The sound of Aids: Lesotho’s mourning bell

(Pic: Flickr / World Bank)
(Pic: Flickr / World Bank)

During summer in Lesotho, the perfect time to go running is just before 6am, when the sun has reached a point where it warms the earth without damaging the skin; and just before the traffic of a thousand textile factory workers swarms the road. Five days a week at six in the morning, I go for a run. I pass suburban lawns, the police training college, a small village school and The Clinic. At this clinic, I hear sounds that I recognise from many places, but never bother to identify. The sounds of a creaky wire gate, the voice of an eager vetkoek hawker, a gurgling baby on its mother’s lap, cold instructions from a male nurse, the moaning of a tired and thin woman, the tuberculosis cough of an old man and, as  always, the frightened silence of desperate hope. All of these, to me, resemble the sound of Aids.

This sound is loud as it is soft. It is as ordinary as it is uncanny and only those who have heard it before will recognise it. One recent morning, I ran my daily route past the clinic and was annoyed that my earphones were failing to block out the sounds around me. That was when I heard it, this repetitive and unchanging sound of Africa’s silent massacre-leader. I ran faster because I recognised it – I was not in the mood for a reminder. On the way back from my running loop, I decided to stand at the corner of the fence surrounding the clinic. I was compelled by curiosity. After all, this impulse kills cats and not humans.

There were those oh-so-familiar sounds again: the gate, hawker, baby, man, moan, cough, and silence, all at once. The noises were coming from faceless figures, someone’s mother or uncle or niece. I tried to catch pieces of dialect, everyone seemed to be discussing everything but the reason they were there. One woman was joking about how, during the 1998 Lesotho Riots, she used to ward off soldiers with her rear end.  Another was telling the uninterested boy beside her how Basotho love the word of God but detest God himself. There was a man holding a newspaper with the headline ‘Lesotho food security at risk’. Everything seemed so normal, only it wasn’t. Of the first 10 faces I looked at, about seven had hesitant and pained expressions painted on. Not the kind of angst that comes from telling a big lie, or running out of money mid-month, but the kind that screams “Surely Not”.

I’d witnessed this kind of angst plenty of times while working shifts at my mother’s pharmacy. My mother maintained my grandmother’s vision of having a pharmacy that keeps its prices especially low in order to make medicine accessible to the poor. Lesotho’s poor, who account for most of the population, have a painful and neglected history with medicine. Anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) have become a sort of staple on the government’s agenda. This dates back to the early 2000s, when there was a limited supply of the drug and it was matched with the greatest despairing demand. In order to ration supply, many laws were put into place with the intention of serving those who were most affected first; or most affluent, depending on where you were standing. During this period, only certain districts were able to receive and distribute ARVs. The problems that followed still linger in the morgues of Lesotho’s hugely successful funeral businesses. The knowledge of this information makes working at my mother’s pharmacy a bittersweet and tiring experience.

My trip down I’ll-never-work-for-my-mother-again lane was cut short by an irritating political campaign car blaring some half-baked manifesto through a megaphone. It was so loud and imposing. The sound shook me and I decided to continue with my run. I couldn’t help but lead my mind back to the leaking promises that were being yelled through the megaphone. Lesotho is a boisterous arena and the world watches as kinsmen pit themselves against each other to ensure mutual defeat. The greatest tragedy is that in this battle, the voices of politicians and their empty-vessel promises mute the sounds that deserve attention. The sounds of persistent hawkers, tired moans and violent coughs. The whimpering of thirsty issues, drowned out by the overflow of political manifestos.

It was not curiosity that stopped me outside of that clinic that day. It was the innate response of a Mosotho deafened by the continuous and corrupted clatter which filters through the radio stations, televisions, newspapers and megaphones. An automatic reaction to a battle between two voices: one booming and the other broken, neither making any sense. I stopped outside the clinic that morning because Lesotho is mourning, and I needed to mourn with Her. The sobs of the nation are not loud and desperate like the fatal promises of the politicians. Rather, they are quiet and tired, resembling a morning run or the sound of Aids.

