Saturday, May 30, 2009

Old Blog, New URL

For the purpose of shameless self-promotion, I'm resurrecting this blog, just once. Contrary to what the above banner suggests, Louis is emphatically not in Lusaka. But he still blogs.

The site of my current blog, Governance Village, has been undergoing maintenance and the URLs have changed, twice. I learned recently that some of my previous readers thought I'd given up, but in fact the website had simply been moved.

I haven't given up. To the contrary, I am writing regularly about things like:
If you're at all inclined, check it out! The new URL is here. The RSS feed is here.

If you're really inclined, then please sign up to the Governance Village platform and join in on the debate! (This is free. You only need to fill out this short application form and sign in before posting comments.)

Also at Governance Village, journalist Christopher Mason blogs about media and development, while photographer Terry Sebastian shares his thoughts and beautiful images from South America. Unfortunately, all comments dating back to before the site renovations have been lost.

This photo, of me atop Mt. Kenya's Point Lenana, has no relation to the above comments. I thought it might help to reflexively spark interest in my blog, which has nothing to do with Mt. Kenya or hiking.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Kariba to Ottawa, and thank you!

View of Lake Kariba, Africa's largest man-made lake, which displaced tens of thousands of Tonga people in southern Zambia when the Kariba Dam was built in the 1950-60s. The picture was taken from the plane from Lusaka to Johannesburg three weeks ago. After Johannesburg, I continued to Dakar, Washington DC and finally Ottawa, pictured below prior to landing.

For the last three weeks, I've been couch surfing in Montreal and Toronto, fundraising and organizing events for Canadian Landmine Action Week (February 23-March 1). After March 1, my work with Mines Action Canada, the Zambian Campaign to Landmines, and mine action in general, will have concluded, at least for now. I'll be back on the job market – until September, when I plan to take refuge from the "financial crisis" by going back to school.

For those who enjoyed reading this blog, thank you! I enjoyed writing it. I won't be continuing it, except to use it as a convenient URL for other purposes – like the exciting quilt raffle my mother and I have organized for Mines Action Canada!

Instead, I will be writing a regular blog at Governance Village (GV), a Canadian forum for ideas on governance and development. GV is an outgrowth of the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a Jim Balsillie Blackberry-money think tank based in Waterloo. I was hired by the GV editor, who lived in Lusaka last year with the Mines Action Canada intern before me. My blog, "Minor Truths: Politics of disarmament, refugees and aid in sub-Saharan Africa" ( discusses current events in sub-Saharan Africa from the perspective of my experiences over the last few years. I will pay special attention to disarmament, refugees and aid, the areas I've been most engaged with in my work and study.

I'll post a better summary of my new blog in the next few days, formalizing the "hand-off" from here to there.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Quilt raffle

As part of Canadian Landmine Action Week, Mines Action Canada will be raffling the above quilt. Produced by prominent Canadian artist Barbara Todd, the quilt is made up of textiles from Zambia, DR Congo and Mozambique. I (Louis Century) collected the textiles during my recent work in the region.

The draw will take place on March 1st. Tickets cost $5 each. They can be purchased online through the Mines Action Canada website: The minimum online donation is $10 for two tickets.

Here is the direct link to the donation page, from where you must click the "one time donation" button. From here, click on the "Fund Designation" drop-down menu and select "Quilt Raffle." Your number of tickets will be your donation amount divided by five. For example, a $20 donation pays for four tickets. You will receive an email confirmation for your purchase. Please allow two days to receive this email.

Thanks for your support!

P.S. If you're in the Toronto area, you may view the quilt at Linuxcaffe, 326 Harbord Street, corner of Grace Street.

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Mozambique take ten

The first minibus I took in Mozambique, leaving from the Malawi border. You can see the afternoon light against the windows. I recall that on this minibus, and not only on this one, passengers in the last couple rows climbed in and out of the sliding window – instead of going out the door, which would require half a dozen others to also get out. This minibus was my first encounter with Portuguese. I was struck by how widespread the language was, even so far north of Maputo.

