Sunday, May 30, 2010

Religion and Homophobia

Kapya Kaoma's report on U.S. evangelicals mega-church shenanigans is worth a read, but check out his attempt to thread the needle on America's Religious Right's politics and that of African evangelicals:

Conservative missionaries focused on evangelism, while progressives became involved in social justice issues such as fighting colonialism and alleviating poverty. Today, religious conservatives in the United States misrepresent progressives as “evil” people who promote homosexuality. They exploit to maximum effect the African view that the imposition upon them of so-called western morality is imperialist.

Even so...

African evangelicals' values differ in many respects from those of the US Religious Right. They embrace theologies such as Latin America's Liberation Theology and South Africa's Black Theology, and their voting patterns on issues of social justice are progressive by US standards. They see political and economic liberation as essential parts of the Christian gospel. Thus, African evangelicals often align with left-wing political movements.

That sounds about right to me. He also goes into detail on how the evangelicals are so powerful, they dictate who these African countries get their money from to fund projects. It's funny how these U.S. evangelicals are all up in government policy in African countries and then refuse to make all the donations/projects/donors public. They'd never be able to hold on to public information in that manner were they in their own countries.

It is lazy of Western journalists to talk about homophobia in African countries without talking about the effect and power of U.S. evangelicals in African countries. Some things are just too complex to fit into a neat little soundbite.

(Image from Pew Research Survey on religion in Africa. Check it out a summary and full report here)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Caine Prize Shortlist is Out!

The 2010 Caine Prize for African Writing shortlist is out.
  • Ken Barris (S Africa) 'The Life of Worm' from 'New Writing from Africa 2009', published by Johnson & King James Books, Cape Town
  • Lily Mabura (Kenya) 'How Shall We Kill the Bishop?’ from ‘Wasafiri’ No53, Spring 2008
  • Namwali Serpell (Zambia) 'Muzungu' from 'The Best American Short Stories 2009', published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston MA
  • Alex Smith (S Africa) 'Soulmates' from 'New Writing from Africa 2009' [see above]
  • Olufemi Terry (Sierra Leone) 'Stickfighting Days' from ‘Chimurenga’ vol 12/13, Cape Town 2008
1 - No Nigerian writer? WTF??

2 - A Zambian story was nominated by the Best American Short Stories of 2009 for a 2010 award? Weird.

I don't have a dog in this fight -- no Nigerian and all -- but, I am a fan of Chimurenga, Wasafiri, and Best American Short Stories series. If you don't read compilations/literary magazines much, I recommend it. They're awesome.

Effect of the oil spill on health

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Rachel Maddow is following the oil spill happenings in the US quite closely, and her Friday show had a section on the effect of the oil on the marshland and on health of the citizens living in surrounding areas. At first, I was sure the research I could find would be scanty on Niger-Delta, so I looked for health info from the Exxon-Valdez spill. Here's what the Natural Resources Defense Council blog has to say, and it's not pretty:
After the Exxon Valdez disaster, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported an increase in respiratory symptoms, headaches, throat and eye irritation, rashes and other skin problems among the clean-up workers. More recently, a study of beach clean-up workers and volunteers in Spain after a 2002 oil spill found an increase in DNA damage. The long-term significance of this finding is not yet known. In Alaska, a mental health study of residents one year after the spill found that exposed individuals were more likely to suffer from anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

Thankfully, I was wrong -- I could find something on health effects of the oil spill in the Niger-Delta. From the January 12, 2000, ERA field report on the oil spill in the Gana Urhobo community in the Niger-Delta:
Mr. Shedrach Oniyere, a 40 years old father of six children and Chairman of Gana community lamented to ERA that on May 13, 1999, a rupture occurred at the well 17 pipeline and spewed crude oil into the adjacent environment. The community said Shell only visited the community and did minor repairs on their aged pipeline leaving the environment devastated without any attention.

Consequently, another leakage occurred recently and spewed poisonous gas at the same well 17 pipeline that runs through Mrs. Omodovwe Adjohwo.s compound. ERA finding revealed that the leakage was caused by corrosion on the product pipeline.

The air in the community is charged with offensive odour and dangerous emissions from the affected site. This adverse atmospheric condition in the area has given rise to fears of impending epidemic in the area.

Unfortunately, the area has no health care facilities. The sanitary condition is very poor because of the polluted environment. The people are impoverished and suffer from poor nutrition. These factor are all conducive to disease vectors like cholera, dysentery, diarrhea and measles which has led to a high mortality rate in the community.