Tsepiso Secker is final year economics student at the University of Cape Town. She is a citizen of the beautiful mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho but spent most of her schooling years in South Africa. She occasionally writes for The Money Tree magazine. Connect with her on Twitter: @Tsepspeare

Ebola-hit nations pledge to eradicate virus in 60 days

A medical worker checks his protective clothing  at an MSF facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone. (Pic: AFP)
A medical worker checks his protective clothing at an MSF facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone. (Pic: AFP)

The leaders of the countries devastated by the West African Ebola outbreak vowed at a summit in Guinea on Sunday to eradicate the virus by mid-April.

The outbreak, which began 14 months ago, has killed more than 9 200 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia and savaged their economies and government finances.

Guinea’s President Alpha Conde and his Liberian and Sierra Leone counterparts Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Ernest Bai Koroma made the pledge after day-long closed talks in the Guinean capital Conakry.

Hadja Saran Daraba Kaba, the secretary-general of the Mano River Union bloc grouping the countries, said their presidents “commit to achieving zero Ebola infections within 60 days, effective today”.

The summit came with infections having dropped rapidly across the countries, although the World Health Organisation says Guinea and Sierra Leone remain a huge concern as both have seen a recent spike in new confirmed cases.

Reading a joint declaration from the leaders, Kaba said they “recognised the efforts that have been made by the member states and the international community which have resulted in the decline of Ebola infections and death rates”.

The World Bank said in January the economic damage of the epidemic could run to $6.2 billion, trimming an earlier estimate of $25 billion.

However, the epidemic “will continue to cripple the economies of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone even as transmission rates in the three countries show significant signs of slowing,” it said.

Worst case scenario ‘far away’

The International Monetary Fund announced 10 days ago $100 million in debt relief for the three countries and said it was preparing another $160 million in concessional loans.

The leaders agreed to formulate a joint economic recovery plan to present at a conference on Ebola to be held by the European Union in Brussels on March 3, the Guinean presidency said in a statement.

“This comprehensive plan covers topics that affect virtually all key areas of development: education, agriculture, industry, trade, health and social action that will focus on the issue of the management of Ebola orphans and impoverished families,” it added.

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency response, said the dramatic drop in infections from the October peak showed that “the worst disaster scenario now seems far away”.

“The number of new cases per week declined from an alarming level of nearly 1,000 in the bad times of the crisis to 145 confirmed cases in the course of the last week in the three countries,” he said.

“However, despite the significant decrease of cases we must always remember that it all started with one case. We know how on the basis of experiences in the fight against polio, for example, that it is easier to go from 100 to 10 than from 10 to 0.”

In a sign of the fragility of the recovery, Sierra Leone was forced to place 700 homes in the capital under quarantine on Friday, less than a month after it had lifted all restrictions on movement.

The government said the properties had been locked down in Aberdeen, a fishing and tourist district of Freetown, after the death of a fisherman who tested positive for Ebola.

African Blogger Awards open for entry

(Pic: Reuters)
(Pic: Reuters)

Entries to the 2015 African Blogger Awards are now open to all African bloggers, Instagrammers, Twitter influencers, and YouTubers with the competition expanding this year to include Facebook pages and profiles.

Launched last year, the African Blogger Awards are the only pan-African event that measure online and social influencers’ reach and influence through data analysis.

“The inaugural African Blogger Awards in 2014 set the benchmark for the discovery of truly exceptional African content creators and their unique story-telling approaches. We are looking forward to seeing the progress made by entrants participating in this year’s event for the second time, while discovering new talent across the continent,” says Mike Sharman, co-founder of the African Blogger Awards.

Five overall awards for Africa’s Top Instagrammer, Top Twitter Profile, Top YouTuber, Top Blogger and Best Facebook Page will be awarded to entrants who stand head and shoulders above others in these categories.

An additional 36 sub-categories including; Lifestyle, Travel, Finance, Entertainment, and Technology and Gadgets among many others are also available for a diverse range of bloggers to enter.

“With over 520 entries from 26 countries in 2014, we’re anticipating close to 800 entries from independent publishers communicating to more than 60 million Africans across the continent and beyond,” says Murray Legg, co-founder of the African Blogger Awards.

The Awards also give brands and the marketing industry an objective measurement of the most relevant online and social influencers to include in their campaigns, making sure that they achieve the greatest possible impact for their marketing spend.

