Monday, 4 December 2017

On FreeQuency's anecdotes of 'Becoming Black'

By +Caroline Anande Uliwa

Photo courtesy of Mwende Katwiwa's website
Coursing through the pages of ‘Becoming Black’, a poetry anthology by a native Kenyan living in the USA, has a resuscitative effect. As your jolted awake from the fog that we of  ‘African descent’, live in a world of equal opportunities.

“With a name like Mwende Kalondu Katwiwa, the jokes will come, do not envy your brother David or blame your mother Lucy and the way their names roll smooth, off foreign tongues is proof that colonisation and assimilation go hand in hand.” - Lessons on being an African immigrant in America-Becoming Black by Mwende Katwiwa a.k.a FreeQuency

Stripping the layers of what allows minorities like African American women, continue to be the poverty stricken, disease prone part of the population. FreeQuency translates the divides on the ground in a ‘post racial’ society and through her roots in Kenya. Licks the reality of what it means to be free in ‘post colonial’, Africa through this her debut anthology.
I stumbled into this author last month, when she was visiting Tanzania to feature as a workshop leader & performing artist, inside a youth poetry festival called ‘Paza Sauti’.  Before climbing on stage to perform some of the poems in this book. 

She gave us a short introduction to this work. Explaining that growing up in America as  an Immigrant she found out quickly. That her identity of a Kamba, Kikuyu, Kenyan ,meant little as now she was just ‘black’. Her journey in understanding this new ‘identity’ is what she chronicles so poignantly in this book.

“Black father tells daughter that she is now Black…but Blackness is something her child mind is not yet able to understand…thinks to how the most evil of villains are the ones who dress in black who shroud themselves in the perceived terror of its darkness…daughter decides she does not want to become Black. She has yet to realise that Black father never gave her a choice, that Black father was never given a choice that he stumbled upon this newfound Blackness the hard way…” My Father’s lesson-Becoming Black

The book smells of activism peeling curtains of what we’re ready to talk about, like the effects of the heroines we leave for our children. The  ‘strong African woman’ adage, propagating the woman who doesn’t complain, cooks for the family meal in meal out, tends the land, raises the children, slowly leaving her education, her dreams, her voice behind. 

When Mwende visited Dar es Salaam
here performing inside CDEA for the
Paza Sauti Festival in Nov'17-Photo

by Salim Ally Malimbika
”LOOK UP IN THE SKY!…IT’S A STRONG BLACK WOMAN! you know who I mean, a sista who achieves by any means but understands the necessity of putting her dreams on hold to uphold the community….what the hell is the point of teaching them to be superwomen when they don’t have super powers?…when we are history’s caged birds who were never taught to sing, locked in cages till we animorphed into bird brained beings, chicken heads ‘cluck clucking’ in video scenes…” Embracing weakness-Becoming Black

The poem in this book which Mwende dedicates to Trayvon Martin titled ‘The seven deadly American sins” is perhaps the climax of it. This poem also featured in "Trayvon Martin, Race & American Justice: Writing Wrong”; a collection of critical writing offered for undergraduate and graduate classes across universities.  Reveals the tensions of ‘white privilege’ befalling African Americans in piercing lines. “I wonder if his grave bears his name or…if they replaced ‘rest in peace’ with ‘no justice no peace’”-7 deadly American sins-Becoming Black
Photo courtesy of Mwende Katwiwa website

Mwende Katwiwa is an activist, a writer, an Honors graduate of Tulane University with a B.A in Political Economy, International Perspectives and African & African Diaspora studies. A performer, she is a 2017 TEDWomen speaker, ranked 3rd at the 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam. She is currently working at ‘Women With A Vision’ an NGO advocating for ‘reproductive justice’, LGBTQ advocacy , HIV+ Women’s advocacy, Sex worker rights and Drug Policy reform. 

She herself has worked inside the #BlackLivesMatter campaign and her poetry has been featured in. Upworthy, OkayAfrica, TEDx, the New York Times, For Harriet, Teen Vogue, Huffington Post, Everyday Feminism, & other outlets; you can get a copy of this book through her website The book was self published in 2015 with Cover art by Sol Galeano, based on original design by Devin Reynolds, Layout by Geoff Munsterman, it’s in its second edition.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Khalila Mbowe, championing social entrepreneurship

Photo by Gevas Lushaju of Khalila Mbowe 

Khalila Mbowe 29,  is a social entrepreneur the Managing Director of ‘Unleashed Africa’ acompany she founded in 2015. Mother of two Raphael 8 and Belle 3, she packs a ball of energy in her stride. 

