the united nations of this rap…stuff

The violence in Karamoja is likely the biggest forgotten, neglected part of what has been called the biggest forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world. Both UPDF soldiers and rebels have been accused of gross human rights violations, drought is sweeping the northeast, and the violence has gotten so bad that the night commuter phenomenon, previously restricted to areas under LRA attack, is spreading to the region.

Amidst it all, there is hope — in the form of a hip-hop duo called the Rocky Boyz Crew. Ugly-Unit and Legless, its two young members, aim to promote unity and reverse negative perceptions of Karamoja through their music.

Another hip-hop artist in Kampala is doing the same thing. Abramz, a rapper and breakdancer, works in Nsambya, Gulu and Mbale to encourage at-risk youth to work together for social change through Breakdance Project Uganda.

I met Abramz at the Global Kimeeza II conference last month, and his passion for both his art and his work made my insides all smooshy (in a good way). If anyone knows how I can get in touch with the Rocky Boyz Crew and beg them to let me hang out with them for a few days, let me know.

Jay-Z may think he’s the UN of this rap shit, but he clearly hasn’t met these guys.

EDIT: Ariaka’s right. “Rebels” is the term the UPDF has applied to armed Karamojong, who some would argue are protecting their land, cattle and/or families against government attacks.

2007: Jackfruity predictions

George Bush will out Aga Khan as a terrorist mastermind and commence war against Pakistan and Tajikistan. Turkmenistan will be thrown in for good measure. Shortly thereafter, the Washington Post will reveal that what were thought to be terrorist training camps in northern Pakistan were actually just schools for poor shepherds, and CNN will begin featuring “Stangate” on the nightly news. Fox News will insist wool from the sheep in question contained suspicious traces of plutonium, thereby justifying the attack. Ronald Gates will resign, and in an unprecedented violation of the Constitution, Dick Cheney will take over his role. American voters, disturbed by the thought of radioactive sheep, will be too busy lobbying against imported lamb to notice.

Yoweri Museveni will die of gout. Obote’s wife will take over under the title Obote III, followed within two months by a military coup led by Salim Saleh in collaboration with Aga Khan (who, in sly retaliation for the Stangate debacle, will force Saleh to charge Americans double the nightly rate at the Kampala Serena Hotel — all under the pretense of development work, naturally).

The Red Pepper will discover Salim Saleh’s previously well-hidden penchant for American hip-hop after a house servant chances upon his closet shrine to Jay-Z. To shield himself from embarrassment, the new leader of Uganda will invite the eminent artist to the country and crown him Kabaka of the Buganda. The former Kabaka’s body will be packed in concrete and sealed into the Bujugali Dam, the building of which will proceed expediently due to the Saleh-Khan partnership. Jay-Z’s next album will feature a remix of “Oh My God,” in which he changes the line “got crowned king down in Africa” to “just became the new Kabaka.” Fans will urge him to retire; “For real this time” will be the headline of Slate’s disgusted review.

In November, sources close to Aga Khan will reveal that he actually is a terrorist, and that he’s been funneling foreign aid to Uganda and revenue from the Serena network into nuclear projects in the Federated States of Micronesia. Jackfruity will be awarded the 2007 Best of Blogs award for her hard-hitting, tireless reporting on the so-called philanthropist. She will then be taken in by the CIA for questioning as to the exact nature of her interest in the latest Greatest Threat to National Security. This site will languish forlornly in the blogosphere until one of Aga Khan’s aids discovers it. Selections will be compiled into a Mein-Kampf-esque Life of the Aga Khan IV, and Jackfruity will become a bestselling author. Unfortunately, she will be unavailable for a booksigning tour, as she will be locked in Guantanamo Bay.

Merry Christmas from the Internets

AfriGadget is proof that the Internet celebrates holidays (if it didn’t, why would it be giving me such great presents?). This delightfully, inspirationally geeky blog is a bit Gizmodo, a bit MAKE — a chronicle of “African ingenuity” that’s a pleasant jumble of everything from battery-operated podcast broadcasters to trendy USB flash drive covers.

One of my favorite gadgets, though, is the PlayPump. No, it’s not anything like that. It’s a merry-go-round that pulls water from the ground, stores it in a tank, and makes it easily available from a tap. It’s brilliant.

