Aug 31, 2010

Genocide in DRC?

If you follow African news closely, you’ve probably heard about the UN report that offers ‘new’ insight into the dealings of the Rwandan army in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire). This is a hot topic because there have been long standing allegations about the extermination of Hutu refugees who fled into the Congo from Rwanda and Burundi, as well as Congolese Hutus by Paul Kagame’s army and other Tutsi rebel groups.

This largely vindicates the survivors, aid workers, and others whose stories primarily fell on deaf ears until now. It also opens a new chapter in the public discussion as to what really happened to bring about ‘peace’ in Rwanda, and how the current upheavals in the Congo are interlinked with the events that started unfolding in 1994 and a little before.

I would recommend you read the following posts for summaries and insights on the report from people who have worked in the Great Lakes area and are very familiar with the topic at hand.

Jason Stearns at Congo Siasa,
Laura Seay at Texas in Africa
Howard French’s article for the New York Times.
You can also find a copy of the leaked report at

Aug 30, 2010

An issue of culture?

After my rant about the treatment of Malawi’s female vice-president by some members of her political party and the state run media, I took a step back and asked why this is not an uncommon story.

In recent months we have seen an up tick in verbal confrontations between politicians and the opposition, media and anyone else caught in the line of fire (donor countries, diplomats, bloggers, etc). It’s glaringly obvious – the African leader does not take criticism well.

In all honesty if you drill down to the core the answer is most likely found in our culture(s).

In the traditional family unit, the man is the head and lord of all. What he says goes, no matter how absurd. To disagree is disrespect and everyone falls in line; from the wife to the children, and anyone else who falls under his domain.

The same attitude spills over into our churches. In our eyes a pastor/priest is ordained by God, and is an instrument through which the Word is spoken to us. So, if the pastor starts making unreasonable demands and putting outlandish interpretations on scriptures, how many are courageous enough to speak up? We would rather shield ourselves and others from the truth for we know that to speak openly would be an invitation to be called a heretic or even a Satanist. We either suffer in silence or make a hasty exit leaving the demi-god and his minions unchallenged.

Other institutions are not immune from the police force to schools to government offices. During my last excursion to the passport office in Lusaka, I made the mistake of asking a desk clerk to more polite and professional after she had spent ten minutes upbraiding this person and that for having an incorrect form, for showing up too early, for speaking English and not vernacular, for not letting her speak without interruption, you name it she had it! NO, I am not exaggerating! She turned her fury on me, refusing to hand over my passport as punishment and stormed off leaving a whole line of customers unattended. (I hope she later choked on her Sprite and meat pie)

Now, if this bully at the passport office finds her behaviour to be perfectly reasonable, can we expect her to value a process in which public officials are held to a higher standard of professionalism and are expected to be courteous to their customers? What about the husband who beats his wife within an inch of her because she didn’t stay up waiting for him with a hot meal after his long night of carousing. Would he amenable to a system that grants women the social and economic power to leave abusive homes without fear of destitution? Most likely not!

We speak publicly of how we value democracy, the freedom of independent thought and the freedom of speech when in fact many of us are bullies in our own spheres of influence. We terrorise others into docility, and we privately cheer when newspapers editors are arrested for publishing exposés because we believe that they are wrong to question leaders, they are un-African and disrespectful. Deep down inside we crave that power and would do the same with it as those leaders we publicly denounce.

In a nutshell, our governments in all their inefficient and corruptible glory truly reflect us as a people. Until we start to tackle the problem at the very root we will continue to see statements like the one below and have people nodding their heads in fervent agreement:

“Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika has threatened to close down any media house that reports negative stories about his government, especially about the looming hunger that threatens over a million people”.

Aug 27, 2010

On a light note

I was going to post this last week but thought better of it until a couple of friends brought it up on FB, and prompted an interesting gabfest. I haven’t paid much interest in beauty contests since my teen years when I would spend time crowded around the tele with friends and family watching Miss World and Miss Universe. My favourite segment aside from the Q&A was always the National Costume – Miss Brazil would invariably have on some colourful carnival get up and we were always curious to see what the African girls would have on to represent their culture.

