Feb 29, 2012

No news isn’t good news

This past weekend it really hit home for me how little news coverage we get on the television these days; in the United States that is. As a news junkie who enjoys being up to date with the latest world news it’s thoroughly disappointing to spend a weekend morning surfing channels and dodging talking heads in pursuit of basic news coverage.

24 hour networks manned by robots with shiny teeth and frosted hair regurgitating the same lines suited to make their target audience comfortable in their own ideology and acting as cheerleaders for their chosen politicians. It’s so hollow and superficial. I’m sick of it.

I want back substantive news, particularly international coverage. There ought to be less sensationalism and more intelligent analysis of the issues at hand. We keep hearing about how expensive it is to have bureaus abroad and to send reporters into the trenches, so instead we’re bombarded by endless tickers on the bottom of our screens and fancy graphics that tell us nothing.

Since this isn’t likely to change anytime soon, I’ll just stick to my AP and Reuters mobile apps, BBC and public radio, and BBC News Hour on public television. 

- Disgruntled news junkie

Feb 28, 2012

Wicked seductress

There’s nothing quite as scintillating as a sex story to draw readers to a newspaper or online article. I try not to get drawn in because such stories are often voyeuristic in nature and written to generate chatter. Alas, there’s one that I just cannot avoid because the coverage is so unjust, in my opinion.

Late last year a sex tape featuring two Zambian college students was leaked and made the rounds in multitudes of inboxes. I actually threatened a few people with the immediate termination of our friendship if they dared forward me the video.

Online commentary came in fast and furious, and the two “video stars” were eventually named. The young woman, Iris Kaingu, was called all sorts of filthy names while her partner was often praised for his perceived prowess as exhibited in the video, when he was mentioned at all.

The college later expelled the two, and Zambia Police got involved because the pair had allegedly created “obscene cinematographic films tending to corrupt morals” which is an illegal act under current law.

Now let’s fast forward about 2 months, Iris is in court facing these charges. She has pleaded not guilty and the case has adjourned until March. However, what I find inexplicable is the fact that her partner remains unnamed in the eyes of the prosecution. Uhm, excuse me?

The local media is yet again having a field day with rehashing details of the case and yet not one single journalist is asking why only one person is facing charges in court? Have the police completely fallen asleep on the job that pursuing only one party in a joint crime is sufficient? Even further, why aren’t the moralists pursuing the person who edited the video and distributed it for public consumption for corrupting morals?

This is reprehensible! We remain a society where rabid preoccupation with women’s modesty and chastity often trumps common sense. In addition to the criminal act of producing a pornographic video, Iris is being punished for stepping outside of the bounds of what is deemed ‘normal’ for good girls. Her value is diminished for her outward expression of sexuality, and she already been judged and stoned publicly. She will likely feel the full brunt of the law unless her lawyers can make a good case in her defence. And in the mean time her partner is safe in the privileged position of obscurity allowed him and the notoriety of being “manly.”

Where is the justice in that?

Feb 14, 2012

Books for 2012

This is the list of books I have sitting on my shelf that need to be read in 2012. These are all carry overs from last year, and are written by African authors. I really ought not to buy any other books until these are read, and hopefully reviewed. I'm having trouble prioritising, any suggestions are welcome! (The list is alpha by author last name)

You’re Not a Country – Pius Adesanmi

In this groundbreaking collection of essays, Pius Adesanmi tries to unravel what it is that Africa means to him as an African, and by extension to all those who inhabit this continent of extremes. This is a question that exercised some of the continent's finest minds in the twentieth century, but which pan-Africanism, Negritude, nationalism, decolonisation and all the other projects through which Africans sought to restore their humanity ultimately failed to answer. Criss-crossing the continent, Pius Adesanmi engages with the enigma that is Africa in an attempt to make meaning of this question for all twenty-first century Africans.

Tropical Fish – Doreen Baingana

In her fiction debut, Doreen Baingana follows a Ugandan girl as she navigates the uncertain terrain of adolescence. Set mostly in pastoral Entebbe with stops in the cities Kampala and Los Angeles, Tropical Fish depicts the reality of life for Christine Mugisha and her family after Idi Amin’s dictatorship.

Three of the eight chapters are told from the point of view of Christine’s two older sisters, Patti, a born-again Christian who finds herself starving at her boarding school, and Rosa, a free spirit who tries to “magically” seduce one of her teachers. But the star of Tropical Fish is Christine, whom we accompany from her first wobbly steps in high heels, to her encounters with the first-world conveniences and alienation of America, to her return home to Uganda.

As the Mugishas cope with Uganda’s collapsing infrastructure, they also contend with the universal themes of family cohesion, sex and relationships, disease, betrayal, and spirituality. Anyone dipping into Baingana’s incandescent, widely acclaimed novel will enjoy their immersion in the world of this talented newcomer.

The Family – Buchi Emecheta

The story of a young Jamaican girl, Gwendolen Brillianton, who is born into poverty and deserted by her parents when they emigrate to London. Being reunited with her parents and the siblings she has never met does not end her problems, and she realizes she must must fight her family and take control of her own life in order to recover from abuse and take pride in her self.

