Jan 31, 2011

Addis calling

As we continue to watch events unravel in North Africa with the recent ouster of Ben Ali in Tunisia and the continued pressure on Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, we are hearing more voices from American and EU diplomats, and from a smattering of other loud mouths like Gaddafi voicing their concerns about the unrest. However, one voice is ominously silent, and this silence is very telling. What does the African Union say about all this?
Are they standing behind the people calling for more freedoms or are they stand united with their brothers – the strongmen holding on to power and the majority of the country’s resources.
Granted, the AU will never come out and throw one of their own to the wolves, they protect their own. But one would think they would come out with some sort of pithy statement about “urging the government of so-and-so to listen to the people and stand for democratic principles…” – or something along those lines. But then again, this is an organisation whose memberships boasts its fair share of former coup leaders and election thieves; they each know they themselves could be next and it doesn’t bode well to piss off the leader of what could be your home in exile.
For shame!

Jan 28, 2011

Diplomatic status for pigs

On Wednesday, a news article appeared in the Post Newspaper with the headline “Mulungushi Textiles turns into a piggery.” The article states that during a drop-in visit by Patriotic Front (PF) President, Michael Sata, it was discovered that the institution is being run as a piggery and chicken run by the Chinese…their words, not mine.  
Before we move on, here’s a little background on this facility. The Mulungushi Textile Factory in Kabwe, Zambia, opened in 1982 and was wholly owned by the government of Zambia. It was closed in 1996 due to under capitalisation and other external forces such as the depressed local economy after the closure of the Kabwe mine.
After the closure, China and Zambia set up in a joint collaboration to establish Zambia-China Mulungushi Textiles Joint Venture Ltd. (ZCMT). China assumed major shareholding of 66 percent, while Zambia retained the remaining 34 percent. The money invested by the Chinese government was used to rehabilitate the dilapidated industrial site, and operations resumed.
The main line of production was chitenge fabric, drills, poplins and loom state, in addition to clothing items produced for local and foreign markets. Raw cotton was also exported to other COMESA and SADC member states.
Unfortunately, the company was shuttered in 2007 due to some of the following factors, “high production costs, unfair competition (mostly from subsidised Asian textile products), obsolete equipment, erratic supply of raw materials and failure to collect debts.” There were also ongoing labour disputes over working conditions and pay that attributed to some of the lost production.
Both parties in this venture have always stated their commitment to re-open ZCMT. It’s a strategic textile company but there are obvious barriers that need to be overcome to prevent another closure.
So, now we’re back to the current day. What has happened?
If we’re to believe the Post news article, plans for re-opening a textile company have been abandoned. In response, Zambia’s defence minister, Kalombo Mwansa has spoken out and refuted these claims. In his words:

“Although there are reports of piggeries and chicken runs, this has nothing to do with the operations of the textile company and does not benefit it in any way….workers living within the company premises have adopted the Chinese practice of growing and rearing livestock by their quarters for personal benefits…the only delay is that the Chinese government is still searching for a suitable textiles company to invest in the joint venture following the decision to replace the previous partner.”  
The reason why I was first drawn by the initial article was because of the tone adopted by the writer, as well as the quotes taken from Michael Sata. Anyone familiar with Zambian politics knows very well that he can be very insulting and derogatory in his speech. Here’s a case in point:

He said President Banda and Vice-President George Kunda should have told Zambians that they were turning Mulungushi Textiles into a piggery and chicken run.

“I can’t understand why pigs and chickens could be given diplomatic status and military protection by the Zambia National Service. I can’t believe this. If Rupiah really respects those pigs and chickens let him keep them in State House… there are so many rooms there,” Sata said. “I know he wants to develop his pockets.”
Read the rest
Instead of just asking for an explanation based on what he saw, he launches into personal insults that do nothing but inflame the issue, and to what end? Does this make him a more presidential candidate or does he feel more powerful because he can throw volley insults that likely will not be met with the same? It’s incredibly juvenile, and sadly no one will call him out in open, and anyone that even dares will be branded a government agent.
I would really like to see the intelligent discourse return to Zambian politics. Let’s start talking about the real issues and meaningful solutions. We gain nothing by trying to score political points on issues that affect thousands of Zambians. If Mulungushi Textiles has been abandoned, that’s a possible 2,000 or so jobs lost for good unless there’s a different venture coming in that will employ more than a handful of folk raising pigs and chickens.
I applaud the minister who responded, he gave a meaningful response (with one obvious exception as stated above J). I would like to recommend a news crew be allowed on site to verify that it is indeed workers keeping the livestock for personal consumption, and not the two governments. Put it to rest, and let’s move on.

