Ufahamu Africa

Ep. 128: Introducing our Non-Resident Fellows

December 18, 2021 Kim Yi Dionne and Rachel Beatty Riedl Season 6 Episode 128
Ufahamu Africa
Ep. 128: Introducing our Non-Resident Fellows
Show Notes Transcript

We're excited to announce our 2021-22 non-resident fellows: Chido Nyaruwata, Wanjiku Ngugi, Samah Fawzi, and team Soinato Leboo and Gretchen Walch. On this episode, they introduce themselves and, of course, share what they're reading! You'll hear more from them throughout season 6, including episodes created and produced by each of them.

In the news wrap, Kim and Rachel talk about the South African football team, the Africa Cup of Nations (AfCon), the Democracy Summit hosted by the Biden administration, the recent sentencing of Benin's Reckya Madougou, and state-sponsored hacks of Ugandans.

Books, Links, & Articles

Previous Episodes We Mentioned

Kim Yi Dionne:

Welcome to Ufahamu Africa, a podcast about life and politics on the African continent. I'm Kim Yi Dionne, one of your hosts, and I'm joined by my co-host, Rachel Beatty Riedl. Hi, Rachel.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

Hi, Kim. I'm so looking forward to sharing this week's episode with our listeners, where we hear from our inaugural cohort of Ufahamu Africa non-resident fellows. They will be producing innovative episodes throughout this season - season six - and they're going to be bringing their ideas and interviews for everyone to listen to. Today, we get to hear from them as they introduce themselves share their work, and of course, their favorite reads.

Kim Yi Dionne:

I can't wait for our listeners to hear from them. They're a really exciting group of people. Season 6 has a lot to offer, including an upcoming episode featuring Yang Yang Zhou, who talks about her research including a cool paper on soccer. Which brings me to some news on the continent that I read in this week's or I should say this past week's issue of The Continent about the drama surrounding South Africa's football team. FIFA has dismissed its protest over a 1-0 loss to Ghana and the World Cup qualifier that was played in Cape Coast last month, and the South African Football Association has claimed that their side was robbed when the referee awarded the Ghanaian team a penalty. And this is kind of replaying some of what happened in 2017, when South Africa had robbed Senegal with a similar decision and were forced to replay the match. But importantly, when I think about Yang Yang's research, I think a lot about AfCon, right, the African Cup of Nations. Our listeners may remember, you know, back early in season one we featured Peter Alegi, talking about his research on soccer and politics in in, in Africa. And we talked a lot about AfCon. And AfCon, as many of our listeners may know, had been postponed because of COVID-19. And so even though it was supposed to happen in 2020, 2021, it's now scheduled to happen in January and February of 2022. It's meant to kick off in Cameroon in 4 weeks. But the venue for the opening and closing matches the Paul Biya Stadium in Yaound is not ready. And as we all know, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading and causing a lot of travel chaos. So we'll continue to watch this closely. And no matter what happens with AfCon, our listeners can be certain that they'll get to hear about Yang Yang Zhou's research on soccer in Africa.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

Now, Kim, while most people are certainly following the football drama, some people are probably also tuning in to the Democracy Summit, which was hosted by the Biden administration and the U.S. pledged to revitalize democratic governance both at home and called for democratic solidarity abroad to resist creeping authoritarianism globally. Now, there are many important questions about who was invited, who wasn't invited to this summit, and more particularly what ground the U.S. has to stand on in the midst of its own investigation of the former president's related insurrection around the elections. So these are really important questions, and they only make it, to my view, more critical to engage in global conversations about the declining state of democracy around the world, across the African continent, and in many cases, as we've seen in contested elections, sort of terms going forward, military coups, and how the U.S.'s own decline in democracy influences U.S.-Africa diplomatic relations and support for rights rule of law and democracy. Now, in the summit, Biden administration addressed the United States's own shortcomings with honesty and some might say humility, and made welcome announcements, announcements of important new anti-corruption measures, and launched presidential initiative for democratic renewal to ensure that U.S. support for civil and political rights abroad is more concrete than just encouraging words. Michelle Gavin has a nice piece in the Council on Foreign Relations where she points out that citizens are struggling to move their governments in more democratic directions in Africa, and activists on the ground don't always perceive the United States as a resolute partner. So if the United States wants to assert this kind of global leadership, invigorating democratic governance at home and abroad, encouraging the risk taking that is often required to move a society toward greater accountability and respect for the rule of law, there's really a need to strongly demonstrate Washington's sincerity and commitment on this front. One place where that seems particularly relevant this week, is in Benin, where leading opposition figure Reckya Madougou, who was a former justice minister, was found guilty of assassination plot charges by a special court and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Now the charges have been called politically motivated and a judge assigned to the case has fled to France and her attorney states that the crime is not this kind of political assassination. But instead her crime as the judge, as a court see it is embodying a true democratic alternative to the regime. Ending by saying that there is no justice in Benine. So, sigh, this is yet another case in point for the work of the democracy summit and for us all to take up.

