The conference was held in cooperation with the international scientific network Tacit Dimensions of Pedagogy. The conference’s purpose was as follows:
Re-thinking the idea of university and scholarly life means to critically examine the conditions for teaching in terms of the current policy discourses and freely develop an idea of university out of an international perspective. University does not exist simply to convey information or expertise. It is a society in which everyone is responsible for in a reflected way participating in diverse relationships to him-/herself, to others and to the world, and, based on diverse forms of knowledge and representation, actively forming them. In this conference combined with other spaces for discussion a perspective on university as a place for social development will be opened up by academic scholars as well as by professionals in the fields of school as well as of art.
In my opening talk, I was aiming for tapping into the idea of shaping a perspective on university as a place for social development from an international perspective beyond simply conveying expertise, but to see the university as responsible in helping people to advance in a direction of reflectively participating in diverse relationships to oneself, others and the world.
Especially since contemporary life is happening in spaces of intense proximity, where the interdependence of the diverse nations and cultures becomes more and more obvious, it is important to empower people to competently navigate those spaces. Hence, I proposed an increased emphasis on and discussion of media and cultural education as a means to social cohesion within the university as a place of public education.
The conference paper of the talk (ca. 10 pages) can be downloaded here (pdf-file). A book publication as a conference outcome is forthcoming. My paper will be found there as an official publication then, too.
The latest edition of one of my favorite sources for non-mainstream reporting on certain parts of Nairobi, the African Slum Journal, is on the changing faces of Dandora – a well-known place in Eastlands Nairobi that I have visited myself severally over the course of the past years. What I find remarkable about this particular episode is that it provides an excellent example of locally and culturally sensitive community development.
Dandora is a settlement in Nairobi (Kenya) that, according to the African Slum Journal report, was established in 1977 by the World Bank and the Nairobi City Council as a means of planned and affordable housing for low income populations in the area. Over the years, the area also became ‚home‘ to one of the largest dumpsites in East Africa; which massively affects and pollutes the environment.
Local initiatives, however, have started to clean and color up the space with a two fold purpose: to develop their own community from within (through chamas as a financial and organizational form) in terms of developing a more habitable environment and also to bring down criminal activity by youth involvement and empowerment that in turn avoids idling.
As the community came to see the meaning and effect of the local initiative (health benefits, increased security, and so forth), residents of the area were increasingly ready and willing to contribute the monthly installments they could spare to that greater good. The organization, in turn, has then employed even more youths and equipped them with the tools necessary to carry out the community activities.
This is, in my opinion, a perfect example for the harambee-spirit that I got to know as being so typical for Kenya (and maybe other African communities as well) – and that is often used to fix community needs where the government fails to act 1 (which is in many instances) or where western ngo’s fail to engage with local needs in meaningful ways. It then is also an example of what non-top down grass roots approaches might look like that are locally relevant (by listening to the voices of the residents) and culturally embedded (chamas, harambee) and not designed from far away-world high-rise office desks.
Harambee, or „pulling together“ for a common goal, is a form of community participation for which the late first president of independent Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, has called for. This cultural mode is also very visible e.g. in the educational sector, which in Kenya is often heavily underfunded by the government, thus requiring parents and other bodies to contribute to (private) schools teacher salaries, the land on which schools are to be constructed, furniture, school materials, morning snacks, and so forth. All in all, self-help projects (as an expression of underfunded infrastructure and services) are omnipresent in Kenya and lively proof for the vitality and efficiency of indigenous community development.
See for example in Swadener, Beth; Kabiru, Margaret; Njenga, Anne (2000): Does the village still raise the child? State University of New York Press.
Ory Okolloh, Google’s policy manager for Africa and a Kenyan lawyer and activist, tells the Guardian’s Activate summit in London that Africans don’t view technology simply as a tool of development.The Guardian
Guess what. Africans, just as Westerners, simply want to have fun with technology. Grande surprise. People in Africa do not want to transfer money via mobile banking services the entire day. Just imagine. People do not want to check for fair market prices or the next purified water dealer all the time. Crazy, eh? People are not using their phones only when pregnant and in need for maternity programs.
Not to me mistaken: all those are valuable uses. They indeed are. But what I find rather disturbing is that literature and news coverage on mobile phones in ‚Africa‘ often focus on the so called M4D- or ICT4D-narrative (i.e. mobile phones/information and communication technology for development). But, truth to be told, what people really love doing is to just enjoy themselves with their technology by using Facebook, WhatsApp, buy and sell stuff on OLX, share and listen to the latest DJ sets, take and share pictures, discuss technical features of their phones against each other, and so forth.
And if there really is a crisis or whatever incident, then it is good people used their phones for fun, because that is how they got used to using them – also in case of an emergency like election monitoring (e.g. Ushahidi) or public outrage against unacceptable social action (e.g. #mydressmychoice in Kenya). More or less just like here, in the West, huh?!
