This Zimbabwe rom-com could be your next Netflix binge

This Zimbabwe rom-com could be your next Netflix binge

By
Amanda McGowan

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Tendai Ryan Nguni and Tendaiishe Chitima star as Prince and Anesu in the Zimbabwean film, “Cook Off.”

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Courtesy of Bongani Kumbula/”Cook Off” 

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Sometimes you just need to kick back in front of the TV and watch a rom-com.

Here’s a suggestion: “Cook Off.” 

It’s the story of a single mom who enters a TV cooking competition that might just change her life. Last week, it became the first film from Zimbabwe to get picked up by Netflix.

Related: Brazilian Netflix film sets off censorship debate

“It’s a huge milestone for Zimbabwe. … It’s the first time ever a film from this side has been seen on such a platform. For us, we see this as a chance to introduce Zimbabwean films to the world.”

Joe Njagu, film producer, “Cook Off”

“It’s a huge milestone for Zimbabwe,” the film’s producer Joe Njagu told The World. “It’s the first time ever a film from this side has been seen on such a platform. For us, we see this as a chance to introduce Zimbabwean films to the world.”

The film, which is in English, centers around the relationship between single mom Anesu, played by Tendaiishe Chitima, and her son, Tapiwa, played by Eugene Zimbudzi, who encourages her to follow her dreams and enter a cooking contest even when Anesu’s own mother disapproves.

Singer Shingai Shoniwa, who plays herself and Eugene Zimbudzi, who plays Tapiwa, in a screenshot from the Zimbabwean film, “Cook Off.”

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Courtesy of “Cook Off”

Related: Netflix’s ‘Ghee Happy’ imagines life as a Hindu deity — in preschool

There’s also — of course — a love story that blossoms on the set between Anesu and fellow contestant Prince, played by Zimbabwean hip hop artist Tehn Diamond (Tendai Ryan Nguni). 

“Cook Off” was produced on a shoestring budget of$8,000. Njagu says it was made possible by the fact they could reuse sets — the writer and director of the film is also the director of a Zimbabwean TV show called “Battle of the Chefs,” — and the cast and crew agreed to a deferred payment plan. 

The film, which premiered in 2018 at the Durban International Film Festival, was produced in extraordinary circumstances, during the historic ouster of long-time ruler Robert Mugabe in 2017.

Related: Dead at 95, Mugabe was one of Africa’s most polarizing figures

Tendie Chitima, who plays Anesu, on the set of “Cook Off.”

Credit:

Courtesy of Anel Wessels/”Cook Off”

Njagu is hopeful that “Cook Off” won’t be the last Zimbabwean movie to reach a wider audience.

“It’s still a little film community that’s trying to sprout out and become an industry,” he said. “Why this is such a big deal is this is almost like a springboard to kickstart things, so we can start getting to a place where we can call ourselves a film industry.”

Njagu said he wanted to make “Cook Off” — a love story and underdog story — to challenge Hollywood’s typical depictions of Africa.

Related: What the US can learn from West Africa to slow the spread of coronavirus

“I always feel that Africa is portrayed in a very negative light: like, it’s synonymous with stories about war, poverty, hunger disease. This was a chance to show the other side of Africa, the other side of Zimbabwe.”

Joe Njagu, film producer, “Cook Off”

“I always feel that Africa is portrayed in a very negative light: like, it’s synonymous with stories about war, poverty, hunger disease. This was a chance to show the other side of Africa, the other side of Zimbabwe,” he said.

“This is why I felt like this was a very important story to tell — to change that whole Africa narrative,” he added. 

Pandemic security must be ‘top line concern’ says former Amb. Power

Pandemic security must be ‘top line concern’ says former Amb. Power

By
The World staff

Producer
Joyce Hackel

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United States then-Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power addresses media at the United Nations in Manhattan, New York City, Dec. 19, 2016.

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Andrew Kelly/Reuters

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Combatting the novel coronavirus is a herculean effort that many experts say depends on global solidarity and cooperation. But the US response to the novel coronavirus pandemic has brought into question the role of American leadership on the world stage.

That’s a stark contrast to six years ago, when the US under former President Barack Obama worked to assemble a global coalition to fight the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa.  

Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power was part of that US effort in 2014. Power describes that work in her recent memoir, “The Education of an Idealist.” During the Ebola outbreak, she says, the US collaborated with other nations to stem the spread of the outbreak at its source.

She says the coronavirus can only be tackled if wealthy nations work hand-in-hand with the developing world.

Power spoke with The World’s host Marco Werman about how lessons from that experience apply to the pandemic the globe is facing today. 

COVID-19: The latest from The World

Marco Werman: Ambassador Power, you helped assemble the global coalition to combat Ebola in 2014. That was a very deadly outbreak. It took some 11,000 lives — mainly in West Africa — with just one fatality here in the US. Looking back at that time, did we just get lucky?

Samantha Power: I don’t think so.  One of the greatest professional experiences of my life was to be tapped by President Obama who said, ‘Go to the Chinese, go to the French, go to the British.’ Secretary of State John Kerry [was] doing the same. Our diplomats all around the world [were] going to governments and hustling them to try to secure resources.

And it’s just the kind of global campaign that’s needed now. Given that developed economies, of course, are having their own severe challenges and are suffering heartbreaking losses, to still, at the same time, be organizing in order to help those countries that have nowhere near the infrastructure or the resources that these developed economies have, we have to walk and chew gum at the same time. Because even if you’re only looking at it from the narrowest, most self-interested perspective, for as long as this pandemic is raging in parts of the developing world, it’s going to be very hard to restore economic normalcy globally.

Related: Samantha Power stresses ‘political evolution, rather than revolution’

So did other countries step up? I mean, what were the results of that hustle?

Absolutely. I mean, 60 to 70 countries were part of the coalition. The United States took a leadership role in the country of Liberia in West Africa. But we went to the British and said, “OK, you take Sierra Leone.” And the British stepped up in really important ways in a leadership role, backing, of course, the work of the Africans on the ground, which was the most important. The French stepped up in Guinea. Cuba — this tiny country with whom we were estranged at the time, we’ve not reopen diplomatic relations — Cuba’s incredible medical professional corps was taken advantage of and they deployed more doctors per capita to West Africa than any other country involved in the coalition. Malaysia sent rubber gloves. Japan worked on the hazmat suits to try to make them cooler.

Related: Is coronavirus reshuffling the global power deck?

I’m just curious, I mean, are there some legitimate concerns about China’s approach to the pandemic, as well as its transparency, that may not allow the same level of cooperation today?

I think there are more than legitimate concerns. I mean, China’s response was that of a cover-up in the earliest stages, firing whistleblowers, locking people up who tried to raise the alarm. China has a huge amount to answer to. China now, of course, is trying to rehabilitate itself in relation to this pandemic and is shipping vast supplies to particularly developing countries that don’t have those supplies on hand. But many of those supplies are defective. China does not yet really work effectively at building global coalitions around what they themselves do. China is much more interested in its brand and in bilateral assistance and not really yet in a position to or really showing much interest in leading the world.

Related: US leads in coronavirus cases, but retreats from global leadership

So COVID-19 is very different from Ebola. It’s often asymptomatic, and an individual can be contagious and asymptomatic at the same time. Like Ebola, though, COVID-19 represents a national security threat. I’d just love to hear from you, though, Ambassador Power, what kind of national security threat does COVID-19 pose?

Pandemic security always needed to be a top-line concern. I think it was in the Obama administration, but it’s been very hard over the decades to secure adequate funding and resources. So you have heard it talked about as a core security threat, but compared to the resources deployed, for example, in fighting terrorism, it’s just night and day. I mean, since 2010, the United States has spent $180 billion a year on counterterrorism operations and just $2 billion a year on pandemic and infectious disease response infrastructure. So that gives you a sense of how much more weighted America’s understanding of national security has been toward hard security, counterterrorism, the military, than toward crises like this, which proved far more lethal when they strike.

Related: High-profile Syrian war crimes trial opens in Germany

Global cooperation is also the US reaching out when it needs help. South Korea sending half a million test kits to Maryland. It’s a move that appears to have annoyed President Trump. As this crisis continues, do you think the Trump administration will be open to receiving more international help?

