The members of the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste – the world’s only all-black orchestra – are self-taught and started out playing homemade instruments. Now the band’s founder is to be given a major international accolade
Nathalie is a single mum who struggles to clothe her little boy and pay the rent. She plays the flute and the sax. Josephine gets up at 4.30am every day to sell omelettes at the market. She is in the chorus. Papy is a part-time mechanic who also runs his own pharmacy. He plays the tuba. Josef is a freelance electrician, a kind of African version of the Robert De Niro character in the film Brazil. He also runs his own hair salon and plays the viola.
Nathalie, Josephine, Papy and Josef are adepts of the Congolese art of débrouillardise, a French word that means “making ends meet” or “surviving”. For most of the day, they do whatever they must to hustle their daily bread in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, one of the biggest, noisiest and most dysfunctional cities on earth. In the early evening, they set out on a journey that often takes several hours to rehearse with the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste de Kinshasa (OSK), the only all-black symphony orchestra in the world. There they find release from their daily cares. “When I sing Beethoven’s ninth Symphony, it takes me far away,” says one of the other singers in the choir.
“They come because they’re passionate about music,” says Armand Diangienda, the man who founded the OSK almost 20 years ago. “It gives them something more in terms of confidence, of feeling capable and of being able to contribute to a collective endeavour.”
If the musicians in the OSK are masters of individual survival, the orchestra itself is an epic example of débrouillardise, of thinking the impossible and then just doing it. Diangienda lost his job as a pilot when the Fokker F-27 he used to fly across the Congo crashed into the hills above the town of Goma in 1992, killing all those on board. Luckily – for him – he was on holiday at the time. Finding himself unemployed, he rallied followers of his father’s church, the hugely popular Kimbanguiste church, and created a symphony orchestra, a strange endeavour for a confirmed reggae fan who had only a passing interest in European classical music at the time.
“We told ourselves that creating a symphony orchestra would be great because the church already had a brass band, a flute orchestra, a guitar ensemble and a number of different choirs,” Armand tells me over the phone from Kinshasa. “I couldn’t read music, but driven by my passion, and with help from my friends, I gradually learned.”
In the early days, instruments had to be borrowed or made from scratch by reverse engineering. Violin strings were concocted from bicycle brake wire. Hundreds of scores were copied out by hand, individual parts had to be deciphered by listening to the works on CD, over and over again. Music stands were cobbled together from old pieces of wood.
Despite attracting huge interest locally, the orchestra remained the city’s secret until two German film-makers, Claus Wischmann and Martin Baer, made the 2010 documentary Kinshasa Symphony, one of the most beautiful and honest portrayals of the power of music and the human spirit that I have seen in ages.
New machine expected to cut TB diagnosis time dramatically, enabling speedier treatment
A new machine that should speed up diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis is being rolled out across Mozambique.
The GeneXpert machine, which has been trialled in hospitals in Maputo and Tete following pilot schemes by NGOs, should speed up TB diagnosis from two to three months to two hours. More machines will be rolled out around the country over the next few weeks. Every province will have at least one machine, while areas with high rates of TB will have more.
The new test, which has been implemented successfully in South Africa, uses cartridges to automate diagnosis. The patient spits in a cup, and the sample is fed into the machine to identify any TB bacteria. These machines mean people can be tested, diagnosed and started on multi-drug resistant treatment on the same day – a significant improvement on current waiting times. The sooner patients are diagnosed, the better their prognosis. The new test will be subject to delays only if the patient has not supplied enough sputum.
Mugabe signs Zimbabwe constitution, paving way for vote
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe signed a new constitution into law on Wednesday, replacing a 33-year-old document forged in the dying days of British colonial rule and paving the way for an election later this year.
Approved overwhelmingly in a referendum in March, the constitution clips the powers of the president and imposes a two-term limit. However, it does not apply retroactively so the 89-year-old Mugabe technically could extend his three decades in office by another 10 years.
A beaming Mugabe, flanked by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, his main political rival, and Deputy President Joice Mujuru signed multiple copies of the charter at State House in the capital to cheers and applause from aides.
