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  • Starbucks spotlights child soldiers

    Posted January 11, 2007 By in Books/Magazines, Business, Charity, General, Politics With | Comments Off on Starbucks spotlights child soldiers

    Starbucks books Beah Africa child soldierStarbucks is making a second book selection this February. On Feb. 15, Starbucks will be selling “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,” by first-time writer and Sierra Leone native Ishmael Beah. Amazon says:

    “In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now in his mid-twenties, tells how, at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels in his homeland of Sierra Leone and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. This is a rare and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.”

    Beah, now 26, fled Sierra Leone in 1997 and a year later emigrated to the United States. He graduated from Oberlin College in 2004 and now lives in New York. “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,” will be published in mid-February by Farrar, Straus & Giroux and will be backed by an author tour at Starbucks stores in 10 cities. Starbucks will donate $2 to UNICEF from each sale of the $22 book, with a minimum donation of $100,000.

    Starbucks selection and efforts should help to offset some of the criticism it’s been getting about it’s treatment of Ethiopian coffee bean farmers.

  • Apple’s iPhone meaningless to a Masai herdsman

    Posted January 10, 2007 By in Business, Charity, Events, General, Politics With | Comments Off on Apple’s iPhone meaningless to a Masai herdsman

    Masai on cellphoneYesterday Apple debuted another revolutionary product, the iPhone. It has everything anyone would need in a phone. That is unless you’re one of Kenya’s Masai herdsmen. Psfk pointed me to a great article and short film by Paul Mason on how the mobile phone industry is having an enormous economic and social impact in Africa. Watching Paul Mason’s short film, I can’t help but draw a comparison between the US mobile phone market and the African one. One of the main issues that has come up in the analysis of the iPhone’s debut is that it’s exclusive to Cingular wireless – for now. Nussbaum at Business Week mentions that if Apple was really trying to revolutionize the US cellular market they would create an ecosystem by partnering with other carriers. The thing is though Apple has taken a stance by focusing on what mobile consumers have said they need, not what mobile carriers think users want. The mobile industry in the US is plagued by warring providers who each , in the name of differentiation, coninue to develop products that only satisfy the users’ wnats, not their needs. Apple “listens” to the people it develops products for and in doing so it has a track record of developing products that address the the users’ needs. If more African help efforts used Apple’s strategy, maybe their successes can mirror Apples.

    The US consumer is spoiled by having access to too many options. Though there is are definite pluses to that (competition, innovation, entrepreneurship, choice), the down side is that we send mixed messages about what we want and we really need. Combine that with our self-serving opinion that the whole world shares our values, needs, and wants and you get a misplaced sense of priorities. Oprah said it best in her Newsweek interview, “If you ask the (American) kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don’t ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school.” This statement shines some light on the problem many US-based efforts to help Africa usually run into. Many individuals and organizations put a lot of effort in what they determine Africa needs which only reflects what they want themselves would want for those Africans. The BBC report shows how the mobile industry in Africa has grown because it focuses on what the people need. A Masai woman uses a mobile phone to check on her cattle and because there is little power in her village she uses solar-powered charger to recharge the phone. Both the phone and the solar recharger are beneficial because they start with the need of the user and work from there. The development of the “send money” function in the Kenyan mobile industry is another illustration of innovation according to the person’s needs. Maybe if more African assistance efforts focused on the needs of African people and worked in partnership with them, Africa could one day get to the point where there are opportunities to cater to the wants. The iPhone is revolutionary because it focuses on what people need at the moment; that is different from what the US mobile market has come to build it’s industry on. Nothing but fleeting wants.

  • Zimbabwe failing diamond test

    Posted January 9, 2007 By in Business, Film/Television, General, Politics With | Comments Off on Zimbabwe failing diamond test

    Zimbabwe diamond minerOn the conflict diamond front, it’s Zimbabwe who has now come under fire for it’s conflict diamond policies. Reports are surfacing that the African country is among a growing number who has not met the standards of the World Diamond Council’s Kimberley Process initiative. It’s funny to see how the council is suddenly cracking down on countries who aren’t complying with their rules. Some would say it’s following through with it’s 2006 statement of cleaning itself up, while others say it’s just a knee-jerk reaction to all the heat they’re getting. Whatever the reason, it’s a good sign I guess. Now we just need to get some independent parties in on the governing. Especially since diamond sales are gaining ground online.

    Side note: Djimon Housou’s role as the fisherman in Blood Diamond is earning him some good recognition. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the Academy Awards.

