Nov 28, 2010

Personal responsibility

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now but kept putting it off for reasons that will be obvious as you read on. Events in recent days have brought my thoughts back to the fore and I would like to have my say.

On Friday evening, the FBI captured a would-be bomber in downtown Portland. The suspect is a 19 year old Somali-American intent on detonating a van full of explosives during an annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony attended by thousands of local residents (and visitors).

I live outside of Portland. I shop in that area, and have attended the ceremony, so this is a little close for comfort.

Details are emerging about the young man, Mohamed Osman Mohamud and his quest to perform violent jihad. We’ll inevitably hear accounts about how disaffected he was, how he felt left out in school and so forth. And the usual recriminations about how America failed him and others like him will become part of the narrative.

I don’t discount some of the difficulties immigrants face living in the U.S. and other countries, and how this can negatively impact their experiences but where is the responsibility on US (the immigrants)? For the parents raising children in countries other than your own, what are you doing to ensure your children are well adjusted and making the most of their lives? Where are you when your 14 year-old starts talking about his wish to perform Jihad to punish the infidels? When do you pull your head out of the sand and address issues before they become critical?

It seems that every time stories like this hit the news, we hear about how so and so didn’t feel connected in this new country he/she was living in, and how that anger simmered for years until finally spilling over. If only the schools had paid more attention or if the larger community at hand had been more inviting and welcoming, etc.

Granted, some of these arguments are valid but when did personal responsibility end? I find it quite irritating when people make excuses for their inability to make it when they stack the odds against themselves. What do you gain from living in your own insulated community, refusing to speak anything but your native tongue all at the same time pointing fingers at your host nation for not doing enough to make you welcome?

It’s a give and take relationship, my brothers and sisters. We need to assume responsibility for our own happiness, successes and failures and not fall into negative mindsets that keep us trapped. What are you doing to ensure your survival and that of your family? Are you making efforts to understand the culture and customs of the new land you now call your own? You were courageous enough to seek a new life outside your home country for whatever reason, why throw it all away by inattention or the lack of will? Nobody owes you anything no matter how much you pay yearly in taxes.

Nov 24, 2010

The hidden cost of aid

The news these last two weeks has been dominated by news about Ireland and the Eurozone. Does Ireland need a bailout, and how much? How will this affect the Eurozone? Are Portugal and Spain next? There have been a plethora of interviews with Irish nationals, politicians and economists all weighing in on the issue; and I find this quite fascinating.
I am always encouraged to hear people taking interest in issues of such importance, and how they go about getting their voices heard by the decision makers. If I’ve learned anything at all, it is how proud the Irish are, and the rest of Europe for that matter.
Taking a bailout aka money from the IMF is nothing of which to be proud. Words like “humiliating,” “shameful,” “loss of national pride,” have been bandied about; we saw a similar reaction earlier this summer with Greece, and I am sure the same will happen if and when Portugal and Spain need the same. No one is smiling while the ink is drying on those deals.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – my dear intrepid African leaders, I hope you’re watching and paying attention.
Instead of hurling insults at aid donors and other institutions who lend us money when they ask for accountability of the funds, we should learn to be responsible with money entrusted us. Furthermore, we should think twice about receiving non-emergency aid and come up with legitimate ways to reform our tax structure to ensure that people and businesses are paying their fair share, and that the money is used to fund our own activities without always looking for a “top-up” from the outside.
Granted the situation in Europe is unique to the financial downturn and immediate action is needed but the principle remains the same. What can you do for yourself without needing a hand? And what do you give up when you receive that lending hand?

Nov 22, 2010

Smart and Responsible Investment

This is part of the prepared speech by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of the World Bank. She spoke at the 2010 China Mining& Expo on November 16.
"Africa is an exciting destination for mining and other investments. It is possible to invest securely and profitably for the long term. Just follow common sense: Align Investments with Countries’ Development Priorities; Practice Transparency; Add Value to the Country and its People; Pay What is Due and Do What is Right; and Engage with Local Communities."

