Monday, November 29, 2010

Africa,by Africans..for Africans...Really??

Ok, so this is probably the 3rd or 4th post on Africa since i started this blog. Conscious that there are readers from outside the continent, i sincerely apologize for the biased and one-sided reporting...oh sorry, blogging! On second thought, i take back my apology.

I live here, so i shouldn't be and i am not apologizing. In any case, its difficult to avoid writing something on Africa, if you happen to spend a month living with passport holders and bona fide citizens of Nigeria, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and every two or three days, having visitors from Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana. Surely, doesn't a continent that attracts significant Chinese attention merit adequate blog-time and space? Besides, i consider myself a Pan Africanist. Enough reasons to continue with this post. If you are still not convinced, then you'd better stop reading now.

The AU flag

Difficult to avoid, as well, have been discussions on Africa's problems, from democracy (or lack of it) to poverty (and its abundance); and possible solutions.
African countries should colonize themselves. Sounds like a rather harsh and retrogressive statement to make. Well, 50 years after independence, more than a dozen African countries have little to show for it. A number of African 'scholars' will in fact be willing to demonstrate, just how deeply Africa is still reeling under new forms of colonization, or in academic parlance, 'neo-colonialism'. To these scholars, fora such as the ongoing 3rd Africa-EU summit on 'Investment, Economic Growth and Job Creation', is just another talk shop, meant to subtly expand the neo-colonial grip.

Why would the European powers care, they might ask, when they have to deal with serious economic issues that Ireland, Greece and Portugal are facing? If African countries took the initiative to colonize those countries on the continent that seem to have no clue how to get their house in order-like Somalia, Zimbabwe and a few others-then it would ensure that Africa's resources are not plundered. And if they are, at least they would remain within the continent. Instead of going to study in Europe or the United States, African students would go to universities in other African countries. It is already happening, but this could be ramped up. Brain drain would be consigned within the continent's borders and countries with food surplus would be made to share with their famine-stricken relatives. Think of it working more or less akin to the way traditional African societies functioned. If a man neglected his family, then the village elders would summon the fellow and question him, after which they would issue ultimatums and sanctions, getting the culprit back in line. It would not be an entirely new invention. When Kenya was in trouble, end of 2007/beginning of 2008, the African Union appointed former UN-Secretary General, Koffi Annan as chief mediator (chief village elder).
L - R:Kofi Annan, President Kibaki and PM Odinga.( Annan seems to be saying,"Button up your jackets boys!"

In turn, he crafted a panel of' 'Eminent African personalities' (other village elders) and showed up in Nairobi. In two to three weeks of 'negotiations', President Kibaki was shaking hands with Raila Odinga (now Prime Minister). The welcome message on the African Union web page states: 'An Effective and Efficient African Union for a New Africa'. Many pundits would argue that the AU is far from being effective and  efficient, and therefore a New Africa remains a pipe-dream. In deed, the AU is considered to be an exclusive club of old-geezers who have no clue how to run bakeries, let alone countries. They would never criticize or admonish each other, even in the face of obvious 'human rights' abuses. That may explain why Omar el Bashir confidently waltzed into and out of Nairobi one cold August morning, with an International Criminal Court arrest warrant over his head. But i have a different take. Methinks these 'old-geezers' are very clever fellows. Otherwise how do you explain the fact that many of them have managed to stay in power for so long? I refuse to believe that it is because their citizens are stupid. No! These guys are geniuses. They are not just using their wiliness to produce the much needed effect. My hypothesis: If South Africa could team up with Malawi, Namibia and Zambia to hammer sense into the regime in Zimbabwe...if Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti could agree to keep the Somalis in check....if the North Africans conspired to use their oil wealth to drive economic growth in Burundi...then we would have an Africa, by Africans...for Africans...or would we?...Really??

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Where Mali meets Cuba...Music is spoken!!

Its Saturday night and i want to go catch a good movie on Movie Magic 1 or 2, while sipping a cold Tusker. But then there this story i have been following on the BBC recently, that i just had to write about before. Few things separate me from cold Tuskers (Africa's finest quality lager) and good movies. The headline read 'Second chance for Buena Vista Social Club'. I am big fan of the Cuban group (which is testified by the fact that one of the few things i did at Istanbul's Ataturk International airport while waiting for my connecting flight to Nairobi in September was to buy a Compay Segundo album), so my attention was definitely caught.
According to the BBC story, Malian musicians Djelimady Tounkara and Bassekou Kouyat were in 1996 supposed to travel to Cuba to record music with local musicians. It never happened. Visa problems (i wonder just how many dreams have been shattered by embassy officials who deny visas on flimsy grounds...but that's a story for another day) conspired to deny music lovers what in my opinion is the greatest collaboration of all time. Still the session in Havana went ahead, and produced the best selling Buena Vista Social Club.

