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African Entrepreneurs

Creators of Ushagz clothing

In a Northeastern University dorm overlooking the Boston city skyline, two students began what seemed to be a fun side project while finishing up their undergraduate studies. However, they didn’t think their small idea would take off in such a positive way.

Africa is usually looked at as one of the poorest continents in the world. Although there are some bad parts in Africa a lot of young Africans have learned to be innovative with the resources they have. This craftiness and creativity allows young African entrepreneurs to come up with interesting businesses and concepts that can often times be inspired by their surroundings.

Martin Kimani, a senior, Engineer major, who grew up in Kenya, and Binja Basiminke, a junior, pre med major, who grew up in both Kenya, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo were both able to bring their cultural backgrounds into their newly formed T-shirt line as well as other African cultures.

It all started with a small idea revisited and a dull spring break that put it into action. Kimani had brought up the idea of a T-shirt line to Basimike a year prior but it wasn’t until it became a reality later on when he conjured up a few designs and later collaborated with Basimike for more design ideas. Both wanted to focus on the progress in Africa as well as the past. That idea came to life as Basimike and Kimani brainstormed some ideas of the different shirts they wanted to create. Basimike who has lived in multiple parts of Africa and speaks a few different languages, which was the jumping point for their T-shirts

Ushagz seemed to be an appropriate name for the T-shirt company, due to the fact that it is a term that mostly young Africans use and the pair had the idea to relate to their younger audience with a catchy name. Ushagz, which is a Swahili slang term for the “rural areas,” became the name of the line because to most it would represent something less modern but to Kimani and Basimike its where they draw a lot of their inspiration. With their quirky shirts that use African humor as well as different languages spoken throughout the continent they are able to use their shirts as both an educational tool as well as an interesting way to meet new people. They wanted to create cultural awareness about Africa by creating conversation pieces.

“We want to help people become more culturally aware,” said Basimike. “I know a lot of people hear of Africa and they think they are hungry, they are dying, there’s so many wars going on, but there’s actually so much more then what the stereotypic idea is”

Kimani, who always found it interesting that people wore paraphernalia from other states brought that idea into the T-shirt line he co-created.

“I’ve always had that idea in the background to represent Africa so what happened was I sat down and came up with a few designs,” Kimani said

“What’s different about us is one of the things that’s in our goal and our mission statement,” said Basimike. “We want our t-shirts to carry a message with it and so the message that most of our T-shirts have is Africa is diverse, Africa has so many aspects to it and we have so much to offer to the world.”

To get their company off the ground they didn’t just start any old website to promote their new brand they hit the social media full force with blogging, Twitter, and Facebook.

“Right now websites and social media is the way to be out there,” Kimani said. “You’re able to reach more people and that’s what helped us a lot.”

However the purpose of the T-shirt line was not to gain a profit, although making a profit is great plus to the company, they plan on giving a large majority of that profit away to countries in Africa that may be in need.

“Our goal as young African entrepreneurs is for us to bring Africa to the world,” Basimike said. “We want to do this through the clothes that we make.”

Whether its something as small as helping one family eat for the month or as big as giving the money towards building a school, the pair have big dreams to better their home continent.

“You can have an idea to vote for where you want your money to go to whether it’s a grassroots organization in Congo or it be in Uganda so we have that type of interaction with the costumer” Kimani said.

Young African entrepreneurs Kimani and Bakimike can be found all throughout the campus at Northeastern University. Mirna Shampemba, a sophmore business major at Northeastern hopes to one day work in Africa as a corporate lawyer and contribute to her home country of Democratic Republic of Congo.

“I just wanted to be able to help my country in some way and business was always something that I have been interested in, said Shampemba.

Shampemba, who has been living in Finland with her family before coming to Northeastern University, has also lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo feels the importance of giving back to where you came from and through her education would like to do so. Although she is not yet an entrepreneur Shampemba does have big plans to bring new ideas to her country.

