Mar 31, 2011

Getting to equal representation

This started out as a blog response to a posting on Zambian Economist titled “why do we have few women in Parliament,” but given the length of it I decided it would serve well as a posting.
The issue of low representation of women in Zambian politics is multi-faceted. These are my observations and thoughts:
For the most part women aren’t conditioned to consider the political arena as a viable means to effect meaningful change. Our socialisation still runs towards men in politics and women in civil society. You can see a microcosm of this in our schools where student government structure (if it exists) is mostly male dominated, and females are directed towards more genteel activities such as theatre or school fundraising. Being bold and assertive is not something that ‘good girls’ do.
The lack of mentoring makes it harder to remove real and/or perceived barriers to entry into politics. Women need to hear from other women about the challenges and successes in balancing family life, work, travel and so forth. There is no denying women have unique familial responsibilities, and it helps to learn how to do it successful from others who have been there.
And to be frank, women need to start supporting one another. We often do not support each other in positions of power, and undercut others for being ambitious. This why a women’s caucus is beneficial as long as everyone understands and respects the goals set forth. We need critical mass to start making a difference, complemented by caucus with a unified agenda and robust network.
The attitudes and behaviour of male politicians often run counter to what they say in campaign speeches or on Women’s Day. I have personally witnessed latent verbal abuse of female parliamentarians that has no basis in ideological differences but with sexism. More emphasis needs to be placed on gender sensitisation. We’ve had enough male chauvinism that still treats women as mere children out of their depth!
Family friendly environment
We cannot overlook provisions such as on-site day care facilities and lactation rooms that are necessary the comfort of mothers and their children. Without such concessions, it’s a harder sell for someone to consider working in that environment and further emphasises the fact that these are “male-only environs.” Another consideration is limiting evening sessions that put a strain on MPs with other responsibilities.
Our top leadership in government and other political parties need to be committed to including female politicians in their decision making networks. And I am not talking about the ‘token’ female who just acts as a rubber stamp for policies or as a prop for photo ops. I am talking about women who have proven themselves in their respective fields in the public and private sectors, as community organisers, etc getting meaningful positions. Women also need to step up and demand that they get included; nothing will be handed on a silver platter. The visibility of female leadership needs to be raised.

Busting through that glass ceiling is no easy feat but we can get there by addressing the areas I have highlighted. I welcome your thoughts and further discussion.

Mar 29, 2011

“Zambia We Want” Campaign

I found an article earlier today about a campaign being spearheaded by the non-profit group, Women for Change Zambia. The intent is to “create a charter that will demand more of politicians in alleviating poverty and joblessness when they come into office after the coming national elections.”
There is also a call for political parties to adopt more female candidates in the upcoming general elections.  
As the author notes though, the charter hasn’t been drafted yet and at this late date one has to wonder what its impact will be when it is released. However, credit is due to them for the work they are currently doing gathering support in different areas around the country. I’ll do some digging to gather more information.  