There are so many truths in this article that are not only applicable to foreign investors in African countries, but to us well, as Africans. Let us not buy into the status quo of back alley deals and fly-by night operations. We have so much to gain by investing in our own people and resources. 

Nov 21, 2010

Still broken

A year ago I lost someone very dear to me, and it's always hard putting into words the emotions that come from such pain. I came across this poem from Reality's Dream a few months ago, and it really says it well. 

"A year apart nothings changed still
The past come full circle now its the present
12 months of sorrow cant even crack a smile
Try to mend the pieces fix them glue together
Piece by piece but still nothing feels right
I’m still broken i cant find the right glue
Or i just cant find the missing piece
The one that can make me whole again
I’m stuck in transit and cant catch my connection
The departure lounge that is my sorrow
Tried to retrace my step roll back to this exact moment
All i see is just tall grass and a foreign land
An alien in my own world your world
This is what it feels like when life happens
I’m still broken……………still"

Nov 16, 2010

ONE8 - Africa Supergroup

A group of African music superstars recently recorded a single here in the U.S. The song is titled “Hands across the World,” it was produced and written by R. Kelly. This is a great collaboration, and I am chuffed that Zambia’s own JK is part of the group dubbed as ONE8. Other artists are:

2Face (Nigeria), Alikiba (Tanzania), Amani (Kenya), Fally Ipupa (DRC), 4X4 (Ghana), Movaizhalene (Gabon), Navio (Uganda) and of course R. Kelly (USA).

Happy watching (listening) and stay tuned for more details on a full album and DVD slated for release later this year. 

Nov 15, 2010

Q&A with Theresa Lungu

As a follow up to my book review of Theresa Lungu’s book, Twilight in the Morning, I did a phone interview with her to acquaint myself and others with her life and work. I hope you find this informative as I did.

Theresa was a joy to talk to and I am even more excited to read her upcoming book when it is released. Stay tuned for more details.

When did you start writing and who/what inspired you?
I have had a lifelong interest in writing. Writing was always one of my favourite subjects in school, and I had a literature teacher who encouraged my efforts because he thought I had a talent for it.  

How did you come up with the idea for your first book Twilight in the Morning (TITM)? And why did you set it in Rwanda?
The idea for the book just came to me. I wanted to portray a romantic relationship between an African and a black American which is a theme not often found in modern literature. Furthermore, in the male character (Denver), I wanted to show a positive portrayal of a black man – a young successful and responsible professional. 

Which of your characters do you most relate with (please give a brief explanation of why you relate to him/her)?
I most relate to Denver. He’s a character who wants to do something meaningful with his life while he still can. Though he struggles, we see him grow and find redemption. That’s how I see myself too.

At the end of TITM you have bonus read titled “Born Again” was that a short story or full length novel you later released?
That was just a short story and it appears in its entirety.  

What are you working on right now?
I have completed my second novel, “Torment of an Angel”. I am currently in talks to get it published. I also plan to publish a collection of short stories once I have a deal negotiated and penned.

The story centres around two characters who have each lost a loved one to HIV/AIDS. They struggle with the emotional trauma and this impacts surviving relationships, work and other aspects of their lives. These are issues we haven't seen tackled in African literature and yet are very real in our lives.

What do you enjoy most about writing? 
Writing is cathartic for me. I write when I am happy or sad, and find it very soothing. I also enjoy sharing my writing with others.  

What do you do when you’re not writing?
I work in the school of Education at Boston College, and I’m also completing my degree work in Communications. I am also the founder of Books for Zambia – a non-profit started in 2003 to provide books for the struggling library in my hometown, Luanshya. I started the project after receiving word that the library was facing closure due to the lack of resources. To date we have received donations (encyclopaedias, children’s books, text books, and so forth) from various groups, including my current employer, in the New England area. This has helped sustain Helen Kaunda Memorial Library. I am looking at expanding our operations to help local area schools in Luanshya as well. More information can be found on our website:  
Do you have a favourite author?
My favourite author is Wilbur Smith. He was born in Zambia and a lot of his books are about old Africa. For anyone unfamiliar with his work, “”Men of Men” is a book I would recommend.

