Jun 29, 2011

Young Africa

This is the recent speech that first lady Michelle Obama gave in Soweto, South Africa as part of the Young African Women Leaders Forum. The Young African Women Leaders Forum, the first of its kind, was sponsored by the White House, State Department and other U.S. entities. There were 76 women from 24 countries. The goal of the forum was “to expand the network among young African women and to strengthen (our) partnerships with civil society, business and governments in Africa.”

Graça Machel, former first lady of Mozambique, gives a moving introduction, and I am struck yet again by her eloquence and fervor! If you’re unable to watch this entirely, here’s a meaningful lesson for us all, regardless of age:
“It’s not the environment you’re born in or the background that determines your potential but the choices you make and your determination to succeed.”
– Graça Machel 

When China met Africa

This is definitely a movie I'm adding to my queue. If anyone has already seen it, please share your thoughts! 

Jun 27, 2011

Share the positive!

I can’t think of a topic that unifies more Africans than the issue of western media stereotypes. It doesn’t matter which online paper or magazine you’re talking about but more often that not, you’ll find the pictures of half naked children with runny noses playing in rubbish heaps, the forlorn elderly woman caring for her orphaned grandkids…name it, you’ll find it.

We rant and rave – “that’s not the Africa I know. Why doesn’t the BBC ever show Manda Hill in Lusaka which now boasts the capital city’s second operational escalator or the nouveau riche cruising in Lamborghinis to their mini-mansions in gated communities?” I’m not making up this stuff, honest! J

To be quite honest, the west will always have a morbid fascination with the Dark Continent, and the current narrative suits that position.

What I would like to know is why we as African are not more concerned about the stories we share? Why must I always read in the local papers “the president said this, the president said that?” For crying out loud, is the president the only story worth telling? 

With that said, I applaud the efforts of those who are currently making inroads on changing this, such as contributors on Global Voices Online, blogs, Twitter and so forth…but we need to do more. So, the next time you want to bash the CNN for yet another story about decreasing life expectancy south of the Equator, do the same on the local front for those lazy newspaper editors more fascinated with the lunacy on Big Brother Africa than meaningful news stories.

Jun 20, 2011

FTJ - the legacy

How does one eulogise a divisive character like Zambia’s late ex-president Frederick Chiluba. People are climbing over each other to either canonise or demonise him. I find some morbid fascination in watching it all unfold because people are just…oh, what’s the word…I’ll just bite my tongue until it bleeds. 

A friend on twitter forwarded me an obituary that appeared in the Guardian newspaper online. It’s quite stunning. I’m neither the president of Chiluba’s fan club nor am I stoking the flames on his pyre but it seemed overly harsh.

Yes, Chiluba left a tainted legacy during his tenure as president and his administration failed to deliver on many campaign promises but to forget the early years is a disservice. There was no mention of how Chiluba and his party, MMD, burst on the scene and unified the country is our quest to be rid of the one-party rule of Kenneth Kaunda. Do people really understand how difficult it must have been to stand against a giant of KK’s stature at the time? Or what it took to get people to truly believe their actions (attending rallies & voting) could in fact lead to regime change even at the risk of being tear-gassed and whipped by the police and their goons?

How quickly we forget that Zambia became one of the first countries in Africa to experience a peaceful transition to multiparty rule.

The policies

There were radical economic reform programmes that on one hand empowered more people to advance and on the other impoverished others such as the former employees of now defunct parastatals. I certainly cannot overlook the dangerous legacy of corruption that spread like a cancer in the fabric of Zambian society as people became more desperate, or the masses thrown into poverty by bungled market reforms.

Chiluba was indeed a contradiction:

- a self-styled democrat who later regressed into autocratic rule that he previously railed against and had even seen prison for.

- a champion of media freedoms who later pursued journalists who dared question his authority to act unilaterally in issues of national importance.

He represents different things to all of us. He was somebody’s father. A husband. A flawed politician. Whatever.