Well, I think states are open because state governors and state officials are on the frontlines seeing, every day, the human consequences of the lack of stockpiles and the lack of prevention. So what you’re seeing now is everything from California to Maryland to the city of New York reaching out to whatever international partner they can find. Bill de Blasio went to the United Nations in order to get a stash of masks — tens of thousands of masks from the United Nations headquarters in the earliest stages of his pandemic. I don’t think that urgency is evident at the highest levels of the federal government, unfortunately. And I wonder if that’s just because of the remove that federal officials may feel from the frontlines where this crisis is striking so many thousands of American families. I can’t really explain it.

But what’s important is that those supplies are procured, that our frontline workers have the prophylactic provisions that they need. They’re already risking so much in service of our broader communities. And, you know, it’s admirable to see governors hustling. But it shouldn’t be necessary. We have a whole apparatus that carries out our foreign policy every day. And to the degree that we can’t make up the shortfall through national production and manufacturing, that foreign policy apparatus — which unfortunately, of course, has been gutted in large measure by the Trump administration — but that should be deployed in getting other countries to provide the kinds of supplies that we do not have on hand.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Policymakers rush to stave off economic collapse on the African continent

Policymakers rush to stave off economic collapse on the African continent

Few industries on the continent have been spared by the epidemic. The region is projected to experience its first recession in 25 years, according to the World Bank. Among the biggest challenges for Africa is the large scale of people employed in the informal sector.

By
Halima Gikandi

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A health worker checks a man’s temperature during door-to-door screening in an attempt to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Jika Joe informal settlement in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, April 16, 2020. 

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Rogan Ward/Reuters

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While African countries were among the last to be hit by the novel coronavirus, the pandemic is already taking a toll on economies. Policymakers and economists are proposing all kinds of solutions to stave off a catastrophe, including large-scale debt relief. 

Few industries on the continent have been spared by the epidemic. The region is projected to experience its first recession in 25 years, according to a new report by the World Bank on the economic impact of COVID-19 on African economies.

“The countries that are more dependent on tourism are taking a big hit,” said César Calderón, a lead economist at the World Bank who co-authored the report. “You can think about Botswana or Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa.”

While Africa has some of the fastest-growing economies on the planet, they face unique challenges due to the pandemic.

“In the case of Africa, of course, there’s the challenge of the informal sector being the main source of employment.”

César Calderón, economist, World Bank

“In the case of Africa, of course, there’s the challenge of the informal sector being the main source of employment,” Calderón said. The International Labour Organization estimates Africa’s informal sector accounts for more than 85% of overall employment. 

According to Calderón, policymakers should prioritize assisting those workers who will no longer be earning, as well as supporting the micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses that represent the majority of businesses in most African countries.

Related: Trump’s WHO funding cut harms ‘fragile’ health systems, says organization’s Africa head

Policymakers across the continent have already jumped into emergency mode, expanding cash transfer programs, lowering the costs of mobile payments and slashing bank interest rates.

Still, these types of relief efforts take massive fiscal resources.

“The region is not in the same position that it was in 2008,” Calderón said. “Many countries in the region had a healthy fiscal balance, they had higher growth rates, they were enjoying this period of growth [of] about 5%.”

The continent’s strongest economies have been hampered in recent years by low commodity prices, slowing growth rates and ballooning debt — meaning even the most ambitious relief measures could be constrained by the reality of low liquidity.

That dilemma has led many to argue that African countries, among others, require major financial resources to stop the spread of coronavirus. 

Related: In Senegal, COVID-19 safety measures conflict with cultural traditions

“We can not afford fiscal distancing,” said Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, during a press conference last week. “We must move rapidly and aggressively to give Africa maximum support to contain this epidemic,” he continued.

As part of that effort, the African Development Bank has committed $10 billion to African countries’ emergency response and deferred debt payments for the private sector.

Still, Adesina argued, these types of debt deferments should extend to countries as well. 

“It’s time for all of us to work together globally to reprofile debt payments for African countries,” he said.

Related: What the US can learn from West Africa to slow the spread of coronavirus

This month, the African Union appointed special envoys to help mobilize economic support from the international community.

Calls for large-scale debt service or debt relief have grown from outside of the continent as well. During a national address Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said the world should “help them economically by massively canceling their debts.”

Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund announced it would pay the debt for 25 countries for next six months, helping them free up money for their emergency responses. 

Days later, G20 countries agreed to freeze bilateral debt service payments for some of the world’s poorest countries.