Sips from the Firehose


Jun 03

Growing Pains: Daredevil Construction and the Future of Ethiopia


Posted: under Uncategorized.
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Africa’s fastest-growing economy balances between dreams of the future and the shackles of the past

For those libertarians who feel that OSHA and any and all regulations on workplace safety are the very essence of neo-Stalinism, I submit the construction industry in modern Ethiopia. Please note that the scaffolding supporting this multi-story concrete building is basically lashed-together sapling trunks, and that while the workers are all wearing hardhats, the basic safety equipment you routinely see on construction sites in the West is pretty much lacking – no safety lines, no walkie-talkies to communicate with the crane operator, no nets or wind barriers at the periphery. Feel free to apply for a gig here, fellas.

building under construction at addis ababa university

This picture was taken under the baking-hot noonday African sun. The bucketful of cement on the way up seems to arrive at irregular intervals, and sometimes much to the surprise of the workers on the roof. I saw one bucket swing a little wildly and clip a guy off his feet. A little lower and to the side, and he would have been spread across the roof like grisly human jam on unyielding toast. (Click to enlarge)

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May 14

Teaching video techniques at Addis Ababa University


Posted: under journalism, television, Video.
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My students wanted to make sure to capture the conversation around the roundtable discussion we had on the subject of press freedom, so they set up the bagttered (but still serviceable) cameras outside the journalism department offices, and brought in all the accountrements of the formal coffee ceremony … the glowing coals in the brazier, the clouds of thick incense, and platters of roasted barley and chewy bread.

Dave LaFontaine standing with students at AAU

So far, everyone is still in a good mood....

It’s always difficult to figure out what the settings should be on a prosumer video camera, particularly when the opaque menus are written in a foreign language.

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May 14

Satellite TV dishes are common on the rooftops of Addis Ababa


Posted: under Digital Migration, television.
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I met with the CEO of the Fana Broadcasting network this past week. We talked about the phenomenal growth occurring here in Ethiopia, and what that is going to mean for the traditional media here.

Right now, as in so many other developing countries, the media landscape is still ruled by King Radio; the largely rural population may not have reliable access to electricity, and newsprint distribution is neither economically feasible nor attractive to a population that still lags in literacy rates. But TV?

Ah, there’s the rub.

satellite dishes on the rooftops of humble abodes

Even the most humble abode seems to sport a sophisticated satellite dish, capable of pulling in international TV signals.

“Even here, once people get TV sets, what they want and expect is the same high-quality, clear as a bell HD programs that they see from CNN, the BBC and on the movie channels. The problem we have is that we are simply not set up to deliver that kind of content right now. We don’t have the people with the expertise. So everybody just gets a satellite dish and puts it up on the roof of their house, no matter how humble.”

Well, that’s where I come in.

The push here is to try to develop a homegrown video content-production industry; not just as a point of national pride, but as a way of extending Ethiopia’s cultural (and thus, political) influence in the Horn of Africa. And looking ahead, the major media companies are already seeing the way that mobile media consumption is ramping up, and trying to figure out ways to incorporate web-based content sharing and discovery mechanisms (i.e. the social media aspects) into their planning.

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Jul 07

How Africa Sees the Attacks on Obama


Posted: under new media.
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I found this painting in a humble little clothing stall in the merkato in Addis Ababa, during my last day there, when I finally got some free time to wander around and explore this fascinating city a little bit.

obama surrounded by the ku klux klan

It surprised me to find such an accurate depiction of the garb of the KKK in faraway Ethiopia. I guess movies or popular culture have exposed even the ordinary people around the world to our more sordid side...

Amongst all the funky art & tchotchkes, this painting caught my eye for obvious reasons.

What you can’t see, of course, are all the other exemplars of Obama’s presence here in East Africa. People walk around with Obama’s face on t-shirts, bumper stickers, hats … his face is pasted onto the clear glass shelves in the jewelry shops, and to the sides of the little “blue mule” micro-buses.