Second Class Citizen – Buchi Emecheta

A poignant story of a resourceful Nigerian woman who overcomes strict tribal domination of women and countless setbacks to achieve an independent life for herself and her children.

Maps – Nuruddin Farah

Originally published in 1986, Maps is the first volume in Farah's "Blood in the Sun" trilogy. One senses autobiographical resonance in the storys concentration on Askar, a Somalian boy orphaned by his mother’s death when she bore him and the loss of his father, a combat soldier serving in Somalia’s war against Ethiopia. Askar’s dilemma whether to belong to his loving (Ethiopian) foster mother Misra or join the Somalian Liberation Front and emulate his father’s selfless courage is subtly explored in a tense narrative alive with local colour that’s both an affecting character study and a dramatic allegory of the confusions still plaguing a wounded and deeply conflicted society.

Gifts – Nuruddin Farah

(Volume two of the “Blood in the Sun” trilogy) Gifts is a beguiling tale of a Somali family, its strong matriarch, Duniya, and its past wounds that refuse to heal. As the story unfolds, Somalia is ravaged by war, drought, disease, and famine, prompting industrialized nations to offer monetary aid--"gifts" to the so-called Third World. Farah weaves these threads together into a tapestry of dreams, memories, family lore, folktales, and journalistic accounts.

The Good Doctor – Damon Galgut

A finalist for the Man Booker Prize and Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the region of Africa, The Good Doctor is a taut, intense tale of the dashed hopes of the post apartheid era and the small betrayals that doom a friendship. It has been greeted with enthusiastic interest around the world and assures Damon Galgut's place as a major international talent. 

When Laurence Waters arrives at his new post at a deserted rural hospital, staff physician Frank Eloff is instantly suspicious. Laurence is everything Frank is not—young, optimistic, and full of big ideas. The whole town is beset with new arrivals and the return of old faces. Frank reestablishes a liaison with a woman, one that will have unexpected consequences. A self-made dictator from apartheid days is rumored to be active in cross-border smuggling, and a group of soldiers has moved in to track him, led by a man from Frank's own dark past. Laurence sees only possibilities—but in a world where the past is demanding restitution from the present, his ill-starred idealism cannot last.

Snakepit – Moses Isegawa

In Snakepit, Isegawa returns to the surreal, brutalizing landscapes of his homeland during the time of dictator Idi Amin, when interlocking webs of emotional cruelty kept tyrants gratified and servants cooperative, a land where no one–not husbands or wives, parents or lovers–is ever safe from the implacable desires of men in power. Men like General Bazooka, who rues the day he hired Cambridge-educated Bat Katanga as his “Bureaucrat Two”–a man too good at his job–and places in his midst (and his bed) a seductive operative named Victoria, whose mission and motives are anything but simple. Ambitious and acquisitive, more than a little arrogant, Katanga finds himself steadily boxed in by events spiraling madly out of control, where deception, extortion, and murder are just so many cards to be played.

Love Child – Sheila Kohler

The compelling story of a forbidden marriage, a baby lost, and a love triangle gone horribly wrong, Love Child centers on Bill, a South African woman whose life has been defined by the apartheid-era, class-riven society in which she lives. Under pressure to make her will, Bill is forced to think about the momentous events and decisions that have made her an extremely wealthy if somewhat disillusioned woman. To whom should she leave her fortune? As Bill relives her past, we learn that this is a simple question with a complicated answer. In elegant, sensual, and nuanced prose, Kohler skillfully explores the space between our dreams and our reality, between our hopes and our disappointments.

Wives at War and other stories – Flora Nwapa 

“...collection of absorbing short stories centred around women. Common to all is the involvement of women in all kinds of war.” 

Feb 13, 2012

Iconic Moment

When Zambia’s Joseph Musonda was substituted in the 11th minute during the AFCON final match due an injury sustained in a tackle, he was beside him with grief. He’d tried to play on but it was obvious he couldn’t do it. I felt bad for him because it was a cruel blow to his hopes of playing the whole match.

After the match was over, the coach, Herve Renard did something so selfless and touching, it reduced me to tears – he picked up Musonda and carried him to the pitch to join his team mates in the celebrations. This was a truly iconic moment that summed up the joy and success achieved by the whole team. A salute to the classy coach! 

Feb 12, 2012

Chipolopolo boys triumph!

Zambia’s Chipolopolo stars are the 2012 African Champions after beating Côte d'Ivoire 8-7 on penalties. This was a scintillating victory after a hard fought 120 minutes of play, followed by a round of nail biting penalties. Kolo Toure and Gervinho failed to find the target for the Elephants as Zambia's Rainford Kalaba also fluffed his opportunity. Zambia's victory was secured when Stoppila Sunzu converted the magic kick.

This is Zambia’s first win of the Africa Cup of Nations title. History in the making! Congratulations to the coaching staff, players and football administration. I'm so very excited for this much awaited moment. Memories of this day will live long. 

