Flights to and from Khartoum had been cancelled all day, we heard.
Not because of Covid-19, which was yet to stifle travel in most parts of the world – but because of a sandstorm.
It was a Thursday in early March, and my colleague Julie and I were due to fly back to Europe the following day. Back to Europe meant returning to what felt like the eye of another storm: Italy was by now the tragic centre of the coronavirus outbreak, and the rest of the continent wasn’t far behind. Continue reading “New rhythms, new hope”→
I discovered solutions journalism (or constructive journalism) about two years ago – though as it turned out, I was already doing it to some extent. Writing for Devex, my editor had often reminded me to dig for more detail: how exactly were NGOs doing something, and what could others learn from it?
The stories of exiled Congolese entrepreneurs Patrick, Alex, Mimy and Chantale finally made it into Vice, also appearing in the UK print edition of the magazine (with my trip supported by One World Media’s production fund). It’s perhaps an unusual destination for an article about refugee lives in Africa; sitting next to headlines like ‘People’s stories on the last time they faked an orgasm’ and ‘We went on a tour of London’s worst-rated nightclubs’. But the Canadian-American outlet, which is squarely aimed at younger audiences and embraces the provocative and politically incorrect, isn’t only about sex, crime and entertainment. News is now their fastest growing division, according to Creative Review, in which Vice’s CEO was quoted earlier this year saying they tapped into a “big white space…. there was a perception that Gen Y didn’t really care about news which is obviously not true, so that will continue to grow.” Here’s hoping.
After an intense few days inside one of Uganda’s largest refugee settlements, I’ve stumbled upon two slightly different (and a bit more uplifting) movements.
On the way back to Kampala, I stopped for a night at the Social Innovation Academy, created about two years ago to address the desperate lack of job prospects in the country.
60+ young people aged from 18 to late 20s live in dorms and traditional African huts and new constructions made from sand-filled plastic bottles; several more buildings are in various stages of completion, including new housing for volunteers and a huge hall. Hand-painted signs are dotted around: “Do something every day that scares you”, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those already doing it”.
Scholars get free rent and board, and training for as long as they need it to develop business ideas that will benefit themselves, the community, the environment, or all three. Continue reading “Making things”→
I’m back in Uganda, this time with funding from One World Media, researching a story about refugee businesses.
Here’s the premise: 86% of the world’s refugees are in developing countries. Uganda, a relatively stable nation in a rocky region is now home to over half a million people seeking refuge from South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It now hosts the third largest refugee population in Africa.
But what makes Uganda intriguing is its unusually open door policy: all refugees are granted freedom of movement and the right to work; in rural areas they get allocated their own plot of land. So while most countries try to contain refugees in designated zones set apart from cities and towns, and to stop them from competing with locals for jobs, in Uganda refugees can (and do) become traders, workers, employers, entrepreneurs.
One of the exciting things about the current sustainable development goals (SDGs), agreed last year by governments, UN and citizens, is that they really are global – they apply to the rich world as well.
It seems obvious now. But the SDGs’ predecessors (agreed in 2000) were focused on the developing world, aiming to push them towards certain benchmarks of progress: primary education enrolment, maternal health, daily income, and so on.
It was us and them, and responsibilities were divided according to which half of the world you inhabited. Rich country governments: cough up the cash and make sure your taxpayers see that their aid is working. Poor country governments: introduce policies, enforce laws, make wise investments.
I recently interviewed the founders of Ugandan fintech venture Beyonic, a finalist at this year’s Sankalp Africa Awards for sustainable enterprises. Launched in 2013, they aim to eliminate dependency on cash by helping businesses quickly set up and manage mobile money payments.
Cash doesn’t allow people to become part of the formal economy; it’s also insecure and costly, explained cofounder Luke Kyohere. And while mobile money for person-to-person payments has massively taken off, businesses have yet to exploit their full potential. That’s where Beyonic comes in: making it easy for a business to pay people using existing mobile money systems. They’ve landed some big clients (including Save the Children), but also another social enterprise, Educate!. For them, paying wages and expenses with cash meant time and money spent on travel to/from Kampala, plus risk of muggings and holding huge amounts of cash on site. Educate!, when I met them in Uganda, said getting mobile payment systems in place is one of the things that’s helping them scale up.
The bizarre and wonderful Wakaliwood is making ripples around the world.
The morning we visited the “studio” of Uganda’s homegrown action movie industry, the team was expecting a group of French and German reporters. The story has been picked up by the BBC, VICE magazine, Al Jazeera, and national Irish television. The films have a cult following, with fans in Russia, Guatemala, China. In the rehearsal space – which doubles up as a bedroom for some of the actors and storage space for props and equipment – there’s a wall with foreign names scribbled on it.
I’m back in Uganda this month, and have just finished two weeks of training in the east of the country. In Busembatia, I worked with Women in Leadership (WIL) Uganda, training their four Ugandan volunteers in basic photography and computer use. WIL Uganda was started by a former lawyer from the UK, whose stint as a volunteer here last year convinced her that much more was needed to support women and girls. Cases of rape are all too frequent; many women have been abandoned by their husbands to raise children alone and without an income. Girls are often shy or reluctant to speak their minds.
One year on, and WIL Uganda’s volunteers now teach adult literacy and handcrafts to the women and lead career guidance and writing classes with the girls in one of the secondary schools. Continue reading “Back to school”→