January 10th, 2011
06:32 PM GMT
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For the first time ever I made a New Year’s resolution. I resolved to spend less time with my BlackBerry.

After the Christmas break, where I managed to relax and slow down a bit, I realized how overly dependent I had become on my BlackBerry.

I was constantly checking for emails and then felt slightly bereft if there wasn’t a tranche of messages beeping. I had to wean myself off it.

As a journalist, I thrive being in contact and knowing things but I think sometimes it all just becomes a bit too much. After a while, I realized I was being bombarded, constantly, by irrelevant questions or useless facts, much of which was not vital to my day.

Don’t get me wrong, in my line of work the BlackBerry is indispensable. The trick is to use it when you need it and not ALL the time.

Obviously, it got me thinking about all the ways to access and read information in the 21st century. The dilemma for the working person is how to filter all the information we can access each day. It’s the classic example of “The tyranny of too much choice.”

At some stage, I think we have to be disciplined and make clear choices about which websites we spend time reading, how often you check your BlackBerry after hours and when to just say, “Enough.”

It’s all about priorities, isn’t it? Being glued to emails, Twitter, text messages and websites can totally swallow up your day.

So my question is: Did you make a New Year’s resolution? Do you have to limit the amount of technology you use in your life?

December 27th, 2010
03:25 PM GMT
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The somewhat arbitrary dividing up of Africa between the European powers during the "Scramble for Africa" in the early part of the 20th century is still a sensitive issue for many on the continent. The sensitivities around the colonial divisions that created modern Africa are still manipulated for political gain in many African countries.

The issue of "land" and who is the "rightful owner" of African land has been a politically expedient tool in Zimbabwe in the past decade. Here in South Africa, the debate about the "redistribution" of land to black South Africans is a hot potato that is likely to become hotter in the years to come.

So then, why are the Tanzanians leasing tracts of arable farmland to the South Koreans?

I recently interviewed Aloyce Masanja, the head of the Rufiji River Basin Authority a public enterprise, in Tanzania which has recently signed an agreement with the South Korean government to "jointly develop" some of the land to the west of the Dar es Salaam.

This is not the first time foreign nations, lacking in wide-open spaces, have essentially farmed food in Africa and then exported it home. But I was keen to get an understanding of what was driving this relationship.

Mr Masanja is a dapper, enthusiastic advocate of "development" in the rural areas of Tanzania. He feels strongly that if peasant farmers are not producing enough on their farmlands then that land should not be left idle or underdeveloped.

That said, he was reluctant to admit that the South Koreans would be sending the rice from the Tanzanian rice paddies back home, but eventually he did concede that when there was an "excess" of food that the South Koreans would be allowed to export the food back to Asia.

Masanja was, though, at pains to stress that the South Koreans had been contracted to uplift and educate local farmers in the process of planting their own rice paddies in Africa.

So my question this week: What’s in it for the Koreans? What is in it for the Tanzanians? Is this new form of land development another form of colonial exploitation? Or are the Africans wiser this time around?

December 15th, 2010
03:26 PM GMT
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So Ghana has joined the club of oil producing nations. The taps have been turned on at the offshore Jubilee field.

So what does this mean for Ghana? How will ordinary Ghanaians benefit from this resource windfall?

The first concern that should be addressed is the perception that suddenly the country will become flush with petrodollars. Importantly, expectations must be managed. As those citizens in Nigeria or Angola know, the oil money often doesn't trickle down to the people.

Firstly, Ghanaians have to not think that oil will magically create more jobs, or make people richer. Secondly, civil society has to be tough on government and ensure they constantly monitor how proceeds are being spent.

Also, Ghanaians need to quickly implement legislation to govern the administration of this new industry; hopefully these laws will be passed soon. An independent regulator is also needed to oversee the sector.

Luckily, Ghana has a relatively diversified economy compared to other oil-rich African nations. ­The country earns foreign currency from gold and cocoa. This alone makes it more likely to avoid the mistakes of places like Nigeria, where oil revenue accounts for approximately 92% of the GDP, or Angola, which is just about entirely reliant on oil proceeds.

However, the numbers are staggering. ­The Jubilee fields are some of the richest and largest oil deposits discovered in many years. In the long term, oil production is estimated to bring in $1 billion a year. This is a lot of responsibility, as well as a wonderful gift for Ghana.

So my questions: Is this oil discovery a blessing or a curse? Can Ghana avoid the mistakes of some other African countries where oil revenue is used to enrich the elites and not the ordinary people?

