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Popular Characters Re-invent Traditional Carving

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The popular cartoon characters from the long-running series The Simpsons are breathing new life into traditional African stone carvings.

A traditional craft in many cultures, carving adds value to local resources and provides an excellent source of income for local artisans and entrepreneurs. While wood or stone carvings are a popular tourist souvenir throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America, most carvers stick to traditional subjects.

However, a group of villagers in western Kenya have transformed their economy by swapping carvings of elephants and Cleopatra for Homer, Marge and Sideshow Bob.

According to the book Carving out a Future by the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), carving exports from the island of Bali in Indonesia total US $100 million per year. India’s industry is worth US $65 million. In Oaxaca, Mexico, carvings earn US $2,500 per household, increasing access to education and health. In Kenya, carving involves more than 60,000 people and provides household income for more than 300,000. In some communities in South Africa, households can earn between US $500 and US $2,000 per year from carvings – 80 per cent of a household income.

Research into carving has identified several factors that are critical to maximising profits: quality is critical, and the best woods and stone must be used. Diversity is an important element: too much of the same thing being made available damages the market. And sustainability: the wood and stone resources must not be used up.

It is this novelty and diversity that The Simpsons carvings address. By tapping into the global market for official licensed merchandise, the Tabaka carvers of the Abagusi tribe – well-known carvers in western Kenya – have significantly increased their income. And they are cashing in on the global popularity of the first Simpsons movie released this year.

Tabaka is a village three hours by bus from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. In Nairobi, the carvers would sell their soap stone carvings to middlemen, often for a pittance compared to what they would in turn charge tourists. Negotiations with these vendors could take days and waste the precious income of the carvers as they waited around for the deal to come through.

Craft Village UK has organised the carvers to produce Simpsons statuettes for the worldwide market. The carvers were able to win the official merchandise license from The Simpsons’ owners, Twentieth Century Fox, after its vice-president saw a video of the carvers. They were initially awarded the license to craft 12 of the show’s characters for the US and UK markets, but last month they gained the worldwide license.

Craft Village’s founder, UK-based Paul Young, had the idea three years ago when his sister returned from living in Uganda with soap stone carvings. Impressed by the quality of the workmanship, he thought they would sell better in a western market if they reproduced popular images from films and TV. In 2005, he made contact with the carvers through a crafts company in Nairobi. He sent initial plastic figurine models and photos to help the carvers get the statues right. He flew to Kenya in 2005 to meet the carvers for the first time and video the carving process.

Initial prototypes were too heavy and some would break. And it took 12 months of trial and error to get the quality high enough to approach Twentieth Century Fox.

“Familiarizing the carvers with The Simpsons was difficult,” said Young. “Making the carvers understand the importance of quality control and the need for benchmark standards and uniform carvings was – and still is – a challenge.”

“I don’t know who they are,” said Pauline Kemunto, who helps her husband with the carvings. “But I like them because I earn from them.”

In a community known for growing bananas, David Atang’a, master carver and former soldier, supports five children. “If this Simpsons project succeeds, I hope to educate my children in university,” he said.

Two groups of 15 members each are divided between Tabaka Master Carvers and Tabaka Classic Carvers. Women take over and wash, polish and shine the pieces. Each piece is numbered and signed (Craft Village UK products).

The carvers now make 450 Kenyan shillings per statue (UK £3) – between four and six times what they would have got for a traditional carving. Where work before was sporadic, it is now regular and employs 80 people. The extra income means the carvers can now send their children to secondary school.

Enosh Onsombi grew up with no electricity and no television. But since the community started carving the Simpsons characters, “Life has changed so much,” he told The Independent newspaper. “The Simpsons has changed everything.”

Published: October 2007

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Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

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Freaky – The 70s Meant Something

By David South

Watch Magazine (Toronto, Canada), June 8, 1994

It was the decade of the happy face, bell-bottoms, avocado fridges, disco and the Bay City Rollers; in short, the 70s was a pimple on the ass of history, better evaporated in a pot haze on a waterbed. Not so says 70s-obsessed author Pagan Kennedy, who believes the much-maligned decade is the victim of a bum rap perpetuated by the idolization of the 60s.

Kennedy says the 70s saw all the radical ideas and culture of the 60s go mainstream and mutate in a way the hippies couldn’t imagine.

