Actress Danai Gurira’s Quest for Excellence

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – Award winning 31-year old Zimbabwean-American actress and playwright, Danai Gurira, revealed that her passion for the arts lies in her ability to create and tell stories rather than in the glitz and glam of the industry. Giving a public talk recently, Gurira said she got into the arts at an early and received overwhelming support from her parents which helped to give shape to what her career is today.

“I started working with the arts at a very young age. The arts found me – it’s not often something that you’re encouraged to do at a young age,” she said during a US Public Affairs Food for Thought public talk titled ““Can an African make it in Hollywood or Broadway?”, adding that she did her first play which required her to do an extensive monologue at age six

Gurira, whose work as co-star and co-creator of the 2006 Pulitzer finalist In the Continuum, about women living with AIDS in Africa and L.A. propelled her to stardom in the US, said that she is driven by the desire to tell a story and not the shiny lights of the industry.

“There’s a zone you’ve to be able to go into as an artist. When you’re in that zone, you lose a sense of time and space. When people think of Hollywood, all they see is the glitz and glam but I’ve always been motivated by creativity,” said Gurira whose first play In the Continuum received several awards, including the 2006 John Gasner Outer Critics Award for best new American Play and the Global Tolerance Award from Friends of the United Nations in addition to being honored by the US Theatre Hall of Fame.

Gurira, who also won the 2007 Helen Hayes Award for Best Actress in In the Continuum, said that it was in high school at Dominican Convent where she sharpened her interest in drama and where she realized she had the ability to sink herself into a subject with fearlessness. After high school, she left Zimbabwe to go and study psychology in the US. After her first degree, she received her MFA in acting from Tisch, NYU.

“I started to create pieces mainly because I was confused at why the portrayal of Africans was negative in films. I was also inspired by Over the Edge’s play “Born African”. At that time, I created a play about a Zimbabwean rural girl who ventures to a city,” Gurira said. “I needed to attain a certain level of education and then learn how to break the rules. You must have a vision of your artistry. Your work ethic has to be high. You’ve to have a ferocity of energy to survive the industry.”

She added that the trajectory of her career had been unusual because she managed to play African characters that are portrayed in a positive light, adding that she is inspired to tell African women stories.

On the state of the film and acting industry in Zimbabwe, Gurira said that there was a need to instill quality into products that are coming out of the country.

“I think it’s very tricky to say how a country should develop its industry but we should be specific to who we are. I’m always interested in quality over quantity. The need is for excellence because once that is achieved you’ll be less ignored. We must challenge our standards always. I would to see films come out of Zimbabwe that are globally recognizable not because they cater to a global or Western standard but because they’re excellent. The problem is people take the little praise that they get and let their ego be fed like a little monster,” she said.

Gurira added that the fact that Zimbabwe has no real industry offered an opportunity for people to become pioneers.

“There’s no real industry in Zimbabwe so the job of everyone is to be a pioneer because we’ve to create it. You’ve to do more to build the industry. You’re going to have to be a rebel, most artists have to be rebellious, you’ve to be ready to be a pioneer. You’ve to think beyond yourself and don’t wait around for someone,” she said.

On her legacy, Gurira said that she wanted people to pick up her work a hundred years from now and still relate to it.

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ZUSAA Calls for Artists to Promote Tolerance

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – The Zimbabwe-United States Alumni Association (ZUSAA), which brings together Zimbabweans who have either lived, studied or participated in exchange programmes to the US and now resident in Zimbabwe, has called for support of programmes that use arts and culture to promote healing and tolerance in the country.

ZUSAA, which was established in 2009, currently has a membership of over a 1,000 alumni who have skills in different sectors ranging from business, government, non-profit organizations, trade unions, arts and culture among many other professions.

According to the ZUSAA National Coordinator, Michael Mabwe, the organization was formed to ensure that the skills and expertise of Zimbabweans who have been to the US are used for national development.

“We realized that after benefiting from rare experiences abroad, there was a need to continue with some of the concepts learned while in the US. Hence, the need for a platform which brings these leaders together and use their collective effort to give back to the various sectors in Zimbabwe,” said Mabwe, who is also a beneficiary of the US’s International Visitors’ Program on Promoting Tolerance through the Arts.

Mabwe, who is also a renowned human rights poet, said that artists have a big role to play in the national life of Zimbabwe.

