News Around the Globe


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Most states in Nigeria have experienced politically instigated violence as the country prepares for elections on March 28 and April 11. The National Commission on Human Rights recorded more than 60 cases of violence and 58 deaths in December 2014 and January 2015 alone. Some experts say such violence is to be expected in a budding democracy.
Temitayo Olofinlua, GPJ Nigeria
March 27, 2015
“For a country with many differences – ethnic, religious and ideological – violence is inevitable. This is just a phase that will pass. ”

IBADAN, NIGERIA – March 1, 2015, started like any other Sunday for Sulaiman Elejigbo, the leader of Accord party in Ward 8, the ward with the greatest number of polling stations in Ibadan South East Local Government in Nigeria’s Oyo State.

Elejigbo woke up at 5:30 a.m., at the first cry of the muezzin, or crier, performed ablution and spread out his mat to pray for the success of the rally his party was holding that day.

The Accord party is running a candidate for the Oyo governor’s seat in the April 11 state elections. Party members are also seeking positions in the state assembly and the National Assembly.

The rally started at 11 a.m. with a few people at Ode Ige Street in Odinjo, a neighborhood in Ibadan, Elejigbo says. By afternoon, he estimates the gathering had grown to about 2,000. Some were standing in the street; others were sitting on the balconies of their homes. Police officers were present.

“At around 4 p.m., about three or four boys came and started shouting, ‘What is Accord party?’” he says.

The young men, most of whom were in their 20s, asked the question in a goading, dismissive manner, then went around slapping people with their bare hands.

The assailants then left and came back a few minutes later as part of a group of about 15, Elejigbo says. Some of the young men were armed with guns.

“They started shooting, and people started running everywhere,” Elejigbo says, his voice shaking. “Before we knew what was happening, two boys were dead. Many were seriously injured.”

Elejigbo fled the scene.

Four people died of gunshot wounds incurred at the rally, Elijigbo says. Seventeen people were injured.

The police confirmed the incident and said they had arrested eight suspects.

The shooting left the Odinjo community in fear, Elejigbo says.

As Nigeria gears up for a general election on March 28, many regions of the country are experiencing politically motivated violence. In two months, 58 people have died in the violence, according to the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission.

Experts say this kind of violence is not new in Nigeria and is inevitable in a young democracy divided along ethnic, religious and ideological lines. Religious leaders, politicians, nonprofit organizations and others call for peace – and some urge the government to deploy the army to ensure peaceful elections.

The general elections will be the eighth since 1959, the year preceding the country’s independence from the British.

Hate speech, destruction of campaign billboards and posters, and violent clashes between supporters of rival parties have characterized the campaign season.

Over a 50-day period beginning December 2014, the National Human Rights Commission documented more than 60 separate incidents of election-related violence in 22 states, according to the Feb. 13 report. The commission has also received complaints of hate speech.

Half of all Nigerians are worried about political violence in this election, according to an opinion poll conducted in December by Afrobarometer, an independent research network that conducts surveys on democracy in more than30 African countries.

CLEEN Foundation, a nonprofit organization that champions public safety, has classified 21 of Nigeria’s 36 states as violence-prone because of their political tensions and histories of electoral violence.

Violence occurs during every election in Nigeria and at all stages, from pre-election to Election Day to post-election, says Bamiji Oyebode, a lecturer in peace studies and conflict resolution at the National Open University of Nigeria.

In the last election, in 2011, more than 900 people died in bombings, mob violence and other incidents, according to a 2011 National Democracy Institute report.

The March 1 attack in Ibadan left a trail of destruction.

The young men, whom police call “thugs,” shattered the windshield of Taoheed Giwa’s towtruck. Giwa had left the truck near the scene of the shooting as he took a young shooting victim to the hospital, he says, pointing to a spot of dried blood on the pavement where he picked up the young man.

Because he needed to have his windshield replaced, Giwa was not able to work for several days after the incident.

A woman who was selling yam and cassava flour near the rally site says the gang attacked her and destroyed her display table. Fearing the gang might attack her again, she requested anonymity.

“I was trying to pack my things when one came and slapped me,” she says. “That was before they started shooting.”

She now keeps her damaged display table up with stones and pieces of wood.

“I do not have money to call any carpenter to repair it yet, so I manage it like that,” she says.

Political parties have exchanged accusations over the March 1 incident.