  • Oprah leads African girls to success

    Posted January 8, 2007 By in Business, Events, Film/Television, General, Politics, Travel With | 2 Comments

    Oprah's African girls schoolOver the holidays the media was abuzz when Oprah Winfrey opened her school for girls in South Africa. No stranger to charitable endeavors, this one however struck a nerve with all kinds of people. While many saw the effort as a positive one, others questioned the racial mix of the school and why Oprah chose Africa instead of the USA. I’m on Oprah’s side for this one. Out of all the celebrity Africa efforts Oprah has been one of those who has properly used her celebrity status to focus on the true issues. From her support of Bono’s Product RED to her feature on blood diamonds, she’s used her talent to focus on the issue at hand though it’s been with mixed reviews. I think the school for girls is a good idea which is sure to be duplicated by other celebrities. For all the criticism she has received, I think this is one move that deserves some recognition. And it surely sets the pace for Africa initiatives in 2007.

  • African style 2007

    Posted By in General With | Comments Off on African style 2007

    Happy New Year!

    Yeah, yeah! Some of you are over the holidays but I’m still recovering. Thanks to all for supporting this blog and my other creative projects. Now let’s get back to “Makin’ Africa Pop!”

  • Botswana Bushmen win land after DiCaprio appeal

    Posted December 14, 2006 By in Books/Magazines, Charity, Film/Television, General, Politics With | Comments Off on Botswana Bushmen win land after DiCaprio appeal

    Botswana Bushmen await ancestral land decisionEarlier this week the NY Daily News rang the bell on the newest blood diamond match this time between Russell Simmons and Blood Diamond director Ed Zwick. The director’s critisism comes as the latest part of the fallout from Simmons’ fact-finding African diamonds mission. Since last week’s press conference, Russell has been fending off all kinds of hits about what many perceive as his being a puppet for DeBeers. Everyone from the hip-hop press to Rush Limbaugh have an opinion on diamonds now. I think Russell hurt his business more than ever. As Zwick and Simmons continue their match, the winners of the week seem to be Botswana’s Kalahari Bushmen who just won their diamond filled land back from Botswana’s government. It seems they have Leonardo DiCaprio to thank.

  • Akon nominated for 2007 Grammy Award

    Posted December 7, 2006 By in Events, Film/Television, General, Music With | Comments Off on Akon nominated for 2007 Grammy Award

    AkonSo word’s in on the 2007 Grammy Awards nominees and my boy Akon is front and center. These are the categories and which he and other African artists have been nominated in. The awards ceremony will be begin at 8pm EST on February 11, 2007 and will be shown live on CBS
    * African artists are in red.

    Best Rap/Sung Collaboration
    (For a Rap/Sung collaborative performance by artists who do not normally perform together. Singles or Tracks only.)
    • Smack That
    <ahref=””>Akon Featuring Eminem
    [SRC/Universal Records]

    •      Deja Vu

    Beyoncé Featuring Jay-Z
    [Sony Urban Music/Columbia]

    •      Shake That

    Eminem Featuring Nate Dogg
    Track from: Curtain Call — The Hits
    [Aftermath/Shady/Interscope Records]

    •      Unpredictable

    Jamie Foxx Featuring Ludacris
    Track from: Unpredictable
    [J Records]

    •      My Love

    Justin Timberlake Featuring T.I.
    Track from: FutureSex/LoveSounds
    [Jive Records/Zomba Label Group]

    Best Traditional World Music Album
    (Vocal or Instrumental.)
    • Music Of Central Asia Vol. 2: Invisible Face Of The Beloved: Classical Music Of The Tajiks And Uzbeks
    The Academy Of Maqâm
    [Smithsonian Folkways Recordings]

    •      Endless Vision

    Hossein Alizadeh & Djivan Gasparyan
    [World Village]

    •      Hambo In The Snow

    Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley & Charlie Pilzer
    [Azalea City Recordings]

    •      Golden Strings Of The Sarode

    Aashish Khan & Zakir Hussain
    [Moment Records]

    •      Blessed

    Soweto Gospel Choir

    Best Contemporary World Music Album
    (Vocal or Instrumental.)
    • Tiki
    Richard Bona

    •      M'Bemba

    Salif Keita

    •      Wonder Wheel

    The Klezmatics
    [Jewish Music Group]

    •      Long Walk To Freedom

    Ladysmith Black Mambazo
    [Heads Up International]

    •      Savane

    Ali Farka Toure
    [World Circuit/Nonesuch]

  • African diamond facts according to Russell Simmons

    Posted December 6, 2006 By in Business, Charity, Events, Fashion, General, Music, Politics, Travel With | 2 Comments

    Russell Simmons at his African diamonds press conference in New YorkAs I mentioned, yesterday I attended Russell Simmons’ press conference to reveal the results of his fact-finding Africa mission. In attendance was Russell Simmons, Dr. Ben Chavis, Kimora Lee Simmons (Russell insisted she’s still his wife), Rev. Run(Run DMC), the Dipset’s “capo” Jim Jones (again I say, WTF does he have to do with diamonds beside speaking ignorantly about it? update: Jim Jones quote below), actor Jeffrey Wright (said to be doing work in Sierra Leone), Scott Rauch (president of Simmons Jewelry Company), and a bunch of DeBeers and World Diamond Council people. I must admit I was still skeptical about the purpose of the trip and what I felt the results would be. From the video released last thursday, I began to have some hopes about the degree to which Russell was going to find the facts and re-enforce my image of him as the godfather/guru extraordinare of our hip hop generation. I went into the conference with an open mind, and looking to hear from Simmons himself that the mission was a successful one. Ultimately I was disappointed by the whole event.

