african inspired

The DJs in Kenyan cinemas who tell you what is happening on-screen

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AS THE lights in the cinema go down and the patrons take their seats, the familiar Warner Brothers logo lights up the room and the soundtrack starts. This, however, is no ordinary cinema. The roof is of corrugated tin; the seats are tree trunks. The viewers watch a flat-screen television. As the movie, “Deep Blue Sea 2”, begins, Fred Ndichu, the DJ, starts his work. In a booth with an ancient computer, a wad of qat (a mild amphetamine) sticking out of his rapidly moving mouth, he begins to narrate. “Beautiful”, he shouts in Swahili, as a great white shark tears apart a flailing fisherman on-screen. Mr Ndichu’s cinema, named the innocuous “Heshima Youth Group” to deter bribe-demanding cops, is in Mathare, a rough neighbourhood of tin shacks in eastern Nairobi. Similar establishments exis

Where Syria’s despot Bashar al-Assad is likely to strike next

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IF THE cruise missiles that slammed into Syria on April 14th rattled President Bashar al-Assad, he did his best not to show it. Hours after America, Britain and France struck three facilities connected to Mr Assad’s chemical-weapons programme, his office posted a video of him strolling confidently into work. Russian politicians who met him later in the day said he was in a good mood. Mr Assad may have feared a bigger response from the West. Donald Trump, America’s president, had vowed to make his regime pay a “big price” for gassing to death more than 40 people in the town of Douma on April 7th. But the missiles destroyed only a handful of buildings and probably failed to wipe out all of Mr Assad’s poisonous arsenal. Nor did they dent his ability to rout, with conventional weapons, what

Lebanon’s political system leads to paralysis and corruption

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IT IS difficult to escape the grip of religion in Lebanon. The rules that govern marriage, property rights and inheritance are administered by religious courts. Well-to-do secular Lebanese can fly to Cyprus to marry in civil ceremonies. But once back home, if their relationship goes sour, Muslims still have to deal with religious judges, who rule on divorce, alimony and child custody. Lebanese are increasingly fed up with this way of doing things. The number of believers has steadily declined since 2011. Today almost a quarter of people say they are not devout, according to Arab Barometer, a pollster. Nearly half say they are only somewhat religious. Trust in clerics and the clergy has never been so low. This helps explain why more and more Lebanese want to overhaul the way the country...

Mullahs rig the price of moolah in Iran

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FOR the second time in as many months, Iran’s “dollar patrol” is on the streets. The country’s currency, the rial, has lost a third of its value on the black market since September. On April 9th it sank to a record low of 61,000 to the dollar (when the official rate was 37,850). The next day the government imposed a rate of 42,000 and vowed to arrest anyone who bought or sold rials for what they are actually worth—as it did during the previous currency crisis, which was only in February. Some are nonetheless flouting the rules, demanding 56,000 rials or so for a dollar. There were long lines and, surprise, surprise, dollar shortages at the handful of exchanges using the official rate. A lack of confidence in the rial reflects a lack of confidence in the economy. The housing market is st

Africa’s big carbon emitters admit they have a problem

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AN HOUR east of Johannesburg, on the rolling highveld plains, six massive cooling towers sit around two belching smokestacks. The Kendal power station (pictured) is among the world’s largest, producing 4.1 gigawatts (GW) from burning coal. A few kilometres down the road there is another coal-fired plant, Duvha, which is only slightly smaller. An even bigger one, Kusile, is under construction next door. When sub-Saharan Africa comes up in discussions of climate change, it is almost invariably in the context of adapting to the consequences, such as worsening droughts. That makes sense. The region is responsible for just 7.1% of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, despite being home to 14% of its people. Most African countries do not emit much carbon dioxide. Yet there are some notable e

How African governments try to control what is said online

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You have the right to remain silent IN THE West, when celebrities post revealing videos on Instagram, they may find themselves mocked by tabloids and gossip websites. In Tanzania they can be arrested. On April 16th Diamond Platnumz, a Swahili rapper (pictured), known for such ditties as “Bum Bum”, was arrested after posting a clip of himself kissing a woman. According to Tanzania’s information minister, Harrison Mwakyembe, Mr Platnumz’s “indecency” fell foul of a new law intended to regulate social media. It is part of a growing trend of African governments trying to control what is said online. Tanzania’s vaguely worded law, which came into effect last month, seems to require almost anyone who publishes content online in the country to buy a licence for 2.1m Tanzanian shillings (around

African governments are having doubts about their staple crop

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That’s not the way out “IT’S what our forefathers used to eat,” says Kennedy Kapami, a Zambian phone salesman, rolling a ball of stiff maize porridge in his fingers. Maize is the staple food in eastern and southern Africa, where in some countries it provides over half of calories consumed. But Mr Kapami is wrong about his forefathers, or at least, his distant ones. Until the 20th century they mostly ate sorghum and millet. Maize came to Africa with the colonists. Governments now fret about its dominance. Portuguese slavers were the first to bring it to Africa. Sometimes the crop took roundabout routes. Swahili-speakers know it as mahindi (of India). Bambara-speakers in Mali call it kaba, after the sacred site in Mecca, from where pilgrims returned with exotic foods. In southern Africa