Monday, December 31, 2012

Tabula Rasa

It’s that time of the year when resolutions are being written and rewritten and the air is filled with so much hope and dreams of new beginnings. Yes, it is New Year’s Eve again, and depending on where you are you may have rung in the New Year, so Happy New Year to you!

As it’s the last day of the year, I've been pondering all day what my last blog entry for the year should be, and since I’m not a fan of resolutions, I knew I wasn't going to be writing those down. In my world, there’s no point waiting for a new year to roll around before making a commitment. Plus, I must confess, I never get around to keeping them anyway. So after much thought and self-reflection, I've decided to pen a little note that is part prayer, part advice and part wish.

My wish for 2013 is that we all have an open mind to new experiences and the unconventional, and maybe, just maybe accept that our perceptions or ways of thinking may have been wrong all along. As the saying goes, “minds are like parachutes and only function when they’re open”, so open those minds up and experience life in all its splendor and mysteries.

From the plains of the Serengeti to the peak of the Himalayas, I pray that there will be an end to the ongoing conflicts and brutality exacted by man. In addition, I pray Mother Nature will be kinder to us earthlings in 2013. Enough with the theatrics with the floods and extreme weather please! That being said, I’m pretty certain my prayer fell on deaf ears because we humans are still bent on desecrating Nature. Still, I figured it wouldn't hurt throwing in a plea for mankind.

Let’s all show a little more gratitude and kindness this coming year. Life really is short, so as long as you can still draw a breath thank God. Be grateful for what you have, and remember to show thankful recognition to a friend, the doorman, a neighbor, or family member when they do something nice for you. Again, I repeat, life really is short.

Please learn to forgive yourself. Yes, you committed the unimaginable. Yes, you said the most horrible of things the other day, but who hasn't? You’ll be kinder to yourself and to the world if you accepted that it’s only human to screw up one too many times. So make the necessary restitution and let it go. After all, making a mistake is all part of living life. And still on the subject of forgiveness, let’s drop the grudges we have with one another, shall we? I promise we’ll all be a pound lighter and much happier if we put all that righteous indignation behind us and moved on.

Lastly, it’s my hope that in 2013, we will all strive to accomplish our goals and dreams for our lives or at least be on the path to accomplishing them. Let’s summon the courage to fight the inertia of fear that has long prevented us from being fulfilled in life. Let’s say to Courage, “Here I am.”

Happy 2013!!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Two Years Later...

Returned to Nigeria 11 months ago after two years in absentia, and not much has changed – not that I expected it to, although a part of me hoped for some improvement.

My first Nigerian experience after so long was on the plane from Dubai. The young lady sitting next to me found it so taxing to say ‘thank you’ after being served by the air hostesses, even though she’d heard me say ‘thank you and yes, please’ on several occasions. I suppose she thought, ‘Hey, it’s their job so why should I say thanks?’ Well, how about a little courtesy and a show of gratitude? It wouldn’t hurt now, would it?

Meanwhile, somewhere in the next aisle was a truculent man who had been asked nicely by the air hostess to pull his seat to the upright position before take-off. He attempted to do so half-heartedly and proceeded to go back to sleep. After she had asked him to pull up his seat a second time, she went on to get it done herself because he’d ignored her.

Someone needs to inform Mr. Anonymous that there are safety procedures that need to be followed especially during take-off and landing, so when an air hostess/host asks him to pull up his seat, they aren't doing so just for kicks.

Another trait I noticed Nigerians have stubbornly refused to shake off is their inability to obey instructions. Shortly before landing in Lagos, the pilot announced passengers shouldn’t stand until the plane had come to a final stop and the seat belt signs were turned off.

Strangely enough, the announcement was forgotten instantly, because two minutes later, as soon as the plane touched down, people started getting up and opening the over-head lockers!! Was there something in the recycled cabin air that made virtually everyone forget the instructions? It was mind-boggling and embarrassing to watch Nigerians being impatient and overly excited about nothing. Needless to say, a flight attendant had to reiterate the pilot’s instruction before everyone came back to their senses and sat down - so much for re-branding Nigeria.

Upon deplaning, I was hit by the warm, muggy air as I proceeded through endless, long corridors to customs. As a fairly active person, I'm not one to seek out escalators, however on this particular day I made an exception as I was sweating, in pain, and irritable from the oppressive heat. However, there were none in sight, and to make matters worse, I had to climb down the crowded stairs at a snail’s pace to get to immigration.

