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September 14 2013

Review : Andrew_Dosunmu's “Mother_of_George”

Review : #Andrew_Dosunmu’s#Mother_of_George
http://africasacountry.com/review-andrew-dosunmus-mother-of-george

From the opening moment of Andrew Dosunmu’s magnificent new #FILM, ”Mother of George” (we’ve talked about the film before here and here), the viewer is immediately transported into a dream space – one of deep indigos, radiant golds, and vibrant reds. Dosunmu and his cinematographer, Bradford Young, are masters of aesthetics. And unlike Dosunmu’s previous film, […]

#EVENTS #MEDIA #Brooklyn #cinema #Nigeria

August 24 2013

‘No’ to Homosexuality, ‘Yes’ to Child Marriage in Nigeria

A man was beaten by members of the public in Kotodayo community in Ota in western Nigeria, on August 22, 2013, for allegedly being gay. This came in the wake of a bill passed in the Nigeria's House of Representative on May 30, 2013, which criminalises gay marriage, same-sex relationships and membership of a gay rights group.

The man, known only as Sadiq, was whisked from the scene conscious but there is no information on his current condition.

President Goodluck Jonathan must approve the bill before it becomes law. The bill, which was passed by Nigeria's Senate in November 2011, sets prison sentences of up to 14 years for offenders. Ironically, it is the same Senate that approved child marriage in July this year.

Global Attitudes Project by Pew Research Centre shows that Nigeria is the least tolerant country in the world when it comes to homosexuality. A mere rumour of being gay in the country can lead to violence and even imprisonment.

A map showing penalties targeting gays and lesbians in Africa. Image source: http://ilga.org/

Homosexuality is outlawed in 38 African countries and it can be punishable by death in Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigeria.

In February 2012, Uganda re-tabled a controversial anti-gay bill proposed by a Ugandan member of parliament, David Bahati, who claimed to to have dropped the death penalty and jailing of family members who fail to report homosexuals to the authorities in the new bill.

In the same month, the former Liberian first lady, Jewel Howard Taylor, introduced a bill making homosexuality liable to a death sentence.

Many African politicians and lawmakers claim that homosexuality is un-natural and un-African. South Africa is an exception with a constitution, which provides the most comprehensive protection of gay rights in the world.

Reacting to the story of mob justice meted out against the suspected gay on Nigeria Eye news site, Mr Speaker made the following observations:

Mare [sic] allegation that someone is gay is enough to expose them to violent attacks in Nigeria what a shame. I don’t think there is any law that will change the sexuality of homosexuals. Human rights for all please.

On PM News Nigeria website, Naubiko wondered why the public should be so concerned with “myopic issues” such as homosexuality:

I don’t [he later made a correction in another comment saying that he meant to use the word "do" instead of "don't"] abhor gay pratice but is this what we should be bothering ourselves with . When we should be making politicians lives a living hell we’re bothered with all sorts of myopic issues .

But Adeyinka was not convinced:

Gay is evil dont support it in any form. Nothing concern politician here.accept jesus christ b4 it is too late for you.

On Twitter, Nigerian writer St.Vince (@vinzPaz) thought mob justice against homosexuals is sadistic even if homosexuality in illegal:

Alexis Okeowo (@alexis_ok), a journalist writing about Africa for international media outlets, wished for a day Nigerians will get angry over anti-gay bills like they do with child marriage legislation:

The Nigerian Senate on July 18, 2013 upheld a clause in the Nigerian Constitution that defined full age to include any woman that is married regardless of her age. Concerned Nigerians and activists opposed the move on Twitter using the hashtag #ChildNotBride created by Ayomidotun Fadeyi (@IAmAyomiDotun), a Nigerian visual storyteller.

In 2010, Ahmad Sani Yerima, senator and former governor of Zamfara State in Northern Nigeria, was accused of marrying a 13-year old Egyptian girl. Yerima reportedly paid the girl's parents 100,000 US dollars in dowry. Senator Sani Ahmed Yerima led the group of senators who opposed changing the definition of legal age of marriage arguing that certain religious traditions allow for marriage under 18.