Elejigbo says the ruling party in Oyo state, the All Progressives Congress, or APC, sent the men to disrupt his party’s rally. However, Olawale Sadare, the APC’s director of publicity and strategy, says his party was not involved in the incident.

“The Accord is being mischievous,” Sadare says. “At the APC, we do not harbor thugs. We detest political violence.”

In a press briefing after the attack, Oyo State Police Commissioner Muhammad Musa Katsina accused the Accord party of holding a campaign rally without notifying police. But Elejigbo insists that the party informed the police about the meeting and that officers attended.

All political parties deny knowledge of the suspects arrested in the March 1 incident.

Elejigbo says the attack at the rally was the first politically motivated violence in the neighborhood.

However, he previously experienced other forms of aggression there.

Some time ago, some young men threw a big stone on his roof. The stone made a hole in the roof, but no one was injured, he says. He cannot prove that attack was politically motivated.

Members of other political parties have also experienced violence.

The campaign office of Alao Akala, the Labour Party’s gubernatorial candidate for Oyo state, was ransacked in February, says Akala’s director of public affairs, Oludare Ogunlana. Cars and other property were destroyed.

No arrests have been made in connection with the crime.

Labour Party billboards have also been torn, Ogunlana says.

“What is happening is not peculiar to Oyo state,” he says. “It is happening in other states too.”

He accuses the ruling party, the APC, of being behind the violence.

But Sadare says his party’s billboards have also been destroyed. The APC is not interested in violence, he says.

“We don’t even have the resources to sponsor violence,” he says.

Some areas have remained peaceful during the campaign season.

Femi Kuti, who lives around Ring Road in Ibadan, says there has been no electoral violence of any kind in the area.

He has not even seen a torn campaign billboard, he says.

Oyebode, the university lecturer, says electoral violence is unavoidable in the young democracy.

“For a country with many differences – ethnic, religious and ideological – violence is inevitable,” he says. “This is just a phase that will pass. Other countries in the world pass through this phase too, especially at the teething stages of democracy.”

Kenya and Ivory Coast have had bloody elections too, he says.

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Global Press Journal reporters offer unique insights into their communities. In this new series, How to Spend an Hour In:, reporters take you inside their communities to highlight unique landmarks and cultural touchstones. Today from Global Press Journal Nepal: Experience Buddhism at Nepal’s largest stupa.
March 25, 2015

KATHMANDU, NEPAL – The Boudhanath, an ancient Buddhist site, draws Buddhist pilgrims and tourists of all faiths to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.

The Boudhanath is a stupa, a hemispherical structure that serves as a focal point of Buddhist meditation practice. A stupa customarily contains relics of honored Buddhist teachers. The Boudhanath is the largest stupa in Nepal.

When UNESCO selected the Kathmandu Valley as a world heritage site in 1979, it identified the Boudhanath as one of seven monuments that represent the valley’s cultural heritage. 

More than 700 metal prayer wheels encircle the stupa. Near a large prayer wheel at the northern entrance to the stupa, worshipers light butter lamps and offer prayers.

Pilgrims do a “kora,” a meditative walk around the stupa, mornings and evenings. While circumambulating the monument, they chant and spin prayer wheels.

Tourists observe the daily activities from cafés and restaurants surrounding the monument. To photograph the stupa from a bird’s-eye perspective, visit one of the nearby rooftop restaurants.

After visiting the stupa, tourists can stop by one of the nearby gompas – Buddhist learning centers – and discuss Buddhist philosophy with the resident monks.

Shops surrounding the stupa sell handicrafts, clothing and thankas – paintings on cotton or silk.

The atmosphere is calming and peaceful. Meditative chants echo in the air.

DETAILS: The entry fee is 250 rupees ($2.50) for foreigners and 50 rupees (50 cents) for visitors who live in countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC. You can purchase the ticket from the counter, which is on the right corner as you enter the gate.

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January’s presidential election drew the lowest voter turnout in Zambia’s democratic history, raising concerns about voters’ commitment to the democratic process. Millions of the nation’s registered voters, most of whom live in poverty, have begun skipping elections because they no longer expect progress. However, those who cherish democracy say it can only succeed if Zambians remain committed to the process despite disappointment.
Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia
March 23, 2015
“I don’t see the need to vote, because it does not change my life in any way. ”

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – Voting is a useless exercise.

That’s what Senior Banda, a trader at Lusaka City Market, says as she reaches into her waist bag to give change to a customer buying tomatoes at her vegetable stall.

