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Video: Sonny Rollins, 1959

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For me, what sets Sonny Rollins apart from all other tenor saxophonists in the 1950s is how he makes you feel as soon as he starts to play. For some reason, Sonny's sound instantly forces me to stop and listen and makes hits my heart and mind, making me more emotionally aware. A feeling of seriousness comes over me and I pay hard attention to what he's playing. As much as I admire John Coltrane, this doesn't really happen to me with his work in the 1950s. It's not until the early 1960s, on the Impulse label, that Coltrane articulates his vision on his terms and makes me listen hard. pay attention.

Sonny pioneers this soulful, intellectual approach as early as 1953, starting with the Thelonious Monk Quintet album for Prestige. By 1959, the sound of Sonny and his articulation was akin to the penetrating voice of a minister advocating for civil rights. civil right minister. The same way that Martin Luther King's gentle, almost musical lilting voice in speeches can still grab our ear and galvanize us today, Sonny's saxophone in the 1950s holds that timeless power over me.

To show you what I mean, watch this video and be aware of how you feel the moment Sonny starts to play Weaver of Dreams in 1959. See what I mean?... 1959...

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2 days ago
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Traveling while African and trying to appease the visa gods

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African passports don't travel very far.

I had spent close to a week in Bangladesh presenting and participating in the Dhaka Literature Festival in November 2015. After the trip I took a few days off to tour Singapore and Malaysia—both of which I fortunately did not require a visa in advance. My return flight to my hometown—Nairobi—would transit through Istanbul. There was an unavoidable 24 hour lay-over that the airline would compensate me for in the form of a 5-star hotel room during my long wait. I got to Istanbul—exhausted and eager to get to my nice cozy hotel room, shower and sleep off my jetlag before my long trip to Nairobi.

Airline officials assured me that all I needed to do was get my one-day transit visa for Turkey from a little machine. The first question on the screen read “Are you a citizen of the USA, UK, Germany, France….Chile, South Africa?”

I am a Kenyan citizen.

“Are you holding a valid visa for USA, UK, Germany…, Chile, South Africa?”

Uhhmm. No. I am generally issued with 10-day visas, two-week visas, a one-month visas for certain countries if I am very lucky.

 I have been a ‘Good African’. I came. I did what I had to do and when the time to leave came, I left. The next message on the screen read, “Unfortunately you are not eligible for a transit visa.” Just like that I realized that my Turkey experience would be lived at the airport. I got back to the information counter sad at the realization that a valid Chilean visa was more readily accepted than my Kenyan passport.

I was led to a huge football stadium of a bedroom—filled with other black people, brown people and some Arabs – those of us passport undesirables. I was shown my makeshift bed, given a pillow and a thin blanket. “You can stay here till your flight, tomorrow.”

It made me think of all the indignities I and so many other Africans suffer at the hands of immigration officials.

The room at Ataturk airport, Istanbul the author calls 'The Ebola holding pen'.

The room at Ataturk airport, Istanbul the author calls ‘The Ebola holding pen’.

Caine Prize finalist Nigerian writer—Elnathan John—captured it well in a recent series of tweets. “A good African traveler is one who returns. One who leaves Europe or America quickly. The embassies love them. Good African doesn’t move.”

I have been a ‘Good African’. Back in 2005, I went to the US on a student visa. I graduated with a degree in finance and moved back home after graduation—driven by a passion to work in my own country. I came. I did what I had to do. I was thankful for the opportunity to stay within your borders and when the time to leave came, I left.

So, why is it that every time I want to come back, you still doubt I will leave? Have I not yet proven I have no long-term intentions in your countries? And what if I did? Am I a criminal for wanting to live elsewhere? Or is it my muddy feet, you fear will dirtify your white couches? I will clean them at the door.

“It has become like a criminal act for an African to openly admit planning to move to another country,” says Elnathan John. “We are made to swear we won’t stay. When a European or American wants to move to “Africa”, they don’t apologize. They say it with pride.”

 As I was denied entry onto my flight from Sao Paolo to Lima, people watched, probably wondering what crime I had committed. A few years back I went on a solo backpacking trip through South America. It took me around three to four months—and lots of embassy visits to obtain my visas for Brazil, Chile and Argentina. Peru was part of my itinerary but I could not get hold of the embassy—however much I tried. I was assured by the other embassies I would be able to obtain a visa on arrival in Peru.

They were wrong.

As I was denied entry into my flight from Sao Paolo, Brazil to Lima, Peru everyone watched probably wondering what crime I had committed to be pulled aside like that. These are the indignities of having certain passports. I was rerouted to Bolivia—where I could get a visa on arrival. My Machu Picchu plans came to an end. Another injustice at the hands of the visa gods.

In Buenos Aires, the wonderful friends I had made from Germany, UK and Australia one day suggested visiting Montevideo, Uruguay for the day. It’s only four hours away by boat. I told them I would not be able to join.

“Why? You need a visa for Uruguay? Can’t you just get it on arrival?”

“No my friend. I sometimes believe that Africans will need visas for heaven too.”