Coming from a family of euntrepenuers Shampemnba has the experience in creating businesses and running them in her home country. This business background has inspired Shampemba to use her future Northeastern degree for the betterment of her home country.

“We know how important it is to develop and evolve the countries,” Shempemba said.  “My dad has had many opportunities to work abroad but he has always taken positions in Africa.”

Africa has been churning out a lot of different kinds of entrepreneurs who have been working at breaking the stereotypes that people have about Africa. As it moves forward into the future we should be looking to Africa to see the newest development in culture and make the idea of Africa with all the negative connotations that appear along with it.

Whether it starts out in a dorm in the middle of Northeastern University or a corporate office in South Africa, African entrepreneurs are setting the precedence all over the world in order to benefit Africa in the long run.



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Salif Keita

Salif Keita

With a total of 19 studio albums Salif Keita could arguably be one of the most popular and successful artist to come out of Africa. Keita also known as the “golden voice of Africa” has been able to touch many with his music and build great success. The singer who was born in Djoliba, Mali has been creating hit after hit for over 4 decades and is known all around the world for his music. What makes Keita a little bit unique is the fact that he has albinism, which doesn’t restrict his world travels and musical ability at all but instead makes him stand out in the sea of artist. Keita’s music uses traditional African instruments such as the Kora as well as inspiration from European and American influences that adds a modern twist to his music. Salif Keita has been able to gain national success with his music and gain a large fan following. He’s been creating music for a very long time but always finds ways to make his sound new and interesting as North Shore News describes

Almost every track on this latest compilation album takes off musically in a different direction. “Mandjou,” written in the late ’70s while he was with Les Ambassadeurs, shows Keita at his early best. Like a true griot, he composed the tune for the president of Guinea after the politician had named him “Minister of Music and Culture.” Latin-influenced rhythms, a tight horn section and rocking band set the groove for a soaring vocal workout.

Traditionally Keita is from the Madinka tribe and with his last name being Keita and is known as a direct descendent of the founder of the Mali empire Sundiata Keita. With his status as a descendent from royalty he wasn’t expected to choose a path of music as his career because it is seen as a lower status to become a musician or whats known as a Griot. However because of his albinism he was cast out of his village because his disorder was viewed as bad luck for the community. Keita’s luck seems to be very good since he is creating new and impactful music and seems to have no plan of stopping anytime soon.

Some rights reserved to FlickrDelusions

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From Hollywood to Nollywood


Nollywood Films

Hollywood isn’t the only place movies are being made anymore. There’s a booming film industry based in Nigeria known as Nollywood. They produce between 1,000 to 2,000 movies per year making it the third largest film industry in the world. African movies have been around since the 1960’s however Nollywood hads been steadily gaining popularity all over the world including the US. They are able to churn out so many movies because of their lower budget as The Guardian UK explains,
“Nollywood makes about 2,400 films per year, putting it ahead of the US, but behind India, according to a Unesco report last year. Nigerian film-makers tend to operate in a fast and furious manner; shoots rarely last longer than two weeks, cheap digital equipment is almost always used and the average budget is about $15,000 (£9,664).”
You wont see fancy affects and camera work here. Nollywood movies focuses on stories that draw in the viewer. They have all the same aspects of the films we may watch in the U.S. with romance and action however the difference with these films are the twist they add to the films. They use different aspects of African culture in the films mainly from western Africa to tell the stories. Although Nigeria is the last place people would think of  to have a large film industry as abc news explains,
“Nollywood is a $200-million (€148-million) business in a country where 70 percent of the population still lives on less than $1 a day, where residents can consider themselves lucky if the power is on for two hours a day, and where raw sewage runs through open canals along the streets. It is a country known throughout the world for corruption, Internet fraud, prostitution and oil, but certainly not for its film culture.”
This surprising film industry that Nigeria has built is becoming an impacting force with the rapid growth and popularity through out the world. It’s an industry that should definitely not be over looked. It is even turing out super star actors like Genevieve Nnaji who as CNN described is being hailed as the African Julia Roberts
“The screen diva — dubbed the Julia Roberts of Africa — has starred in dozens of films, enchanting millions of movie fans across the continent.”
So if you ever want to find something new to watch try looking for a Nollywood produced film. You may just like it.
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New New journalism