The constitution was rewritten under terms of a power-sharing deal between Mugabe and Tsvangirai after elections in 2008 marred by violence.
The five-year coalition government formed under the same agreement expires on June 29, and parliamentary and presidential elections should follow within 90 days of that date.
However, many obstacles remain, not least finding the estimated $130 million needed to pay for the election and reaching agreement on outside monitors.
Harare has turned down offers of United Nations or donor assistance and Mugabe accused some in the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has been mediating in the crisis, of trying to impose their will.
“We rejected this,” he told reporters after the signing ceremony, adding that any vote would be fair. “We will ensure that there won’t be any violence, that there won’t be any rigging.”
Mugabe made no mention of an election date but Tsvangirai later told reporters it would be later rather than sooner because of the need to amend electoral laws and allow the 30-day registration period for new voters mandated in the constitution.
State media said on Wednesday that Mugabe was pressing for a vote before July although his rivals wanted it delayed to allow for the opening up of broadcast media, registration of new voters and reform of the military to ensure it stays out of politics.
Royal Philips is continuing its programme of installing more than a hundred “Community Light Centers” across Africa with the announcement of six new centres in South Africa.
CEO of Philips, Mr Frans van Houten was recently in Cape Town to co-chair the World Economic Forum. During his visit Mr van Houten met with the South African Minister of Energy Ms Dipuo Peters, in order to conclude an agreement that sees Philips donating two Community Light Centres to the South African Department of Energy. The two Centres will be allocated to communities that would benefit from the Solar LED lighting. These would usually be rural communities lacking access to electricity. The meeting took place in the Cape Town suburb, Walmer Estate, where an additional Community Light Centre has been erected by Philips at a local football club (pictured above.)
In addition to these three centres, Philips, in partnership with SuperSport Let’s Play and Hitachi Construction Machinery Southern Africa Co, has recently completed projects at Dumisa Public School near Ladysmith, Lebowa Kgomo in Mpumalanga and in Gauteng at the Lion Park Primary School.
The Light Centres are areas of approximately 1000m2, or the size of a small soccer pitch and are lit using a new generation of efficient solar powered LED lighting. The Light Centres create areas of light for rural communities which live without electricity, thus effectively ‘extending the day and extending play’ creating numerous opportunities for social, sporting and economic activities in the evening. Philips has committed an investment of €1.2 million (spread over three years) to this project.
The Light Centres are predominantly focused on schools which are closely linked to rural areas and towns in off-grid or semi-grid areas. They provide light for communal areas which can be used for sport and many other activities - healthcare, education, social, and commerce - and extend the day by enabling communal life after dark.
“Africa is starting a new reliable solar powered LED lighting revolution which will both save energy and provide more light for those without electricity” says Mr Andre Dehmel GM Philips Lighting Africa. “Dramatic advances are being made in the efficiency of LED lighting and this is going to speed up social and economic development across the continent.”
Gordon Institute of Business Science number one African business school
The annual UK Financial Times Executive Education rankings, a global benchmark for providers of executive education has once again ranked the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) as the top South African and African business school for 2013.
Business schools are asked for details of a number of top clients, who are then invited to complete an online survey about the school that nominated them. For GIBS, top clients comprising not only leading SA corporates but top multinationals operating in the rest of Africa and abroad participated in the survey.
Professor Nick Binedell, dean of GIBS, said, “We are pleased to have again been ranked in line with prestigious business schools across the world. This year it is encouraging to see another South African school ranking in the world’s top fifty; we congratulate Stellenbosch Business School on this achievement.”
EU pledges $675 million toward Mali reconstruction
On the eve of a major international donors’ conference, the European Union announced Tuesday it was pledging 520 million euros ($674.8 million) over the next two years to help rebuild the west African country of Mali as a functioning state.
The announcement was made by Jose Manuel Barroso (pictured above, right,) president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, who said the investment would benefit Europe as well as Africa.