Well, this year at the Miss Universe competition, Miss Zambia outdid herself. Is it impolite of me to say that I almost fell out of my chair laughing so hard after the incredulity wore off? Just what was she thinking? Or better yet, what was the designer thinking?

I understand that designers often take liberties with national costumes taking one cultural aspect here and a relevant element there, while adding their own creative impressions. With that said though, in Miss Zambia’s case - some fabric for a skirt and an overwhelming amount of calabash shells for her bra and accent pieces throughout. This definitely falls in the “Oh no, she didn’t” category!

Did this really represent the essence of our country/culture? 

Photo from missuniverse

Aug 26, 2010

Faith and Works

A recent Pew Research Center report shows that 18 percent of Americans incorrectly believe that President Obama is Muslim; this is up from 12 percent in 2008. Some credit this to Obama’s overtures to the Middle East, his upbringing to Malaysia and the lingering debates about his birth place. I guess we’re all entitled to our own conspiracy theories no matter how ludicrous they may seem to others, but it does raise a larger question – does a President’s faith or lack of faith really matter?

I’m sure many of us would answer in the affirmative – it does matter! But why does it matter, and how do we hold leaders accountable, if so?

In teachings of Christ we are told to look to the interests of others and not only ourselves, to use our talents to bring glory to God and not ourselves, and a whole host of other things. George Bush II constantly professed his Christian faith; the religious right cheered this and urged him to pursue policies in line with Christian values. So, when hundreds of lives were lost and thousands thrown into destitution when his government failed to adequately respond to Hurricane Katrina did he conveniently forget the teachings he claims to live by? Or did it not even factor in his indecision to act? Dare I even ask about the two wars and the human toll incurred?

Zambia’s infamous second president is a professed born-again Christian, and declared the country to be a Christian nation. Fast forward a few years and we find Chiluba’s legacy mired by corruption and misdeeds by him and other government officials. How does that embody the teachings of Christianity? We were so eager to cheer his stance as a Christian but can we show that his faith made him a better leader? Is that even something we would want to discuss openly given his chequered past? Perhaps we would have been better off with an agnostic with no professed faith but with better management skills and a higher set of ethics.  

We don’t seem to make much noise when our leaders who profess strong religious beliefs ignore the hungry, the homeless, the abused or the hungry but when issues such as abortion, capital punishment, and gay rights crop up, we don our cloaks of self righteousness and demand of our leaders to do the same. Little wonder we have politicians pandering to religious leaders and courting religious conservatives.

So, does it really matter if Obama really is a Christian? Most people won’t care as long as he doesn’t mess with a woman’s right to choose, a person’s right to bear arms, or a person’s right to worship Paul the Octopus. Or does seeing pictures of him attending church every Sunday trump bad policy?

Aug 25, 2010

Not ready for a female president!

What does it mean when a top politician claims “the country is not ready for a woman president?” These are the words that have been used against Malawi’s female vice-president, Joyce Banda by a member of her own political party, who also serves as a regional governor.

Pardon me while I clear the red mist from my eyes…

Ms Banda is an accomplished activist turned politician. In 1997 she founded the Joyce Banda foundation to serve the needs of Malawians in Zomba Malosa .

Some of the work done:

  • Establishment of the Nsigalira Secondary School which provides free secondary education to 200 orphans in Zomba Malosa
  • Establishment of 6 orphan centres serving 600 children, and a free nursery school.
  • Introduction of the School Uniform Programme under which uniforms are provided at no cost to pupils (those attending Nsigalira, government, and mission schools)
  • An economic empowerment programme for female guardians of orphans through micro credit
Banda is also the founder of the National Association of Business Women (NABW) which boasts a membership of 30,000 women. The aim is to lift women out of poverty by empowering them economically. Training is provided in areas such as management skills, technical training, time keeping, etc.

In the cabinet she has served as Minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services and Minister of Foreign Affairs. As the Gender minister she spearheaded the fight to pass “Malawi's recently enacted Domestic Violence Bill, which had failed for seven years previously. In addition, she designed the National Platform for Action on Orphans and Vulnerable Children and the Zero Tolerance Campaign Against Child Abuse”.

So, with these accomplishments and others, plus her current position as the deputy president why do small minded politicians like Noel Masangwi think she is not a suitable candidate for the top job?

