Sep 30, 2011

Women's movement for today!

You'll probably tell from the tone of this post that I'm pretty fired up. This is quite possibly the most emotional post I’ve written to date. I am vexed, pissed, disgruntled <insert any other synonym and it probably fits> but what trumps this is that I'm motivated! 

Women’s representation is Zambia’s government:
16 MPs (of 148 positions), 2 cabinet members (of 28 positions), 4 deputy ministers (of 18 positions).

This is completely unacceptable to me; however, this is not about assigning blame. The unvarnished truth as I see it is that as women we are really going to have to bootstrap our way up – with or without bootstraps.

We have a myriad of issues beyond the dismal gender representation in national politics that need serious attention. Change will not come by grovelling to men in power for political appointments, permission to run in elections, money to fund campaigns or for legislation that address our most immediate needs. If you’re reading this as an anti-man tirade, you’re wrong and are probably in the wrong place to begin with!

What we need is a true women’s movement. This will not simply be about reforming a few laws here and there but completely bucking the system. This movement needs to support grassroots projects to empower women and girls, and help bring these to the national level where the profile is elevated and benefits felt by greater numbers.

We further need a cross generational dialogue to harmonise the mission. As a young woman I see the value to learning from the women who’ve gone before me, and I know others feel the same. Our foremothers who fought in the anti-colonial resistance showed us what strength is numbers and determination can do. As we do this we can then rally together to meet our overall objectives:
  • Adequate and good quality education
  • Harmonising of customary and statutory law to remove inherently biased practices that disenfranchise women.
  • Legislation that allows women to own and inherit property from husbands and fathers.
  • Stiff statutes against gender based violence, gender based work discrimination, marital rape and child marriages
  • Increased access to financial products such as bank accounts, loans, grants
  • Universal access to family planning
Women are a political force and we are needed to change the course of our country. We need to move out of the shadows – we are not simply dancers at rallies, birthers and reproducers. I’m tired of the patriarchy that we’ve allowed to chain us. Only when we redefine ourselves as political agents can we make this work and plough ahead with a decisive move towards a more just world.

In the words of Gloria Steinem - "The future depends entirely on what each of us does everyday." 

Sep 26, 2011

The people have spoken

Picture courtesy of UKZambians
The campaigns are over, the ballots counted, and a new president has been inaugurated. We also have a split parliament since no party has an overwhelming majority. There was jubilation in some corners and utter shock in others. The people have spoken. 

This election outcome is noteworthy for various reasons:
  1. the incumbent president was defeated by an opposition leader, who was making his 4th attempt at becoming president and had at one point been one of the top bwanas in the ruling party 
  2. the ousted ruling party had been in power for 20, albeit with three different leaders
  3. women’s representation in parliament has been reduced. We have only 16 female MPs in the 148 member body which accounts for a paltry 10.8 percent. It was previously 14%.
You’ll notice I didn’t add “peaceful transition” as part of the noteworthy items. This is an intentional omission because Zambia does not have a history of electoral violence. Sure there are rubble rousers here and there out to cause trouble and this last election wasn’t an exception but by and large we do not have the culture and environment that fosters such ugliness. With that said, shame on the people who intentionally destroyed private and public property, I hope the law catches up with them before too long. We have no place for such in our communities. 

When our now former president held a press conference to concede defeat and congratulate the winner of the presidential elections, I was really chuffed with pride! Zambians had once again shown why we are set apart from other countries who continue to be held hostage by sycophants & ruling elites with blood on their hands.

Furthermore, elections monitoring was aided by the launch of BantuWatch which provided an avenue for vigilant Zambians in all corners of the country to immediately report concerns without fear of being grabbed by police forces and thrown in jail for speaking up. I really like this initiative because it put power back in citizens’ hands, and we didn’t have to rely solely on the government, SADC or EU to inform us of what was happening at polling stations across the land.   

Many people expressed frustrations with the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) for the rate at which results were being announced. Before the start of the elections, the chairperson of the ECZ had promised the results would be announced within 48 hours of the polls closing, and they were well within this schedule given the fact that some stations had delayed voting due to various factors – ballot papers arriving late, elections officials seemingly being unprepared, unruly party cadres causing confusion, etc. 

