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Akoul Diing |
Sista She |
Karinda/Lion King singer |
Aloysie Second Chance |
Gunnedah soccer |
Liberia Australia independence celebrations |
UN Population Award |
Gallery manager Richard Lubner |
Marathon broadcaster Anton Enus |
Club Mombasa entrepreneur |
Africans in Oz since 1788... Africans have been in Australia since 1788 when around a dozen African men arrived here as part of the First Fleet - according to renowned Australian non-fiction author and historian, Dr Cassandra Pybus.
Dr Pybus, an Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow based at the University of Tasmania, began researching the subject a few years ago, uncovering material on over 800 convicts and free settlers from the African Diaspora. Dr Pybus is currently researching the history of Australia's 'first bushranger', an African man known as Black Caeser, who was eventually confined to chains on Garden Island.
Caeser came out to Australia with the First Fleet in the 1780s. Other Africans came to Australia during the 1800s. According to Dr Pybus, many were freed slaves who had gone to Britain after the American Revolution - only to fall on hard times, and to be sent to Australia as convicts. Others came out during the 1830s, when slaves and ex-slaves were transported from the West Indies and the Cape Colony, or during the 1850s Gold Rush. The Sydney landmark Blues Point is said to be named after William Blue, a man of African descent who was a confidant of Governor Macquarie.
According to Dr Pybus' research, most convicts of African descent stayed 'clean' and eventually won their freedom. Many were given land grants like other convicts, and married local women and had children. Their descendents blended in as white Australians or as Aboriginal Australians.
For more information on Caesar, see the University of Wollongong's First Fleet Online site.
Other interesting facts on African diaspora: The MCU university (US) education site has mini histories of African diaspora around the world:
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Strength and grace in Akuol Diing
Fresh off the catwalks of Mercedes Australian Fashion Week in Sydney - Australian Sudanese model Akuol Diing has just embarked on a busy international schedule. First she’s off to fashion week in London, then fashion week in New York - where she’ll parade down high society catwalks, appear on billboard advertisements, and adjust to the demands of the international fashion scene.
Far from being ‘dazed’ by the glamour of international modelling, Akuol is modest, even reflective about her catwalk success.
Already she is talking about returning to study next year, assisting her brother with an aid project in South Sudan and building up support for her local community.
Akuol says, “With modelling, it’s important to be aware of your future. "You need to think five years ahead or you’ll get carried away with the glamour of it all...”
She says the people around her help her keep a perspective on things, “Spending time with my family and community keeps me well grounded,” she says, “so I don’t lose sight of what’s important in life.”
Akuol meets up with people from her Dinka background on a regular basis. “We now have a big family here, with strong communal bonds. We meet up for get-togethers, food, music, and cultural dancing…(I’m not good at the dancing,” she laughs, “but I’m practising!”)
The dancing will help the community raise funds for people still facing civil war in Sudan. In future Akuol, passionate about the plight of her people, wants to help provide education for children whose schools have been destroyed in conflict.
Education is important to Akuol and she marvels at the opportunities a ‘free education’ can provide in Australia. At the age of eight, Akuol had to leave her parents in Sudan, and move to Egypt, where her sister and brother helped bring her up. As she grew older, they worked hard to pay for her education in medicine and science. Part way through her studies she was granted a visa to come to Australia.
Once here, she enrolled in further studies. But it was challenging to begin with. “Adjusting to a different language, different culture was hard at first. I had to relearn everything in English – including chemistry and maths.”
By this stage, modelling was the furthest thing from Akuol’s mind – she’d heard of famous models of Sudanese background such as Alek Wek, but never thought modelling was for her. (“I was too shy!” she says.)
In the end, it was modelling that discovered Akuol rather than Akuol discovering modelling. One day while shopping in Sydney’s Ashfield Shopping Mall, a woman from a modelling agency approached her. “I didn’t take it as a big deal,” says Akuol. “We exchanged phone numbers and I carried on with my life. Then she phoned me, and suddenly I was on my way to modelling training school.”
To begin with: “I was scared going out on the catwalk with all these cameras flashing – I thought ‘I’m going to fall!’ But then I grew more confident. However, even now, sometimes, deep inside I feel shy.”
Akuol has a strong, elegant presence on the catwalk. Like many South Sudanese, she is tall and slim. “But my height of 5 foot 11 is nothing compared to my family’s. My cousin, who plays professional basketball, is around 7 feet!” she says.
With a similar height and beauty to Akuol, some of her relatives are models in Australia, including the well known Akeer Chut-Deng.
Akuol says Australia is a small market for models, particularly darker models. “But if people have seen you before and like your work they will book you again and again.” Akuol began modelling clothes for Australian designer Morrissey, before others saw her talent. The list of designers she’s now worked with reads like a Who’s Who of the Australian Fashion industry with big names like Nicole Finetti, Akira and Zambesi – to name a few – and she is currently signed on with one of Australia’s leading modelling agencies, Chic.
While modelling can be a busy and highly competitive career, Akuol says she handles the pressure as she had to endure a tough life when she was growing up. What also gives her strength is having people believe in her - and being able to believe in herself. She says, “If I can offer any advice to people who want to get into modelling, it’s important to be who you are – don’t try to be someone else.”
....Inspiring words from the inspiring Akuol Diing.
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What a sista! AfricanOz chats to the 'sista' with South African roots, Rasheda - one half of the sensational Australian comedy, hiphop duo 'Sista She' (continued from front page) AfricanOz: Can you explain a little bit about your African heritage? Rasheda: My mum and dad are South African (coloured South African for y'all out there who know the bizarre racial segmentation of South Africa). On mum's side, there is a bit of Malay and Chinese, which is pretty common among the mixed people of South Africa. On dad's side I got some Scottish blood and African too. Apparently my great, great grandmother was a princess in Java and was taken to South Africa when the Dutch took over. The history of mixed or coloured people in South Africa is really interesting and not very well understood on a cultural level in Australia and probably across the Western world. I get the feeling I'm gonna have to write a Hollywood script about the social history of "Coloured" South Africa so the world gets a notion of where my people have come from and how they experienced South Africa during Apartheid and beyond.
AfricanOz: Is there anything in your African heritage that might have inspired your path to stardom? Rasheda: I feel very much inspired and nourished by my family history and the hardships my family went through. My grandfather was Sonny Leon the first coloured leader of the Labor party in South Africa in the early 1970s - and mum was the party secretary. Papa travelled the world and spoke on Nelson Mandela's plight and asked for trade sactions against the South African government until Apartheid was abolished. In our show, 'Inna Thigh', I talk about being "part of a family of politics, but who is Rasheda, a brown hip hop star-some sort of sista leader?" Having a South African background and continually being confronted by the history of Apartheid and dealing with the issues of racism in Australia both drive and crush me. I think l work so hard because of these things.
AfricanOz: How do your parents feel about having stars in the family - (Rasheda's sister, Kim Bowers, aka 'Busty Beats', also performs with the Sista She duo) Rasheda: My parents had three daughters and they all ended up in music and performance. I think it really worries them at times because the industry is so inconsistent (money) but they love that we are three strong women who need and want to create cutural waves in Australia.... and across the world! Actually my other sister is also a star, she is Via Tania and recently released an album called "Under a Different Sky" on Trifecta records, so it's not just Busty and l!
AfricanOz: Any tips on maintaining a good afro? Rasheda:I am still looking for the perfect fro-dresser. Australia don't stock the products to keep up the 'fro, they just want to straighten and braid hair.... and it is tres high maintenance!
AfricanOz: How do people find their inner MC? Rasheda: I think finding the inna MC can be literal or metaphorical, like literally bringing your voice on to the stage or perhaps allowing yourself the freedom to live your personal dreams..... l just cannot think of a cooler way to say that. What l'm trying to get at is that l see a lack of confidence in young women and men and most people every day, people are always being conquered by fear. By listening to the voice inside that has always been strong, always told you what you are here to do - ie. rap, or teach or dance or bake cakes or whatever - by actually listening in and then taking on the challenge (and the obstacles will come thick and fast cos we in the cruel world y'all) you slowly realise you've made the connection with your inna MC.
AfricanOz: Do you have any tips for people who can't dance? Rasheda: For those unfortunate peeps who can't dance, find Salt N' Pepa, Janet Jackson and any Mowtown videos that are out there and start observing the moves. Listen to soul and travel the world - cos it difficult to get the groove in the Western world!
AfricanOz: What are some of the joys of being a female superstar? Rasheda: It's ace to be a role model for young women and old women alike... It is pretty cool to be in magazines and that cos you don't see many brown faces with vuluptuous bootys! It's also fun confusing all those fellas who thought thin was hot and now see another possibility - l think it's confronting for them sometimes.
(In future) there are plans for some new songs that use South African music, contrasted with the Celtic music of my partner in rhyme, Sheila MC Eila's heritage. I look forward to a new period of creativity.
For more on Sista She, see their website at: www.sistashe.com.au
On Stage with Karinda... AfricanOz chats to Lion King talent, Karinda Mutabazi Australian singer, Karinda Mutabazi, is several months into performing The Lion King in Sydney. Despite eight performances a week, and several costume changes a show, Karinda can't get enough of the Lion King's music... And her enthusiasm is contagious. Talk to her for longer than a minute and already you're floating around on stage with lions, hyenas and plants of the savannah, while the chorus of South African music sends you off with the clouds.
"I feel really lucky to act and sing in the Lion King ensemble," says Karinda - and as for the music, "I could listen to it all day."
Part of the appeal, Karinda admits, is in the style of the music. "It's challenging to perform," she says. "The way you use your voice is different and the language is different - Zulu and Xhosa."
While Karinda has African roots (her father originally comes from Uganda), the Zulu and Xhosa sounds were new to her. She had to learn the shape of vowels and the rhythm of the language - something that fellow cast members from South Africa were more than willing to help her do. "It's been really important to have South Africans in the ensemble," says Karinda, "They have been great tutoring people and, in terms of music, you just can't beat that authentic African sound."
Karinda delights in the Lion King's multinational cast, with performers coming from diverse Asian, Australian, Pacific and international backgrounds. "We learn a lot from each other, about each other's cultures, how things are done, different people bring in different dishes - it's been really great," she says.
The audience, too, are a source of inspiration. "The energy from the audience is amazing," says Karinda, "And to have them appreciate the show is the best thing about singing - it's like giving them a part of yourself."
A love of performing has always been with Karinda, from acting in primary school productions to theatrical ambitions in high school - a time when The Lion King had just started on Broadway, and Karinda recalls thinking, "I'd love to be in that!"
Several years later, after completing a Bachelor of Performing Arts at Monash University and landing a part in the stage musical, Hair, Karinda finally had the opportunity to fulfil that dream. After a few auditions she was selected to play Sarabi and to perform in the local Lion King ensemble.
