South Sudan’s Hip Hop Artists Call for Peace and Reconciliation Through the Unhip Practice of Farming

Men and women planting vegetable seeds in a nursery bed in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

Men and women planting vegetable seeds in a nursery bed in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

JUBA, Aug 28 2014 (IPS) - “What is the benefit when children are crying and people are dying due to hunger? There is no need to cry when you have the potential to dig,” sings Juba-based dancehall reggae group, the Jay Family, in their latest single “Stakal Shedit,” which means “Work Hard” in Arabic.

In the Stakal Shedit video, the three members, Jay Boi, Jonio Jay and Yuppie Jay, are seen sporting denim overalls and rubber boots with garden hoes slung over their shoulders. The objective is to motivate youth to engage in agriculture as a means to fight food insecurity in South Sudan.

“Agriculture is the backbone of this country,” 23-year-old Jay Boi told IPS. “The land in South Sudan is fertile. If you look around all you see are trucks bringing in food from outside of the country.”

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations states three-and-a-half million, or almost one in three South Sudanese, are facing a severe food crisis as the conflict-ridden nation is on the brink of starvation.

The Jay Family comes from Yei, South Sudan, 100 kms southwest of the capital, Juba. The group formed in 2010 with the objective to spread South Sudanese music to all parts of East Africa and beyond.

“Our music is influenced by hip hop, reggae and afro-dance music,” 23-year-old Yuppie Jay told IPS. “I’m also a farmer. I learned from my uncle who grows many different crops.”

The Stakal Shedit music video was shot at the Rajaf Prison farm outside of the capital, Juba. Prisoners are seen farming in the video.

“We learned from the prisoners how to distribute seeds. In the video we were cultivating maize, okra, tomatoes, carrot and cassava,” Jay Family’s manager, Stephen Lubang, told IPS.

A scene depicts a group of young men sitting at a table playing a game of cards while drinking alcohol. It then cuts to the Jay Family singing in the prison’s farm. The song continues, “Don’t blame the government when you can do something. Cultivate!”

The group calls on South Sudanese youth to consider agriculture and agri-business, instead of violence, as a way to combat unemployment and generate income. In the song the group addresses how poor infrastructure, like roads, can frustrate people starting small business.

“The major activity for youth in this country is to sit and cry that there are no jobs. If you want the government to help you, start farming,” Lubang said. “Then you can go to the government and ask for assistance.”

Last May, a group of 12 South Sudanese artists united in calls for peace when news of British explorer and journalist Levison Wood’s 6,000 km trek along the Nile River reached Juba. “Let’s Stand Together” was recorded by South Sudan All Stars. The song urges political leaders to reconcile at the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia peace talks.

Silver X is a 26-year-old South Sudanese musician who wrote the song “Let’s Stand Together.” He was displaced from his home in Torrit, South Sudan with his family in 2000. Four years ago he returned to his birthplace from a refugee camp in Uganda to launch his music career and help jumpstart South Sudan’s burgeoning music industry.

“When the recent fighting started it affected us all in different ways. I decided to write a song with artists from different tribes,” he told IPS. “If leaders could see the youth of this country crying for peace, I thought things might start to change.”

Moro Lokombu is a radio journalist and host of The Beat, a music programme highlighting South Sudanese music, at Juba’s United Nations-run Radio Miraya.

“We need to promote peace through local music by first exposing South Sudanese to it,” Lokombu told IPS. “I play Stakal Shedit and Let’s Stand Together on my radio show because they are songs with a powerful message.”

On Jun 16, the Jay Family, along with Silver X, launched a national campaign called “Music Against Hunger” at the Juba Regency Hotel. Dates are now set in September for performances in the southern cities of Nimule and Yei with more to come.

“We are starting with free concerts in two states, but we hope to travel to all 10 states to perform,” Lubang said. “Let’s work hard to stop war and develop our country. The future of South Sudan relies on its youth. Hunger is something we can fight.”

Published online @ Inter Press Service

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Uganda: Farmer Profits By Branching Out Into Selling Sweet Potato Vines

Perpetua Okao is an OFSP farmer and vine multiplier in Atego village, near Lira, Uganda.

Perpetua Okao is an OFSP farmer and vine multiplier in Atego village, near Lira, Uganda.

Perpetua Okao pulls a ringing mobile phone out of her pocket. She responds to the caller, “Yes, I may still have some vines. How many do you need?”

Mrs. Okao tucks the phone back into her pocket. She explains: “I’m the chairperson of Atego Farmers Women’s Group. We’re not only women farmers. We also have five men in the group. All members grow orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.”