Social relations and culture were profoundly reshaped during this decade as the non-traditional family took form, women flooded the workplace and unions became rich monoliths.

The social turmoil spawned blue collar red-necks with Confederate flags customizing fuck trucks – vans complete with waterbed, eight-track stereo, bong and sleazy airbrushed exteriors of naked women –  to cruise the nation’s highways enjoying the liberal sexual values while keeping conservative political views. Sexual liberation for these clowns consisted of bumper stickers saying “Ass, gas or grass – nobody rides for free!”. Kennedy remembers it all too well.

“This was the midst of the energy crisis, so big cars that wasted a lot of gas were really cool,” she says. “I guess it came out of the whole drug culture, sex culture thing. It was like a basement kids have, only it was on wheels – a party on wheels. It’s not just the mattress for the fuck truck, you’re supposed to be doing your bong hits in there – so the police can’t see you.”

Sex holidays

“Our lives are much more constrained than they were in the 70s,” continues Kennedy. “I think the 70s must seem like an exotic time to grow up in. One of my favourite parts in Douglas Coupland’s Generation X is when the characters want to take a sex holiday to 1974.

“There was a lot of obsession in the early 70s with swingers and wife-swapping. It was the one time when suddenly the sexual revolution was kicking in, not just for white, privileged college kids, but for everybody – for the working class. There were discos and orgy clubs. There was Plato’s Retreat in New York City where you would go in and there was an orgy in full progress.”

In music, the 70s rocketed between extremes. There was nauseating soft rock, concept albums and “progressive” rock. There was the outrageous glam, with artists like Slade and Gary Glitter jacked up on elevator shoes in sequin one-piece flare suits. There was disco and punk. But the sickest phenomena says Kennedy was corporate rock.

David Cassidy

“In the 60s, people were just learning how to package rock and make it a big corporate thing. By the 70s they had learned a lot. The Partridge Family was a group that was entirely fabricated. David Cassidy had a bigger fan club than Elvis. This was a guy who didn’t become a rock star until he went on TV. In the 60s, FM was alternative radio – you could play anything. Corporate guys got their hooks into FM by the 70s. They were formatting. It was no longer what the DJ wanted to hear. You were getting playlists. The money came from big rock concerts, so there was a desire to push these mega-groups and superstars.”

Another truly 70s phenomena was TV as social conscience. Before the 70s, TV variety shows focused on pure entertainment. But now writers, directors and producers schooled in the 60s political milieu were in control.

Blaxploitation

“All in the Family, Maude and Good Times were all part of the same world. All in the Family acknowledged the deep rifts in American society – America was at war with itself. Yet it did it in a soft enough way to not offend people.”

US blacks had been ignored until the civil rights struggle of the 1960s woke up a dopey white America. In the 1970s, blacks were being portrayed like never before in the media and popular culture. But all of this awareness took a twisted turn.

“I think what happened among blacks was they saw their leaders either killed or put in jail. And that was devastating. Blacks really turned to electoralism in the 70s. A lot of black people started running for office. While trying to change things from outside the system, they realized the price was too high. A lot of black people were involved in making those blaxploitation movies, but so were a lot of white people. Shaft and Superfly are like the bookends of the genre. They were really made by black filmmakers. But then there were all these ripoff versions starring football players – whitebread ideas of what black culture was like.”

Pagan Kennedy’s latest book, Platforms: A Microwaved Cultural Chronicle of the 1970s, is published by St. Martin’s Press and available in most book shops. She’s got a really cool collection of eight-track tapes and drives a yetch! 1974 Plymouth Valiant.

Her website is here: https://www.pagankennedy.space/

“Tripping on 70s Culture”: Watch Magazine was published in Toronto, Canada in the 1990s. “The Bi-Weekly Student Perspective on Culture, Issues and Trends.”
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UNDP Travelling Seminar: Environment and Development | Mongolia 1998

As head of communications for UNDP/UN Mongolia, I organised and led press tours across the country for international journalists in 1997 and 1998.