Late Mr. Joseph Evwietoma (a 48 years old man with two wives and 11 children) who was an asthmatic patient and the spokesman of the community slumped and died while inspecting the spill site with some government officials and some community members.

Medical sources who pleaded anonymity disclosed to ERA monitor at the Shell cottage hospital at Ireke in Ethiope East LGA, of Delta State, that the man died as a result of inhaling an excess of poisonous fumes. Another victim Master Godstime Obior, a 6 years old boy who was also asthmatic died in his residence close to the site of the explosion for the same reason. The corpses of the two deceased persons are still in the mortuary.
I'm still waiting for someone in major media -- CNN, I'm talking to you -- to connect the dots on oil spill in the US, and shine a harsh light on oil companies' actions elsewhere in the world.

Yes, it's naive, but a girl can dream.

As critical as I am of oil company activities, I still blame the weak governments more than I do the oil companies. Companies, after all, are not hiding the fact that they're in it for a profit. The regulation and implementation of the laws on the books will mean taking money out of oil company's pockets, so one cannot imagine a profit-maximizing entity wanting to do that. No, the onus is more on governments to regulate these people in arenas that the interests of the companies and the people from whose land they reap their profit do not align. From U.S. to Nigeria, you can say one thing: They sure as hell aren't going to regulate themselves.

(Below: A video showing the oil spill from above)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Getting our heads out of the sand

Something that really rankles about the ongoing "I hate gay people" nonsense is how destructive such a head-in-the-sand approach can be. I largely see this inability to zoom out in one's thinking on policy issues a major pervasive issue in most African countries, but this is truly ridiculous. How do you hope to take care of public health issues -- particularly one that deals with STIs -- if you adopt a willfully ignorant stance? Take the Zambian prison system for example, which really sounds like your run-of-the-mill public health nightmare (audio). Forget overcrowding and food rationing -- how do you plan on counteracting a growing tuberculosis and HIV/Aids problem in prisons if you don't recognize that men will have (sometimes consensual, sometimes not) sex? From the report:

Our findings suggested a high prevalence of sexual activity between male (but not female) inmates, including consensual sex between adults and the adult relationships described above in which sex was traded for food. PRISCCA, ARASA, and Human Rights Watch also heard reports of rape. Sexual activity was reported at Mukobeko, Kamfinsa, and Lusaka Central prisons, and less frequently at Mumbwa, Mwembeshi, and Choma prisons.

Chris, 17, reported that:
I have witnessed sexual abuse. One of the older inmates who was put into our cell to sleep at night started showering my cellmate, a juvenile, with gifts. He promised him money in return for sexual favors. My friend wasn’t happy, and neither did he consent. But the other imposed himself by buying him off with gifts, and saying that there was 100,000 kwacha [US$21] waiting for him “at the reception”. When the older inmate finally approached him sexually, my friend was intimidated, but managed to shout and attracted the attention of the other juveniles. Unfortunately we reported it to the officer on duty at night, and he promised to address it the next day, but he didn’t. The cell captain intervened, though, and removed the man, putting him into one of the other cells....Do I feel safe? No, I don’t feel safe.
Not everyone is being silly, of course. From Rwanda in February:

"Behaviour change communications could be more appropriate than sanctions to prevent MSM [men who have sex with men], and should focus on increasing risk perception, de-stigmatizing condoms, and promoting other strategies for sexual gratification," said the ministry's study.
Among the dark insanity, a ray of common sense.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Not to belabour the point, but...

What if the oil spill happened in the Niger Delta? A blogger dares to wonder, and brings up an example:

Take it from ExxonMobil. Over the past week in Nigeria, an industry source tells Reuters, fully 100,000 barrels of oil have been leaked from an Exxon pipeline — an amount that easily outstrips the (estimated) 94,000 barrels that have so far inundated the Gulf. The pipeline's reportedly now been mended, but in the meantime, Exxon's faced virtually no pressure to give any details about the damage involved, or the nature of any clean-up work it intends to pursue.

What bothers me most about this is not some throwing up of hands in helpless despair and complaining about double standards. I'm most concerned with how this affects Nigeria's ability to fight injustices and be for civil liberties as a people. In order to get angry about violations to one's rights, it must feel relatively new to us. You cannot be outraged about the loss of your civil liberties and human rights if it happens to you on a daily basis. For far too many people on the African continent, violations that will not be tolerated elsewhere have lost their element of surprise.