Physically challenged athlete sets new African javelin record
When Reinhardt Hamman, who is now a guest relations officer at The Vineyard Hotel & Spa in Newlands, Cape Town, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of five, he could not have imagined he would grow up to become a sporting star, breaking records and winning gold medals.
This month Hamman, now 23, broke the African record for javelin of 43.37m in the F37 class by throwing 44.93m in the annual Nedbank National Championships for the Physically Challenged. This performance secured a gold medal that he added to the gold he earned for shot-put and a silver for discus.
Somalis may soon be receiving letters from abroad for the first time in more than 20 years after a deal was struck with the United Nations’ postal agency, the latest step towards ending Somalia’s isolation following two decades of civil conflict.
The Swiss-based UPU said in a statement on Friday that international postal services could start operating again in Somalia within the next few months.
Somalia’s Minister of Information and Communication Abdullahi Hirsi signed a memorandum of understanding with Emirates Post Group this week for Dubai to act as a hub for handling mail destined for Somalia, it said.
The UPU, which brokered the deal, said its 192 member countries could resume sending mail to Somalia once the arrangements were finalized.
About 2 million Somalis live abroad and 9.9 million in Somalia, served by a postal network that is “basically inexistant”, the UPU said, having dwindled from 100 post offices in 1991.
UPU spokesman Rheal LeBlanc said Somalia had created an office at the airport to handle mail moving in and out of the country, initially to service the government, embassies and universities, “but they seem to have plans to phase in postal services across the country over the next few months and years”.
Hirsi said his country would need help getting the post going again.
“We ask for all means of assistance as we have to start from ground zero,” the UPU statement quoted him as saying.
In Kenya, technology revolutionizes TB management
The use of technology is revolutionizing the way Kenya manages tuberculosis (TB). Through a computer- and mobile-phone based programme called TIBU, health facilities are able to request TB drugs in real-time and manage TB patient data more effectively, health officials say. They also use the platform to carry out health education.
“One of the challenges we have had with TB treatment is people defaulting [on treatment], but this will reduce significantly because through TIBU we will be able to track down patient treatment progress,” Joseph Sitienei, head of the Division of Leprosy, TB and Lung Disease at Kenya’s National AIDS Control Programme, told IRIN.
“By being able to track a patient, the health workers can send them reminders on their mobile phones when they fail to appear for drug refills,” Sitienei added.
UN-backed partnership helps Kenyans protect forests, improve livelihoods
A United Nations-backed project in Kenya is protecting forests and wildlife, as well as providing alternative livelihoods, and offers valuable lessons on how governments and the private sector can successfully work together for the betterment of communities and the environment.
The project is run through the UN Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), which seeks to create financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions and invest in low-carbon technologies to sustainable development.
The Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project is protecting 200,000 hectares – 500,000 acres – of dryland forest in south-eastern Kenya in a vital wildlife and biodiversity corridor between two national parks, Tsavo East and Tsavo West.
Nearly 150,000 rural Kenyans are benefitting from the distribution of revenues from the sale of the carbon offsets in the project, which is carried out with private sector partner Wildlife Works.
“The fundamental purpose of Wildlife Works is to take the pressure off natural resources, particularly forest-based resources, by creating an environment of alternative livelihoods,” said Bryan Adkins of the Kasigau REDD+ Project.
“It’s a social enterprise, which means that it puts the value of community input and community involvement at the forefront of its mission,” he added.
African nations strive to stem desertification with a ‘Great Green Wall’
Stretching from Dakar to Djibouti, a United Nations-backed programme dubbed the ‘Great Green Wall’ brings together 11 countries to plant trees across Africa to literally hold back the Sahara desert with a swathe of greenery, lessen the effects of desertification and improve the lives and livelihoods of communities.
The Wall, an initiative spearheaded by African heads of State, will stretch about 7,000 kilometres from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east and will be about 15 kilometres wide as it traverses the continent, passing through Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The programme aims to support the efforts of local communities in the sustainable management and use of forests – a key theme of the tenth session of the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF10), currently taking place in Istanbul – as well as other natural resources in drylands.
