From BandAid to RadiAid

Forgive me for posting one more video in this series, but this excellent TED talk gives the background to the RadiAid and Let’s Save Africa videos that I have mentioned recently.

If the video isn’t showing, you can view it directly here.

The principle of looking at the similarities between peoples rather than concentrating on the differences is one that I highlighted in an article I wrote years ago called the St Mary Mead Model of Intercultural Adaption; you can find it on our articles page.

A Hidden Disaster

Unobserved by most people in the Western World a dreadful situation is developing in Central African Republic. I know this video is quite long (18 minutes), but please watch it. I have friends from this country and expat colleagues who know this area very well.

If you receive Kouyanet by email and the video does’t show up, you can find it here.

Books I have Read: Adventures in Music and Culture

I have to start with a disclaimer. Not only was I given a free copy of this book to read and review, it was also signed by the author and I even get a mention on the acknowledgements page. I’ve known the author, Rob Baker, since he was a short term missionary in Ivory Coast, twenty years ago.

However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take my review seriously, because this is genuinely a good book. Adventures in Music and Culture is written with a vivacity and an eye for detail which bring scenes to life in technicolour. Anyone who knows West Africa will immediately find themselves transported back to familiar situations and those who don’t know that part of the world will be enchanted anyway.

If you want to know what it’s like driving through the West African bush, staying in bush hotels or getting groups together to write and record songs, this book is for you. If you’d really just like an interesting and amusing travelogue – it fits the bill too. Rob’s irrepressable good humour shines throughout, bringing lots of smiles and one or two laugh out loud moments.

The only thing I would complain about is the quality of the publication. In my copy the inner margin was so close to the book binding that it was difficult to open it far enough to see the last couple of letters on each line. This didn’t stop me enjoying the book, but it was a little frustrating. It would also be good to see this published for the Kindle. It’s an ideal book for holiday reading on the beach – but who carries paperbacks to the beach these days!

Languages In Nigeria

Next month, I’m travelling out to Nigeria, where I will be speaking at a retreat for my colleagues out there. It was a nice encouragement to read this peace in the Nigeria Guardian which is very complimentary about Wycliffe’s work there:

FEBRUARY 21, the International Mother Language Day, provided an opportunity to take a critical look at our languages as Nigerians. Because of the second fiddle nature Nigerian languages have assumed in our own society, it is pertinent to ask: Who is Killing Nigerian languages — foreigners or the language owners?

Incidentally, Nigerian languages have enjoyed a wide range of support from the Occident, the U.S in particular. One such support is from Wycliffe, a US-based organisation — established since 1942 to translate the Bible into every language spoken in the world. Giant strides have been made by the organisation as it has completed 700 translations. Currently, it supports languages spoken in 90 countries, including Nigeria. In keeping with its vision, Wycliffe has deployed human, financial, special-designed software and other resources to build orthographies for hitherto non-written languages, educate native speakers to read and write their languages, build glossaries in these languages while preserving the histories and cultures of language owners, etc. Unknown minority languages spoken by 10,000 and 1,000,000 speakers now have written documents, thus preventing the languages from extinction.

Pertaining to Nigeria, some ongoing and finished bible translations, which are due to the effort of the Wycliffe teams and native speakers of the languages include: Ezaa, Ikwo and Izii languages of the Abakaliki cluster (spoken in Ebonyi State: Abakaliki, Ezza, Ohaozara, and Ishielu LGAs); Benue State: Okpokwu LGA), Alago (a first language spoken in Nassarawa State: Awe and Lafia LGAs), Dadiya (a first language spoken in Gombe State: Balanga LGA; Taraba State: Karim Lamido LGA and Adamawa state: Numan LGA, Huba (a first language spoken in Adamawa state: Hong, Maiha, Gombi, and Mubi LGAs), Hyam (a first language spoken in Kaduna: Kachia and Jema’s LGAs), Ichen or Etkywan (a first language spoken in Taraba State: Takum, Sardauna, Bali, and part of Wukari LGAs).

Speaking of Nigeria, it’s nice to have the excuse to show this excellent photo of Sue doing some translation consultancy work there, a few years ago.