The story of post-colonial Mozambique in one photograph. FRELIMO (Liberation Front of Mozambique), the party that liberated Mozambique from the Portuguese, fought a decades-long civil war with RENAMO (Mozambican National Resistance), an armed group supported first by Rhodesia and later by apartheid South Africa. Although FRELIMO remains in power today, RENAMO has come to form a legitimate opposition party – despite their origins as a proxy army of white racist regimes.

Sunrise in Maxixe, across the bay from Inhambane. I'm glad I photographed this, because at the time I was delirious from 28 hours of travel – starting at 3:00am the previous morning – on various buses and minibuses. A friendly young Mozambican named Moses (Mosse) was returning to Inhambane for the holidays, so we kept each other company – in what broken Portuguese and English each of us could muster.

A great impromptu performance, a marimba with drums and shakers, on Tofo beach. This provided a nice reprieve from the herds of South African tourists who dominated the hostels and beaches during the holidays – my entire time there. Moses is the tall man with sunglasses in the top right.

Sleepy, old Inhambane, where my friend Nathan has been living and working for five months. The town is incredibly charming, and I enjoyed two full afternoons exploring it on foot. Quiet, friendly and full of Portuguese architecture – blocks on blocks of residential streets, complete with tree-lined sidewalks, ornate front gates and quaint, little homes. Most of Inhambane's residents live in "informal housing" outside the city centre, which may partially explain the quietness of the streets.

Central Maputo, from underneath the gate to the botanical gardans – you can see the back of the statue of Samora Machel, the country's first president.

The old Portuguese railway station in Maputo, the city's strongest visual symbol of Portuguese legacy.

The junction between Mao Tse Tung and Kim Il Sung, one of many comical Marxist-Communist street signs that pervade Maputo.

Vodocom seems to have hit the jackpot with its slogan, "Tudo bom," which also serves the all-purpose "it's all good"/"I'm fine" in Portuguese. Catering to the innumerable new cellphone users throughout Mozambique, the Vodocom ads are everywhere.

Typical high-rise apartment in downtown Maputo.

Construction near the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. I took this photo as I waited overnight due to the bankruptcy of Zambian Airways, waiting for my South African Airlines flight to depart the next day. Sights like this one – cranes in active use – were everywhere in Johannesburg, frantically preparing to host the 2010 World Cup next summer.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Successful launch!

After two months of work and two weeks of frantic last-minute preparations, the launch of "MY VOICE as a person with a disability" was a success. Notable highlights include:

  • Turn-out of over 60, including the Deputy High Commissioner of the United Kingdom to Zambia.
  • 11 great-looking vinyl prints of the "MY VOICE" posters, and thousands more A4-size photocopies. We provided every attendee with an envelope of all 20 posters. The printing and photocopying was funded by the Canadian High Commission, Action on Disability and Development, and the Zambia Mine Action Centre.
  • Three outstanding vocal performances by participants in the project: a three-woman harmonization, a solo rap, and two moving songs by celebrity singer John Chiti. In Chiti's second song, he repeated the last verse over and over until half the room broke out into perfect harmonization. Apparently, this is not unusual in Zambia.
  • Great speeches by various participants.
  • The successful installation and unveiling of a ramp at the front entrance of the British Council, making the Council accessible for the first time. I had approached Disacare, a wheelchair manufacturer, and asked them to give the British Council an invoice for such a ramp; the British Council agreed to pay for it.
  • Interpretation for the deaf, free of charge, by the sister of a deaf woman I met during my interviews.
  • Excellent snacks provided by one of the participants, who happens to be starting up her own catering business.

John Chiti singing, Isabel Banda interpreting, me and Dr. Bob against the wall with my posters.

Peter Chibesa Bwale, who is blind, rapping about disability in English.

A poetic drama performed by Zambian soap star Phenny Walubita and her fellow actor James Chishala.

One section of the audience.

Elijah Ngwale, past director of the now-defunct Zambia Agency for the Handicapped, stole the show with his comically large vocabulary: "I refuse to be fooled, duped, hoodwinked, beguiled!" and so on. As someone standing next to me pointed out, Elijah, though blind, has probably never been duped in his life.

Me and John after the show.

More photos, along with all of the finished posters, can be found here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Launch preparations

Kulima Towers bus station during rainy season, today.