What more does she need to do? How many more years will women have to stand by the sidelines cheering on their male counterparts before they can be considered as suitable? Or will that day not come to Malawi and other places due to the lack of the Y chromosome?

As you can tell I am terribly disappointed and just a little angry. Just a few months ago Malawi was being cheered for having more women than ever before seeking public office. Good enough to MPs and ministers but not president? What a slap in the face! 

It has become increasingly obvious to people inside and outside Malawi that President Mutharika is on his way towards establishing a family dynasty within Malawian politics; he’s unable to run for a third term and is grooming his brother for the party leadership and subsequent presidency. And as part of his sadistic strategy he has allowed a smear campaign against the country’s vice-president and other female politicians as a means of maligning them from voters.

Until President Mutharika and his cronies can point out inadequacies in Ms Banda’s work this will be nothing more than an attack on women in leadership and a backward attempt to keep power in the hands of men! Now where have I seen a similar story line?

Aug 24, 2010

A Common Language

I have always been a little envious that our East African compatriots in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have Swahili has their official language alongside English. As we know, Swahili is non-tribal language and acts as a unifier of sorts, as no tribe or ethnic group can claim it as their own. It’s also spoken in Northern Zambia but by only a small population of people.

My envy went to new heights this past weekend when I spent time with Zambian friends in Houston,Texas. In a group of about 10, we had at least four tribal groups represented but not all us had the ability to cross-communicate proficiency in each of those languages. And as a result, we fell back on English since that’s our main unifying language.

Fundamentally there’s nothing wrong with that, but it struck me as a little sad because here was a group of young Zambians unable to speak in one common native tongue that we all could boast master proficiency as we do with English. Is it too late for us to adopt Swahili or another Bantu language that is non-tribal? I know it would never fly to make any or all of the seven major languages national languages without someone screaming tribalism or ethnic hegemony. Can’t we learn from our friends who are able to travel from Kenya into Tanzania or Uganda and still communicate in a common language other than English? Where are the pan-Africanists when you need them? *sigh* 

Aug 23, 2010

Western style democracy in Africa

"Western-style multi-party democracy is possible but not suitable for Africa.
There are two forms of democracy. Democratic decisions can be taken by majority vote, which is the Western form. It has the advantage of being transparent, fast and efficient. But the downside is that it ignores minority positions.
The alternative is to take decisions by consensus. This has the advantage of taking all minority positions into account.
However, the demerit is that it can take an awfully long time to reach a consensus the larger the number of people involved. Nevertheless, the Nobel Peace Committee and the World Trade Organization (WTO) all take decisions by consensus".

Aug 18, 2010

Random thoughts

Random thought today:

Vernacular really does capture sentiments that English just can’t touch. Here’s an example in Kaonde (my second mother tongue):

Person 1: Mwabuka byepi mwane?
Person 2: Mwane nabuka. Na mu sanchila nkambo mambo wa ndamina bumi.

Direct Translation:

Person 1: Have you woken well?
Person 2: Yes, I have woken well. I thank the Lord for he has blessed my soul.

Now if I went around saying that in English (in any English speaking country) I probably would get some very queer looks. However, in Kaonde, no one would bat an eyelid and that response would either spur a conversation about why I feel so good about life or just leave the other person with a sense of good will for the remainder of their morning. Granted the second part of that response isn’t the standard greeting but I just love that I can say it (or something else along the same lines), and have it make complete sense to the other person. It makes me realise a simple “Good morning” can be a drab and non-committal greeting. 

Aug 17, 2010

Embracing the natural

I was recently ambushed by a member of the NHM. What, you ask, is the NHM? This is my own acronym for the Natural Hair Movement – these are typically black women who have turned their backs on the billion dollar hair industry that peddles relaxers (aka creamy crack), fictitious hair growth ointments, human hair extensions, and whole host of other stuff that many wouldn’t admit to using in mixed company. Many NHM adherents have instead embraced natural products made without parabens as well as their own natural hair, though the two aren’t always mutually exclusive.