Firuzeh Shokooh Valle

Firuzeh Shokooh Valle, an editor for Puerto Rico section in Global Voices, visited Reinventing the news last friday to discuss the importance of citizen journalism and how it can help  journalist report on stories from all over the world without having to leave their living rooms. She discussed covering stories in Puerto Rico with help from Puerto Rican bloggers and journalist who had been using the internet to report activities in the country. She discussed the issues that come with following citizen journalist and the problem of accuracy but also spoke about how citizen journalism has helped her to report on stories that she couldn’t physically be at. Shokooh Valle discussed the pros and cons that come with reporting with a high reliability to citizen journalist and blogs. Shokooh Valle has been able to use citizen journalism to tell the stories of people across the ocean without ever being there which is an amazing advancement in journalism.

Picture by: Kadidjha Traore

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African fashions becoming mainstream

Woman wearing traditional African prints and Patterns

Designers of all calibers and backgrounds have been finding inspiration in the vibrant and attention grabbing colors of African prints and patterns. From the runways of Paris to Milan designers have  been debuting their African inpired designs and in a way making African clothing “cool.” Known brands such as L.A.M.B, Missoni, and Suno have been fully embracing the trend and bringing it to life in their Spring 2011 collection as seen in the latest online issue of Teen Vogue.

“From L.A.M.B. to Missoni, the runway was a delightful smorgasbord of vibrant patterns inspired by everything from African fabrics to American prep staples. Forget everything your mother told you about mixing prints – for this look, the more you pile on the better!”

Everywhere you look this spring it seems like African print or as it is sometimes called “Tribal Prints” can be seen all throughout the runways and shopping locations such as Aldo and H&M. put together a list of key pieces to own in this trend and where they can be found.

African fashions and designs have always been vivid and inspiring across the continent and with its leap into the mainstream it may bring african designers  to the list of mainstream designers.

All rights reserved by Tettey Sensimilli

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Pho Basil

177A Mass Avenue Boston MA
T. 617.262.5377 F. 617.262.5259

Sun – Thurs / 11:30am – 10:00pm
Fri & Sat / 11:30am – 10:30pm

Today was a really terrible day in the city of Boston. With snow and slush all over the place it didn’t really feel like yesterday was the first day of spring. I took a trip to Pho Basil for one of my favorite foods, Pho. Now I know this meal isn’t very African at all but a lot of west African countries have asian influences in their cuisine.

Pho Basil which is located on Mass ave is a Vietnamese restaurant that serves a variety of traditional Vietnamese cuisine and even some Thai choices. Pho Basil is a nice location for a late lunch since it isn’t very crowded or busy during that time. The location isn’t very big it is a nice size to have a lunch or dinner with a friend or two and be able to hear what they are saying to you.

The appetizers at pho basil range from $3.95 for edemame to $8.95 for roasted quail. which isn’t a bad range in prices especially if the only thing you may want on the menu are appetizers. The appetizer I went for was my favorite appetizer of all time crab ragoon. Pho basil has some of the best crab ragoon I’ve ever had because the stuffing inside is spicy and the shell is so light and crispy. I thought the crab ragoon at Pho Basil were amazing.

Since I went during lunch time there was a lunch special on the menu which I didn’t take advantage of, but if taken  you wanted to try the special, you would be able to get 3 things for about $6.95 which is a great deal if you want a bunch of different things all at once for little money.

Eventually I ordered a big bowl of Seafood Pho also known as Tom Cua, which is always very nice on a cold snowy post first day of spring afternoon.

