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.