Oct 28, 2010

The idea of sanctions

This morning as I was getting ready for work there was a new story on the radio about the recent round of sanctions slapped on Iran. Apparently this is the toughest round yet, and the effects are already being felt. The U.S. government has been applying pressure on banks in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia to dissuade them from cooperating with the Iranians. The currency had taken a dive prompting their central bank to take action.

The prices of commodities are on the rise, and an unpopular bill to discontinue food and fuel subsidies has been presented to the parliament. The intent is to cut government costs and shift some of the burden to their citizens.

Economic (and political) sanctions are usually sold as a mechanism to force rogue regimes to capitulate to demands from the international community, or better yet to bring about regime change. But I have to ask. How often are these sanctions successful?

For the most part the regimes we are dealing with are not led by rational people. Sure enough it may complicate the running of an economy when they are unable to sell import and export and inflation runs rampant but they always seem to find other regimes to assist them and thus circumventing the sanctions. In trying to hurt the bad guys at the top we end up hurting innocent people by cutting them off from basic living supplies – food, clothing, medicine, etc.

The Iranian government has been under some form sanctions or another since the 1979 revolution. It remains an oppressive state, and the country’s leadership is still bent on becoming a nuclear power. Is the lingering hope that with the increased financial strain the average Iranian will be enraged enough to take to the streets in protest, and thus forcing the government’s hand; and if the government doesn’t come to heel the leaders will be drawn and quartered in a public square? Oh please…that only happens in movies.

You can bet that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his PR machine will exaggerate any negative effects of the sanctions on their economy and point out how ‘the infidels’ are the reason for the country’s suffering. And truly what better way to justify their quest for nuclear power as means of defending themselves from the bullies who want to interfere in their business?

I understand the rationale for applying pressure on government who don’t want to play nice with their neighbours, mistreat their people, misuse funds and resources for personal gain but I don’t know if sanctions are the right solution. Certainly a military incursion should be a last resort (ahem…
Iraq…), but what is the right answer?

The change has to come
from within. Those protests in Iran after the hotly contested elections in 2009 need to happen again, on a bigger scale and with more ferocity. This cannot be done by outside interests in the U.S. or Israel. The Iranians are not going to look outside for military intervention or for those sanctions to bring about regime change. They are going to need rally themselves in order to take their country back, if that is indeed what they want.

Oct 26, 2010

The Dream

Many of us economic refugees have what my friend Vimbayi calls “the Africa dream”. The dream usually centres on what each of us would like to do at home to make things better, in essence giving back. These dreams are often difficult to realise, and many of us stumble and lose heart along the way. Some are realised and are used to inspire others. Others ignore the dream, stifling it until they lose sight of where they came from and where they are headed. 

As I try to make my Africa dream come to fruition in my own way, I have come to realise that I need to surround myself with like-minded people as much as possible. During my undergraduate and graduate years, the one constant mantra I received from ALL my instructors in the business school was NETWORK! NETWORK! NETWORK! It was drilled into my head so much; I think I got my eyes stuck in the back of my head from excessive eye rolling, what did those old geezers know? 

Ha! Oh, what lessons I would go back and share with my naïve younger self.

So, as I surround myself with much wiser and experienced people it dawns on me how little cooperation we as Zambians in Diaspora can claim. We eagerly point to the successes of the Ethiopian and Ghanaian Diaspora communities, and yet we continue to work in silos (for the most part) on various ventures and projects that could benefit from the expertise of others.

My fellow Zambians with the Africa Dream let us work together when we can. We are not in competition with each other because at the end of the day we are working towards the same goal – a better Zambia, and a better Africa for ourselves and our children. 

