A Safety net for Women In Sierra Leone
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
-Kono Business makes female Tailors Economically Sustainable.
By Ajong Mbapndah L
It may have started small but it has succeeded in transforming lives of women in Sierra Leone. What Anni Lyngskaer started after discovering firsthand the sufferings of women in a country suffering from the hangover of a civil war has succeeded today in making many empowered. The venture called Kono Business helps the activities of female tailors to become economically sustainable. Anni of Danish origin has rallied other young volunteers from her country to assist her in turning Kono Business into a formidable organization with on the ground results that are there for all to see. In a chat with PAV, Anni sheds more light on the work of her Organization, challenges faced, her observation of developments in Sierra Leone and plans for the future.
PAV: May we know what Kono Business is all about and how did this idea come about?
Anni Lyngskaer: Kono Business is a not-for-profit social enterprise aiming to empower a group of female tailors to become economically sustainable and role models in the local community. This is done through trainings and two annual production cycles. The tailors produce scarves, bags and computer sleeves that we sell in two shops in Denmark and online on www.konobusiness.com.
Kono Business is run by 10 Danish volunteers and all profit generated from sales are re-invested in the project. For example, this year we supported the tailors in shining up the shop at the local facility in Sierra Leone to help them gain more local customers. The tailors paid half of the expenses from their shared savings and Kono Business paid the other half from the profit.
We are approved by Fair Trade Denmark, which means we live up to the international standards of fair trade. Co-founder Anni Lyngskaer traveled to Sierra Leone for the first time in January 2008. She went to write a story about girl soldiers for the Danish news paper “Kristeligt Dagblad.”She met a lot of interesting and inspiring people on that trip, and one of them was Arthur Kargbo, who is the Project Manager of the local CBO that Kono Business & Development works with today.
After Anni got back to Denmark she fundraised around 3.500 us dollars to the local CBO. All the money was spent on equipment for the vocational training school the CBO is running.However, this wasn’t enough for Anni, she wanted to do more and one day she had a conversation with founder of Café Retro, Rie Skårhøj.The two young women realized that they had similar ideas. After a little while they raised money to travel to Sierra Leone to start the project that today is Kono Business & Development. The journey took place in January 2009 and Rie and Anni met with the group of female tailors who are still working for Kono Business today.
PAV: What made you settle on the choice of Sierra Leone and what concrete impact would you say Kono business has had on the life of Sierra Leoneans?
Anni Lyngskaer: We work with a rather small group of tailors (14), but we believe in quality and believe even a small effort can create a huge impact. We are empowering the tailors to participate in the community by talking about female issues and take part in discussions. During each production cycle we run a training as well. This past fall we carried out a video workshop encouraging the women to tell their own story through filming. They were able to create their own short documentaries and presented the results at a local film screening in Koidu town. One of the women said “I’m very happy and have realized that women are also valuable in society.” (Hawa Gborie)
PAV: How is the selection done for people that you work with?
Anni Lyngskaer: The selection of tailors was made of our local partner organization who knows the tailors from the school they are running. The tailors now select their own new sisters in the co-op. However, for the moment we have a limit of 15 women. But we hope to be able to expand in the future.
PAV: What are some of the challenges that Kono Business has faced so far?
Anni Lyngskaer: The fact that we are actually running a business. It’s A LOT of work to maintain the sales and marketing activities in Denmark. In the beginning non of us had any business background, but recently we got some new volunteers educated from Copenhagen Business School, which is really necessary.
PAV: Any prospects that the initiative may be expanded to other African countries or you intend to limit it solely to Sierra Leone?
Anni Lyngskaer: Well, we would love to. We would also love to share our experiences, so others can do similar start ups.
PAV: We noticed that you have succeeded in building a dynamic team of young volunteers, what exactly drives them towards Kono Business?
Anni Lyngskaer: That’s a very good question. We are part of a bigger organization specialized in running projects on a voluntarily basis, so we use quite a lot of energy to work on management of volunteers. Our volunteers have different motivation. Some of them do it because they want practical relevant experience while studying. Most of them study African Studies or International Affairs.
Most of our “business volunteers” work full time besides volunteering for Kono, and they do it because they like the idea of sharing their experience and also doing something “good” for others. I think most of us believe that development aid should be changed and focused more on business initiatives and entrepreneurship instead of “just” capacity building or “democracy projects telling them how we like it.”
In Kono we believe that our tailors already have a lot of capacity and knowledge and teach them through storytelling and with a trust in their ability to change their own lives.An example of them taking initiative is that they recently hired a woman to continue to teach them reading and writing. They pay her from their shared savings account.
PAV: You probably have been to Sierra Leone a couple of times, it is a country try to shirk off the hangover of a brutal civil war, what assessment do you make of the situation there today and what potentials do you see for the country?
Anni Lyngskaer: We work in Koidu and unfortunately the signs of the civil war are still very present in the community. We experience a lot of fighter spirit and a drive to move forwards, but a lot of basic needs are still not present in Koidu. There is no power unless you have a generator, no running water, bad roads lack of doctors and qualified teachers. There is a huge potential for the government to cooperate with foreign mining companies about CSR and paying a fair amount of tax to Sierra Leone. As for now the companies make a huge profit the diamond mining industry, while the local people suffer.