An announcer on Banda’s small radio has just announced that the Electoral Commission of Zambia plans to roll out free voter registration in preparation for a 2016 general election. On hearing Banda’s response to the announcement, her customer tries to convince her that voting is important. A heated debate ensues.

Speaking at the top of her voice, Banda, 48, declares that she has voted twice. The first time was in 1991, she says, because she thought it would bring change. The second time was 20 years later, in 2011, when she voted for a change in administration. Neither vote brought the changes she wanted.

“It puts me off to think of voting again,” she says.

“Look at how we are suffering here,” she says. “Maybe you people that drive and drink water from taps can vote. Count me out.”

Banda says she has never owned a car and does not have running water in her home; she draws water from a well behind her house.

“I cannot stop selling my products to line up in the sun or rain just to give someone a hefty salary when I have none,” she says.

Voter apathy is on the rise in Zambia, as evidenced by declining turnout in presidential elections. Voter turnout decreased by 54 percent from the 2006 election to the 2015 election.

The election held Jan. 20 to replace President Michael Sata, who died in October 2014, drew the lowest voter turnout in the country’s history. Election organizers and observers blame the low turnout on bad weather and inadequate voter education, but some Zambians say they chose not to vote because, like Banda, they don’t see value in it.

Voter apathy is a threat to democracy, activists say. It could enable a minority-backed government to take power.

Since Zambia won independence from Britain in 1964, it has held seven presidential elections. Presidents serve five-year terms, but two presidents have died in office, prompting by-elections.

The nation’s first presidential election was held in 1991, ending the 27-year one-party rule of founding President Kenneth Kaunda.

The highest voter turnout in a presidential election – 70 percent – was in 2006, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

In the election held two years later, after the death of President Levy Mwanawasa, voter turnout dropped to 45 percent, according to the institute. In the 2011 general election, turnout rose to 54 percent and then dropped to 32 percent in January 2015. Only 1.6 million of the nation’s 5 million registered voters cast ballots in January.

Edgar Lungu, the candidate of the ruling Patriotic Front, won the election by 2 percentage points. He was sworn in as president on Jan. 25. In his campaign, Lungu promised to create jobs, empower women and reduce poverty.

Voter apathy stems from the government’s inability to raise the nation out of poverty, citizens and experts say.

Zambia’s economy is gaining strength, growing at rates as high as 6.7 percent in recent years, but most Zambians still struggle financially. As of 2010, 60 percent of Zambians lived in poverty, according to the World Bank.

The average Zambian lives on less than $4 a day, according to the United Nations.

Alfred Chanda, a 59-year-old construction worker in Lusaka, the nation's capital, says he voted in 1991, hoping the change to real democracy would bring prosperity. Disappointed by the pace of progress, he has not voted since.

"The country had high expectations, especially since we were moving from one-party state to multiparty state," he says. "But nothing changed. If anything, things got worse."

Chanda, a father of four and a freelance laborer, says he sometimes goes for three to five months without income.

 

Zambia’s economy was battered in the mid-1970s when the price of copper, one of the nation’s principal exports, plummeted. In 1997, the government sold its interests in copper mines in the hope that private industrialists would improve efficiency and worker training, reviving the sector’s profitability and generating tax revenue. While copper production has risen steadily over the past decade, privatization has benefited foreign mine owners much more than the workforce or the government.

The country’s economic progress hasn’t trickled down to ordinary citizens, Chanda says.

“All I see is people benefiting themselves,” he says. “The gap between the poor and the rich keeps widening.”

Leaders of Zambia’s main opposition party, the United Party for National Development, say voters feel uninspired to vote because the government has failed to meet their expectations.

“The people they vote for don’t deliver,” says Canisius Banda, the party’s vice president. “The Patriot Front had promised heaven on earth during the 2011 election campaigns. They promised to pay the farmers on time, but until the rains were here some of the farmers were yet to be paid. They promised more money in the pocket but instead they imposed a wage freeze. They promised a new constitution in 90 days, but until now people are still waiting. They promised more jobs but instead they fired hundreds of nurses.”

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Discouraged by Lack of Progress, Many Zambians Stop Casting Ballots
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LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – Voter apathy is on the rise in Zambia, as evidenced by declining turnout in presidential elections. Voter turnout decreased by 54 percent from the 2006 election to the 2015 election.