Natural v Relaxed hair is a highly contentious issue among black women; I’ve lost friends in this long running battle. J I’m currently camped in the latter camp though I am making way to the other side. So, getting back to the ambush…though my friend means well, she caught me off guard when she started her stump speech about the evils of relaxed hair. She began by ticking off the dangers of using chemicals to straighten our hair and potential links to cancer (that certainly got my attention since I’ve been reading about this myself) but she soon found herself on quicksand when she brought up the “you are trying to look white” point…that brought the conversation to a screeching halt. 

Okay, there is no denying that many of us go to some pretty extreme lengths to achieve our own standards of hair perfection and there are different motivations that drive this. Personally, having lived within my black skin and with my black hair for 28 years I’m pretty sure I’ll never have “white hair”, and really, what would be the point? Yes, I’ve been chemically altering my hair for more than half my life and but at no point has it been in pursuit of “looking white” with long, glossy locks.

I would probably boil it down to ignorance - which is probably worse! I got my first relaxer when I was eight or nine. I don’t ever remember asking or crying to get one, it just happened. I left home with my tight, afro curls tied with multi-coloured ribbons and came back home with shiny, bone straight hair down to my shoulders. Talk about a transformation! The creamy crack obviously leached into my brain because I loved it…

…fast forward 20 years, and I am still getting my hair relaxed. I had a break here and there, and dabbled with natural hair but ultimately always came back for a hit of the crack. Why is it so hard? Well, you don’t have to be genius to figure it out. I never learned how to take care of my natural hair. I don’t know how to handle its thick texture and the tight curls. My mental model has been “natural hair is difficult to take care of” and this is reinforced by all the misinformation out there.

However, I’m slowly coming around as the NHM slowly infiltrates our ranks bringing with them shears to cut off the last few evident signs of our bondage, as they ease the pain with recipes for homemade hair treatments that nurture the afro hair and teach us the beauty that lies in embracing natural hair.

We all have to understand the motivations behind our actions, hair relaxing not withstanding. I just hope my friend’s misguided tactic was just a minor fumble and that she just did it to get me thinking about why I do what I do.  

Aug 16, 2010

A Cowrie of Hope by Binwell Sinyangwe - A Review

December 2000, General Fiction
Heinemann, 160 pages, ISBN 978-0435912024
Available on Amazon

The cover of A Cowrie of Hope states that the author, Binwell Sinyangwe, “captures the rhythms of a people whose poverty has not diminished their dignity, where hope can only be accompanied by small acts of courage, and where friendship has not lost its value”. I adore this book for many reasons that I’ll get into later, but for now let me get introduce the main character.

Nasula (mother of Sula) is a young widow struggling to make ends meet for herself and her daughter. Her daughter who recently passed her grade 9 exams has been accepted into an all girls secondary school but she lacks the money required for fees, supplies, and other things required for Sula to continue with her education. Though illiterate herself, Nasula, understands the need for her daughter to be educated and she feels the burden acutely.

As a young bride, she and her husband live in Lusaka where he works as security guard. He’s shot to death by the police while trying to escape a crime scene, leaving his wife widowed with an infant daughter. After his funeral, Nasula is ordered by her father-in-law to marry his other son, Isaki. She refuses to marry Isaki on the grounds that he is a polygamist and known womaniser. In retribution the family disowns and dispossesses Nasula and her daughter all of their earthly goods but the clothes on their backs. Homeless and stranded in Lusaka, she spends many nights at the bus depot trying to find her way back to Swelini, her home village in Luapula.

She makes it home to Swelini with the help of a friend, where she appeals to the headman for land to cultivate and build a home for herself and her daughter. She toils on her plot of land and also does piece-work to supplement the meagre income from her crops. Sula is enrolled in school, where she excels, rising above the taunts and ridicule she experiences because of her poverty. "The child was a cowrie of hope. A great gift from the gods to one who was so poor and lowly to wear round one’s neck for inspiration, and, above all, hope”.

Faced with the dilemma of her daughter possibly dropping out of school because of lack of funds, Nasula faces a seemingly hopeless situation until an exuberant friend proposes a solution. If she sells her last bag of Mbala beans, which are on high demand in Lusaka, the money will more than adequately fund Sula’s schooling. Re-energised with this new hope, Nasula sets out to earn this money.

