Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On Debating Nigeria

The Nigerian #WhatAboutUs Presidential debate left me cold, and it's taken me a couple of days to understand why.

Let's forget for one moment the question of whether or not this debate will change the electoral calculus. It won't. Probably everyone in that room holds themselves in high enough moral standing as not to sell their vote for a cup of rice or a small nylon bag of garri, or perhaps some money. I know, because I'm one of them. Indeed, most politicians can't afford to buy off the dignity of someone who is middle to upper-class. Our tastes are too high. We already have rice, bags of it, probably eat it with stir-fry at fancy Chinese restaurants once a month when we save money. Guys can afford to buy their girlfriends a bottle of champagne (however much he'll wince at his bank statement later), maybe even play the big boy once in awhile – if not every weekend – at Koko Lounge or Marquis or wherever it is those young Lagos folk hang out these days. No, a corrupt politician wouldn't want to buy our vote. Our apathy is so much cheaper.

And apathetic we usually are, even as so many among us profess “Proudly Nigeria”, and believe that we are the ones we are waiting for. But we are not. Because we are already here. We have known for a long time what needs to be done, probably have technocrat friends who could us exactly how, and we have know for a long time. No, we are not any less Nigerian than them, but we are not the critical mass; those other people are.

Let it be known that there are less of the yuppy Nigerians trooping to Victoria Island than there are them. Yes, them. Those people who weren't there in the debate. Those people who are likelier to own a radio than a TV. Those people who were probably on their okadas looking for passengers during the debate, hawking food or recharge cards, selling tomatoes in the market. Those people whose vote is up for resale because they don't see the difference in the candidates, and are so disillusioned because they don't have the same sense of urgency for their stomachs as they do for the country.

Those are the people politicians go to, after all, when they want votes, not us. With our Twitter and Blackberries, our Bella Naija and our good English and trips to London for summer. And I'm not even saying I blame these people. I'm just saying that we do not have the humility to see the smallness of our number. I'm saying that, if we did, we would have had a debate beamed from a market somewhere, with the head marketwoman or Iyaloja moderating, with translators for the Hausa or Igbo presidential candidate.

I'm not saying that that would have helped much either. We as Nigerians are so used to our leaders being unavailable that it may even backfire. What kind of “Big Man” the logic goes, would sit with his servants? And Nigeria has always had a twisted relationship with leaders, these leaders that we have had for so long that never serve. But I wanted something, anything, to show that people in that room, the organizers of that debate, understood. Because something, however, misguided, would have shown that they realized that people like us aren't the ones that matter. Or that people like us are not the only ones that matter. Not by a long shot.

And the fact that we so often don't see it, and very often only give it lip service speaks louder than anything else of why we get the politicians that we do, that acknowledge only one slice of Nigeria in their daily business. That is what we do, too, is it not? And don't our leaders come from us? this society? these people? This society that we have crafted with our bare hands, brick-by-brick, almost adoringly. We will not blow this brick house down if we do not turn the lights away from ourselves, and on to the people who will really change this country, those who need convincing that this change is possible, and those who need convincing that there is actually a way to make it happen. We – diaspora kids, Enough is Enough kids, full-bellied kids, going to Arise Fashion Week in Muson kids, going to art galleries and Silverbird Galleria kids – are not the ones that need convincing. They are.

The secret of our dignity that makes us so hard to buy is our ability to dream. But it doesn't matter if we have stars in our eyes. It matters that they don't. It doesn't matter if we have dreams of a shining city on the hill. It matters that they don't. Because our country will not live off of our dreams. Our revolution wouldn't happen until those people who were not in that room during the debate starve, because they choose to ignore the stretch of that arm offering money for their vote, and dream, too.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Caution: Highly Quotable -- Nawal El-Sadaawi

Here's Nawal El-Sadaawi in The Nation magazine regarding the Egyptian overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, and reflecting on how to get an oppressor -- whether an abusive husband or a military despot -- to cede power.

The emphasis below is mine.

Well, it’s very difficult. This is everyone’s struggle—whether against men in the family, or against capitalism. It’s power. I don’t think that people in power can be convinced by words or articles. They will never give it up by choice. Even a husband in the house, no—power has to be taken with power. Mubarak resigned because the people showed their power. If it had been only a few hundred protesters, he would never go, but because it was 20 million, the whole country, he had no choice. You can’t eradicate power with weakness. Knowledge and unity—these were power in the hands of the people.

Within a household, the individual woman must have power. It’s not easy—it means political rights, economic independence, knowledge. A lot of women are afraid of loneliness, so when they see a woman who can live alone, then they think, “Hmm, I can do that.” But you need an example, and that is why I am proud to say I have divorced three husbands.

She goes on to talk about gender and dialogue with Egyptian youth. Read the rest of her interview here.

Also, check out a video from her Guardian interview below.

Photo via Racialicious

Friday, March 25, 2011

Building Somaliland

Courtesy of UNPO.org
What do you do when you see people with fragile bones and in dire need of calcium? Build a milk farm, of course. Duh.

BBC did a short but awesome audio documentary on Somaliland (can't work the embed, for some reason), the autonomous region north of Somalia that declared its independence, showing what people are doing to build the country. Yes, there's remittances from abroad, but more heartwarming are the stories are the ones where people move home from abroad, or build everything from milk farms to major general hospitals built over graveyards with nothing but the internet as their guide, or money in their private bank accounts. This isn't a post on brain drain, but in the case of Somaliland, it's hard not to think that it's best that not everybody stuck around. What would this country do, after all, with all those people and too few sending hard currency from Europe or the Middle East to fuel the economy of a country that, officially, does not exist?