The election held Jan. 20 to replace President Michael Sata, who died in October 2014, drew the lowest voter turnout in the country’s history. Election organizers and observers blame the low turnout on bad weather and inadequate voter education, but some Zambians say they chose not to vote because they don’t see value in it.

Voter apathy is a threat to democracy, activists say. It could enable a minority-backed government to take power.

Since Zambia won independence from Britain in 1964, it has held seven presidential elections. Presidents serve five-year terms, but two presidents have died in office, prompting by-elections.

The nation’s first presidential election was held in 1991, ending the 27-year one-party rule of founding President Kenneth Kaunda.

The highest voter turnout in a presidential election – 70 percent – was in 2006, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

In the election held two years later, after the death of President Levy Mwanawasa, voter turnout dropped to 45 percent, according to the institute. In the 2011 general election, turnout rose to 54 percent and then dropped to 32 percent in January 2015. Only 1.6 million of the nation’s 5 million registered voters cast ballots in January.

Edgar Lungu, the candidate of the ruling Patriotic Front, won the election by 2 percentage points. He was sworn in as president on Jan. 25. In his campaign, Lungu promised to create jobs, empower women and reduce poverty.

Voter apathy stems from the government’s inability to raise the nation out of poverty, citizens and experts say.

Zambia’s economy is gaining strength, growing at rates as high as 6.7 percent in recent years, but most Zambians still struggle financially. As of 2010, 60 percent of Zambians lived in poverty, according to the World Bank.

The average Zambian lives on less than $4 a day, according to the United Nations.

Alfred Chanda, a 59-year-old construction worker in Lusaka, the nation's capital, says he voted in 1991, hoping the change to real democracy would bring prosperity. Disappointed by the pace of progress, he has not voted since.

"The country had high expectations, especially since we were moving from one-party state to multiparty state," he says. "But nothing changed. If anything, things got worse."

Leaders of Zambia’s main opposition party, the United Party for National Development, say voters feel uninspired to vote because the government has failed to meet their expectations.

“The people they vote for don’t deliver,” says Canisius Banda, the party’s vice president. “The Patriot Front had promised heaven on earth during the 2011 election campaigns.”

Davies Chama, the secretary general of the ruling Patriotic Front, attributes the low voter turnout in January to timing – the election was held in the middle of the rainy season, when many farmers are not free to participate. Turnout actually exceeded the party’s expectations, he says.

“During our projections of voter turnout, we put it at 30 percent, considering that there was no new registration of voters, people have changed places and some people have died, and it was rainy season, when a lot of people were farming,” Chama says.

The Patriotic Front government has fulfilled the promises it made to voters when it first came to power in 2011, Chama says.

“Some slums have tarred roads, and we have built schools in areas that did not have schools,” he says.

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January’s presidential election drew the lowest voter turnout in Zambia’s democratic history, raising concerns about voters’ commitment to the democratic process. Millions of the nation’s registered voters, most of whom live in poverty, have begun skipping elections because they no longer expect progress. However, those who cherish democracy say it can only succeed if Zambians remain committed to the process despite disappointment. 
Main Quote: 

“Look at how we are suffering here. Maybe you people that drive and drink water from taps can vote. Count me out.”
Senior Banda, vegetable merchant at Lusaka City Market

Background: 

BACKGROUND

Voter apathy is on the rise in Zambia, as evidenced by declining turnout in presidential elections. Voter turnout decreased by 54 percent from the 2006 election to the 2015 election. The election held Jan. 20 to replace President Michael Sata, who died in October 2014, drew the lowest voter turnout in the country’s history. Election organizers and observers blame the low turnout on bad weather and inadequate voter education, but some Zambians say they chose not to vote because they don’t see value in it.

Zambia, a young democracy emerging from years of colonialism, foreign exploitation, one-party rule and civil strife, has long sought to establish an economy that benefits ordinary citizens. After the plummeting price of copper battered the economy in the mid-1970s, the government sold its interests in copper mines in the hope that private industrialists would improve efficiency and worker training, reviving the sector’s profitability and generating tax revenue.

While mineral production has risen steadily over the past decade, privatization has benefited foreign mine owners much more than the workforce or the government. Rival political leaders offer different visions of resource management, health care, employment, labor relations and affordable housing.