While the cast were preparing for the show, she was impressed by the presence of Lion King creator Julie Taymor, whose intricate designs and costumes are the hallmark of the show. "She really made everything authentically African," says Karinda, "right down to the make-up, which is designed from tribal make-up and African paintings, to the ornate costumes - the corsets we wear, for example, are so ornate and accurate with beads from Africa."
And what of Karinda's future after the Lion King, with its rich African flavour - is she worried about being typecast? "When I first started I thought that my background might be a disadvantage in the industry - but I've come to learn it's an advantage - there's a lot of work for people like me in new theatre areas" And she advises other performers facing similar doubts to go for it: "This is our time!"
For more on the cast and story of The Lion King, see www.thelionking.com.au
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'Second Chance' - inspired by culture
A new charity inspired by the positive influence of African culture was established in Sydney this month
“Having nothing to hold onto but a love of music and dance taught me that being happy is the most important resource in staying alive,” she says.
“I really want to share with everyone how I held onto joy. Small things like taking a moment to smile, to be happy and feel love and friendship cost nothing and take no time but are everything.”
Aloysie and her colleagues will spread this inspiring message through educational presentations and cultural performances in schools, hospitals and other locations. Their program will include traditional dancing, music, story telling and instrument playing.
It is these types of activities - handed down from her mother - that helped Aloysie survive the pain and loss of genocide.
Aloysie was just 14 when civil war broke out in Rwanda. In the following 100 days, 800,000 people died, including Aloysie’s family and friends. Aloysie managed to escape to Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), where she drew strength from her traditional culture. She feels that without this she would have died. It gave her a second chance in life. Aloysie's aim for the new charity is to help people appreciate the values and cultures that hold communities together - and for people to bring these back into their daily lives.
To learn more about Aloysie Second Chance, or to show your support, email its Director, Jilian Mulally, at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Watching the Art of Nelson Mandela What's a surfer and former professional tennis player doing running Australia's Nelson Mandela art gallery? Simple, really... he's been inspired.
Not far from the glittering waters of Sydney Harbour, you go up the stone pathways and into the gallery of Nelson Mandela. The warmth of the interior is a long way from the oppressive views of Robben Island where Mandela was held captive for many years. But the prints on the wall are something close to all of us: humanity inspired. The man who set up and runs the gallery, Richard Lubner, said, "People do fine art and people do memorabilia, but these lithographs by Nelson Mandela are really special - not only do they look beautiful, they are very powerful, strong, and emotive - they really reach out to people."
The aptly-named 'Touch of Mandela' gallery features dozens of charcoal sketches, artistic hand prints, and other fine art collectables by Mandela. This includes his 'Robben Island Series', depicting his life behind bars during the apartheid era in a series of original sketches with striking, bold colours. It is Mandela's ability to see the 'colours' in life that Richard finds the most profound: "One of Nelson Mandela's defining traits is his ability to look at life with such colour - to go into prison for so many years, to go through hell and then to come out so optimistic and enlightened - that is an incredible trait," said Richard.
Optimism is also a trait familiar to Richard Lubner's South African family -- who worked through the challenges of South Africa's apartheid era. Richard's father, South Africa's chief rabbi, Rabbi Harris, (currently visiting Australia), helped establish charities to aid the impoverished. One of these charities was the Ma Afrika Tikkun Foundation - an organisation that so impressed Nelson Mandela he eventually asked if he could be its chief patron. They gladly obliged.
At around the same time, Richard Lubner was busy touring the world as a professional tennis player. He played Wimbledon, the US Open and other international tournaments, reaching 250 in the world rankings - playing with Boris Becker, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras to name a few. However, even mixing with the tennis greats was nothing, suggests Richard, to meeting Nelson Mandela for the first time.
"Often when you meet a 'celebrity' or famous person, your expectations are so high, you're inevitably let down," said Richard. "But meeting Nelson Mandela was different. He had a very powerful presence - he was very soft, very gentle, and very, very humorous - but very powerful all the same."
And so began a friendship that would lead to Richard setting up one of the world's only three art galleries to exhibit and sell Mandela's work.
Sydney was a logical choice for Richard. He'd come to Australia to study an MBA after retiring from tennis and "just couldn't leave." As well as being an ideal location for the art gallery, it allowed Richard to indulge in his 'secret passion' of surfing. ("I go two or three times a week if I can make it," he said).
But even the great outdoors can't distract Richard from his major focus - managing the art gallery. It remains a big success - still popular with overseas and Australian visitors, even seven months after opening. "It definitely has an international message and appeal," said Richard of Mandela's work. "It's about the spirit of human endeavour, it's about humanity -and they're important messages whether you relate it to Indigenous Australia, Europe or anywhere else in the world."
To see the sketches for yourself (and maybe even purchase a picture or two) - visit Touch of Mandela gallery, at the ASN Building 1-5 at Hickson Rd in The Rocks, Ph: 02 9252 1000. For more details and previews, see the Touch of Mandela website at www.touchofmandela.com.au
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Liberian Indepence Day Celebrations in Australia (Image: Map of Liberia from CIA factbook) Liberian Australians celebrated Liberian Independence Day last weekend, with feasts, performances and community celebrations around Australia. Around 250 people joined Brisbane-based celebrations, with music, dancing and a fashion show.
[CONT FROM FRONT PAGE] According to President of Queensland’s Liberian community association, Albert Doe-Nunnah, the program showcased the diversity of Liberia’s culture, with influences from Kpelle, Kru, Grebo and other Liberian indigenous groups, as well as influences from Liberia’s strong American heritage.
Liberia (whose name was derived from the Latin word for ‘free’) is a country in West Africa founded by freed American slaves in the early nineteenth century. Descendents of this group now make up around 5% of Liberia’s total population.
Albert says the western influences on Liberia have, in some ways, made it easier for Liberians to adjust to life in Australia. “The similar weather and social attitude and western influences on Liberia have helped us to feel at home here. There's also a diversity of cultures here. So local Indian and Chinese groceries, for example, stock many of our favourite herbs and spices.”
There are around 70 Liberians in Brisbane, and many more around Australia. Albert says most community members arrived here in the last two or three years. Many - who were forced to flee Liberia after the tragic civil war in the 1990s - spent years living as refugees in neighbouring regions before gaining resettlement in Australia.
There are now general elections proposed for next year in Liberia, and the country has been run under the United Nations UNMIL program. While there is hope for the future of Liberia, there are many challenges ahead. For more information on Liberia's political situation, see:
On Culture see: Liberian cookbook on www.sas.upenn.edu
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UN award - recognises Australians' work on Africa (Posted 29/4/04) Australians dedicated to working on some of Africa's greatest challenges have been honoured in the 2004 United Nations Population Award, announced this week. The individual award goes to internationally acclaimed Australian demographer, John Caldwell who has done extensive research on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, while the award for an institution goes to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital - a vital service that Australian Catherine Hamlin helped establish in Ethiopia many years ago.
The Award (to be presented at a UN ceremony later this year) is given annually to award outstanding work in the field of population and in improving the health and welfare of individuals. According to a statement from the United Nations Population Fund, Mr Caldwell's work to frame the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa as a demographic, epidemiological and sociocultural phenomenon is unparalleled.
Mr Caldwell is the first Australian individual to win the award. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has congratulated Mr Caldwell, saying he is regarded as "one of the world's most influential, respected and prolific scientists in his field" and "His mentoring of young demographers has enhanced the capacity of demographic research in all regions of the world."
The other award recipient, the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital has provided an invaluable service to Ethiopia and East Africa. It has also become a teaching institution for surgeons around the world. Since it was set up the hospital has treated and cared for over 25,000 women living with obstetric fistula - a debilitating childbirth injury that damages a woman's birth canal and leaves her incontinent. Each year, the hospital provides free medical care to over 1,200 women - an approach that helps restore the health and dignity of sufferers. For more on the Fitsula Hospital and its vital work, see their Australian-based office at www.fistulatrust.org, or contact them at (02) 9875 2530, email: email@example.com
For more on John Caldwell's work on HIV/AIDs research, see the African-based HIVAN website
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The country town of Gunnedah partied to the sounds of Sierra Leoneon drumming, as the soccer extravaganza, the 'International' Gunnedah Cup wound up last week. Over 100 enthusiastic soccer players from diverse Australian backgrounds - including Somalia, Sudan and Sierra Leone - travelled from their home in Sydney to Gunnedah to participate in the soccer meet. The men's Sierra Leone team (pictured at rest) kept organisers entertained with bouts of African drumming on the bus trip on the way up through the pituresque Namoi Valley. On their arrival in Gunnedah they adapted this musical energy to the sporting field, making it into the semi-finals after beating the normally top-scoring Somali team (pictured, warming up). However, their energy seemed to fizzle during a game with the Sri Lankan Tamils who beat them into the finals. Hosts, Gunnedah won the men's finals, while the Bosnian girls won the women's finals. It was a fun competition, and the players gave a free concert at the local bowling club on Sunday night. What was originally going to be a quiet cultural celebration turned into a 'full-on African dance party' according to witnesses, with the Sierra Leoneon drummers putting out some great vibes. A wonderful time was had by all!
In a region known for its rural industries and agricultural field days (Ag-Quip), Gunnedah showed it also has a talent for sporting competitions. The visiting teams from Sydney enjoyed three days of competition, cultural exchange and sightseeing. The trip included visits to local Aboriginal art sites and some exploring of the Namoi Valley. The visit was organised by the Centre for Social Leadership at The Benevolent Society, Gunnedah City Council, NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) and Auburn Migrant Resource Centre. It was aimed at bridging the rural-city divide through partnership and sharing of cultural resources.
Pics above: Somali men's team warming up (left); Sierra Leone men's team (right). Thanks to the Benevolant Society of NSW for pictures.
There's a touch of African Australian history in Gunnedah. A road in the town is called 'Breaker Morant Drive' - named after the historical Australian icon 'Breaker' Morant who fought in the Boer War in South Africa in the 1890s. The 'Breaker' worked in Gunnedah as a drover and horse-breaker. He was court marshalled and put to death by the British during the Boer War, an act that has aroused great resentment and contention in Australian history. For more on 'Breaker Morant', see the Studies page link to the Australian War Memorial (under 'Research Links'). There's a dramatisation of his story: 'Breaker Morant' on video/DVD.
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Marathon Broadcaster: Anton EnusInterview with South African Australian SBS TV newsreader & sometime marathon runner, Anton Enus (continued from front page)
AfricanOz: What appeals to you most about distance running?
Anton Enus: Running is my private time, a chance to gather my thoughts and contemplate what's happening in the world and in my life. It never fails to lift my mood and make me feel physically good. As a sport, it gives ordinary runners like me unique access to great events. For instance, in a race as famous as the 90km Comrades Marathon in South Africa, I got to run on the same course at the same time as the world's best runners for 10 years in a row.
AfricanOz: Your journalism career is something of a successful marathon - working as a top presenter and reporter for many years in South Africa before making the transition to SBS in Australia. Do you miss the challenges of working in Africa?