All I ask is that we be honest in analysing his legacy. Let's talk about the good, the bad and the ugly. Doing less than that is disingenuous. There's no need to dance naked on his tomb or to wail as though his death signals the end of humankind...he was a man who like everyone else will be judged by the work he did during his life. 

Jun 14, 2011

Quills of Desire by Binwell Sinyangwe - A Review

January 2000 (reprint), General Fiction
Baobab Books, 171 pages, ISBN 0-908311-59-1
Available on Amazon.com
Quills of Desire is Binwell Sinyangwe’s first published book, and the second I have read. The story centres on Wiza, a young and intelligent secondary school student. Wiza is ambitious, and seeks to use his education as a ticket out of poverty. His family holds the same dream for him and push him to succeed, hoping for him to follow in the footsteps of his elder brother (another gifted son).

Wiza is a respected and popular figure at school among his fellow students and teachers alike. And with his affable character comes a healthy dose of arrogance which to his detriment pits him against some of the more insecure students who see him a threat to their own comfort.
His father, Chambuleni, is a wise man of few words. He counsels Wiza to be more deliberate in his thoughts and actions. Chambuleni fears Wiza’s unpredictability and penchant for mischief may prove to be a barrier to future success despite his excellent school grades.

As the book progresses we see Wiza mature in some ways but held back in others by his own inner demons and the seeds of mistrust sown earlier that are eagerly cultivated by those with personal grudges. He is a flawed character and though I made concessions for some his shenanigans because of his age I wanted to reach out, pull his ears, and say through gritted teeth “remove your head from your hindquarters, Wiza, and see where you’re headed.”
As he stumbles and falls, I ache for his pain. To see his potential squandered is a loss, and no one feels it more acutely than Wiza himself. Forced to make difficult decisions about his future, he rebels against it not wanting to give up the dreams to which he has held on for so long.
The cast of supporting characters add to the story and do not merely serve as a fluff. Wiza’s parents though not very educated are not simply village illiterates who worship the ground their sons walk on. They provide guidance, wisdom and love – which are qualities you look to find in parents regardless of their position in life. His school chums are also entertaining to follow – I was reminded of my own boarding school experience and some of the adventures we had (trips to the Headmistresses office, included).  

Probably what struck me most about this book is how each of us has Wiza in us – the over-confidence, arrogance and short-sightedness. While not everyone suffers like Wiza does because of fate, family backing or whatever, anyone of us could be him. Sinyangwe doesn't write in manner to elicit pity for his protagonist but rather a sense of empathy and compassion. He makes the reader confront some harsh truths about the fragility of the human condition.
I hate to go into more detail, lest I give away the whole gist of the book. This is another winner by Mr Sinyangwe, and I recommend it. The writing is easy to follow and very vivid. Go out and buy it!

NB. The one thing missing in this book that is available in his second, A Cowrie of Hope, is a glossary of words for some of the Bemba/Mambwe words used. Worry not as there is only a handful of here and there, and that shouldn't serve as a distraction. I can help if needed. J

Jun 13, 2011

Book reading decisions

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you’re probably aware of my personal goal of reading more African literature and sharing reviews. I’ve focused on Zambian literature because my previous track record was woeful;  I also read works by authors from other African countries and the challenge continues to be enjoyable. Picking new titles is no easy feat because there still isn’t a lot of information out there, and settling for well known literary award winners seems like a cop out to me.

I am always interested to know which authors have been honoured with awards, but personal experience has taught me that award winning books aren’t always the best books out there, and really how many Chinua Achebe books do I need to read before I die? J

At this time I lean quite heavily on my Amazon.com recommendations based on previous purchases by myself and others with similar interests. I’ve also had recommendations from friends which helps, and I’m on a winning streak at this point. I'm also a little of research fanatic and will thoroughly read a book's synopsis, and about its author before making my purchase (it's a disease, I know!).

I’m interested to know how others make their book picks. Do you rely on book reviews, bestseller lists, literary awards, referrals from Amazon or friends? Or are you one of those people that's able to walk into the library or book store and picks whatever strikes your fancy? 