Need I say that Murtala Muhammed Airport is in dire need of revamping and updating; it is a shameful eye sore. 

If the airport and the ride home weren’t enough to convince me I was back in Nigeria, coming back home to no power did it for me. For reasons unknown to me, Nigeria has not found a solution for the epileptic power supply, which I suspect isn’t difficult to resolve. Evidently, the powers that be, short-sighted as they are, have decided to remain oblivious to the benefits of constant power supply to the economy and lives of ordinary Nigerians.

Am I glad to be home after being away for two years? Yes, I am. Am I disappointed that in the two years I've been gone there has been no significant progress made? Double yes.

Re-branding Nigeria is more than saying those words. It requires us shaking off our old ways of acting and doing thing. If we don’t change our bad habits, re-branding Nigeria is going to remain as real a notion as the cow jumping over the moon.

PS: As for the excruciatingly slow internet connection I am trying to come to grips with, only Heaven can bestow the patience I need to stop me from pulling my hair out.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Four More Years for Obama!!!!

I remember four years ago today like it was just yesterday. I was as sick as a dog from eating tainted chicken the night before for dinner and was paying the price. My night vacillated between drifting off to sleep and taking trips to the john. I was weakened by the never-ending episodes of diarrhea and thought I wouldn't make it alive to the next day to witness history in the making.

“What history?” You might ask. “Why does this seemingly unpleasant day stick out so vividly in my mind?” You may wonder. Well, it does, because exactly four years ago today was the day Americans decided Barack Obama, the first African-American Presidential nominee, deserved to be in the White House. It was also around the time I experienced some kind of an awakening to the world of politics – American politics, I should emphasize. I became interested in the actions or lack thereof the US Government in improving the economy and lives of Americans, and the American people’s reactions to subsequent results. However, I must confess it was sometimes annoying and exhausting to watch polarized Americans bicker, shout and complain.
2008: Victorious
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais 

Fast-forward to 2012 and I still interested in American politics. I watched almost all Republican debates and saw how candidate after candidate fell in and out of favor with their Republican base until Romney was the last man standing.

It's November again and several months since Romney won his party's nomination. Another Presidential election is upon us and I must say I’m just as excited and anxious as I was four years ago. Although, I must say I’m tired of listening to pollsters and talking heads commentate on how tight the race is for Romney and Obama. I’m tired of reading the news on my twitter page, and I’m definitely tired of watching the news on TV, but strangely enough I can’t pull myself away. However, I want the entire circus to end, so things can get back to normal and Obama can finish the work he started.

Yes, I am rooting for Obama like I did four years ago. I’m supporting him for the Healthcare bill he passed. I've never really understood why people with pre-existing conditions could be denied insurance coverage, or why people should be bankrupted from paying medical bills. I'm also supporting him for repealing 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell", for setting a timetable for troops to leave Afghanistan, and for ending America's occupation of Iraq.

Romney on other hand, I just can’t trust as I've seen him morph into 600 different people from the Republican debates through the campaign trail to the Presidential debates with Obama, and it was rather dizzying. At least with Obama, people know where he stands on the issues; the same cannot be said for Romney.

I’m not sure I’d stay awake to watch as the votes are being counted, like I did four years ago, since I have to go to work tomorrow (sigh). But whatever the case, I hope to wake up to the news that Obama won as it would be a crying shame for him to end up as a one-term president. I believe he needs four more years to accomplish most, if not all, of his campaign promises. I believe he needs four more years to finish what he’s already started. Somehow, I wish I could vote, but since I’m not American and therefore can’t, I’ll join the crowd in supporting Obama by shouting: FOUR MORE YEARS, FOUR MORE YEARS!!! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

What's With the Fake Accents?!

What's with the fake accents?! I'm not sure, but I have never really understood people who changed theirs to mimic British or American accents.  I'm of the opinion that if one spoke slowly and didn't use regional slang, anyone would understand the message. I'm also of the opinion that people who switch their accents when engaging in conversations with foreigners, especially Americans and Brits, are somewhat insecure and suffering from a bout of inferiority complex.