Jan 25, 2011

Jobs? What jobs?!

Many of us have the skills to get a job, but how many of us can create a job?
This is a question that’s been swirling in my head for a few weeks now, and I posed it on Twitter to see what responses I would get.

This best exemplifies the responses received:

“Intriguing question, we definitely need people who can create jobs, especially in Zambia.”

I have been very encouraged over the last year with the number of people I have come into contact with through this site and my other social networks who recognise that development in our respective countries needs to be driven by investments in the private sector. Yes, we need law and policy makers to help make the environment more conducive for business through competitive taxation regimes, reduced import duty on machinery and equipment, etc. But the bottom line is, job creation will not be driven by central government in our economy, they neither have the will nor the means to do it efficiently.

I salute my peers who are moving away from the old script – collecting salaula (used clothes) to send back home for distribution and simply thinking monthly trips to Western Union ends our responsibility to the people back home. Our eyes are opening to the possibilities of becoming business owners, industry leaders employing dozens or more.

Jan 21, 2011

To whom do they answer?

If you ever wonder about the value placed on your life and that of your fellow citizens, just listen to how our leaders speak.  
This week Malawi’s president, Bingu wa Mutharika, encouraged the police to “shoot-to-kill” suspected criminals. According to him Malawi simply cannot have these thugs threatening the ‘peaceful’ environment for investors in the country.  Read more
In addressing the risks posed by armed criminals, Mutharika makes no mention of protecting citizens, private property or anything else along those lines. It’s all about the foreign investors – they are numero uno!
When several Zambian miners were shot at and injured by their bosses, President Rupiah Banda, urged calm since the “country's economy is growing (because) investors are coming from everywhere," and we simply couldn’t have people speaking out against the mining companies that are accused of poor working and pay conditions.  Read more
The issue about the treatment of workers particularly miners has been discussed ad nauseam, and yet our government continues to pay pitiful lip service. Why should they be concerned as long the Chinese government continues to pour money into government coffers that can be used for shopping excursions in Sandton. Do they not understand that this economic boom they keep touting is a moot point as long as the majority of our people do not see the benefits in their own lives?

So my people, where does that leave us? Speak up now or continue to be sidelined in favour of those with stacks of cash and an eye on personal gain.   

Jan 20, 2011

Remembering Lumumba

Adam Hochschild, author of "King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa" wrote an editorial in the New York Times about Patrice Lumumba on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Lumumba has always fascinated me because he died so young, and when looking at his successors Mobuto Sese Seko and the Kabilas, one can’t help but wonder how things would have turned out in the former Zaire had he lived and ruled longer. Would we still be heralding him as a hero or would his subsequent actions have rendered him tyrannical like many of his peers from that era?

Well, we shall never know. He remains a hero and icon for many, and this op-ed by Hochschild is a fitting tribute. 

“Patrice Lumumba had only a few short months in office and we have no way of knowing what would have happened had he lived. Would he have stuck to his ideals or, like too many African independence leaders, abandoned them for the temptations of wealth and power? In any event, leading his nation to the full economic autonomy he dreamed of would have been an almost impossible task. The Western governments and corporations arrayed against him were too powerful, and the resources in his control too weak: at independence his new country had fewer than three dozen university graduates among a black population of more than 15 million, and only three of some 5,000 senior positions in the civil service were filled by Congolese.”