Mar 25, 2011

One-way ticket out

I would like to visit my former schools in Malawi and Zambia, and ask the administrations why speaking vernacular on campus is a punishable offence.  I remember being baffled by the edict as a child. Why was speaking my mother tongue only permissible at home. I posed the question to my grandfather at the time, and he responded that it was to ensure that I learned to speak English properly and could therefore attend prestigious universities when I was older. At five, that answer was good enough; I was already being groomed with the expectation that university attendance was a right of passage.
However, once the rebellious teen years set in, my friends and I took to speaking vernacular at any opportunity we could snatch and what joy I got from this illicit activity. We were caught a few times, and I distinctly remember getting a tongue lashing from the 8th grade French teacher for speaking Bemba in class. His rage only made my rebellion worse. Why was he, a Bemba man, demanding I not speak the language on the school premises?
As much as I can agree with my grandfather’s point, I believe this rule is part of the larger system that teaches Africans to embrace Western culture and languages above our own. From the language of instruction to the subject matter taught and the school uniform designs, all of it is modelled after the ‘superior’ British system. Our eager minds are taught that the British way is the best way (if not the only way) from the day we enter nursery school and start reciting “insy-winsy spider” to the day we receive our GCE diplomas. Our native culture is pretty much hobbled at the starting line. No wonder my grandmother from Kasempa always expressed horror at her English speaking grandkids trying to teach her to speak ‘correctly’ – glad we lost that battle.
This is not to say that our government didn’t try to stave off the fierce competition. We had some required curriculum that educated us on the history of our people(s) – Homo-habilis, Bantu-Botatwe, the Mwenemutapa Kingdom and the Great Zimbabwe civilisation, etc. Finally, we could see that Africa’s history didn’t begin with Cecil John Rhodes’ incursion into the Dark Continent.
Sadly, it wasn’t enough. The system is so entrenched with the messaging that “western culture is the ultimate” many consider our time at home as ‘paying dues’ until those good grades unlock university entrance abroad along with the requisite visa. This is also aided by the laziness of our government to establish reputable institutions of higher learning that meet the domestic demand, and that can compete if not internationally, then at least regionally.
I am certain the curriculum hasn’t changed drastically from when our parents went through it, but what’s different is our environment. Our parents had the expectation that they would use their skills to build the country. Even when they left for studies abroad, most went with the knowledge that they would return, and they often did. Now, when people leave it’s with the expectation that they’re gone for good. I know of people who’ve been met with baffled looks when they do return – “you mean to tell us, you FAILED and had to come back?”
I can sit here and blame the popular culture and the legacy of colonialism that extol the virtues of western life above all, but that would be an unbalanced argument. I cannot ignore our own demented low self esteem and the missed opportunities to make things better for ourselves. It’s a vicious symbiotic relationship. We need to get back what we have lost – the passion and zeal to battle it out and make our home a place of refuge and success.

Mar 23, 2011

One year and counting

Today marks the one year anniversary of this blog, Seize the Moment. Quite honestly I can hardly believe it; time has flown by so quickly since I decided to not only start a blog but to publish my first post (trust me there’s a distinction between those two actions). I periodically go through old postings and comments from readers to assess how things are going, how my thinking has evolved, and so forth.
I set out to use this blog as a platform for the exchange of ideas – to share my knowledge and thoughts with others, and vice versa. I have really enjoyed this experience, and I hope that others have as well. I am ever so grateful for the connections I have made here and on other blogs.
Recently I have focused some of my attention on reviewing African literature, and in particular Zambian literature. Part of this was driven by a personal challenge in 2010 to read more African literature, and I decided to review books as an aid to others looking to do the same. This is something I will continue to do until such a time that I grow weary of the task. I hope that doesn’t happen anytime soon; and perhaps if I do a good enough job, writers will send me their work so I can gain exposure to more literary works. J
I will admit much to my chagrin that I’ve been cheating on this blog with that little seducer, Twitter. I know…I know…I was very sceptical about Twitter until last May, but I've found it’s not all about airing personal laundry like I had thought (depending on who you follow). I have ‘met’ some very intelligent people who challenge my thinking and perspectives on various issues, and I think that is reflected in my postings here. I continue in my efforts to strike a healthy balance between the two platforms. I do not want this blog to become a casualty under the onslaught of micro-blogging.
I thank each and every single reader here for your continued open-minds, opinions, and support. As I get ready to kick off Year Two, I would like to hear from you. I would like to get a handle on your thoughts and experiences on this blog.
Here a few questions but feel free to offer anything you have to share! You can post here or send an email to bchileya (at) yahoo (dot) com.
Areas of Interest
What would you like to see more or less of on this blog?
Do you come here because you have similar interests?  Or because you have dissimilar interests?
Which direction do you think I should take my blog in year two (and beyond)?
What topics interest you most?
What about my blog makes you want to come back and read more posts/comments?
What are your favourite types of posts?  What are your least favourites?
Thank you.