Anton:I miss aspects of working in South Africa. Australia and Africa are chalk and cheese in terms of reporting environments. There it was much more a case of everyday reporting being more focused on life-changing issues - a society trying to cope with fundamental challenges (whole communities with no shelter, some rural areas which had never had electricity, absence of basic health care, the fallout from generations of political violence, etc). Here, in a more affluent society, the debate is often about the same broad issues, but more focused on tweaking the details rather than changing fundamentals.
AfricanOz: Is there anything in South Africa (or your background) that led to your interest in news & current affairs?
Anton: I think it's impossible to have lived in a country such as South Africa with its history of oppression and division, and not have an intense interest in news and current affairs. That, coupled with my early desire to want to express myself through writing, led me to news as a career.
AfricanOz: In addition to working in Sth Africa, you have reported from Rwanda and other places. What is one of the stories you found the most satisfying to work on while in Africa?
Anton: Perhaps the most cherished moment for me was at the end of that trip to Rwanda. I got to spend a long, hot day trekking up a hillside (Rwanda is known as the country of a thousand hills) to film the famed mountain gorillas. In the thick of very heavy foliage, our group came face to face with these most amazing creatures. I loved putting together that story and have wonderful memories of my brush with unspoilt nature, especially knowing at the time that Rwanda's longrunning civil war was putting enormous pressure on the survival of the gorillas.
AfricanOz: Do you still run? What are some of your favourite running spots in Sydney and South Africa?
Anton: I still run 2-3 times a week, though much shorter distances. My regular morning run is around Centennial Park and back home (about 8 km). And when I lived in Elizabeth Bay I had a favourite run that took in Woolloomooloo, Mrs Macquarie's Chair, Farm Cove, around the Opera House and back to Elizabeth Bay. Beautiful. In South Africa I had an exquisite training run when I lived in Cape Town. It went from the city up to the lower starting point of the famous Table Mountain cableway, down to Camps Bay and all the way back along the most spectacular coastline to the city. It was 21 km of utter delight that made those long daily runs such a pleasure.
AfricanOz: Do you have any favourite runners? What do you admire most about them?
Anton: There are a couple. The greatest Comrades Marathon champion is Bruce Fordyce, who won the race nine times. I was fortunate to meet him a few times over the years and was so impressed by the way he always made time to pass on the benefits of his knowledge and experience to other runners. And then there's another South African, Josia Thugwane, who reduced me to tears of joy when he came from nowhere to win the Olympic marathon in Atlanta. He confirmed what running has demonstrated to me over almost twenty years: that you can achieve great personal goals even when the odds seem to be impossible.
See SBS TV World News site for more about the SBS news team, and to catch up on the latest international and national stories.
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All in a Night's work AfricanOz catches up with nightclub owner, Peter Okwechime.
He’s a mild-mannered IT worker by day… But at night, when the sun sets over Canberra, Peter Okwechime becomes a nightclub owner and entrepreneur. For five years, he’s managed one of Australia’s most successful world music nightclubs, Club Mombasa – surviving on a diet of “good management, good music and lots of hard work”.
[CONT from front page]
“I’m a very shy person,” he laughs. “I never wanted to own a club before. But since I started running Mombasa, I’ve never wanted to quit. When I go up those Club stairs at night, I feel a different person. It’s my home away from home. And that’s how I like everyone to feel when they're there.”
A welcoming atmosphere is one of the key ingredients to the club’s success. Everything from the music (ranging from African, Latino and Arabic to hip-hip, R&B and reggae), to the club’s drinks menu is designed with a ‘universal’ flavour. And with that come the customers: people of all ages and backgrounds – African, European, Asian, Australian, including diplomats, labourers, teachers and students.
“The club attracts such a diverse crowd,” says Peter, “and everyone intermingles. People start talking and learning about each other’s cultures. And people get inspired. Some decide to travel to Africa. Others meet their partners. People find out about things they didn’t know before.”
In this sense Peter is the quintessential host. “I love mixing with people at the Club. I love making them happy. And when they are happy I’m happy.” he says.
It all sounds so positive. But aren’t there challenges involved in running a club?
Yes, Peter admits, you have to have strict policies in place. “Definitely no drugs and no fighting,” he says. “I will throw out my best friend if they start a fight – and I’ve done that before.”
Then there are the demands of stock, insurance, decoration and other ‘unglamorous’ chores. To Peter, however, that’s all part of doing business.
“I grew up in an enterprising city,” he says. “Nigeria’s capital, Lagos. It’s a tough city and people are always learning to buy and sell and make a living. You see people suffering and you have to work hard. But in Africa, if you work hard, you don’t always have the opportunity to make the best of it. In Australia, if you work hard, you might have that opportunity.”
For Peter, that ‘opportunity’ originally came in the form of being selected to study in Australia. He studied agricultural economics before working around Australia as a consultant with Australian Indigenous groups on economics and development matters.
Although he loved his work, it was while studying for his Masters he hit on his real passion: Music. “I wasn’t allowed to listen to music when I was growing up,” he says. “My dad was very strict – and I used to get told to read a book instead. So when I got to the University of New England (in northern NSW), I started listening to music all the time. I’d mix tapes of hip-hop, R&B and other music while I was studying in my room at residences. I didn’t know anyone else could hear it. But one day the students came to me and asked if I could DJ for the international students' music night.”
“I’ve never DJed before!” Peter protested – but the students had heard his music, day after day, through the walls. They convinced him to do it and Peter never looked back.
He began DJing regularly, initially just to entertain friends, then later on a more professional level. Even now he still DJs at Club Mombasa when he can. It’s part of what he calls ‘doing what you’re best at’ – the key, he says, to surviving in business.
“You need to have a passion and real interest to survive in business,” he says. “You need to go into it with an open mind - not to buy a big Mercedes... You need to have a cash flow. And you need to have a focus.”
This focus has made for one of Australia’s most enjoyable nightspots – a formula we wish Peter would adapt to other Australian cities.
“I’d love to start a franchise,” Peter says.
(And he means it – does the inexhaustible Peter Okwechime...)
For more details and photos of Club Mombasa (open Thurs-Sat nights), see the website at www.clubmombasa.com.au- or contact Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org
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For Refugee Week, AfricanOz talks with Abraham Aleer, one of Sudan's famous 'Lost Boys' who arrived in Australia in 2002.
When we phone Sudanese Australian Abraham Aleer on his mobile, we catch him running to the train station. "Yes, I'm happy to do an interview," he says politely, "But right now I'm on my way to the hospital emergency department - there's a family there who don't speak English."
At just 22 years old, 'Lost Boy' Abraham Aleer cannot rest.
In the last 18 months, he's worked as a community worker with Brisbane City Council, the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland, the Queensland program assisting survivors of torture and trauma - worked as secretary of the Sudanese Association, founder of the Lost Boys and Girls Foundation and as a volunteer youth worker.
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He’s also studying full-time at the University of Queensland: an Arts degree with a double major in international relations and peace & conflict studies. He hopes to use the degree to work in peace promotion and humanitarian aid.
“I used to dream that I wanted to change the world,” he says - remembering back to his time at Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee camp - where he worked as a peace education teacher. Abraham lived in Kakuma for around 10 years - after a harrowing journey with other ‘Lost Boys’ away from conflict in southern Sudan.
The ‘Lost Boys & Girls’ were around 30,000 young children who were separated from, or lost their parents in the conflict, and who decided to flee to neighbouring countries. They made the epic journey on foot - many of them dying of starvation, food poisoning, drowning or being killed by wild animals.
Their story has since attracted international attention, the subject of books, documentaries, and numerous media reports - Australia’s Sixty Minutes famously covered the story of Abraham and as his friends when they were brought to Australia in 2002.
While Abraham is grateful for his new life and opportunities, he is frustrated that the world has done little to try and resolve the problems of south Sudan. “They bring us to Australia and they take us to America - but they don’t try and work out why we are lost,” he says - in direct reference to the recent crisis in Darfur.
“I’m frustrated with the international community’s failure to act,” he says. “We really need to address Africa’s conflicts from the grass roots. It needs peace building, peace education - but most importantly we need to consult with the African people.”
He feels many westerners are now desensitised to issues like AIDS, civil war, famine and ethnic conflict. “People sometimes use these conflicts to undermine Africa,” he says, “as if it’s a place only of fighting - as if Africans like fighting. People don’t think about the roots of conflict, land problems, poverty, imperialism - for example the borders the colonial powers imposed on Sudan, putting different regions, people and cultures together. And there are always outside powers influencing conflicts such as Darfur - where many weapons come from outside.”
He says one of the reasons he’s studying international relations is to take this message to others.
Even retaining his identity as a ‘Lost Boy’ is important to his message. “Some of my friends tell me: ‘You’re a smart guy with a good job - why do you have to be called a Lost Boy?’ I tell them, because it’s my life. It’s a historical name. It portrays how the people of South Sudan have been mistreated by their government.”
“We are not lost. We know where we came from… Not lost in life. We are survivors - survivors of war. And our war is a forgotten war.”
You can read more about the Lost Boys and South Sudanese refugees via the Australian-based SORA (the Sudanese Online Research Association) website.
Photo credit: Chris Stacey, The University of Queensland
THE WORLD OF NALISHEBOWith talk of an African Australian beauty pageant coming up, we remember back to when an African Australian lady was chosen to represent Australia in the Miss World titles…
“When I went to the Miss World competition in London, I was the first woman of colour to represent Australia,” says Zambian-born Nalishebo Gaskell, crowned Miss World (Australia) 1999.
“But I didn’t try to compare myself with others... I was sure of myself. I had a strong sense of identity.”
A sense of identity has been woven into the fabric of Nalishebo’s life from birth to the present day. From her current base in London, she now counsels young people on building self-confidence and a sense of purpose. Her twin sister, Nandila (pictured right), does similar work with Indigenous Australians. In recent years they have also performed in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Sydney 2000 Olympics and appeared in movies: ‘Matrix 2’ and ‘Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.
These are strong achievements from strong women - who continue to be inspired by their African Australian roots...
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“As children growing up in Zambia, we had access to a big extended family,” says Nalishebo. “Our Zambian mother belonged to the Lozi people who have a strong sense of identity.”
“We also benefited from having an Australian father. We lived with him on a dairy farm on the outskirts of (Zambia’s capital) Lusaka. By day we would go to an international school in the city. Then after hours we’d play with kids in the local village - it was a humbling experience that allowed us to mix with people of so many different backgrounds.”
This ability to relate to people of different backgrounds served them well when, as teenagers, they moved with their father to Australia’s Northern Territory. They adapted quickly, excelling in school and sports, taking up modelling, and later, going on to university - where Nalishebo studied nursing.
As part of her training, she spent time in Alice Springs. “Being there allowed me to learn so much about Aboriginal culture,” she says. “I really admire their relationship with the land, their belief in nature. They have strong extended families and so much love for each other. I just wish people would understand where they’re coming from.”