Library catalogue description: https://www.e-varamu.ee/item/NG6OSO3DWRMB4NGGULKHVE434XN4KJ4R

A book published by UNDP chronicled the press tour in 1998. (UNDP Division of Public Affairs)
The media tour of Mongolia included the following journalists: Kathleen Lally (The Baltimore Sun), Florence Compain (Le Figaro), Suvendrini Kakuchi (Inter Press Service), Charu Shahane (BBC World Service), Lim Yun-Suk (Agency France Presse), Leslie Chang (The Asian Wall Street Journal).
An Interoffice Memorandum from Djibril Diallo, Director, Division of Public Affairs, UNDP, to Mr. Nay Htun, Assistant Administrator and Director, Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.
An interview with the BBC World Service while visiting gardens in the Gobi Desert, 1998. I led media tours of Mongolia while serving as the UN/UNDP Mongolia Communications Coordinator from 1997-1999.
The UNDP Mongolia Communications Office would reach out to journalists to help tell the story of Mongolia’s late 1990s transition to free markets and democracy.
UNDP Mongolia staff photo 1997. I served for two years as the UNDP Mongolia Head of Communications (1997-1999).

“Mongolia is not an easy country to live in and David [South] showed a keen ability to adapt in difficult circumstances. He was sensitive to the local habits and cultures and was highly respected by his Mongolian colleagues. … David’s journalism background served him well in his position as Director of the Communications Unit. … A major accomplishment … was the establishment of the UNDP web site. He had the artistic flare, solid writing talent and organizational skills that made this a success. … we greatly appreciated the talents and contributions of David South to the work of UNDP in Mongolia.” Douglas Gardner, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Mongolia

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Cities For All Shows How The World’s Poor Are Building Ties Across The Global South

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Cities for All, recently published by Habitat International Coalition, draws together thinkers and innovators in a compilation of case studies addressing the challenges of inclusive cities in the global South. The book seeks to articulate experiences of South-South cooperation and enhance the links between different regions. David South interviews the co-editor, Charlotte Mathivet.

Published: 24 August 2010

Global Urbanist (http://globalurbanist.com/2010/08/24/cities-for-all-shows-how-the-worlds-poor-are-building-ties-across-the-global-south)

The largest movements of people in human history are occurring right now, as vast populations relocate to urban and semi-urban areas in pursuit of a better quality of life, or because life has become intolerable where they currently live. In Arrival City, Canadian journalist Doug Saunders finds that this movement —

— is creating new urban spaces that are this century’s focal points of conflict and change — centres of febrile settlement that will reshape our cities and reconfigure our economies. These Arrival Cities are where the next great economic and cultural boom will be born, or where the next explosion of violence will occur.

For most, this process is chaotic, unplanned, and fraught with risk, hardship, poverty and stress; yet, because so many are also able to dramatically improve their life chances, many millions will continue to follow this path.

The speed of urbanisation makes the question of how to build liveable cities increasingly urgent. A new book hopes to help people get closer to solutions to these vexing problems.

Cities for All: proposals and experiences towards the right to the city, published by Habitat International Coalition (HIC) in Santiago, Chile, and co-edited by HIC’s Ana Sugranyes and Charlotte Mathivet, was launched during this year’s World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro, and highlights ways in which urban residents across the South are defining how they would like their cities to evolve, refusing to accept social exclusion and demanding a “right to the city”.

The book is published in three languages — EnglishSpanish and Portuguese.

“A lot of social initiatives based on the right to the city are coming from these ‘new cities of the South'”, says Mathivet. “The book highlights original social initiatives: protests and organising of the urban poor, such as the pavement dwellers’ movements in Mumbai where people with nothing, living on the pavements of a very big city, organise themselves to struggle for their collective rights, just as the park dwellers did in Osaka.”

“Another innovative experience came from the children’s workshops in Santiago, aimed at including children in urban planning in order to make a children-friendly city.”

The cities of Africa and Asia are growing by a million peole a week. If current trends continue, mega-cities and sprawling slums will be the hallmarks of this majority urban world. In sub-Saharan Africa, 72 per cent of the population lives in slum conditions. And by 2015, there will be 332 million slum-dwellers in Africa, with slums growing at twice the speed of cities.

“The consequences have produced a deeper gap between the city and countryside, and also within the city between the rich and poor,” said Mathivet.

Cities for All details African experiences from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana and South Africa. Mathivet believes “one common topic affecting these countries is the problem of forced evictions, due to the rural exodus and growing urbanisation. It is therefore very important for the right to the city to include a perspective of linking the struggle between rural and urban movements, because problems in cities and the countryside are closely connected, especially in Africa.”