The 63-year-old mother of 10 is a farmer in Atego village, about three kilometres from Lira, in northern Uganda. She grows orange-fleshed sweet potatoes to eat and sell. But she also makes money providing other farmers with the potato vines that are required to plant the crop.

Monica Acan is a broadcaster at Radio Wa, a radio station which targets people in the Lango sub-region, which includes Lira. She is both the host and producer of the Saturday night program, Wa Farmer, which means “Our Farmer” in the local Luo language.

Ms. Acan says: “Perpetua [Okao] is a vine multiplier, which means she grows the crop and [then] sells [the potato vines] to other farmers in the area. She’s the only woman around doing this.”

In July 2013, Farm Radio International and Radio Wa teamed up to launch Poto Wa Tin [Our Garden Today], a program which airs live every Monday evening. It is edited and re-broadcast on Friday afternoons.

At the end of each program, Ms. Acan reads Mrs. Okao’s phone number on air, as well as those of three other vine multipliers in the region. Ms. Acan says: “On the show, I promote orange-fleshed sweet potato, its nutritional aspects, the agronomic practices, as well as marketing and value addition of the crop. It airs in the evening so women farmers returning from the fields can tune in to listen.”

Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, like carrots, pumpkins and other orange-fleshed foods, are rich in beta-carotene, a compound that the body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for human growth and development, and also helps maintain the immune system and good vision.

Mrs. Okao feeds the fleshy orange potatoes to her children. She is convinced that they benefit from the sweet, tasty tubers. She advised a friend that the woman’s sick baby twins would benefit if the mother added the nutritious potatoes to her children’s breakfast porridge.

Mrs. Okao reports: “I’m happy to say the twins are both very healthy now. Besides porridge, you can also make bread and juice with orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.”

Mrs. Okao flips through a ledger book with the names and details of farmers who have purchased bags of vines from her, some on numerous occasions. She receives calls from all across northern Uganda. Farmers from as far away as Pader, Kitgum and Gulu have purchased vines.

Mrs. Okao says: “Since I started vine multiplication last year, I have distributed orange-fleshed sweet potato [vines] to 380 farmers. It has improved my household income. I was able to buy pigs and a cow and pay my oldest son’s school fees at a teacher’s training college.”

Published online @ Farm Radio Weekly

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Uganda Women Farmers Lack Access to Critical Information via Radio

Adam and VaniceKAMPALA, Uganda - I traveled across Uganda, last May, to conduct focus group discussions with smallholder farmers on the impact of the My Children radio drama, produced by Farm Radio International and Harvest Plus Uganda.

This radio drama taught farmers about the nutrition and benefits of growing and consuming orange-fleshed sweet potato. It became obvious during my visit to villages around the country that many Ugandan women farmers lack access to radio and the critical agriculture information it provides.

So, I decided to ask a few women smallholder farmers in western Uganda why this is the case.

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War Veterans Planting for Peace in South Sudan

Wilson along bank of Nile River where WVA garden is locatedJUBA, Aug 21 2014 (IPS) - Along the fertile banks of sub-Saharan Africa’s White Nile, one of the two main tributaries of the Nile River, a war veteran’s co-op is planting for a food secure future in South Sudan, a country potentially facing famine.

Wilson Abisai Lodingareng, 65, is a peri-urban farmer and founder of Werithior Veteran’s Association, or WVA, in Juba, South Sudan. The association is a group of 15 farmers ranging in age, with the youngest being a 25-year-old veteran’s son. This group of 15 farmers tends to a garden, located six kilometres outside Juba, South Sudan’s capital, where they grow nearly 1.5 hectares of vegetables.

“I have seven active members in the group, all former SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] troops. I call them when it’s time to weed the garden,” Lodingareng told IPS. “I visit once a day, each morning, to check the health of the crops and too see what’s ready for the market.”

Some of the other WVA members have been displaced from their homes and are now living inside the UNMISS, United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Protection of Civilians camp in Juba.

Since the conflict began Dec. 15, 2013 between the government forces of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and the rebel forces of former Vice President Riek Machar, 1.5 million have been displaced from their homes. Three-and-a-half million South Sudanese are suffering from emergency levels of food insecurity, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

Lodingareng said obtaining a plot of land along the Nile River was difficult with many international investors vying for this prime agricultural real estate. It took him almost three years to acquire a lease from the community which owns the idle land.

So far this year he has transformed the field with long grass and weeds into a garden with leafy vegetables and herbs sprouting. WVA cultivates okra, kale, mulukhiyah (jute leaves) and coriander.