Nalishebo says her own African culture helped her appreciate Indigenous Australian culture. But she also appreciates her broader Australian roots. She says Australia has many opportunities for people of African background: people just need to have confidence in themselves and not get caught up other people’s “small-mindedness”.
It’s a sentiment Nalishebo followed when entering the Miss World (Australia) quest - even though it was almost an accident that she entered at all!
One day, her and Nandila were out shopping when they noticed an ad in a window for the Miss World (Australia) title. “That would be cool to win!” they agreed. But they both couldn’t enter as they were identical twins. So they tossed a coin - Nalishebo won!
At 21 years old, Nalishebo was overjoyed when she later went on to not only compete, but to win the Australian title. “I cried and felt really humbled!” she says.
But behind the glamour, it was a challenging role. “To start with, it was mind-boggling,” admits Nalishebo. “Overnight I became front page news. I learnt quickly to be both myself and someone who was ‘over and above myself’ - someone who could smile and be enthusiastic all the time. I had to learn to make things happen: to organise my own charity work and get people to support different causes. Looking back I’m surprised what a go-getter I was at the age of 21!”
She also learnt to deal with people’s attitudes about her mixed Zambian Australian heritage -particularly hurtful when people questioned her authenticity as an ‘Australian’.
“I ended up using my mixed background to the advantage of the title,” says Nalishebo. “I formed solid bonds with Miss Worlds from the Caribbean, Botswana and other nations. They invited me to visit their countries where I helped raise funds for orphans and other worthy projects.”
She did charity work within Australia too - visiting high schools, and helping young people deal with problems like suicide, identity and other issues affecting today’s teenagers.
“Overall being Miss World (Australia) was a really positive experience,” says Nalishebo, “It showed me that when you reach a position of influence you can really use that influence to be a positive role model for others.”
Nalishebo has since moved on to London where she works as a nurse, runs a charity program and is soon to commence her Masters in Public Health… And the story doesn’t end there…
“Everything is always moving towards something,” says Nalishebo - always positive about the future.
Photos above: 'Model' twins - Nalishebo (top) and Nalishebo's twin sister Nandila (below).
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'Football not soccer' ..Francis scores again!
You have to admire SBS ‘football’ commentator Francis Awaritefe for saying what he thinks… even if it’s ‘don’t mention the ‘s’ word' when referring to one of our favourite sports. As an expert commentator on Australia's SBS ‘The World Game’ since 2001, he’s remained faithful to the sport - from his coverage of the World Cup 2002 to the annual FA Cup Final telecasts. Before this, however, he couldn’t escape the ‘s’ word. As a professional player in Australia since 1998, he was one of the National (..ahem) Soccer League’s all-time highest goal scorer in finals matches, playing with Melbourne Knights, South Melbourne, Marconi and Sydney United. Before that, he played 'football’ in the UK. This week AfricanOz caught up with Francis - to ask him more about his background and the great game.
AfricanOz: Can you tell us about your African 'roots'?
AfricanOz: What were some of the things that first inspired your interest in soccer?
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AfricanOz: You previously played professional soccer in UK. How did you come to play in Australia?
AfricanOz: Can you name a couple of high points of playing with NSL? Marconi? Etc
AfricanOz: Amongst your many achievements with the NSL was helping to introduce the equal opportunity code - can you tell us about more about that code?
AfricanOz: How did you get into commentating rather than playing?
AfricanOz: What's one of the best games (or series) you've covered as a commentator and why?
AfricanOz: A lot of African players have now joined European teams. Do you have any favourites of African background?
AfricanOz: In recent weeks, Sydney has been holding an African Australian soccer tournament. Would you care (or dare!) to predict any winners?
You can catch more of Francis on SBS TV's The World Game around 4pm, Sundays.
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Super Rail Band in Oz...
AfricanOz: The band is well known for its excellent live performances. How do you give so much energy to each concert?
AfricanOz: Can you explain a little bit about your Manding music traditions?
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AfricanOz: You are great ambassadors for African music and for Africa. What can musicians teach the world about Africa?
AfricanOz: The band is almost 35 years old. Why do you think the band has remained successful for so long?
The above interview excerpt is a translation from French to English of words collected by Bamba Dunrela, in charge of the Super Rail Band of Bamako
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SAIL Man Sees The Big Picture...
It's hard to work out a title for Matthew Albert. First we refer to him as a 'community worker', then qualified lawyer, photojournalist, social advocate... and now Young Australian of the Year, Victoria. The fact is Matthew does many things for many people - and, even if we tried to list them all, we'd risk missing a few. He's co-founder of the Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning program (SAIL) - which has grown to include around 400 students, 250 volunteers and two campuses - and is founding director of the UN-associated Sudanese Online Research Association (SORA), which is now assisting with peace education in Sudan. Last year, he worked in Africa - the subject of some of his photography now featured in a Melbourne
AfricanOz: One of the reasons you've been selected as Young Australian of the Year Victoria is due to your outstanding advocacy and training work with the African Australian community. How important are programs such as SAIL to Australia's future?
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AfricanOz: Is there a need for service providers to (better) adapt to the
specific needs of different African Australian communities? Can you
suggest ways in which this might be achieved?
AfricanOz: What motivates you the most in your work with the local community?
This is especially true for one particular family. This family (with seven children) were the first family to greet myself and Anna Grace Hopkins (the SAIL co-founder) when we started the SAIL Program in 2000. We are both extremely fond of them and, to an extent, we keep SAIL going for their benefit even now when we have 250 volunteers and about 400 members of the Sudanese community attending the SAIL Program each week.
My other motivation is from my family history. My grandfather was a refugee. I think of all those who supported him and the immense contribution he made years later as a result of that support. I hope to be able to look back at SAIL one day and see that it too was a support base for new contributors to Australia.
AfricanOz: Is there anything in your background that sparked your specific
interest in Africa and Sudan?
AfricanOz: Given SORA's new role, working on peace education with the UN in South
Sudan - do you have any comments on the current peace agreement?
Peace, Love & Cows...
AfricanOz caught up with African Australian singer Ajak Kwai, currently performing in Melbourne. We started off by asking her about her earliest memories of singing...
Ajak Kwai recalls a childhood in South Sudan when villagers based near the Nile River would gather for ceremonies under the full moon. Although just a child, the compulsion to sing was too much for Ajak: "Even when I was sick and not supposed to go out, I'd go and attend these gatherings," she says. "I'd start a song and everyone would answer."
Like a lot of African music, Ajak's songs are both sad and uplifting: "Music is a way to deal with stress and sadness in Africa," explains Ajak. "Even when songs are sad you still want people to go out and have a good time."
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It's an attitude that sits well with Ajak when she performs her traditional Sudanese Dinka music for Australian audiences in Brisbane, Melbourne and her current home of Tasmania. Despite her own background as a refugee forced to flee the civil war in South Sudan, Ajak says, "I like to show Australian audiences good things about Africa. It's not all hunger, disease, troubles."
With an emotionally rich voice, Ajak's music is a fusion of traditional Dinka music with modern influences. She sings about important values in Dinka culture: love, peace and the all-important cows.
"Cows are wealth in Dinka culture," explains Ajak. "If you have money there, you don't put it in the bank - you buy a cow. They provide milk and butter. They are a way for men to attract girls and wives. If you don't have cows it is humiliating for your family. If a cow dies, people are upset."
The importance of cows has a strong influence on Dinka music, lyrics and language. Ajak remembers her uncle creating some fine music about his precious cows. Ajak would memorise these songs and teach them to others. "We never wrote them down. But I remembered them. Whenever people wanted to learn a song, they'd say, 'Let's go and look for Ajak. She will teach us'."
From an early age, Ajak was singing more than she was speaking.
But not everyone was so enthusiastic about her musical prowess. "My family discouraged me," she says. "But then I would sing and humm in my sleep. My brother and uncles thought I was crazy."
Eventually Ajak stopped singing for a time. The civil war badly affected her community in South Sudan during the 1990s and she had to move to the city, then to Sudan's capital Khartoum before finally leaving the last of her family to go to Egypt at the age of 18. There, she sang in a gospel choir before coming to Australia as a refugee in 1999.
Here, instead of singing, she dutifully threw herself into her studies: an AMES English language course and accounting studies at TAFE. But one day, class members were organising a ceremony and asked if anyone could sing:
She uses English, Arabic and Dinka language on her cd, but her music is a universal language that will appeal to everyone.
Focused on the Future
AfricanOz chats with award-winning research recipient African Australian Dr Kefyalew Mekonnen
The issue has affected Kefyalew for as long as he can remember. During his childhood growing up in Ethiopia's Nile Basin region, his mother told him stories about the great river 'Abai' (meaning 'father'). She spoke about tribes living beside the river and how people risked their lives to cross it - threatened by crocodiles and a heavy current.
"These stories fuelled my interest and imagination," says Kefyalew, "and when I finally convinced my father to take me there, I was overwhelmed by its sheer scale and size."
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His fascination grew when, during high school, his teachers explained how Egypt had built great civilsations using the Nile's resources. He found that while some 86% of the Nile River flow orginates in Ethiopia, less than 1% of it is used in that country. Egypt used the river to provide electricty and irrigation to millions, while Ethiopian farmers struggled to make a living. As he grew older, he discovered that plans to dam parts of the Ethiopian Nile were quickly quashed by countries further downstream.
The Nile became highly politicised - with Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt and the six Great Lakes countries engaged in lengthy debates and sometimes conflict over its use.
With a lack of political progress, Kefyalew became increasingly concerned with the lives of farmers along the river - without political change, how could the farmers best make use of what little water they had available?
He began his research on an informal level, collecting information on farming communities while he worked as an engineer in the Nile Basin. Then as a student in Australia, he studied environmental management, economics and ecological systems to broaden his understanding. By the time he was ready to do his PhD he was convinced that research on the Nile's resources would require a detailed study of not only the technical aspects of improving water use - but also an anlysis of the broader social, political, environmental and economic aspects. Each of these were interlinked.
"Not so", advised some of his university mentors. "You need to approach it from one angle." According to Kefyalew, "While one advisor wanted me to focus on the engineering aspect, another wanted me to focus on the environmental – or alternatively economic aspect. It took me a long time to convince people that all these issues were interlinked.”
After many years of developing and persisting with his ideas, he managed to complete the final draft of his PhD entitled “The economics of Nile River Water Resources Development Projects in Ethiopia: Socioeconomic, Environmental, Political and Transboundary Implications.”
His research involved studying Australia’s own water resources, including the Murray Darling Basin, and drip irrigation systems used locally and on major rivers around the world. Through this research, he discovered an irrigation system that could save water and result in a high yield and sustainable income for Ethiopian farmers. In fact the method could save up to 48 percent of water used to irrigate small cereal, vegetable, and traditional crops on a typical Ethiopian farm.