Kim Yi Dionne:

Yes. And just one more point, as we're talking about democracy, there is some important reporting on media harassment that our listeners should follow up on. For example, in the latest issue of This Week in Africa, I saw a New York Times article reported by Abdi Latif Dahir about how state-sponsored surveillance targeted journalists in Uganda. More specifically, Apple issued a warning to two journalists and one politician warning them of state-sponsored attacks on their iPhones. And at least one of those attacks was linked to the powerful Israeli cyber espionage tool Pegasus, right. So this company that's been blacklisted by the United States. Now the disclosure that Apple warning notices to these three Ugandans came one day after reports that American diplomats in the East African nation also had their iPhones hacked with Pegasus. And those diplomats were the first American government officials known to have been targeted by the Pegasus tool, which as some of our listeners may already know it's it's designed to sneak into a user's phone and give the invader access to its contents without being detected. So I'm sure you know, as more information comes out, we might find that there are others who have been targeted, potentially in other in other countries, but we'll continue to follow as as news reports come out.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

Thanks, Kim. And for our listeners, you can find links to those stories and bonus links on our website. And now we're excited to have you hear from our non-resident fellows. So first up is Wanjiku Ngugi, a human rights lawyer and researcher whose work focuses on gender and women's rights.

Wanjiku Ngugi:

Muriega. This is a common Kikuyu greeting that loosely translates to, "Are you good?" The interesting thing about this greeting is that, like many other African greetings, it leaves no room for negatory answers. As such, the answer to "muriega?" is always "ii turiega," which translates to "Yes, we are doing good." My name is Wanjiku Ngugi. I am a human rights lawyer based in Nairobi, Kenya. A very glad to be joining the Ufahamu Africa team as a fellow. At Ufahamu Africa. I will support the creation of podcasts around subjects such as gender, women rights, and various aspects of feminism. I will also support the creation of podcasts around the subject of the impact of new media and the arts, and the nexus to politics, and general life in Africa. I am very excited to be part of a team and a space, which leaves room for us to interrogate issues in an open manner. Therefore truthfully asking and answering the question of "muriega?" in different facets of our daily engagement. My current read, which is also quickly becoming a favorite book is by Nanjala Nyabol, titled "Travelling While Black." Through this book Nanjla, who has been formally hosted at Ufahamu Africa, draws upon her own experiences as a globetrotter to highlight the impact of intersectional factors such as age, gender, and race on her experiences. She uses the book to contextualize how these factors influence the human experience in different cultures and geographical locations. As a support for Ufahamu Africa team produce wares podcast, it is my hope that I will influence each of us to look inwards with a view of understanding how our unique experiences, the places we grew up in, the people we interacted with, have led us to who we are today. I also hope that the podcast helps us understand how our freedom is tied to the liberation of others for the purpose of drawing us to positive action. Thank you.

Kim Yi Dionne:

I love that Wanjiku's book recommendations include Nanjala Nyabola's second book. Anyone who hasn't already heard that team interview with Nanjala about that book, check out episode 113. Next up is Samah Fawzi, an African writer, host, and project manager. I'm excited for what she will bring to the show from Sudan.

Samah Fawzi:

Salam alaikum and hello dear listeners of Ufahamu Africa. This is Samah Fawzi, one of the hosts engaging with you this season. I'm really excited about it. I'm a writer, facilitator, and project manager from Sudan. Based in the capital Khartoum. My work usually revolves around the sectors of art, media and culture and the realms of politics and international relations. I examine how these domains interact, coexist and I often interpret my findings is in the form of artistic creations. For this season episodes where I will be joining you, we will illustrate together forms of resilience and adaptation deployed around the African continent in the face of political, economical, and social unrest. We will also dig a little deeper to try and de-codify some of the roles played by foreign interferences in the continent's modern history. Right. So what am I reading these days, actually for the past month with the military coup happening here in Sudan, and the subsequent internet down, reading has had to play various roles in my life, all at once. Firstly, for some emotional cushioning I headed for Rupi Kaur's poetry books, "The Sun and Her Flowers" and "Milk and Honey." Her words on healing and her collage of literature and illustrations were just too punctual and convenient for me. I've also been reading Noam Chomsky's "How the World Works" for a while now. It's been like a self-imposed homework. The book which I mainly understand as a critique and analysis of U.S. foreign and national policy. I think it's an important body of work for anyone who wants to get away from mainstream look on international relations in general and the works of U.S. policy specifically. Finally, for the couple of past month, I have been getting acquainted with Abdalla Bola, Sudanese, writer, thinker, and artist. His writings generally address the questions of culture, cultural diversity, identity, democracy, and panAfricanism. I have read so far his first book, " ," which is in Arabic, and it translates roughly to "The Beginning of the Scene of the Demise of the Excellent Human Being." "Excellent" here actually refers to privilege in a really interesting way that he illustrates throughout the book. The book itself is a series of articles released between 1976 and 1977. The second book, which I'm currently reading is "," which also Arabic that translates to "Conversations." It's a set of interviews with Sudanese thinkers, creators, innovators. Sometimes we find Abdalla Bola as the interviewee and other times he is the interviewer. I will definitely be reporting back on this on future episodes. Until we meet, be well and salam.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

Samah's recommendations are probably some of the first Arabic language book shout outs, which is one reason why we are so excited about this group of non-resident fellows. They're really bringing a lot to the game.

Kim Yi Dionne:

Next up is Chido Nyaruwata, a passionate Afrofeminist researcher, digital storyteller, and consultant.

Chido Nyaruwata:

Hi everyone. My name is Chido Nyaruwata. I'm super excited to be an Ufahamu Africa non-resident fellow. I am an African feminist researcher, digital storyteller, and consultant based in Harare, Zimbabwe, and remotely working as a research assistant for the African Gender Institute, based at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. In December 2020, I graduated from UCT with an MA in international relations. This season I'm looking forward to sharing content on different topics. You can expect to hear conversations about African feminisms. I hope to address questions on gender and sexuality with scholars and activists. You'll hear youth and civil society perspectives on climate justice in Africa. We'll also learn about the factors shaping urban water governance in African cities. One of my favorite literary genres is historical fiction. I'm particularly drawn to works written by African women writers. I recently read "The Fortune Men" by Somali-British writer, Nadifa Mohamed. This book is based on the real life events surrounding the wrongful imprisonment of Mahmood Matan, a Somali seaman living in Cardiff, Wales. The well-written and deeply compelling book reveals a miscarriage of justice and the layered experiences of immigrants living in Cardiff during the 1950s. I would highly recommend this book to all our listeners.

Kim Yi Dionne:

So great to hear from Chido. I love her book recommendation, and I'm adding it to my holiday list. Our last two non-resident fellows are a team to friends, a Kenyan and an American who met each other in college at the U.S. International University in Nairobi. Have a listen to Soinato Leboo and Gretchen Walch.

Soinato Leboo:

Hello, this is Soinato.

Gretchen Walch:

And this is Gretchen.

Soinato Leboo:

We're excited to join this cohort of the Ufahamu Africa non-resident fellows as a team of two. Again, my name is Soinato Leboo. I am currently running a startup called Loci, based here in Nairobi, Kenya. It is focused on bringing business and tech solutions to local restaurants and private chefs. I recently graduated from the United States International University here in Nairobi, where I was doing a master's in business administration. During the completion of my studies, I also worked as research assistant under a project called the Metro Agrifood Living Lab Project under the IDRC, the International Development Research Center. Through my experience, I have developed a keen interest in learning about how social, political, and economic factors influence each other. Specifically, how economic growth through innovation and entrepreneurship can have an impactful influence on other aspects of society, especially here in Africa. I'm excited to learn more about these connections and hopefully share them with you throughout the Ufahamu fellowship.

Gretchen Walch:

And once again, my name is Gretchen Walch. I'm currently studying global health with a focus in gender, sexual, and reproductive health at the University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda through their master's in global health delivery program. We're currently online for the first semester, so I'm spending my days studying from Nairobi. But my home home is a small city in Kentucky in the United States. So I spent the last three years back and forth between the U.S. and Kenya, working on projects studying intestinal worms called soil transmitted helminth, or STH for short. These worms impact a quarter of the world's population, but are a neglected tropical disease, meaning there is little research on them despite their huge health impact. So from this experience, I've generally become interested in historical, social, and political factors that drive inequity, especially within health. These interests led me to my master's program in global health, as well as learning Swahili, which is part of why I landed in Nairobi. So many of these topics discussed on the Ufahamu Africa podcast relate to my studies and work in the sciences, and I look forward to sharing those connections throughout the fellowship.