Quotes: 

“The country had high expectations, especially since we were moving from one-party state to multiparty state. But nothing changed. If anything, things got worse. The gap between the poor and the rich keeps widening.”
Alfred Chanda, construction worker in Lusaka, Zambia

 

“Not all politicians have selfish motives, so we have to keep voting. Someday we might vote the right person in office. Voting is the only solution.”
Andrew Mwansa, Zambian voter

 

“Voter apathy is an indictment on the political parties. Why should people not feel inspired to take part in the electoral process of this country? We have to get to the bottom of this problem.”
Zambian Chief Justice Ireen Mambilima

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César González grew up in the slums of Buenos Aires and turned to crime to survive. While serving a prison sentence for committing a ransom kidnapping, he acquired a love of literature and wrote his first book of poems. Now free, he continues to shine light on poverty, crime and prejudice with his writing and filmmaking.
Ivonne Jeannot Laens, GPJ Argentina
March 20, 2015
“I am not more than two hands against a much larger system. But I feel useful, because I am contributing something. ”

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – “Free that pigeon,” a man says to a nearby boy in a plaza in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital.

“The police do that,” he says to the “chico de la calle” (“boy of the streets”), his tone indicating empathy with the bird. “The police contain. Not you.”

The kid laughs, releases the flapping pigeon and runs off. The man, poet and filmmaker César González, 26, gazes at the running boy.

González was born in a slum outside Buenos Aires. Beginning at age 14, he committed a long string of crimes, including robberies and kidnapping. Barely surviving police encounters that left him with six bullet wounds, he spent five years in prison on a kidnapping conviction.

He read widely in prison – history, politics, poetry. He wrote his first book of poems behind bars. Now a free man, he is writing his third book.

In addition, González released his second feature film in December 2014.

González aims to use his writing and films to fight a social system he says condemns and stigmatizes the poor.

His fictional films depict slum life, the risks of delinquency, the lack of work opportunities, and mistreatment of the poor by the rich. His poems address universal themes, such as love and death, and express his feelings about the injustices he witnesses.

“I am not more than two hands against a much larger system,” he says. “But I feel useful, because I am contributing something.”

González hopes his work unleashes the chains that bind his readers just as the books he read in prison set him free.

“Art saves – and seriously saves,” he says. “I talk about art not as an element of leisure, but rather as a tool of transformation.”

González says he embraced artistry to turn away from a life of crime and to denounce the stigmatization of lower-class Argentines.

With two feature films to his credit and a third poetry book on the way, he spurs his readers and viewers to ask how many people could escape lives of crime, oppression and imprisonment through creative engagement.

González grew up in the Carlos Gardel slum in suburban Buenos Aires. He was imprisoned from 2005 to 2010 on a kidnapping for ransom conviction.

In 2006 he met Patricio Montesano, a magician who performed at his prison. In a visit after the performance, Montesano told González of his love for literature – and soon began lending him books. González was particularly dazzled by the writings of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the famed Argentine Marxist revolutionary.

Inspired by the books Montesano loaned him, González chose the pen name Camilo Blajaquis when he published his first poem in 2007. The name is a tribute to Cuban guerrilla Camilo Cienfuegos, who fought in the 1959 overthrow of dictator Fulgencio Batista, and Argentine militant Domingo Blajaquis, who was killed by the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1976 to 1983.

González’s first book, “The Revenge of the Tied Lamb” (“La Venganza del Cordero Atado”), published in 2010 with Montesano’s help, comprises poems he wrote in prison up to 2008. His second book, “Chronicle of a Probation” (“Crónica de una Libertad Condicional”), was published in 2014.

González used one of his artistic pursuits to fund the other. With money he earned from book sales, he bought a digital camera and a computer to edit movies. He also took filmmaking courses.

González has made two movies: “Hope Diagnosis” (“Diagnóstico Esperanza”) in 2013 and “What can a body do?” (“¿Qué puede un cuerpo?”) in 2014. Both were released commercially.

He fronts the costs of filming through Facebook collections. He has raised 10,000 pesos ($1,138) online, he says.

González wants to continue rebelling against the marginality that awaited him. He is writing his third book in the same slum where he was born.

“I did not assume the role intended for me,” he says. “In this system that is naturalized, we are separated by social classes. The lower class is there to commit crimes or do the jobs that no one wants to do, and whoever runs from that destiny is condemned.”

More than 5 percent of the Buenos Aires population, more than 163,000 people, live in slums – shanty communities without utilities or paved roads, according to the 2010 National Census of Population, Households and Housing.

