Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Tale of an African-Only Bookstore

I've had to use a Kindle to read African literature since bookstores in Nigeria, if you find them, barely stock books by African Authors
Photo: Shayera Dark
A recent story by The New Yorker about an all African bookstore in Kenya sent tempers flaring on the magazine's Facebook page. Some readers, mostly non-African, accused the bookstore owner of racism, questioning the rationale in selling only books by black authors. While others welcomed the idea, arguing most bookstores on the continent peddled Western literature.

Read more here.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Americans And The Menace of the PC Culture

What Political Correctness is Starting to Look Like
Photo: Creative Commons
The Atlantic recently published a piece I wrote on political correctness in American society and the desire to take offence at inconsequential matters. With Donald Trump's take-no-prisoner style and zero regard for decorum, many wonder if the rise of PC culture is to blame for his win. 
The article is split into two parts. The first briefly addresses Trump's win and what it means for Nigeria; the second focuses on political correctness. 
As a woman, Hillary’s loss was a great disappointment. She came prepared but lost to an egomaniac. I believe Trump’s win only reinforces toxic masculinity and meanness. You can be a straight shooter without being odious.
The day after the election, I did a vox pop [an interview with members of the public] in a cafe in Lagos. Most people were surprised and disappointed that Trump won, but they didn’t think his presidency would affect Nigeria substantially. They had a let’s-wait-and-see view. Read more here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

When Surreality Became Reality

Photo: Shayera Dark
Do you recall what you were doing this same time eight years ago? I do. Vividly.
I was sick as a dog from eating tainted food the night before, lying in some hotel room on the outskirts of town, thinking my end was nigh. I drifted in and out of sleep, and on occasion heard my mom scolding the receptionist for changing the channel from CNN to Movie Magic. For some strange reason, the receptionist had control over guests’ TVs.

I remember somewhere between 3 and 4 am, feeling much better and then bam! He won! He won! Barack Obama, a dark-skinned biracial man with unmistakably African names, a relatively unknown senator from Chicago, a man who grew up with an absent father was president of the United States of America. Almost immediately, my phone began beeping from text messages from friends and families, thrilled at what was a historical moment. Later that day, I would change my Facebook status, slightly altering a line from Tupac’s Changes from ‘We ain’t ready to see a black president’ to ‘America is ready to see a black president.’

In 2012, I remember finishing a blog post titled Four More Years, the popular refrain to Obama’s re-election bid. I couldn’t watch the debate because I had to go to work the next day. Ok, I lie. Actually, I couldn’t bear to see him lose to Mitt Romney, that’s the main reason I chose to go to bed. The pain of having to witness Obama become a one-term president was too much to handle, so I turned out the lights.

Yet, it was the first thing I wanted to know the minute I woke up. Quickly, I went online and once again, he had won.

Fast-forward to 2016, and I’m here, sitting on the floor, willing my heart to be still. The impending mood almost seems like a replica of the 2012 race, where Romney gave Obama a run for his money. But unlike election night in 2012, the stakes today are tremendously high. You can read more here.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Art X Lagos: A Visual Paradise

Photo: Benediction of Eve/Sokari Douglas Camp 
This weekend, 30 exhibitions by 65 artists and galleries from 10 African countries and the diaspora converged at The Civic Centre in Victoria Island, Lagos. From 4th to 6th November, the new contemporary art fair presented by Art X Lagos captivated African art collectors and connoisseurs as well as those with no inkling of art.

Visitors wishing to relive childhood memories or simply try their hands at art were treated to Karo Akpokiere’s seven-metre long colouring wall—a metonymic depiction of Lagos’s social class via references to the Island and the Mainland.

While the fair’s theme Conversation Starters seemed broad if not redundant, since works of art generally evoke conversation, it freed artists from having to choose a particular subject matter or form of art for their exhibition. Different media such as wood, Photoshop, metal, mosaics, water colour and concrete were featured, with some artists like Obiora Anidi combining two or more media to bring their ideas to life. Read more here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

When the American Dream is an Illusion

Recently, I read Imbolo Mbue's Behold the Dreamers, a riveting page-turner that tells the tale of African immigrants in America. So moved was I by the story that it compelled me to do what I've never done before: write a book review.

Imbolo Mbue’s impressive debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, is one of those books that truly lives up to its hype. It’s a superbly written, evocative and a riveting read that centres on the illusion of the American dream, a term I’ll use lightly in this piece since the ideals of freedom, equality and financial independence are not inherently American but universal.

The story unfolds through the eyes of the protagonist, Jende Jonga, the pragmatic and good-natured Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, New York, and his smart, determined wife, Neni, detailing how their lives become entwined with that of a wealthy white American family after Jende is employed to chauffeur a Lehman Brothers executive. Both Jende and Neni are enamoured with the idea of the American dream and set about doing what they can to achieve it, while fervently hoping that Jende’s application for asylum is accepted. You can read the rest here.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

President Buhari with Nigerians in the Other Room

The Other Room
Photo: Weidner/Flickr
It began with Nigeria’s First Lady, Aisha Buhari, expressing her displeasure in a BBC interview on Thursday over her husband’s political appointments, and warning that if he didn’t change his ways, she may not campaign for his re-election.

