29.5.11

A marketplace of possibilities

Yesterday’s erratic weather couldn’t keep me away from the Maailma Kylässä festival that is being held in the centre of Helsinki. The “World Village” celebration is an annual gala of multi-ethnic music, literature and food – and is fun.

It is also the largest exhibition in Finland of the work of non-governmental associations working locally and in international development and advocacy. The Finnish government is supportive of NGO and many of the groups have partner agencies or projects in the developing world. In the Marketplace of Possibilities, one could see evidence of many, many projects on everything from drop toilets to comic books.

Which of course leads to the oft repeated but yet inadequately answered question “Why isn’t international development aid working?”

But I will not discuss that question here, instead I’d rather applaud the work of the volunteers who find time and expend effort to try to improve the lives of the poor and marginalised using the tools and funding to which they have access. These small voluntary groups have endured despite trends in international development aid, in spite of Paris and Dakar Declarations, World Bank reports and etc, ad nauseam, ad infinitum.

The work they do garners little publicity; most of the accolades are reserved for larger international NGO who can finance media campaigns resplendent with pens, brochures, badges and photographs of smiling beneficiaries.

Also present at the festival were Amnesty International, who have often relied on volunteers and public participation. In search of freedom for Mexican and Chinese activists and dissidents, a launch of balloons skyward by the gathered audience somehow may help secure their release. More likely it may send a message to oppressive governments that the population of a small country are observing the situation where politicians refuse to engage.

In the meantime, international donor nations are reneging on their overseas financing promises, berating one another for unrealised aspirations, tip-toeing around China and once more researching new global development models. 

Photographs: Samuli Leminen

27.5.11

Pieces to ponder

Saudi woman driver - Manal Al-Sharief, petition for her release underway
A petition with more than 1,000 signatures is being organized on her behalf.

The lawyer of Manal Al-Sharif — the 32-year-old Saudi woman who drove her car in Alkhobar on Saturday — denied that Al-Sharif burst into tears inside the women's section of the Dammam prison and asked her investigators to extend their questioning to include a number of women who led her into controversy. 

Read more here 


Parents keep child’s gender under wraps
By Zachery Roth

When many couples have a baby, they send out an email to family and friends that fills them in on the key details: name, gender, birth weight, that sort of thing. (You know the drill: "Both Mom and little Ethan are doing great!")

But the email sent recently by Kathy Witterick and David Stocker of Toronto, Canada to announce the birth of their baby, Storm, was missing one important piece of information. "We've decided not to share Storm's sex”

Read more here and here

India's census reveals a glaring gap: girls

India's census reveals a country obsessed by boys and sex-selection laws that no one will enforce. Continuing female foeticide explains why the child sex ratio is getting worse 

Read more here 

25.5.11

Our reality

It is an unfortunate country in which the only support for LGBT rights comes from the Catholic Church. In a statement the Catholic Church has stated its position on homosexuality saying the people who engage in the practice were human beings who deserve respect – which is far more than anyone else in the country will concede.

Nonetheless, as the homosexuality war continues and the accusation of supporting gay rights (human rights) has become the greatest slur that can be hurled at an individual, party or organisation, one has to wonder what will happen to Zambia come the next elections.

The homosexuality debate has long ceased to about homophobia. Instead it has become a display of the failure of the democratic ideal, the lack of political dogma and the continuing and entrenched disregard for our people’s reality regardless of our gender, sexuality or religious orientation.

Moreover the groups entrusted as our defence from the excesses of our state - civil society and churches are allowing themselves to be manipulated, to be drawn into petty skirmishes at the cost of the real battle – authentic political representation and leadership.

Any non-governmental organisation that challenges the government to account for its actions is immediately accused by another NGO or religious organisation of being political. Of course challenging poverty and corruption and demanding political transparency is political! But must one be in a political party to demand accountability and honesty? 

Photograph; "Sophie" by Mary Sibande

22.5.11

Once again - the rapture

Meanwhile, here in the rapture, we are wondering why the sky is not raining fire, hail and brimstone (insert emoticon here). The question at the breakfast table is why people once again fell for the words of determinist cult leaders?

We are fortunate that the Rapture has ended in good humour  for example “that rapture was very subtle - oh hang on, where is everyone?” but let us not forget Heaven’s Gate and the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments and the many other tragedies among believers of the end of days.

The earth has a finite existence – the end of the earth is certain. But why is it that people pursue this end date? 1916, 1999, 2012 or 21st May 2011, it could be any date and the finer points may be different, but essentially the good would be whisked away to glory while the rest of us would be subjected to a slow torturous death.  “The good” equating to the followers of the cult or leader in question and “the rest” anyone who is isn’t.

In my opinion, the rapture and other forms of judgement day derives from the undying belief that there is justice for the maltreated, marginalised and poor. Moreover this judgement must be public, mine enemy shall watch as I am carried up to the right hand of a god and moments later I will watch as they are punished for all the injustice I have suffered will begin.

For many people today, justice and human rights are concepts that belong to the privileged. Our people who work for a dollar a day do not work less than the rich - they work more. For this they are rewarded with disease, disability and finally a shortened lifespan. Meanwhile, the rich flaunt the laws with impunity while the poor rot in jail for the theft of a goat or mobile telephone.

