Alexandra Polier

Stories by Alexandra Polier

  • Messing With Success

    Under Kibaki, Kenya has blossomed. So why is the man responsible about to lose the election?
  • Style Out of Africa

    Anna Trzebinski's workshop lies on the edge of a leafy giraffe sanctuary in the exclusive Nairobi neighborhood of Karen. The lofty white space with high, beamed ceilings used to house the studio of her late husband, artist Tonio Trzebinski. But five years ago, he was mysteriously murdered, and Anna—broke and with two children to feed—took it over to fulfill her creative ambition: designing clothes inspired by Africa's natural beauty and rich tribal cultures.Today the studio is filled with the clatter of sewing machines and the voices of dozens of tailors and Masai beaders busily working on brightly colored leathers and suedes. Trzebinski's creations fill the closets of the Hollywood elite and European royalty, including Michelle Pfeiffer, Jada Pinkett Smith and Princess Caro-line of Monaco. "Anna uses traditional African techniques in a glamorous and modern way," says designer Paul Smith, who carries her line in his shops, where the $800 flamingo and guinea-fowl feather shawl is a...
  • Sudan: The New Serengeti

    Mike Fay pilots his four-seater Cessna down a short, dusty runway in Mabior, southern Sudan, and up over a landscape of cattle and tukuls, traditional huts that look like giant Hershey's Kisses. A few minutes later, tall yellow grass dotted with emerald-green Balanites trees stretches to the horizon. Fay spots a brown patch and heads toward it—a herd of antelope, which suddenly darts to the right. A few minutes later Fay spots a roan antelope, thought to have gone extinct in Sudan. "Wa-hoo!" he yells, banging his hand on the steering wheel.Fay, National Geographic's explorer in residence, has been crisscrossing Africa for 25 years searching for wild animals in need of help. He's found thousands of elephants in Chad, and jungles full of chimpanzees, gorillas and forest elephants in Gabon, and he's seen animal populations in Angola and Mozambique, devastated from years of civil war. When he started surveying the 360,000 square kilometers of southern Sudan earlier this year, where...
  • Correspondent's Picks: Nairobi Restaurants

    For the past three years, Alexandra Polier has been reporting for NEWSWEEK from Nairobi, Kenya. Nestled between the Indian Ocean and Africa’s Great Rift Valley, this multicultural city blends rich colonial history with contemporary African culture. From fresh seafood to wild game, Nairobi is full of good restaurants, if you know where to go. Here’s an insiders' guide to a good meal and a good time: ...
  • The Other Side of Sudan

    It could be the setting for a Hollywood Western: a wasteland of brush and scrub, a rough Main Street of bustling saloons, quickly built hotels and newcomers looking to get rich quick. It's the world's most unlikely boomtown: Juba, capital of South Sudan, a territory with 6 million people that is twice the size of its tragic neighbor, Darfur. Since a civil war with the North ended two years ago, investors have been pouring in to Juba, paying $200 a night in riverside tent camps with names like Oasis, Mango and Da Vinci.The lure is a multibillion-dollar treasure in oil, gold, diamonds, farmland and forests. International energy companies are beginning to fight for shares of South Sudan crude. Regional entrepreneurs are hawking everything from cement to gasoline, catering to the tide of fortune hunters and job-seekers that is swelled by foreign pledges of nearly $6 billion for postwar reconstruction. More than 2, 000 kilometers of new roads are already built, boosting trade with...
  • Theater: Fighting AIDS Stigma

    Atop a small stage set against the backdrop of Kenya's biggest slum, a group of young actors is telling the story of one family's struggle with AIDS. Two daughters contract HIV, one through consensual unprotected sex and one through being raped by a friend who believes that sleeping with a virgin will cure him of the disease. At first, both girls are ostracized. But the rape victim courageously goes to the hospital for treatment; a year later she gets a clean bill of health and marries the boyfriend who stood by her. The other daughter goes on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), stays symptom-free and gets a job working at a television station. The family reconciles as the crowd cheers at the happy ending.Audiences are doing a lot more than cheering. Inspired by the play, produced by an NGO devoted to removing the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in Africa, the country's difficult-to-reach slum population is increasingly seeking testing and treatment. After a short series of performances last...
  • SUDAN: 'EVERY GUN MUST BE SILENT'