December 3rd, 2010
03:16 PM GMT
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Been there, done that.

That’s what some South Africans might be saying after watching the announcement of which countries will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup football events.

While many here might be slightly nostalgic about their World Cup memories, others will be utterly relieved that the whole experience is over.

Either way, the questions still remain about just how viable it is for a country to host the World Cup. This past week’s announcements have again made South Africans reflect on the financial implications of hosting one of the world’s largest tournaments.

Yes, it was a party. Yes, everyone was happy. Yes, the vuvuzela become a global institution.

But did you know, according to the South African government, that it cost $150 million to construct the Polokwane stadium – just one of the 10 stadiums across the country that were either rebuilt or newly built.

Now, unsurprising to many, months after the World Cup, that stadium and others in South Africa are largely unused and saddled with costly maintenance budgets. Two million dollars a year is spent by the local authorities to upkeep the grass and the structure at Polokwane, says a staff member of the World Cup “legacy” programs.

The Limpopo province, where the stadium is located, is one of the poorest areas of South Africa. The education system is crumbling and the employment rate is worryingly high.

It is a question I have asked over and over again: Was the World Cup worth it?

Most South Africans will say yes, even though there was no tangible benefit for them. That month of football was a happy, sweet time for South Africans – a whopping, expensive party that was well worth the hangover.

So, my questions: Do you think Russia and Qatar “deserve” the World Cup? Can they beat the spectacle South Africa put on? Will you be going to Brazil, Russia or Qatar to watch the football in the years ahead? Is all the hoopla really worth it?

November 25th, 2010
10:29 AM GMT
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We have just filmed this week’s Marketplace Africa program in Braamfontein, a peripheral urban area on the outskirts of central Johannesburg.

It is quite staggering how much of Johannesburg’s inner city has changed in recent years. Juta Street, where we shot, has in the past few months blossomed into a groovy design hotspot with good coffee, an art gallery, and trendy furniture and fashion stores.

The apartments bordering this area have some of the best views of Johannesburg’s skyline and have been turned into expensive loft-style living quarters.

Across the city, a development called Arts on Main is another example of how a rundown, dodgy section of Johannesburg has been developed into a safe, fun place where South Africans of all sorts go to hangout, watch movies and shop.

Someone reading this might think, “So what? Urban regeneration is nothing new.” However, Johannesburg’s shift from a crime-ridden, dirty, overcrowded no-go zone to a place with potential is quite radical to those of us who live here.

That said, there is still a bit of a “Wild-West” feel to Johannesburg.

Some areas are still chaotic and dirty; apartment blocks are unsanitary and overcrowded like any urban slum, where drug lords seem to own the street.

However, at least once a week we film on Joburg’s streets, loiter with expensive film equipment on sidewalks, and chat to locals, and it has become increasingly obvious that slowly, many areas of Johannesburg have been reclaimed from the criminals and blossomed into a place to do business.

The success of this project was pioneered by the local authorities, which positioned a guard or policeman on nearly every corner and installed a high-tech CCTV network covering the city.

However, the business community - the big banks and mining houses - have also played a major part in bank-rolling the regeneration. This shift was also due to the long-sighted, often inspired influence of the country’s artistic community, who were looking for edgy urban lifestyle not found in the suburbs.

So my question is, do you think changing the face of a city is worth it? Tell us which other African cities are developing in ways that make you think, “Wow, this place has changed.”

November 19th, 2010
11:58 AM GMT
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I am in Kenya filming Marketplace Africa. When I arrived here, the first thing I did was to turn on the television set in my hotel room and watch the local news.

KTV was running a story on how the Anti-Corruption Commission was planning to set up a “corruption curriculum” in Kenyan schools, where there would be a focus on “integrity studies.”

I was both amused and dismayed – what exactly are integrity studies?

According to quotes from the press conference, the Commission hopes to set up clubs – known as “Adili” – in all schools, to reach young primary school children, right up to university-level students. The idea is that more than 10 million children will “discuss moral and ethical choices and dilemmas which they encounter daily both in their personal and communal lives.”

Obviously, the intention is honorable. Kenya has high rates of corruption (according to Transparency International, only 19 countries in the world are perceived as more corrupt than Kenya) and so it seems the authorities hope that by teaching “integrity” to schoolchildren graft will lessen.

But reducing corruption in Kenya could be harder than simply teaching children “integrity.”