As long as there is injustice people will continue to believe in supernatural reparation. This so-called prophecy is another example of exploitation. A number of believers took the word of this man and gave away their worldly possessions, jobs or at least vested their faith in his words and they join the ranks of the disappointed and dispossessed. 

21.5.11

Songs about Tuesdays

A bout of writer’s block has kept me away from blogging for the last week. Meanwhile, my daily process of immigration continues. Last weekend involved cheering Finland for the first time in the Eurovision song contest and watching the hockey world cup, watching a Nigerian movie and pondering songs about Tuesdays. 

The annual spectacle of Eurovision is a global demonstration of mediocrity. Whereas there are some acts that one would say are “too good for Eurovision” the rest are misapplied talent. Looking back at Abba, perhaps one of their worst songs won the contest, spawning a tradition of nonsensicality that is the hallmark of Eurovision. Nonetheless is one wants to launch an international career in music from say Belarus, how else except Eurovision?


The hockey match was mildly exciting and the revelry that followed sucked me into the spirit of things. It’s been a long time since Zambia has won a significant international title barring women’s boxing –which of course does not attract the attention that it should, so to be part of a celebrating nation was exciting.

Also on a sports related note, the conviction of some Zambian footballers in a match fixing scandal here in Finland has made sad watching. These men have exchanged tangible opportunities for successful careers for immediate and fleeting financial gratification. Integrity and sportsmanship to the wind for money!  


Photograph: Michiyo Flickr

11.5.11

Peering through the smokescreen


As I read this I think of an article I had the misfortune to read and I wonder how it is that so many of our learned people in Zambia can’t see that the same tactic is being used in our country?

As our now discarded draft constitution was being formulated, no single subject was as contentious as that fearsome act of homosexuality. By the time critical issues such as our voting system and local government autonomy were brought to the public’s attention they were almost an afterthought, everyone’s energy and enthusiasm had been spent. It was left to small groups of dedicated politicians and civil society to do battle.

What better way to discredit a politician than to claim that he will legalise homosexuality in homophobic society? Better still make the accusations while a major kingdom is threatening accession.

What will happen next? Will prominent opposition and civil society members suddenly be accused of being gay? Will the public be able to see that a tactic to discredit and possibly criminalise them?

While Ugandans are being shot dead and maimed on the streets for protesting the impoverishment, their parliament is holding hearings on their anti-homosexuality bill instead of the tackling the situation in which their people live. The people have identified their needs through their acts of protest. They are stating that their immediate needs are a decent standard of living and democracy, no one is protesting against homosexuality. Yet this is what is on the Ugandan government’s agenda.

10.5.11

A dreaded year


The twentieth of May marks a year to the day I plaited my hair into tiny braids and began the process of “locking.” Of course there have been days when constant unravelling, lopsided growth and dryness have had me irritated and longing for the safety of hair extensions, but those days have been mere hiccoughs in an otherwise fascinating period.

Recalling that in November last year I had to give my dreads significant chop for various reasons, my hair has locked into approximately three hundred medium to small dreadlocks as a result of my own efforts, research and patience.

Looking in the mirror, contemplating how I will photograph my locks, I realised that this is the first time in my life that my hair reflects me, the first time that it has personality. It is not mainstream (smooth, glossy) and neither is it truly radical (freeform chunky locks). Some of my locks are longer, fatter or curled, but I can tie them into neat puff for important occasions, or leave them loose.

Since I used an interlocking method, I don’t need creams or gels to tighten them and I don’t require any specialised moisturisers, conditioners, hair food or any other concoction that the natural hair websites would claim you do. Head and shoulders shampoo has kept my head itch and dryness free and Sulphur 8 braid spray keeps my dreads oiled and moisturised.

The greatest lesson learned, however, is freedom from the trap that women of all races and cultures fall into - being tied to your cultural ideal of beauty. I no longer envy the hair of beautiful black women in Essence or Black Hair magazines, because they are focused on long hair and on straight hair.

I have found that many natural hair and dreadlock websites also focus on one thing Length! Short natural hair and short dreadlocks are part of “a journey” to long hair. This is a pity, because as Masuka noted a few times, we all have different hair.

The truth of about individuality is that some of us are not destined to have hair that flows down our shoulders regardless of how much mosquito poo, extract of eel or callus of toad that we try.

Photographs; Mwila Agatha Zaza
Cross-posed on Zed Hair

1.5.11

Sacrifice


As violence once again erupts in Uganda, I ask myself again what dictators will not do to stay in power. Watching from a pedestal as his country, once one of the most promising economies in Africa, descends into poverty and chaos, does Museveni like what he sees? Is death and poverty irrelevant?

Uganda has survived some of the most brutal civil wars and dictatorships of modern times, Museveni fought a bush war and emerged a hero, but twenty years later he epitomises what he fought against - fraudulent elections, using the military to enforce power, race and tribalism.

I wrote previously about the distance between leaders and their people. In pushing their people to the limits of survival such leaders are asking people to martyr themselves either in violence or when they cannot survive the daily challenge of feeding themselves or fending off disease. The babies and children that die unattended in hospitals are sacrifices to maintaining the wealth and happiness of the corrupted leaders and civil servants.

Somehow this is not enough for the Musevenies of this world. Their money is siphoned off the wellbeing of their people, yet such leaders are content to massacre the same people who make their lifestyle possible.

photographs: Reuters; Edward Echwalu/Reuters