We also see an abrupt family structure. Only one of our 14 tailors is married, but 9 of them have kids – most of them with different fathers.
They tell us that the young men leave them as soon as they find out the woman are pregnant. Prostitution is a problem as well, and it seems to be the easiest way for young girls to make a bit of money and often the only way to survive. To me this is a very important issue that both NGOs and the government should address in the future. Our tailors always say they encourage their sisters to get off the street, learn a trade and make money that way instead of selling their body.
PAV: You come from a much more developed background and country, what do Danes think of your initiative and what image of Africa do they have?
Anni Lyngskaer: I think most of my friends and family appreciate what I do. Some times I host talks and show pictures and films from our work and that is usually very inspiring for people.
Most of them are curious and ask a lot of questions about Sierra Leone, Africa and of course Kono Business.
PAV: Any other big plans or projects that Kono Business intends to work on down the line?
Anni Lyngskaer: We are working on a new web shop because we experience problem with the current payment system. We hope to expand internationally and start selling in Scandinavia and by time in the rest of Europe and The States as well. We are always open for new ideas and partnerships so you’ll never what happens next. On a more personally level, I’m about to launch my next project called This is my Story, which is also a social enterprise focusing on participatory video workshops as community development.
PAV: Anni Lyngskaer, you are quite a formidable young Lady and PAV is grateful for the interview
Anni Lyngskaer: Thank you.
Uganda: Eleven reasons why 2011 was not even.
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Songa Samuel-Stone Mwesigwa*
For a minute the hand seemed to take forever as it wound the last half of the big city wall clock. And at midnight, many people around me burst out into screeching sounds of joy with the massive displays of fireworks blinking in the sky above. 2011 had finally set in. But that same year now just five days to expiration had too much up its sleeve than many dreams could tell.
January literally swam its way away without too much dust raised save for the many effigies that choked every last space around the city of Kampala. Posters urging the public to vote for whoever they heralded became common story in that even if you entered a public restaurant rest room, you were likely to find a chubby face looking down at you!
This was the first pre-election season I had beheld and followed closely; from day one, the heat of change of government brewed too many fears with the recent occurrences in many other African states not helping quell the situation at all. February being the election month came to be known as the 30 days of ‘hopes’ as many were in the race to becoming part of the next political caste till 2016.
Among the hopefuls was the three time tried Kiiza Besigye leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Party who once again had his name on the list of those in the presidential race with of course incumbent Yoweri Museveni. Theirs has been a race filled with heat, fire, more heat and fire. This time round the cliché statements flew; the yellow side insinuated a big margin win while the blue corner assured whoever cared that this time, ‘change was coming’.
As the polls opened on the morning of February 18th, a man whose over two decades of rule at stake voted, another whose three time trial to become president had become a cliché weak point assured Ugandans ‘this was the time’, and perhaps the other of the six in the race, a more youthful new face, Norbert Mao turned heads here and there. But well, the results trickled in and as had been hoped, the fact that the opposition split their vote by forwarding eight candidates to tussle one big Goliath, the point of too many numbers in a battle just did not work. Too many cooks spoilt the soup.
With 68% of the total votes cast in his favor, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was therefore announced victor by the same election commission stained with a ‘not competent’ banner. About that time, the Ouattara-Gbagbo drama was still fresh and thousands were continuing to die in Ivory Coast. When Kiiza Besigye who was the first runner-up announced he was not siding with the commission on the results, many had a beat skip. Worry.
Kampala where much of the heat originated and spread to the rest of the 33 million people rich country had mean looking men armed with warfare arsenal fill every spot just like the effigies and posters that seemed to rob the city of the beauty. Some people actually fled the country with the backdrop fear that this was about to get bloody. This time, the assured tone of the opposition and the seemingly endless criticism of the election body added more embers to the fire. But well, none of that pictured violence, bloodshed or massacre surfaced any way. Skirmishes here and there but as the electronic vote got underway, nothing unusual happened. Nothing like the anticipated. The incumbent won and was sworn in.
The weeks that followed however, seemed like walking through a jungle to the other side with not even the littlest wound only to get to the other side and lose a leg. Nothing could have prepared Uganda for the chaotic drama that followed. On April 11, days after the opposition had accepted the result (at least pretended), hordes of people flanked by opposition figures launched the walk-to-work campaign in protestation of the high costs of living. The political campaigns had seen a lot of money pumped into the economy and somehow inflation had veered off normal limit not to forget that the world was sinking at neck levels of economic meltdowns. So in the guise of what many people saw as retaliation for the electoral loss, the campaigns presented the government as the deaf party that acted the role of the unbothered sailor on a sinking cruiser. In just three days, the campaign had thousands of people willing to swallow a bullet and walk to work to illustrate the burden of living.
All they wanted was to walk. And all the security operatives said was, ‘NO WALKING.’ Initially it seemed as a whimsical joke as the opposition tried to raise a cloud of dust that never raged during the polling season. And yes, real dusty war began.