As my departure from Zambia nears, I am working long hours preparing for the launch of my disability awareness campaign, "MY VOICE," to take place this Friday. I persuaded the British Council of Zambia to provide the venue free of charge; British NGO Action on Disability and Development (ADD) agreed to pay for some of the printing; and superstar singer John Chiti, the project's most high-profile participant, will sing at the launch. Having issued press releases and invited key ministers, I'm optimistic for a successful launch.

Still, it'll be a hectic week. Trying to track down all 20 participants to get their written consent to use the posters – on African time, no less – is one thing. Organizing the event to meet ministerial and accessibility standards – wheelchair ramps and interpreters for the deaf – with next to no budget, is another. Doing all of this using public transport at bus stations that could just as easily be swimming pools (above) with sudden tropical thunderstorms most afternoons (below), is the icing on the cake.

I may not sleep much until the launch is over, but so far, things seem to be falling into place.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Malawi take ten

My journey started with a few days in Lilongwe, capital of Malawi since 1974, a hot and dusty city with a bustling marketplace, heaps of NGOs and government buildings, and a muddy river running through the middle. I stayed with Undule Mwakasunguru, director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation and a colleague of Dr. Bob's.

The bus trip to Lilongwe, like the dozens of trips that would follow it, involved periodic stops where a handful of local merchants, each selling the same product, jostle for window space and the prospect of making a sale. For an entire day on Mozambican buses, for instance, I survived quite comfortably on freshly roasted cashew nuts and pineapples – purchased from my bus seat.

I managed to squeeze in one day on the shores of Lake Malawi, a vast and beautiful lake spanning much of Malawi's eastern border. Its abundant fish supplies provide most Malawians with their protein of choice. Some of these fish also happen to be colourful and exotic, drawing large crowds of Western scuba divers and snorkellers. I enjoyed an afternoon of solo kayaking along the coast.

You can't drive five minutes in Malawi without passing a field of maize – a less sweet, tougher variation of North American corn. This type of maize can be found throughout Africa, but in Malawi it's rare to find anything else. I met an American researcher looking into agricultural policy and ways to diversify Malawian farming. To date, the entire agricultural sector revolves around maize, which is used to make nsima, the country's staple starch.

The town at the base of Mt. Mulanje, the glorious mountain range where I spent Christmas. For four days, I hiked between quaint colonial mountain huts, some more than a hundred years old, with Nathan – a MAC intern working in Inhambane, Mozambique (his blog is full of great photos) – and Maureen, an Australian volunteer.

This waterfall is one of the dozens – hundreds – we encountered during our hike. Swimming in mountain streams and drinking ice-cold mountain water were two highlights. This stream happens to be where we spent Christmas Eve – if you look closely, you can see our hut poking above the trees.

A dramatic (and shamelessly staged) picture of me looking into the sunset on Christmas Eve, deep in contemplation and natural-world awe.

This is the best I could do to capture the steepness of our Christmas morning ascent up Sapitwa, the range's highest peak at 3,000 metres. It was an arduous and entirely rewarding climb, although the descent was decidedly less enjoyable. After dense, dark grey rain clouds ambushed us seemingly from nowhere – the weather formations were spectacular – the ensuing rain made the rocks slippery and we resorted to sitting down on our backsides, edging inch by inch down the mountain.

Again, the weather formations. The clouds rolling through this valley, as dusk approached on Christmas day, created a continuous stream of National Geographic scenes. This is the silhouette of a solitary cedar, one of the few cedars to have been spared by rampant legal, then illegal, deforestation on the mountain.

Logging continues unabated, with these superhuman transporters hustling up and down the mountain with pounds of pine and other wood on their heads. Watching them negotiate the steeper inclines is something else. (Thanks to Nathan for this photo.)

Christmas on the mountain! With Nathan, Maureen, and two lovely couples who happened also to arrive at Chembe Hut, Mt. Mulanje, in the afternoon of December 25th. A Christmas I won't forget. After leaving the mountain, I spent another couple days in southern Malawi, visited the colonial capital Zomba, then took off for the Mozambique border. Tomorrow, ten (or eleven) pictures from Mozambique...