Since finishing High School at St Mary’s Secondary in Dar es Salaam, she jumped into the work force. Doing odd jobs here and there then landing her first credible gig at the young age of 18, back in 2006

“I came in all raggedy at 5pm, earlier I got called at 4;00pm saying  ‘hey where are you there’s an interview ‘tadara tadara’ can you show up’, I’m like ok cool…The Managing Director  asks me some questions, nothing on my qualifications… He shows me some advertorial artworks, asking me to interpret them. I didn’t know they were advertorial artworks, to me they were like paintings. So. I am like oh, this could mean that and this could mean this…” Khalila

She came out of that interview and was hired in two weeks to work for then FCB, an Advertising Agency in Tanzania a wing of ‘Lowe SCANAD group’.  Working as their Copywriter in two months, she was promoted to Account Executive handling one of the notable telecommunication accounts.  

Within a few years having handled notable campaigns like ‘wazazi nipendeni’ for USAID.  A national behaviour change communication (SBCC), pushing for safe motherhood, in ensuring healthy pregnancies and safe deliveries for women.

Khalila Mbowe MD of Unleashed Africa
By 2008 she had saved up enough money to go to college at Taylor’s University in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Hustling with network marketing she managed to earn her own pocket money, returning in 2010 with an Advanced Diploma in Mass Communication specialising in Marketing & Advertising.. 

Due to a family crisis she couldn’t continue with her education to attain a degree. Still with her work experience she easily got back in the corporate world, working in branding at Airtel, then working in a Managerial position for Buddies, a TV production company from Uganda that was looking to franchise in Tanzania. 

“In the capitalistic economy all companies believe in the bottom line,  this is why I am so passionate about social enterprises. In this framework capacity building encourages social entrepreneurship…See the bottom line can not just be money because for companies to thrive people need to be able to spend…” Khalila

It’s this belief that pushed her to register her own company ‘Unleashed Africa’ dealing with Marketing, Events, Branding and the Arts, all steered towards youth un-employment, girl child empowerment & social business & innovation.  So far Unleashed Africa has employed over 20 people, some as consultants or part time and few on a full time basis.  

Khalila (third from left) in Sept'17 at the Youth Conference for
Social Impact of the Aga Khan Development Network recently
As a communications expert she has worked with several organisations including BRAC, Bits & Bytes Conference, Vodacom, JHU, Total TZ, Uongozi Institute, Aggrey & Clifford, TED Global, Preferential Trade Area Bank (now TDB Bank) and the Sera project among others. 

Recently she was a speaker at the ‘Aga Khan Development Network’ in their Youth Entrepreneurship for Social Impact conference. As well as participating in the 'making finance work for women conference' organised by NMB Bank in Tanzania. Khalila is also an artist, a self taught choreographer who has had the chance to work with the likes of local celebrity Ali Kiba.

She affirms the journey to self employment hasn’t been easy, at some point she had forgo her home & car. Leaving her youngest with her partner whilst living in a guest room with her son at a friends house. All to finance ‘Unleashed Africa’  whose vision she maintains “I believe everyone has a calling to solve a problem…” 

Earlier this year she became a member of ‘Women in Finance’ network , that operates in several countries in Africa as part of the Graca Machel Trust. She’s currently studying long distance for a degree, on Entrepreneurship in the disciplines of Business Administration. Through the University of the People in Florida USA, we caught up with her to learn what makes this kick ass lady tick…

Tell us of your hobbies...

“I love reading…I’ve learned a lot from youtube. I mean a lot, from DIY projects to how to organise my business, learn fun games for my kids… Travelling fuels my spirit the chance to step on new soil gain a whole new perspective from other people’s customs; the feeling of being in motion just excites me…I am also part of ‘Gypsy divers’”.  Khalila in her spare time also ventures into scuba diving sharing with me spots like ‘White Sands Beach & Sea Cliff beach in Dar es Salaam as places she’s gone scuba diving.

If you weren’t being a Social Entrepreneur, what would you be?

“Hmmn, I would be a world class performer-artist, actress…” Khalila through her company Unleashed Africa has explored her love for the arts by erecting a ‘dance studio’ which has seen her flexing her muscles as a dancer and choreographer though to a less degree than the team she hired. She also sings on various open mic platforms like ‘Lyricist Lounge’.

What’s your go to style item?

“I love scarfs, I find them versatile, you can wear them on the head or around your neck in various styles. And the colours, oh the colours, they just add a spark to any outfit.”

Some of your best wardrobe finds…?

“I like working with local tailors, translating designs I’ve spotted in a magazine or on the net.  My tailor ‘Mama Mushi’ is a ‘God sent’. Plus you’d be surprised what you can find in a thrift stall, I’ve gotten some of my best outfits at stalls in Mwenge.”

