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African Startups Win FinTech for Agriculture 2015 Competition

Two African startups have emerged winners of a regional competition organised by Village Capital:

Village Capital today announced the first winners of its innovative program, East Africa: FinTech for Agriculture 2015. The program supports entrepreneurs in making financial services more affordable and accessible for smallholder farmers and other underbanked individuals in East Africa. It is supported by the DOEN Foundation, The MasterCard Foundation, and Duncan Goldie-Scot.

Over 65% of Sub-Saharan Africans do not use financial institutions or mobile money accounts to save or borrow money. Access to financial services can be especially difficult for smallholder farmers, often far from a financial access point. Furthermore, many promising early-stage entrepreneurs addressing this issue cannot find the resources they need to get off the ground.

Village Capital East Africa: FinTech for Agriculture 2015 provided these resources to 12 high-potential, early-stage entrepreneurs from across East Africa. The program also supported them through business development training, mentorship, and opportunities to meet potential customers and pitch to investors. At the end of the 12-week program, the entrepreneur-participants ranked each other on six criteria, and chose two companies to each receive a 50,000 USD investment. The two top peer-ranked companies are:

Atikus Insurance (Rwanda); expands access to credit by increasing the capacity of MSME lenders via reimagined insurance and technology risk solutions.

Farmerline (Ghana, expanding to East Africa); provides accurate and timely agricultural information to farmers and also provides technology to stakeholders to work better.

Second Most Spoken Languages in Africa

Don Osborne discusses a news feature on the Olivet Nazarene University website showing a map of “The Second Most Spoken Languages Around the World.” He points out key problems from the map:

The first issue is assuming that “The most spoken language in any country is often obvious; usually, it’s the official language of the country.” In Africa this often is not the case, if by “most spoken” one counts number of speakers. An example is Mali, whose linguistic profile was explored on this blog in discussing the long-tail of languages – Bambara is certainly more used than the official French.

Official language is a category that doesn't lend itself to ranking use of languages in Africa, beyond the (admittedly important) context of official use and its spillover to popular use. In the case of two countries at least, this runs into additional problems:
•South Africa has 11 official languages (the Olivet site incorrectly lists only one of them – Zulu – as official). So one of the official languages will be second most spoken. Perhaps that is Xhosa as indicated, but the model focusing on official languages hasn't worked here.
•Rwanda has three official languages (Kinyarwanda, French, and English), and Central African Republic two (Sango and French). Since the site doesn't consider these official languages in discussing second most widely spoken, it is reduced to stating that Swahili is “second” most used in Rwanda, and that indigenous languages are used in CAR – which doesn't tell us much.

Read part 2 of his discussion here.

Submissions Needed for White History Month 2015

Organised by Africa is a Country blog, White History month 2015 is coming next month:

Last March was the inaugural White History Month here on Africa is a Country, and without tooting too loudly on our own vuvuzela, it was kind of brilliant. So we’re going to do it again.

We featured stuff like Kathleen Bomani’s Leather from Human Skin in 1880s Philadelphia and pulled together a wide range of material, from Britain’s mass torture regime in 1950s Kenya to that time the South African government sent a delegation to the USA to find out how “reservations” worked.

If you would like to participate, you should:

Get in touch using editorial [at] africasacountry [dot] com and let us know what you want to write about. Take a look at what was featured last year to get an idea of what we’re looking for.

The Release of South Africa's “Prime Evil”: It's Time to Confront The Evil of Apartheid

Nicknamed “Prime Evil”, Eugene de Kock was the commanding officer a counter-insurgency unit of the South African Police that kidnapped, tortured, and murdered numerous anti-apartheid activists during apartheid era. He was recently granted parole after serving 20 years of his 212 prison sentence.