Lusaka immediately strikes her as a “place of madness” and Kamwala market, in particular, is a “mound inhabited by huge, hungry tribes of termites in search of a livelihood”. Nasula has single minded goal, and draws often from her spiritual strength to take her that extra step needed. 

Her naïveté is touching, and her boldness inspiring. What I really love about this book is that despite the desperate situations Nasula finds herself in, she loses neither her dignity nor her sight of goal. Her daughter exemplifies this too, which speaks well for the strength of both mother and child. We often talk about the indignity of poverty, and how it slowly chips away at the soul but Sinyangwe masterfully crafts characters that transcend that predicament.
But a power she could not overcome, which was from a bleeding heart, told her not to listen to the whispers of discouragement, or give up when she had already suffered so much. It urged her on. To this power she yielded while at the same time allowing the ghost of defeat to haunt her. She struggled on, a thin valiant, invisible thread pulling her along in the direction of nowhere”.
Nasula’s exuberant friend from Lusaka, Nalukwi (mother of Lukwi), is also a great character. She and her husband live in three room shack with their eight children and dependents, and yet she opens both her home and heart to Nasula offering help and advice at every turn. She’s street smart, and yet she does not use this as a means of duping her young friend. She’s another example of someone doing the best she can with what she’s got; she reminds me of a cheerful aunt who through humour and wise words can bring a ray of sunshine on a gloomy day.

This is an intensely moving story and brought me to tears on more than one occasion. I was left with the overwhelming knowledge that despite the predicaments we face in the world today, hope still exists. There is also value in friendship, honesty, and community. At the same time, it left me a little angry and frustrated. I say this because while this book is a work of fiction, it draws many parallels from real life situations that many Zambians still face such as property grabbing, school dropouts from lack of funding, crop failure, corruption, lack of markets in rural areas, poor access to financial products for small-scale farmers, etc. Those are issues we can address in another post but still worth thinking about.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book, and look forward to reading Mr Sinyangwe’s other works. 

Aug 13, 2010

Warrior Princess

Below is the promotional video for Princess Kasune Zulu’s recent book Warrior Princess. Kasune, a native of Zambia, is an HIV/AIDS educator who is “spreading a global message of hope about the disease, despite (or because of) her own HIV-positive status”. She’s an amazing woman of faith who has found the courage to speak openly about her experiences to educate and empower others. This isn’t an easy feat considering the stigma that HIV still carries and people’s unwillingness to acknowledge certain truths even as they stare them in the face. 

You can read a full review of her book here. Her website is also worth visiting to read more about her work, upcoming speaking engagements, etc. 

Video by Inter Varsity Press

Happy 100!

For my 100th post I’m taking a step back to assess what this blog has become. As I mentioned in my introductory post back in March I wanted to use this platform to voice my thoughts on subjects that are of interest to me, and to engage with others.

I don’t think I could have anticipated the amount of time I would be committing when I set this up – my little pet project has morphed into something bigger than I had thought. The morphing I am speaking of relates to the contacts I’ve established and re-established with people reading the blog. I believe that in putting myself out in the open, professing my love for my people and my country, and wanting things to get better, I’ve also put myself in a position to become more actively engaged beyond just providing armchair commentary. I like to think this a level of maturity that will help guide my actions for years to come.

I do try my hardest to think through my posts because I believe my work reflects who I am, and sloppy work is unacceptable. In the same vein it has been a challenge at times to write fluidly and succinctly on some subjects that I would otherwise be inclined to approach academically. But since this isn’t a PhD dissertation, I have to put on a different ‘thinking cap’ – please bear with me as I continue to find my legs.

An important realisation I’ve come to and need to remind myself of occasionally is that this blog cannot be everything to everyone. To try would be an exercise in futility. Furthermore it would be unfair to the readers and to me as I would be unfocused and my writing haphazard. Why ruin a good thing? J

I am truly enjoying myself and look forward to growing this blog. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and relish the opportunity to keep my skills sharp. Thank you to my readers (family, new friends and old, and everyone else in between). Your support is much appreciated and valued.

Here’s to another 100 posts, and many, many more!

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

                                                                                                                                                                Frank Outlaw

Aug 12, 2010

Integrating God and Education

A very interesting description about African Christian University's approach to education. 