Africa's Deep Homophobia?

So here I was, sauntering onto the Guardian website like I do sometimes, and I happen upon this article that explains "the toxic brew" that leads to homophobia in Africa.

In a chaotic, noisy restaurant in Africa a couple of years ago there was an extraordinary conversation, which left me very disturbed. Several very educated professionals – all of whom I liked immensely and saw as decent, honourable people – insisted that homosexuality was un-African, a decadent western problem and would never be tolerated in Africa. Or maybe it would in 50 years' time, was the one concession after several hours of vigorous argument. What's more, they insisted they could never work alongside a gay or lesbian colleague.

A little further down in the article, she blames homophobia in Africa on the role of religion, Africa's "part admiration, part envy, part anger and seething resentment" relationship with the West, and the emasculation of men under the British during the colonial era.


I honestly think religion plays a huge role in the homophobia, but I suspect she's got it wrong on the relationship with the West. A lot of African-Americans, to a lesser extent, have issues with homosexuality, but it's mostly helped along with the idea that it's a white thing, and not a particularly awesome white thing to do. Once you convince yourself that only "those people" do "those things" you can hate all you want. Plus, I think to a certain extent, some African-Americans may dislike the idea of a bunch of white people -- especially white men -- calling themselves minorities and claiming victim, and calling their fight for rights "a civil rights issue." As for the British thing, there's certainly evidence to help along the British colonial-era rules argument.

I may have more thoughts on this at another time, but I really don't know right now. I can only say why I myself am not a homophobe, even though I grew up in Nigeria. I never bought the idea that we as Nigerians are somehow different from other people. I was cynical when I was younger -- I've always had issues with religion and doubted that anyone had moral superiority over anybody else. To this day, I scoff at the idea of role models because even though some people do and have done some extraordinary things, I don't think that makes anyone extraordinary. Because I'm not religious myself and therefore have no book to help me demonize people whom I've never met/know anything about, the impulse to hate on sight is gone. All that remains is the impulse to ask questions, and understand.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Janelle Monae, how I love thee!

You know, I was going to write a I-swear-I'm-not-being-paid-to-do-this post on how awesome Janelle Monae is, but, Via Alyssa Rosenberg, Brentin Mock beat me to it:

Monáe has given pop music its first Toni Morrison moment, where fantasy, funk, and the ancestors come together for an experience that evolves one's soul. It's been attempted before: Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation, I think, but that failed because it lacked the courage to carry its struggle to the finish, too often interrupted by gooey songs ("Escapade") that reminded us she's still a mere mortal who believes girls just wanna have fun, just like you. Listening to Monáe, I felt a chromatic charge, like Aunty Entity laughing while pointing a crossbow at my heart in the middle of Thunderdome. Yet I still recognized it as blues and funk—a smothered funk, though perhaps at times too thick, too inaccessible, but not so much I didn't want to shake my ass. It was like the first time I read Beloved, or better Song of Solomon—I didn't quite know what to make of it, but I knew I felt 100 feet taller after reading it.

Yea, it's official: You'd need to be sent to the Palace of the Dogs if you don't buy this album. Do it. Now.

How bad have oil spills been in the Niger-Delta?

Anyone remember that Exxon Valdez spill in the U.S.? Were you wondering how bad that was in comparison to the destruction in the Niger-Delta? Well, in 2006...

Up to 1.5 million tons of oil, 50 times the pollution unleashed in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster, has been spilt in the ecologically precious Niger Delta over the past 50 years, it was revealed yesterday.

A panel of independent experts who travelled to the increasingly tense and lawless region said damage to the fragile mangrove forests over the past 50 years was tantamount to a catastrophic oil spill occurring every 12 months in what is one of the world's most important ecosystems.

As well as threatening rare species including primates, fish, turtles and birds, the pollution is destroying the livelihoods of many of the 20 million people living there, damaging crops and fuelling the upsurge in violence, it was claimed.

The Delta is home to 7,000sq km of the continent's remaining 9,000sq km of mangrove and scientists believe some 60 per cent of West Africa's fish stocks breed in the rivers and swamps along the coast.

All this talk about oil spills got me curious about the Niger-Delta situation and how the spills have adversely affected livelihood there. I'll be doing this continually throughout the week, but check out the result of this oil spill in one of the villages that constitute Okpella, some 400 miles out from Abuja, in 2002.