    While news sources report about Simmons’ Green Initiative, and (get this) Diamond Empowerment Fund (DEF) , which will “raise money for the development and empowerment of people and communities in Africa where diamonds ar a natural resource”, one key point resounding throughout the press conference was, why didn’t Russell’s entourage visit the countries which are at the heart of the blood diamond debate. As a representative of Global Witness and another reporter (I think she was from AOL Black voices) mentioned, the controversy surrounding diamonds relates more directly to countries like Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, and Ivory Coast, none of which were visited by Simmons delegation. Instead the focus of the conference and the trip was on Botswana, South Africa, and Mozambique, three countries which, despite reports of displacement of Native Bushmen in Botswana, have very little to do with the conflict diamonds controversy. It’s like saying there’s no racism in America and pointing to Condoleza Rice as an example. Now, some people would say that these three countries are part of the discussion since their diamond production process is a “role-model” for other diamond producing African countries, but there are still many faults even with that. During his short speech a representative from the Debswana Diamond Company, was reminded by Simmons to disclose to the press that the company at the heart of the “successful” diamond mining in Botswana was a 50/50 ownership with DeBeers, the primary company accused of profiting from the blood diamond trade. Simmons had mentioned earlier in the conference that 85% of Botswana’s profits go back to the people of Botswana for education, AIDS treatment, general health insurance and a good portion of the profits from his Simmons Jewelry Company would be re-directed to “help Africans”. But the question kept coming up; why didn’t the delegation leave the confines of the structured Botswana tour and venture into even the smaller towns within the country where reports of exploitation and human rights abuse were coming from. Couple that with the fact that the Simmons’ DEF fund contribution will go to the same Botswana that they claim is so successful in providing for it’s people and you can see why I’m not convinced.

    While I think Simmons, and Chavis can do a great deal of good in Africa, my main concern is with the timing of the whole thing. With all the stories going around and reports of the diamond industry spending $15 million on preemptive measures in regards to the effect of the Blood Diamond movie, I can’t believe that Simmons got himself in the middle of this. True, he has a business to run, AND Amnesty International approached him first, but at least he could have attempted to make the “fact-finding” mission look impartial. Everything about the whole mission pointed to a spin campaign on the part of the diamond industry, to the point where a representative from the World Diamond council got up to make a speech about how they are “appreciative of the attention” the movie has brought on their efforts with the Kimberley Process. Even Russell mentioned that he was happy that Leonardo DiCaprio was talking of not boycotting diamonds. As I exited the press conference I ran into the President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, who had reportedly just taped an interview for the Charlie Rose Show which will air tonight on PBS. Russell, I still have faith in you. Do something to make it right.

    Quotes from the conference:
    • Russell Simmons:
    “My (only) agenda is to uplift African people … and all people”
    “(I want to ) help strengthen the Kimberley Process”
    “Diamonds empower Africans”

    • Dr. Ben Chavis:
    “The diamond industry promotes good in Africa”
    “(I encourage the media to) get the opinion of people who live and work in Africa”
    “…most disturbing thing to me (from the trip) was seeing that the reality (of the African diamond situation) was not being covered (by the media)”

    • Scott Rauch
    “This continent needs help”

    • Sheila Khama (De Beers Botswana Chief Executive)
    “Please cut us some slack. A lot of good has happened in Botswana because of diamonds.”

    • Jim Jones
    “As rappers we spend tens of millions of dollars a year on jewelry alone. Not just me myself, I’m talking about as a general effort. It’s a service that goes back to the African people that’s been mining all the diamonds that we wear. We should learn about purchasing from them, as opposed to just giving everybody our money because we like what we see.” source

  • Russell Simmons returns from African trip

    Posted December 5, 2006 By in Charity, Events, General, Music, Travel With | 1 Comment

    I just got back from Russell Simmons’ press conference for his fact-finding mission to Africa (Mozambique, Botswana, South Africa). All I can say is Jim Jones?!!! WTF does he have to do with anything. More of my reaction later. In the mean time read up on the blood diamond controversy and hear what LA Weekly’s Nikki Finke has to say about the trip.

  • Nas shines on with diamonds video

    Posted December 4, 2006 By in Charity, Film/Television, General, Music, Politics With | Comments Off on Nas shines on with diamonds video

    Nas, Leonardo DiCaprio in studio - Blood Diamond soundtrack
    With a new album nearing release, one of hip-hop’s elder statesmen and baddest lyricists, rhymes about blood diamonds. This video is for the track “Shine On ‘Em” from the Blood Diamond movie soundtrack which Nas is reported to have scored. Good work Nasir. Now you need to let a real Sierra Leonean in on the track. Kanye did.

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