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New to South Africa; Folk Tales in a Book; Celebrating Television

Aired August 1, 2009 - 12:30:00   ET


ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to INSIDE AFRICA. I'm Isha Sesay. On the program this week, a lost boy from Sudan continues his odyssey in South Africa. An all-star cast teams up on a new audio book, Nelson Mandela's favorite African folktales. And Senegalese super star Baaba Maal plays tribute to television, a medium that is suddenly close to my heart.

We begin with a lost boy from Sudan who found his way to South Africa. He survived a harrowing ordeal to get there, but still struggles to get by. Robyn Curnow has this story.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nestled beneath the footbridge leading to a Pretoria train station is this makeshift shop, where 25-year old Aher Arop Bol sells sweets, cigarettes and phone calls. A dusty sanctuary offering stability for one of Sudan's so-called lost boys. From the ages of 3 to 18, Arop Bol says he traveled more than 4,000 miles, crossing eight African countries without a passport.

AHER AROP BOL, SUDANESE REFUGEE: The first country which I found myself was Ethiopia, and then from Ethiopia back to Sudan, crossing the border of Sudan to Kenya, and leave Kenya to Tanzania, from Tanzania to Malawi, from Malawi passing Mozambique, from Mozambique's to Zimbabwe, and then from Zimbabwe to South Africa. We have to run, and running, we actually run with bullet after us. We actually lost a number of people in that process, especially in Gila Rueba (ph), and a lot of the children disappeared.

CURNOW: Relying on the kindness of strangers, refugee camps and their own wits, he and thousands of other small children, mostly boys, were fleeing from the violence of southern Sudan. But they encountered other perils on their journey.

(voice over): Were you scared of being eaten by a lion?

BOL: Well, of course, I was scared, but in the process, I found myself, there's no way I am going to run. We were three, three guys, you know. And we walk a distance that was dark (ph), deep in the forest. And in that deep forest, we couldn't see ourselves running faster to run away from the lion. So the choice was to just plan go up on the tree. We went up, and we were afraid. What will be next, because when we sleep there, tomorrow morning, we -- they will not go away, they will be waiting for us if they really want us. How we -- well, how are we going to make it, to run away from these animals? So, so I -- you see your death coming, and you don't know when.

CURNOW: Bol ended up in South Africa. Other boys scattered across the world. He keeps in touch with them by the Internet, and his Facebook networking site. For many of them, their tribe of lost boys is the only family they have left.

(on camera): And he's in Norway.

BOL: He's in Norway.

CURNOW: And you're in South Africa.

BOL: And I'm in South Africa.

CURNOW: All of you sort of lost boys were scattered around the world?

BOL: All over the world, Canada, even -- a lot of them are from different area.

CURNOW: Where are most of them based now?

BOL: Most of them based in America.

CURNOW: In America.

BOL: Growing up with these other Sudanese boys on the road, friends who are now men, all of them forced to fend for themselves without parents, or adult guidance, has made Bol determined to guide and support his younger brothers, who he only met in 2002. He'll probably send them to school in Uganda with the proceeds from his small shop. And in the evenings, he's studying for a law degree.

With so little money to spare, he's struggling to pay for the university degree he so desperately wants. So, he wrote a book about his experiences, hoping that could finance his education and exorcize the horrors of his childhood. It's a harrowing, but inspiring story of a kid in Africa who traveled so far just to find peace.

But his luck turned the day after we filmed here. Police raided these roadside shops, confiscating the traders' stock, including all of Bol's sweets and cigarettes, which he admits were illegal. But the worst, he says, is that all of the other traders here are blaming him for the police raid, saying the media interest in his book caused the unwanted attention from the South African authorities. Once again he has nothing, and must figure out how he is to survive the perils of poverty alone.

Robyn Curnow, CNN, Pretoria, South Africa.


SESAY: Really tough going for that young man. Let's hope things turn around for him soon.

The group Artists for a New South Africa is helping children whose lives have gotten off to a rough start because of the AIDS epidemic.

To that end, they released a new audio book, "Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales." We'll take you behind the scenes of the project.


SESAY: Welcome back to INSIDE AFRICA. Around the world, the name Nelson Mandela has become synonymous with service. Mr. Mandela recently urged his supporters to mark his birthday by donating their time and effort to their own communities. That message certainly resonates with Artists for a New South Africa. The non-profit group recently tapped several celebrities to lend their voices to a new audio book, "Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales." Proceeds will go to help children in South Africa who have been orphaned or impacted by HIV and AIDS. Actress Alfre Woodard directed the project, and she's clearly very excited about it.


WHOOPI GOLDBERG, ACTOR: I want to get rid of Osmodius (ph), said the governor of the Cape to the sheik.

SESAY: Whoopi Goldberg is just one of 23 big names to lend the voice to Nelson Mandela's favorite African folktales.