It was an important achievement for Kefyalew and he advises African Australian students in a similar situation to persist with their research. “If you know what you are working on is possible, trust your own instincts, draw on your own strengths. As long as you are clear with your proposal, you will eventually find someone interested in your research,” he maintains.
Despite his apparent confidence, it was an enormous suprise for him to receive the award. “I went to the seminar without having any idea. I couldn’t believe when they called out my name. I was shocked! I knew it was different but I didn’t expect that level of appreciation from people.”
Kefyalew is still surprised by his sudden success, but buoyed by the positive international interest in his research. He is currently engaged in discussions with international and local organisations about implementing the scheme, and is hopeful that positive change may come.
Even with the complex political debate surrounding the Nile’s water resources, Kefyalew is hopeful people will learn how to better manage and utilise what little water they have. “There should always be hope,” he says, “as long as people are working together to resolve the problem there is hope. What’s happening now (political meetings between Nile states) is encouraging, but ultimately we need to change our approach to how we use and manage water.”
In that sense Dr Kefyalew Mekonnen’s paper has something for all of us to learn.
The Right to Write
African Australian author and journalist, Edison Yongai, discusses his lifetime love of stories and writing - and its ultimate cost: being forced to flee his homeland of Sierra Leone. Edison is appearing at Sydney Writer's Festival.
I went to a village school in the east of the country, where you could hardly lay hands on a story book. Even though I really wanted to, there was nothing to read. The only way to get a story book was from the children of rich families - by stealing it or exchanging it for your day's lunch.
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In secondary school things were different. My first secondary school (Yengema Secondary School) was a Catholic school and was one of the best in the whole district. We were lucky that our teacher, by the name of Finnegan from Ireland, was the hardest-working English teacher I ever had. He would force us to pick out books from the school library, read them and write a report on them. By the end of the first year, I had read Cervantes' Don Quixote, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Kidnapped, Treasure Island, Shane, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and other books. I owe a lot to my school and English teacher, Edward Finnegan.
The first time I saw myself in print, I was a teenager. It was around 1976. I wrote a story called 'O Justice, Where Are You?' that was published in a magazine in the city, over 200 miles away from my village. It was about a rich man who killed a poor hunter's only son in a village, through careless driving. In court, because of his riches, the rich man was set free by the judge. The poor man and his family wept and wept, and found it hard to recover from the agony. When he could no longer bear the grief, the poor man took his old single-barrel hunting gun and left his village for the town. In the town he searched for the rich man's house - until, late in the evening, looking through a window, he saw the man and his family at dinner, laughing happily. He looked at the rich man's son. Remembering his own son, his tears began to flow. He raised his gun and aimed it at the boy, but couldn't pull the trigger. Instead he entered the house and held the family at gun-point, explaining he'd come for revenge - but he couldn't do it. He said even if he killed the rich man's son, his riches would not buy back his own son's life - and would only cause him more grief. He told the rich man he forgave him and was going back to his village to forget everything. While this was going on, the rich man's wife had phoned the police, telling them that a bandit had entered their house and was trying to kill them. The police arrived. The poor man, found in the house with a gun, was arrested. He was locked up for 10 years for attempted robbery. This just shows how corrupt our political system has been since the colonialists left the country right to this day.
After I'd written the story, I continued my studies to University. I then taught at a secondary school until 1987 when I was drafted into full journalism by the editor of the magazine that published 'O Justice, Where Are You?'. He was now publishing a weekly newspaper. I also wrote articles for magazines in London.
By 1996 everybody in Sierra Leone was tired of corruption and other vices of politicians. I and some of my colleagues decided to start a newspaper called THE POINT. My first objective as the paper's editor was to dig out and expose the corrupt activities of the government so as to ensure probity and fairness in governance. The articles I wrote after careful investigations backed by authentic documents, were not favoured by the government. In general African politicians don't like criticism of any kind; all they want is praise even when they do the wrong thing.
Because of this series of articles, I was arrested in my office by plainclothes policemen and detained in a mosquito-infested, dirty and congested cell for more than a week without charge. When I was taken to court I was refused bail. This is because in my country, Sierra Leone, there is hardly any distinction between the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary; they are all fused and the president can control the judges and magistrates at will.
I was then sent on remand at the maximum security prison and kept in solitary confinement for nearly a week. After a series of detentions and release, the government dropped the case, following pressure from the international community and human rights organisations.
I published my newspaper throughout, even when the rebel fighters invaded the capital Freetown and turned it into a pool of blood. When they invaded the city for the second time in January 1999, they burnt my residence and everything I owned - I lost more than a dozen manuscripts of novels, plays, short stories and poetry. When I fled and went to my wife's residence, they followed me there and burnt their house down. Finally I thought I had gambled with my life for far too long and I fled to neighbouring Guinea. There I wrote several articles for a local paper published in French.
In Guinea I was granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and was resettled in Australia in October 2001.
I have now had three books published by Macmillan Publishers in London: a novel 'Who Killed Mohtta?' and two children's books, 'Check, Come Here' and 'The Birthday Party'.
...Well, that's it. My time on the library computer is now up, and so I must go...
Copyright, Edison Yongai, May 2005
Worldly Reward for Marie-Bénédicte
This week we had a chat with remarkable Rwandan-born Australian Marie-Bénédicte whose work spans several continents, and who has lived through times of war, trouble, hope and peace. She recently received a major French award for her work in Australia.
Somehow you don't expect the recipient of one of France's highest honours to have such a gentle and giggly voice. But this is how Rwandan-born Australian Marie-Bénédicte Harrison comes across when we phone her for an interview.
"When I first read that the French Government was awarding me the Knight of the National Order of Merit title, I thought, 'Who am I to get this? Me - the little person!'" laughs Marie-Bénédicte, still overwhelmed even months after receiving the award. "But I am also very happy and honoured to be recognised."
It's a humble response from a woman who has spent so many years helping
"You don't do the kind of work I do to feel proud and be praised," she says simply. "You do it because you're human and other people are human as well."
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The desire to treat everyone as one big 'human family' is a conviction that has stayed with Marie-Bénédicte from a childhood growing up in Rwanda to living a remarkable adult life in Congo, England, Wales,Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Along the way, she has learnt a great deal about what it is to be human, and how, despite cultural differences, there is joy in sharing with others in the world.
"I love adapting to other cultures," says Marie-Bénédicte. "I love travelling. Knowing other people's ways in life and learning how to embrace their ways. You can learn from them and they can learn from you - it is give and take."
Marie-Bénédicte has harboured a desire to travel and share in other cultures since her birth. Her parents nicknamed her "Safari" (Swahili for 'journey') after she was born on the way to hospital in Rwanda. True to her name, during her childhood, she delighted in the country's diverse landscape of mountains, rivers, lakes and greenery. "Living in my country then was like listening to a beautiful symphonic poem," explains Marie-Bénédicte
However, it took a tragedy for Marie-Bénédicte to finally realise her ambition to explore the world outside. When civil war broke out again in the 1973, she was forced to flee to neighbouring DR Congo (then Zaire). After being accepted as a refugee by the United Nations, she began a new life in England. There, she married, had children, and over the years travelled, studied and worked in different parts of the world, eventually arriving to settle in Australia in 1986.
It was in Darwin that Marie-Bénédicte came to the attention of the French Government who, in July this year, presented her with France's second highest honour. The award was prompted by her years of work as Assistant to the Honorary Consul for France for the Northern Territory and as active member of Alliance Française where she taught. She has also performed extensive community work in Australia, including involvement with the United Nation's Women Group program to sponsor and help settle refugee women at Risk from Ethiopia, Sudan, Serbia Yugoslavia and other countries to Australia.
"It was such a rewarding program to work on," she says. "When your goal is achieved, and the people are satisfied, that is your best reward. Most of the women we brought here with their children (under the 'Women at Risk' program) are now doing really well - studying, working. To see them after what they went through before... the war and conflict they faced - it impacts on everything, the economy, depriving people of income, education, everything."
The tragedy of war and conflict is all too familiar to Marie-Bénédicte. After fleeing the harrowing Rwandan 'revolution' in the 1973, she again returned to a country in turmoil after the devastating Rwandan genocide in the mid-1990s. This time she faced another tragedy: the deaths of her own family members.
To Marie-Bénédicte, it was indescribable. "You can never get over it," she says sadly. "When I returned to Rwanda in 1994 & again in 1995, everyone in the country was silent. We were many looking for our family members You kept tripping over skulls... wondering 'Could be this my father's, my mother's, niece's or nephew's or any of my other relatives... or even friend's or neighbour's?' That feeling lives in you. It can never go away. You can never really recover from the emotional wounds of such a genocide."
Grieving in these situations is all the harder without the option of burials, funerals and other forms of closure. Marie-Bénédicte says sharing with others, including her surviving siblings living in Europe, helped her through her grief. "My two brothers, sister and myself are very lucky to have been living outside the county during the war," she says thankfully.
To cope with her grief, she also draws on her own internal strengths, forged during her childhood.
"I had a beautiful childhood in Rwanda," she says. "I was one of eight children but we were all very close and loving. That support gave me the best foundation in life. That gave me great strength, courage and determination. Being close to your parents is so important as a child. The values they teach you help you a lot in your adult life."
Having such a close family made Marie-Bénédicte cheerful, strong and resilient. Her friends and others in the community still know her as an optimist who will always try to make the most out of life.
Nothing can demonstrate this more than her recovery from an accident she had in Darwin over two years ago. The accident changed her lifestyle. But instead of giving up, she again drew on her childhood strengths: "I told myself: 'You have to keep going. To beat your condition instead of letting it beat you'. It doesn't help in these situations if you whinge and feel miserable - it makes you feel worse. It makes you an invalid. Instead I said, 'Thank God I'm still alive'. That kind of attitude, in addition to medical help is now showing rewards."
Eventually Marie-Bénédicte began to recover. "I got out of the wheelchair and onto a frame," she says. "Then I learnt to walk with two sticks. My speech returned to normal. Now I'm walking with one stick and everything's improving. "
Ironically, she says, one of the hardest challenges during her illness was spending months without working and having to 'rest up': "It drove me mad," she laughs.
Now healthy again, Marie-Bénédicte has thrown herself back into work and involvement with Darwin's friendly multicultural community. In addition to her work at the French Consular Agency, she's a member of the Alliance Française, the African Australian Friendship Association, and the Australia-China Friendship Society - as well as doing active volunteer work.
And - if you ask Marie-Bénédicte if she is planning on having a rest soon - she is likely to come out with another of her favourite philosophies: "You have one life," she says, "And you need to make it shine!"
Theatre of Life...
While Australia is shedding its clothes for a long, hot summer, accomplished Adelaide-based performer and writer, Sheela Langeberg (of Tanzanian Masai and Chagga heritage), is rugging up for a European winter.
With three book contracts on the boil and a major theatre and arts project coming up in Sweden, Sheela is again proving what people once told her was impossible: there IS an audience for African stories and theatre - and it goes way beyond the “ethnic market”.