A small town known as Kasangati became the scene of daily gun battles, tear gas storms and bloody battle field. Each morning, the FDC leader Kizza Besigye (the main walker), left his home in the hilly vicinity to trek close to 5km towards the city center not like his cars were at the mechanic’s but well, as a sign of solidarity with those he termed as the ‘common Ugandans affected by the uncaring government.’ And each time he tried, an army of men armed with enough artillery to start a world war blocked him.
What started as a humble movement to draw the government from other ‘pertinent’ issues like buying purple diamond worth fighter jets while the price for a kilogram of sugar leaped to crazy price tags and a bar of soap became nine times more expensive, gained the stark dark image in no time.
15 people were left dead some caught up in the live exchange between irate crowds described as ‘unarmed’, others were victims of a tear gas canisters flying and exploding inside a hospital ward or on the stomach of a pregnant woman. Action for Change (A4C) the contingent behind the campaign comprising of a number of opposition figures filled the headlines with many people quickly finding the whole idea of walking to work meaningless now that it had turned bloody. The police stood their ground in the short run making walking an illegal thought or action. But even then, the walkers stood their gut saying they had a right to walk.
Each day they attempted, the events that ensued did little justice to the cause. Much as the world had an early New Year’s dose of violence on the streets of an African state plus all the criticism, the people who lived along roads where bullion trucks armed with itchy water parked with crowds of reinforcements who took no second thought to flog, kick and bundle the protesters were fed up.
What started as a national motive zeroed down to a figure. Kiiza Besigye became the lamb that was to carry the cross of brutality that above all else, looked futile from all angles. Eventually, one day as he attempted to walk to work, he had the worst encounter his life can probably record. In a rather inhumane style, a security operative attacked him like a wounded hound; used a 3.3 millimeter to break the window of his car, pulled him out, and sprayed what later turned out to be a concoction of chilly and acidic components in his face and finally bundled him on a police patrol car like a pauper who had nothing to lose.
Others were sent to prison with no charge other than ‘walking’, others nursed wounds while others mourned the losses of those they loved.
If ever change was going to come, the death of a loved one, the loss of a small business to a teargas attack or looters guised as protestors was definitely not the best path to fundamental change. The fact that the police never at any one point gave the protesters a benefit of the doubt to allow them to walk to wherever it was they worked and the fact that each day the protestors seemed to dare the anger of those with the trigger, walk to work became a chapter that closed with no results recorded. I never saw them at least. The dust storm had been raised but it was not strong enough to blind the ‘enemy’.
Strategies such hoot-to-work where car owners would at a designated time honk their ear drums dead and others ended up leaving the newly sworn in government with a bruised start. Even re-launching the campaign on a more national grassroots note later on helped little; this time the disillusioned knew better than parading themselves in the way of death.
As that bruised start healed with time, the scandals begun. Petitions filed against those accused of rigging flocked the courts, corruption scandals involving billions of dollars filled headlines and many times, there was no better explanation. Fighter jets purchased emptying national coffers, grave bribery and theft in the tourism sector and rotting roads plus monstrous inflation helped Uganda seem like a long pit full of pain. The year dragged on with many people more determined to just toil their heads off to survive because politics was just no answer to their grievances.
Power became rarer and soon the electricity body even started issuing load shedding timetables; fuel prices commanded everything too expensive for the common man while an over 300-man parliament was sworn in. The 9th parliament bore the brunt of the public’s ‘I-don’t-care’ attitude. The headlines of money lost in shoddy deals ceased to shock anyone for it was too normal to hear the word ‘billions’ in the same line with ‘Ghost Company’.
Just when the first year of the new political calendar was about to go down as the bloodiest most boring ever, OIL sprouted like a cyborg returned to haunt. No doubt the corruption and bribery allegations that have rocked the yet to flourish oil sector have overshadowed any scandal be it the jailing of the former vice president or the resignation of the former female minister of presidency over stealing a national broadcaster mast.
Three cabinet ministers including the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Sam Kuteesa and Hillary Onek were named in a scandal that involved them taking bribes from oil companies who had their eyes on the Ugandan black gold. Over 17 million Euros were involved and the house for once had the public tune to catch the abrupt recalling of the parliamentarians to discuss the black crimes of the trio. For once this year, the public was really pleased as MPs quizzed those seen as the untouchables forcing two of them to resign. The fiery debate no matter who gained or lost out of it helped add a positive tick on the foreheads of the parliamentarians who are now arousing asleep ghosts once again. They are demanding for new fuel guzzlers set to cost the shaky coffers over 100 million shillings each.
But whether the cars come, or more districts are created, more resignation papers are handed in or electricity does not return until the potholes are fixed, me I will be here waiting to usher in the New Year 2012. Perhaps make 12 new things to achieve. But am grateful days come to an end; some days this year were too hot that it seemed like never would they end. As the clock ticks again into the New Year, eyes are now fixed about 200 billion shillings that were paid to individuals and entities as compensation in what is now keeping the sloppy shoddy story of scandal running and not to forget, the millions of dollars paid to Burundi for the help forwarded to the NRA rebel war that brought Museveni to power.