As an upcoming author, what are the unique challenges you face?
As you know “Twilight in the Morning” was self-published; this was a very difficult process because I had to do a lot of the work on my own (marketing, finding booksellers, etc). To have all that work rewarded with a tepid response from my intended audience(s) was a disappointment.

As I look at getting my second novel published, I want it to be well received because I believe it’s not only a good story but one that needs to be told and shared. I also feel that with a good reception my talents and hard work would have been validated.

Do you correspond with other Zambian or African authors to discuss marketing strategies, story ideas, writing challenges, etc?
I am indeed in contact with other Zambian writers. We act as support unit – encouraging each other, providing feedback on works in progress, etc.

Any last words, thoughts, ideas? 
As a Zambian writer I am very eager to see our community grow. Zambia is not short on talented writers – what we have is a stagnant publishing industry that doesn’t encourage new authors. There are many works that go unpublished because we cannot find willing publishers. This has to change.

Furthermore, it would also be nice to see more Zambians embrace our work and encourage others to do the same.   

Nov 11, 2010

Twilight in the Morning by Theresa Lungu - A Review

December 2003, Romance
iUniverse, $12.95, 154 pages, ISBN 978-0595301911
Available on and

Theresa Lungu’s debut novel tells a beautiful story. It is deftly written and brings emotion, hope and man’s ability to persevere against all odds to the forefront. The characters are endearing, and the reader cannot help but feel connected through their journey.

Saara Rushimana is a young Rwandese nurse working in a refugee camp. Her family was brutally murdered by Hutu militia men. It is through her work and her faith that she is able to cope with the horror unfolding around her.

Denver Milestone, an American paediatrician, travels to Rwanda to work for the UN at the refugee camp at the urging on one of his colleagues. He is at a turning point in his life, and feels the need to do something more fulfilling with his life, and this mission to Rwanda fits the bill.

Saara is drawn by Denver’s easygoing manner, and the compassion and strength with which he works.  She is very eager to ask him about his life in America but her shyness and the cultural barriers that limit their personal interactions act as a hindrance. In Saara, Denver finds a friend; one with whom he can share his thoughts and feelings honestly. She helps him navigate through life in the camp. As their friendship grows they both silently acknowledge the attraction they feel for one another.

Denver is well liked in the camp, and one of the more touching aspects of the book is the friendship he strikes up with an impressionable ten year old, Pierre. Pierre idolises Denver and dogs his every step. We see Denver taking on the role of friend and mentor to the young boy. I always love seeing black men portrayed as positive role models. 

The turning point in Denver and Saara’s relationship is when a few months from the completion of his contract, Denver understands the full implications of what his return home would mean if he doesn’t have Saara with him. He asks her to be his wife, and we are privy to the wonderful wedding customs they go through. Despite the fragility of life in a refugee camp we see a group pf people united in the endeavour to see the couple properly wed as dictated by local customs.

Not long after their marriage, Denver is critically injured in an ambush. He’s airlifted to South Africa for medical treatment; Saara finds herself alone again. When she later finds out that she is pregnant, Saara makes the difficult decision to leave Rwanda. She wants a better life for her child than an existence in a war-torn countryside, and the chance for him/her to know Denver’s family.

What follows shows the remarkable resilience of the human spirit. We see the growing love Saara has for her unborn child, and how she learns to cope with her new life in a foreign land. It's a remarkable journey. 

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and I would recommend it. I look forward to reading more from Ms Lungu. 