This is a good thing.

Invisible to just about everyone in the U.S., we are in a struggle for influence in Africa, which more and more people are calling “The Last Frontier.” China is spreading around the oceans of money (that we gave them in exchange for cheap plastic consumer goods, but that’s another story), and they are doing it in a very tricky, manipulative way. The U.S. and Western Europe have had decades of work, trying to figure out ways to actually benefit countries with their foreign aid. It has not been the easiest process.

However, we have figured out that nation-building takes time. Lots of it. And the investments tend to be gradual, building up infrastructure, institutions, ecosystems. The kinds of things that people really don’t see all at once – but if you take a snapshot of a country 10 or 20 years apart, you see the radical transformations. I know I did when I went back to both Colombia and Venezuela after 20 years absence in 2007-8.

modern catching up with the ancient

In Addis Ababa, the modern struggles to catch up with the ancient.

Meanwhile, the Chinese are throwing up big, showy projects. Roads, bridges, dams, buildings. And slapping their branding all over them. Ordinary people see this and say, “Well look, the Chinese are actually doing something for us. What do the ferengi leave behind? They talk a lot, but what do we have to show for it all?”

In this kind of environment, having an African-American as President of these here United States is a definite advantage.

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Jul 01

Ethiopia New Media Training


Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism, new media, newspaper crisis, Online Video, Video.
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The clash of ancient and modern is never more stark than in these developing nations

I’ve been in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the last week, training the local journalists and government information officers (aka PR flacks) on how best to take advantage of the way that “New Media” is creating new ways of connecting with each other, and the world at large. I’m here as part of the same US Embassy program that has sent me to places like Chile, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Costa Rica, etc., to try to bring people the benefits of experience (aka the way newspapers & TV news has imploded in the U.S.), so they can start planning for the Great Digital Migration.

dave lafontaine teaches video editing to tv journalists in ethiopia

This is my class of TV journalists at Addis Ababa University (AAU). I tried to cram as much about online video and sharing into my short sessions as I could. Here, I'm showing how to use both professional tools like Adobe Premiere Pro CS5, as well as free alternatives like Windows Movie Maker.

The one thing that everyone here agrees on is that Ethiopia desperately wants to change its international image – c’mon, admit it. When you think of Ethiopia, what images come to mind? Deserts, starving people, vultures, Live Aid, right?

Well, it’s not like that any more. In fact, if you look around at the Addis Ababa skyline, you’ll mostly see cranes and highrise towers under construction. The real-estate bubble that burst and devastated the rest of the world never took hold here.

cows in the streets of addis ababa

There are still many reminders that the ancient ways of living are still very much in existence here in Addis, but please also note all the other markers of modernity in this shot.

However, they are facing many of the same challenges as the rest of the world, at least when it comes to the emergence of the internet, and the struggles of newspapers, radio and TV stations to come to grips with social media, and the ability of anyone to become a publisher/broadcaster/internet troll.

dave lafontaine and the owner of sheger fm

The very first place I visited was Sheger FM, the one independent radio station in Ethiopia. This is the courageous owner, who is really struggling to walk the razor's edge here in Addis.

 

I’ve found many of the same behaviors and attitudes I’ve encountered in the other places that I’ve done web/online video/social media training sessions – stubborn insistence that things will never change, toxic skepticism, and even outright hostility.

After a bit of a rocky start, these guys really came around and appreciated the hands-on lessons I gave them on how to do live video stand-up reports and how to compress video into the best codec to upload to YouTube. The Nelson Mandela building is a challenge, though; between the thin air at this 8000-foot altitude, and having to haul my big carcass up 5 (five) steep flights of stairs, the first few minutes of every class were mostly spent huffing and puffing, and hoping that someone in the class had a particularly insightful comment.

 

dave lafontaine and his tv production class in front of the nelson mandela building at addis ababa university 

Dave LaFontaine and his tv production class in front of the Nelson Mandela building at Addis Ababa university in Ethiopia.

 

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