    The riots that have killed at least 130 in Sudan are bad enough. Far worse is the danger that John Garang's death might restart a conflict that has cost an estimated 2 million lives since 1983. In July, barely three weeks before his fatal helicopter crash, the former guerrilla leader had been sworn in as Sudan's vice president, fulfilling a key provision of the peace deal that ended Africa's longest-running civil war earlier this year. Now Garang's designated successor, Gen. Salva Kiir Mayadit, is doing his best to keep the agreement alive.Can he? Many Sudanese think not--but Kiir, tall and imposing like Garang, if leaner and less flamboyant, intends to prove them wrong. "There is no way I can convince them other than by my deeds," he told NEWSWEEK last week in carefully considered English. "Then, I think, the people will again gather their hopes." The Khartoum government, under heavy U.S. pressure, quickly confirmed Kiir as the new vice president.Civilian politics may prove to be...
  • Peace At Risk

    John Garang was relaxed and laughing when he flew off for a meeting with his longtime friend and ally, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, last Friday. But 24 hours later Southern Sudan's rebel leader was dead, killed when the Ugandan military helicopter in which he was traveling crashed less than 10 miles from its return destination of Kamuto, in the south of the country. "I hope it was just an accident," said Albanus Muli, a charter plane operator who recalled Garang's cheerful demeanor when he buckled him into his seat for the first leg of his journey. "We want peace here. We need peace."Garang's helicopter crashed in bad weather. While a multilateral investigation that includes Ugandan and Sudanese authorities are still investigating its cause, initial indications do not suggest foul play. However, Garang's death could hardly have come at a worse time for a country taking tentative steps to peace after more than two decades of war. Just 23 days ago, Garang--the leader of the...
  • SUDAN: A Catalyst for Peace

    The peace agreement between northern and southern Sudan recently brought one of Africa's most protracted civil wars to an end. For years the mostly Muslim Arabs in the north, who run the government, battled largely Christian (and animist) African rebels in the south, who were angling for more power, money and autonomy. Mounting international pressure on the government was certainly a big reason the warring sides were finally able to reach an accord--one that gives the south the opportunity to hold a referendum on whether to secede in seven years. But another, less-known catalyst for peace lay under the combatant's feet--oil.Sudan began exporting large quantities of oil in the late 1990s, and has since become a major player in the global industry. The country's proven reserves have doubled over the last three years (to 563 million barrels)--and they're sure to rise again, say experts, because exploration efforts have barely begun. Oil sales now bring the impoverished African nation...
  • 'It Can Be Done'

    The death of Princess Diana meant that anti-land-mine activists lost their most visible advocate. Yet while the issue may seem to be on the global backburner, the problem of unexploded ordnance remains as acute as ever. Millions of mines from wars both past and present remain scattered across 83 countries, with 15,000 to 20,000 killed or maimed by them every year.One example: strife-torn Sudan. Aside from the individuals affected, the mines that have been planted during the country's 21-year civil war have hurt entire communities, as well. Two million Sudanese are expected to need food next year, but aid agencies say the cost of delivering it to them is five times higher than in other countries because mined roads mean the supplies can only be flown in. According to the United Nations Mine Action Service program in southern Sudan, $50 million is needed to fund demining projects in the country next year alone."It only takes a dollar to plant a mine, but can cost $1,000 to remove it,"...
  • A Tree Grows In Kenya

    No one was more surprised on Friday to hear from the Norwegian Nobel Committee than Wangari Maathai, Kenya's assistant minister for the environment. She was holding a meeting with her constituents near Mt. Kenya when she got the news that she had just become the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her life-long commitment to the environment, democracy and human rights. Maathai celebrated by planting a tree. ...
  • Finding The Footlights

    Fifty is a bit old to be breaking into a career--especially in Kenya, where the average life expectancy is 43. But playwright John Sibi-Ukumu is doing just that. His new work, "Role Play"--an unapologetic look at racial stereotypes in modern Kenya--was chosen to premiere at the historic reopening of Nairobi's National Theater this fall. Such gratification has been a long time coming for Ukumu, who studied linguistics at the University of Nairobi and then worked as a French teacher. He put off his desire to write for fear of the repressive regimes of presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi; one of his professors, the prolific and outspoken writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o, was among those routinely censored, persecuted and tortured by government thugs. "There always has to be a group of people who pay this really heavy price, and then everybody else gets to enjoy the fruit," Ukumu says.Today many Kenyans are enjoying the feast. Ukumu is just one of a number of artists and writers...