“These are short impact crops which grow quickly, within one to two months,” Lodingareng said. “Okra is harvested every three to four days.”

The philosophy behind the WVA garden is to see land as a resource not to be wasted. As Lodingareng looks around his garden he sees a future expansion into the surrounding land, also lying idle.

“I’m looking at expanding to grow food crops like maize, potatoes, carrots and eggplant,” he said. “The first year has been a struggle. The next year should be much better.”

Simon Agustino is the programme officer at Mennonite Central Committee, or MCC, in South Sudan.

“Wilson [Lodingareng] came to our office with a proposal asking for assistance. The veterans had no hope and no way to provide for their families,” Agustino told IPS. “People thought he was wasting his time with digging. But he didn’t give up.”

MCC provided him with some capital for leasing the land, the training of beneficiaries, fruit and vegetable production, farm supplies and tools as well to monitor WVA’s progress.

“Finally he got land and is now yielding and his crops which are being sold at the market. As a sign of improvement, more veterans are considering joining,” Agustino said.

According to Agustino, most SPLA veterans take to criminal activity after being de-commissioned, but Lodingareng wouldn’t turn to cattle raiding or using a weapon to rob and steal. He has a vision for the future of South Sudan.

“I did my part to put my country on the path to self-determination,” Lodingareng said. “Now my approach is to work hard. Me, I will do anything that can pull me out of poverty and improve my situation financially.”

Londingareng fought with the SPLA from 1985 to 2008, and when he wasn’t re-activated into the military six years ago he began to think back to his early days as an economics student at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

“I took a course and wrote a paper on agriculture economics. I was taught that land is food and that crops share behaviour traits with humans,” he said.

While Lodingareng comes from the Toposa, a cattle-herding pastoralist tribe in the southeast of the country, his wife is Nuer, one of the country’s two biggest ethnic groups, along with Dinka, in South Sudan.

“We were hunted. I hid my wife in town and with help from MCC, I took her to Uganda.” he said. “I came back to find out people had broken into my house. It was completely ransacked.”

WVA veterans come from various tribes in South Sudan. Its work demonstrates that agriculture could be a way of bringing South Sudanese together, looking past tribal differences, and planting together this rainy season.

Lodingareng believes it’s never too late to take up the cause of agriculture, even while millions are displaced and the country is on the brink of famine.

“The political climate has discouraged many from planting this season,” he said. “But if everyone planted gardens things will improve.”

MCC is looking at ways to start a peace and reconciliation programme with the help of WVA. “He has many ideas on how to end the conflict,” Agustino said.

Published online @ Inter Press Service

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Ethiopia’s “Terrorist” Journalists and Bloggers

n-PRISON-CELL-largeNAIROBI, Kenya - A cursory glance at the headlines shows that Ethiopia has one of Africa’s fastest growing economies. But the noise generated by the hyperbolic international media is drowning out the critical voices.

Political opposition is being strangled by the authorities as activists and journalists are arrested and thrown into jail at a dizzying pace.

On April 25 of this year, the Ethiopian government made news by arresting six bloggers and three freelance journalists. Setting a dangerous precedent for other governments in the region and beyond, authorities are now targeting youth online.

The nine writers are facing terrorism-related charges, standing accused of inciting violence through social media. The six bloggers are members of the online collective known as Zone 9. The moniker was chosen to represent the inalienable right to freedom of expression: journalists are often held in the section of Addis Ababa’s Kality prison known as Zone 8.

“The government claims [those detained] are conspiring with foreign non-governmental organizations, human rights groups,” said journalist Araya Getachew. “It also claims that they are also working for banned terrorist organizations trying to overthrow the state. This is totally false.”

State crackdown online

Araya Getachew, 29, along with Mastewal Birhanu, 27, and Fasil Girma, 29, all sought refuge in Kenya following a state crackdown on media in Ethiopia. Some veteran journalists were not so fortunate: Woubshet Taye, Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu have all been recently sentenced under a new media law.

Human Rights Watch is monitoring the situation. HRW stated: “Since Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law was adopted in 2009, the independent media have been decimated by politically motivated prosecutions under the law. The government has systematically thwarted attempts by journalists to establish new publications.”

Critical blogs and websites are regularly blocked, says HRW. In 2012, even publishers which printed publications that criticized authorities ended up being shut down.

Mastewal was arrested last year alongside his editor for printing editions of the newspaper Feteh. The reason the authorities gave for shutting down the newspaper and arresting Mastewal and his editor was that they published news of the death of former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi before an official government announcement was made.