“We want to see artists engaging more with the national question, particularly around promoting healing because as artists, they’re soul of the nation. With their art work – if done above political lines – artists can play a major role in diffusing tension that is currently being experienced locally. We want artists to be ambassadors of peace who in their collective effort can help spearhead an effective peace campaign,” he said.

Mabwe added that it is important for artists in the country to collaborate with the Organ on National Healing as well as the Church and Civil Society Forum to promote national healing.

“If the country is bleeding, there can be no development that can take place. Therefore, it means that we cannot improve the lives and livelihoods of our people. Political parties must put the needs of the general populace first before their narrow political ends,” said Mabwe.

“People limit the idea of national healing to political violence yet there are a number of sectors in our society that need  healing, apart from politics. From our industry, our education sector, our tourism, our politics among others, there is a need for healing to take place so that Zimbabwe can reclaim its status as a peaceful, and progressive country amongst the global family,” he said.

Mabwe said that ZUSAA will continue to contribute to different national processes by utilizing the broad skills base within its membership.

Harare Hiatus

I RECENTLY KILLED a goat in the hope of selling the meat for US dollars.

Like many Zimbabweans, I have become accustomed to a culture of trying to make a quick buck to cope with the economic struggles and food shortages. Unfortunately for me, no customers came forward to buy the goat meat.

Now I am cracking my head to come up with another money-making deal that can get me American currency.

The reason is simple: my landlord wants her rent in US dollars. She says Zimbabwean dollar notes are like tissue paper and she has no need of them, so I am left with a little choice but to hassle.

Got to this link and read more.

Should US Have Higher Environmental Standards?

The US has in the past shown great moral strength, courage and sacrifice to respond to global crises but no so with the imminent threat of global climate change.

 

USA

 

Yet, in order to accelerate global efforts to protect the environment, the US must not only be held to a higher environmental standard than the rest of the world, it must also show greater commitment to a coordinated worldly response.

 

The statistics speak for themselves – the US produces a total of 5,410 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, almost a quarter of the global emissions, according to researchers. This makes the US the world’s leading polluter, making it imperative to hold the country to a higher environmental standard.

 

The impact of US emissions go far beyond its borders, changing climatic patterns in many parts of the world, and disrupting people’s lives.

 

The apparent lack of US enthusiasm to make the world greener is in a word detrimental to the agenda of protecting the global environment.

  Continue reading

Quandary of America’s Terror War

The boundaries of today’s war on terrorism are highly obscure, making it highly improbable for US forces to avoid civilian casualties, in places like Somalia, and others perceived to harbor terrorists.

Terrorist

 

Terrorists, some of whom may have genuine causes, systematically utilize violence and intimidation while disguised as civilian non-combatants. In other words, terrorists imbed themselves within civilian populations and then execute attacks.

 

Thus, the ground of warfare in the war against terror in located within the civilian population as determined by terrorists using crude means to achieve political objectives.

 

Terrorists use civilians as both shields and sacrificial lambs in order to carry out their objectives.

 

The fact of the matter is that the war on terror absolutely has no rules of engagement. In military operations, the rules of engagement determine when, where, and how force shall be used. Terrorists operate literally in the shadows of civilian populations, and utilize wanton methods that put civilians in the line of fire.

 

In spite of the military might of US forces, there are severe problems to directly engage with terrorists in places like Somalia and others. The US forces face little choice except to track terrorists within civilian populations.

 

And therein lies the challenge.

 

Defining who is and who is not a terrorist within a crowd of people can be a daunting task, and despite any wholesale exercise of discretion, mistakes are bound to be made.

 

To complicate matters, the painstaking process of trying to identify terrorists within the civilian population places US soldiers in the line of potential terrorist attacks.

 

Hence, US forces have to rely mainly on military intelligence, some of which may be seriously flawed, putting civilians at the risk of a US military attack.

 

Given the amorphous nature of the war on terror, it is really chance and luck that rule the day, as opposed to the strict execution of military strategy intended to limit the killing of civilians.

 

So, while some attacks by US forces can yield intended results, others can go awry, especially when terrorists place themselves within the proximity of civilians.

 

Put simply, there are no easy answers to preventing civilian deaths in the formless war on terrorism. The war has no definite character or nature, and civilians find themselves caught in between like pawns in a chess game.

 

In order to limit the extent of civilian deaths, the US has to incorporate locals to verify intelligence information on the location of terrorists. But this cannot be a full-proof measure as local sources of information may be acting in cahoots with terrorists, and therefore divulge intelligence information to the very terrorists. As a result, planned attacks targeted at terrorists will only hit innocent civilians.

