31.7.13

Sexism and racism for a chilly afternoon


I’ve just read an article by a Zambian blogger who says of himself “Yes, I am sexist.” (I will not apologise for not linking to the article.)

I often enjoy reading such articles, I enjoy the opportunity to explore the interiors of other people’s minds and the kind of thoughts people will put down in writing.

How I understand it is he’s sexist, homophobic and racist and very pleased with himself about it. After all, he posits, the problem is with women themselves, culture, education, biology – every thing and every body but himself.

Women, this writer says, have not yet tried to define the kind of gender equality they want.  Thus, he continues justifying his position of privilege in this complex web of rights, equality and power. He says, “Personally, I think that gender equality is just not practical in the literal sense…”

Though a seemingly young man he still, in 2013, goes on about “having clearly determined biological roles as men and women” and then honks on about women being weaker than men (as if there’re only two sexes) and yet gives examples that are socially defined. It seems he’s never seen a woman working in a mineshaft, digging up a road or getting up at four in the morning to walk five kilometres to fetch water before going to go to the field to work at what the writer seems to have conflated as work biologically determined for men.

He could just be speaking tongue-in-cheek, but is he? Too many men are still happy to publicise their rather strange and dare I say archaic opinions.

So I’ve covered the sexism and anti LGBTI but racism?

“Some women want a husband that is just blue eyes short of Jesus Christ…” he begins his blog post, now how was I supposed to leave that without comment. 

26.7.13

A long time coming


It’s here.

It's taken a month to make its way through Amazon from somewhere in the US to me, but it's much longer still – perhaps twenty years - since I first started my search.

I first read an excerpt of The Living is Easy by Dorothy West in a 1963 edition of Black Voices – an anthology of African American writing. I’m no longer sure where I found Black Voices, this was sometime in the 1990s - the days of only two bookshops in Lusaka when my sister and I trawled through second-hand book sales whenever we could. A price penned in its title page reads 6,000 on a second-hand hard cover book that had already seen much better days, whether Ugandan shilling or Zambian Kwacha it was still expensive in its time.

This treasure trove is filled with the best of African-American writing as it would have looked in the early 1960s. This selection was made and went into print before the civil rights movement began its most intensive phase, before Martin Luther announced his dream. Short fiction, poems and excerpts of longer works by Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughs, LeRoi Jones, James Baldwin and Richard Wright among others fill its pages. Some of the writers contained in this tome I’ve never read of again while others have come to define African-American penmanship for me.

In this anthology, a twenty-page excerpt of The Living is Easy was dangled tantalisingly before me. In these twenty pages I was given a glimpse into the mind of fair-skinned, socially ambitious Cleo. Without flinching, Ms West describes Cleo’s prejudices against dark-skinned and poorer blacks, her resentment towards her daughter for having inherited her father’s dark complexion and thicker lips and to her obsession with rising above other blacks from the south and becoming a respectable Bostonian, surrounded by whites and affluence. Then I was introduced to Simeon who “they concluded, was much too race-conscious for a young man who had been brought up exactly as if he were white.”

There it ended.

A few almosts and nearlys made me certain I’d never find it, however here it sits, with a wee bit of summer sunshine left to savour it in.  

24.7.13

Cameroon - silence please


The Cameroonian government has attacked media coverage of the vicious murder of a gay rights activist Eric Ohena Lembembe saying that journalists have "have launched attacks on our nation, dragging its image into the mud."

Lembembe’s death was briskly followed by the meting out prison sentences to 48-year-old Joseph Omgbwa and 19-year-old Nicolas Ntamack. Furthermore, Lembembe’s partner is currently in hiding afraid for his own life, signs that the already precarious situation for LGBT people in Cameroon is still violently so, and that the government and its justice system will persist in their persecution of LGBT people.

So, what was Cameroon expecting – universal silence and thus approval of their actions?

What is the expected outcome when a government targets a particular group of people for persecution and prosecution and bolsters erroneous beliefs about that group among its citizenry?

Death, impunity - Cameroon’s crusade is not an untested theory and history has many examples as to where such actions lead.

The Cameroonian government has, as have many other states, been unrepentant in its dehumanization of LGBT people and is seemingly trying to wash their hands of the consequences by – unsurprisingly – attacking the media and non-governmental organisations.

“…anyone who want to die should just try that gay thing in Cameroon we will just set fire on him,” states a commentator on cameroononline.org and “One of the surest ways to getting ostracized and even slain in Cameroon is through homosexual conduct,” says another.

For the rest of society - those who approve or those who condemn what has happened - having to live in a society in which such violence roams unchecked…

Undoubtedly, Lembembe’s attackers must have considered him subhuman in order to do as they did, and it is with the consent of the wider society and its government that such people can be allowed to escape justice as many international human rights activists fear will happen. 

Perhaps "the mud" is where Cameroon's image should remain for a while. 

