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Old Moroccan City of Fez, lures tourists from across the globe5 minutes read

The imperial city, Morocco’s “spiritual” capital has been overlooked by tourists in favour of Marrakesh.

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A view of the tannery in the 9th century walled Medina in the ancient Moroccan city of Fez

In recent times the imperial city of Fez has been overlooked by tourists in favour of  Marrakesh, but now Morocco’s “spiritual” capital is bustling with visitors due to major renovations and low-cost flights. “It is an open-air museum, with the largest pedestrian zone in the world and its 10,000 alleyways,” said Yassir Jawra, vice president of the Fez tourism commission.

Fez “is the spiritual capital of Morocco, famed for its culture and its (age-old) handicraft work,” he added. Since 2013, more than one billion dirhams (92 million euros, $103 million) of investment have been poured into the city of Fez to restore the 9th-century walled medina and develop tourism.

A Moroccan man walks in the tannery in the 9th century walled medina in the ancient city of Fez
A Moroccan man walks in the tannery in the 9th century walled medina in the ancient city of Fez on April 11, 2019. – In recent times the imperial city of Fez has been overlooked by tourists in favour of Marrakesh, but now Morocco’s ‘spiritual’ capital is bustling with visitors thanks to major renovations and low-cost flights. Since 2013, more than one billion dirhams (92 million euros) of investments have been poured into Fez to restore the 9th century walled medina and develop tourism. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

The medina, home to the world’s oldest working library, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 for its “outstanding universal value”. Guardian of priceless treatises in Islamic studies, astronomy and medicine, the library is nestled in the maze of narrow and dark alleyways which tourists and donkey-drawn carts can struggle to navigate.

Like many monuments it has been renovated after the authorities in the late 1980s sounded the alarm in a report saying that more than half of the buildings in the medina were crumbling and 10 percent were threatened with ruin following years of neglect and a lack of public funds.

Behind the high crenellated walls that surround the medina lie 9,000 historical houses, 11 madrassas, 83 mausoleums, 176 mosques and 1,200 handicraft workshops. Patrician palaces with their secret gardens and terraces, elegant fountains and ancient caravansary, or inns, are among the jewels lying there to be discovered.

Respect ‘authenticity’

According to Fouad Serrhini, head of the Agency of Development and Restoration tasked with rehabilitating the medina, “thousands” of buildings and monuments have been saved from ruin since 2013. “They were chosen according to their state of degradation and how urgently the work was needed,” he said.

In all, 4,000 buildings were saved between 2013 and 2018, while 27 monuments were restored. In mid-April, King Mohammed VI visited Fez to inaugurate some buildings that had been renovated and launch the second phase of the rehabilitation programme.

A woman stands in the balcony of a traditional building in the 9th century walled medina in the ancient Moroccan city of Fez
A woman stands in the balcony of a traditional building in the 9th century walled medina in the ancient Moroccan city of Fez on April 11, 2019. – In recent times the imperial city of Fez has been overlooked by tourists in favour of Marrakesh, but now Morocco’s ‘spiritual’ capital is bustling with visitors thanks to major renovations and low-cost flights. Since 2013, more than one billion dirhams (92 million euros) of investments have been poured into Fez to restore the 9th century walled medina and develop tourism. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Following his visit, authorities issued a report insisting that the rehabilitation work respect the medina’s “authenticity” and “original architecture”.

“The ancient medina is a live treasure, hidden and secret, which cannot be taken lightly,” said Salim Belghazi, a 33-year-old who has transformed his 14th-century riad, or traditional family home, into a private museum. Belghazi, who hails from a wealthy background, said he hopes that despite the transformation, Fez will maintain its soul.

Ancient tanneries in Fez

Meanwhile, tourists are flocking to Fez, where the regional Fes-Saiss airport has undergone an expansion to accommodate the growing number of visitors and low-cost flights mainly from across Europe.