What he's talking about brings to mind the following verse:
Each should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in it's various forms
1 Peter 4:10 

Aug 11, 2010

Dirty Little Pebbles

Something weird happened in the world this week. The ongoing trial of Charles Taylor at The Hague was thrust into the centre of the news. Twitter was ablaze, as were the 24-hour bottom feeding cable news networks. Everyone wanted to be the first to report on the breaking news. So, exactly what happened to remind us of this trial that has been going for three years and counting?

Oh, that would be testimony of some supermodel named Naomi Campbell. Huh? What insights could this vapid woman, notoriously known for her physical altercations with assistants, have to share about the workings of Charles Taylor and the civil war he helped fuel in Sierra Leone?  Well apparently she received a satchel of “dirty little pebbles” from Taylor. If it turns out that the dirty pebbles are indeed rough cut diamonds, this contradicts Taylor’s long standing denial of ever having possessed diamonds.

To add more fanfare, Mia Farrow and Campbell’s former agent also provided testimony about a clandestine meeting in the middle of night during which the stones were delivered, and how Campbell herself bragged about receiving a “huge” diamond from Taylor. But of course the silly little twit had no idea who Taylor was at the time or where the pebbles could possibly have come from...

...Does your head hurt yet? Mine does!

I think it’s incredibly telling that it’s taken the testimony of a model, an actress, and a former agent to cast light on this trial. Many have forgotten the civil war in Sierra Leone and the role the blood diamonds played - the world seemingly moved on. Well, sure we had Leonardo DiCaprio remind us a few years ago with his blockbuster movie on this same topic but it looks like Hollywood may have delivered the coupe de graĉe. 

The world suddenly cares again the role of minerals in conflicts and the taint it’s left on our world (read Africa) or maybe we’re just gawking at Campbell expecting her to rip off her weave in a fit of rage and go after the prosecutor with her iPhone?

Will this week’s testimony give the prosecution the much needed evidence to finally start closing the chapter on Charles Taylor and his blood soaked hands? If it does, I can see it now – “Tyra Banks starring as Naomi Campbell in Dirty Little Pebbles: How I took down Charles Taylor, the Naomi Campbell Story”.  

Quality Street

To take a break from the monotony of full length novels, I like to read short stories. This past weekend I re-read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Quality Street. The basic premise is of a young woman who returns to her native Nigeria after many years abroad. As she’s re-adjusting and planning a wedding, she and her mother come to loggerheads at almost every turn.

I love this story because there are so many universal themes that transcend nationality, ethnicity and language to which most of us can relate.

Here’s one of my favourite excerpts:

“Perhaps Sochienne should never have been sent to college in America. But who knew a private university in Ohio would mean that Sochienne would return six years later, announcing that she was engaged to a Kenyan, refusing to eat meat, asking the baffled houseboys about fair wages, and wearing her hair in long rubbery dreadlocks?”

Read the story here.

Aug 10, 2010

My Hero

Mr President, I know that you’re very focused on rebuilding Zambia and have little time to respond to your many critics. Allow me to help…

For all the people complaining about your numerous trips abroad, do they not understand the need for a nation’s leader to look presidential? After all, how more presidential does it get than cutting ribbons and exchanging kisses with first ladies? That is nation building!

The more persistent ones may ask why such activities are not delegated to the foreign minister or diplomats stationed in the countries you are visiting. The answer is simple, really – those diplomats including the ambassadors are incapable of assuming such important duties; such things cannot be delegated. Their sole purpose is to field phone calls and visits from those cheeky Zambians living abroad who are constantly whining about lost passports and other petty issues like investment opportunities back home.

With regards to the constant criticism about medical treatment abroad - Sir, when you are ill or need a yearly physical it is your entitlement to seek medical attention abroad at the taxpayers’ expense. Don’t these idiots realise that Morningside is actually a Zambian clinic based in Johannesburg? Now of course the privilege is only extended to high ranking government officials, MPs and their immediate kin. Others will have to come up with their own financing, or better yet use the facilities available locally. Politicians such as yourself are a protected class, and cannot be subjected to the shambolic conditions currently found in our hospitals. If this is not already enshrined in the constitution it should be, so we all know where we stand.