Can we please somehow stop the blockheadedness of calling a certain kind of music genre „black music“?! Thank you!
Otherwise I would need to insist on introducing another pigeonhole called „white music“. Sounds foolish, doesn’t it?!
Well, that’s because it is foolish! Thank you once again!
Mal angenommen, eine der großen Ketten […] käme auf die Idee, alles von Beethoven bis Strawinsky, von Elton John bis THE SMITHS, von Udo Jürgens bis Johnny Cash, unter die gemeinsame Rubrik „White Music“ zu stellen – das Geschrei wäre groß. Undenkbar, eine so große kulturelle Vielfalt unter die banale, alles vereinende und damit nivellierende Kategorie der Hautfarbe zu stellen! Aber warum eigentlich nicht? Waren bzw. sind Beethoven und Morrisey nicht gleichermaßen „weiß“? Und könnte man nicht sogar aufgrund einer musikhistorischen, spitzfindig theoretisch untermauerten Genealogie erklären, dass es jenseits der gängigen Unterscheidung zwischen „E“ und „U“ eine ganze spezielle, alle oben genannten einende Tradition „weißer“ Musikästhetik gäbe, deren Gemeinsamkeit beispielsweise in der auffälligen Abwesenheit von Groove liege? – So absurd diese Argumentation auch erscheinen mag, liegt ihr doch eine andernorts alltäglich wie selbstverständlich vollzogene Praxis zugrunde: Daran, dass sich in zahlreichen Plattenläden eine eigene Rubrik namens „Black Music“ finden lässt, dass es Radiosendungen und Zeitschriften mit diesem Titel gibt […] und dass „Black Music“ seit Beginn der (vornehmlich weißen) Pop-Geschichtsschreibung zu einem feststehenden Begriff geworden ist unter den sich heute je nach Belieben alles von Soul bis HipHop, von R&B bis House subsumieren lässt – daran haben wir uns längst gewöhnt.
Wenn aber das Spezifische oder doch zumindest Einende an so extrem unterschiedlichen Künstlern wie Richie Havens und Aretha Franklin, George Clinton und Cody Chesnutt ihre „Blackness“ sein soll, dann wäre es nur zuträglich, diese banale Verengung auch auf Musikerinnen und Musiker weißer Hautfarbe anzuwenden. Dann nämlich erst, im Spiegel einer beleidigten, weil sich stets als künstlerisch gegenüber ‚Banalitäten‘ wie Hautfarbe erhaben gerierenden, auf ‚individuelle Werdegänge‘ beharrenden Hegemonialkultur, könnte entlarvend deutlich werden, mit welch diskursiv diskriminierender Gewalt der Begriff „Black Music“ seitens weißer […] Geschichtsschreibung immer schon marginalisierende Zwecke verfolgte – nicht zuletzt jenen Zweck, mit einer Verengung auf „Soul-Disco-Dance-Groove“ zu suggerieren, das ‚Schwarze‘ in einer (implizit als hochwertiger gehandelten) Rockkultur keinen Platz haben und sich dort ja aufgrund ihrer musikalischen Tradition auch gar nicht aufgehoben fänden.
Dies ist nur eine der stillschweigend, also meist unausgesprochen mit dem Begriff der „Black Music“ vorgenommenen Zuweisung und Ausgrenzung, deren essenzialistisches Vokabular sich selbst dort noch zu erkennen gibt, wo wohlwollend von der „Spiritualität“ des Souls, vom Blues „im Blut“ oder von der „Ursprünglichkeit“, wenn nicht gar „Besessenheit“ des Grooves die Rede ist. Ausdrücke dieser Art, denen die alte Dichotomie zugrund liegt, „schwarze Kultur“ als „körperlich“ und „weiße“ als „geistig“ aufzufassen […], sind schon lange zu Gemeinplätzen im Musikjournalismus geworden. Testcard #13, 2004. Editorial, S. 4-6
Daran scheint sich, auch gut 10 Jahre nachdem Obenstehendes verfasst wurde, kaum etwas geändert zu haben.
Mehr zum Thema:
Arndt, Susan (2004): Kolonialismus, Rassismus und Sprache. Kritische Betrachtungen der deutschen Afrikaterminologie. Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung: Online verfügbar.
Arndt, Susan; Ofuatey-Alazard, Nadja (Hrsg.) (2011): Wie Rassismus aus Wörtern spricht: (K)Erben des Kolonialismus im Wissensarchiv deutsche Sprache. Ein kritisches Nachschlagewerk. Münster: Unrast.
Hall, Stuart; Evans, Jessica; Nixon, Sean (Hrsg.) (2013): Representation. London: u.a.: Sage; The Open University.