ECZ definitely needs to assess how they conducted their business and make changes for next time, particularly in the area of providing verified results in a timely manner to the media and through their web site. Otherwise, they will continue to feed fears (rational or irrational) about vote rigging and unsubstantiated rumours spreading like wild fire about who is leading, who has lost, etc will not be doused. 

Credit is due to commercial and local radio stations like Q-FM Zambia who provided live coverage when verified results were announced. This was a handy tool to have especially when coupled with a live stream easily accessible for those living outside Zambia. They definitely stepped up and issued a challenge to others in the market! 

The next steps

Every single candidate who ran did it on a particular platform. As the dust has settled we know the names of all our representatives. Democracy only works if it is participatory. We cannot sit back & say “let elected officials figure it out.” Absolutely not! They need to hear from us on a variety of issues:
  1. Draft constitution that continues to die in parliament. We need a constitution written to reflect the will of the people, and not for politicians and their closest allies. 
  2. Economic expansion that brings jobs and more money into people’s pockets
  3. Elimination of government waste
  4. Education reform that (a) stops the counter-intuitive practice of throwing school children out of the system for not passing exams, and (b) builds a system that trains children and adults for the jobs of today and tomorrow. 
  5. Legal protections that have teeth for the most vulnerable in our society – children, women (widows, women who haven't achieved economic or political autonomy), people with disabilities, people with long term illnesses, children born behind bars, etc. 
Stay vigilant, participate and guard our democracy from those who may seek to exploit it for their gain - only then can we taste true prosperity! 

Sep 24, 2011

Podcast - social media & technology

Here is the podcast of my interview earlier today. Brenda Zulu wasn’t able to make it due to a pressing work assignment. However, Sally Chiwama, a fellow team member from BantuWatch and journalist was available to share with us her experiences and insights about the use of social media and technology in Zambia. It was a very invigorating discussion, and I hope you find it useful. My thanks to Brenda and Sally for all their help.

Happy listening! 

Sep 23, 2011

Social Media & technology in elections

This Saturday I’ll be interviewing Brenda Zulu on Zambia Blog Talk Radio. Brenda is an Independent Information Communication Technologies (ICT) Journalist and “a leader of a Media Company, the African New Media Group which is specializes in delivering Web 2.0 services to it clients and also offers Media consultancy.” She has interests in the effective use of social media by media organizations, civil society and other parties, blogging, micro-blogging, computer and internet access in rural areas, among others.

Brenda’s most recent project has been her involvement in BantuWatch. BantuWatch is a joint initiative of civil society and (social) media activists in Zambia under leadership of SACCORD. The platform “allows citizens and civil society to monitor and report incidences around the electoral process in near real provides channels for citizens and civil society to use mobile phone, social media and other internet-based channels to report on electoral offences such as intimidation, hate speech, vote buying, violence, tension, polling clerk bias and voting misinformation.”

Many of you will recognize the Ushahidi platform being used by BantuWatch. Ushahidi was created in the aftermath of the post-election violence in Kenya as means to collect reports from the community via email and SMS. These reports were then placed on a map as a means of tracking. Innovative stuff!

In our discussion Brenda will talk about the work at BantuWatch, the successes and limitations of technology in the just ended general elections in Zambia. I’m really looking to this event!

The segment will air at 7 a.m. PST, 10 a.m. EST, 15 Hrs GMT, 16 Hrs CAT. 

Here is the link to listen 

You can participate by:

calling in on 1-347-237-4270,
sending a tweet to @zambiablogradio or @missbwalya
or posting a message on the ZBTR Facebook wall

If you have questions you’d like to pose ahead of time send them along and I’ll be sure to ask them during the live show! Like all other segments that I’ve hosted, I will post the podcast for your listening pleasure. J

Sep 20, 2011

Election Day – Sept 20, 2011

Today was the much anticipated election day in Zambia – presidential, parliamentary and local elections. According to the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) an estimated 5.2 million people are registered voters. I kept track of the events throughout the course of the day with the help of friends, family, social media & local radio. Thank you everyone!

There were some delays and clashes in some areas of Lusaka that added unnecessary tension. Lilanda and Kanyama townships were two major flashpoints of unrest. 

Here’s an audio clip of voters in Lilanda speaking after they had been tear gassed by police officers.  In it you’ll hear a woman bemoaning the use of force when all they wanted to do was to vote in peace.

Here’s an audio clip of the ECZ public relations officer speaking about delays and how time extensions would be made to compensate for the lost time.