I'm proud of my Nigerian accent, although I've been told by several people (including Nigerians) that I don't sound Nigerian which, by the way, is just another parlance for - "I can't detect any tribal intonation when you speak." Well, that's because I grew up in a city, watched cable TV most of the time and attended good schools. Plus I learned how to speak English before Igbo, so there's no way my English is going to have an Igbo twang to it. Regardless, I have a Nigerian accent. I just happen to have a 'flat' Nigerian accent due to the reasons previously mentioned.

Now back to the pressing issue at hand: Fake accents, one of my pet peeves.

Question: Have you ever partaken in a conversation where the speaker continually punished themselves by switching from a strong, regional accent to a painfully mangled imitation of an American accent? I have, and boy was it painful to listen to. I don't know how people manage to keep up the act because I sure can't and find the whole process enervating.

Also, there are some people in their late teens or 20s who emigrate to the States or England and switch accents overnight, so when next you speak to them on the phone it's like you're speaking to an entirely different person! What gives? People, after a certain age, there's no way your accent's going to change - not in a million years and certainly not after a year, so accept it and move on!

You might wonder why I am griping about fake accents. Well, the answer is simple. I think people change things about themselves to improve specific areas in their lives they're not particularly pleased with or people frown upon. So my guess regarding people who alter their accents is that they feel theirs is substandard vis a vis an American or British accent, which I think is a totally misguided notion.

Another hunch of mine is that they think they'd sound educated and well-travelled, if they spoke in an American or British accent, which again is a misguided idea. I for one delight in hearing the English language spoken with different accents, and enjoy deducing in my head where the speaker is from by listening to the way words are pronounced.

An accent is part of one's identity, and so trying to alter it is like saying to oneself one isn't proud of who one is. The world wouldn't be much fun if everyone sounded like me, or the Queen of England, or Obama. That would be so tripe!

Here's my two cents about accents: As long as people understand what you're trying to communicate, there's no need to alter your accent. If you speak slowly and clearly when talking to a foreigner, I guarantee your message won't be lost in translation. If in doubt, here's a little example for you to ponder: Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the UN, spoke impeccable English with a Ghanaian accent, and he certainly didn't have any problems communicating his message to world leaders; neither did they have any trouble understanding him.

So there you have it, be yourself and quit acting.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Unhappy Independence Day, Nigeria

Nigeria marked her 52nd Independence Day on October 1st, which served as a reminder of the sheer courage, vim and determination that was shared by a nation to free itself from British rule. Fifty-two years ago, there was a sense of hope and togetherness; a feeling of maturity that pervaded the minds and hearts of Nigerians – a sense of pride that made them believe they were capable of handling the affairs of their country without external interference. They believed they could pave a better path for themselves than the British had to offer. Alas, those feelings were quickly extinguished by the 3 year civil war that raged on from 1967-1970 as a result of deep-seated tribal animosities.

Today, those feelings of hostility still exist and are skillfully whipped up by politicians as a means of achieving their devious ends. As a result of the constant political rhetoric and demagoguery, Nigeria remains broken and unable to move forward as a nation.  Furthermore, religious intolerance in the North, tribalism in the West and unchecked greed in the East have all conspired to ensure Nigeria remains stuck in a rut.

Nigeria is currently in a second phase of captivity - with Nigerian politicians at the helm in lieu of the British, which only makes things harder to comprehend. Why and how can you hate your country so much that you wouldn't want to see it progress? There's a general consensus that Nigeria was so much better in the 60s and 70s. Now crime rate is up, infrastructure and roads are an eyesore; the educational system is in tatters thanks to the military regime, healthcare is non-existent and power supply remains epileptic despite all the wealth generated from oil revenue. So I ask: What is it we are celebrating? Is it the internal rot Nigeria is perpetually undergoing?

Fifty-two years on and we’re still groping in the dark, while nations like Malaysia, who gained her independence three years before Nigeria, are miles and miles ahead. One might marvel at how far they've come in just fifty-five short years. For one, they've had visionary leaders who ensured that Malaysians embrace their multi-ethnic and multi-religious society for the good of the nation. Indeed, Nigeria ought to borrow a leaf or two from Malaysia. We should embrace and celebrate our differences rather than allow them to be used as political tools by unscrupulous politicians to tear us apart.

Nigeria seems to degenerate with each Independence Day, because there's a lack of political will among the political class to push for laws that would combat corruption and ameliorate the lives of ordinary Nigerians. With such nonchalance and complacency coming from lawmakers and politicians, isn't the time ripe for Nigerians to say they've had enough? Isn't it time we united and staged a Russian or French-styled revolution to overthrow the political class and set us on a course towards true balance and freedom? Only time will tell.