Mar 22, 2011

A Song in the Night by Norah Mumba: A Review

December 1992, Autobiography
Multimedia Zambia, 90 pages, ISBN  978-9982300742
Available on

A Song in the Night is an autobiographical account of Norah Mumba’s struggle to cope with the death of her husband. At the time she wrote this, in 1987, she was a recently widowed mother of three young children. She describes the anguish both she and her husband, Stanley, go through during his battle with leukaemia, as well as the effect this has on their children and their relationship.
Mumba lovingly describes her family life before and after the onset of her husband’s illness. Both are devout in their faith, and they draw strength from this and each other. The children are not clueless bystanders in this narrative; Mumba shows how she juggles her duties as a caregiver to her ailing husband and as a mother with young children who are scared, and confused. This obviously isn’t easy.
In her writing Mumba draws attention to some of the more insidious practices terminally ill patients and their loved ones are subjected to, such as visits from family and friends that serve only as a means of gawking and not to provide comfort, and unsolicited medical advice which is often just the perpetuation of superstitions.
She also rails against the culture that allows a deceased person’s extended family to take possession of personal property with little regard for the surviving spouse and children – the despicable act of property grabbing.
I’ll be honest; this book will make the reader uncomfortable in certain areas. I say this because it is a highly charged personal account written with a lot of emotion but ultimately it is laden with the truth! And as we know, the truth can often be ugly and it’s easier to pretend not to see it.
In my opinion this tale is timeless because much of what Mumba experienced is still relevant today. Mumba makes herself vulnerable by writing this story; the genius though, is how she doesn’t try to evoke sympathy or paint herself as the powerless, downtrodden victim. The strength of her faith comes through, as she draws on passages of scripture to make sense of her thoughts and feelings. Yes, she and her children suffer a devastating loss, but they learn to move beyond it - they find healing. 
In summary this is a story about love and life, death and sorrow, and human triumph over adversity. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would recommend it, especially for those who have recently suffered loss.

Mar 21, 2011

Elias Chipimo's Vision for Zambia

NAREP (National Restoration Party) President Elias Chipimo Jr is currently on a month long book tour in the UK and U.S. His party website describes him as “an emerging leader with bold and ambitious development plans that would set the Southern African nation of Zambia on a path to becoming prosperous, progressive and green. President Chipimo believes that with the right leadership, Zambia can and will become the world’s next alternative energy 'super power'.”
Below is a copy of the prepared speech he’s sharing at his various stops. I listened to him yesterday (March 20) via Zambia Blog Talk Radio from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

Mar 20, 2011

Nchila Wildlife Reserve - web film

Gareth Bentley has an uncanny ability to make awe me whenever I look at his photography and videography. His latest short web film is no exception. In his words, he shot this for "Nchila Wildlife Reserve, in the North Western Province, probably one of the remotest locations in Zambia." 

Please enjoy it, and support the work by this talented Zambian! 

Mar 16, 2011

The enemy within

As we talk about women’s social and financial empowerment we often bring up the different forces that have for generations disenfranchised women – inheritance laws that do not benefit widows and their orphans, restrictions to property ownership, etc. However, there’s a dirty little secret we often do not openly acknowledge – women’s complicity in their own oppression and/or in the oppression of their fellow women.
That’s probably not a politically correct thing to mention and I may be accused of turning on the ‘victim’ here, but hear me out. I honestly believe our systems thrive because they serve a purpose for the most part, and when they mostly go unchallenged it adds to their legitimacy (right or wrong).
Here’s an example:
In Zambia we have two systems of succession, patrilinealism and matrilinealism. Under patrilinealism, a man is succeeded by his son; the family line is traced through the father. In the latter, matrilinealism, a man’s estate is inherited by his nieces and nephews, typically his sisters’ children. With a family line being passed through the mother, matrilineal succession was important because the woman was responsible for “transmitting political rights, name and social position.” This was likely practiced because of the revered relationship between mother and child, and the cohesion it gives a community.
However, fast forward to modern times, and we see how this practice has been grossly distorted and serves purely a means for the extended family to enrich themselves after the death of a relative at the expense of his immediate family.
It is not uncommon to see a man’s sister(s) descend like locusts on his family home stripping it of all valuable possessions. Granted other family members are also involved, but they are usually spearheaded by the females. Some widows and their children consider themselves lucky if they manage to keep their clothing and undergarments; but quite literally EVERYTHING is taken. Shameful stuff indeed.
Now, why would women treat their fellow women like so, or allow such treatment to occur? Shouldn’t we be at the forefront of advocating changes to the practice of property grabbing? If it can happen to your sister-in-law couldn’t it happen to you? Why do we allow ourselves to be party to the destitution and impoverishment of women and children?
This is just one example, but it is one with far reaching consequences. We are part of the problem, and ultimately part of the solution. Change will only come when we start internally, within our own families and communities condemning the abhorrent practice. Bringing traditional rulers into the fold is another avenue that needs to be pursued relentlessly – they are an important key in rural communities and have greater influence than local courts, which is not to say that local courts and magistrates shouldn’t be educated about existing laws that protect the rights of widows and children.