Finally, in 2010, British producer Nick Gold has managed to get the Malians and Cubans together in a Spanish studio. The Malians speak English and French. The Cubans Spanish. And so the only common language between them is music! And boy, aren't they fluent!!

Its delightfully wonderful to sit back and listen to them. I hope they can come and play in Nairobi soon. In fact, the next step for me is to write to the Cuban embassy in Nairobi and Nick Gold, with a proposal that they facilitate a show in Nairobi next year.

Meanwhile, i will enjoy watching clips of their performances online, hoping that their album will soon be available in Nairobi's music stores. And now, off to catch the movie and cold Tusker!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I Black

I stumbled upon this poem online (supposedly written by an African child) and would like to share it with you:

When I born, I Black,
When I grow up, I Black,
When I go in Sun, I Black,
When I scared, I Black,
When I sick, I Black,
And when I die, I still black..
And you White fella,
When you born, you Pink,
When you grow up, you White,
When you go in Sun, you Red,
When you cold, you Blue,
When you scared, you Yellow,
When you sick, you Green,
And when you die, you Gray..
And you calling me Colored?!

Have a colorful day!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Viva Cristo Rey!

On Tuesday evening, 22nd November, i picked up my copy of 'Hearts on Fire', a booklet that contains prayers by Jesuits, collected and edited by Michael Harter S.J. Quite randomly i found myself on page 38, and was struck by the line, "Viva Cristo Rey - Long Live Christ the King", attributed to Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez.

I decided to look up his biography, and astonishingly for me, found that the 23rd November is his memorial. He was executed on November 23rd 1927. The same morning i had just heard reports that the Mexican government had issued an advisory to its citizens traveling home for the winter holidays, to drive in convoys and during daylight hours. Quite difficult to imagine, for a country that shares a border with a powerful neighbor-the United States of America. The kind of advisory given by the Mexican government, is very similar to the situation in Northern Kenya-close to the border with Somalia. Mexico has been rocked by deadly violence, pitting security forces against drug gangs.

The execution of Miguel Agustin Pro

 Miguel Pro's execution was dramatic too, as explained in the account given on the 'Jesuit Saints and Blesseds' page of the website of the Society of Jesus:

"Soldiers escorted the unsuspecting Jesuit priest into the prison yard the morning of Nov. 23. When he saw the spectators and the firing squad, he asked for a few moments to pray, and then refused the blindfold when it was offered. Holding his rosary in his hand, he stood in front of the bullet-chipped wall and stretched his arms out in the form of a cross. When the order came to fire, he cried out, "Vivo Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King." 

The shots of the firing squad failed to kill him, and a soldier had to shoot him at point-blank range.
I am certain that the resolve of the Mexican people for a peaceful and a drug-society, will not die.

"Viva Cristo Rey-Long Live Christ the King!"

Sunday, November 14, 2010

If only they could deliver, half as well as they sing and dance...

It is election season in Africa. Tanzania just concluded their elections, with the incumbent CCM party candidate, President Jakaya Kikwete, or 'JK', as they fondly call him, getting re-elected. No surprises there. CCM has been in power since independence in the 60's.
Cote d'ivoire has just gone through round one, with the run-off expected on the 28th November. In Guinea, they are counting the votes, amid controversy and accusations of electoral fraud. Museveni is still campaigning in Uganda and the Nigerians will start party nominations soon.
Just when i thought Museveni was innovative in his campaign, bringing his new-found 'rap' music talents to spice up his vote-hunting antics, i stumbled upon BBC's Africa correspondent, Andrew Harding's piece titled 'Africa's presidential rap idol?'.
South African president, Jacob Zuma, or 'Jay Z' (no relation to the American hiphop artiste), showed off his dancing and singing skills during the last elections in SA. I had more or less forgotten about it, so here you go, for those who did not have a chance to see this:

Critics were quick to point out that the song, "Umshini wam", which means 'give me my machine gun', was akin to hate speech, since it was used during the anti-apartheid struggle. In any case, you've got to hand it to him-the man is a good dancer.
In West Africa, Mr. Ali Ben Bongo succeeded his late father, Omar Bongo. But during the election campaigns, he too had a chance to explore his musical talent, with the assistance of local rap musicians. I like rap and hip hop music, and even though my knowledge of the French language is below kindergarten, it seems to me that they had a good party, as you will see in the next clip:

I only hope that Gabon will have a 'good party' in terms of human growth and development, provision of basic utilities and creation of employment during Mr. Bongo's regime. All in all, it seems that African politicians, from the West to the East, have understood the power of music and dance in African life, and are using it to their advantage.It makes living in Africa a very interesting experience-never a dull moment!
If only they could deliver, half as well as they sing and dance......

Friday, November 12, 2010

Africa is not hopeless...Our destiny is in our hands

In October 2009, the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, gathered 33 cardinals, 79 archbishops, 156 bishops, a number of priests, nuns and lay people, men and women, to consider the theme "The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace."

For three straight weeks, the assembly made their way through a series of weighty matters, ranging from migrants and refugees, elections, politics, environmental evangelization, family, international aid and trade, inculturation and Mary, Our Lady of Africa.

A section of bishops at the opening Mass of the Synod

Scanning through the draft version of the final message released at the end of the assembly, i get a strong sense that this is one of the most comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the picture that is Africa today.

The last few years have been for me very intense to live in Africa, and to be an African. This intensity has perhaps been enhanced by the fact that i have had the opportunity to meet people from different parts of Africa, and the world, and often we would be sharing life from different perspectives.

For a continent that has witnessed both the ruthlessness of apartheid...and the magnanimity and courage of leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in South Africa..a continent that has endured the horrors of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and ongoing violence in Darfur and Eastern Congo...while hosting the World Cup soccer tournament in is impossible to imagine the two faces of the continent - suffering and beauty.

While acknowledging the myriad of problems that Africa as a continent is faced with, Fr.Kieran O’Reilly, a missionary priest, in his presentation to the Synod had this to say about the image of Africa that is seldom seen in the media:

"...the Africa of immense beauty, of open spaces and luminous skies, the Africa of ordinary people who humble us by their stoicism, selflessness and exuberant delight in company. This is not the Africa of helpless victims, worthy only of pity. It is rather the Africa of song and dance, of laughter and celebration, of energy, creativity and resilience. It is an Africa that can teach us a lot about what it means to be human about reconciliation about achieving Justice and establishing Peace despite many images to the contrary, and remind us of values that are fast disappearing from the developed countries of the world."

Fascinating...but true. Many first time visitors to Africa that i have met, have said to me that their whole perspective towards life has changed. I hear them trying to express in words, something that must be very deep...that only they truly understand. It is no wonder that many of them have been back or dream to come back.
In my own country, after being literary on the brink of collapse at the end of 2007, Kenya is now on what seems to be the path to renewed nationhood, one of unity and hope.
In about 8 or so weeks, Africa might give birth to its youngest child, South Sudan. I pray that the referendum works out peacefully. Sudan has been through more than 2 decades of civil war, between the north and the south.

Flag of South Sudan
You only have to go to Sunday Mass at Nairobi's Hekima college (Jesuit Theologate), and see the number of people belonging to the Sudanese community, to understand what war does to a country. In Guinea Conakry, the military junta has organized elections and has pledged to support whoever is democratically elected by the people. The Ivorians have just been through the first round of elections after a 10-year period. The incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo will face-off with Alasanne Outtara in the second round. I hope that this will mark the return of Ivory Coast to its former prosperous past.

When i speak to my friends, i see in them a young generation of Africans who have no prejudice for their peers based on tribe or religion. I see in them people full of positive hope, amazing talent and potential...and more importantly people full of human values.
But what is even more encouraging, is the fact that Africa is not alone.At the concluding Mass of the Synod, Pope Benedict XVI assured the continent that "...The whole Catholic Church is near you with prayer and active solidarity, and you are accompanied from heaven by the men and women saints of Africa, who with their life -- sometimes to the point of martyrdom -- have witnessed to total fidelity to Christ."
I can personally witness to this fact: after their experience in Kenya and Tanzania in July/August of 2009, a group of young Polish friends meet every month to pray for and with Africa. I bet many such groups exist across the world. I hope that this new generation will bring about a new international solidarity, that can show 'clubs' such as the 'G20' what solidarity really means.
Here is a prayer that concludes the Synod's message:

Africa, rise up, take up your pallet, and walk! (Jn 5:8)
"In the meantime, brothers,
We wish you happiness.
Try to grow perfect,
Help one another.
Be united; live in peace
And the God of love
And peace will be with you."
(2 Cor 13:11)

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika! God Bless Africa! Mungu ibariki Afrika!