ALFRE WOODARD, AMERICAN ACTRESS: It has people like Alan Rickman and Whoopi Goldberg, and Matt Damon, Hugh Jackman, Sam Jackson .

SESAY: The list goes on, and it extends beyond Hollywood. Archbishop Desmond Tutu also got in on the act.

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: There's a safe place to live .

SESAY: The director, actress Alfre Woodard, sorted every detail.

WOODARD: I might add also South African musical legends, Johnny Clegg and Lucie Makosela (ph) composed and perform music on it.

So, it has thumping, hot music with it.

SESAY: The stories come from an array of African countries, and they were handpicked by Nelson Mandela.

WOODARD: There are stories from Malawi, and Lesotho, and Swaziland, and Uganda, and Namibia, Kenya, Morocco. You also understand how textured Africa is.

SESAY: The audio book promises a little something for everyone.

WOODARD: And like a good folktale, there are a lot of animals who interact with each other and with human beings .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We showed that farmer a thing or two, didn't we, Wolf?

WOODARD: There is a lot of trickery. A couple of stories that are great that involved snakes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on! Let's open it!

WOODARD: It is just as entertaining, you know, whether you're 60 or you're six years old.

SESAY: Fun and entertaining, but proceeds from the audio book support a serious cause -- the fight against HIV/AIDS through Nelson Mandela's Children's Fund and the L.A.- based Artists for a New South Africa.

WOODARD: South Africa is -- is ground zero for the AIDS devastation that's really sweeping the world. It still has millions more deaths -- millions more people infected, millions more -- children orphaned by the disease, and especially this Ingabuma (ph) area is -- is the hottest spot in South Africa. So the money goes straight to that mission.

SESAY: Woodard says Nelson Mandela's legacy is at the heart of the project.

WOODARD: You would never get a group of artists of this caliber together in a production, so what -- what made that happen was everybody's commitment to -- to honoring the call that Nelson -- Mr. Mandela has challenged us with. But not only does it honor him, but it -- it carries on that tradition of passing folktales from one generation to the next.

SESAY: Woodard let each actor choose a favorite story from the list.

WOODARD: Benjamin Bratt does the Wolf Queen, and he has a very beautiful, deep, resonant voice.

BENJAMIN BRATT, ACTOR: A beautiful girl opened the door. She was so beautiful that the soldier who had knocked at the door couldn't believe his eyes.

WOODARD: Actors, no matter how fabulous -- we have these fantasy lives style about them -- arrive as themselves, and it's just so lovely. They arrive in their street clothes, as themselves. So it's like having this really amazing play date with people who speak the same language that you speak.

SESAY: Woodard says the messages in the stories are universal and timeless.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Looking up, she saw a great green-gray snake .

WOODARD: The thing about a tale, if it's passed on or part of the lore, there's a truth in it that has remained throughout the centuries. And that's a great thing that binds us to the past, and binds us all in the present.

SESAY: And in passing on these folk tales to a global audience, these artists are spreading Nelson Mandela's legacy and a proud African tradition right around the world.


SESAY: It looks like it was a fun project, for a very worthy cause.

Senegalese musician Baaba Maal is also using his talents on Nelson Mandela's legacy, and he recently performed at a Mandela day concert in New York. He also has a new album coming out, and we'll have a sneak peak.


SESAY: The U.S. magazine "Time" recently called the Rwandan President Paul Kagame "the face of emerging African leadership". And it listed him among the top 100 most influential people in the world. Indeed, Mr. Kagame has earned the reputation as a clever statesman, and he's widely credited with helping his country emerge from genocide with an unusual reconciliation strategy. Mr. Kagame recently sat down with CNN's Fareed Zakaria to explain his philosophy.


PAUL KAGAME, RWANDAN PRESIDENT: We needed to hold people accountable to not allow impurity to continue, which here was part of the problem, right, from the beginning. But at the same time, we had to create room for reconciliation, for healing to take place.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But the way you did it, with these so-called gacaca courts. These are village, informal courts, where you don't have the same process that you would in certainly in a Western court, or even a formal court in Africa, where there would be a punishment meted out, the person would be separated from the community. Often these people -- it's almost a cathartic process. They confess, the community then is required to welcome them back.

KAGAME: Yes. Absolutely. That, indeed, is -- it originates from whatever (inaudible). Because, for example, we had hundreds of thousands of cases to try. If you tried the cases in the normal courts of law, you would need as many years or more, and that certainly wouldn't help us. So, gacaca courts, based on our traditional norms, has evolved that runs through many centuries in our history, and they were asked (ph) to try many cases at the same time, and also not only trying cases, but also allowing the reconciliation to take place. And it would not happen otherwise unless you involve the people themselves. And that's how we worked on bringing back our traditional systems.

ZAKARIA: But what does that mean when you say "involve the people." Why was it important not to punish the killers?