About one-fifth of the city’s population lives below the poverty line of 1,830 pesos ($208) a month, according to 2013 government figures.

Cristian Aramayo, who lives in a neighborhood of shanties and mud streets on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, says he identifies with the characters and scenes in González’s movies – people searching for work and not finding it, or finding work and being cheated and mistreated, or doing hard labor for 14 nonstop hours.

It was just such conditions that drove Aramayo, 21, to commit armed robbery three years ago, he says.

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Prisoner to Poet: Argentine Writer-Filmmaker Now Uses Art to Fight Oppression, Injustice
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BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – “Free that pigeon,” a man says to a nearby boy in a plaza in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital.

“The police do that,” he says to the “chico de la calle” (“boy of the streets”), his tone indicating empathy with the captive bird. “The police contain. Not you.”

The kid laughs, releases the flapping pigeon and runs off. The man, poet and filmmaker César González, 26, gazes at the running boy.

González was born in a slum outside Buenos Aires. Beginning at age 14, he committed a long string of crimes, including robberies and kidnapping. Barely surviving police encounters that left him with six bullet wounds, he spent five years in prison on a kidnapping conviction.

He read widely in prison – history, politics, poetry. He wrote his first book of poems behind bars. Now a free man, he is writing his third book.

In addition, González released his second feature film in December 2014.

González aims to use his writing and films to fight a social system he says condemns and stigmatizes the poor.

His fictional films depict slum life, the risks of delinquency, the lack of work opportunities, and mistreatment of the poor by the rich. His poems address universal themes, such as love and death, and express his feelings about the injustices he witnesses.

“I am not more than two hands against a much larger system,” he says. “But I feel useful, because I am contributing something.”

González hopes his work unleashes the chains that bind his readers just as the books he read in prison set him free.

“Art saves – and seriously saves,” he says. “I talk about art not as an element of leisure, but rather as a tool of transformation.”

González says he embraced artistry to turn away from a life of crime and to denounce the stigmatization of lower-class Argentines.

With two feature films to his credit and a third poetry book on the way, he spurs his readers and viewers to ask how many people could escape lives of crime, oppression and imprisonment through creative engagement.

González grew up in the Carlos Gardel slum in suburban Buenos Aires. He was imprisoned from 2005 to 2010 on a kidnapping for ransom conviction.

In 2006 he met Patricio Montesano, a magician who performed at his prison. In a visit after the performance, Montesano told González of his love for literature – and soon began lending him books. González was particularly dazzled by the writings of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the famed Argentine Marxist revolutionary.

Inspired by the books Montesano loaned him, González chose the pen name Camilo Blajaquis – a tribute to Cuban guerrilla Camilo Cienfuegos and Argentine militant Domingo Blajaquis – when he published his first poem in 2007.

González’s first book, “The Revenge of the Tied Lamb,” published in 2010 with Montesano’s help, comprises poems he wrote in prison up to 2008. His second book, “Chronicle of a Probation,” was published in 2014.

González used one of his artistic pursuits to fund the other. With money he earned from book sales, he bought a digital camera and a computer to edit movies. He also took filmmaking courses.

González has made two movies: “Hope Diagnosis” in 2013 and “What can a body do?” in 2014.

Nut Graph: 

César González grew up in the slums of Buenos Aires and turned to crime to survive. While serving a prison sentence for committing a ransom kidnapping, he acquired a love of literature and wrote his first book of poems. Now free, he continues to shine light on poverty, crime and prejudice with his writing and filmmaking.

Main Quote: 

I am not more than two hands against a much larger system. But I feel useful, because I am contributing something.
César González, Argentine poet and filmmaker

Background: 

The artistry of poet-filmmaker César González is rooted in desperate poverty. González grew up among the 5 percent of Buenos Aires residents who live in slums – shanty communities without utilities or paved roads. About one-fifth of the city’s population lives in poverty.

Like many thousands of unemployed young Argentine men, González turned to crime. While in prison, he read widely and began writing poetry. His pen name, Camilo Blajaquis, is a tribute to the Latin American revolutionaries who inspire him.

In his writing and films, González – who lives in the same slum where he grew up – calls attention to the marginalization and stigmatization of the poor in Argentina.

Quotes: 

“What I saw in the movies made me think that there are many who go out to steal and do not return. [González] could get out. He was imprisoned, he reconsidered, and now he is what he is.”