Jan 17, 2011

A clean break with the past

 Photo credit: Ernst Schade
"Tunisia has formed a national unity government, the country's prime minister has announced, days after a popular revolt ousted the president.
The prime minister, foreign, interior and defence ministers are to retain their jobs, with several opposition figures joining the government.
PM Mohammed Ghannouchi pledged to allow greater political and media freedoms.”                                                                                                                                                                
 Source: BBC Online

The above announcement was met with outrage from the Tunisian protestors who can be credited with the recent ouster of President Ben Ali. Their argument is sound – how can the country move forward with much of the old guard still in charge?

This is the dilemma, isn’t it? If a cabinet was unable to enact meaningful reform under the previous president, why should they be trusted to do the same now that their leader gone? What has changed so significantly that they suddenly realise their job is to serve the people of the country?

There is obvious peril in suddenly changing the guard without planning because of the risk of power vacuums in which political opportunists seize power and lead with their own personal agenda. Caution is obviously needed to ensure rational and sound decisions are made, but this is difficult coming right on the heels of decades of oppression. I understand and empathise with the passion driving these people who have been forced to sit on the sidelines their country’s good fortunes are enjoyed by a minority group of citizens. I hope sound judgement guides them.

I have had similar misgivings about Zambia’s own leadership. Just look at the plethora of ministers and heads of parastatals that have been around since time immemorial. If they have been unable to make meaningful progress since the dawn of independence and of multi-party democracy, why are they still in office drawing pay cheques and lying to the public? 

There are even those who for one reason or another are masquerading as opposition leaders but have indeed been insiders at some point, and are now pontificating about how he/she is the best answer to Zambia’s problems…pardon me while I vomit in my trash can…

This gets me back to my usual refrain – we as the electorate should stop swallowing everything we’re told hook, line, and sinker from the political candidates we individually support. Ask the difficult questions. How is Candidate X going to make changes in Zambia, where will the money come from, and how will it impact the everyday man, woman and child? 

Even further, when Candidate X was part of the current or former government why was he/she unable to push certain measures and policies? Was it personal incompetence or were they too caught up in the party euphoria that chanting slogans and dancing at the airport became primary job duties.

Answers, please.

Jan 13, 2011

What about the boys?

Photo credit:  sos-schools.org

A friend of mine posed an interesting question to me a while ago, that’s still got me thinking. He asked me as an avid supporter of girl child education – “what about the boys?”

This wasn’t difficult to answer because I believe strongly that ALL children deserve the opportunity to be educated. I particularly champion the education of females because we have historically been sidelined, and denied access to schools in favour of our brothers, cousins, and other males around us. While this may not be my own personal experience, my family isn’t too far removed from such practices and I have seen firsthand what happens when a child’s dreams of an education and a future are snuffed out by the ignorance of decision makers in their lives. It changes EVERYTHING!

I am not advocating a role reversal where male children are the ones made to stay home to cook and clean while their sisters go to school; that’s self defeating and completely asinine. What I want is for my male counterparts to get their heads out of the sand and realise that we’re working on undoing generations of harm done to females. This is not something done overnight just because we have a handful of noteworthy, high ranking females in society.

So, pardon me while I scale up that exclusive ladder, and don’t mind the hoard of sisters I am bringing with me. We’ll all be better off in the end. Don’t be threatened.

Jan 9, 2011

Dangerous Power Games by Geoffrey Musonda - A Review

April 2009, Suspense
Trafford Publishing, $12.65, 124 pages, ISBN 978-1425180560
Available on Amazon.com

This is the first book by Geoffrey Musonda I’ve read. I made the decision to buy it after seeing it nominated for Best Fiction at the 2010 Ngoma Awards. Dangerous Power Games has some funny moments and a good underlying message, but when it’s all said and done it doesn’t quite have the whole package.

Ngosa is a young bank professional living and working in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. As a youngster his family was abandoned by their father, and made destitute by their changed fortunes. He ended up living on the streets after the death of his mother and sister, when he runs away to escape abusive relatives. With support from a local social worker he was able to return to school some time later, and restart his life. This is where the book picks up.

After an evening out with friends, Ngosa’s life starts to seemingly unravel. He’s fallen into lust with a beautiful seductress who jilts him the morning after; and he’s accused of money laundering by his bank employers.

There’s murder and intrigue intertwined, as Ngosa is thrust into a shadowy criminal underworld. There are elements of political and institutional corruption also involved, and we quickly learn that Ngosa is a pawn in a much bigger game.