Friday, September 21, 2012

It's Perfectly Normal to...

Me: Imperfect and Unique
Photo: muppet.wikia.com
It's perfectly normal to:

Find yourself in the midst of nature.

Find books more interesting than hanging out with people. They're less complicated and a mine of information.

Not understand what the brouhaha is about new gadgets and trends, especially since they all lose their novelty with time.

Measure success in life in other ways besides wealth.

Not understand what the rave is about diamonds and why people pay dearly, in cash and with lives, for something that's a lousy investment and not even rare.

Dislike and feel drained by crowds.

Allow your mind to drift away in the middle of a prayer, long sermon or lecture, and kick yourself for doing so afterwards.

Loathe most of the current movies and music being churned out for being vapid, trifling and nonsensical.

Choose solitude as a way of mastering oneself.

Imagine a world without soldiers and wars.

Wonder what your purpose is on Earth.

Not read Millionaires', "How I made it to the big leagues" self help books. Just because Mr/Mrs Money bags did XYZ doesn't mean the same formula would work for you.

Ponder this question: "If I had a horrible accident that left me paralyzed from the neck down, or burned beyond recognition, would my friends still be my friends?"

Be me.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Microbial Proliferation of Churches in Nigeria

Is it just me, or are churches in Nigeria, especially in the South, increasing rapidly in number? It seems that as the country descends deeper and deeper into the abyss, churches are popping up every minute, like mushrooms on a dead log of wood. The glut wouldn't be an issue if churches helped curb corruption rather than an avenue to fleece congregants whilst imbibing them with a false sense of hope.

What's bothersome is that the large number of churches hasn't led to a reduction in poverty, apathy, corruption, avarice or selfishness. With churches multiplying every day, shouldn't there be an improvement in the consciences, attitudes and temperaments of Nigerians? It's sad that the only time you might catch a typical Nigerian being somewhat civil and respectful is when they are in church, after that they're back to being their aggressive, insolent and selfish selves.

One phenomenon that gets my goat is the proliferation of churches in residential areas. A perfect example would the estate where I reside: At the last count, there were five churches, but for all I know there may be more. There's one opposite my house, another directly behind it and two at the two estate exits. The fifth one has yet to open for business, but they have bought and walled the field in the middle of the estate (the only greenery in the midst of all the concrete ugliness), and I assure you in a matter of months it will be fully functional with all the noise and drama that define most churches today.

What exasperates me about churches in residential areas is the noise they generate in the evenings, when all you really want is to relax in the quiet comfort of your home. For the benefit of those unaware of the noise I speak of, it encompasses the clapping, the drumming, the horrible singing and the shouting. I tell you, the entire service is a cavalcade of pandemonium.

The ubiquity of churches would be understandable if they preached differing messages or stood on different creeds. But the problem is they don't. Most churches are all about the prosperity gospel. The problem with this kind of preaching is that it diminishes the fundamental message of the Bible which is to love God and our neighbors, and makes people think the only way God shows His grace is by making them monetarily wealthy.

More often than not the congregation is asked to offer money to the 'Lord' in the hope that He'll repay them in kind a million-fold. Are we really bribing God to bless us with wealth?? Has the 'corrupt mentality' found its way into churches and crept up on us? Does anyone ever question what happens to all that offertory money, and why so called Men-of-God get richer and richer by the hour?

Isn't it ironic that in places, like Europe, where church attendance is dwindling, people are far more civil, respectful and solicitous towards one another than in countries where churches multiply at the rate of bacteria? Corruption and crime in these countries are also low vis-a-vis church-crazed countries. Why is that?

Indeed, we need to understand that attending church every day and screaming at the top of our lungs are meaningless if we don't have any respect for the next fellow. As the priest at today's Sunday Mass said, "Our Christianity convicts us if we allow poverty and corruption to thrive in our society..." I couldn't agree more.

Friday, August 24, 2012

What?! You're Not Getting Married?!!

As a young African woman, I'm always met with gasps of horror and mortified faces whenever I give my answer to the inevitable question posed to young graduates, "when are you getting married?" My answer has always been "never", with the occasional tongue-in-cheek "maybe when I turn 60" to prevent the interrogator from suffering an aneurysm. The next question that inevitably follows is, "... but don't you want to have kids?" to which I reply -"no".