“The government confiscated and burned all 40,000 copies of the newspaper,” Mastewal says. “I was put in jail and charged. I refused to plea bargain to help convict my editor. I left the country.”

“For me,” says Araya, “there’s no doubt if I were in Ethiopia that I would have been arrested by now. Most bloggers and freelancers there are my friends.”

All three Ethiopian journalists now live in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. Unlike most Ethiopian emigrants in Kenya, they are political, not economic, refugees.

Mastewal and Araya applied at the UN High Commission for Refugees, or UNHCR, to be resettled in Canada. They still await a response from the Canadian High Commission.

“We made our claim together with UNHCR,” Araya said. “We have file numbers but nobody to call, no contact person at the high commission. They still have not told us when we’ll be leaving for Canada.”

Crusading journalism

Fasil founded a public forum in Ethiopia for journalists to discuss issues of corruption in government. Not long afterwards, he was all but chased out of the country.

“I left Ethiopia two years ago,” he says. “I was doing research with Transparency International. We sent an anti-corruption report to the Ethiopian government for feedback and then the pressure became so intense that I had to leave.”

The Ethiopian and Kenyan governments have recently started working together to combat the spread of terrorism across the region. This cooperation is making Nairobi-based Ethiopian journalists feel uneasy about speaking or writing freely.

“With the Kenyan security forces rounding up refugees,” says Fasil. “I fear deportation. It’s tough to go out and come back safely.”

It is now over 100 days, and counting, since the six Zone 9 bloggers and the three freelance journalists were thrown into Ethiopian prison cells. For Fasil, like most political refugees, life in Kenya is tough. But, unlike Araya and Mastewal, he is not yet ready to give up and head to Canada.

Published online @ Huffington Post Canada

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South Africa: Young reporters learn the ropes at school


iSchoolAfrica’s Youth Press Teams aim to give young South Africans a voice. Courtesy of iSchoolAfrica

Since 2010, South Africans have celebrated Nelson Mandela International Day to mark Mandela’s birthday. Many people in the country, both young and old, honour his legacy on July 18 by volunteering and performing community service.

Sibusiso Mazibuko spent Mandela Day planting crops in the garden of a childcare centre in Tembisa township, north of Kempton Park, an eastern suburb of Johannesburg. The 17-year-old taught young children how good agricultural practices can reduce the effects of climate change and fight food insecurity, two subjects about which he is passionate.

He says: “For the last four years, my mom has been growing spinach, onions and tomatoes in her garden at home. She taught me that it’s important to plant vegetables for our family.”

When he’s not teaching young children how to grow food, Mr. Mazibuko is an aspiring documentary filmmaker. He is a member of the Youth Press Team at Tembisa Secondary School. Mr. Mazibuko can often be seen carrying one of the iPads, microphones or tripods provided to the club through iSchoolAfrica, a nation-wide educational initiative.

iSchoolAfrica launched the Youth Press Team project four years ago, as South Africa prepared to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup. With the international spotlight on the country, the initiative gave youth a platform to share their stories with the world.

iSchoolAfrica currently works in 20 under-resourced schools across South Africa, providing appropriate technologies to improve classroom learning.

Michelle Lissoos is the project director at iSchoolAfrica. She says: “They started off filming using a handheld camera and then edited their work [afterwards]. Now, they can film and edit [on] one device. We have a facilitator who trains the educators at the school.”

Mr. Mazibuko says: “Working with the Youth Press Team at my school makes me feel I can produce and develop my own documentary films. I’m going to apply [to] the London Film School in the U.K. if I can find a scholarship or bursary.”

John Aphane is one of Mr. Mazibuko’s teachers at Tembisa Secondary School. The 31-year-old teaches more than 200 students every year. He has seen Mr. Mazibuko excel over the last three years, becoming a senior member of the Youth Press Team.

Mr. Aphane says: “The Youth Press Team gives a voice to the community. [Mr. Mazibuko] found a passion for media after joining the team. He’s written some stories and is currently working on a movie with other students.”

The teacher adds, “Mandela Day was an important occasion to understand the role Mr. Mandela played in the history of this country and to learn to do something for others.”

The late Nelson Mandela believed strongly in the power of education. He once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

For his part, Mr. Mazibuko says he learned that selling vegetables at the market can help parents pay their children’s school fees. He would like to grow enough food so his mother can raise the money to send him to university. He sees film as a way to make real change in the world.

He says: “My mother taught me that it’s important to plant and water vegetables, as agriculture can help people by feeding families. I have learnt for myself that telling stories can educate people.”