We filmed in Kibera slum, where more than one million people live, and many people I spoke to there say you can’t get through the month without paying a protection fee, a backhander for water or electricity, a property tax, and all sorts of other hidden “costs” associated with surviving in one of Africa’s biggest slums.

Children will learn, way before they get to school and have to sit through honesty lessons, that to make your way in the world, in a tough, poor society, you have to learn to work the system, maneuver and make deals. That’s the reality. Tough choices, indeed.

So my question is – how do you root out corruption when it is so endemic? Is the Kenyan Anti-Corruption Commission wasting its time? Or is this a clever way to instill “integrity” in future generations of government ministers or police officers?

November 9th, 2010
02:16 PM GMT
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I went into my local supermarket a last week, and lo and behold, Christmas is here!

The aisles were full of chocolates, tins of Christmas biscuits, fruit cakes and an array of hard teeth-breaking children’s sweets that are meant to fill Santa’s stocking.

Now, I know I don’t want to sound like Scrooge, but it seems that every year the commercialization of Christmas gets earlier and earlier.

And it’s not just Yuletide, but also Halloween, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and all those other days in the year that really shouldn’t be hard on your wallet but sometimes are.

This year, again, the South African Savings Institute is due to launch its yearly plea to citizens to not overspend and get into worse debt over the festive season.

But do consumers listen?

My questions are:­ does all this early, in-your-face Christmas branding make you want to start buying gifts and food now? Or are you going to spend more wisely this Christmas?

November 4th, 2010
03:47 PM GMT
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There has been a bit of a tit-for-tat war going on in the South African press between two outspoken men.

One, Kenny Kunene, a nightclub owner, held a lavish 40th birthday party recently, during which sushi was reportedly served on the bodies of half-naked women and guests drank expensive imported whisky and champagne.

Leading government and African National Congress leaders attended the party, according to press reports. Other newspapers show photos of the flamboyant Kunene standing in front of his expensive sports car, which has “So What” written on the number plates.

This kind of in-your-face conspicuous consumption has “sickened” the main labur union leader, COSATU’s Zwelinzima Vavi, who says this kind of behavior from the new black elite sets a bad example and insults the poor of South Africa.

Kunene says he spent more than $100,000 on the one-night bash - in a country where unemployment is rife and many families struggle to put food on the table.

My question is - how much “bling” is too much? Are African high rollers judged more harshly than, say, big-spending Russian oligarchs? Or is Vavi correct in saying that South Africa’s rich should be more circumspect with their wealth?

October 26th, 2010
04:10 PM GMT
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I was sitting staring out the big windows in my 15th floor office, looking at the Johannesburg skyline and admiring the bursts of purple Jacaranda trees dotting the cityscape when my phone rang.

It was Chris Karanja, who is corporate communications manager from Kenya Airways. He phoned to point out that one of the recent interviewees on Marketplace Africa misrepresented the airline industry in Africa. The guest said that you couldn’t fly across Africa from west to east or east to west and that if you wanted to travel across Africa you would have to fly to Europe and back.


October 21st, 2010
09:55 AM GMT
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Last week we ran a story about a successful newspaper in Mozambique that is given out for free. It is an inspiring business model – not just for the good journalism – but also because there is a huge element of social uplifting behind the paper’s motivation.

The publisher Erik Charas proudly told us that in the districts and regions where Verdade is distributed, there was a proven link between reading the newspaper and increased political involvement. For example, the newspaper empowers people to ask more from their local governments, to demand more as citizens.

Importantly, more people also turned out to vote, and significantly more women voted in areas where Verdade was distributed. For Charas, this is an important aspect of his publishing model.

In other parts of Southern Africa, newspapers are printed for a host of other reasons.

For example, Zimbabwe’s newspapers have, in recent years, been heavily controlled by the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANUPF), but the media space has opened with the launch of Newsday this year.

Kenya has a vibrant newspaper industry that often challenges the government and has a history of exposing corruption. South Africa also has a strong investigative culture in its newspaper industry, which has recently been threatened by the ruling ANC, which has become hostile to the continuing exposé of corrupt politicians or the politically connected.

At the moment there is a slight cooling of the war between politicians and the media, with the government pressurizing the media to ‘self regulate’ better. Either way, the media landscape in South Africa is fraught with tensions that point to difficulties in the country’s young democracy.

So my question is ... has the media in Africa opened up in recent years? Do you think it is more free? Or is there still a culture of fear in reporting the truth or uncovering dirty deals in governments?

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