Sue consulting Nigeria

Bloggers in Africa

A group of Christian bloggers have just set off on a visit to Uganda from where they will be reporting on their adventures. I’m sure they will have a wonderful and informative time and no doubt they will generate a lot of publicity for the organisation who are fronting the trip.

However, can I respectfully suggest that if you really want to understand what is happening in Africa, you might do better to follow blogs written by Africans or by others who have a long term commitment to living and working on the continent.

Here are a few suggestions of blogs from across Africa. The list is not exhaustive and shows a bias towards people I know or countries I’ve lived and worked in and to Bible and Mission stuff. However, I’d like to have other blogs to follow, so if you have some suggestions, please include them in the comments.

Bridges from Bamako: written by an anthropologist, this outstanding blog gives a superb insight into life in Mali’s biggest city, with the odd foray out into the country as a whole.

Djobouti Jones: a fascinating blog about life as an expat in the horn of Africa.

Drogba’s Country: Journalist John James is not actually based in Ivory Coast at the moment, but his blog is still a great place to get insights from that country.

Every Tongue: Mark Woodward works in language development in Tanzania. His blog gives a great insight into living and working across cultures, while trying to explore the Bible’s message.

Fasokan: I’ve been following Boukary Konate on Twitter for ages, but I’ve only just (thanks to a comment, below) discovered his excellent (award winning) blog. It is in French and Bambara.

Global Voices: this is an excellent place for news from across the world. Locally based writers give insightful comments on what is happening in their particular situation. You can sign up for a news feed from just about any country on the planet.

Heart Language Observations: a language and Bible orientated blog written from Ghana. Lots of good insights.

Mausts on Toast: the Maust family have recently arrived in Cameroon and are blogging their experiences.

Onesimus Redivivus: this is a blog by a former Presbyterian  now Orthodox Christian who teaches theology in Nairobi.

Phil in the Blank: Phil Paoletta describes himself as a slow traveller. That just about sums it up, he’s been in Francophone Africa for years now and his blog gives fascinating insights into the area – along with lessons on how to draw camels.

That’s Our Life: Tim and Ali Robinson blog from Nigeria. Much of what they write covers the struggle of bringing up a young family in a situation which is far from stable.

The Task: this is an organisational blog (and none the worse for that) which covers Bible translation and literacy in Uganda and Tanzania.

Until Our Independence: this young Ivorian blogger covers politics and technology from his home country and across the continent.

White African: Eric Hersmann is the guy to read if you are interested in technological innovation in Africa.

The following blogs contain some good stuff, but either they are not updated regularly, or their authors have relocated to the West.

There are undoubtedly lots and lots of good blogs that I’ve not mentioned here. This is either because I’ve lost their links or I never knew about them in the first place. As I mentioned above, please put links to other blogs in the comments. I’d be especially keen to see other (more accurate?) lists of African/Africa-based bloggers.

Edit: these are blogs that have been suggested to me on Twitter. I’ve not had time to follow them all up, so I can’t comment on the content. But exploring new stuff is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Someone, somewhere must have produced an up to date, geographically organised list of African bloggers!

First World Problems

This short video (just over two minutes) has a very powerful message…


I have to admit that I’m rather uneasy with the way this important message is got across.

Firstly, I don’t like the terms first world and third world; I know that they are easily understood, but they seem to imply a value judgement that I don’t like.  Perhaps I’m just being picky.

More importantly, the video gives a somewhat distorted picture of life in Africa. Surprisingly enough, there are many people in rural Africa who have mobile phones and who share all of the same frustrations about network coverage and keeping the phone charged that we do in the West.

However, the key thing is that this video presents the relationship between the ‘first’ and ‘third’ worlds as being one dimensional. We don’t have real problems, they do. I’m not implying for one moment that there is no terrible grinding poverty in Africa – there is. But, if I can permit myself a generalisation, most Africans live lives which are richer in human relationships and connectedness than most Westerners. The loneliness, isolation and depression that are endemic in European cities – especially for the elderly – are relatively unknown in Africa.