Large bowl of seafood pho

The dish consist of Seafood noodle soup with shrimp, calamari, imitation crab meat and fish cake in chicken broth with rice noodles. It’s usually accompanied by soy bean sprouts a lime wedge and fresh mint on the side to be added to the soup as you eat. it also comes with condiments such as hot Sirachi sauce (chilli sauce) and hsin sauce (fermented fish paste) which adds to the tastyness of the dish. My seafood pho cost $7.25 and the cheapest pho dishes cost as little as $5.75 for a small. Other entrees such as rice dishes ranged from $6.75 to $10.95.

side of soy bean sprouts, fresh mint, and lime wedge

The condiments

The restaurant did accept credit card and is handicap accessible. My meal overall cost 15 dollars with tip included. The food was high quality and the atmosphere was calm and relaxing which is always great for a late afternoon lunch.

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Lately the news has been filled with either news from the earthquake in Japan or Libya. There is a lot of misconceptions with the reporting and all that is going on in the country as to why the people have been protesting and how it all began. There is even misconception of the quirky leader Qaddafi.

Due to all the revolts that began in primarily arab speaking african countries starting with Tunisia. Most of the revolts started because the people of the countries were unhappy with the way their economies were as CNN described,

In Libya, protesters rallied against, among other things, high unemployment and a delay in a government housing project, and they eventually called for democracy and an end to Moammar Gadhafi’s almost 42-year-long rule.

Following the lead of two successful revolts preceding Libya, the country was able to begin their protest, however their revolution seemed to be covered very differently in the media then the Tunisian and Egyptian protest. instead of being called protestors the people fighting against Qaddafi became rebels and were considered very violent and the death toll rose everyday because of these violent clashes that ensued in some of the most highly populated cities in the country as news networks such as CNN say,

“At the beginning of March, the Libyan military stepped up efforts to reclaim areas lost to rebels.”

This battle continues and soon right on cue the US gets involved launching missiles at the country at Qaddafi’s army and supporters. Why would the US get involved in something so far from them and a country that seems to not affect them very much? if you want to look deeper into this question just take a look at how much it takes to fill up your gas tank now a days. They are one of the biggest exporters of oil and this upheaval they’ve been having has been affecting the US greatly. however is it necessary to get involved in yet another conflict? Guess we will have just see what comes of it.

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Mapping Africa

Geographic location is a very important aspect of looking at a map of Africa. There are many countries and with each country many different cultures that come along with it. One mapping error that drives me crazy is when people don’t realize where commonly spoken about countries are located on the continent. One country that gets miss placed often is Egypt, like when Fox news tried to give a visual about the protest in Egypt and placed egypt where Iran should have been in the middle east.

Sometimes maps can be used to Show the severity of things such as in this article that describes the malaria epidemic in African countries. Maps are very effective at backing up a story with more visuals. Sometimes when maps are inaccurate they can make a situation seem worse than it actually is or scare people into believing something about a location. This site does a good job showing an accurate map of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Most people think that the entire continent is ravaged by the disease and although it is a big problem the map shows a more accurate view then what you would see in the media some countries in Africa don’t have as big a problem with it as others.

Mapping can be a large part with telling stories and giving your audience a view of the story you may be portraying. The maps just need to be used well and very accurately in order to make sure your audience gets the full story.

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Dinner at Tarenga

There aren’t very many African restaurants in Boston but I found one Senegalese restaurant called Tarenga, near the South End. You can check out my twitter feed about the location on KayNTee. It was a very small place with a homey feel that packed a large crowd of boisterous people, who chatted and laughed as they enjoyed their meals of authentic senegalese and other western African cuisine.