The number of passengers has jumped from 108,000 in 2004 to more than a million in 2018, according to official figures. But Marrakesh remains the country’s top tourist destination, with more than two million arrivals in 2017.

Tourism is a major source of revenue for Morocco, which received more than 12 million visitors in 2018, according to official figures. Abderahim Belkhayat, head of a regional body of artisans, said the influx of visitors to City of Fez “benefits” craftsmen, noting that three-quarters of the medina’s residents earn a living directly or indirectly from the sector.

Local authorities have mapped out a “vision” to revamp the sector by giving it a “new look” in order to produce “high quality” crafts, he said.

A 2005 official report indicated that in the long term, authorities hope to transform the medina into a “showcase” of handicrafts while the workshops themselves would be relocated outside the walls. So far, 6,000 potters and brass and copper workers have been moved into zones with modern infrastructure and tanners are expected to follow suit in a separate location.

The idea is to rid the medina of the cacophony of noise emanating from brassware and potter workshops as well as the pungent odours that rise from the ancient tanneries – the later a “must” stop on the tourist circuit.

Tourists, their noses covered with mint leaves to ward off the stench, congregate on terraces overlooking the tanneries to snap pictures of the men working below, using the same methods as their ancestors did.

The tanners stand almost knee-deep in large vats containing quicklime, cow urine, salt and water to clean the hides, which they will later soak in pigeon poop and water before the dying process can begin.

But the sight seems to delight the visitors and the end result, such as leather belts and bags sold in the boutiques, proves popular with buyers.

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Culture & Tourism

Burna Boy: African giant didn’t get a Grammy, and that’s alright

We need to normalize loss. We can seek to console our champion for not coming out victorious in this fight. But we also have to be able to look ourselves in the face and say “yes, we lost, that sucks, and it’s alright.”

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Burna Boy: African giant didn’t get a Grammy, and that’s alright

We need to normalise losing. It sucks, but it is the reality of life. When you lose, things go out of focus. You feel the crushing pain in your gut, and the fog of disappointment that hangs over you will draw you into spaces of mental despair. It’s worse when you had a clear shot at the prize, and you’ve done enough to deserve it. Not getting it is a punch, a kick in the balls, a shattering of your deepest hopes, and a reminder of life’s fickle nature. Nothing is sure, and tomorrow can begin without you in it. 

Nigerians lost twice yesterday. We mourned with the world as news of Kobe Bryant’s death hit the internet. The basketball legend and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, both passed away in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning, throwing the world into sadness. Bryant was a real-life superhero; the kind we looked up to as kids, the kind we hope to become with the advancement of age and the actualisation of our lives. The kind that made us want to raise our game, and pursue excellence as the only path to success. Kobe was larger than life, and to be cut short at 41 doesn’t only feel like a loss. It’s a robbery. Life took what it shouldn’t have. We didn’t give Kobe up. We got jumped. 

Rest in peace, Kobe, Gianna and the seven others who also lost their lives. No family deserves to go through this pain. Death is final, without do-overs and a second chance at existence. Its arrival is absolute. One minute you’re here, the next takes you out. Nothing is assured. We were never set up to last forever.

Nigerians are mourning again for different reasons entirely. Burna Boy’s African Giant did not win the anticipated Grammy Awards. At the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California on January 26, Burna Boy carried the hopes of Nigeria and all who wished the country’s music well. A pop album—the most successful pop album since the commencement of the ‘Afrobeats to the world’ movement—had a fair chance at winning music’s most prestigious trophy. It gets grander when you realize that this was a continentally-accepted and supported project. African Giant wasn’t a simple musical work. It carried extra life. It repped the best of our music, from the heart of our creative hub in Lagos. It had the right major-label funding and sufficient structural support from Atlantic Records. The marketing campaign crossed continents, and the numbers carried the story of increased acceptance. 

Nigeria hoped. Nigeria dreamed. And let’s be frank with each other, Nigeria lost. 