I was filled with self-pity as I saw myself through their pitying eyes. I was the poor relative from the village who comes to the big city and should be grateful just to be in the big house with my city relatives. When the city relatives come to my village, we slaughter a goat for them, line up the traditional dancers—they can stay forever—because we are humbled and honored to have them.

 I’ve never had passport privilege—never imagined I could move to your country on a whim, as an expatriate with all the trapping it brings. I have never had passport privilege—never imagined I could move to your country on a whim, became an expatriate with all the trapping it brings. I have never thought of flying to another country under the assumption I would figure out how to get in once I landed. I try to sympathize when I hear you complain about how difficult it is to get a work permit in my country.

At most airports, I feel inadequate pulling out my Kenyan passport. Even armed with visas, you are never safe. A visa will not ensure you entry into a country. You still have to deal with the surly immigration official who will suspiciously ask, “And what are you here to do?” You will turn into a babbling fool pulling out your envelope with accommodation reservations, letters from your employer, bank statements, photocopies of each and every document that proves you are you. Everyone else will brandish their US passports, UK passports, Swedish passports.

Sometimes you will see other Africans – my fellow Nigerians with their distinctive green passports, Congolese passports, sometimes the odd Somali passport or two and several times those with no passports, but asylum papers or other travel documents that make you remember you are fortunate to have a passport. We will all give each other that knowing look “Bon courage!” You will also have that Nigerian traveler with the thickest “Naija” accent who just in time pulls out a British passport and you feel a tinge of jealousy knowing he was one of those lucky ones whose mother gave birth to him in the UK when they still gave citizenship at birth. Lucky guy. It’s the same feeling when you are in a restaurant and everyone pulls out their iPhones then you pull out your Motorola T190. These African passports will shame you.

In that massive bedroom in Ataturk airport in Istanbul that I fondly named the Ebola Holding Pen, I overheard great conversations. The Congolese on their way to university in Russia. The Nigerian garment traders who were linking each other to “Uche” who will show you all the good Nigerian shops in Istanbul. I thought of the resilience of us passport undesirables. Here were people traveling on passports even less powerful than mine—doing business, going to far-flung cities close to Siberia for higher education, supporting local Nigerian businesses in Istanbul.

Immigration will not stop—many of these people have no intention of staying on in your country indefinitely. They are seeking better opportunities and will eventually move back home. They are trading. They are working. Some will stay. If they do, is that the end of the world? How many of you were born in the same country as their great-grandparents? Migration is natural. The birds do it. The bees do it. Humans do it.

With President Obama’s call during the UN General Assembly meetings, “The existing path toward global integration requires a course correction. We need to work together to see the benefits of integration are more broadly shared.”

What I ask. “Is this integration meant to be a one-sided affair? Integration for the superpowers, free flow of labor for the wealthier countries and acceptance of the status-quo for the rest of us—the poor relatives?”

I say no.

The problem is I saw the world and now I feel I have a right to it as much as everyone else does, but the little injustices keep on reminding me to get back into my corner and stop trying to get into your borders. We have seen the world – and we want to be fully included in it – with dignity.

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4 days ago
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Seriously ridiculous and ridiculously serious

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Two things got my goat this past week. One was seriously ridiculous and the other was ridiculously serious. Let me start with the seriously ridiculous thing. I know we are into dangerous territory when the President of the Republic starts dressing up funny.

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5 days ago
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Decolonizing African studies

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The team at Democracy in Africa has done a major public service by putting together a very long reading list of articles on African issues by African scholars.  I’m reproducing it here.  If you need access to a gated article, just let me know and I’ll see if I can get it through Berkeley.  Other useful resources include the Oxford Bibliographies list for African studies and African Journals Online.

Filed under: Africa, Agriculture, Articles, Books, Conflict, Development, Education, Gender, Governance, History, Religion, Urbanization

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7 days ago
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Between The Egg And Grain: If Africa Learnt To Feed Its Chickens It Could Feed All Its People

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AFRICA, which imports nearly 83% of the food it consumes, has a real chicken and egg problem. The continent is caught between pressure from imports in some countries and an inability to meet demand in others.

Africa’s chicken crisis is an expression of overall weaknesses in its agricultural system. If Africa cannot raise its grain production it cannot expect do well in increasing its chicken output.

It is a complex problem. Producing chickens requires low-cost feed such as corn. Yet producing grain to meet human needs remains one of the continent’s most pressing challenges. Africa’s urban populations, for example, are growing faster than the continent can produce grain. This has contributed to Africa’s shift from being a net food exporter to being a net food importer.


A food market in Tanzania. (Photo/Fintrac Inc.)

The inability to ramp up grain production has affected Africa’s ability to feed its people as well as its chicken. Its imports for grain as well as chicken have been rising as a result. Its import of poultry products is estimated at $3 billion a year.


South Africa is the continent’s largest chicken producer. According to the South African Poultry Association, chicken imports from Brazil, the European Union and the US are destroying the domestic sector.

The South African Poultry Association’s chief executive officer, Kevin Lovell, has been quoted as saying that

South Africa has the capacity to grow its own chickens at a far cheaper rate compared to most countries in the world. However it is unable to do so due to imports.