“When I first came to Australia,” (in the 1990s), says Sheela, “I was told there weren’t enough people of African background to get an audience for my work, as if they were the only audience that would be interested.”
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Eventually, one agency agreed to interview her: “On the phone, they queried me about my surname – I explained it was Scandanavian” (Sheela’s husband is Swedish background). “However when I went into the agency for the interview, the secretary at the front desk almost dropped dead with disbelief when I told her I was Sheela Langeberg. “No – I’m waiting for a Swedish girl,” said the secretary. Then, without interviewing me, the agency said they would never be able to find work for me and turned me away.”
After the “appointment”, Sheila couldn’t speak, even to her concerned husband and two children. Instead she expressed herself by writing a poem called ‘Don’t worry about me’, containing lines such as “What you think I can do… you have no idea. I can do anything. I can make my bread from a bleeding stone…” and other lines that carried the pride, love and dignity of her African heritage.
“I have to thank that agency,” says Sheela cheerfully, “because that day I became a writer and poet.”
She went onto perform ‘Don’t worry about me’ to an Adelaide writer’s group, who encouraged her and, as her popularity grew, to audiences around the world.
But the real roots of Sheela’s writing career are not in Adelaide, but in a village near Moshi, at the foot of Tanzanian's towering Mt.Kilimanjaro - where she grew up and was educated. Sheela's parents belong to both the Chagga and the Masai people (with just a hint of Zulu and Somali!). Her mother's family were the descendents of Kilimanjaro's Chief of the Chiefs (Mangi Mkuu) Thomas Marealle who still lives today. Sheela says "he's a great ruler, storyteller and historian with strong connections to local singers and dancers."
So music and stories have always been a strong part of Sheela’s everyday life.
“From the beginning of the day, my mother would be sweeping the yard, chanting, singing and dancing while she worked,” says Sheela. “Then at lunch, grandpa would visit and tell us stories while we were waiting for our meal. After lunch, mother would sing another chant while she was washing… and so the day went on.
“We sing to everything in Tanzania. Even in school, we always sang and told stories – it was just a normal part of life for us.”
So entrenched in everyday life was singing, performance and dance, it wasn’t recognised as a “profession” to work in.
"My father always wanted us children to become doctors and lawyers," says Sheela, while "my mother wanted us to be good people, good parents, teachers and excellent market women."
With encouragement from her parents, Sheela eventually won a scholarship to Sweden where she decided to study law.
While Sheela is grateful for her parent's encouragement, and the strong education she received, she still had a creative urge for storytelling and performing. Over the years, she returned to Tanzania to work in teaching, and then to Sweden again, as a fashion model, before eventually marrying, having children and moving to Australia.
It was here that she went along to the Adelaide writer's group where she first performed her poem, ‘Don’t worry about me’. Later on, she was approached by a theatre director to audition in a play. She was also hired to perform African songs and lullabies at her children’s kindergarten.
It wasn't long before she was being asked to perform at fringe and theatre festivals in Adelaide and beyond. She wrote a play about her mother's life, called ‘Maija of Chaggaland’, which she performed at the international women’s playright conference held in Adelaide in the early 1990s.
It received a standing ovation and Sheela left the conference with six international bookings - including a run of the play in the US, Canada and Europe.
Since its premier at the conference, Maija Of Chaggaland has become a multi-award-winning play, which Sheela performs (on average) 100-150 times a year around the world, with translations into Swahili, Swedish, English and Chinese.
This is in addition to her many other works and plays - including an upcoming production of 'The Black Madonna' in Sweden, which she will work on with Swedish playwright Margarita Skantze. In addition to this play, Sheela will tour Europe and Mexico with 'Maija of Chaggaland', her smash-hit school production 'Ndito The Masai Girl' and other productions, including dance and drama workshops. Between all this she will fit in a return visit to Australia to tour her new school production 'SALMA-The Girl From Africa Roof' during Book Week.
All of which goes to show that African art and cultural talent are not just for the 'diaspora' but for everyone!
Back to East Africa...
On first impressions, Nairobi seems to have been overwhelmed by the ubiquitous billboard. The City Council has leased out advertising space of every single street light in the city and the journey from the airport passed in a blur of adverts, touting mobile phones, internet service providers, TV stations, business-class seats to international capitals, and luxury four-wheel drives. Not, perhaps, the products one might immediately associate with Africa, but all serve as indicators of deep changes emerging in African society. What seems to be changing Africa the most, however, is the mobile phone.
During my last visit in 2002, Kenyans had just elected a new government and there was a great deal of optimism about Kenya's future. Less than three years later, the same electorate had overwhelmingly rejected their new government's proposed new constitution in a referendum. This shift of power from leaders to the people was the subject of all the newspaper headlines on my arrival - Kenyans had removed their government then told the new one exactly what to do.
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On my first afternoon I asked about this empowerment when talking to a gardener in the compound where I was staying. He eloquently argued against his own government's policies, political intransigence, levels of corruption and ethnic small-mindedness - how they were stuck in a post-colonial generation of politics. Then, just as he was telling me that he had never finished primary school, his mobile phone rang - it was a call from his family, who lived on a small-holding some 400km north of Nairobi. One of their goats had been run over by a luxury four wheel drive.
It struck me that in three years, Kenyan society had changed to the degree that even the lowest levels of society were now fully engaged in their own society's political destiny. They had access to the latest information and could communicate with each other over vast distances. Advertising, newspaper headlines, TV stations, mobile phones: the new currency of Africa is information, now distributed instantly.
It was this factor that had most contributed to the polical changes now evident in the nation - in 2002, Kenyans had removed a government of 25 years' standing. It took them three years to reject another, in favour of a national rather than ethnic interest, backed by access to information to make powerful choices.
The mobile phone is changing Africa's economy as well as its politics. On a local level, a whole new industry for distributing electricity to people's phones has sprung up. Electricity is not widely available in Kenya, so mobile phone owners take their phones to a local kiosk, where enterprising individuals hook them up to a bank of car batteries. Somewhere in the back of the kiosk a small diesel generator powers the bank of batteries.
Passing through the Kenya/Tanzania border yesterday, money changers offered me Tanzanian shillings and a local sim card. A large number of vehicles now have a phone number painted down the side - I saw taxis, sand lorries, water delivery trucks, safari operators, bread and milk distribution vans with their numbers emblazoned in garish colours. Any industry that requires the distribution or transportation of anything now provides immediate access to their customers.
Mobile phone coverage now extends all the way across the bush from Nairobi to Arusha in northern Tanzania. The bus driver on our journey called ahead to let an agent know his arrival time so that we could proceed immediately through the border administration. On arrival in Arusha, we were met efficiently by our hosts even though we were running half an hour early. Yes, early!
My host is conducting research in remote villages, and told me how he can access his email on his Blackberry 100km from the nearest road in a local village. He described how the local herdsmen communicate by phone to inform other herders of good grazing and water. The local wildlife authority is distributing mobile phones to villagers who monitor vast areas of savannah whilst grazing their cattle in a 21st century battle against poachers and livestock theft.
Today in Tanzania there is a General Election - I observed orderly and peaceful queues of voters, and it is already clear that Tanzania will have a new president this time tomorrow. Africa is indeed changing - information about the context in which people live here is enabling Africans to make powerful decisions about their lives.
Carey Eaton is on a one month visit to Kenya and Tanzania. He is a Sydney-based director of Africa Associates.
Riding the Matatus
As in many African countries, Kenya's public transportation system relies on private enterprise - on every street one can find a ubiquitous 'matatu' to transport you around town and country.
Matatus are privately owned minibuses, and anyone who has visited Kenya will know that they are an integral part of the culture here: matatus are covered in colourful decor and paint, and carry incredibly loud sound systems that boom down the street.
Many of these matatus are genuine works of art, covered in portraits of rap artisits, politicians, folk heros, historical African figures, or cartoon characters. Popular portraits on matatus are Bob Marley, Snoop Dogg, Alicia Keys, Puff Daddy and Mike Tyson, although Nelson Mandela makes the odd appearance. Yesterday I saw a wonderful portrait of recently deceased John Garang of the Sudan People's Liberation Army emblazoned on a vehicle with R.I.P written on one side and 'Peace for our Neighbours' on the other. Matatus not only provide both art and social commentary ("No Romance without Finance' or 'Burn Rubber - Stop AIDS') but contribute slang to local languages and form an integral part of both the society and the economy.
Matatu operation is a highly lucrative business and the Matatu Vehicle Owners Association is a powerful political voice. Yesterday in Nairobi, Matatus parked across a major road causing traffic chaos for several hours to protest their rights.
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On further enquiry, it turned out that the rather surprising reason for their ire was that they were protesting the price of their protection racket. It appears that there are two protection rackets involving matatus - one run by the police and the other by an outlawed vigilante organisation known as Mungiki.
It appeared that the matatu owners were not happy to pay both the police and the criminal organisation simultaneously. According to their spokesperson, for each journey, a matatu driver would have to contribute KShs100 (about A$2) to the police and further down the road, they would have to make the same contribution to Mungiki.
Mungiki is a quasi-religious ethnic-based criminal gang, but it is also well known that certain politicians are well connected to Mungiki, who come in useful during elections or other occasions where a bit of arm twisting in society is deemed necessary by powerful individuals. During the last election, it transpired that 10 brand new military vehicles with expensive and sophisticated communications equipment were being driven by Mungiki members, despite the fact that the vehciles had just been shipped from Britain to the Kenyan military.
Mungiki members have been arrested and prosecuted for quite a variety of nasty crimes, including an incident during my last visit when 26 citizens were hacked to death in a public street for having resisted Mungiki's takeover of local security in a populated slum. Needless to say the police have not ventured into certain slums for several years where such vigilante groups control the territory.
Surprisingly, some local residents prefer Mungiki to be their 'police'. As the matatu drivers protest yesterday shows, the police are not really that different from the criminals, and for some people, paying a known network of criminals is better than hoping your tax shillings extend to having the police actually provide security in your neighbourhood. Mungiki is not the only local or ethnic vigilante or private militia group - some others include the 'Baghdad Boys', Jeshi la Mzee ('The Boss' Army) and Jeshi la Embakazi ('Army of Embakasi', a Nairobi suburb).
The consequence of not paying the police to drive your matatu is to have your matatu - and means of liveliood - impounded on a criminal charge, which often will be trumped up. That said, the police do not have much to invent when looking for reasons to arrest drivers and impound matatu vehicles.
Today's Daily Nation publishes two full pages of traffic misdemeanors by matatu drivers. It seems even the mobile phone has extended to community policing: if a member of the public spots an infringement, they can text the time, registration, location and nature of offence to a public free number.