Oct 24, 2010

Still shackled

"On a hot cloudless late October night in 1964, a young and vibrant Kenneth Kaunda, clad in a Kente cloth Toga, took the stage at the Independence Stadium in Lusaka. His eyes were as clear as the sky despite a sleepless night of trepidation.  The stars reflected brightly in the eyes of an anticipatory crowd. Some eyes were wet with tears, others crinkled at the corners with smiles.  School children performed calisthenics on the field under flood lights.  Kenneth Kaunda, trademark white handkerchief clutched between the fingers of his right hand, raised the hand to officially reclaim Zambia from the British." 
Read the rest of the entry
Theresa Lungu paints a vivid picture of what is must have been like at the inaugural independence celebration in 1964; the sense of elation and hope that was sweeping the nation. As look back at the 46 years of independence, what exactly are we celebrating?

Sure enough with self rule came the possibility for every Zambian to dictate his or her life without prejudicial restrictions imposed by the colonial masters - the ability to walk into a shop using the front door, to buy a home in any neighbourhood, to send your children to elite schools, etc.

For these things and others I am eternally thankful, and they cannot be overlooked. Thank you to all the freedom fighters for what you did.

As Lungu notes in her essay, the job is not completely done. We are still shackled in many ways:

- our reliance on foreign aid to balance our national budget, 
- our poor sense of self-worth that seems to look abroad first for solutions that can easily be sought at home, 
- our inability to prepare future generations to take over leadership roles,
- our inability to harness and nurture local talent, skills, and ideas on a large scale.

Zambia needs to grow, and continually focusing on the glory years of the 60s and 70s won't get us there. We must be focused on learning from our mistakes but most importantly on the road the lies ahead.

We need to start holding our government accountable for their actions, and remaining steadfast in our commitment to getting answers and solutions. Until then they will continue to take us for granted. Let us make the dream of independence worthy of the fight that was fought. 

Oct 22, 2010

Back to the grind

Hello, dear readers! I am back from my mini-vacation. I was able to disengage my brain, for the most part, put away my electronics and just relax on the sandy beaches of Maui (and the pool side at the resort). 

The following wasn't going to be my initial post, but it just landed in my lap. The message runs parallel to some of the thinking I have been doing lately. Thanks to Deborah Elzie for sharing this video. Some really good visual evidence of the fact that AIDS retroviral drugs do help and we need keep funds flowing. 

Oct 14, 2010


I am taking a much needed break from work, and also from the blog. I will be relaxing over the next week and rejuvenating myself. I am trying to go the 'no electronics' route, so I'll also be going cold turkey from Twitter and Facebook. 

See you soon! 

Oct 11, 2010

African Writing: a small confession

At the beginning of the year I opted not to make the same banal resolutions to exercise more, lose weight, and eat more fish and heart healthy foods or anything else along lines. I have been there, done that, and got the cheap t-shirt (which is currently being used as a dust rag). Instead, I decided to read at least one book a month by an author from the developing world, preferably Africa. The challenge started off well; I did my research, finding books gathering dust on my bookshelf and also at my local library. I read a couple gems and one dud. As a side note – the dud was one I picked up after seeing it featured on Oprah, just when will I learn not to trust her picks?

At about the halfway mark, I got on a Zambian author kick and restricted my options further. It was a good idea at the time, but looking back at my motives I’m a little ashamed.

As I was trolling the internet for books to read, I noticed an abundance of books by Nigerian authors. Not only could I find these books online, but they are also available at my local Barnes and Noble, Borders, the library and sometimes even thrift stores. Instead of cheering this availability, I became petulant especially since the only place I could find a small selection of Zambian authors was on amazon.com and even then options are somewhat limited.

My little act of rebellion had two resulting consequences: 
  1. I found a couple authors I probably wouldn’t have heard of otherwise such as Binwell Sinyangwe, Theresa Lungu and Remmie Chisenga. You can see my review of Sinyangwe’s book here.
  2. I passed up a couple of books by Nigerian authors that have received favourable reviews, and that I normally would have picked up without batting an eyelid. These would include Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor and I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani.
So, what’s the take away from all this?

Wanting to support local Zambian authors shouldn’t mean spurning other talented authors from the continent. Yes, the Nigerian writing and publishing culture is more robust and active than ours, but that’s not something to disparage. Instead, I should support their work by buying books, recommending them to others and thus help them continue to grow. This sets an example for our own writing and publishing industry to pick up the pace and keep up with the leaders. That would be a win-win for everyone, right?