 

US soldiers are literally caught between a rock and a hard place with very little in their sophisticated weaponry to define or determine the rules of the war on terror.

 

As a result, US soldiers are forced to go on an all-out hunt for terrorist groups and personalities hidden within communities, rendering the killing of civilians unavoidable.

How US could save lives with Female Condoms

 

Although the female condom has been heralded as a way for women to protect themselves from HIV and STI infections, its impact has been severely limited due to several reasons including its design, cost, access, stigma, and lack of political will.

 

Given the fact that women are the most affected and infected by HIV (in 2007, women represented half of all HIV infections worldwide, and 61% of HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa) it is an imperative that evidence-based measures be undertaken to reduce their vulnerability.

 

The female condom is an essential sexual reproductive health tool that women can control but, disappointingly, it remains confined to the fringes of the response to the global AIDS epidemic.

 

According to a report by the Center for Health and Gender Equity titled “ Saving Lives Now: Female Condoms and the Role of US Foreign Aid” the US has an important role to play in the procurement, distribution and programming of female condoms.

 

As a leading provider of funding for HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and care, and reproductive health supplies worldwide, the US can promote the wider use of the female condom, including reducing the cost which is beyond the reach of many of the affected women. 

 

The report notes that there is little knowledge among policy makers and advocates about what the current US role is and, thus, a lack of understanding of what more the US should do.

 

“Bureaucratic obstacles, funding restrictions, and a lack of high level commitment to female condoms have significantly hindered the expansion of U.S.-funded female condom distribution efforts,” says the report.

 

“The U.S. government has no policy guidance encouraging missions or contractors to promote female condoms, which has meant that female condom procurement is dependent on a few field-level champions who are committed to the method,” adds the report.

 

Currently, international donors and government are investing millions of dollars and energy into promoting initiatives such as male circumcision, and little attention is being paid to promoting female condoms which allow women to initiate protection.

 

“While the unique nature of female condoms in providing women with their own source of protection should be reason enough for donors and governments to promote the method, female condoms hold other advantages as well. They fill their own niche, as consumers often alternate their use with that of male condoms, thus increasing the total number of protected sex acts,” states the report.

 

“They can be used by women living with HIV who do not wish to become pregnant, to protect against superinfection and to reduce the chance of HIV transmission to seronegative partners.”

 

In addition, female condoms also provide an additional option for protection during anal intercourse for men who have sex with men and heterosexuals, says the report.

 

In spite of the apparent benefits of the female condom, there are still major challenges in promoting its use.

 

Apart from the fact that female condoms are prohibitively expensive in many parts of the world, users find them noisy, physically unappealing, or difficult to use.

 

“However, female condoms are a cost-effective mechanism for HIV prevention when measured against thevcosts of potential HIV infections or other HIV prevention mechanisms. Also, as more and more female condoms are produced and purchased, their cost will drop,” states the report.

 

With greater financial investment and commitment, the design of the female condom can be improved increasing the likelihood of uptake by women.

 

Furthermore, there is need for educational and social marketing programs aimed at reducing the stigma associated with use of the female condom as well as improving consistent and accurate use.

 

According to the report, civil society groups can be extremely valuable in developing effective programming because of their access to populations vulnerable to HIV infection and their experience working with these groups.

 

The report makes the following recommendations to improve US’s role in the distribution and use of female condoms:

 

  • USAID and OGAC should issue policy guidance promoting female condom procurement and programming within US-funded development programs, including PEPFAR. As a signatory of ICPD, the US should promote female condoms as a vital tool to prevent both pregnancy and HIV infection.
  • The US should expand technical assistance for female condom logistics and procurement to additional countries to increase HIV prevention efforts.
  • The US should apply intensive programming efforts to an additional three countries for scale-up and replication. These efforts could be used to create a more realistic assessment of global female condom needs for scale-up.
  • The US should increase HIV prevention efforts by expanding the scope of female and male condom promotion to encompass the general public. Programming for female condoms will depend on each area’s epidemiological profile, and should be free of messages and attitudes that stigmatize condom use.
  • The US should invest more funds in female condom promotion and programming. The US should subsidize female condoms for PEPFAR-funded programs.
  • At the country level, the US should include civil society, especially women’s health and rights groups, in stakeholder meetings and encourage financing mechanisms that increase government-civil society collaboration in female condom programming.
  • Congress should remove all earmarks and funding directives for abstinence-only, abstinence-until-marriage and fidelity prevention programs and fund comprehensive, integrated, and evidence-based HIV prevention programs that include female condoms and that promote and protect women’s health.