And the current surge to cities in Africa raises the issue of what type of development will occur. The book argues that cities aren’t automatically a solution to the plight of the poor. Cities need to be worked on, and many of the problems faced by the South’s fast-growing cities stem from a power imbalance.

“A very important thing to realise is that a city life is not a synonym for a better life or a miracle solution for poor people, nor for the ‘capitalist’ way of life,” says Mathivet. “African nations and their people have to find effective solutions on their own to overcome poverty — which they are doing — without copying development models from the North.”

“In my understanding, urban growth is not haphazard or poorly planned in ‘developing’ countries. Rather, I think that urban ‘planning’ or lack of planning is done with a goal of generating more benefits for powerful interests and fewer benefits for poor people.”

The book argues for a two-way relationship with the people who make up the majority of these fast-growing cities. And it says each city will have to customise its solutions.

“It is very difficult to apply social innovations to other countries without understanding the history and the social, economic, cultural and political context,” says Mathivet.

“Hope comes from learning of different experiences. For example, if a social movement in South Africa succsesfully avoided an eviction from a slum, it may help another social movement in Brazil to strengthen its own strategy. One of the book’s goals was to articulate the various South-South experiences and enhance the links between different regions.”

In one chapter, contributor David Harvey argues that “the right to the city is not simply the right to what already exists in the city; it is also the right to transform the city into something radically different.”

“The right to the city itself will not stop the over-whelming phenomenon of urban growth,” believes Mathivet. “The consequences produced by implementing this collective right would rather change people’s daily lives by achieving more equality in cities as well as in the relationship between the city and coutnryside in regards to growing urban populations.”

Cities for All highlights the existence of ‘cities without citizens’: the vast numbers of slum dwellers and the poor who live mostly ignored by authorities (unless they are in the way of commercial development).

“The expression ‘cities without citizens’ means the exact opposite of the right to the city proposal,” Mathivet says. “This alternative to the present global paradigm proposes to allow people to participate in the process of creating the city in terms of urban planning, decision-making, budget, public policies, etc. It is possible for people to influence their own lives and the community.”

“There is no miracle solution, and the right to the city is a banner around which people can organise themselves to articulate their struggles and demand social justice.”

The book concludes by arguing for the advantages of a ‘slow city’ approach. But how does this work in fast-growing urban areas where people are looking to quickly escape poverty, or are seeking rapid improvements to their quality oflife? Would they not find a slow city approach frustrating?

Mathivet believes a leap of imagination is required: “Cities for All is not intended to be a recipe book. The slow city experience was chosen as a conclusion to the book in order to present a different approach, but not to propose a clear solution to follow. Concluding with the slow city experience, which is radically different and difficult to apply in African and Asian cities, where the spread of urbanisation is uncontrollable and leads to major problems, emphasises that the fight for the right to the city involves imagination and the desire for another possible city …

“Moreover, slow city experiences have been developed otuside of wealthy European countries, for example in some small Argentine and South Korean cities.”

And with the coming decade unfolding, what will cities in the South be like? Are we on the cusp of a new, dark age akin to the misery of Europe’s cities during the industrial revolution?

Mathivet acknowledges that “we can see a dark future where the interests of the most vulnerable will not be the priority. However, looking at the experiences by and for the people, we cannot consider them poor, but rich of knowledge, cognitive capital, and with courage to change their lives and their communities, through self-management and autonomy.

Cities for All aimed to show this richness … the challenges are for civil society to deepen links between different movements to build a stronger global strategy, during events like the next World Social Forum in Dakar, February 2011.”

David South is an international development consultant and writer. He writes the Development Challenges: South-South solutions e-newsletter for UNDP’s Special Unit for South-South Cooperation. He led the Communications Office for the UN in Ulaanbaatar from 1997 to 1999 and has worked for the UN in South Africa, Turkmenistan and Ukraine.

The Special Unit for South-South Cooperation is mandated to promote, coordinate and support South-South and triangular cooperation on a global and UN-systemwide basis.

This story is adapted from a piece in the July 2010 edition of Development Challenges.

http://globalurbanist.com/2010/08/24/cities-for-all-shows-how-the-worlds-poor-are-building-ties-across-the-global-south

https://www.hic-net.org/es/hic-book-cities-for-all-shows-how-the-worlds-poor-are-building-ties-across-the-global-south/

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021