(Audio clips courtesy of Luciano Haambote of Radio Phoenix)

Doubt continued to be cast on the electoral process by some factions with more claims about pre-marked ballots and a lack of transparency. At this time I am not sure if any of the reports are verified – various monitoring entities such as BantuWatch and EU/SADC elections monitors have not confirmed the reports. We’ll have to wait for more information on this. 

Some pictures made available:

Polling station in Lusaka
Courtesy of Mannasseh Phiri, Jr

Truck with suspected pre-rmarked ballots set ablaze

And now, we wait for results to start coming in! 

Sep 17, 2011

Bantu Watch

Civil Society Organisations in Zambia have launched an initiative called Bantu Watch using the Ushahidi platform to allow citizens across the country to report & track any issues during election time. These issues can be about ballots, intimidation, materials and equipment, security, vote counting & results, etc. 

You can submit a report by:
  • sending a SMS to 3018
  • sending an email to
  • sending a tweet with the hashtags #BantuWatch or #ZambiaElections 
  • or filling out the form on the website.

This is critical piece of technology that can greatly aid us in the election process. It allows citizens to have a voice beyond just what happens in the voting booth, and can act as mechanism to hold politicians and other officials accountable for actions that happen between now and when a new government is inaugurated. 

Visit the website to read current reports and to sign up for alerts. There is also a complementary Facebook page

Please spread the word! 

NAREP Manifesto

NAREP President, Elias Chipimo Jr, outlining his party's vision for Zambia. 

Sep 16, 2011

Issues based politics

In the run up to a highly contentious general election, one would expect the various candidates vying for jobs to be speaking on issues of substance. Substance would be:
  • A jobs plan that outlines mechanisms to encourage job creation i.e. through business loans with interest rates that aren’t set by loan sharks, tax breaks, etc
  • A plan to provide adequate and far reaching access to healthcare for all Zambians regardless of social standing
  • A plan to grow industry through the private sector ensuring Zambia moves from being a country that imports almost everything it consumes from tissue paper to light bulbs.

However, little of this is happening. Instead you have two major political parties led by two geriatrics who are solely focused on trading insults like street vendors fighting over ownership of a street corner. This distresses me because we don’t have a third party candidate who has chances of pulling an upset. And really, why must I take a pair of chaps seriously who seem to be playing with the fortunes of my people and our future?

When we reach a certain level of maturity and saviness we will challenge candidates to be serious or pay the penalty at the polls. This is as simple as asking pointedly “when you talk about fighting corruption, tell us the steps you will take as opposed to just saying “I’ll arrest all these thieves when I become president”” Instead of just following the status quo - it's us v them.

Countdown to September 20 continues...

Sep 12, 2011

Wandi’s Little Voice by Ellen Banda-Aaku – A Review

2004, Children's Fiction
 Macmillan Publishers, 64 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-4050-6040-0

Wandi’s Little Voice is Ellen Banda-Aaku’s debut book. The book won the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa, 2004 in the New Children’s Writer category.

This delightful tale is told from Wandi’s point of view. She’s a young girl on the cusp of puberty dealing with an overbearing mother, a downtrodden father and interfering family members. Wandi’s mother is an entertaining woman – she is very conscious about social standing and appearances, and does everything she can to present a ‘proper’ picture of her family. She forbids Wandi from mixing with the children of Matelo township, which is perplexing to Wandi because she enjoys playing in Matelo; in her words “Matelo was an experience…children were free to play.”

Wandi also struggles to understand why her mother gets away with exaggerations and white lies, when this is something she herself gets punished for as a child. It’s one of those hypocrisies that adults live with.

As the story progresses we get to understand Wandi’s parents and other family members a little better through her eyes. As she becomes more cognizant of things around her, there’s an accompanying level of maturity and empathy that wells up inside her.

For a book that’s only 64 pages long, Banda-Aaku juggles quite a bit of content more than just competently. The pace was just right; it wasn’t preachy or full of clich├ęs. This is a great read, and something I definitely needed. How could I not love a book that gave me many laugh out loud moments, and a trip down memory lane to my own childhood? 