South Africa has a trade agreement with the US which allows for tariff-free quotas of key agricultural products. One of these is chicken from the US. This is done in exchange for preferential trade under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

With increased imports following the trade agreement, additional imported chicken has been added to the South Africa market. This has led to oversupply and price reduction. This may benefit consumers, but it undercuts incentives for local production.

In much of the rest of Africa the problem is different.


Population growth, urbanisation and changing diets have over the last 20 years shifted African meat consumption away from beef to pork and poultry. According to some estimates, chicken now accounts for nearly half of the meat consumed in Africa.

The supply of poultry has not kept up with the demand, which is in turn pushing up prices. This may sound like good news for those able to invest in the sector. For example, Bill Gates has estimated that a farmer breeding five hens could generate up to $1,000 a year, which is above the $700 poverty line. As a result, he has pledged to donate 100,000 chickens to kick start poultry farming in sub-Saharan Africa.

The demand for chicken in countries such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania is projected to rise significantly over the next decade.

Chicken prices in those countries are already prohibitive given the fact that large sections of the population live on less than $2 a day. Chicken prices range from $5 to $8 a kilo. The challenge now is finding ways to increase production while competing with imports.


At face value the situation looks like an opportunity for entrepreneurs to align production with the rising demand. The challenge, however, is more deep-rooted. The factors (such as poor infrastructure, low investment in research, limited technical training and a lack of farm incentives) limiting poultry production are similar to those affecting the rest of the agricultural system. In fact, countries with more advanced agricultural sectors such as South Africa, Egypt and Morocco are the ones that lead the continent in poultry production.

The solution to Africa’s chicken crisis lies in upgrading agricultural systems overall. Here are the major limitations:

  • Low-cost, high-quality feed. Expanding feed production involves investing in grain production, especially corn and soya. Research to increase efficiency and expand the range of feed sources will go a long way in helping to upgrade overall system.
  • The lack of starter stock (chicks and broilers bred specifically for meat production). Improvements in this area will require better breeding and extension programs akin to those needed for crops. Nearly 84% of chicken in Kenya is based on local breeds that have low levels of efficiency in converting feed into meat.
  • Disease control. The most common threat to chickens is Newcastle disease. But the frightening spectrum of new infectious diseases calls for more investment in livestock diseases in general and chicken diseases in particular. Disease control is a problem for both crop and livestock producers.
  • Poor infrastructure (especially energy, transportation and water supply systems) is a major barrier to the expansion of chicken production, especially in rural areas. A lack of cold storage facilities forces farmers to keep feeding their chickens instead of slaughtering and refrigerating them. They generally transport live chickens to markets, which raises logistical costs and increases concerns over disease transmission.
  • The lack of credit for producers. Countries that provide credit for crop producers to purchase seed and farm input have the opportunity to extend their incentives to chicken production. Most African countries lack such systems and it is unlikely that they will introduce them for poultry farming if they do not have them for crop production.

So far Africa can hardly feed its people. But even worse, it cannot feed its chickens so that it can feed its people. The chicken crisis is yet another reason why Africa must focus on getting its agricultural act together. The crisis is a warning to African leaders: they need to wake up with the chickens and act in time.

-From The Conversation

    The post Between The Egg And Grain: If Africa Learnt To Feed Its Chickens It Could Feed All Its People appeared first on Rogue Chiefs.

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    9 days ago
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    In Nigeria, we've lost to all of them

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    Losing Things
    The thief is an opportunist,
    The swindler is cunning,
    The armed robber is daring,
    The kleptomaniac is audacious.
    The thief makes a smash and grab,
    The swindler wins your confidence,
    The armed robber cares nothing for you,
    The kleptomaniac doesn’t know you exist.
    The thief picks a pocket or two,
    The swindler drains your coffers,
    The armed robber demands more than they can see,
    The kleptomaniac takes all that is there.
    The thief places no value on the thing,
    The swindler places no value on your trust,
    The armed robber places no value on your life,
    The kleptomaniac has no values, period.
    The thief has hands,
    The swindler has wits,
    The armed robber has weapons,
    The kleptomaniac has lawyers.
    The thief is probably petty,
    The swindler commits a fraud,
    The armed robber is a complete invasion,
    The kleptomaniac is always politically connected.
    The thief gets lynched,
    The swindler gets jailed,
    The armed robber gets shot,
    The kleptomaniac is untouchable.
    The thief begs,
    The swindler pleads,
    The armed robber dares,
    The kleptomaniac boasts.
    The thief you know,
    The swindler you trust,
    The armed robber you fear,
    The kleptomaniac you defend.
    The thief you catch,
    The swindler you snare,
    The armed robber you stalk,
    The kleptomaniac you love.
    The thief might skip with dozens,
    The swindler can access millions,
    The armed robber runs off with thousands,
    The kleptomaniac flaunts in billions.
    The thief is criminal,
    The swindler is again cunning,
    The armed robber is a brigand,
    The kleptomaniac responsible.
    In Nigeria,
    Here is the deal,
    Most laws would nab the thief,
    Some sleuths will trail the swindler,
    The military will shoot the armed robber,
    And we all party with and honour the kleptomaniac.

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    14 days ago
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