Among other things, the planting of trees is expected to provide a barrier against desert winds and will help to hold moisture in the air and soil, allowing agriculture to flourish. It is also expected that the Wall will reduce erosion, enhance biodiversity and improve countries’ resilience to climate change.
Investing R12 million in Black entrepreneurs – apply today!
Investec and Raizcorp have partnered to provide business support and development, to the value of R12 million, to 12 entrepreneurs. This exciting new partnership will enable entrepreneurs of black-owned businesses to take part in a two-year long programme that facilitates increased profitability in their respective businesses.
The innovative Raizcorp ACUMEN enterprise expansion programme is designed for ambitious and tenacious entrepreneurs to take their business Acumen to the next level through an incredible curriculum of entrepreneurial learning and mentorship support.
Commenting on the partnership, Investec CEO Stephen Koseff said: “Entrepreneurship has always been integral to Investec’s culture and is embodied within our core values and philosophies, how we conduct ourselves and the activities in which we engage. Investec has always supported entrepreneurs, realizing the importance of the role they play in our economy. The partnership with Raizcorp is aligned with our strategy to support and develop small business owners with high growth potential.”
The 12 deserving entrepreneurs selected for the programme will be assigned a dedicated team of five trained Raizcorp guides, who will focus on key areas from strategy, finance and marketing to sales and personal development. Profitability is said to increase substantially for 95% of participating businesses, over a period of two years.
To add to the ambition, entrepreneurs and their staff will have access to Raizcorp Learning, one of the incubator’s core offerings, consisting of courses and workshops tailored to the unique needs of entrepreneurs
- How to apply
Applications are open for entrepreneurs who are active full time in their 51% or more black-owned business. The business must have been trading for at least 12 months and have an average turnover of at least R50 000 per month.
Those interested in applying must complete an online expression of interest before Friday 03 May 2013. The expression of interest form is available at www.raizcorp.com.
For more information, contact Raizcorp on 011 566 2000 or email Andisa Ngqwebo (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Unique African marathon offers hope to street children
There’s something stirring in Makeni. Here, in Sierra Leone’s largest city, thousands of street children are now being reunited with their families and given access to education.
This welcome change is all thanks to a small, voluntary-led charity, Street Child, and the runners who are brave enough to take on the charity’s challenging but hugely rewarding fundraising event, the Kiln Sierra Leone Marathon, now in its second year.
“I’m not aware of another marathon like it,” says race director, Lewis Aldridge. “The London Marathon is a fabulous race, with a lot of people raising money for different charities. But here it is totally integrated, with runners seeing the projects – and the children who will benefit from their fundraising – first-hand, before they run.”
The majority of this 26-mile course runs along hard mud roads and red dirt tracks, snaking through some of Sierra Leone’s most beautiful scenery. Occasionally, the trail changes to tarred, urban terrain as runners course their way through the more developed parts of Makeni in humid 33C heat. Local families line the roads to wave runners on – sometimes they’ll join in to show their thanks and support.
“It’s a fantastic challenge. The race itself is a personal challenge, but what really makes a difference is that most of the people taking part, everybody involved in it, are all raising money for the same charity,” adds Aldridge.
Scientists have unearthed a 600-year-old Chinese coin on the Kenyan island of Manda that shows trade existed between China and east Africa decades before European explorers set sail and changed the map of the world. (Credit: John Weinstein/The Field Museum)
A sundial discovered outside a tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings may be the world’s oldest ancient Egyptian sundials, say scientists.
Dating to the 19th dynasty, or the 13th century B.C., the sundial was found on the floor of a workman’s hut, in the Valley of the Kings, the burial place of rulers from Egypt’s New Kingdom period (around 1550 B.C. to 1070 B.C.).
“The significance of this piece is that it is roughly one thousand years older than what was generally accepted as time when this type of time measuring device was used,” said researcher Susanne Bickel, of the University of Basel in Switzerland. Past sundial discoveries date to the Greco-Roman period, which lasted from about 332 B.C. to A.D. 395.