Your favourite places to spend the weekend?

You know how they say having a child changes you, well I’ve found I am still the same it’s just my priorities have changed. For instance I can’t attend that poetry group meet every month, even though I want to. As I’d rather be home reading bedtime stories to my kids and yes you better notify me a week in advance if you want me to attend that concert. That said I love spending my weekends with my kids.”

Some of your best destinations in East Africa

“Zanzibar, who can argue with those turquoise beaches, also my home town Kilimanjaro. Is among my favourite places in EA, the climate is just right.”

A peek into your bucket list?

Khalila with Emma Kawawa, one of her mentors
and a fellow member of the NFNV network in the Graca Machel Trust
I have this silly wish to make snow angles, I haven’t been to a country which has snow.  So it’s in my bucket list to visit Europe & or North America during the winter.

Are you a collector, if yes what do you collect

“Yes uhmn, I collect coins, books…”

Moving pictures that have impacted you...?

“I am hooked on the Television series ‘Suits’ for a while now.  Plus I have a healthy love of Animation & Cartoons pictures, I’ve watched ‘Beauty & the Beast’ more than 6 times. True story I have most of Disney songs in my head.  

And no it’s not my kids influence we fight on what toons to watch…Avengers both the movie and series is another favourite. I also enjoy watching documentaries and movies based on true stories like ‘The Founder’ on MacDonalds.”

Among your great Reads? 

The Bible, Hinds feet on high places

Favourite musicians, bands?
Khalila (middle) with fellow colleagues inside Unleashed Africa, at the
'Making Finance Work for Women' summit organised by NMB Bank in
Oct this year

I love Jazz, Soul, Gospel... artists like Melody Gardot, Jill Scott, Rose Royce, Bethel Music are frequent on my playlist.

Favourite website?

Whats a constant in your fridge?

Water & fruits. 

Article was first published in the East African Newspaper here

Monday, 13 November 2017

Never say 'never' Elizabeth Swai

It’s hard to believe sitting across from this woman in her office, as she’s dishing orders giving clear instructions. That she is versed with the inns & outs of a charcoal stove like few Tanzanian women are. In a day she can bake up to 300 bun loaves, in our local ‘sufuria’ using a charcoal stove! 

Elizabeth Swai in her office at AKM Glitters HQ in Sinza A, Dar es Salaam
This was a long time ago, Elizabeth Swai-50 today is a notable business woman.  The Managing Director and majority shareholder of AKM Glitters Ltd, a company she founded back in 2006. Now with 70 full time employees, working as suppliers of organic poultry products & chicken feed in over 20 regions of Tanzania.

Her journey wasn’t paved with sunshine or roses, indeed she’s had her share of storms & thorns. Join me as we unveil the story of this local S/hero. 

Early Years…

She was baking those bread buns back in the mid 80’s, as a means to pay her school fees for high school at Zanaki Secondary School in Dar es Salaam. She baked them during the school holidays. By the time Elizabeth was in high school, she already had tested her muscle as an entrepreneur, working as a gardener and later as a vendor selling khanga’s and the like. 

Flashbacks of Elizabeth Swai in her career
She recalls her first employment in a nonchalant tone, eyes heavy with emotion, a reduced tempo to her voice with eyes frequently looking down. “I don’t why my mom did that but uhmn…I was hired to clean but it wasn’t normal cleaning.  For me it was like a punishment but now I realise it was a God given gift. She gave me a room like this one (she’s showing me her office about 4 m square) she was the secretary. 

That room was full  of files since the 1940s, 30’s, she told me to sort all of them they reached the ceiling! The room wasn’t opened by the British for many years, so it was full of terrible dust there was scorpions and whatever filthy pest you could think of.  So that was my first employment…I was paid 750 TSHS.”  Elizabeth recalls.

She opened her first bank account with that money, she was just 13. Why she deems the job a God given gift, despite her mother being chastised (though too late as Elizabeth had already finished the job) See Elizabeth found information in those filthy files, knowledge of which later helped gain her first notable employment, at the UNHCR offices in Kigoma.

“I used to lock myself in those things, I was reading a lot. I got a lot of things out of there, even my filing skills came out of that assignment. I also learned how to persevere, I would enter clean and come out as black as charcoal…”

At just two months old Eliza was given to her grandmother in Mbeya, by the time she was ready for primary school. She was returned to her mother only to be sent to boarding school for the rest of her childhood. It’s no wonder she ended up attracting a husband just off high school, who would abuse her.  For growing up she wasn’t shown the examples of a healthy home.