Yes, we can help provide water (try sponsoring me in the London Marathon), but we also have a lot to learn from the developing world. The world is more complex than a short video can express.


Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles

At the moment, the BBC is showing the remarkable David Attenborough series “Africa”; all beautiful scenes and amazing animals. However, as is often the case, the Africa of the nature documentary seems more or less devoid of people.

If you would like to know more about the human side of the continent, you could do far worse than start with Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden.

Africa is huge and incredibly diverse and no book (even one of 550 pages) can hope to cover every aspect of African life. However, over 18 chapters, most of which are inspired by events in a particular country, this book gives a pretty good introduction to the current situation across sub-Saharan Africa.

Though it doesn’t shy away from war, corruption and poverty, this is predominantly optimistic book. It points to beacons of hope and development which are rarely mentioned in the west because they don’t fit the agenda of the media and aid agencies). For that reason alone, I’d love to see more people reading this book.

The book is told through a mixture of the author’s own traveller’s tales and reflections on national and international politics. Individual stories and global geopolitics are interspersed seamlessly to give a fascinating picture, which is never dull to read.

It would be easy to complain about things which are not in the book (there is not enough about Côte d’Ivoire and Mali for my liking), but this is unfair. The book never claims to be comprehensive.

Sections on the growth of the African middle classes and the use of technology (especially the mobile phone) and the growth of Chinese influence across the continent seem to indicate that Africa will be a very different place through the 21st century than it was in the 20th. Though the fact that the American response to Chinese commercial activity in the area has been to put a regional military force in place is rather worrying.

Africa is far bigger and more diverse than Europe, with a fascinating and complex history. If your idea of Africa is limited to elephants, giraffes and grass huts, you should probably read buy Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles!

Voices United for Mali

When you get artists from across a country as culturally diverse as Mali producing a song, you end up with a wonderful mixture of languages and cultural styles. In this superb video there is singing and rapping in Bambara, Sonniké, Songhai, Tamasheq and even a little French.

This is the Mali I love; colourful, welcoming and amazingly musical.

Bruce does a great job of unpacking the lyrics to this song – it isn’t quite as straightforward as it seems at first.

Wrestling with Onesimus: Maturity

This is my penulitmate post interacting with When Missions Becomes Toxic; or, Um, They Don’t Need Us Anymore from Onesimus.

Thirdly, it is long past time for local Christians to take responsibility for their own churches and training and programs.  This is happening in some places, like India for example, where for years missionaries were forbidden by the government from operating as ‘missionaries.’  Local Christians were forced to take responsibility for themselves.  And while not perfect, there is a maturity among many Indian Christians that is refreshing.  And if taking responsibility for one’s own Christian life and one’s own local church or ‘ministry’ means some churches and schools and programs fail, then it likely means that they were not viable to begin with, at least on the grandiose scales they were conceived when an open tap of resources from the West was assumed.  And if it means that Christianity evaporates from some areas, then that should tell us that whatever ‘Christian’ things were going on there before were not making real contact with the lives of real people.  There comes a point when local Christians must take responsibility for their own fellowship and mission.  If something cannot happen without Western funding and staffing, then should it be happening at all?

Once again, Onesimus has raised an important point, and once again he has pushed it too far. It is undeniable that ” local Christians to take responsibility for their own churches and training and programs”.  But by implying that this isn’t happening in Africa is simply not true. Yes, more could be done and the pace of change could be quicker. I have the privilege of knowing many African Christians who are leading churches, translation organisations and mission agencies in Africa. There are Western missionaries working for some of these organisations, but their programmes and activities are defined and managed by the African leadership under whom they serve.

Onesimus makes a good and important point; but it isn’t the whole story.

African Christianity

Christianity is a Religion intended for and is suitable for every Race and Tribe of people on the face of the Globe. Acceptance of it was never intended by its Founder to denationalise any people anf it is indeed its glory that every race of people may profess and practise it and imprint upon it its own native characteristics, give it a peculiar type among themselves without its losing anything of its virtue. And why should not there be an African Christianity as there has been a European and an Asiatic Christianity?

Rev, James Johnson (Holy Johnson) 1836-1917. Cited in Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture by Lamin Sanneh p.144