Saturday, February 25, 2017

Touring Rwanda in 24 Hours

King's traditional palace, Butare
Photo: Shayera Dark
The East African country of Rwanda truly lives up to its ‘Land of a thousand hills’ nickname. Enveloping Kigali, the nation’s capital, and beyond, are verdant, terraced hills standing, in juxtaposition with clear, blue skies, as proof of nature’s ethereal beauty. The general rule that nature invariably yields to human settlement and urban development doesn’t seem to hold true in Rwanda. On the hills and between them, concrete and nature co-exist like commensals with no apparent sign of a struggle.

One striking characteristic of Kigali is its spotless streets and roads. Public bins are present on street corners, and thanks to the 2008 ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags, gutters flow unobstructed. What’s more, the mandatory sanitation exercise, Umuganda, on the last Saturday of every month, has no doubt helped Kigali claim its spot as Africa’s cleanest city.   

Another distinguishing feature of the city is the absence of mammoth traffic jams common in large cities across Africa, making touring the city in a taxi or on one of the ubiquitous motorbikes a breeze.

As a relatively small country, Rwanda’s areas of interest are in close proximity to each other. So if you have less than 24 hours on your hands, why not take advantage and visit these places. Read more here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Teju Cole's Every Day is for the Thief Resonates 10 Years On

Photo: Shayera Dark
“The window was one of many, the town was one. It was the only one, the one I left behind,” reads the epigraph in Teju Cole’s debut novel Every Day is for the Thief. Written like a travel diary, the story pieces together the unnamed narrator’s perception of Lagos after a long absence. A major character in the book, the city’s idiosyncratic traits are critiqued—and by extension those of Nigeria, too.

The novel opens in the Nigerian Consulate in New York, where the Nigerian-American narrator is applying for a passport. There, he quickly discovers that without the ‘expedition fee’ of fifty-five dollars passport processing takes four weeks instead of one as stated on the website. With his trip to Nigeria three weeks away, the narrator grudgingly pays the extra fee, a bribe, on the advice of another applicant.

Like Lagos, the consulate is a microcosm of Nigeria, a country notorious for corruption. And by registering the venality of consulate staff and the reluctant, if not, casual acceptance of graft by applicants, Cole captures the normalisation of corruption by the Nigerian psyche, even on foreign soil where it is uncommon and subtle. As the narrator observes on his arrival to Lagos: “For many Nigerians, the giving and receiving of bribes, tips, extortion money or alms—the categories are fluid—is not thought of in moral terms. It is seen either as a mild irritant or as an opportunity. It is a way of getting things done, neither more or less than what money is there for.” Read more here.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

About that #IStandWithNigeria Anti-Government Protest

Tuface aka 2Baba
Photo: 2Baba Idibia/Facebook
January, a financially sober month for most Nigerians thanks to Christmas spending, ended with a dire warning: Tighten your purse strings more. The naira took another massive tumble in the forex market, exchanging for 500 to a dollar at the parallel market, down from 485 naira in December 2016 and 270 naira in December 2015.

Crude oil sales make up 75 percent of Nigeria’s revenue, so when global prices plunged to 36 dollars a barrel in 2015, Nigerians held their collective breath. They watched inflation rise and their savings dwindle. They watched businesses shut their doors and uncles, friends and mothers lose their jobs. They also watched feckless lawmakers in the National Assembly propose millions of naira in lifetime pensions for themselves and merely grumbled as their president travelled to the UK to treat an ear infection at taxpayers’ expense.

In the two years since the start of the recession, Nigerians did nothing but register their displeasure on social media until earlier this week when Nigerian megastar and crooner Tuface announced he was done watching.  Read more here.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Ode to the Eternal Hustle

Rush Hour in Yaba, Lagos.
Photo: Shayera Dark
Lagos, a cauldron simmering with nascent hopes and trampled dreams is not for the faint-hearted.

Boys and girls, no matter their station in life, are slicker than your average.

Strangers are in abundance, camaraderie is scarce, familiarity unwelcome.

Yet, every day thousands make their way here.

They will join the eternal hustle, all with the intention of sneaking up on Lady Luck.

Some will find her. Most won't.

For the favoured ones, a smorgasbord of possibilities and bounties awaits them.

And the unfortunate ones? Read more here.