You should also be commended for your impeccable selection of ministers and deputy ministers. I do not think Zambia has seen a group more eager to grandstand and outdo themselves with accolades about your non-work since the early days of our independence. This is a true sign of leadership, when your followers will follow without question frothing at the mouth, and tamping down any hint of dissention in their ranks and among the general population. You’ve learned well from the masters who came before you!

Furthermore, I applaud you for not paying attention to all the silly newspaper editorials, NGOs and others always making noise about these foreign animals called corruption and nepotism. This is just the cost of doing business in our country, and if one cannot help advance unqualified family members, who will? Is not the African way to take care of family first, and others last? It is unreasonable to demand that you turn your back on traditional ways and adopt this nonsense they call transparency.

History will judge you kindly, and your legacy will live in infamy. You’re a true son of Africa…

Rupiah wamuyayaya (Rupiah forever)
Kumulu Lesa, Panshi Rupiah (God in Heaven, Rupiah on Earth)

Aug 9, 2010

Aid and regime change

We have competitors, some from NGOs, opposition political parties and, I have to say this, almost all developing countries when they are about to go for elections, they experience this: donors will normally withdraw funds and find many excuses to give for not doing this funding because their interest is to see a regime change because they believe that that is when they can promote democracy through regime change.” – Mike Mulongoti (Zambia’s Works and Supply Minister)

I am not sure which urge to satisfy first – laughter or incredulity? This man is either dull or just lazy! I wonder if Mulongoti is simply bemoaning the lost opportunity to misdirect aid money while distracting voters from the fact that his government has been the architect of many failed policies that may indeed lead to regime change. 

While there may be some truth in Mulongoti’s assertion that donor’s withholding aid on the eve of elections is a tactic to bring about regime change, I don’t think it’s the complete story in this case. I believe it is most likely a response to abhorrent behaviour by government officials to siphon such funds into re-election campaigns or personal accounts as they see their time in office ending.

But to be fair let us examine his argument and see what lies there. Can donor countries withhold aid to bring about regime change? Yes, absolutely, they can! If a country’s national budget is artificially propped up by funds from other countries, and it is deemed that the money is being or has been misappropriated it is not unreasonable to expect some to demand changes. These changes would typically be personnel related (ministers, permanent secretaries and even presidents).

If Mulongoti and others expect this aid money to come without strings attached or that accountability will not be demanded they are greatly mistaken. To put it bluntly, we give up ownership in some matters when we accept aid and quite rightfully so. Always read the fine print!

Personally, I am happy that there is increased scrutiny on how aid money is spent. It sends a strong message to government leaders that they cannot continue to loot indiscriminately, and that the money will not pour in non-stop ‘til kingdom come. And for us citizens, this presents an opportunity to ask pointed questions about accountability of resources entrusted to government (local and central). If we are dissatisfied with the answers, we can start calling for regime change and taking ownership of critical decisions (such as how money is sought and allocated).

It’s unfortunate that Mulongoti chooses to mislead Zambians by pretending that the government he represents is an innocent victim of outside bullying by donor countries, when in fact they have been at the epicentre of some very egregious acts of corruption and waste, and are simply being “called out”. 

Aug 5, 2010

Kuyenda Bushcamp

This is probably one of the most professional and enticing advertisement I've seen for a camp in Zambia's National Parks. Who wouldn't want to visit Kuyenda Bushcamp in the South Luangwa National Park after seeing this video? 

Kuyenda Update, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia from The Bushcamp Company on Vimeo.

'Big Men' snubbed?

When asked about his reasons for hosting the President’s Forum with Young African Leaders in D.C. this week, President Obama responded that often times when dealing with older leaders the message doesn’t always filter down to those who will be “providing the energy, the new initiatives, the new ideas”. And therefore, it was important to bring the next generation of leaders together.

For anyone that has followed Obama’s meteoric rise in American politics; from his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention to his historic election in 2008, this should not come as any surprise. He embodies the quintessential leader propelled by the power of a movement disenchanted with the status quo and leadership seemingly out of touch with the people.

Some may see this as a rebuke or even a snub of some of the continent’s leaders, but I see it as his way of affirming and giving due credit to the young leaders working at the grassroots level who are often overlooked and unrecognised. If we claim that Africa’s youth hold its future in their hands, shouldn’t we be applauding this and not grumbling about the fact that Paul Biya of Cameroon missed out on an opportunity to drink Cristal at the White House?