So, with all these elements why didn’t the book come together for me? Quite frankly, there was too much going on. I could barely keep track of all the various characters and what their roles were, and I had to muddle through much of the story. I don’t mind going back a few pages to re-read a passage because I may have missed something but to do this constantly is aggravating; the book was choppy and didn’t always flow seamlessly.

I understand the author was trying to show how ‘small fish’ can get swallowed up in this large pond called life, but I think he tried too hard and failed with the basic premise. I did, however, enjoy the elements of friendship and trust displayed in some of the minor characters surrounding Ngosa as he tries to clear his name of the false charges.

Mr Musonda also makes it clear in this story that society has failed in its obligations to children who are made destitute through circumstances beyond their control, and how this makes us all less well off. I agree wholeheartedly and appreciate his courage to put this plainly in his writing. He gives us Ngosa, a young man, who with the right help lifts himself from his miserable existence on the streets. This is something to cheer.

The book definitely has it moments; I was entertained by characters like Officer Matwi (ears) and the Pastor turned politician, Chidumbo (fat person), and the other elements of satire and social commentary.

At this time, I cannot recommend Dangerous Power Games. It unfortunately reads like a first draft that needs to be refined and edited more thoroughly. The story had potential but it just didn't work. I would be interested to hear from others who have read it to see what you thought. 

Jan 7, 2011

Friday humour

This has been a long week at work, and I want to end it with some humour. Please induldge me. If you remember the dust up this past summer with the 1MillionShirts campaign, you'll enjoy this parody. If this is new to you, don't worry the video is pretty self explanatory.

Jan 4, 2011

Fighting Apathy

I really like this video by a youth organisation called Kiweni Serious in Kenya. The content really speaks for itself, and the underlying message is applicable to us all regardless of nationality. 

Jan 3, 2011

Woman, humiliate yourself no more

Photo Credit: lusakatimes.com

2011 is an important year for Zambians; we have general and presidential elections on the table. The bickering has been going on non-stop between the ruling party and the would-be opposition. As things stand right now I do not foresee the incumbent president losing his party’s nomination or the ruling party losing its grip on power. But strange do happen, and we may be surprised.

As the campaigns hit high gear in coming months, we’ll inevitably see politicians going into rural areas with sacks of mealie-meal and fertiliser to court voters, all with the promise that “so-and-so is the best candidate to deliver services to the people of Zambia and to that particular area.” They’ll also find some influential women to endorse their candidate, and sing jubilant praises.

Yet again we’ll hear how women will have a more prominent role in national policies. And, oh how we shall dance! *I shudder at the thought*

It really aggravates not only when false promises are made but when WE as the electorate swallow them whole, no questions asked. I especially want to take women to task on this issue. Why do we sit back and let others decide our inheritance rights, how maternal health will be funded, and other such issues near and dear to our hearts? Where are OUR voices?

We are well versed on sad stories of widows being dispossessed of their belongings by relatives, mothers haemorrhaging to death after child birth because the blood bank didn’t have the right blood type for a transfusion, and of children dying from preventable illnesses because the nearest clinic was too far away or there were no medicines.

We know there are serious deficiencies with service delivery in healthcare and other areas, as well as in basic protections for women and their children, but does anyone march to State House or Parliament demanding action? No! Those of us with the means do not take the risks for our fellow citizens and are therefore complicit wit
h our leadership that is slumbering at the wheel. This is not something we can continue abdicate to NGOs to do on our behalf.

Our efforts need to be coordinated and targeted. I am tired of seeing women my grandmother’s age dancing at the airport when the president arrives from his countless trips or at rallies. It’s incredibly humiliating to watch because someone has sold them the idea that that role is their contribution to the nation and/or the party. And that’s complete crap! Political activism goes beyond chanting slogans and hurling insults at others.

Woman, take off that chitenge with the politician’s face imprinted on it and start demanding real action and representation for all the numerous trips to the polls you have made in your lifetime. Better yet, stand up and be the representative for your people. Stop being manipulated and coddled by those whose real interests do not line up with your own.