The tale of two Mayors..Part II

Here's an update on an earlier post. Remember the case of the two Mayors?
Dr.Bossman and his supporters
Well, one is still smiling.By the time i finish writing this piece, the swearing-in ceremony of Ghanaian-born Dr. Peter Bossman, as Mayor of the Slovenian city of Piran, will begin at Piran City Hall.
Piran City Hall
Already the media have nick-named him 'Obama of Piran', never mind all the troubles that Obama has had to cope with in the last couple of months in the mid-term elections. In Nairobi, Mr.Geoffrey Majiwa is no longer Mayor, and is quite busy consulting his lawyers and attending court sessions.
Mr.Majiwa leaves court
And now there is a third entrant! In Uganda, interesting things are happening. Dr. Ian Clarke, an Irish-born doctor who runs the International Hospital Kampala, has announced his intention to run for a council seat in Kampala, that represents approximately 400,000 people.
Dr.Clarke and his adopted daughter Rose
From my scanty research, it seems that Dr. Clarke has a good track-record in community development, not only in Uganda, but in the East African region. It will be interesting to see what the voters decide.
Dr.Clarke at work
 Who knows, maybe Dr. Clarke will go on to become Mayor of Kampala in a few years! The world really is a global village!
I hope there will be a part three to this story...i strongly suspect there will be...but it all depends on the citizens of Piran, Kampala...and the judicial system of Kenya!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Narodowe Święto Niepodległości

National Independence Day is the most important Polish national holiday. On November 11, 1918, after 123 years of captivity, Poland regained its independence.

After years of partitions done by Austria, Prussia and Russia between 1772 and 1795, national uprisings (November Uprising of 1830 and January Uprising of 1863), struggles and efforts in various fields, Poles, owing to their steadfastness, patriotism and heroism, managed to regain their freedom.

Statue of Piłsudski on Warsaw's Piłsudski Square
Józef Piłsudski, “First Marshal of Poland”, played an enormous role in Poland’s recovery of sovereignty.
On 31st December 2010, many Kenyans will look back to the month of August 2010, as the most momentous in their country's history. A peaceful referendum and a new constitution, revamping the governance structures of the country. In many ways, August 2010 reminded Kenyans of the day their country gained independence from Britain.
Missing out on taking part in the process, would be for many Kenyans, a misfortune to say the least. I mean, how often do you get to vote for a new constitution, that has been arrived at through fairly *democratic and consultative processes (*by standards of Western democracies)?
However, on the last day of 2010, i will be remembering the month of August for completely different reasons. After being part of an amazing Ignatian young adult program, MAGiS 2010, Hungary, i had the opportunity to travel together with a group of Polish friends, across Hungary and Slovakia and into Poland. When Pope John Paul II visited Kenya on three different occasions, I was probably too young or disinterested (or both) in what was happening, and so never got to see him. Then in 2005, I signed up for World Youth Day, and besides the excitement of going abroad to an international event for the first time, I was very much hoping to finally see JPII. It never happened. He died in April, 4 months before the event. Setting foot in Poland (and eventually in Wadowice, JPII's birthplace!)
In Wadowice,JPII's hometown

was therefore a great consolation and in many ways the fulfillment of a dream, albeit through different means.
Trying to summarize my two-week experience in Poland in a single blog post would be next to impossible. But on the eve of Poland’s National Independence Day, I feel and strongly want to write something. What then, with so much to write about? From the beauty of the Polish countryside to the vibrancy of its cities, from Krakow to Bialystok to Czestochowa to Warsaw…
Coming from a country that prides itself in its ‘legendary’ hospitality, my experience in Poland was truly extraordinary. The warmth, friendship, love and welcome that was extended to me by my immediate hosts, acquaintances, people I met for the first time and in the homes that I was welcomed into, was so profound, that many are the times I felt close to tears of joy and gratitude.
And so today, I say Dziękuję bardzo and szczęśliwy dzień niepodległości, to all my dear Polish friends. I keep you in my prayer and God willing I will come back. Then again, it’s a good thing that the new Kenyan constitution allows for dual citizenship!