Tweeting about the same issues of child marriage and homosexuality, Bar Baric (@Bar_Baric) wrote:

Eusebius (@IgbokweEusebius) is sure that Lagos will legalise gay marriage in the future:

Homosexuality is deeply rooted in Nigeria, noted Pizzle Houdini (@thisisphd):

August 21 2013

Photographing the African_Diaspora in New_York

Photographing the #African_Diaspora in #New_York
http://africasacountry.com/photographing-the-african-diaspora-in-new-york

In a world ever more saturated by images, understanding how to read pictures has never been more important. In a course this summer at the #New_School in the GPIA, students learned how to read images, and also how to make them. We began by looking at other people’s photographs and thinking about the choices […]

#PHOTOGRAPHY #Aaron_Leaf #Ashanti #Bronx #Brooklyn #Cameroon #Fula #Gladys_Ekoto #Nigeria #Toni_Akindele

July 18 2013

Nigeria Cements China Relations With Presidential Visit

Nigeria's President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was on a five-day official visit to China from July 8 to 12, 2013. The Nigerian president's visit was aimed at shoring up investments through bilateral talks with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping.

This visit came a few days after President Barrack Obama ended his tour to some African countries. Naturally, this created the impression that President Jonathan’s visit to China was to spite the American president for not visiting Nigeria in his second trip to the continent. However, the media adviser to President Jonathan, Dr. Reuben Abati, dismissed these insinuations thus:

The claim that the China trip is a respond to the fact that Obama did not come to Nigeria is also not true because this trip was planned one year ago. Every country has the right to determine where they go. We have excellent relationship with the US and the truth of the matter is that nobody can overlook America. But China is also an important partner. China has shown a lot of interest in Africa in the last few years. Nigeria is a major trading partner with China. We have over 30 Chinese companies operating here.

President Goodluck Jonathan (R) inspecting guard of honour mounted by the Chinese military during his official welcoming in Beijing, China on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 (Photo credit: from Reubenabati.com)

President Goodluck Jonathan (R) inspecting guard of honour mounted by the Chinese military during his official welcoming in Beijing, China on Wednesday, July 10, 2013. Photo used with permission from Reubenabati.com.

Sino-Nigerian ties have been growing over the years. Global Voices reported last year that Mandarin was introduced as a language to be learnt in the public schools of the port city of Lagos. Raymond Eyo in an op-ed in online newspaper Scoop gave a brief history of the Sino-Nigerian relationship:

On April 18, the Jonathan administration disclosed an agreement with China’s Export-Import bank to fund the importation of over 100 rice mills from Asia. The Ministry of Agriculture said the project was undertaken to boost Nigeria’s efforts in rice production and exportation, as against importation.

In May, a Chinese trade delegation visited Cross River State and, after discussions with Governor Liyel Imoke, announced plans to open a truck manufacturing plant in the Calabar Free Trade Zone – an investment that will add to Nigeria’s industrialisation efforts.

In September last year, according to a Finance Ministry statement, China offered Nigeria a loan of least $1.1bn to build more airport terminals and a light rail for Abuja. Indeed, it has been reported that this latest trip includes airport construction deals with Nigeria’s Aviation Ministry, to be handled by China’s Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC). China is, of course, already involved in some major road and railway projects across Nigeria. Also, Nigeria’s latest of three satellites, NigComSat-1R, which was launched in 2011, was built in China and has since significantly improved IT services in the country.

Olu Famous in this blog post, “What President Jonathan Brought Back from China”, reeled out the gains from the visit:

Following a meeting between the two Presidents, representatives from both countries signed five deals, including a lending agreement between China’s Import-Export Bank and the Nigerian Finance Ministry for the expansion of the airport terminals and an economic and technical cooperation pact.

Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said the loans being finalised during this trip were part of $3 billion approved by China at interest rates of less than three per cent. Chinese companies are already building roads across Nigeria in contracts worth $1.7 billion.

Odilim Enwegbara described Jonathan’s visit to China as timely because:

China’s successful model makes a lot of sense for Nigeria, particularly learning from the former how long term macroeconomic planning coupled with the promotion of entrepreneurship could too become Nigeria’s own economic growth drivers, especially if our private sector and public sector could be restructured to work hand-in-hand as it is the case in China, we too could begin to witness a job-based economic development.

The subtle diplomatic dicing was not lost on some Nigerians who still think – despite official explanations to the contrary – that the US will be disconcerted by the Nigerian’s president visit to China. These tweets by Nwachinemelu (@cchukudebelu) captured the sentiments:

@cchukudebelu: I can bet you that the US ambassador at Abuja will not be happy that Jonathan spent a full week at Beijing.