There is no cost to enter, but entrants, if they haven’t already, are required to register their blog, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook Page or YouTube profile (or a combination of these properties) on Webfluential (Facebook Page entrants will be required to apply via a Twitter account). This platform scientifically measures the reach, resonance and relevance of social influencers on these platforms with over 1000 active, legitimate followers. Evaluation of each entrant will be managed primarily through Webfluential on the following metrics:

•              Reach measures the size of an influencer’s audience (following) per social media network.

•              Resonance is a measure of how widely the content that an influencer shares reaches outside of their own community.

•              Relevance is a measure of the response from the influencer’s community in the form of likes, comments, retweets.

Any entrants who entered into the 2014 awards will need to update their profiles on Webfluential, as all participants and winners will be measured on the platform’s latest analytical metrics.

Entries for the awards close on 9 April 2015 at midnight GMT+2, and results will be announced on 5 May 2015 via the competition’s Twitter handle, @African_Blogger, from 11h00 GMT+2.

Winners in each category will receive a web banner announcing their achievement that can be personally leveraged through their social networks, and a commemorative trophy.

All bloggers, Instagrammers, Tweeters, Facebookers and YouTubers who are permanent residents of any African country are eligible to enter the African Blogger Awards.

Follow Gadget on Twitter: @GadgetZA


Grammy Awards: African artists deserve more than a ‘World Music’ category

Angelique Kidjo, winner of the Best World Music Album Award for 'Eve', at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards on February 8. (Pic: AFP)
Angelique Kidjo, winner of the Best World Music Album Award for ‘Eve’, at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards on February 8. (Pic: AFP)

The annual Grammy Awards took place last week, and the usual happened:  selfies were taken, everyone raved about the dresses and some stars possibly got wildly drunk at the after party.

There were also prizes, some possibly deserved and some not.

The Grammys, like the Oscars, is fixed and it’s been called out more than few times for not being serious about recognising real talent. See: Kanye West pulling a ‘Taylor Swift’ after Best Album was announced.

West then went onto speak in an interview about how the Grammys could not expect to attract proper artists if it did not respect them.

Alas, it continues to. One can only be happy that Iggy Azaela left empty handed.

But other than the perceived injustice of Beck stealing from Beyoncé, the greater institutionalised injustice is the bunching of all music coming from outside American shores as ‘World Music’.

What, pray tell, is World Music? And how is it that the entire world is said to seemingly make one genre of music despite the eclectic array of sounds our globe produces?

This year Africa managed to scoop the elusive title with Angelique Kidjo winning the Grammy for her album Eve, her eighth studio album. Joining her in the Best World Music Album category were artists Sergio Mendes, Anoushka Shankar, Wu Man and Toumani Diabete.

Even Sergio Mendes, who has collaborated with artists such as the Black Eyed Peas, could not escape the ‘World music’ curse.

From the names alone one can see that the sounds of these artists will not be similar in any way, shape or form. Surely to bunch them together is a cacophony rather than a symphony?

This all speaks to the constant ‘othering’ of anything that is not American.

Then again, what can we expect of the same people who consider the World Series in baseball to be an international event – that includes only their 51 states?

Despite the array of music within Africa (let alone the world), we remain all bunched into one category. Try as we might to be as diverse or as similar, we only have one shot at the crown in a realm that is said to be the highest marker of musical achievement: World Music. And we are competing with over 7-billion other people.

What this implies is that music that can be feasibly judged as falling into the categories of Jazz, Rock, Country, New Age, Pop or any other Grammy-defined category can only come from US shores.

This is problematic as the Grammys are considered the ultimate musical dessert and we are all made to share one slice of the pie.

It may be time to find another maker, or at least another slice of pie.

Not only because the Grammys are essentially American awards but also because awards like the Grammys disallow the nuance of artistic brilliance that exists globally and within Africa.

Within our borders we can cover every single genre of the Grammys without breaking a sweat.

In Kenya, there is a growing rock scene with bands such as Rash Band who draw inspiration from ancients such as AC/DC . Hip-hop is pretty much covered in every single country – one only has to look at our intercontinental love with the track All Eyes on Me by AKA ft. Burna Boy, JR & Da LES, which brought together South Africa and Nigeria.