I ordered an appetizer of Nem, which are spring rolls. I’m sure when you think of spring rolls you thing of chinese food and not african food but it came about the large Chinese imigrant population in the western African countries. This asian influence brought about Nem which is now a staple across West Africa. It reminded me  of the way my mother used to make them when I was younger. I’ve also become a skilled Nem maker thanks to my mothers super vision. The dipping sauce for the dish which is usually made with nuoc mam (fish sauce), vinegar and hot peppers was a lot sweeter then what I was used to. The presentation of the food was very nice with the asian spoon for the dipping sauce to give it a special touch.  The filling inside had a lot of rice noodles and a lot less meat inside then what I’m used to but it was still a great spin on a dish I love.

The wait for the main courses was very long but the wait didn’t seem really bad because the atmosphere of the restaurant made you kind of enjoy sitting and just chatting while you waited for your food. Finally after waiting so patiently the food arrived and there was a lot of it. It wasn’t quiet what I expected. I ordered Attieke which is a dish that is native to the country of Cote D’ivoire. Attieke is a dish make out of skinned and grounded cassava. The cassava is broken up to make it look like a grain. Its always eaten with some sort of fish either fried or in this case baked. Freshly cut tomatoes and onions are always accompany it with s little bit of oil and seasonings. This Attieke I orders was very different from any Attieke I ever had because it had ginger and limes which made it taste a lot different from what I’m used to. The fish that came with it was huge and very well seasoned. The dish over all was different from what I’m used to but was still very tasty.The person I went with ordered Djebou jien which is the national dish in Senegal. Its usually served with fish and other vegetables such as eggplant, cabbage, carrots, and cassava. The rice is usually a orange in color because it is cooked in a tomatoes sauce with the fish and the vegetables. Its served with everything on one plate and a lime which is how I enjoy it. The lime is squeezed on top of the rice vegetables and the fish. Sometimes like in this case the fish is pre-stuffed with a mixture that is called roff which consist of parsley, garlic, hot peppers and other spices. This djebou jien was lacking a little flavor and a little bit dry but the fish was very good. The entire experience at this restaurant over all was very good and I enjoyed it as well as recommend it if you want to try something new and different in your dinning.

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Beauty in Africa

What if women in America all strived to be as overweight as possible in hopes of attracting the right man? Countries like Mauritania have beauty ideals that the western world would find downright outrageous. With it being international women’s day/month I wanted to discuss the beauty standards of different countries in Africa. Women of Mauritania go to extreme lengths to fatten their daughters up for their future husbands. Some parents even send their daughters to fattening camp,  ran by women such as Fatematou who explains in this BBC article the diet the girls are kept on to maintain their round figures,

“I make them eat lots of dates, lots and lots of couscous and other fattening food,” Fatematou, a voluminous woman in her sixties who runs a kind of “fat farm” in the northern desert town of Atar, told BBC World Service’s The World Today program.”

For the men in Mauritania its more desirable for a woman to be larger because it represents wealth while a skinnier woman may represent poverty or not being able to eat enough. However in Mauritania this tradition is starting to be seen as a little bit old fashioned as explained in the same article,

“Young people in Mauritania today, we’re not interested in being fat as a symbol of beauty. Today to be beautiful is to be natural, just to eat normally.”

Another beauty phenomenon, at least in the western countries is skin bleaching. All though it isn’t as far fetched as fattening women for marriage it is a big thing in the area. Women will use many different kinds of dangerous chemicals all in the name of having fair skin. This beauty trend isn’t only practiced in parts of Africa but all parts of the world including the U.S. However in western African countries the number of women who turn to this practice is staggering as this article breaks it down,

“The prevalence of skin lightening reported among those interviewed in Africa shows some disturbing results. In Bamako in Mali, researchers calculated 25% prevalence, while in some studies in Dakar, Senegal, up to 52% prevalence was observed. A study in Pretoria, South Africa revealed up to 35%, while the most disturbing was a study in 2002 which showed up to 77% prevalence in Lagos, Nigeria.”

Whether women are eating large quantities of food to gain weight or using dangerous bleaching products, beauty practices are different all over the world, so who are we to judge. The only thing you can do is be comfortable in your own skin

Photo by Maindru Photo

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