”