For reasons that have eluded me, Africans think every grown adult, especially women, wants to be a parent. But the truth is, we all don't want kids nor want to be married. At least I like to think so because I don't want to believe I'm the only one with such crazy, 'un-African' notions. To be honest, although I've met some people who just want kids without the marriage baggage, I am yet to meet a young African adult who doesn't want kids and wishes to remain single simultaneously.

Maybe I am the only eccentric, 'westernized' African, or maybe people have just accept the marriage and child bearing chapters of their life, no questions asked,  because it is expected of them by society at large. It's almost like a default setting in our brains that instructs us to eat when we're hungry. You don't think about it, you just do it.

Personally, I believe most people get married for the obvious reasons: to bear legitimate kids and provide them with a stable environment, for companionship, and possibly, last but not least, for self-aggrandizement; be it in the form of the trophy wife/ husband, or the central bank wife/husband. I'm aware I didn't include the almighty 'love' because I don't think one needs to get married because one is in love.

Secondly, marriage doesn't necessarily equal love and vice versa. Loveless marriage, anyone? Therefore, I believe that if you don't want kids, not seeking companionship, or craving an ego boost then marriage shouldn't really be on your menu, unless you just want to jump on the marriage bandwagon with most of your friends, or are caving in to your parents constant nagging about wanting a grandchild.

Call me a cynic, but sometimes I think some girls get married to fulfill their childhood Cinderella fantasy, which invariably includes Prince Charmant and happily ever afters. The problem with the picture is that Prince Charmant exists only in fairy tales, and there's no such thing as happily ever afters. If you're not ready to accept the rough with the smooth, then marriage is certainly not for you.

Incidentally, before one jumps to any conclusions regarding the reasons behind my lack of desire to be bride or mother, I have to say I do have the most wonderful parents in the entire world who are very much still a couple, and if I were to grade their marriage on a scale of one to ten, I'd give them an 8. So no, my decision not to get married has nothing to do with my parents marriage or my upbringing. It just so happens that as a child I never had any dreams of what my wedding cake would look like, or who my wedding dress would be by. I don't even like weddings!! For me, the highlight of the wedding is seeing the bride's dress after that everything else is humdrum.

Another reason marriage doesn't appeal to me is because I feel it's a trap filled with marital obligations. Yes, there's divorce, but I'm not a proponent of it except in extreme cases. I can't for the life of me picture myself living with someone for the rest of my life, or cooking for "hubby and kids" which I find torturous. Plus, I find kids to be an encumbrance if you have an adventurous mental picture of what you want your life to look like.

Am I selfish? Maybe I am, but then again I have the right to be since I have one life and one shot at it to live it to the fullest. I believe if one wants to have a huge career, like I do, then one's husband and kids may have to take a back seat. It's sad, but true. Moreover, I certainly don't want anyone accusing me of abandonment. So, unless you can give me better reasons to get married, I'll thank you to quit giving me the she-is-crazy look when I say I don't want to be a Mrs. or a mommy.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Power Drunk African 'Leaders'

Thus far, Africa virtually has no real leaders. Most, if not all, African presidents lack guidance and completely depend on the power conferred on their office to get their mandates enforced. They have no vision for their respective countries, and as a result can't decide what direction to take to ensure political stability and economic success. It seems all they are adept at doing is looting their country's coffers, creating political strife and meting out punishment to anyone who dares oppose them.

Why would anyone in their right mind want to stay in power till thy kingdom come, especially since ruling a nation is a tough job bearing tremendous responsibility to the people? Sure, the notion of being in power for life is tempting due to the clout, unlimited power and perks associated with the office, but, then again, didn't Lord Acton say, "All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely"?

In other words, the longer one remains in power, the more likely one is going to lose touch with reality. A befitting example (or victim) of the axiom would be Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, who has been in power since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980.

Zimbabwe started out promisingly, but has inevitably gone downhill. The country has become a byword for hyperinflation and is a poster child for money supply policies gone awry in virtually all Economics classrooms. A combination of sanctions, failed economic policies and political upheaval has transformed the country from a food basket to a basket case. One would think that the current situation in Zimbabwe and the plight of Zimbabweans would make Mugabe consider stepping down to allow a more capable person reverse the dire situation. Unfortunately, it seems the status quo has only made him dig his heels in deeper.