This week's list involved some four hundred matatus, whose misdemeanours included 'Bribing policemen', 'driving on the pedestrian sidewalk', 'consuming drugs whilst driving', 'failing to stop after colliding with other vehicles', 'driving drunk', 'overcharging', 'insulting passengers', 'molesting passengers', 'not wearing a uniform', 'speeding at 160km/h', 'driving on the wrong side of the road', 'driving three abreast with other matatus' and 'playing deafening music'.
Perhaps due to Mungiki, the Police, or all the above, top of the list on more than sixty occasions was unsurprisingly 'failure to reach the stated destination'.
Carey Eaton is the Sydney-based director of Africa Associates. He can be contacted on email@example.com
The Dusty Foot Philosopher...
AfricanOz: How has Africa inspired your music?
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AfricanOz: How did you first get involved in hip-hop and rap, and how does it fit in with traditional Somali cultural forms?
But I could also relate it to what my (Somali) people have done for a thousand of years. There were doing a rhythmic type of poetry over a drum and this was really the same thing now made into a different format in a different part of the world – so, in that sense, I related to it - and in the sense that this was coming out of an oppressed people and a ‘struggle’ people made me also relate to it. And so hip-hop seems like a natural place for a poet from Somalia. Really, when you see me play my music live, you will understand that it’s really bigger than just hip-hop. We don’t just do rap music: my sound transforms Africa and my experience in traveling musically and makes it into one unique form.
The oral tradition and especially the poetic aspect of Somalia is huge. The Somalis were known by the ancient Greeks as the nation of poets. Everything to do with Somalia is reflected in poetry in our own language and so it is really a big deal for me to bring my sound to the western world so people to know how valuable this region is as far as the intellectualization of music is concerned, as far as poetry goes, and as far as people who are affected go… Somalis have existed for as long as they have, but they have only written their language in 1972, so before that everything was encoded and installed in the memory bank of the language of the people so it is still important that you tap back into your ancestry and the language. And I come from that part of the people and my lineage is that of those people who uphold the poetry of Somalia. I grew up on them and I was fed wisdom in words just as much as I was fed food when I was younger. I learned. I know my grandfather’s poetry and I know my favorite poets. I know what they said. It is part of me.
K’naan: Sobba is the song that I wrote directly confronting the (Somali) warlords, the people who caused this destruction back home - my community and my country addressing them without the least bit of fear… You know, saying directly to them: We need you to come of the country, not us be exiled because of your destruction, but you should be exiled. This is what it was.
K’naan: I know the message has reached them and I know that some of the big warlords who know my music and my sound themselves understand the truth in it. That is because the Somalis have a special connection to music and poetry. It is for us what led revolutions and it is for us what has stopped and put an end to war. Once people hear a truthful thing the least they will do is agree with it. AfricanOz: How did Somali refugees in Kenya react to you when you were filming the video clip to the song Sobba there?
K’naan: It was really powerful for me. The reaction was enormous. The people there - they don’t have the privilege of dealing with this in a sugarcoated or spoon-fed way. They are people who are completely and directly hurt by that struggle, who have been made to be refugees and who live in the border near Somalia and cannot go home. It is these people who needed to hear the song Sobba and the music that we made. They supported, chanted and followed it in thousands. That was great! I didn’t expect it.
There are two different reactions to my music from the Somali people. One is they are not ready to have their struggles, their pains, their own difficult time showcased to the world. Of course if I didn’t have to go through this process I had, if I didn’t have the pain already go through me and make it into music and sound I myself might have a problem knowing and learning my own destruction in the world wide media. Suddenly this pain that was personal and alone suddenly it is on television. It is hard to deal with that. There is that aspect of Somali people. BUT the majority are enormous supporters. Some of the biggest fans we have are Somali people.
I played in Djibouti about two weeks ago. When I was playing ‘Until the lion learns to speak’, the reaction you can’t imagine - the stadium was full of people who were singing and chanting along with me. They also knew Sobba and the poetry that we did in my show - they knew the words. It always gets across well whether for a Western audience or for Somali people. AfricanOz: Can you explain your album title, The Dusty Foot Philosopher?
K’naan: The Dusty Foot Philosopher is talking about my friends and neighbors back in Somalia. We were from a poor and especially violent part of Mogadishu - and the kids over there, because of the struggles and because of living in these tough conditions, had developed a different sensibility to the way they think about the world. These kids were especially poetic and philosophical. We would sit around over the top of these abandoned buildings in my neighborhood and we would think about the world and the universe and beyond - although we were in the middle of violence. We would look at the sky and talk about the galaxy and what is beyond without having the ability and the privilege to be in school. These were the dusty foot philosophers a sort of dedication to the sort of uneducated philosopher, but inspired philosopher.
We would talk about - these kids were the masters of language at the young age – “if I had this and this, this is what my life would be like. If you were out of this struggle what would your responsibility be to the people”. And this was the sort of conversation between eight-year-old kids.
‘I was not born in Australia, but I got here as fast as I could’, declares a poster outside the office of Sudanese refugee Simon Pabek.
Simon is unsure which year it was he watched government soldiers bludgeon his father to death with a piece of timber. Simon’s father, Pabek, lived with his family in a village 24 kilometres from Rumbek City and was a figurehead in the Dinka tribe. Villagers who were worried about their family or livestock would ask Pabek for advice. In the early 1970s, Pabek supplied cows to Rebel soldiers, not wanting to risk his family’s safety by refusing the soldiers’ demands for food. Government soldiers then rounded up 22 men who had helped the Rebels and murdered them at Pabek’s property.
One soldier, named Makur, who grew up in the southern village but had betrayed his tribe to fight for the north, knew Pabek and tried negotiating for his release. He failed. Pabek was sat on a chair, his wrists were tied together behind his back and his head bashed. Others begged for a quicker death but were told shooting them would be wasting bullets. Simon remembers the soldiers’ warning when the killing had finished ‘If you bury them we will kill you’.
‘Our house has become like a mass grave,’ Simon said.
Simon, now 38 and living in Newcastle, has tracked down the phone number of an Al O’Beid church in which Makur is involved and has organised a meeting with him. ‘This war is strange,’ Simon said. ‘Makur used to be a bad guy killing people but now he’s chosen the church. Makur tried to save my father that day. I want to know on what day and in what year my father died. I’m not sure if Makur will remember me.’
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Since 2003, Simon, who is employed as an African refugee worker at Newcastle’s Migrant Resource Centre, has helped settle more than 400 Sudanese, around 60 Liberians and small numbers of Burundis, Rwandans and Somalis into Australian life. He organises schooling, housing and Centrelink payments, and he translates for those who cannot speak English, such as mother of five Bakheta Alio, 32, who attends weekly English classes at Newcastle’s Multicultural Neighbourhood Centre.
‘It’s really hard for me to see my kids needing help and know that I can’t give it to them,’ Bakheta said with the help of a translator. ‘When I’m sick or one of the kids is sick it’s hard to talk to the doctor, I always need an interpreter.’
Simon, like his father, is a person who fellow community members ask for help, but with one difference. ‘My father only had to deal with Africans—I have to know about Australian culture as well,’ Simon said.
Many of the new arrivals have spent up to two decades in refugee camps. Some do not know how to use a microwave or cooker. Some are widows who have several children to care for and after years of bartering do not know the value of budgeting.
Amer Manyoun, 41, pays $265 a week in rent for a three-bedroom house in New Lambton that sleeps herself, five children and her nephew, Majak. ‘This house isn’t big enough but the rent for the bigger houses costs too much,’ Amer said.
Amer’s family has adapted quickly to Newcastle life. Her daughter Achingol, nine, went to a classmate’s birthday party recently. Her oldest child Akolde, 21, works at the nearby IGA supermarket. Majak plays basketball for the St Pius High School team while Aliir, 15, and Deng, 13, won soccer trophies playing for Broadmeadow Magic—Deng helped his side to a minor and major premiership in 2004. ‘Soccer costs me a lot of money, with shoes and registration,’ Amer said.
Amer’s children became fatherless when Amer’s husband Mayom, a Rebel commander, was killed in 2000. A 1993 photograph of a smiling Mayom in his khaki uniform with his machine gun dominates the Manyoun’s lounge-room wall. Mayom went off to fight in the war that year and Amer moved her family to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. It was in this camp she met Simon in 1997. Simon had fled Sudan after Arab-Muslim workmates associated him with the Rebels. Kakuma refugee camp housed 70,000 mostly Sudanese refugees, none of whom could escape malaria, cholera and malnutrition.
Simon, an African-Christian who finished his law degree in Sudan’s peacetime, had left behind his pregnant wife Athiang and four-year-old son, Pabek. ‘Every morning when I woke up and walked past the cemetery there would be someone getting buried, and sometimes there were five or six people being buried,’ Simon said.
Simon visited Amer daily until he flew to Australia in 1998. One year later, Simon’s wife joined him. She now works 15 hours a week helping Sudanese children at schools around the Hunter Valley.
When Amer arrived in Newcastle in 2003, Simon helped connect her electricity and telephone, and he still assists wherever he can. ‘Simon never says he is too busy,’ Amer said.
Director of the Migrant Resource Centre, Violetta Walsh, said Simon’s role at the centre and his experiences make him a shrewd leader of Newcastle’s Sudanese. ‘I think he would be uncomfortable with the tag of leader,’ Ms Walsh said. ‘Being a leader is very dangerous. He has to lead without being seen to lead. He’s more of a driver who has lots of contacts in, and gets a lot of loyalty from, the community.’
Ms Walsh said Simon’s role working with Newcastle’s Sudanese, who are outside their cultural comfort zone, was particularly hard because they are impoverished. ‘Differences really matter when you’re marginal—it’s that competitiveness that comes when you’re scratching around for the scraps on the floor.’
Newcastle, a ‘Welcome Town for Refugees’, accepts around 100 people a year from a dozen countries. Two thirds are African-Christian Sudanese displaced by civil war. The town’s rapidly growing Sudanese community was threatened in 2004 when the Patriotic Youth League (PYL), the Australia First Party’s youth arm, dropped leaflets into letterboxes describing Sudanese as ‘gang bangers’ and promoting an anti-Sudanese rally. The PYL also ran an ‘Australian Unis for Australian Students’ campaign with PYL founder Stuart McBeth, 23, arguing that overseas students should not displace local students. McBeth has also protested against the Newcastle chicken-plant, Steggles, for employing refugees. Only a dozen people attended the PYL protest while 900 Novocastrians attended three separate counter rallies.
Simon, who has recently applied to Newcastle University to study law so he can practice in Australia, was one of several Sudanese representatives given a standing ovation by a 500-strong crowd at a welcome barbecue held for the Sudanese.
The author of this article, Phillip Thomson, 21, is a journalist for the Port Macquarie News. He has previously worked for three other Rural Press publications - the Maitland Mercury, Newcastle Star and Dungog Chronicle. He can be contacted at Phil.Thomson@ruralpress.com
From the land of inspiration.... DaaraJ
Over Easter and beyond, Australians have the chance to see Senegal's Daara J in action - including the upcoming show at Melbourne's Hamer Hall, and also NSW. This week AfricanOz caught up with the band, and asked them about their music...