Cristian Aramayo, 21, resident of Buenos Aires slum

“The ideal would be that there were many like [González] because that would allow them to more humanely pass through situations of extreme vulnerability, as is being in prison.”

Silvia Ghiselli, social worker who met González while he was incarcerated

“He clearly shows the discrimination that many people suffer. I think we should give more space to artists like this, so that people can realize what reality is like.”

Andrea Zitto, journalist 

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African designers are using kitenge, a commonly worn fabric, in fresh, inviting ways. The trend is raising the popularity of locally produced garments, offsetting a preference for European fashion. In Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, designers and artisans say their work is flourishing in the warmth of renewed appreciation.
Photo Courtesy of Kivu Nuru
March 18, 2015
“It’s so great to see this local style becoming popular, as opposed to imported products that are often very un-unique. ”

GOMA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO – Sunbursts of orange jump off bold red fabric. Green geometric shapes bump into pink swirls and teal lines. Bright yellow conch shells float on a royal blue sea of fabric.

The beautiful chaos of kitenge, a thick wax cotton fabric common in East Africa, is a common sight in markets and outside small kiosks and shops here. Many women wear pagne, a traditional garment made by wrapping five yards of kitenge.

But in Sumuni Mapendo’s shop, Kivu Nuru, kitenge designs hail a modern fashion revival for the traditional fabric.

Kitenge-wrapped shoes for men and women line the tables. Kitenge jewelry and hats are stacked everywhere. Kitenge blazers with modern lines and innovative handbags fill the shop.

Congolese people have long been fashion-conscious, says Mapendo, 31. But when she opened her business, people were surprised that she was using kitenge in her modern designs.

Traditionally, European-style fashions have been more popular, she says. But in recent years, locals have regained their pride in kitenge.

“Some people are surprised to see how my shop has grown and the progress in my work," she says.

Mapendo acquired her love of artistic crafts growing up in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province. When she was a young girl, people told her she had a peculiar way of making jewelry, she says. When she began sewing, people said the same.

Soon, people began asking her to make similar designs for them.

“Crafts have opened many horizons for me,” she says.

Mapendo has used her success to provide a platform for other local artisans who are using traditional arts in innovative ways. In March 2014, she opened a gallery attached to her shop. Today, painters, designers, sculptors, jewelers and leather workers showcase their designs at Kivu Nuru.

“We aim to give space to local craftsmen – to promote their works, their creativity, through exhibitions with a view to exposing the talents of Goma (CQ) craftsmen to the public,” Mapendo says.

The shop’s name expresses Mapendo’s desire to showcase fresh creations. It means “Light of Kivu,” a reference to the region surrounding Lake Kivu. (Goma is the capital of the province of North Kivu.)

Kivu Nuru is the first shop in Goma to sell modern fashions made with kitenge. Together with local artisans, the shop owner encourages young people to promote Congolese culture rather than European fashion.

DRC, a former Belgian colony, is heavily influenced by European culture. Since gaining independence in 1960, the nation has continued to interact with the West via Christian missionary work and international aid.

Constant exposure to Western media also gives Congolese a taste for Western fashion. Young people here have long imitated international television stars, filmmakers and musicians, says Jean Bahani Wakishuba, head of the North Kivu office of the Division of Arts and Culture.

“They wanted to dress like them,” he says. “But recently, the people of Goma have understood the need to give value to the local culture.”

She says Kivu Nuru supports this trend.

Congolese people have long been fashion-conscious. Young men who associate with a movement called La SAPE, which stands for La Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (“the Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People”), wear dapper suits and other fancy European-style clothing.

Like La SAPE members, called sapeurs, Congolese people strive to look their best, despite living in extreme poverty, Mapendo says. It’s not uncommon, she says, for people to spend a significant portion of their income on fashion, despite living in small metal shacks or struggling to find consistent employment.

The price difference between local and imported fashions can be dramatic. A simple cotton, button-down shirt imported from the United States or Europe can cost as much as $100 here. Shirts made from kitenge can cost as little as a few U.S. dollars, the primary currency here. Still, Congolese tend to prefer European fashions that convey status, Mapendo says.

But slowly, designers like Mapendo are helping to change the preference for European fashions.

Mapendo’s customers say she is taking kitenge-based fashion to the next level.

Kali Elavia says the kitenge fashions he finds at Kivu Nuru are courageous.

Emilie Vumilia says she has never seen another clothing shop like Mapendo’s.