African leaders are seemingly tone-deaf to public opinion concerning their leadership, be it in the form of elections or protests. Common sense dictates that if citizens are truly happy with their elected leaders, they wouldn't be out in the streets protesting or casting their ballots for the opposition.

Constituents loathe it when their leaders stubbornly refuse to heed public sentiments to step aside, especially when they claim to be democratically elected, which in most situations isn't true and fair. It's like they’re saying to the people, "You can't possible know what's good for you or the country." Perhaps this was the thought Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d'Ivoire and Ben Ali of Tunisia held until they were all ousted.

African leaders should borrow a leaf from Nelson Mandela's book, who arguably is a quintessential leader. He was democratically elected and won majority of the votes in a free and fair election. And if he'd run again, he would have easily won a second term, but he stepped down at the end of his first term demonstrating he wasn't power drunk. Within the short time he ruled, he worked to unite South Africa which could have evenly fallen into chaos as a result of pent-up emotions stemming from the apartheid regime. Instead of relying on the divide and rule technique most African leaders seem to thrive on, he chose the path of peace and unity. Also, he never viewed the presidency as his birth right despite being imprisoned for 27 years for being a freedom fighter.

This is the lesson that African leaders need to learn - just because you found your way to the presidential palace doesn't mean it's your right to remain there until hell freezes over. Hopefully, citizens would realize they're the real owners of their country, and that it's their prerogative to vote out elected public servants who are under-performing.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Equality for Women: More Breakthroughs, Please

My inspiration for this entry was a female cabbie I saw on my way to work one morning. It was a rare occurrence seeing her drive a taxi full of passengers, and it got me thinking, “We, Nigerians, have come a long way.”

By and large, African states are arguably patriarchal, and instances of women taking up traditionally male dominated roles are few and far between. However, that’s not to say that women aren’t making headway. For example, Joyce Banda was sworn in as the first female president of Malawi, making her the first female Head of State in southern Africa.

Similarly, Liberia has the distinction of being the first African country to elect a female president - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Also, most recently, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s first female Finance minister would have been the first female president of the World Bank if she’d gotten the American and European vote. In fact, had she been elected president, she would have been a lot of firsts: First non-American, first woman and first African to hold the position. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be since meritocracy doesn’t always reign supreme in the World Bank’s electoral process.

As optimistic as these examples are, there are still millions of women trapped and repressed by society. According to a recent Time Magazine poll, Afghanistan is one of the worst places to be a woman. A huge percentage of Afghan women are illiterate since education was prohibited until recently, but even so, those who seek an education face the perils of having acid thrown in their faces.

Incidentally, women in Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to drive and have to be squired by a male chaperone. What now? Are Saudi women incapable of behaving themselves that they need a male nanny around at all times? To add insult to injury, they aren’t even allowed to vote. I can’t comprehend the reason any more than I can for why women earn less than men for the same job in most parts of the world. Can it be the ‘unfairer’ sex thinks women are incompetent and irrational damsels in distress?
Fighting for equality
Photo: Sony
The 2011 co-recipients of the Nobel peace prize - Tawakkol Karman, President Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, highlighted the importance of involving women in nation-building, which means providing them with equal job opportunities, voting rights and allowing them participate in politics among others. All three women have worked tirelessly to put an end to the mindless political turbulence and strife that have plagued their respective countries.

No gender is greater than the other since they can’t exist independently of each other, so why does one sex think less of the other? Men shouldn’t assume they won the genetic lottery for emerging into the world as boys, because the fact is all men are born with a deformed second X chromosome commonly known as the Y chromosome. So genetically speaking, in light of this revelation, shouldn’t women feel more superior to men since they possess two perfectly formed X chromosomes? Just saying...

Borrowing from a beautiful text my dad sent me on International Women’s Day – “It’s through the emancipation of WOMEN that MANHOOD will be redeemed. Let there be EQUAL rights.” Yes, let there be equal rights for its existence ensures a much better, saner and balanced world.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Africa's Natural Resources: the Curse of the Gifts

It saddening Africa is synonymous with hunger, poverty, wars, graft, and bad governance. Granted, the international media seem to blow the negative out of proportion, but then again they aren't so far from the truth since there really can't be smoke without fire.
Along the Orange River, on South African side, at dusk [Pic: Tara Finglas]
Orange River
Photo Credit: Tara Finglas/BBC
Africa is a paradox. As the richest continent in terms of resources, it remains the poorest in the world. From North to South and from East to West, Africa is blessed. Blessed with Diamonds in Sierra Leone, Botswana, and South Africa; Copper and Tin in Zambia and the DRC; Gold in Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe; Crude oil in Nigeria, Sudan, Libya, Angola, Guinea Bissau, and of course the rare and endemic fauna and flora in Madagascar.