Feb 10, 2012

Paying homage

A few weeks ago it was announced by Zambia’s new government that our currency would be rebased and 3-zeroes dropped. As a result of these actions new notes will need to be printed, and coins reintroduced and minted. A number of people have jokingly created the new-look Kwacha notes, as shown above.

I am vehemently against putting the face of any past or present president on any of our currency. Doing this just continues an unhealthy obsession with politicians, and only suits the interests of those making the decision as they try to idolise past mentors and the like. Ours is still a relatively young republic and the legacies of our four past presidents still being written.

I would much rather we use images from Zambia’s rich culture and customs to grace our currency, as we currently have. We have no shortage of beautiful wildlife, traditional ceremonies and natural wonders to highlight.

Printing and minting currencies is an expensive endeavour and why risk putting the image of politicians who may be out of favour in 5 years or have been for the last decade or more? There’s been a call from the Post Newspaper to put Kenneth Kaunda AGAIN, and the editor extols his great attributes as the founding president and so forth. To which I say, the man already has the main airport named after him along with a host of other buildings and structures, can’t we just end there?

There really isn’t any information forthcoming from the government as to what designs/images they are thinking of incorporating but if using people is an option on the table, I suggest we use non-politicians. Let’s honour folks like the National football team which perished while on national duty in 1993 or Mama Chikamoneka, a brave widow who led Zambian women to boycott colonial era stores that sold inferior products to the native population, and was a leading voice in agitating for independence.

Feb 8, 2012

Chipolopolo time...it's never too late

Courtesy of Reuters
A curious thing has happened since the African Cup of Nations 2012 tournament kicked off on January 21. A slew of Zambian artists have literally elbowed their way into the studio to record a tribute song. For those who may be unaware, our national team affectionately known as Chipolopolo (the Copper Bullets) advanced out of the group stages as leaders, and have since booked a place into the semi-finals. If they win this upcoming game against Ghana’s Black Stars, this will mark our first return to the finals since 1994. So, this is some pretty exciting stuff!

Now, what I don’t get is this. Where were the tribute songs and accolades before the team left for Equatorial Guinea/Gabon? Where was the optimism that we now hear in these songs and chants that are literally being released on a daily basis? Were they hedging their bets to see how well the team performed before deigning to lavish them with praise?

The more people who rally behind the team the better, but I can’t help but give the side-eye to opportunists who are now trying to cash in when they were missing in action just a few weeks ago. I’m sure the players will be pleased to know they’ve captured the attention of millions following their progress but don’t you think they’ll also say among themselves – “it would have been nice to have this support in the build up to the tournament.”

Feb 6, 2012

Crash and Burn

Recent history has shown a recurring theme with prominent women politicians in Zambia – the brighter the flame, the more spectacular the proverbial fall from grace. The most recent example is our former minister of Education and chief government spokesperson, Dora Siliya. Up until September 20, you couldn’t avoid hearing something coming from her. Granted her position as chief mouthpiece put her out there, but her personality and swift ascent within the party ranks definitely added to whole package and you could not avoid her!

Ms Siliya had a very active Facebook account, which was constantly updated with news of her travels as MP and Minister, in addition to examples of how our government was working for the people. This invited all manner of debate with followers of her account, and quite frankly there was never a dull moment. Fellow blogger, Gershom Ndhlovu, did an interesting write up for Global Voices which brought even more attention to this “social media-savvy minister” to the outside world. See the article here.

Now, let’s fast forward a couple of months, and all is silent; there are no Facebook or Twitter updates. She’s currently under investigation for abuse of office on matters relating to the awarding of contracts during her tenure as Minister of Transport and Communications. There’s also a different matter of stolen property which led police to raid her home late last year and interrogate her twenty-something year old son. Needless to say, things aren’t looking good.

It’s not entirely clear at this time how these matters will play out and if a court case will result from the investigations. But regardless of which, it’s a dramatic shift in fortunes for someone at her level. I won’t speculate if her political career has totally crashed and burned, but I will say this much – if she can come back from this, I’ll be amazed.

I say this because she has been pilloried in public not only for the accusations of wrongdoing in her previous positions in govt but also because of her private life. There was a particularly nasty incident during the election campaign in which she addressed old rumours of her highly publicised failed marriage and proceeded to air dirty laundry in public. A mountain of scorn rained down on her, and this further ignited vicious talk about loose morals and so forth.

Dear reader, you don’t need me to talk about what happens to a woman publicly branded with the scarlet letter, do you?

I can’t help but wonder if she was used as a handy pit-bull by the party establishment to further their own ambitions. This wouldn’t be the first time – look at the MMD’s first National Chairperson for the Women's Affairs Committee, Princess Nakatindi Wina. In her heyday, she was also at the forefront publicly castigating opposing voices, including the National Women’s Lobby, and championing her party’s virtues despite evidence to the contrary. When she stumbled and fell out of favour, it didn’t take much for her to be closed out of the ranks and face serious charges in court. Today, she’s a mere shadow of the juggernaut she once was. Where others (read male politicians) have reinvented themselves, she is an example to young women such as me as to how treacherous politics can be when you’re sitting that close to the seat of power.