Published online @ Farm Radio Weekly

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Kenya’s Own ‘Erin Brockovich’ Changes Lives of Girl Survivors of Sexual Abuse

The Equality Effect brought together legal experts to pursue a class action lawsuit, which came to be known as the 160 Girls case, of girls who faced discriminatory police treatment, including police rape. The court ruled police must enforce the laws under the constitution, and properly investigate cases of defilement and rape. Courtesy: Fiona Sampson/Equality Effect

The equality effect brought together legal experts to pursue a class action lawsuit, which came to be known as the 160 Girls case, of girls who faced discriminatory police treatment, including police rape. The court ruled police must enforce the laws under the constitution, and properly investigate cases of defilement and rape. Courtesy: The equality effect

MERU, Kenya, Aug 11 2014 (IPS) - Surrounded by endless rows of green tea plants, Mary carefully picked a leaf and placed it into a basket next to her. It seemed like an ordinary day at work for the 13-year-old girl from Meru, in central Kenya. After work she escaped to the adjacent farm for privacy, but was instead attacked and raped by a middle aged man. 

“My grandmother took me to the police to make a report, but they didn’t arrest him. I was told he bribed the police,” Mary* tells IPS as her 11-month-old baby girl sits on her lap.

Mary, now 14 years of age, and her daughter live at Ripples International’s Tumaini Girls’ Rescue Centre in Meru, Kenya. It houses 15 other girls like Mary, three of whom have babies of their own, all born out of the sexual violence perpetrated against them.

“Sexual abuse is known as defilement under Kenyan law. All of our girls here have been defiled by either family members, neighbours or employers. One girl was even defiled by a police officer,” Mercy Chidi, founder and director of Ripples International, the organisation which established Tumaini Girls Rescue Centre, tells IPS.

Chidi is a social worker, not a lawyer, but her human rights advocacy makes her a respected figure in Kenya and beyond. She has provided shelter to survivors of sexual abuse, female genital mutilation and child marriage at Ripples International. The organisation’s faith-based approach makes creating fundamental change in the livelihoods of Kenyan girls its mission.

“It started over 10 years ago with abandoned babies and orphans. We gave them a home,” Chidi says. “We also provide HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention.”

A 14-year-old girl named Grace*, looking much younger than her stated age, takes a seat on the couch in front of the television at Tumaini Girls’ Rescue Centre. She is HIV-positive.

“I was raped by my father,” she tells IPS as her voice quivers. Grace has been living at the shelter for the past year, trying to keep up court appearances and her anti-retroviral medications. She’s also trying to get back into school.

Fiona Sampson is a Canadian lawyer and the executive director of the equality effect, a human rights organisation working to advance the rights of women and girls in Kenya.

Sampson met Chidi in 2010 during a human rights course in Toronto, Canada. She calls Chidi the “Erin Brockovich of Kenya” due to her relentless pursuit of justice for Kenyan girls.

“Mercy asked if the equality effect would help her develop a legal advocacy solution to the defilement problem, and the failure of police to enforce existing laws, and we said ‘yes.’  The equality effect was already working in Kenya on other projects,” Sampson tells IPS.

Sampson brought together legal experts from Canada, Kenya, Ghana and Malawi to pursue a class action lawsuit, which came to be known as the 160 Girls case. The 160 refers to the number of girls selected, even though only 11 petitioners were named in the claim. These girls faced discriminatory police treatment, including police rape.

“We argued that the police treatment of the girls’ defilement claims was discriminatory and violated their human rights in contradiction of the equality guarantees in the Kenyan constitution and regional and international human rights law,” she says.

In 2013, the 160 Girls went from victims to victors. The judge read the verdict in a Meru, Kenya courtroom: “By failing to enforce existing defilement laws, the police have contributed to the development of a culture of tolerance for pervasive sexual violence against girl children and impunity.”

Muthomi Thiankolu is a constitutional lawyer and lead counsel on the 160 Girls case at the High Court of Kenya.

“In Kenyan law, defilement is sex with a minor. Someone under the age of 18,” Thiankolu tells IPS. “The court ruled police must enforce the laws under the constitution, and properly investigate cases of defilement and rape.”

Mary bounces the baby on her lap. She now feels the law will protect the both of them. The child starts to giggle and a smile comes over Mary’s face.

“At the time it happened, I was working to make money to pay school fees,” she says. “Now, living here at the centre, I’m arranging to go back to school.”

*Name changed to protect their identity

Published online @ Inter Press Service

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