The spill took place in one of the villages that constitute Okpella, 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) from the Nigerian capital, Abuja. The refined crude oil seeped into the underground water supply and then into a stream which provides the villages with water.

Investigation revealed that more than 53 wells in the town have become polluted as specks of refined crude float in the water. The villagers have abandoned these wells as they now consider this water unfit for human consumption.

Jumeh Ibrahim is a native woman of the town, a farmer who lives 20 meters (65 feet) from the burst pipeline.

"We have lost a lot of goats from the problem," Ibrahim said. "They die when they drink the polluted water. There are now many cases of dysentary and malaria. Some people have ignored warnings and drunk out of the polluted water."

The oil spill has also affected the farmlands of the community. Crops are now visibly withered due to the presence of toxic materials in the soil, a major blow to a population that depends on farming for its survival.

The inhabitants grow plantains, yams, cassava, coconuts, groundnut, potatoes and other crops, but most are destroyed and drying up in the aftermath of the spill.


A key difference, of course, is that what's happening in the Niger-Delta is that a lot of oil spills also come from theft on the pipelines, which only serves to compound the problem. From Fox Business:

In 2009 13,900 metric tons of oil were spilled into the Niger Delta as a direct result of sabotage or theft, more than double the 2008 total and four times the 2007 figure, Shell said in its annual sustainability report.

Shell also quadrupled its estimate of the amount of oil it spilled in the region due to accidents in 2008 to 8,800 tons following the completion of investigations.

Still, according to Nigeria's law on the books, the oil companies must clean up the mess even if the spill happened following sabotage or theft. No, that doesn't happen. No, don't ask me why it doesn't. In fact, if you have to ask, you clearly don't know Nigeria.

I wouldn't go nearly as far as saying that the oil spill in the US at the moment is a good thing. Complete erosion of coastline that will take years (decades?) to reverse is not something that should be taken lightly, nor taken with any measure of schadenfreude. If this does indeed make more people aware of the situation in the Delta, fine. But I would ask why this is what it took. More to the point, if this is what it had to take. And I don't think this whole oil spill business in the US is going to make any of these oil guys blush. They're still at their shenanigans in the Delta after having to pay the Ogoni people $15.5 Million following a lawsuit in Dutch court, and they're still at it. Gas flaring has been going on forever, even though it's been officially abolished since 1984. There's no reason why this should continue. There's no reason to expect it to stop.

Here's what I'll be looking at this whole week:

Amnesty International Report in 2009 on Niger-Delta
A recent history of oil spills in the Niger-Delta

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Goodluck Jonathan Is on Facebook!

Cool, huh?

Elections in 2011. We'll be watching.

It's Just Like Striking Matches...

There's something to unexpected or unintentional eloquence. You just know when someone says something for effect, and it's always more poignant when lyrics or words in a book hit you without your really expecting it, in a way that the writer probably didn't expect.

Here's some samples of what I mean from stuff I've read/ listened to lately.

From MGMT' 'It's working.”

Here, you focus
so I can see your faces
the eyes are wrong

how will I know if it's working right?

light confuses
the tiny isles of bruises
the mangled lines

I love MGMT, and there is a certain ethereal quality to the writing of this particular song, and a real sense of measure that, even though the lyrics to the song are great, shows a certain restraint.

And even when it is calculated for effect, it's excusable when it doesn't stand alone, and is used to tie into something larger, like this from Milan Kundera in “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting:

It is 1971, and Mirek says that the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

That is his attempt to justify what his friends call carelessness: keeping a careful diary, preserving all correspondence, taking notes at meetings where there is discussion of the current situation and debate of where to go from there.

I think the point is that good writing is not just good writing for its own sake. There is a certain economy at work here, where you're not just saying things that sound pretty, but that have a use in the larger piece of writing. Which makes the phrase and sentence, not just well thought-out, but also a piece of the fabric. It's the difference, I think, between words as a way to bind ideas, and not to distract from the larger piece of writing, like a lead singer on a stage.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Curious about how big the oil spill is?

Here's a good idea:

All this dilly-dallying on the part of BP was enough to make Obama mad (Well, show a certain flash of mild irritation).

