Wednesday 22 June 2011


Whitaker and Bokova at UNESCO
Forest Whitaker, the American actor and activist, has become the latest goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

At a ceremony on June 21 at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris,  the agency’s director-general Irina Bokova said Whitaker was chosen for his humanitarian and artistic commitment.

““He brings compassion and commitment and feeling to what he does in this world of turmoil,” she told us. “I think it’s a wonderful kind of synergy between us and him for outreaching to communities.”

She said that Whitaker’s nomination as “Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation” was important to the agency as the actor would bring visibility to UNESCO’s messages about “peace, education, reconciliation”.

Whitaker, who has always portrayed unusual characters, is perhaps best known for his roles as jazz musician Charlie Parker in “Bird”, for which he won the Palme d’Or in Cannes for best actor in 1989,  and as deranged Ugandan leader Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland”, for which he received  an Academy Award in 2006.

He also works on projects that reflect his humanitarian concerns. He has produced a poignant film about Ugandan child soldiers as well as a documentary about the need to achieve peace and understanding in strife-torn communities.

Whitaker speaks to fans
Whitaker, 49 years old, said the relationship with UNESCO would result in a number of new initiatives.

“I have a plan to start work in training youths in peace and reconciliation in different regions of the world in conflict and to work with UNESCO on building an international institute for peace,” Whitaker said.

“I’m just gonna try to walk alongside, walk behind, carry the bags and do as much as I can to make it work,” he added. “I’m hoping I’ll be able to go out and connect with others in order to further the message of UNESCO.”

In October, Whitaker will participate in the organization’s Youth Forum at the 36th General Conference. He will be the keynote speaker and will present documentary and advocacy films, focusing on peace and reconciliation initiatives, UNESCO said.

The actor’s nomination as goodwill ambassador comes on the heels of a visit to UNESCO’s headquarters by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her address to the agency’s delegates in May was the first time that an American secretary of state had visited the institution. It seems that after years of being considered the UN’s unloved and controversial child, UNESCO is finally coming in from the cold. - A.M.

Tuesday 21 June 2011


 TJ Dema (photo by Thomas Pirel)

Botswana poet TJ Dema is set to make a global mark this year. Fresh from performing at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) in Zimbabwe, she is now putting the finishing touches to a recording of 12 Batswana poets/spoken word artists on one CD.

“Hopefully this multi-lingual albeit mostly English project titled 'Dreaming is a gift for me' will be out late July/early August as we are entering the post production phase,” she tells SWAN.

At HIFA, a six-day annual festival and workshop programme that showcases local, regional and international arts and culture, Dema performed in April with an eclectic ensemble. The group comprised Zimbabwean poet Dikson, Norwegian composer and instrumentalist/vocalist Cecilie Giskemo, Norwegian guitarist Asbjoern Lerheim and Zimbabwean saxophonist Vee Mukarati.

Giskemo composed music specifically for poems by Dema and Dikson, and the poets performed the sets live. There are now plans to take the production on tour, Dema says, with a show called “Sonic Slam Chorus.  Check out the audio samples at:

Dema first came to our attention last year at the fourth Shakespeare & Company Literary Festival in Paris, France. She stood out with her spoken-word performances, covering subjects that ranged from lost childhood to domestic abuse.

Her skills with rhythm and drama made everyone in the audience sit up and listen. This was literary rap that impressed with the dexterity of the wording, the unexpected placing of the beat, and the profound subject matter.

In an interview after that festival, TJ told us that she doesn't consider herself a political writer because she is "wary of boxes and titles" and prefers not to be compartmentalized.

"My poetry is a mixture of the personal and the political," she said. "The effect is a little less confrontational so that people are willing to listen. The work isn't autobiographical as some might think, but I try to make it authentic."

TJ, now 29 years old, said she draws her inspiration from what happens around her, and she's motivated by the need to make a difference.

"I'm not trying to save the world but I do think that stories can change perspectives and then you can be able to make informed decisions," she said.

"I think sometimes we are so happy that we forget that terrible things are happening. And it doesn't have to be happening to a million people, it can be just one person who still needs to have her or his story told," she added.  –A.M.