Mar 12, 2011

Deflowered by Pamela Sinkamba: A Review

"A flower is the brightest part of plant, which makes it
very beautiful. Women, like flowers are very beautiful,
both on the inside and the outside. The inner beauty
is connected to the soul and mind and yields to the
physical well being of a woman.

When a woman is deflowered, she is deprived of what
she values the most; her inner sense of beauty and
self worth. A deflowered woman does not only
undergo pain, but hate, become bitter and lose trust.
The inner image of beauty is totally destroyed.
‘Deflowered’ exposes the motions that women who
have been deflowered go through. It shows that some
cases of defilement take place within the confines of a
home. Some perpetrators are people very close to the

The words above are part of the foreword in Pamela Sinkamba’s debut novel Deflowered. If I were still sitting on the fence about reading the book, these words along would have thrown me headlong into the story.

Deflowered tells the story of two friends, Lynn and Sali who both suffered sexual abuse as children. For Lynn it was at the hands of her father and later an employer, and Sali was raped by an uncle. Sinkamba is unapologetic in how she describes the emotions both women undergo as they struggle to come to terms with the pain wrought by the abuse and broken trust.

Her use of language is powerful, and it’s difficult to disassociate from the two women. How can the reader not feel sorrow when looking in “the face of a young woman whose dignity was taken away by a man who should have been her greatest protector?”

Abuse of any kind is ugly because it is often about power – the power the perpetrator exerts over his or her victim. And sexual abuse in particular seems to carry a high degree of burden because often times there are little physical manifestations of the crime committed; coupled with the culture of silence that forces victims into the shadows, remaining mute. Sinkamba faces all this head on. She shows the failure of family members to speak up against what they know is happening, and their heart breaking refusal to do nothing.

Ultimately, Lynn and Sali go through the process of healing and forgiveness. The author doesn’t paint a rosy picture where everyone lives happily ever after just because their secrets are out in the open. There is pain, grief but in the end there is LIFE!

My minor quibbles about the book are that sometimes the language seemed a little juvenile with the use of terms like “hanky-panky.” This was irksome until I revisited the book’s description and saw that it is categorized as “young adult fiction.” There are also some silly spelling mistakes that should have been caught by a keen editor such as “I literary ran,” though I could probably chalk that one up as Zedglish (Zambian English). J 

Overall, this was a good read. I would recommend it. Sinkamba shows us that that “yes, once deflowered, there is hope again; because broken flowers can grow again as long as the roots are held firmly in the ground.” It would be nice to see a book like this used in our homes, church groups and schools as a means of breaking down barriers and removing the unnecessary stigma attached to victims of sexual abuse.

Where to buy:

I purchased my copy on the i-Proclaim Bookstore website. I have the eBook version which had some issues with some cut off sentences and paragraph misalignment. I suspect that happened with the conversion into pdf format. But for the price, $11, it wasn’t a deal breaker.

Mar 11, 2011

Generation Alive

A group of young Zambian women have formed a movement called Generation Alive. "The new group’s goal is to increase the number of young women in leadership positions in politics and in civil society. Their target is to get at least ten young Zambian women running for office in the 2016 Parliamentary elections!”

