Gains and Losses

Maathai, you will always shine in our hearts

Dr. Wangari Maathai by Lou Gold

Yesterday I woke to the news that Wangari Maathai, Africa’s first woman Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, was gone at 71. Reports said she died in Nairobi while receiving cancer treatment. Many of us will remember her for her firebrand grassroots movement with her Greenbelt Movement, which showed the world that one can actually make change, small beginnings at a time, and actually make governments listen. She epitomized the power that African women can hold and inspired many young women around Africa. Maathai fought the good fight and will be missed but her legacy will live on in our thoughts and deeds. She was in the unique league of leaders that many Africans are struggling to look up to. A Mail & Guardian article put her in the league of Nelson Mandela, the South African iconic leader, a much deserved comparison. Africa is looking out for a new crop of leaders to take us to greater heights.

Congrats to Zambia

It has been an interesting month. The peaceful handover of power in Zambia stands out for me as a new move in the direction that Africa is going. Where the people decide and the leaders listen and bow out peacefully, kudos to Zambia for showing us that there is indeed some hope for us all. The fact that the incumbent acknowledged the mistakes that had been committed by his party and was willing to let go of any political clout or ego and hand over power, making his party lose after twenty years in power says something. There is a new change and a new dawn for us. The messages going back and forth on my friends’ Facebook accounts is witness to how much Africa is looking for good stories.

Visiting innovation

I am taking a class in Artistic Invention: Creative Responses to Conflict and Crisis at MIT. This course, “ seeks to develop an understanding of the role of cultural production and artistic intervention in conditions of conflict and crisis.” As an artist dealing with issues central to conflict in Uganda and elsewhere, I find the course pertinent in learning how the arts and artistes play an important role in the healing of communities marred by conflicts and crises. We took a tour of the Media Lab, where a number of projects are taking place. Projects undertaken in the MIT Media Lab aim at merging on different disciplines in creating innovation. One of our lab tour guides comes from an artistic background, he plays the violin, and is current working with computer scientists and other groups to create an affordable machine that will be able to read cataracts and diagnose eye problems. The intention is to make it accessible to people in the global south, who may go blind because the traditional machines and treatment are very expensive and thus hard to access. We are also shown a project, where a group of MIT students participated in mapping an undocumented slum in a South American country. The products used to map the area are easily accessible and affordable. They needed a PC, a balloon, scissors, cylinder, small digital camera, tape among other things to make the machine work, the product, a slum not appearing on the government maps is now made visible and available on Google Earth.

I am looking forward to seeing and learning more, and seeing how I can make this all relevant in my work as a journalist and as a writer.

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