Sep 10, 2011

Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera – A Review

1998, General Fiction
 Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 151 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0-374-29186-0, Available on Amazon

I finished reading Butterfly Burning a few days ago, and I’m still struggling to describe what I read and how it affected me. The book’s description describes it as follows:
“Set in Makokoba, a black township [in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe], in the late l940s, the novel is an intensely bittersweet love story. When Fumbatha, a construction worker, meets the much younger Phephelaphi, he"wants her like the land beneath his feet from which birth had severed him." He in turn fills her "with hope larger than memory." But Phephelaphi is not satisfied with their "one-room" love alone. The qualities that drew Fumbatha to her, her sense of independence and freedom, end up separating them. And the closely woven fabric of township life, where everyone knows everyone else, has a mesh too tight and too intricate to allow her to escape her circumstances on her own.”
This book is so much more than a love story between Phephelaphi and Fumbatha, I’d say that piece of it takes a backseat to the much larger story – the struggles a black underclass torn from the countryside and living in shanty towns, cobbling together some sort of humanity out of the inhumane, a woman’s burning for an existence independent of her lover, and self acceptance.
What’s gripping about this story is Yvonne Vera’s use of language and expression. On one hand it evokes such powerful imagery, at times I feel as though I really am in that time and place seeing first hand the events as they unfold. Here’s an example:
“Fumbatha sees the sky peel off the earth; that is the distance between the land and the sky. This hill is a surprise.
A hand swings forward and throws a heavy load. Another picks the tune and adds a word. A pristine word to a song makes everything poignant. The birth of a word is more significant than the birth of a child.”
And on the other, some parts leave me so befuddled; I have to read the passage multiple times to make sense of what exactly just happened. This makes me feel a little cheated because I’m obviously missing on what Vera is saying. At those moments I almost wish she used less lyricism to avoid obscuring the point she is trying to get across. So, it is in this vein I find myself bouncing between empathy for the characters and detachment from them.

I feel the tragedy and self-destruction of Phephelaphi’s life quite acutely, Vera is unflinching in her narrative.

This is definitely worth reading, but if you’re looking for a plot driven book this may not be for you. It has its highs and lows, and through it all one cannot deny the talent of Yvonne Vera. I have other titles by her to read, which I look forward to.

Sep 2, 2011

Q&A with Ellen Banda-Aaku

Ellen Banda-Aaku was gracious enough to do a Q&A for Seize the Moment. This is a complement to the book review of her latest book, Patchwork,  that I published a few weeks ago. I enjoy such interactions and I hope you do too. Without further ado here’s what Ellen has to share about her life and work!

When did you start writing and who/what inspired you?
I started writing about 8 years ago. I Moved to Ghana and found that I had some time on my hands so I wrote a story for children and entered it for the Macmillan Prize for African writing. Surprisingly my story won! [This book, Wandi's Little Voice, will be reviewed here later this month] 

You started off with children’s fiction. How/why did you make the switch to adult fiction?
Patchwork started as a book for children. But as I wrote it, somehow it changed in terms of tone and length so I finished it as an adult novel.

Do you plan to return to children’s fiction?
Yes I do. I plan to start a book for teenagers before the end of this year. Plan being the perative word here.

How did you come up with the idea for Patchwork?
I don’t really plan my stories they tend to just grow inside me. However, after I had written Patchwork I realised that I draw a lot from things I saw when I was growing up. Things I was unable to ask questions about.

How would you best describe the story in this novel?
As a coming of age story?

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Not really. I would like my readers to enjoy the story and to take from it whatever they wish.

Which of your characters do you most relate with (please give a brief explanation of why you relate to him/her)?
Interestingly, I don’t relate to any of them. However, my favourite characters though are Bee, Sissy and Grandma Ponga.

There is some criticism of African literature that it continues to focus on AIDS, poverty, war and violence and in doing so, plays in to Western stereotypes. Your thoughts?
My view is that literature should reflect a balanced reality. AIDS, poverty, war and violence unfortunately exist in all societies, the problem arises when they are portrayed as prevalent mostly in Africa to the extent that it over shadows all other positive aspects of the continent.

What are you working on right now?
Nothing at the moment.

Most people write part time. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I teach Creative Writing

What do you like most about being a writer?

I get to do what I love doing.

What do you like least about being a writer?
The lack of financial rewards.

What book is sitting on your coffee table or night stand right now?
Little Liberia by Jonny Steinberg

If you're interested in learning more about Ellen Banda-Aaku, please visit her web site. Her work can be purchased online through and