I was happy to learn that USAID supports PlayPumps — compared with this debacle, it’s a rather impressive endeavor. I was even happier to learn that one of the lead fundraisers for the project is none other than my boy Jay-Z. This kid is everywhere.

oh, jay

Though I pretend to write about politics, conflict and economic development, I know what really draws people to Jackfruity: Aga Khan and Jay-Z. It’s been a while since I last touched on the Hov, and it turns out there’s a lot I’ve been missing.

I’m reserving musical judgement on Jay’s new album until I can sit down and listen to the whole thing, start to finish, but the buzz in the blogosphere caught my attention. Turns out there’s a bit of controversy about Kingdom Come. Jody Rosen at Slate rips him a new one:

The Brooklyn street hustler shtick is anachronistic, and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous songs pay diminishing returns: How many more times can he keep a straight face, rapping about his fancy vacations and his famous girlfriend’s “Birkin bags”?
My boy Jack, on the other hand, sticks up for Jay, comparing Kingdom Come to Outkast’s Idlewild:

In hip hop, much like political debates, how you perform relative to what is expected of you is actually more important than your performance compared to your competitors.
I’m bothered by how much people are seeming to savor hating on Jay. They were the same way with Outkast. Why are we so quick to trash our heroes?

Geoff Dabelko at Gristmill isn’t. His recent piece on the champagne-boycotting, Maasai-loving hip-hop artist idolizes Jay as a sensitive philanthropist. Quoting Peter Gleick, “one of the world’s leading water experts,” Geoff writes:

Jay-Z underwent a real transition in his understanding of the nature of African water challenges during his recent tour. The documentary that MTV is releasing shows his growing understanding and appreciation of water problems, and reflects in a genuine way his emotional responses to those problems. If only all of our cultural celebrities and icons were so engaged!
I took a closer look to see if I could catch a glimpse of this in the lyrics of Kingdom Come. This is what I found:

What you call money, I pay more in taxes
I got crowned king down in Africa
Out in Niger’, do you have any idea?
Sold out shows, albums his whole career
Jo-burg, Dublin, Tanzania
Lunch with Mandella, dinner with Cavalli
Still got time to get water out to everybody

The emotional response I’m sensing here is less, “I feel compelled to help these people” and more, “Ain’t I the shit? Hey, who wants to go put on one of those red kimono things and take pictures? Yo B. B! Get me a bottle of Dom from the fridge, baby.”

A question for the Ministry of Works, Housing and Communications

Q: How many Ugandans does it take to get a matatu (shared minivan taxi) from Kampala to Entebbe?

A: Two to maneuver your friend’s suitcase into the front seat; another to charge her 225% of the fare because she’s bringing luggage (I’m sorry, isn’t everyone else?); three to load the back of the vehicle with bags of grain and sacks of live chickens; two to strap foam mattresses to the top; one to yell at those strapping mattresses to the top about the way in which they’re strapping mattresses to the top; six to get in, properly position (read: cram into every available nook and cranny) their baggage, get settled, then change their minds, extract their belongings and leave; one to roll his eyes at the six indecisive ones; two to press water, biscuits, handkerchiefs, newspapers and other assorted, unwanted goods on the passengers; one to beg for money as you finally roll out of the taxi park; one to run over a roadside plasticware stand two blocks from the taxi park; and three to re-pack the grain and (possibly no longer live) chickens when the back comes open after running over the plastics.

A friend and I have joked about a Frequent Matatu Rider Program. I would totally cash in my kilometers for a conductor who would adhere to the little sign painted on the side of every van that reads, “Licenced to carry 14 passengers” instead of cramming 23 people and their assorted poultry into one vehicle. A guarantee that you’ll never have to sit on the crack between the bench and the fold-down seat? What about a VIP lounge at the taxi park? Front door pick-up service? Air conditioning? Waragi-and-tonics on trips longer than thirty minutes?

The program could take its cue from KLM’s Flying Blue. I can see it now:

Riding Dirty

Do you think the government could get Jay-Z (as long as he’s on his charity kick) to convince Chamillionaire to let them his track as a theme song?