Overcoming an Abusive Marriage

“I was married, my husband he was very controlling, He didn’t want me to work but I got into a secret partnership with my neighbour rest her soul in peace…At some point I was keeping 2500 broiler chickens. In the morning when he went off to work, I would follow soon after, going to feed my chickens…” Elizabeth 

By the mid 80’s Eliza had moved from the poultry business and was now heading a secretary bureau. “Soon as I collected enough profit I sold off the chickens. With it I bought things like a printer, typewriter. I started training myself on secretarial duties. I got an old computer we were using ‘worldstar and multimeet’ back then. I opened my first secretarial bureau office frame in 1985. Later I hired somebody to hold the fort and I started walking to offices…”

She was looking for a job at the offices in the city of Dar es Salaam, when she stumbled on an ad in the newspapers, for a secretarial post in the UN offices. It took her a long minute to find out, the exact office in the UN that was offering the job. Learning it was the UNHCR offices, she arrived and was greeted by a lady named Hellen who asked her if she had a certificate as a Secretary.

To which she replied no, though she emphasised that she had been reading the ‘pitman’ books, practising typing on a typewriter and was versed in using the computer and work registry. She added that she didn’t want any favours and could prove herself. Helen then told her that already they had tested over 130 candidates and was she willing to take the test  right then. Eliza responded yes.

“They gave me a computer it had multimeet…so it was very easy for me. They gave me comprehension I think, also a book they told me to type a few pages with a timer. I did that in record time. They went and checked spelling mistakes as well my organisation of work…I also had an oral examination”

It was flashbacks from that dredged room filled with files, that allowed her to know exactly how to draft her assignment. After they went through her results she was called to see the ‘big boss’ as she recalls. A Ghanian man, he asked her why she wanted this post which would take her to Kigoma. She replied that she wanted to get away from her marriage, he asked her if her husband would approve her getting the job. She replied it didn’t matter that she would go anyway.

The good news is she got the job and was given two days to travel to Kigoma. Unfortunately Andrew, her husband’s best friend also worked at this office. He got wind of the news and told Eliza’s husband. 

“That night was terrible I was beaten, I told him ‘do whatever you want to do but I am leaving. And I am not leaving alone I’m leaving with my baby…’ The second day I sold my secretarial bureau…”

Working for the UN…

She wasn’t able to take her baby daughter when she packed her bags and left for Kigoma, though she went back for her in a few weeks time. Later her husband took her to court this followed her divorce and eventually she won the custody battle. That baby daughter today is Maria A. Himud a lawyer & one of the three partners in AKM Glitters Ltd.

Entering the offices at Kigoma, she was immediately engrossed in a big workload. Servicing six departments, having to create daily situation reports. She recalls leaving the office at midnight as a norm. Within three months she was given a promotion, however in order to activate it, she had to have a Secretarial Certificate.

“I was talking to this guy he’s now a very good friend of mine, currently in Zimbabwe. He was going on leave, he asked me ‘Elizabeth what should I bring you’, I said nothing. He said ‘All the girls in the office are telling me perfumes… & you’re telling me nothing?!” I said what matters is your thought count not what you bring. So he said  ‘Ok, I’ll bring you something’.”

The guy is Eddie Rowe, he was one of her colleagues at the time, through HR he had gotten wind, that Elizabeth lacked a secretarial certificate. On his leave in the US, he enrolled Eliza at Thompson University for a long distance certificate program. Elizabeth was overjoyed when he called her telling her he’s paid for the full course, plus shipping of studying materials. So in turn she finished the course in one year instead of the designated two, aptly activating her promotion.

This trend of working hard and the fates opening doors for Eliza, continued in her 18year + career inside the UN. Later on whilst in Kigoma offices at UNHCR, two other staff members a gentleman and a lady sponsored her to get an Accounting Certificate & a  Human Resources Diploma respectively. She paid for her own tertiary education at UNISA and got her degree in Development Studies. 

Battling Cancer

Sadly in 1989 she was diagnosed with stage 3 ‘throat cancer’. “I don’t know how I survived because most of stage three cancer patients do not survive, Dr Ngoma here gave me 90 days…” 

Her treatment under Dr Twalib Ngoma at Mwenge, saw her in hospital for six months before she was transferred to the United Kingdom. She is grateful her habit of prudent saving pulled her through this difficult time, as insurance wasn’t enough to cater to her expenses.

In between these treatment she was back at work, in fact before she went for three more months of chemo in the UK. She was involved in organising a big meeting that saw a delegation of 12 different heads of UN organisations, as well ministers & parliament members in Kigoma. Her efforts here caught the attention of the representative in Tanzania of the World Food Program (WFP) Irene Lacy.  Irene later contacted her boss Jean Francois Durieux while she was in the UK,   letting him know she’d like Elizabeth to come work for her.  