Thank goodness it’s not too late to course correct. I will continue to hunt down titles by Zambian authors, and at the same time will pick up books by authors from all corners of our beautiful land! 

Oct 7, 2010

Time to wake up

One of the things Zambians proudly tout is that we are a peaceful people. We haven’t experienced major civil strife or war unlike our some of our neighbours – Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

I have heard some cynics say Zambians are so laid back to the point of docility that this breeds a continuous cycle of politicians who find ways to mock us, suppress us, rob us, and disenfranchise us all with the knowledge that they can get away with it. This may seem harsh but it holds some truth.

If we took the relative peace in our country seriously and guarded it jealously, more people would be concerned by the continued thuggery that threatens to overshadow our upcoming elections. If we truly value a democratic process in which every Zambian over age 18 gets to vote for the candidate of his/her choice more people would be angered when stories emerge of would-be candidates being chased from registration office and their supporters harassed by other parties’ members and even the police.

To attain political maturity we must decry all elements that harken back to the dark days of one-party rule. We cannot go back to the days when one person and his inner council handpicked candidates for sham elections or just outright appointed people to serve regardless of their qualifications, popularity among the people or anything else other than their good fortune to be in the ‘in crowd’.

Zambia is ours and we all have a vested interest in everything that happens. Let us all say NO to MMD/PF/UPND cadres who are used as tools of their party leadership to inflict fear and harm on their fellow Zambians. We refuse to descend into anarchy just to appease the egos of a few lost men. No way, no how...

Oct 6, 2010

Video update

Dear Readers,

I am currently working to ensure that all the videos posted on this blog are accessible on both desktop and mobile browsers. I use my phone quite a bit to for my online activities, and I can attest to how frustrating it can be to find information that is not compatible with my mobile browser i.e. flash videos!

As soon as I find a solution to this, I will update all the videos that need to be changed (like the ones I posted yesterday), and that should help us all.

Thanks for your patience and happy reading! J
…getting back to code reading and manipulation.

Oct 5, 2010

Dangerous traditions

I’ve been going back and forth about this post. There’s nothing more painful than acknowledging something so dark and destructive as what I am sharing here. Many of us have heard of traditional healers who claim that a cure for HIV/AIDS can be found in sleeping with a virgin. This has been met with a vigorous outcry from women’s rights groups, health officials, and a whole host of other rational human beings. There have been some recent reported cases of child rape and molestation that can be attributed to this flawed and dangerous notion.

I came across these two videos earlier. This puts a face to a phenomenon that unfortunately is not new BUT must be changed!

The video segments feature a couple who are about to marry – the man is a widower and knows he’s HIV positive. He has taken the advice of an ng’anga (traditional healer) who urges him to sleep with a virgin as a means of curing him. He meets a young 18 year old, and proposes marriage. She agrees to marry him despite the fact that she knows he is HIV positive.

She states how she’s proud to have a man who wants to marry her, and how every young woman craves the attention of man, preferably in marriage because of the stability that comes with marriage. This to me is the most heartbreaking piece of this story. Oh, how we’ve failed our young women if this is how they are taught to think. Without a solid education and economic opportunities, how many others are faced with such decisions? Marry this man despite the risk of contracting a fatal disease to ensure that I have a man...

Anyway, watch for yourself. 

The follow up segment with the same couple.

Men are bleaching too

Below is a video that in my opinion is a sad commentary on how skin bleaching has become more pervasive in Zambia. As the narrator says, this is something that was once seen as something only women did but more men are increasingly engaged in the practice and it's amazing to what lengths people will go to achieve lighter skin.

I know it's a personal decision, and there's probably not much we can say or do to stop people from doing this but the biggest problem is the products themselves and how they are abused. As people mix creams to make their special concoctions, do they even know what the end product is and how it could irreparably damage their skin? Futhermore, what are the effects on our internal organs as these noxious creams are absorbed by your skin into your system?

Just what is wrong with having dark skin?