Pierre de Vos reacts to his release by arguing that it is time to confront the evil of apartheid, not only of De Kock who defended it:

What De Kock did was monstrous – far more monstrous than anything an ordinary beneficiary of apartheid did. Whether he deserves to be granted parole is, therefore, at the very least, debatable. But singling out De Kock as particularly evil is also comforting for those of us who benefited from apartheid and continue to do so because of its lingering effects.

It’s an archetypal example of “Othering”. We pinpoint one wrongdoer (the torturer in the attic) in order to obscure our own complicity in upholding and benefiting from the system in whose name De Kock committed his crimes.

Supporting the prosecution and conviction of De Kock and his continued incarceration, and insisting on depicting him as uniquely evil, allow us to avoid having to confront the fact that the system itself was evil through and through.

It helps us white South Africans who lived through apartheid (or whose parents did) to retain the idea that we were, for the most part, “decent” people – lawyers, accountants, government clerks, railway workers, doctors, school teachers, insurance brokers – who read and discussed the merits of good books and movies with friends, who went to the opera and the symphony concert, who swooned over the yodelling Briels, who cried when that dog was killed in that children’s movie, who treated our servants with condescending kindness. In our own minds we would never, ever deliberately endorse cruelty and violence towards others.

Yet, we benefited from the system whose very raison d’être was to oppress and exploit others and to uphold and defend the sham superiority of whites and what is ironically termed “Western civilisation” – the same “civilisation” that produced Hitler, Stalin, Vietnam and Iraq, and embraced and benefited from slavery and colonial oppression.

Talking Heads Project Showcases What is Extraordinary About People in Africa

Talking Heads is a project of the Africa Centre, a non-profit cultural organisation based in Cape Town, South Africa. Talking Heads produces audio casts and short films, which are freely available on YouTube and iTunes:

The Africa Centre has designed an approach that identifies, showcases and creates opportunities for African “Thought Leaders”. Talking Heads profiles some of the extraordinary Africans making a meaningful and affirmative contribution to their communities, cities, countries, to the Continent and the world. Our approach provides a model that can be easily replicated anywhere in Africa and, with scale, may offer an alternative narrative of who and what we know about our Continent.

An Election Film Week in Lebanon to Say #NoToExtension of Parliament Term

What better than the seventh art to mobilize? In another effort to push for Elections in Lebanon and prevent an extension of the Parliamentary term #NoToExtension, Lebanese NGO Nahwa Al Muwatiniya (meaning Towards Citizenship) held an “Election Film Week”.

Six works from Chile, Iran, China, Ghana and the US, varying between documentaries and fiction are being screened between August 28 to September 2 at Cinema Metropolis (a theater promoting indie movies)  in collaboration with the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE).

On the Facebook Page of the event, where the programme is listed, the organisers note:

We have been struggling with a fragile democracy in Lebanon, ever since its independence. Today, more than in the darkest days of the civil war, the foundations of our democracy are at risk. But we’re not alone in this. The world is full of stories about the human struggle for self-determination and democratic participation. Broadening our perspective serves our effort to improve the quality of the political system in Lebanon. 

The films we picked share stories from different countries, all which portray the election process. Collectively, they reveal a combination of human values and ideals and the efforts politicians make to win an election.

To see a glimpse of the movies, check out the trailer posted on Nahwa Al Muwatiniya Youtube Page.

The current parliament extended its four-year stay for the first time in May 2013. And like a year before, various parties are supporting the move this time around under the pretext of security conditions.

The end of the parliamentary term comes amidst a period of turmoil in Lebanon. The country has lacked a president since May 25 after parliament failed to elect a new head of state and top officials could not reach political consensus. A general strike by syndicates demanding to approve a new enhanced wage scale for civil servants has threatened to paralyze the entire country. Lebanon has experience instability on both Syrian and Israeli borders after soldiers were kidnapped by members of Islamic militant organization ISIS.

Highway Africa 2014 Extends Deadline for Registration

The deadline for registration for the 18th annual Highway Africa Conference has been extended to Friday, 08 August 2014:

Due to the influx of interest in the 18th annual Highway Africa Conference, the deadline for registration has been extended to Friday, 08 August 2014.