Africa, it seems, has it all. The scenic beauty and diversity of culture, language and ethnicity are breathtakingly resplendent to make Africa a first class tourist destination. Sadly it isn't because of the selfish, myopic pursuits of African leaders and the African people's tacit complicity in the mindless destruction of the continent.

Most of the ongoing conflicts in Africa are fueled and protracted by developed countries since it's far easier to rape Africa while she's in a state of anarchy, disunity and confusion. For example, the war in Sierra Leone went on for as long as it did because unscrupulous, western corporations secretly dealt with vicious warlords, exchanging money, fire arms and ammunition for diamonds. They had no scruples about fueling the carnage as long as they were getting diamonds for a steal.

Such is the fate the DRC, only this time tungsten, tin, tantalite and gold are the new conflict minerals sort after by multinational electronics companies. These minerals which are crucial elements in the manufacture of cell phones, laptops, gaming systems and MP3 players have made the lives of ordinary civilians brutally miserable.

Local militias, Rwandan and Congolese rebels as well as government troops, who fight one another to control the mines, terrorize, kill and rape women and children, and have dispossessed several Congolese. It's devastatingly ironic that with all the mineral wealth the DRC sits on, there are hardly any pliable roads in the country, healthcare is in a shambles and the education system is in dire straits.
A creek devastated as a result of oil spills in the Niger Delta on 22 March 2013
The vestiges of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, Nigeria
Photo Credit: AFP
In Nigeria, the oil rich Niger delta has become an oil drenched, contaminated wasteland where locals have yet to benefit from the crude oil that's been extracted from the land since the 60s. What's more, the sources of their livelihood have been stolen from them as the land is no longer able to grow crops and waters have become so polluted that live forms can't exist. Again, in this situation, as is common with the exploitation of natural resources, the government is working in league with multinational oil companies to wreak havoc on the environment and lives of Nigerians.

Sometimes I wonder whether Africa would have been better off sans natural resources. Maybe conflicts would have been non-existent. Maybe we Africans would take better care our wildlife, making Africa a rare ecological gem in a world where rain-forests and wildlife are plundered and destroyed on the altar of development.

Maybe more emphasis would have been placed on discovering other sources of revenue, like Japan and Singapore have successfully managed to do, rather than literally living off the land. With thoughts like these, it's difficult not to view our non-renewable resources as curses rather than gifts.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Global Warming and Rising Sea Levels

Aerial view of Kiribati Island
Photo: Richard Vogel/AP
Global warming or climate change, as most scientists are apt to call it, is as real as the beads of sweat cascading down my back. I don’t think there’s anyone who can say, including climate change deniers, that storms aren't more frequent and ferocious; that floods aren't relentless as a result of rising sea levels; or that droughts aren't more severe and widespread than ever before. One might wonder why these events are happening ever so frequently, what the causes are and the impending ramifications if we ignore the writings on the wall.

For starters, WE are the reason for the rapid climate change- rapid being the operative word, since climate change/global warming is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Hence, the issue isn't about the earth becoming warmer, but the speed at which it is.

Between 1906 and 2005, the earth’s average surface temperature rose from 0.6 to 0.9 degrees Celsius as a result of greenhouse gasses generated from factories, cars, over logging, cattle rearing (yes, cows do a number on the environment, because when they fart, defecate or belch, they emit copious amounts of methane), fossil fuels and human activities among others.