@cchukudebelu: Expect the US to organise a “massive reception for Africa leaders” in Washington next year (Obama has already hinted that).

Alabi Williams in “No Free Lunch in China” cautioned that the elation about this visit should be marched with an equal demand for high standards:

The [Nigerian] textile companies have disappeared and what you now have are Chinese textiles, so tight fitting you could hardly raise your hands when you wear them. The Chinese do not carry around too much flesh and they are naturally of pint size and that helps them to be prudent with their textile demands. That is what they have foisted on the Nigerian market. And you will search endlessly to get a quality cotton shirt, because they give to our market what our merchants ask for.

When you talk of quality control, the federal government must insist on the very best, not low or sub standard quality, like the fake drugs that come from Chinese companies.

July 17 2013

Furore Over Sudanese President Al-Bashir’s Visit to Nigeria

President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir arrived Nigeria on July 14, 2013 to attend the HIV, Malaria and Tuberculosis Summit organised by the African Union (AU). However, this visit generated much uproar – pitching the federal government of Nigeria against the government of United Kingdom and local civil rights organisations.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) urged Nigeria to arrest and surrender al-Bashir on his visit to the capital city of Abuja “over crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Darfur”.

The Icc issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir in 2009 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. It is the first warrant issued by the ICC against a sitting head of state. It is estimated that 300,000 people died in Darfur's six-year conflict.

The UK resented the visit of al-Bashir and urged the Nigerian government to live up to global obligations by arresting the Sudanese president. A statement by Mark Simmonds, UK foreign office minister for Africa, stated:

The UK has a strong and abiding bilateral relationship with Nigeria. I am therefore disappointed that Nigeria has chosen to host President Al-Bashir of Sudan at an African Union event, despite International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants against him for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. This undermines the work of the ICC and sends the victims a dismaying message that the accountability they are waiting for will be delayed further. The British Government takes seriously its obligations as a State Party to the Rome Statute and consistently urges other State Parties in all parts of the world to do the same.

Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, President of Sudan. Photo released to the public domain by U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released)

Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, President of Sudan. (Photo released to the public domain by U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt)

Olugbenga Ashiru, Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated that Nigeria cannot arrest al-Bashir because he was not in the country for a bilateral visit but to attend an AU event. Besides, Nigeria will abide by an AU resolution which decided not to arrest al-Bashir within the continent.

The Sudanese president is in Nigeria at the invitation of AU for the HIV/Malaria Summit. Remember AU in 2009 passed a resolution not to cooperate with the ICC indictment of President Al-Bashir. He is not in Nigeria at our instance, Nigeria’s commitment to the AU remains firm…

Human rights groups did not buy the government’s justification but insisted that al-Bashir should be arrested. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) made their position known through its Executive Director Adetokunbo Mumuni in online newspaper Premium Times:

The government risks sanctions by the UN Security Council if it fails to arrest President al-Bashir and surrender him to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. President Goodluck Jonathan now has a rare opportunity to assist the ICC and support the demand by the international community for justice for the victims of genocide and war crimes in Darfur.  Ignoring the ICC arrest warrants will have huge legal ramifications for the country, and it is therefore in Nigeria’s national interest to act in this case, by arresting President Omar Al-Bashir and surrendering him to the ICC to face fair trial for the allegations against him…

Another group, the Nigerian Coalition for the International Criminal Court (NCICC), filed a lawsuit at the Federal High Court in Abuja asking it to compel the Nigerian president to arrest his Sudanese counterpart the minute he steps foot in the country and surrender him to the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands. NCICC in its writ of summons, as reported in NBF [Nigerian Best Forum] News, asked the court:

Whether Nigeria has a legal obligation under Article 89 of the Rome Statute and Article 26 of the Vienna Convention to arrest any person indicted by ICC and surrender such person to the court? If the answer to the above is yes, whether Nigeria is under obligation to arrest and surrender Al-Bashir to the ICC? And whether the court can issue an arrest warrant against Al Bashir on the basis of the indictment by ICC?

Despite the agitation by civil society, al-Bashir was not arrested on Sunday when he flew into Nigeria. However, a twist developed the next day, when the Sudanese president was billed to address the summit. According to a report by the Guardian (Nigeria):

A mild drama unfolded at the ongoing Abuja +12 Special Follow-Up Summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and other related diseases as Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir  who has two international arrest warrants against him failed to turn up to make his presentation…  Al-Bashir, who arrived in Abuja on Sunday to a red-carpet welcome and a full guard of honour, has not appeared in any of the sessions of the summit. He was expected to participate at the summit like many other Heads of State. When he was called to make a presentation, there was heavy silence. Alas, he was nowhere to be found.