This is a commendable goal given the fact that women only make up 14 percent of Zambia’s parliament; which is well below the 30 percent target set by SADC (Southern Africa Development Community). Zambia’s government set its goal at 50 percent in 2006.

One of the group members, Nana Zulu, articulates “Generation Alive is here to create an environment where emerging young female leaders in Zambia can interact and share experiences with older women leaders so as to bridge the generational gap in women’s leadership.”

I will continue to share more as information comes available!

Mar 7, 2011

In honour of women

In honour of Women’s Day I dedicate this post to the multitudes of women who came before me, and whose lives and work have made it possible for me to be the woman I am today. The courageous women who fought for the right to vote, the right to work outside the home, the right to negotiate life on their terms – these women, without them my life I could not imagine!

I pay tribute to the women with whom I walk day-to-day as we navigate our way through life, striving to live the best lives we possibly can. And to the young girls who are coming up behind us – it is my hope that they cherish the legacy laid forth by our mothers, grandmothers & great-grandmothers and forge their own paths, making a mark in the world. 

The story of womanhood cannot be complete without mention of the men who have stood by us and who continue to do so. Brave men like my grandfather who defied negative criticisms from his own sisters about the value of educating his daughters and nieces. Nkambo (grandpa), you’re a great man and changed our family so radically; I know without a doubt I wouldn’t be sitting here expressing myself freely without your influence! Should I only be blessed with sons like you – men who are not threatened by the strength of women.

To be a woman in this world still comes with a myriad of hurdles and challenges. Let us not rest on our laurels while unacceptable numbers of women die each year giving life or when our daughters continue to be pulled from school and forced into marriage.

We’ve accomplished much but more remains to be done. Together we can!

To my sisters, my aunts, my mothers and grandmothers – I honour you.

Mar 4, 2011

Responsible Media

The media plays an important role not only in the dissemination of information, but also in influencing people’s thinking on issues. As history has taught us the media can be used quite successfully in pushing propaganda – positively and negatively.
Knowing all this, it is little wonder politicians often court journalists to gain favourable reporting and when that isn’t forthcoming tightening of media control often follows (where the systems allow it). Politicians love their cheerleaders, and often times journalists don’t mind being manipulated to distort facts for the benefit of their patrons because it may mean job security or even protection from physical harm.
 It is maddening to see what I refer to as the ‘hyper-sensationalisation’ of the news – when a particular new item is bludgeoned to death by being in constant rotation by various media outlets such the 24-hour cable news channels, newspapers, radio stations, etc. And conversely, other new stories go virtually unreported because they don’t fit the current spin cycle and don’t bring in as much of an audience (which can be translated to less money from sponsors).
I see media as custodians of the truth, or at least that’s what they should be. They have the capacity to report on stories that often go unseen by the average person, and also the moral obligation to fact check before going public with news stories. I applaud the brave journalists who still do this and do not try to sway public opinion based on personal prejudice or vendetta.
I don’t like to see divisions in what is termed pro-government vs. anti-government reporting. What we need is truth in reporting. Report on the stories that matter regardless of the protagonists and antagonists. Back it up with facts. And stand for the truth.
Many of us are weary of petty stories with lurid details that serve only as a distraction from real issues and ultimately insult our intelligence. We can do better.

Mar 2, 2011

Woman of substance

Malawi’s Vice President, Joyce Banda, recently spoke at University of Arkansas, Clinton School of Public Service. I really admire the VP for the work she has done and continues to do through her foundation and various government positions to help the vulnerable in Malawi.

As she states in her speech, her “life mission is to assist women and youth to get political empowerment through education and business.” Though politically vulnerable after her firing from the ruling party recently, she continues to walk tall and inspires young women such as myself. She is a testament to the power of education and self belief; and the strength that comes from being economically empowered.

Be encouraged as I was by listening to this “woman of substance.” (My apologies in advance to any mobile users who are unable to view this video).