Another factor contributing to the earth's increasing surface temperature is the melting of ice shelves and permafrost. Melting ice not only raises sea levels but also releases methane, which then traps the sun's rays, leading to an increase in the earth’s temperature. This increase in temperature causes more ice shelves/sheets and permafrost to melt, which in turn releases more methane into the atmosphere, thereby perpetuating a destructive cycle. The reason this occurrence is troubling is because without these ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, continents will get flooded and the sun's rays wouldn't be reflected. To illustrate, just think about the comfort of a white t-shirt on a hot day. Now, think of wearing a black one on a hot day - unpleasant, isn’t it?
Melting ice caps
Photo: Rudy Blom/Litania Nahr
Kiribati
An abandoned house on the Pacific Island of Kiribati that has succumbed to flood waters
Photo: David Grey/Reuters
One pertinent fact that seems to escape our minds, occasionally, is that our continents are all huge islands at the mercy of one imposing, capricious element - water. And if all ice caps, icebergs and any form of frozen water were to melt, Atlantis wouldn't be the only underwater city. 

Recently, Time magazine reported that the government of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati is considering relocating its citizenry to a Fijian island for fear of the archipelago being swallowed by the ocean. According to the president of Kiribati, the tide has reached villages and evacuating the nation is the only way out of imminent disaster. I can only imagine how traumatic it would be for citizens of that nation to leave a place they've called home for millennia.

Saddening as this reality is, what is happening in Kiribati is a preview of what could and would happen to our continents if nothing is done to curb the excessive emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

There’s a Native American proverb that goes, "We do not own the land, but have merely borrowed it from our children," which essentially compels us to ask ourselves what legacy are we going to leave behind for our children and children’s children? Is it one that would make them question our lackadaisical attitude towards safeguarding our planet, or one that would make them grin with pride because we stopped looking at the bottom line and took the necessary actions required to avert a major catastrophe?

Surprisingly, people say, "God promised to not destroy the planet by flood in the bible, so we shouldn't worry excessively about floods." Granted, He did promise that, but I don’t recall reading that man couldn't. It is our responsibility, as custodians of the planet, to cherish God’s gift to us and treat it with kindness and reverence. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Life is Cheap

When and how did we allow life become cheap? Hardly a day passes by that there isn't news about people being killed in droves: "75 dead in bomb blast in Iraq"; "77 left dead in the wake of a terrorist attack in Norway"; "800,000 massacred in Rwandan Genocide"; "5 killed in Nigerian church blast"; "20 children killed in a Connecticut elementary school." What is most numbing about these headlines is that human beings have been reduced to mere numbers, like share prices.

We've become almost inured to wars and apathetic to the destruction of life. It took a hundred days before the world decided enough Rwandans had died. A hundred days that felt like a long nightmare for Rwandans who were left wondering if the world was asleep. A hundred days that left 800,000 boys, girls, women and men dead and many more displaced.

Another similar event with somewhat chilling ramifications is the Bosnian war that raged on from 1992 to 1995, and saw the deaths of Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims. Again, the world didn't act fast enough to end the slaughter.

The Vietnam War, World Wars, Iraq and Afghan wars have also claimed their share of human lives.

When will the bloodletting be enough? When are we going to start looking at the next human being on the street as a brother, sister, friend, husband, wife, son or daughter? When are they going to stop being the enemy to be exterminated?

Anders Breivik, the Norwegian man who took it upon himself to rid Norway of "undesirables", was reported to have expressed joy during his shooting rampage on Utoeya Island. Could this be the same 'joy' US Marines in Afghanistan expressed while urinating on Taliban corpses and videotaping themselves in the act? Could this also be the same 'joy' Osama bin Ladin felt as the Twin towers came crashing down, taking along 2,606 people to an early grave? Or is this the 'joy' people expressed when he was subsequently killed?

How has this emotion become erroneously connected with such gruesome and horrid events? What has happened to man's psyche that he feels 'joy' at the untimely loss of a life? Perhaps a clue can be found in the fourth stanza of Oswald Mtshali's poem, Nightfall in Soweto: "Man has ceased to be man/ Man has become beast/ Man has become prey." This is how we've come to view one another as nothing more than prey and predator; this perception is the premise for the development of WMDs, ammunition and the like.

The recent reign of terror in Syria is not only tragic but sickening. Tragic because thousands have perished, and sickening because the world again is sitting back and watching a government annihilate its people. How many deaths will it take until the world realizes a stop has to be put to this carnage?

We as a society really need to sit down and do some long, hard thinking about the state of our minds. Like Bob Dylan, we must ask ourselves the following questions: How many times must the cannon ball fly before they're forever banned? How many years will it take till we know that too many people have died? And how many times can we turn our heads, pretending that we just don't see?

Hopefully, before long, we'll be able to discern the answers from the blowing wind.