 

Why US Must Care About Climate Change

The US has in the past shown great moral strength, courage and sacrifice to respond to global crises but no so with the imminent threat of global climate change.  

Yet, in order to accelerate global efforts to protect the environment, the US must not only be held to a higher environmental standard than the rest of the world, it must also show greater commitment to a coordinated worldly response. 

The statistics speak for themselves – the US produces a total of 5,410 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, almost a quarter of the global emissions, according to researchers.

This makes the US the world’s leading polluter, making it imperative to hold the country to a higher environmental standard. 

The impact of US emissions go far beyond its borders of the US, changing climatic patterns in many parts of the world, and disrupting people’s lives. 

The apparent lack of US enthusiasm to make the world greener is in a word detrimental to the agenda of protecting the global environment. Since the Kyoto treat was established in 1997 to collaborate a global response to environmental destruction, in particular global warming, the US government has exhibited a consistent reluctance to ratify the agreement thereby dealing a body blow to the global campaign to protect he environment. 

Incumbent US President George W. Bush has insisted that making global commitments to climate change would harm his country’s economic prospects.

Since President Bush entered the White House, his administration has muzzled the country’s responsibility to significantly contribute to environmental solutions, including pulling out of the Kyoto climate change agreement. 

“The United States’ performance indicates that the next administration must not ignore the ecosystem impacts of environmental as well as agricultural, energy and water management policies,” said Gus Speth, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at the launch of the 2008 Environmental Performance Index (EPI).

 “The EPI’s climate change metrics ranking the United States alongside India and China near the bottom of the world’s table are a national disgrace.” 

The fact of the matter is that, in order to produce a real global outcome on climate change, the US must step out of its shell of self-interest and show leadership as the world’s greatest power through ratifying and implementing international global climate agreements. 

Though the US cites protecting its economy as the reason for its reluctance to make a global commitment, the long term of little action against climate change will undoubtedly unravel that current concern. 

If the US can commit to higher environmental standards – mainly because it is the main polluter anyway, it will significantly make it easier for the world to engage other major polluters such as China and India in the global climate response.  

China and India, like many developing nations accuse the US and other developed nations of having done damage to the environment for longer periods to time.

Unlike the US however, many of the developing national have approved international climate agreements, a critical first step in addressing the problem.  However, developing nations lack the werewithal to produce the requisite greneer techonlogies as well as the political and economic might to influence a global response. 

On the contrary, the US has all this in abundance but seriously lacks the moral aptitude because of its stance on the global climate agreement. With its financial and technological might, the US is well-positioned to build a low-emissions environment, and therefore set an example to the rest of the world. 

It is a paradoxical sham that the US assumes a claim to higher moral standards in protecting democracy worldwide yet refuses due to self-interest to commit to global agreements against what scientists have described as the “greatest threat facing humanity” in our time. 

The proposition that the US can go it alone is hurtful to global efforts because it makes other countries, chiefly China, to engage in finger pointing without addressing the problem.  

As the world’s leading power, the US needs to show farsighted leadership in efforts to respond to threats posed by climate change.  

“By committing to higher environmental standards, the US can make it a priority to develop and prove the effectiveness of alternative forms of energy, and use this as a basis to lobby and mobilize less-developed nations,” states US in the World, an initiative to get Americans involved in worldly matters. 

“By acting first, the U.S. and other rich countries that are most responsible for global warming – because they burn the most oil, gas, and coal – can set a powerful example for others to follow.

By committing themselves to developing alternative energy sources, technologically advanced countries like the United States can create new jobs and industries at home while jump-starting the international effort to slow global warming and influencing the energy choices of less advanced countries that are on the brink of making big new energy investments,” adds US in the World. 

The current bickering over who should assume greater responsibility for emission cuts, steered by the US government, does not augur well for efforts to combat global change. 

Obviously, collective global action is required, with emerging giants such as China and India requred to commit to better, greener technologies in the wake of theri rapid economic expansion. 

Indeed, a global climate agreement should hold the US to a higher environmental standard than the rest of the world because it is the leading polluter, and therefore should assume a pole position in the climate change agenda. 

Given that the US is world’s super-power, it needs to lead by example, and rally the world toward a better management of the environment.