Listening to the BBC report, it's interesting that the government is more preoccupied with international recognition than private citizens, according to the BBC report. Ahmed Silanyo, the president of Somaliland, talks about the need for government to access loans with which to build the country's infrastructure, and, I suspect, funds with which to truly claim the dignity of a government. It's nice that the people in the documentary are quite happy with their country being private sector-driven though; they're going to need that as they continue to build their economy.

Things are far from perfect in Somaliland, one must point out, but they're creating quite the story for themselves.

Here's an old allAfrica.com interview with now-president Ahmed Silanyo. An organization dedicated to the recognition of Somaliland is here.

Picture from UNPO.org

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hey, Mr. VJ.....

This is going to be a Nigeria-heavy jam session, I'm afraid.

First up is Retta. She's a new kid on the block, and I think I like her sound.

I usually don't like what Banky W comes out with. He's R'n'B, I guess, but that's about it. There's nothing special about him, I don't think, and I can't shake the feeling that if he were not Nigerian, nobody would care a damn about his music. I'll give it to the guy, though, this song is decent.

Leaving Nigeria now to give y'all some South African house. These two seem like quite the superduo.

Finally, this Kenyan gem from P-Unit isn't very new, but I really like it. Does anyone out there speak Swahili? I bet it's just something about a girl, though....


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pointing and Laughing - Campaign Ad Edition

Here's the problem with my flying visits to Lagos - I never remember to bring my camera. Worse, I managed to lose the USB cord for my Blackberry. This means that when I happen upon random pieces of awesome I may not be able to take a picture.

Like incumbent Gov. Babatunde Fashola's campaign poster on Lagos's BRT buses, for instance. It's basically a big yellow poster with the governor smiling at you. Below his picture are the words, in bold, purple letters:



Don't you just love "God Sent Me" rhetoric? This is not nearly as flagrant as current President Goodluck Jonathan's "vote me for the will of our Lord" (I can't find this ad on the 'net, not even on Goodluck's youtube channel), but it's just as funny. Downright hilarious.

On the whole, though, I've found watching campaign ads in Nigeria has been interesting. Muslim and Christian politicians in Nigeria like their religious signaling overt. Some of Muslims make the extra effort to be seen with Chief Missioners of huge megamosques like NASFAT and Ansarudeen. Indeed, Lagos Gov. Fashola spent the first couple of months as Lagos governor cozying up to Muslim leaders, even so far as going after women dressed "indecently" around his government's headquarter's. Christians ones, from Goodluck Jonathan himself onwards, make sure they're seen with megachurch pastors like Redeem's Adeboye and Canaanland's Oyedepo.

This is especially interesting to watch because we have one pastor running for president and one pastor on a ticket as a vice-presidential candidate, neither of whom is throwing his religiosity in the faces of Nigerian voters. Why does this realpolitique on the part of these pastors -- nobody wants to scare away those Northern and Yoruba Muslim voters -- not ring true for these other political aspirants?

I wouldn't go as far as calling this religious hinting in campaigns a trend, though; it's pretty much just an extension of Nigeria's collective religious nature. But it's certainly worth pointing out/rolling one's eyes at/bursting out laughing about.

Guess which of those I'm doing?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Meanwhile, Elsewhere in Africa

I know we're all enamored with Al-Jazeera and can't tear our eyes away from news about Libya and Egpyt, but let's not forget some of the other pressing issues around the continent.

Iran and Senegal have broken ties due to Iranian arms sales to separatists in the Casamance region.
It is a tug of war between Senegal and the Islamic Republic of Iran. "Senegal is outraged to see that Iranian bullets caused the death of Senegalese soldiers. Therefore, Senegal has decided to sever its diplomatic ties with the Republic of Iran," Senegalese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Madick√© Niang, announced Tuesday night on state television. The break of diplomatic ties between Dakar and Tehran comes as renewed violence rocks Casamance, Senegal’s southern province where separatist rebels have been operating for nearly thirty years

While we're on the subject of Senegal, there've been some Tunisia-style self-immolations there, too. Two in the past week.

An Amnesty Report shows that both the Forces Nouvelles loyal to Outarra and security forces loyal to Gbagbo in Cote d'Ivoire are guilty of rapes and beatings.

The political crisis does not seem to be abating either -- UN experts investigating possible arms link to Belarus (Flown in via Libya, apparently) were attacked in the country's capital Yamoussoukro. This would constitute a violation of the UN arms embargo on the country, so small wonder that Belarus denies the charge.

Also, Ivorian newspapers have shut their doors in protest of harrassment from Gbagbo supporters.

All this revolution talk understandably has some dictators across the continent feeling a little hot around the collar. Like Mugabe, for example. His forces threw some folks in jail for daring to even watch the Egypt protests, and now is throwing all their weight behind trying to squelch any protests in the country. Pray for them.

Here's some good news: African Union troops seem to be making inroads into Al-Shabaab territory in Mogadishu. According to Boabab (killer Africa blog from The Economist), some foreign fighters also were killed in a bid to take over some strategic districts in the major city.

In a move that's sure to please the U.S. and the EU, Tunisia has gone ahead and legalized an Islamist group. I bet you'll see this in Egypt for the Islamic Brotherhood as well. Heh. I can't wait to see the recalculation of foreign policy calculus. How will this affect trade? Oil? Palestine talks?

I'm leaving some stuff out, but it's pretty clear from even the most cursory scroll through a newspaper website that the whole world's gone Pete Tong.

Now if you'll excuse me, Gaddafi is making another long, incoherent speech, and I need some comic relief.