KAGAME: We realized -- first of all, there are many killers. As they said, there are hundreds of thousands. It was a genocide, a genocide that took place in our country, involved a huge percentage of our population, both in terms of those who were killed and those who killed them. And if you went technically, to try each one of them as the law may suggest, then it would result on rebuilding a nation, on bringing people back together. That`s why we had to say, let`s categorize responsibilities. Let's really look at the masterminds of this genocide, people who were behind it, who had acted, the leaders. I think these bear the biggest responsibility.


SESAY: Rwandan President Paul Kagame there.

Later this month, CNN's David McKenzie will file a series of reports from Rwanda. He'll explore the country's reconciliation process, its economic growth, and its prospects for the future. We'll bring that to you right here on INSIDE AFRICA.

Now, let's take a quick look at some other stories making news around the continent.

Fighting between the Islamic militants and government forces left hundreds of people dead in northeastern Nigeria, including militants, troops and civilians. The Red Cross says thousands of people have had to fee their homes. The radical sect behind the violence is known by several names, including Al-Sunna wal Jamma, which is Arabic for Followers of Muhammad's Teachings. And Boko Haram, which means "Western education is a sin" in the local dialect. The militants have also been referred to as Taliban, but they have no known links to Afghanistan.

In several South African cities, municipal workers went on strike, and in some cases, clashed with police. The latest strike comes on the heels of a work stoppage that shut down construction project for the 2010 World Cup for several days. Winter is wildly considered strike season in South Africa.

And a female journalist in Sudan is facing 40 lashes for wearing trousers in public. Lubna Hussein was arrested last month along with 18 other women in Khartoum, accused of violating the country's strict Islamic dress code. Hussein tells CNN this photograph shows what she was wearing at the time of her arrest.

South African first lady Tobeka Madiba-Zuma is doing her part to build her country's relationship with U.S. civil rights leaders. Mrs. Zuma recently led a South African delegation to Atlanta to attend the reception in honor of slain civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. King's eldest son will visit Durban in October to accept a South African traditional music achievement award on his father's behalf. Mrs. Zuma says her country celebrates MLK's legacy.


TOBEKA MADIBA-ZUMA, SOUTH AFRICAN FIRST LADY: What we did today was in remembrance of the -- the person who fought for the African-Americans to be set free, which is in relation to what Madiba did, which is Nelson Mandela at home, that for the award, it's very exciting and humbled.


SESAY: Mrs. Zuma also accepted a SATMA award for her husband, President Jacob Zuma, for cultural achievement in South Africa. Incidentally, Mr. Zuma actually has three wives. According to his office, they are all considered first ladies.

Singer Baaba Maal says information is a key to overcoming poverty in Africa. And he'll tell us what that concept has to do with his new album.


SESAY: Welcome back to INSIDE AFRICA. It's been eight years since Senegalese singing star Baaba Maal released a brand-new album. Well, he finally found the time to get back into the recording studio, and the result is "Television" -- great title, by the way.


SESAY: Baaba Maal is all about getting the word out. And he says television is the way to do that in Africa.

BAABA MAAL, SINGER: Television is the key of the information. That information can pass through, and to allow (ph) to everyone. And I think people should use that.

We saw the impact of television, how in one moment, through the television, you can thus impact everyone and give the information that everyone needs. And I think in Africa, the first step to fight against poverty is to give the information.

SESAY: That's the idea behind his first album of all-new material in eight years.

MAAL: Television has been a long time on the African continent, but it seems that 10 years, maybe 15 years now, this new (inaudible) is getting very, very fascinating for African people, because more and more, we see and we can listen people talking to us via African languages.

SESAY: On his CD "Television," the Senegalese singer teams up with two members of the New York-based genre-hopping Brazilian Girls.

MAAL: When I was planning to do this album, I said to myself, since everyone is coming to my music, to African music, to world music, I think we should do an escape and to go to the other sphere (ph).

SESAY: The result is an eclectic, multi-lingual collaboration.

MAAL: With Sabina, for example, she's a great singer who comes from Europe but did travel a lot. She speaks Spanish. She speaks Italian. She speaks French and English, and I speak some of these languages. But I wanted to also permit people that can sit down in a room and to talk about politics, about education, talk about women, talk about how are we going to (inaudible) for the kids. And they were the right persons who were able to do it.

SESAY: Recently, Maal collaborated on stage with musical luminaries including Stevie Wonder, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Aretha Franklin. Together, they marked Mandela day at Radio City Music Hall.

MAAL: It was a really, really great night, and I think all the artists have come from all over the place. We all did enjoy this moment, that we stand up together and to say to Nelson Mandela, thank you for everything that you have done and he is still doing for every human being, and especially for the African continent, especially for the next generation.

SESAY: And for Maal, that's just the kind of information Africa and the world need to hear.


SESAY: And there we must leave it. You can follow us on Twitter at And be sure to tune in next week for a brand-new show. We'll let Baaba Maal play us out.