Soinato Leboo:

So how did we meet? We met in 2016 at the United States International University Africa, in Nairobi, Kenya, and found shared interest in international relations and African politics, and many hours of conversation ensued.

Gretchen Walch:

Yeah, so we endeavor to create content that's built upon in-depth research in interviews, but which is accessible and sparks interest in an audience that extends beyond scholarly journals and academic publications.

Soinato Leboo:

We want the episodes to break down complex academic discourse into well-organized and digestible content.

Gretchen Walch:

The problems that we are planning to address in the podcasts are deeply rooted in the conversations we're having with our friends in Nairobi. We will take questions that are asked frequently in these conversations, and do in-depth research on them in order to get a well-rounded and digestible summary of what we find out.

Soinato Leboo:

Topics will include vulture culture, how African culture is stolen, shamed, and then repackaged into popular culture. Research ethics in Nairobi, who is conducting the research and whose name is on the paper. The production and politics of Nairobi's food, from the farm to your mama mbogas to your table. And beauty standards, African roots and Western influence.

Soinato Leboo: What do Nairobians think about the research being published about the continent? And the second question is: What perspectives are missing due to the restricted data available through published research and the internet? We are so excited to join the Ufahamu Africa podcast team, and in the spirit of the podcast, we will answer the question they ask all their guests which is:

What are you reading? Or have you read that you would recommend? So Gretchen, what are you reading currently?

Gretchen Walch:

Okay, so for me, this isn't necessarily about the African continent, but I'm currently reading this book called "How Not to Die" by Michael Greger. So it outlines the connections between diet and the top ten diseases impacting people in the U.S. So the spoiler alert is that the answer is a plant-based diet. But what I find most intriguing about this book is two things. Number one, the unfathomable statistics he presents from the research. So we're talking like 160, or 200% increases in risk for disease when comparing individuals with meat-based and plant-based diets. So as a scientist, I know that seeing this magnitude of impact is just so extremely rare. And it continues to blow my mind how much evidence exists on this topic, but the fact that this data seems to be hidden from the public eye. And then second of all, the connections Gregor outlines between the agriculture, dairy, and meat industries in the U.S. and the lack of nutrition education in the American medical education system really connects the dots on why so many of these diseases like heart disease and cancers have continued to impact Americans. So it's been a really interesting read. And it feels like something pulling back the curtain on hidden facts, which is, I think, kind of the idea behind some of what we want to talk about on the podcast.

Soinato Leboo:

Definitely, definitely.

Gretchen Walch:

And Soina, what are you currently reading?

Soinato Leboo:

So I'm currently reading "Kenya in Motion from 2000-2020," which is edited by Four and others. It is a document that analyzes the last 20 years of Kenyan political, economic, and social life between the years 2000 to 2020. What I enjoy about this read is that it encompasses a broad range of themes, such as Kenyan politics and development, but also discusses specific topics such as land security, education, and religion, learning about how Kenya has progressed in the last 20 years has been fascinating, especially understanding all the factors that have contributed to getting the country to where it is today. So I'm currently in the beginning stages of the book. But I'm really looking forward to diving into some of these themes.

Gretchen Walch:

Yeah, I feel like I'm always learning new perspectives about Kenyan history. So I look forward to reading that one for sure.

Soinato Leboo:

Definitely, definitely. And I think we are both looking forward to gaining new perspectives this season, so we'll talk to you soon.

Gretchen Walch:

Talk to you soon.

Rachel Beatty Riedl:

We look forward to hearing Soinato and Gretchen's guests and all the different perspectives they'll bring to the podcast. Keep tuning in throughout season six to hear these fellows featured content.

Kim Yi Dionne:

Thanks for listening to this week's episode of Ufahamu Africa. You can find more episodes show notes and transcripts on our website ufahamuafrica.com. This podcast is produced and managed by Megan DeMint, with help from production assistants Jack Kubinec, Chukwufunanya Ikechukwu, and Manuel Tah Pech. Our non-resident podcast fellows are Chido Nyaruwata, Wanjiku Ngugi, Samah Fawzi, Gretchen Walch, and Soinato Leboo. We are generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and receive research assistance from Cornell University and the University of California, Riverside. Our music is courtesy of Kevin MacLeod. Until next week, safiri salama.