Rodman, Gilbert B. (Hrsg.) (2014): The Race and Media Reader. New York; London: Routledge.
Waltinger, Michael (2013): Afrika(ner)bilder in westlichen Medien. Ungleichheit und die Repräsentation des Anderen im Zuge globaler Kommunikationsflüsse. [Africa(ns) in Western Media. Inequality and Representation of the Other in Global Flows of Communication.]In: Maurer, Bjoern; Reinhard-Hauck, Petra; Schluchter, Jan-René; von Zimmermann, Martina (eds.:): Medienbildung in einer sich wandelnden Gesellschaft. Festschrift für Horst Niesyto. Muenchen: kopaed, pp. 279-290.
I mean, honestly – we go to Italian, Greek and Croatian restaurants. We might even go out for a Thai dinner or to the Chinese guy around the corner. Why on earth do we, then, have to eat ‚African food‘? Why can’t we simply enjoy Ethiopian, Gambian, South African, or Tunisian cuisine? Just asking.
Anyway, the people you interview, like Pierre Thiam, try really hard to give you a nuanced feel of e.g. different West African countries and even ethnicities. But why bother listening and pick up on that in your online-reporting.
African Slum Journal is a biweekly video episode which tells about the life of people living in slum communities. A weak media sector provides scope for corruption and inequality. By giving African slums a voice we will strengthen the local media sector together with the people who live in the slum.
The video journal is mostly from Nairobi (Kenya) – at times from other parts of East Africa. It’s a great source of non-mainstream coverage of the everyday lives of a certain urban population. Often hopeful, sometimes less – but always real, at last.
These are the thoughts of one of two Kenyan teenage sisters who are having their hair braided at the hair saloon, that lead into the short film Yellow Fever – a mixed-media animation by Kenyan filmmaker Ng’endo Mukii.
The short film explores the colonizing influences of Western, caucasian beauty ideals on young African women as these are disseminated through mainstream media and advertising.
„Any white complexion“, as the film notes, seems to be „beauty. And that is now what drove the girls to try and use ‚beauty creams to bleach themselves.“ So did the women that braids the hair of the other teenage sister in the short film. She is what is commonly known as Mkorogo in Kenya – someone that uses skin bleaching products, but had just enough money to apply it on the hands and face, which are most often visible, but now yellow.
During my own research in Nairobi, I have also partly noticed this more-than-disturbing imposition of beauty ideals on anyway beautiful people. Due to economic reasons often an ‚elite-problem‘, women that bleach their skin are also infamously known as rangi ya thao. This is a mash-up from the Kiswahili words rangi ya (=color of) and thao, which is a sheng abbreviation for „thousand“. The notion refers to the 1.000 Kenyan Shilling note, which is sort of brownish in color – and this is seemingly the color one gets when one bleaches, which, in turn, can only be afforded when one has enough thaos in the pocket. In short, rangi ya thao refers to a wealthy woman that bleaches her skin as well as to her skin tone which is a result of the bleaching.
This is what Ng’endo Mukii says motivated her exploration:
I am interested in the concept of skin and race, in the ideas and theories sown into our flesh that change with the arc of time. I believe that skin and the body, are often distorted into a topographical division between reality and illusion. The idea of beauty has become globalised, creating homogenous aspirations, and distorting people’s self-image across the planet.Ng'endo Mukii ( Director, Animator, Editor)
Source: „Kenyan Animated Short Film ‚Yellow Fever‘ Expores Colorist & Self-Image Among African Girls And Women“ (Article on okayafrica.com).
Graduates from Kampala (Uganda) have created Katoto, a whacky old man from a south-western Ugandan tribe who can be described „as your funny uncle who gets up to mischief“.
The interesting thing about Katoto is that it incorporates local relevancies (e.g. ethnicity, belonging) while at the same time tapping into more global phenomena (e.g. Katoto taking on the „Ice Bucket-Challenge“ or trying to take a „Selfie“). Notably, the format of the cartoon takes into account available local media settings; and mobile phones, like in other African countries, are among the probably most widely spread media forms. Considering that, the Katoto-cartoons are relatively short in duration (about 1 minute), so they can be easily shared via WhatsApp 1. There is also a Katoto YouTube-Channel, containing eight videos that have been watched about 133.000 times all-together at the time of writing this post.
Key to the creation of Katoto, according to its creators, are the culture and language of the Ugandan people. Katoto is a chance of a Ugandan self-portrait in an entertaining way. In order to make the strips accessible and convey meaning beyond the local language that Katoto speaks (and one that is also neither understood by all Ugandans nor by all of Katotos creators), the character and jokes are made as physical as possible, being „almost like pantomime“.
From my own field research in Nairobi (Kenya), I have found that WhatsApp, in the last year or so, has become increasingly popular and started to be used more widely, i.e. not by upper class elites only. ↩