The world’s largest annual gathering of African Journalists takes place at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, from 7 – 8 September 2014.

With the theme, “Social Media – from the margins to the mainstream”, the event will explore how social media have impacted on all aspects of our lives in the last ten years.

On Being Young, Black and Queer in South Africa

Leila Dee Dougan shares a music video from the latest album by the South African artist Umlilo:

Umlilo (previously profiled on Africa is a Country here) continues to push societal boundaries, crushing the norms of sexuality and gender roles with ‘Magic Man’, a track from his latest album, which will be released in July 2014. Watch the making of the music video and hear his thoughts on circus troops, being an outcast and how his music has become his freedom.

Mandela's lesson for Hong Kong

Sa Law from left21 wrote a piece on Nelson Mandela and his lesson for Hong Kong, a city where migrant workers are living in apartheid.

Due to their long working hours for six days a week, they lack the chance to socialize and mingle with the rest of Hong Kong society as others; they also generally lack ability to speak, read and write Chinese. Thus, they end up spatially and linguistically separated from the majority of Hong Kong people; and despite forming a large community of 320,000 workers, they are never considered part of the greater Hong Kong community, and their demands for equality or better rights are often greeted with deep outrage, as if they do not know their place.

On Twitter, Peruvians Remember Song Dedicated to Mandela

When South African leader Nelson Mandela was released from prison in the 90s, Spanish-Peruvian musician Miki Gonzáles [es] wrote the song “Liberaron a Mandela” [Mandela was released]. Peruvian Twitter users remembered the song when they learned about Mandela's passing:

What a hit by Miki Gonzales when Mandela was released, back in the 90s. I remembered the melody but not the lyrics.

Tribute by a Peruvian musician to a liberty icon: Miki González, “Mandela was released”

On Assisted Dying Ruling By a South African Court

Professor Pierre de Vos weighs in on the debate about assisted dying in South Africa after a South African High Court ruled that a dying person is entitled to be assisted by a qualified medical doctor to end his or her life:

It is important to note that the ruling does not force any person to end his or her life or to assist anyone else to do so. It remains a personal choice. The judgment thus confirms that the criminal law (or, I would add, the ethical rules of the HPCSA [the Health Professions Council of South Africa]) cannot be used to enforce the moral, religious or ethical beliefs of some on everyone. However, this does not force those who hold such moral, religious or ethical beliefs to act in breach of their beliefs.

Moreover, if the Constitutional Court confirms the judgment it would be desirable for Parliament to pass legislation to establish a system with minimum safeguards in order to protect patients. In the absence of such legislation a patient would have to approach a court for permission to be legally assisted to die.

Video: Campaign to Stop the Sale of Steve Biko's Autopsy Report

Artist and social entrepreneur Nomsa Mazwai (Nomisupasta) and some friends got together to collect signatures for a petition to stop the sale of Steve Biko‘s autopsy report. Watch the YouTube video of the campaign:

10 African Children’s Illustrators You Should Know

Jennifer Sefa-Boakye highlights 10 of Golden Baobab Prize for African Illustrators’ finalists:

Late last year Ghana-based pan-African literary organization Golden Baobab introduced us to a shortlist of talented illustrators, whose work ranged from 3-D Ashanti folktales to intricately drawn Moroccan cityscapes and African barbershop-inspired murals in Durban. Awarded in November, the inaugural Golden Baobab Prize for African Illustrators was one of the foundation’s six prizes recognizing the year’s best African writers and illustrators of children’s stories.

MTN South Africa launches FrontRow

Telecommunication provider MTN South Africa has launched MTN FrontRow, a video-on-demand (VOD) service. Tech Moran reports
According to MTN, ” MTN FrontRow, is a premium entertainment network that brings you all the TV series and movies you love, even if you’re not an MTN subscriber – and you could get the first month FREE.You won’t even have to install a dish, buy a box or take out a bank loan. From only R179 a month, you can sign up to MTN FrontRow Club and play our content instantly at any time via your browser on your computer or mobile device, or on our Android app (an iOS version is coming soon!). You can even stream to your TV via your devices, of course.”


