Dependent on its wealth of natural resources, Kazakhstan is now aiming to diversify its economy into seven areas linked to oil and gas to become one of the world’s top 50 most competitive countries by 2015. By Ginanne Brownell.

The windy steppe city of Astana, Kazakhstan, is a surreal place full of juxtaposing fantastical architectural influences. There are ‘ancient’ Greek ruins, a huge pyramid (designed by British architect Norman Foster, the official name is the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation), an apartment building reminiscent of the Seven Sisters skyscrapers in Moscow, and a Brandenburg-esque gate near the Palace of Independence. The KazMunaiGas gas building is an enormous structure that resembles a palace with a huge archway, while another Norman Foster-designed building, the Khan Shatyry (Royal Marquee), known locally as the ‘Giant Yurt’, is a soon-to-be-opened spectacular indoor city for 10,000 people that will accommodate shops, sports, a beach resort, a boating river and music complexes. Read more


For the past 20 years, Rwanda’s image has been dominated by scenes of genocide and civil war. However, with its tourism sector now thriving, and areas such as ICT, banking and energy set to follow suit, Rwanda is poised to become Africa’s newest success story. Ginanne Brownell reports.

It is the smell that hits you first – a pungent, gamey combination of wet fur, urine and dead cedar – and about five beats afterwards, they materialise out of the dense jungle greenery, munching and plodding along over the muddied underbrush, swinging from the vines and tumbling over each other in careless abandon. Read more

(orginally published in The National in June 2009)

On first glance it looks like a squatter’s home; the bathtub is a sofa, there are melted CDs used as tabletops and large construction drums double as tables and chairs. But Bar Surya, located in London’s King’s Cross neighborhood, is actually an environmental oasis amid one of the busiest and most polluted intersections in the British capital. Almost everything in the club—named after the Hindu sun god—has been recycled, reclaimed or made from sustainable material; hemp curtains cover the ground floor windows while newspapers, postcards and CDs are used as wallpaper and discarded paint has been re-mixed to create nature-themed murals. The bar chairs, found in rubbish heaps, have been repainted and recovered with a black and white jungle fabric. Part of the club’s electricity comes from the two wind turbines and solar panels fitted on the roof while the state-of-the-art dance floor uses crystals to generate light; the club owners hope one day soon the dance floor will be able to generate more than half of the club’s electricity. And the eco-friendliness doesn’t end with the party space; waterless urinals in the men’s room and low-flush toilets in the ladies help save on water. So far most clubbers—ranging from young hipsters to post-35 revelers—seem more attracted to the Bar Surya’s house and funk soul nights than by its eco-friendly theme. But says the bar’s director Paul Edwards, they hope that by drawing people in with the great music they can then show guests how easy it is to be green. “We just want people to come in and have a good time and go away with the idea that even if they change their lives by 10 percent they can still make a difference,” he says. “If they aren’t aware of their individual impact on the environment we make sure they know in a positive way by the time they leave.” Read more

Poland is the only country in Europe likely to register economic growth this year. It is now hoping to follow in the footsteps of the EU’s previous star pupil, Ireland, writes Ginanne Brownell.

It is early September in the Polish mountain village of Krynica. Strolling among the crowd of tourists are people such as former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar, Nobel Peace Prize winner (and Poland’s first post-Communist president) Lech Walesa and the EU’s commissioner for enterprise and industry, Günter Verheugen. But these politicians and former world leaders are not here for the spa facilities that this area is renowned for – they have come to network with more than 2000 top business executives, economists and politicians at the annual Krynica Economic Forum, dubbed ‘the Davos of eastern Europe’ Read more

oscars press room 10 220209

If ever there was a question whether vintage was the rage for 2009 Penelope Cruz answered it at last year’s Oscars ceremony. Wearing a stunning 60 year-old white sequence Balmain gown with a fluted lace trim, the Spanish beauty practically floated up the aisle to accept a Best Supporting Actress statuette for her role in “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” Cruz, who has been known to have a keen eye for fashion and helps design collections for Spanish chain Mango along with her sister Monica, says she bought the dress eight years ago but had never worn it. “I was saving it for something very special,” she told reporters on the red carpet about her strapless sparkling gown resplendent with intricate black stitching detail. Though the fashion jury was on the fence about her choice—the Chicago Tribune dubbed her dress a “frothy ivory confection” while the Liverpool’s Daily Post called her creation “exquisite”—Cruz helped prove that vintage fashion has become hip, relevant and essential to every fashionista’s wardrobe. Read more