KRWG

Gregory Warner

If you're in South Sudan and something big happens in your life — you get married, you buy property or pay a penalty for a crime — cows are most likely involved. Cows are currency and credit card and bank account rolled into one. In South Sudan, banks can go bankrupt — cows are more reliable. At least that's how it used to be.

This story comes from NPR's Rough Translation podcast, which explores how ideas we wrestle with in the U.S. are being discussed in the rest of the world.

Sophia Lierenfeld didn't set out to give dating advice to Syrian refugees.

Michael Sharp believed in the power of persuasion. The 34-year-old Kansan with the round face and a penchant for plaid shirts would walk, unarmed, deep into rebel-held territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo, sit in the shade of banana trees with rebels and exchange stories.

Inevitably, those stories would turn to the past. "Rebels love talking about the past," Michael once told me.

As part of the project A Nation Engaged, NPR and member stations are exploring America's role in the world heading into the presidential election.

Everyone knew President Obama would say something about gay rights when he visited Kenya last summer. Many American activists were pressing him to publicly condemn Kenya's colonial-era law making homosexuality a crime.

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Editor's note: This post is an adaptation of the latest episode of the Invisibilia podcast and program, which is broadcast on participating public radio stations.

In high school, Mireille Umutoni Sekamana aspired to be a club president rather than just secretary. And why not? She lives in a country where women seem to face no barriers, no discrimination.

In the Parliament, for example, women hold more than half the seats. No country has a better record than that.

What's red and gold and hailed by most economists?

The new African Union passport, unveiled this week at the African Union Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, promises a solution to a major drag on African trade: the red tape that makes it harder for African businesspeople, tourists and workers to travel around their own continent.

More than half of the 54 African countries require entry visas for other Africans, according to the Africa Visa Openness Report.

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In 2010, 12-year-old Nathan Eyasu became one of the first skateboarders in Ethiopia.

He bought an old board off a guy on the street for a dollar, learned some tricks off YouTube, and proceeded to shock his neighbors like Marty McFly in Back to The Future.

"They'd be like, 'Is there a magnet in there?' " Eyasu says, laughing. "Nobody knew what skateboarding is."

The Oromo Federalist Congress, an opposition party in Ethiopia, represents the largest ethnic group in the country, the Oromo.

Yet its office in the capital Addis Ababa is virtually deserted, with chairs stacked up on tables. A chessboard with bottle caps as pieces is one of the few signs of human habitation. In a side office, the party's chairman, Merera Gudina, explains why the place is so empty: Almost everyone has gone to prison.

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To burn or not to burn? That is the question facing African countries in their fight against the multimillion-dollar illegal ivory trade.

Kenya, which introduced the world to burning ivory in 1989, still thinks it's a good idea. On Saturday morning, it hosted the most spectacular burn event yet: The tusks of nearly 7,000 elephants — 105 metric tons' worth — were set alight in 11 separate pyres in Nairobi's National Park.

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A diplomatic battle among Kenya, Taiwan and China led to a bizarre scene in a Kenyan prison this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PRISONER: We're not China.

There's a stealthy nighttime battle taking place on the African savannah. It's a place where poachers stalk their prey — the animals that graze there. And they, the poachers, are in turn stalked by rangers trying to bring them in.

Now those rangers are trying out some new equipment using the kind of technology pioneered by the military.

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Employers want to hire the best and the brightest to get the job done.

So do terrorist groups.

In Africa, terrorist groups are actively recruiting well-educated boys and girls. The groups want recruits who can be leaders, who know how to give orders, who can boost the brand on social media.

One Kenyan teacher is fighting back — and his efforts have made him a candidate for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, which comes with a $1 million award.

It's known as the only national park in the world with a skyscraper skyline. Nairobi National Park, in the Kenyan capital, boasts elephants, giraffe, rhinos and lions roaming freely across a savannah a mere 4-mile drive from downtown.

But last night, the proximity of urban and natural environments got a bit too close.

It may not sound like a reward, being a soldier chosen to fight as a peacekeeper in war-torn Somalia or Central African Republic. But for soldiers from one of the poorest countries in the world, Burundi, it's seen as an opportunity of a lifetime. Soldiers angle to wear the blue helmet — and to pull an international salary and other benefits, covered by the United Nations.

When Netflix announced its expansion to 130 countries, including Kenya, Nairobi-based IT specialist Mark Irungu says he was thrilled.

He had never failed to find ways to stream Netflix, even when it was blocked in Kenya.

But, he says, touching his heart, "that morning, when I saw that Netflix is global? I can't compare it to anything else."

It's a hard life for Tanzanian public officials these days.

No more driving your limousine to villages.

No more flying first class to meetings in Europe.

You can't even send Christmas cards on the taxpayer's dime.

President John Magufuli, elected in October, has banned these things. He canceled the country's Independence Day celebrations, saying it would be shameful to spend millions of dollars on fancy parties and military parades in a country battling cholera. And he even restricted the amount of refreshments allowed at official meetings.

Political violence has engulfed the African nation of Burundi. The U.N. Security Council has passed a resolution to try and prevent potential genocide, while refugees have been pouring into neighboring Rwanda. Among them is a group of musicians who fled their homes without any instruments.

It's a recurring question throughout many parts of Africa: How long should a leader stay in power?

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame is the only president the country has had since 2000, and his tenure has been marked by stability and relative prosperity.

Now he's toying with the idea of running for a third term. Such moves by presidents in the neighboring states of Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo have led to unrest.

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What would you say to someone you hadn't spoken to in years, if you only had three minutes to talk?

Chan Majok, 32, lost track of her eldest brother two years ago when the civil war erupted in South Sudan. Since then she's been unable to talk to him, in part because the government has cut off cellphone service to the northern oil-rich region of Unity State, where forces opposed to the government control territory. Her 12-year-old daughter is living with this brother, and she doesn't even know if her child is alive or dead.

Can you fight terrorists the same way you battle ordinary criminals?

A prominent Kenyan crime fighter, Mohamud Saleh, is betting you can. He's testing his theory in Garissa, a city in northeastern Kenya thrust into the spotlight this April when Islamist militants attacked a campus dorm, killing 147 students.

Long before Garissa had a terrorism problem, it had a problem with bandits, as Daud Yussuf, a Kenyan journalist, remembers.

Taylor Swift may be the world's No. 1-selling artist, but she might have a hard time getting airplay in some countries.

In South Africa, 55 percent of the content on radio stations as well as community and public TV has to be local.

Nigeria has a law that more than 70 percent of the music played on radio must be by local artists.

Africa will mark one year without polio on Tuesday. The last case was in Somalia in 2014.

But last week, a polio vaccination campaign in Kenya faced an unlikely opponent: The country's Conference of Catholic Bishops declared a boycott of the World Health Organization's vaccination campaign, saying they needed to "test" whether ingredients contain a derivative of estrogen. Dr. Wahome Ngare of the Kenyan Catholic Doctor's Association alleged that the presence of the female hormone could sterilize children.

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