You want some pop? You can find it with artists from Ghana to Lesotho to Zambia. And if you prefer some good ol’ tapping country I am sure there is a sokkie treffer an Afrikaans person can dig up for you.

This does not even speak to the host of other sub genres such as Lingala and sounds from Ethiopia. And we can also not forget our booming Christian music industry, with videos often filmed on beaches or in local public gardens.

If you doubt the musical prowess in Africa, you need only look at the range of musical festivals we have.  There are numerous ones on offer every year, yet year after year the ‘standard for music’ does not recognised this.

Kenya has the Safaricom Jazz Festival where Richard Bona from Cameroon headlined; the Sauti za Busara (along with the fringe events in Basura Xtra) held in Zanzibar each year is a celebration of East African music. There is the Oppikoppi, the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival and Cape Town International Jazz Festival in South Africa. Others include the Festival au Desert (Mali), Bushfire (Swaziland, Lake of Stars (Malawi) and Gnaoua World Music Festival (Morrocco).

The options are endless, I am sure we could find something to submit.

As it is a great honour to win a Grammy or other international award, we are simply getting the scraps. This is tragic considering we are offering a full-course meal.

It may be time to value a MTV Base or a Channel O music award more than a Grammy.

It may be time to consider going the European route and having our own continental awards be the highlight of the year and the Grammys be merely a nice holiday to LA where you may or may not be able to make out with Rihanna.  Or suffer extreme jet lag. Whichever comes first.

Maybe we should no longer consider the Grammys as the standard of musical success, because the only category we qualify for is ‘World Music’.

Kagure Mugo is a freelance writer and co-founder and curator of, a Pan-Africanist queer women’s collective which engages in activism and awareness-building around issues of African women’s identity, experiences and sexuality. Connect with her on Twitter: @tiffmugo

Assia Djebar, acclaimed Algerian novelist, dies aged 78

Assia Djebar at the Academie Francaise in Paris on June 22 2006. (Pic: AFP)
Assia Djebar at the Academie Francaise in Paris on June 22 2006. (Pic: AFP)

The acclaimed Algerian novelist Assia Djebar, who explored the lives of Muslim women in her fiction for more than 50 years, has died.

Djebar, who was born and raised in Algeria and who was regularly named as a key contender for the Nobel prize in literature, died on February 7 in a Paris hospital, French press reported . She was 78.

French president François Hollande paid tribute to the writer on learning of her death, with a statement describing her as a “great intellectual” and a “woman of conviction, with multiple fertile identities which fed her work, between Algeria and France, between Berber, Arab and French”.

Djebar’s American publisher Seven Stories Press, which released three of her works in English translation, Algerian White, So Vast the Prison, and The Tongue’s Blood Does Not Run Dry, called her an “admired and beloved author, translator and filmmaker”.

“It is with extreme sadness that we mourn the great Assia Djebar, who passed away this week,” said the publisher in a statement . “Her novels and poems boldly face the challenges and struggles she knew as a feminist living under patriarchy and an intellectual living under colonialism and its aftermath. Djebar’s writing, marked by a regal unwillingness to compromise in the face of ethical, linguistic, and narrative complexities, has attracted devoted followers around the world.”

Djebar was born Fatima-Zohra Imalayan, but adopted the pen-name Assia Djebar after publication of her first novel in 1957. La Soif, which translates literally as The Thirst but was published in English as The Mischief, tells of a westernised young woman growing up in Algeria. Djebar would go on to write more than 15 novels in French, with her works translated into more than 20 languages. Les Enfants du Nouveau Monde (The Children of the New World), published in 1962, looked at the lives of women in a rural Algerian town drawn into the resistance movement

In 2005 Djebar became the fifth woman to be elected to the Académie Française. An academic, most recently at New York University, where she held the position of French literature professor, the author was also a playwright and filmmaker. She won a number of awards for her work, including the International Prize of Palmi, the Peace Prize of the Frankfurt Book Fair and the International Critics’ Prize at the Venice Biennale for the film La Nouba des Femmes du Mont Chenoua.

She was also the recipient of the International Literary Neustadt Prize, William Gass writing at the time that “Assia Djebar is not being celebrated here because she has brought us more bad news, or exotic treats, or even her eloquent imagination, worthy as much as that may be; we are lauding her here because she has given weeping its words and longing its lyrics”.