Jun 7, 2011

Leonard Koloko – Cry from the Heart

June 2010, Poetry 
64 pages, Item# IP4306

After I did my Q&A with Theresa Lungu last year, she recommended that I pick up a copy of Leonard Koloko’s book Cry from the Heart – a collection of poetry. I did but for one reason or the other it sat there collecting the proverbial dust in my TBR (to be read) pile. And let me tell ya, that was MY loss!
I typically don’t read poetry, and this can probably be traced to the fact that I bombed that section in my Form 5 literature exam – a story for different day. Once I started reading Cry from the Heart, I couldn’t stop.

Koloko deals with various themes such as hope and homelessness, the effects of HIV/AIDS, love and loss. It sounds like heavy content, which it is to an extent but I find it all relevant given the current realities of this world. Many of us delve into literature as an escape from the day-to-day monotony of life and don’t often want to be confronted by topics that make you squirm or a little uncomfortable under the collar. But every now and again a very gifted writer comes along and makes you take notice. And this is what Koloko did for me.
His writing entertained me, it saddened, and ultimately it gave voice to many poignant issues that would otherwise remain as dreary news stories we gloss over. I got the sense that Koloko is concerned about the state of our nation as well as the human condition, and this is reflected in his writing. Here’s a sampling of one of his shorter poems “This Life”.  
It is not all the time
That all words come out in rhyme
There are times we stumble and fall
And cry when we lose it all.
It’s all like this in life
Where we face much pain and strife
Nevertheless, enjoy your life!

Jun 6, 2011

A leadership lesson from Rwanda

"Leadership is one of the weakest links in Africa’s growth.  Today’s leaders not only have to cure mistakes of their predecessors, but also tackle current problems and try to avoid creating future problems.  
Thus, for Africa’s prosperity, a responsible, qualified and capable leadership must be nurtured now for tomorrow. Rwanda, a country that survived a brutal past has been lauded for many successes, including leadership. However, the challenge remains of ensuring future leadership continues to improve Rwanda."

I enjoyed reading this perspective by Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa about promising African leadership. While this article is about her observations in Rwanda where she is currently based, the lessons are universal. We need to continually develop future leaders if we want to have realistic chance of attaining sustainable and long lasting growth. 

Jun 2, 2011

The worst of times

“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today."

I strongly believe in the ethos above because I am a personal testament of how education can transform not only a person but future generations of a family. With recent times and increasing age, my thinking of what exactly education entails has evolved; book learning isn’t the be-all and end-all.

I had the unfortunate timing of attaining my bachelor’s degree in 2004 and Master’s in 2008. I say unfortunate because these graduations coincided with two recessions, the last of which we are still reeling from.  I’ve had to reassess my thinking of what it means to be a young professional – those $100k/year jobs aren’t falling like manna from the sky no matter how stellar my grades were or how I actively engaged in networking activities.

I have to carve out my own place in this world. The degrees that will aid me in passing myself off as a subject matter expert are valuable, and I wouldn’t return them under duress, form only part of the whole picture. I need to continually learn from people involved in activities in which they find meaning and fulfilment – inventors, entrepreneurs, community activists, writers, etc, as a complement to the knowledge I've attained thus far. This way I'll have a grasp of today's reality and prepare adequately for tomorrow! 

Jun 1, 2011

Website Shout out!

Today a new website was launched, it’s called Diasporan Darlings. This is the brain child of Mukuka Mayuka and Vimbai Gwata – two young African bloggers (from Zambia and Zimbabwe, respectively) who’ve joined together to spotlight “the unique experiences of Africans in the Diaspora (and at home), and highlight the opportunities and challenges currently facing Africans residing outside their home countries.”
I connected with Mukuka via Twitter and her blog late last year and have been eagerly following the build up to today’s launch. It’s impressive, and I wish the team success in their endeavour.
Please check out the site and help promote a budding social community and network of Africans at home and abroad.
The website is www.diasporandarlings.com. You can also find them on Twitter - @DiasporanD and Facebook.