Furthermore I agree with Obama’s assertion that the chance to meet one another and engage in dialogue reinforces their zeal to keep on in the work they have chosen to do, knowing that they do not do it alone; and it is also an opportunity to share best practices, pitfalls to avoid, etc. It can certainly be a lonely road mired with potholes the size of craters without the encouragement from others.

I have thoroughly enjoyed following the events from the last three days, and it’s my sincere hope that the 115 delegates will return home rejuvenated and continue with the work helping Africa harness her potential moving towards a better tomorrow for us and our children. 

Let us continue to plant the seeds of change that will grow into a better Africa for us all. 

Here's a wrap video from the forum.

Aug 4, 2010

Fabulous Falconets

Photo: Gbemiga Olamikan

A belated congrats to the Nigeria Falconets for making the finals at the just ended FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. An unfortunate 2-0 loss to the hosts, but what an example for women’s sport in Africa!

We all made a big deal about Ghana's Black Stars being mainly members of their winning U-20 team, will the same respect and regard be paid to Nigeria's Falconets as they look ahead to the Women's World Cup in 2011?   

Aug 3, 2010

Yes, Youth Can

Here's the full length video of President Obama's Town Hall meeting with the Young African Leaders. He declared that "Africa's future belongs to it's young people". His prepared speech was pretty good, but I found some of his answers to audience questions lacking, especially when he was asked about PEPFAR funding and trade relationships between the U.S. and the continent. Some of his comments sounded like campaign sound bites and were a little disjointed, but oh well. Enjoy.

video courtesy:

Special mention - bravo to the delegates from Ghana (Shamima Muslim), Malawi (Felix Lembani), and Somalia (Abdi Najma Ahmed) for their hard hitting and eloquent questions!

Here are some highlights and quotes I captured:
  • "The United States wants to be your you work to create jobs and opportunity, America will work with you, promoting the trade and investment on which growth depends”
  • When asked why he was holding this forum, he alluded to the fact that older leaders are often set in their ways and are not responsive to new ideas and therefore it’s beneficial to reach out to the young and eager people such as the attendees of the forum
  • In response to critique about reduced funding to PEPFAR and Global Fund in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Obama stressed the point that his administration has not decreased funding but instead has not increased it as others would like.
  • “Good governance is at the centre of development”
  • Encouraged transparency and open debate in civil organisations, and to provide equal footing for both men and women.
  • When asked if true partnerships can exist between strong and weak nations, Obama affirmed that this is possible because often the interests between the countries overlap (such as in the case of the U.S and African countries).
  • On the situation in Zimbabwe, "I think Mugabe is an example of a leader who came in as a liberation fighter, and I'm just going to be very blunt: I do not see him serving his people well."
  • In response to a question about the willingness of the U.S. to give financial and moral support for the people of Somalia –“ I think you will have enormous support from the people of the United States when it comes to trying to create a structure and framework in Somalia that works for the Somali people."
p.s. I wonder if Uncle Bob will respond to the one-two-jab inflicted by Comrade Obama...

President’s Forum with Young African Leaders

President Barack Obama is meeting with 115 young leaders from 46 sub-Saharan African nations during the President’s Forum for Young African Leaders. The forum will run from today, August 3rd through August 5th in Washington D.C.

"The forum is an opportunity for the young leaders to engage with another other, their American counterparts, and key U.S. policymakers". The discussions will revolve around some of the following topics – transparency, job creation, entrepreneurship, rights advocacy, and youth empowerment.

Here is what I got from the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka on Zambia’s participants:

  • Abigail Kaindu from Camfed and Samfya Women Filmmakers
  • Mundia Hakoola from the National Youth Anti-Corruption Movement
  • Brenda Phiri from Deloitte and Touche.
I’m following through Twitter #youngafrica, and live streams available at and Dipnote (the State Dept’s Blog)

As a matter of curiosity, does anyone know why our North African counterparts are not included in this forum?  I could be wrong having not seen the full list of attendees but by definition “sub-Saharan Africa” does not include parts of North Africa. ماذا يحدث (what’s going on?)