Though it remains unclear whether the First Lady was suggesting the president reward friends with political appointments or that she was genuinely concerned about the ineptitude of his cabinet, what was apparent was her dissatisfaction with her husband’s leadership... Read more here

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Which Way Nigeria?

Photo: Shayera Dark
The British pulled out of Nigeria fifty-six years ago today to wild euphoria and jubilation. Finally, Nigerians were in control of their destiny and resources, and could now stir the ship they had been forced to board in whatever direction they wanted.

Fifty-six years of statehood is a relatively short one in comparison to countries that have existed for over two centuries. Still, for any country that has experienced coups, a bitter civil war and years of military dictatorship, it feels like a very long history that deserves to be commemorated.

Hence, in honour of Independence Day, here are five achievements worth celebrating.

Divide and Rule: We’ve been told there’s unity in diversity, yet Nigerians don’t see anything but distrust for anyone outside their own circle. It’s easier giving British, Hebrew and Arabic names to our children than choosing a name from a neighbouring tribe. We’re so good at pointing our differences than our unifying qualities, which is why the slightest variation must be highlighted.

A typical Nigerian doesn’t see Nigeria as one, indivisible entity. No. In their mind, Nigeria comprises separate entities: the North and the South, and as such, Southerners couldn’t care less about Boko Haram and Northerners about the environmental degradation of the Niger-Delta.

Northern and Southern Nigeria can also be further split into six different geopolitical zones: North East, North Central, North West, South East, South West and the South South. These zones contain the nation’s thirty-six states, ostensibly created to end the bullying relationship that existed between minority tribes and the offending majority tribes. Still, these ‘minority’ states and their governors have done nothing but prove they are just as good at oppressing other minority tribes and looting state coffers like the majority tribes. In essence, the ‘difference’ between minority and majority tribes is nothing more than a tool politicians use every four years to trick their blind supporters into getting them into office and the state’s treasury.       

Another way Nigerians love to differentiate themselves is with religion. The two biggest religions view each other with the evil eye, a fact that influences politics as the president and their vice cannot belong to the same faith. This mistrust even exists within the same denominations, where marriage between Protestants and Catholics is frowned upon. Just ask the Igbos.

Mind-boggling Corruption: Thievery by ministers, governors and presidents is as normal as sunlight and, hence, no longer shocks the average Nigerian.

When Colonel Sambo Dasuki, the former National Security Adviser, was detained over his involvement in a 2.2 billion dollars (that’s million with a ‘B’) deal fraud, people barely batted an eyelid. What was even more alarming about the affair was that the misappropriated funds were meant for military hardware for soldiers who were engaging Boko Haram in a mortal combat.   

The good news is Dasuki remains in custody for his alleged crime, but what about the others who’ve looted the country blind? What about Stella Oduah, who was fired from her position as Aviation Minister under a cloud of misusing 255 million naira to purchase armoured cars? She’s a senator now. And the ex-presidents, military heads of state, and former governors who dipped their crooked hands in the cookie jar? They’re still flying high and free. Why? Because only scapegoats get caught.

Heedless Leadership: Remember the Chibok girls? Well, since the new government still hasn’t staged a rescue operation, they remain captive along with some boys and women who were/are excluded from the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag.

Imagine for a second, being away from family and friends, going hungry for days on end, possibly being raped every week and not knowing if today would be your last day alive. Imagine being the parent of one of those kids, and having to hear for 29 months from government officials that they’re doing their best to bring your child home. No one seems to understand that every day is one day too long, twenty-nine months a lifetime.

Now imagine if those girls were the daughters of the president, vice-president, Dangote and any of the governors, do you think we would still be talking about Boko Haram? Or that the government would have waited for Michelle Obama to carry a #BringBackOurGirls sign to spring into action?

Decaying Infrastructure: During the recent presidential debate, Donald Trump deplored the state of American airports, erroneously comparing them to those in third world countries. Now, if The Donald were to visit Port-Harcourt’s so-called international airport, he’d retract his words, apologise to the American people and be grateful.

I can’t even begin to describe the dilapidated state of the world’s worst airport, where passengers have to walk the runway to the arrival hall—a makeshift cubicle, and wait for their luggage to be physically lugged to them. There are no carousels, escalators or elevators. There’s nothing at all indicating the 21st century.

The same could be said of our roads, seaports, railway, bridges and power grids, which are either non-existent or decrepit.

Eternal Recession: The great recession that began in 2008 had little to no effect Nigerians as we were already accustomed to living with a bad economy and mass unemployment. But with the dollar now exchanging for 478 naira, thanks to the fall in oil prices, our eternal recession may soon become a depression.

Meanwhile, whatever happened to President Buhari’s campaign promise of making one naira exchange for a dollar? Is his magic stick not working, or he waiting to pull the cow from his hat just before his term runs out in 2019?

Once upon a time, Nigerians abroad rarely stayed back, preferring instead to return on completion of their education to build the country. Today, they overstay their visas and are either deported or go underground.

At the time of independence, kidnapping was unheard of, graduates were guaranteed employment and education, though not top notch, was still better than what’s on offer by some of these private schools today.

While other countries are improving economically, politically and otherwise, Nigeria is moonwalking into a pit of despair because our lawmakers care only about their bank accounts and the masses their stomachs.

This begs the question: Which way Nigeria?