Something died in my chest when the announcement was made to give the Grammys’ Best World Album to Angelique Kidjo’s Celia. Why? What is this curveball? This U-turn? This misalignment of the universe to hand Nigeria a loss? Who rewrote this script to move us from the center of the story, to the brunt of its climax? Was it even our story to begin with? This isn’t the ending our movie needed. This was the wack director’s cut. We don’t want it. 

But the signs showed early. Kidjo, the Benininoise 5-time Grammy winner had made music for the Grammy’s just as she had done in previous outings. Her latest winning entry is a beautiful salsa album dedicated to Cuban singer Celia Cruz. Released on April 19, 2019, It is produced by David Donatien and featured Tony Allen, Meshell Ndegeocello and the Gangbe Brass Band. 

READ: Angelique Kidjo wins World Music Award at the 2020 Grammys

The Guardian has called the album “magnificent” and The Financial Times gave it 5 stars. The album includes songs spanning all of Celia’s Cruz career reinvented with an Afrobeat feel. Of the song ‘Quimbara’, New York Times critic Jon Pareles says: “Backed by Michelle Ndegeocello on bass, the Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen on drums, Dominic James on guitars and the Gangbe Brass Band, Kidjo reconnects the salsa original to West Africa, layering the song with a tumbling six-beat rhythm, a brass-band undertow and a tangle of scurrying guitar lines while she belts with enough grit to rival Cruz herself.”

The Grammy employs a peer-to-peer voting system, comprised of technical music people. It’s political correctness for predominantly White people, who are the people who vote at the Grammy’s. Celia was engineered for them, with them in mind. That’s the type of album the Grammy celebrates. Not only because it was beautiful music, but it had all the traditional elements that the Grammy loves to celebrate. Is it a system that we’re comfortable with? No. But that’s immaterial. The award is a local show organized by locals for their local music. If they invite us into their spaces, do you think they wouldn’t be given to their bias and understanding of what ‘African’ music should sound like? 

Burna Boy made crossover music, but Kidjo also made foreign crossover music. One embraced pop and asked us ‘wetin man go do.’ The other hugged salsa while screaming ‘Yemoja’ in ‘Baila Yamaya’. The Grammy made their choice. Was it a bad choice? No. But it does evoke that feeling because I’m Nigerian, and I deeply desired Burna Boy to bring the success home. But Kidjo’s album slaps too. She’s not my winner, but she is the winner. Congratulations to her.

The African Giant album did not win the Grammy, but that doesn’t define its legacy and the enormous work that it has done. Burna Boy showed us that it is possible. With each release, each marketing move, each performance in foreign spaces, he assured us all that this height can be attained by a pop artist. That hasn’t changed, neither will there be an attempt to rewrite fact. For those looking for a string of positivity to hang on to, that’s it. Grab it with both hands and console yourself. Burna Boy is a winner at life. Your winner, our winner.

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2019…….🦍

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I’ve never been one to romanticize loss. It’s a reality of our shared existence as humans. People lose, people win. Sometimes the lines fall in your favour. Other times it doesn’t, and that’s alright. Loss is woven in the inevitability of our final departure of life. A loss is a loss, and no matter how much pep talks we give ourselves, and the consolation we conjure to make acceptance easier, it doesn’t change what has happened. Burna Boy has not won a Grammy. 

READ: Afro-Squad: The Africans nominated for 2020 Grammys

We need to normalize loss. We can seek to console our champion for not coming out victorious in this fight. But we also have to be able to look ourselves in the face and say “yes, we lost, that sucks, and it’s alright.” There’s a sense of feeling that this isn’t the end of this story. This is simply that part of the novel that the hero suffers a blip in form or performance. The resolution and climax are delayed, but we will hold out hope that it just around the corner, in the near future. ‘Afrobeats to the world’ isn’t done. We still have time to mount another campaign. But for now, we don’t have a Grammy yet, and that’s alright. 