AfricanOz: Some in the West associate hiphop with African Americans and find it hard to accept Africans doing hiphop - which they see as an adapted music.
For these people - how would you describe the African roots of hiphop and rap?
AfricanOz: What are some of the strongest influences on your lives and music, growing up in Senegal?
AfricanOz: Can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds - how did the band get together?
AfricanOz: How do you get the energy to perform such fantastic (and interactive) live shows?
AfricanOz: Your music has been described as a mix of hiphop, reggae, Cuban music, and more. How would you describe it personally?
AfricanOz: What is one of the best things about touring internationally as African artists?
Sydney friends free Burundi detainees
Freelance journalist Frederic Naboya (pictured, with fundraiser, Joan Pearson) writes to AfricanOz about a Sydney-based campaign to aid hospital 'detainees' in the central African state of Burundi.
The Prince Regent Hospital is Burundi's biggest and caters for people from all walks of life. When I got there, the director had been called for an urgent meeting, and couldn’t meet with me as initially planned. I was shown the different wards but was not allowed to interview the patients. I know the hospital very well myself, from being one of the patients there in the late 1980s.
I spoke to a few of them. One man, in his mid 50s probably, told me he had broken his leg the year before. He said he had been treated and was walking again. However, he was not allowed to go home, as he could not afford to pay about US$350 that he owed the hospital. I saw women, men and children - all who told me the same story: they were feeling much better but could not be released until they had paid their bills. Some of them owed as little as US$30. Their relatives had to keep bringing them food and clothing. Worse, some people were not allowed to bury their relatives for the same reason.
It was a heartbreaking experience for me, I was angry and upset: being poor and sick amounted to a crime in Burundi. There was resentment everywhere you went, and questions were being asked about the government’s priorities. To many, the authorities were too corrupt and insensible to the plight of the population, as they were busy buying luxury cars, that they ironically referred to as “medical centres”. It is estimated that the cost of one 4-wheel drive is higher than building a medical centre. At the same time, mansions were mushrooming everywhere in Bujumbura, the capital city. Sadly, this was the case: people were not and are not still released from hospital until their bills are paid.
Landlocked and with very limited resources, Burundi is one of the least developed countries in the world. Last year, it was ranked 3rd least developed country by the United Nations Development agency. With a size of almost one third of Tasmania, Burundi has a population of over 7 million people. According to recent research, more than 60% of the population live below the poverty line. The life expectancy is 42 years for men and 44 years for women.
In the early 1990s, the government of the time legislated that hospitals should be autonomous, in an effort to generate revenues and improve the quality of the services they provided. Hospitals and other medical institutions therefore had to adopt a more rigorous and responsible strategy to maximise their income.
The other objective was that in the medium term, the government would reduce its subsidies, which heavily weighed in on its budget.
Government subsidies have nowadays dwindled while the medical needs of the population have rather dramatically increased. A medical was introduced as an alternative to help low-income earners meet their basic medical needs. Initially, the government was to cover 80% of the costs. However, there have been numerous reports that the government has not paid its share, and this has created a bigger hole in the hospitals' coffers. Against this background, it is clear medical institutions have been given two incompatible missions: social and economic. On the one hand they have to provide medical care even to those who cannot financially support themselves. On the other hand they have to generate their revenue in order to keep functioning. Human rights groups and other non-government organisations have been calling on the authorities to make this issue a priority.
When I returned to Australia, I was given an opportunity to speak on the subject at my Rotary club (Rotary Club of Sydney CBD). After the session, Kaye Gordon, a fellow Rotarian, approached me and told me she had a good friend, Joan Pearson, who could help organise a fundraiser for those “detainees”. It was like a huge burden off my shoulders. A couple of months later, we organised a planning meeting between some of us from the Rotary club and Joan. At first I did not know how to start the conversation with Joan.
She then told me about the passion she has for animals, and all of a sudden I thought about Debby Cox, who now works for the Jane Goodall Institute in Uganda. I shivered when she told me that a few months earlier, she had organised a fundraising dinner for Debby’s projects in Uganda. Debby and I met when she was still working in Burundi in the early 1990s, and our friendship has grown so strong that I now take her for my Australian sister. A bond was then established between Joan and myself.
Joan is a caring, humble person, and a very quiet achiever. Over the past few years, she has raised more than $400,000 to help suffering animals around the world and raise awareness about our environment. No wonder she won the 2005 top Animal Welfare Campaigner Award, presented by the International Fund for Animal welfare (IFAW). At the meeting Joan kindly organised a gala dinner at her home in Mosman. She provided food and drinks free of charge. She even decided to replace the labels on the wine bottles with the Burundian flag. It was a memorable night for me, as this was the first event held in Sydney to help Burundi in the past ten years I have been living in this country. I was moved by the generosity of those who supported the event, including those who donated items for auction. It was a wonderful night during which more than $15,000 was raised. A tremendous effort by Joan Pearson and her army of helpers, and who will forget the entertainment provided by Kaye Gordon, who set it all in motion?
Thanks to this amazing effort, 52 people detained at Prince Regent Hospital were released. A fantastic way to start a new year for them, and certainly a great sign of hope for most of us, that there is always help in times of adversity.
Journalist Frederic Naboya can be contacted at email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dereb's Making Music...
Just back from performing at WOMAD in England, Ethiopian Australian musician Dereb Deselegn chats about his Ethiopian azmari musical roots, the importance of traditional music, and his joy in playing at an Aussie footy match.
MELBOURNE AFRICAN COMMUNITIES ‘KICKING ON’ TOGETHER
Last Month, freelance journalist Saeed Saeed, originally from Eritrea, attended a community day aimed at breaking down barriers between different Horn of African communities in Melbourne – an initiative that has led to community members sharing their problems and working together.
Mbamba heads UN centre in Australia
Tanzanian national Abdullah Saleh Mbamba is the new Director of the United Nations Information Centre in Australia. In this special conversation with AfricanOz, he reveals his thoughts on Darfur, the term of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, African poverty, and his own unique background as a journalist and international diplomat.
Life on the move...
Since arriving in Australia from an African refugee camp six years ago, Sudanese Australian model Abang Othow has barely stopped to take a breath. First there was self-education, TAFE, work in clothing stores. Then a highly successful career as an international model, stints on TV, studying at university, seeking out and finding her mother she hadn't seen in 17 years, raising money for countless NGOs... Not that Abang is ready for a rest yet. Right after our interview she's rushing off to help her community organise a funeral.
Telling the stories of Africans...
Award-winning Australian journalist & author Sally Sara spent five years living and working as a foreign correspondent in Africa - covering issues and events such as the Rwandan Genocide, conflict in Sudan and HIV/AIDS. Despite these challenges, Sally retains a sense of warmth and hope for the continent. Here she relates some of her thoughts and experiences.
Message of peace: All Stars' powerful tune
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars formed in a Guinea refugee camp and rose to international fame following the award-winning documentary, 'The Refugee All Stars'. They play powerful West African music, roots reggae, rhythmic traditional folk with a touch of rap. We spoke with the band's youngest member, the remarkable 19 year old Black Nature (Alhaji Jeffrey Kamara, pictured with other band members at right).
Message from th' Motherland
One of Africa’s newest reggae stars, Shasha Marley from Ghana, is now touring Australia with his 8-piece band (pic: SHANE ROZARIO). See What’s On page for tour dates. AfricanOz caught up with him in Sydney, asking him about reggae, religion and his love for ‘the motherland’.
Building new life from Zimbabwe's stone
Zimbabwean stone sculpture artist and permanent Australian resident, David Jamali is no stranger to electoral tension. He was previously at the helm of Zimbabwe’s Human Rights Association, and – since coming to Australia in 2002 – has managed African and East Asian development programs for Oxfam and now World Vision. In that time he’s seen how corrupt or unstable states can wreak havoc on the human condition. But he’s also seen how people can rise above adversity and carve out a new life for themselves.
~ Rhythms cross the Ocean
It's said that the Indian Ocean nation of Seychelles has one of the smallest populations in Africa. But listening to Seychelles-born Grace Barbé sing, you can only marvel at the repertoire. Like her mixed African, European, Asian heritage, Grace is drawn to diversity -- fusing Afro funk, reggae, soul with the distinctive rhythms of her native Kréol (Creole) culture. It's a journey that has seen her transformed from a Perth schoolgirl with "no real interest in cultural roots" into a successful modern musician keen to "explore and deliver traditional culture through my music."
‘Playing from the heart’ Asim Gorashi
When celebrated African Australian musician Asim Gorashi performs on stage, it is with the pulse of the Blue Nile running through his veins.
Serious Laugh: Muj Ahmed
He’s Australia’s best known Sudanese stand-up comedian (“by default” he jokes), and regards himself as half African half Australian (“I mean I could easily run 100 metres in 11 seconds… but now I just can’t be bothered”) – but beneath the humour are hard-hitting messages influenced by his work with African refugees and encounters with racism.
Seeing the Sahara in Oz
AfricanOz Can you tell us something about how and why the band got together?
So African... So Chic...
Hovering over a pocket radio shared between 12 brothers and sisters – in a humble African village house devoid of TV – it must have been hard for a young Antoinette to imagine she’d one day be a professional model, with designer clothes, international travel and a face to grace magazine covers.
AfricanOz: In a sense you're from musical 'royalty' - but you still sing for the common man in Africa. How do you maintain that rage about people's everyday challenges?
You can order Seun Kuti's CD at africanozshop.com see below:
For more about Seun, see www.myspace.com/seunkuti
Chat with Ladysmith Black Mambazo
AfricanOz: For a long time you've remained one of the most popular African groups on the world stage. How do you explain your enduring appeal?
Community profile: Rosemary Kariuki
"I grew up with so much love," she explains - referring to her childhood on a farm in the Kenyan town of Eldoret. "We lived 40-50 people in one house. We shared everything we had."
A defining taste of Ethiopian jazz…
Westerners who are fond of Africa sometimes have defining moments when they go ‘crazy’ for African culture; finding an artwork, a tasty new dish or a song played on the radio that inspires them to learn more, taste more, hear more…
Visiting jazz legend
AfricanOz briefly caught up with ‘the father of Ethiopian jazz’, Mulatu Astatke, during his visit to Melbourne Jazz Festival 1-8 May 2010, where he performs with Melbourne's Black Jesus Experience. He’s widely credited as the musical genius who integrated “jazz” with Ethiopian music in the 1960s, sparking an exciting genre of music that took the country by storm and eventually attracted international attention as 'Ethio Jazz'. As a young man, Astatke initially left Ethiopia to study engineering, and later returned to Ethiopia from the UK and USA with degrees in music. Over the years he’s lived and worked in various countries, developing a huge following that has seen him perform with the likes of Hugh Masekela, Fela Kuti, the late Mariam Makeba and other African greats.
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