Photograph: Alfred Weidinger

23.7.13

J D Okhai Ojeikere at the Venice Biennale

Of all the pleasures I had this summer one of the highlights had to be my visit to Venice and of course, to La Biennale de Venezia.

Not only did I get a significant discount for “being the first Zambian of the year” on what had to be one the most beautiful of summer days but to cap it off, a selection of photographs by JD Okhai Ojeikere captured two of my favourite subjects; history and African hair. Nestled among a myriad of folk artists whose work captured the beautiful and the bizarre, his black and white prints stay etched in my memory.







22.7.13

Till it's gone


“Free the internet,” hand-drawn banners demanded as a tiny clutch of brave protesters stood by the side of the road in Lusaka last Friday, with my friends and renown feminist activists Sara Longwe and Roy Clarke in its midst.

“Save the free press,” demanded those who dared stand up in public to the Zambian government’s intensified throttling of free speech in Zambia. In the current political climate this group stood up in defence of an ideal that I don’t believe many Zambians appreciate.

Recently, the Zambian government blocked access to the web-based Zambian Watchdog, arrested two of its journalists on charges of sedition and then went even further to block proxy routes to the online publication. Its editors currently operate from outside the country and its journalists anonymously.

The quality of the Zambian Watchdog not being the question here, it is one of the few alternatives to Government owned newspapers. With growing access to the Internet and the cost and technicalities of producing a newspaper being prohibitive, internet based news is a viable option for be the future in Zambia

So why did the protesters number so few? Several songs claim “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

I suppose because it's still too easy to assume it’s of no great consequence if one little internet-based news outlet is shut down, and a few journalists harassed – after all, the media has always been harassed in Zambia.

But in the current context can Zambians afford to be so complacent? Can we, for instance, really believe that the government is suing mobile phone service providers because it has our best interests at heart?

Photograph: Andreas Kolleger via Flickr

16.7.13

Once a garden...



My hometown - one hundred years old today and only on careful inspection can you discern this city’s age. Lusaka is more like a youth, a teenager, at the rebellious stage at which the neatness and order bequeathed to it by a parent is thrown out and replaced with poor hygiene, dirt and an unsavoury and ill-thought through appearance.

I’m not a historical revisionist. Lusaka was built to service a European minority and to obscure the reality of the indigenous people. The city was divided into elite, second-class and native and its denizens attended to as such.

Like many other things, we did little to change it since independence and have done away with even the simple pleasures of city life such as play parks and shaded streets. Only on a profound quest in places such as Longacres and the town centre do we find any evidence of this colonial history, every old building has been mutilated until it’s unrecognisable or simply torn down. These buildings aren’t important for their own sake but as a record of our past, and from an economist’s point of view a potential source of tourism income to boost our development.

Development and affluence mean enormous and often frighteningly hideous homes built along a potholed dirt road built without drainage or at times even planning permission.

Our city is for the affluent especially for those with cars. Few new roads are buily with pedestrian access and bicycle paths are unknown. In summer we burn as we walk along streets whose umbrella-like indigenous trees have been uprooted and replaced with (ugly) sparse palm trees – again another choice of the affluent. In winter gusts of wind disperse dust in our eyes and in the rain season the flooding brings an unspeakably foul mix of water and sewage sometimes hip deep as a result of the massive deforestation our city has seen and the failure to design a drainage system of more than a series of narrow and blocked ditches.

As a friend says “you have few recreational facilities and expats have devised all the interesting things to do within your perimeters.” Our city planners know only shopping malls and hotels, again excellent for the affluent but not for the others.

Nonetheless, Lusaka is safe, relatively, despite being underserved by the police force. A woman can still walk unmolested, cell phones and wallets are safe within reason, something that a visitor to some other African capitals can appreciate. In Lusaka, once the price is negotiated taxi drivers are your friends, they’ll find you even in the middle of night in an unsavoury part of town and deliver you home safe and sound.

Our denizens are friendly, but also mind their own business. Though we are crammed daily into tin cans of minibuses, when not in them we like to give each other room - we prefer not to touch strangers but cannot imagine not having physical contact with our friends and relatives.

To top it off whichever part of the city you inhabit from wealthy to wretched the ever-appreciated vitumbuwa is always available.

Image; Lubuto Library Project Inc via flickr 

15.7.13

Whither goest thou?

My gosh, it’s been a while!

What to write about? I tap my foot and think.

Holidaying in La Biennale de Venezia and pre-EU Croatia, Helsinki beaches crammed with happy faces, ice cream and days of endless sunshine?

Trayvon Martin (the injustice), gang rape in India, Egypt’s re-revolution, Boko Haram’s massacres, Zambia’s crackdown on media freedom or the US’s ever constricting laws against the right to abortion.

Mandela and memories of the apartheid era? Kenneth Kaunda and Zambia’s collective amnesia?

Royal babies, Swedish or other – the one thing I certainly will not be writing about.