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not reflect News Central’s editorial stance.

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A Nation Making Huge Strides in Rebuilding

Rwanda is making significant progress in moving on from its ugly past

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Image credit: East African Legislative Assembly

In April 1994, ethnic tensions between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority boiled over, and what had been decades of mutual distrust ultimately escalated into a full-blown catastrophe. Over 800,000 Tutsi were murdered by Hutu militant groups, with many women raped, and hundreds of thousands of children rendered homeless.

The genocide, which stretched for three months, was met with a slow response from the international community, and many people were forced to flee into neighbouring countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The events of that dark period in Rwandan history illustrated in movies like “Hotel Rwanda” and “Sometimes in April”, left a trail of effects, some of which included post-violence trauma, increased distrust, hate and proliferation of pregnancies as a result of rape.

Twenty-five years have passed, and it has been a long, tortuous road to healing for all Rwandans, but commendable efforts have been made. Reconciliation and rehabilitation centres abound in various parts of the country, and there has been significant investment in technology, making Rwanda one of the few shining lights in a continent plagued by poverty and corruption. It is also worthy of note that there is significant female representation in Rwanda’s legislative houses: for context, Rwanda has one of the world’s highest proportions of women in power as 61% of members of parliament and 50% of the cabinet are female.

One aspect of the reconciliation process that needs elaboration, though, is the social work profession. Established after the genocide, social work has been integral to Rwanda’s healing process, through homegrown solutions or indigenous models of development that address the many layers of social wounds. Social workers in Rwanda have been heavily involved in programmes such as community work, local collective action and the indigenous practice of girinka, which makes for the provision of one cow for every poor family. There are also initiatives, such as the Hope and Homes for Children, which cater to children who may have been abandoned as a result of parental trauma resulting from rape, family isolation, drug abuse, vulnerability and stigma towards children with disabilities.

Rwanda’s success story is one that many African nations can take a cue from. Who is to say that countries like Sierra Leone would not be a lot better off if there were more women in positions of power? What if there had been more concrete efforts to ensure reconciliation between the Igbo and the rest of Nigeria after the civil war? These are the unanswered questions, but it is beautiful watching Rwanda thrive after the horror show of 1994. 

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Art

How young people are changing the African narrative

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How young people are changing the African narrative

For non-Africans who have never visited the continent, the perception of the second largest continent in the world has always been that of a place of impoverishment and raw savagery; a place ravaged by horrible epidemic and war. 

This is largely attributable to an agenda-driven western media which sell these bogus tales about Africa to their global audience viewing the world through their reportage. Sadly, some of our local media are also guilty of this disservice to the mother continent.

As much as Africa, like other continents have its challenges, the positive stories to tell about the continent far outweighs the negativity found therein. 

The good news, however, is that young Africans – the new generation, are striving to change the negative narrative of Africa through their excellence in different fields within and outside the continent.

These young Africans are pushing the frontiers of knowledge in their respective fields of interests, discovering new things and making landmark achievements. Whether in Technology, Fashion, Literature, Music and more, they are forging paths necessary for the sustenance of development in Africa. These crop of individuals are passing the message that Africa has a lot to offer the world through its rich human resources. What better way to be true ambassadors of the continent? 

Let us take a look at some of the young individuals championing the change of an age-long African perception in their different fields.

Technology & Innovation

Over the years, we have seen some of the most innovative minds in technology come from Africa. Notable figures like Philip Emeagwali who invented the world’s fastest computer and who also won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize for an application of the CM-2 massively-parallel computer, Jelani Aliyu who designed the Chevrolet Volt,  Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, among very many others make this list.

One young African that is gradually making waves in technology is 35-year-old Jamila Abbas. Abbas is a Kenyan computer scientist and software engineer who is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of MFarm Kenya Limited. MFarm is an android application that Abbas developed to solve the challenge of lack of pricing transparency Kenyan farmers faced.

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