“I have to say though I did not appreciate what I considered to be a ridiculous spectacle,” President Obama said this morning. He was talking about the testimony of executives from BP, Halliburton, and Transocean, the companies behind the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (and not, say, about his own game of make-believe with Hamid Karzai). “The American people cannot have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn’t.”

The Obsession with Beauty

(This was cross-posted in Nigerians Talk)

There’s something about a suit that irks me.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a well-dressed man as much as the next girl, but there’s something about a perpetually well-dressed person that puts me ill at ease. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s that you have a knot around your neck that looks as though you’re bound to boring strictures that indicate your worth according to your adherence to decorum. It could be the ‘uptightedness’ of showing the whole world where iron meets cotton, cufflinks meet sun, belt meets buckle. Why spend so much time on the preparing for your meeting with the outside world? No, that’s not the real question. Here’s a better one: Why spend so much time showing me that you’ve prepared for your meeting with the outside world? The older I get, the more I appreciate the occasional wrinkle, the slightly-skewed tie, the glasses that show you left the house too quickly to get your contacts on. There’s a charm to this, a humanness that is as appreciable as a well-cut suit. When you look good without trying, you look better, I think, when you did try, and shifts focus from the effort to merely its outcome.

The beauty of art, after all, is in its seeming effortlessness. I swear, Monet and Picasso are geniuses because we don’t know how hard they worked on each canvass, how many trials it took to get that perfect shade of blue, how many times they must have broken their paintbrushes in sheer frustration. Beauty is outcome, not the work behind it.

A lot of Nigerians pride ourselves on the way we look. So many of us love the image of the party people who color-code our gele to shoes and jewelry, who snigger when someone clearly isn’t doing it right. Everyone from Banky W to P-Square to D’Banj has music videos that show that we have “arrived” and, in a lot of ways, we have. We have the buildings, the American singers/rappers coming to perform our country, the whole world giving a damn when our president is M.I.A (Yes, yes, people only cared because of a certain undie bomber, but still), Abuja becoming our shining carved-out city on the hill, China investing heavily, all that (debatable) good stuff.

We did, however, seem to have gotten here with very little work. We can argue about this from today until tomorrow, and quibble about how the Lagos governor has done a good job and how Kwara state is on the up-and-up, but really, how much work has really been done? Really? How much focus has been aimed at dealing with our very real problems? Can anyone actually think of any of the big issues that we have done away with? Corruption? Oil money actually benefiting people they should benefit? What? EFCC does its work, but has it actually gotten rid of the actual problem of rampant corruption? Yes? No? Think about it. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

So many people were up in arms about poverty in Lagos shown during that BBC documentary, but to all those folks, sit and think about it: Are you really surprised? How much, besides lip service, has been paid to dealing with poverty? The ridiculous rate of urban migration to 2 or 3 big cities that are already bursting at their seams? To the people who get turned away in form of being reduced to poverty, like unwanted children in a family not being given enough to eat? How much infrastructure building has been done in comparison to how much we need? What initiatives have actually achieved something groundbreaking to change the lives of ordinary Nigerians, not the people who eat fancy dinners at fundraisers that achieve nothing? Nothing. Nothing. The Answer is nothing. The fiercely patriotic who would not hear a word wrong about the beloved Nigeria see all this beauty. More pragmatic Nigerians want to see the work.

Work is an uninteresting hum of logistics and planning. Work requires stripping away of the gele, taking off of those Gucci sunglasses that cost way more than you hoped to spend, taking off of that Burberry handbag that took you six months of saving and hours of debating in front of the shop window. Work requires a long look in the mirror understanding that work indeed needs to be done, and you need to set forth at dawn to do it. Work requires getting your hands dirty. There is nothing beautiful about the grit between your nails. But maybe beauty should not be our goal.

There is no sanctimony here. I am not going to end this with “Go Out and Vote” naivete. I am not sure it will take any more than a bag of rice to get a truly poor Nigerian with suffrage rights to vote for someone who (s)he knows is a tyrant. I am not sure a lot of us truly care one way or another about what goes on in this country as long as our own generator-powered lives are uninterrupted. I don’t know what it will take to change anything. But I do know we have no right to angry when a mirror is held up in front of us and it doesn’t look pretty.

(Not everybody is complaining about the documentary, of course. Here’s Loomnie’s reasonable take).

I come in peace

OK, first post. Welcome. And all that jazz.

This isn't quite jazz, but it's Corinne Bailey Rae's amazing rendition of Doris Day's "Que Sera Sera." Enjoy.