Nov 7, 2010

Zambian culture in music

"Here we are now in 2010 and as I watch the floodgate of music that washes over the dam of our sensibilities, I hear nothing that brings me the pride of old. It has become a genre that resonates of Western ideologies mixed with local dialect tricks. What was once uniquely distinct has become the verbal musings of under-directed minions acting like little R&B puppets. The music itself is catchy, much like the useless regurgitated nonsense we hear on Western radio over and over. Catchy street phrases are turned into big hits, because they have a good bass line. Auto-tuned voices are becoming the norm, and our youngsters envy a culture they will never understand."
Soneka Kamuhuza at Zambia Insights writes the current culture of Zambian music, and is quite forthright about his views. He's not alone in his views about the evolution of Zambian music which seen an over-emphasis of a lot hip/hop culture and a decline in our traditional sounds and voices. That's not to say there isn't good music being made, there is, but we need to be honest about a lot of the inauthentic sounds taking a foothold.  

Read more of Kamuhuza's article. 

Nov 6, 2010

My Letter to Oprah

Dear Oprah,

I can hardly remember a time in my life when you haven’t been on air. As a youngster still living in Zambia, I saw the power you yield with your words and actions in my own life. Your weight losses and gains are mirrored almost identically in my mother’s life, as are your various hairdos.

You’ve annoyed me, you’ve made me laugh and most importantly, you’ve inspired me! Through you I learned big words like self esteem and empowerment.

Watching Tyler Perry narrate on your show the story of his upbringing which held painful memories of physical and sexual abuse brought me to tears. I cried not only for him, but also for others who have lived through the agony of having their childhood innocence ripped away at the hands of once trusted parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, teachers, etc.

Silence is often a silent killer for the survivors of abuse, particularly child molestation. We often pretend these things don’t happen in our homes, and through this denial give the predators more power over our children.

Getting women and girls to speak out about their abuse is still difficult particularly in the black community, and I can’t even imagine what it’s like for our men. We raise our boys to be tough and to not show vulnerability. They learn they should in control, and that true masculinity means being strong and not showing weakness.

Well, what greater show of vulnerability is there than to stand with 200 other men in front of family members and the whole world, declaring that you were a victim and a survivor of child abuse? I applaud you for opening this door, and hopefully through this, healing may come for those who need it.

I hope that someone who watched the show this past week or the next one airing on November 12 will find the courage to speak out and seek help. Sexual abuse is about power – the power the abuser has on his or her victim. Even years after the fact, the power still remains when the survivor finds coping difficult.

Furthermore, I hope this opens dialogue between parents and their children about the issue. Only then can we start fostering an atmosphere that encourages children to be forthcoming about any untoward behaviour they may have faced, and where parents looks for tell-tale signs that often serve as warnings.

I honour your bravery and genius that drive you to continue to break down such ugly and painful barriers.


Nov 2, 2010

Oh Happy Day!

Today is Election Day here in the U.S.! I am positively excited for the end of negative campaign ads that have overwhelmed our lives in recent months. Starting this evening, we will see if the Tea Party is really a movement capable of capturing enough votes to tip the scales; and if Americans are truly frothing at the mouth in anger at the Obama administration.

Once all the votes have been counted and the dust begins to settle, I hope the American public will take a step back and analyse how things were conducted. Will vulgarity and fear mongering become the accepted means of political discourse? Will cooperation between members of opposing parties continue to be a dirty word? And will the interests of ordinary Americans continue to take a back seat to those of special interest groups that have literally pour millions in these races to ensure they have a bigger bargaining chip at the table when ‘their’ candidates have taken office?

If that’s going to be the accepted means of achieving and maintaining a democracy, no thank you! What a damn mess!

I was glad to see the turnout at the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert “Rally to Restore Sanity” in DC this past weekend. The sound and moderate voices that still exist in this country saying they have had enough of the angry and often baseless rhetoric. As others have said, it’s a sad day when comedians are the voices of reason in the political debate.

Now we wait to see who has been elected, and if they have the ability to govern in their respective positions and tackle the issues at hand such as the fledgling economy.