“The designs she is producing reflect the beauty of our African culture,” she says.

The artisans who work in Kivu Nuru say Mapendo’s vision enables them to earn a living doing what they love.

Seamstress Rachel Binwa says sewing innovative kitenge garments is a dream come true.

“Mapendo encourages us to express ourselves through our artwork,” Binwa says. “It’s contributing to our visibility as artists.”

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Wire & News Look Headline: 
DRC Artisans, Merchants Turn Distinctive Traditional Cloth into a Banner of Contemporary Fashion
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GOMA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO – Sunbursts of orange jump off bold red fabric. Green geometric shapes bump into pink swirls and teal lines. Bright yellow conch shells float on a royal blue sea of fabric.

The beautiful chaos of kitenge, a thick wax cotton fabric common in East Africa, is a common sight in markets and outside small kiosks and shops here. Many women wear pagne, a traditional garment made by wrapping five yards of kitenge.

But in Sumuni Mapendo’s shop, Kivu Nuru, kitenge designs hail a modern fashion revival for the traditional fabric.

Kitenge-wrapped shoes for men and women line the tables. Kitenge jewelry and hats are stacked everywhere. Kitenge blazers with modern lines and innovative handbags fill the shop.

Congolese people have long been fashion-conscious, says Mapendo, 31. But when she opened her business, people were surprised that she was using kitenge in her modern designs.

Traditionally, European-style fashions have been more popular, she says. But in recent years, locals have regained their pride in kitenge.

“Some people are surprised to see how my shop has grown and the progress in my work," she says.

Mapendo acquired her love of artistic crafts growing up in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province. When she was a young girl, people told her she had a peculiar way of making jewelry, she says. When she began sewing, people said the same.

Soon, people began asking her to make similar designs for them.

“Crafts have opened many horizons for me,” she says.

Mapendo has used her success to provide a platform for other local artisans who are using traditional arts in innovative ways. In March 2014, she opened a gallery attached to her shop. Today, painters, designers, sculptors, jewelers and leather workers showcase their designs at Kivu Nuru.

“We aim to give space to local craftsmen – to promote their works, their creativity, through exhibitions with a view to exposing the talents of Goma (CQ) craftsmen to the public,” Mapendo says.

The shop’s name expresses Mapendo’s desire to showcase fresh creations. It means “Light of Kivu,” a reference to the region surrounding Lake Kivu. (Goma is the capital of the province of North Kivu.)

Kivu Nuru is the first shop in Goma to sell modern fashions made with kitenge. Together with local artisans, the shop owner encourages young people to promote Congolese culture rather than European fashion.

DRC, a former Belgian colony, is heavily influenced by European culture. Since gaining independence in 1960, the nation has continued to interact with the West via Christian missionary work and international aid.

Constant exposure to Western media also gives Congolese a taste for Western fashion. Young people here have long imitated international television stars, filmmakers and musicians, says Jean Bahani Wakishuba, head of the North Kivu office of the Division of Arts and Culture.

“They wanted to dress like them,” he says. “But recently, the people of Goma have understood the need to give value to the local culture.”

She says Kivu Nuru supports this trend.

Nut Graph: 

African designers are using kitenge, a commonly worn fabric, in fresh, inviting ways. The trend is raising the popularity of locally produced garments, offsetting a preference for European fashion. In Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, designers and artisans say their work is flourishing in the warmth of renewed appreciation.

Main Quote: 

“It’s so great to see this local style becoming popular, as opposed to imported products that are often very un-unique.”
Koko Nepo, fashion designer

Background: 

The people of DRC, a former Belgian colony, have long been fashion-conscious, but they tend to favor European styles. Fashion designers, artisans and merchants are stoking a renewed respect for kitenge, a colorful print fabric that’s commonly used in traditional East African attire.

Kitenge is a common sight in markets and outside kiosks and shops in Goma, the capital of DRC’s North Kivu province. But at Sumuni Mapendo’s shop, Kivu Nuru, shoppers will see an array of contemporary garments and accessories, including shoes, jewelry, hats and blazers. 

Quotes: 

“If more people had our beautiful local products, it could give value to the Congolese culture and to better our image.”
Sumuni Mapendo, owner of Goma clothing and accessory shop

“Mapendo encourages us to express ourselves through our artwork. It’s contributing to our visibility as artists.”
Seamstress Rachel Binwa

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