Conversations and Images From Highway Africa 2014

Highway Africa 2014 took place on 7-8 September, 2014 at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. The theme of the conference was Social Media – from the margins to the mainstream. Find images and conversations about the conference here.

Digital Media Guru Headlines Highway Africa 2014

Highway Africa organisers have announced that Dan Gilmor will be the keynote speaker for the 18th edition of the conference which takes place from 7-8 September, 2014 in at Rhodes University, South Africa:

The theme of the conference is Social Media – from the margins to the mainstream and Gillmor, who wrote the seminal book on citizen journalism, “We the Media” (2004), will revisit his initial optimism on the potential of the internet.

Gillmor teaches digital media literacy at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Over 400 delegates from 36 African countries are expected to attend including others from the United States of America, Bolivia, the Netherlands and Germany.

Second Biggest Arts Festival in the World Taking Place in South Africa

Live reports from the National Arts Festival taking place in Grahamstown, South Africa:

Every winter, for 11 days in early July, the sleepy South African college town of Grahamstown comes alive with art. Artists from all over the world swarm to the tiny town, and every nook and cranny is packed with theatre, dance, performance art, film, comedy puppets and face paint with the sweet sounds of jazz spilling onto the streets. The National Arts Festival, that celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, is the second biggest arts festivals in the world. For the last couple of years, a group of journalism students at Rhodes University cover the festival through a pop-up newsroom called CueTube, where they interview a variety of artists, choreographers and directors. Here’s some samples of the work.

Project Uses Mobile Phones to Encourage Reading

Lauri writes about a project in South Africa, FunDza Literacy Trust, that takes advantage of mobile phone technology to encourage reading among kids:

What I find lovely, though, is when Africans sort out innovative solutions to their problems. FunDza Literacy Trust is one such solution. Cellphones have taken off big in Southern Africa and FunDza has latched on to that to get kids reading. I'm proud to be writing regularly for them.

How it works is a story begins on a Friday. Each story has seven chapters and one chapter goes out on the kids’ cellphones each day. Here is my author's page with all of the stories I've written at FunDza. Click on any story and see the comments the readers leave. The kids are reading and seriously engaging with the stories! I think this is wonderful!

Mandela and Mao, Not Much in Common

Jeremiah from Jotting in the Granite Studio comments on the China's state broadcaster CCTV's attempt to draw the link between Mandela and Mao Zedong:

Mandela didn’t really have much in common with Mao. Mao was an idealist in the strictest sense of the word, a man who believed that how you did something mattered more than the results, often with disastrous consequences. During his long career, Mandela always kept his eyes on the prize. He repeatedly showed a willingness to compromise tactics to realize his dream of equality in South Africa.

Czech Crime Boss Claims South African Police “Tortured” Him

Radovan Krejcir, an alleged Czech crime boss living in South Africa, was arrested on Friday, November 22, 2013, in Johannesburg on charges of kidnapping and attempted murder, although there are rumors on social media that other charges, such as money laundering and conspiracy, will be added to the list.

Krejcir, who has been a hot topic on social networks since his arrest on Friday, was already charged by Czech authorities, where he was sentenced to 11 years in prison in absentia for money laundering. He fled to South Africa before trial and is still wanted in the Czech Republic for several crimes, including tax fraud. South African authorities have been planning to have him extradited to the Czech Republic.

Krejcir is now claiming that he was tortured and treated cruelly by South African police since he has been in their custody. Many on social media are calling the case a disgrace and Krejcir “an embarrassment” to the country, asking that he be deported immediately. Twitter user Nqaba Ndlovu living in Nelspruit, South Africa, says:

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