So it fared whilst she was still recovering from chemo in the UK, she got a call from Irene Lacy letting her know that she can come work for WFP. Where she would be getting a bump in her pay grade from Grade 5 Stage 5, which she currently was, to Grade 6 Stage 7.  Elizabeth was overjoyed and the rest as they say is history. 

The jump to AKM Glitters Ltd

Among the employees of AKM, an Agriculture Officer
ready with supplies to go to mother units in
the regions for the Kubroiler franchises of AKM
Elizabeth’s jump into running her own company was done with deliberation & research,  her passion for chicken farming gained from her days of running a ‘banda’  of broilers in the 80’s.  Had since evolved with the knowledge she had gained working  in the UN on management & agri farming opportunities, in 2006 she registered AKM Glitters Co. Ltd

The company today that has three partners including herself, her daughter and Mr Placid Athamas Kauzeni. AKM Glitters Is 11 years old, not a small feat for an SME, the journey hasn’t been easy at some point, Elizabeth had to mortgage her own home. In time AKM managed to secured some donor funding, currently having support from the World Poultry Foundation.

AKM Glitters today is on the front seat of chicken farming in Tanzania, currently being the only certified Kuroiler chicken farm in Tanzania. “We got our certification from the government, we bring our eggs directly from India.”  Elizabeth

Among the staff of AKM Glitters Ltd
Kuroiler is a hybrid breed of chicken developed in India, derived from crossing either coloured broiler males with Rhode Island Red females, or, White Leghorn males crossed with female Rhode Island Reds.-source wikipedia. This breed which serves both as a meat & eggs supplier is a type of our ‘kuku wa kienyeji’ , that is better resistant to diseases with a yield of around 150 eggs per year. It’s already gained rave success in Ethiopia & Uganda and now AKM looks to pioneer this success in Tanzania.

At the end of August this year AKM Glitters Co Ltd launched a program to scale up their Kuroiler farming in Tanzania, by creating a credit facility for farmers in 20 regions in Tanzania. 

 “We’ve established your own Microfinance credit facility department, setting aside about 200, 000 USD which we loan as supplies not cash. We have a target of creating 480 franchises of Kuroiler farms all over Tanzania in 4 years. How this works is we supply farmers (has to be a woman or if owned by a male then the manager is female). With poultry supplies, they in turn put up a security of 500 USD-1,000 USD. 

Then on a monthly basis we supply them with month old chicks, they raise them for four weeks. Where we provide them with free veterinary services, from doctors who get their medical supplies through our partners ‘Msami Veternary Services’. 

To agriculture extension officers, currently we have employed 20 Veterinary doctors and 20 Agriculture extension officers. They provide training to the farmers, later they also provide awareness to the final consumers who are mostly small scale farmers. On the benefits of the Kuroiler chickens like their reduced mortality risk as they get them from 2 months old…” Elizabeth

Giving Back...

Elizabeth’s passion for empowering women didn’t begin with this program. She is also the founder member of AWAB-African Women in Agribusiness Network in Tanzania, that was registered in 2015 with funds from their own pockets, together with the trustees Caroline Mutanamirwa & Mkunde Senyagwa. 

Elizabeth noticed in growing her own business the challenges of financial inclusion, compliance and marketing that go hand in hand with running an agribusiness.  She thought to mentor and learn further through unity on how to overcome these challenges.

In AWAB she encourages running an inclusive business model, as in her own which has seen AKM working with companies like USOMI Ltd & Vodacom.  She also encourages fellow women ‘Agri-preneurs’ to be friendly with the Government  “With this new government you can even knock on the Minsters door and he will look at you…”

“There’s a lot of fraud, copycats, over sabotaging that can meet your business. So it may be cumbersome & expensive to meet these compliance standards of the government or other international bodies. But by investing in say financial manuals, human resource manuals, administrative manuals, risk management logs etc you are protecting your business in the long run allowing it to grow…”

Elizabeth strongly believes in meeting compliance standards, sharing with me how in preparing to get the Kubroiler hatches. AKM by digging a well to provide water for the chicks. Went further and took a sample of the water back to India. They found deficits in the water,  taking the results to a chemist. They now have filter and everyday the water is checked for quality.  Aplty AKM has an ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) and is working to get better grades.

Elizabeth in raising women entrepreneurs all over Tanzania, through AKM’s kubroiler franchise program. She is living proof of the saying ‘be the change you want to see’.