The mystery of al-Bashir’s disappearance was resolved by a report filed by AP. The news story stated that wary of arrest, Sudan’s president shunned the AIDS summit midway:

A Sudanese diplomat says President Omar al-Bashir has left Nigeria after human rights lawyers and civil rights activists demanded his arrest… The diplomat who would not give his name told The Associated Press that al-Bashir left at 3 p.m. Monday, less than 24 hours after he arrived and in the middle of a two-day summit ending Tuesday.

Nonetheless the drama of the visit and its subsequent abortion; the resistance by civil society groups and the UK government; and the governments’ insistence on standing with the AU polarized the Nigerian blogosphere.

Yvonne Ndege (@YvonneNdege), reporter for Al-Jazeera, tweeted:

@YvonneNdege#UK says its ‘disappointed’ with #Nigeria over #Bashir visit. Don't be #UK. Understand Nigeria…

Yvonne’s tweet elicited some replies from other users. These are two contrary reactions:

@deezer234: @YvonneNdege that murderous bastard came here?

@Ali2musa: @YvonneNdege Still wondering when war criminals Like Bush, Tony Blair and Obama will be charge to ICC?

Others within the Nigerian Internet weighed in on the discussion. Her Royal Hipness (@PUREHAIRE) and Uzo Ukaejiofo (@Rexdon05) were repulsed by the stance of the international community:

@PUREHAIRE: Wait, they want Al-Bashir & somehow it's Nigeria's job to give him up? They should take a piss in Sudan pls. Nonsense. 3 yrs since warrant

@Rexdon05: …After Nigeria gave up Charles Taylor, what has been the impact? Other than damning reports emanating from sister agencies.

Nwachinaemelu ‏(@cchukudebelu) noted the glaring double standards:

@cchukudebelu: If George Bush (who launched an illegal war on falsified evidence) can move around freely, I don't get the noise from HRW over Al Bashir.

Some demanded that Nigeria’s sovereignty be respected and expressed their support for the government:

@horpenator: why do we have to live in the shadow of #US. Al-Bashir didn't commit any crime against Nigeria

@Raymond_Eyo: “@TheScoopNg: #Nigeria defies the #ICC; hosts #Sudan‘s President, Omar Al-Bashir http://buff.ly/12CfkWa” I'm with GEJ [Goodluck Ebele Jonathan] on this one 100%!!!

Some were merely humorous:

@thalksbossx: #LetterToICC By all means arrest Al-Bashir, but do not drag #Nigeria (tucked in between AU leaders’ pact and UN treaty) into it.

@funsodavid: I don't suppose Omar al-Bashir fled Nigeria for fear of an arrest. The video clip from Rivers State Assembly is enough to scare him off.

July 16 2013

A Public Feud Between Nigeria’s First Lady and a Nobel Laureate

Nigeria's first lady and a lauded Nigerian writer are trading barbs over the role of the president's wife in a local political crisis.

The public spat between Nigeria’s First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan and Nobel Laureate in Literature Professor Wole Soyinka has its origin in a political crisis in Rivers State, Nigeria. The crisis had been simmering for some time, but it deepened with Dame Jonathan's visit to Rivers State late last month.

The crisis had been simmering for some time, stemming from that state's governor running for reelection as chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum and winning against his party's wishes. The crisis only deepened with Dame Jonathan's visit to Rivers State late last month.

According to this reports on AllAfrica:

The alleged move by the Presidency to remove the Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi took a dramatic turn yesterday as the first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, has decided to take the bull by the horn in the matter. LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that the first lady's visit to Port Harcourt was a move to ensure that the State House of Assembly members are mobilised to ensure Governor Amaechi's impeachment from office.

The first lady moved into a newly-built mansion in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. She is expected to spend 11 days in Port Harcourt. But our sources said that the first lady has vowed not to leave the Garden City until the governor is finally removed from office.

The first lady however refuted this allegation:

We have observed reports in some of today’s (Sunday’s) national dailies which are an obvious attempt by certain interests to link the current visit of the First Lady, Dame Patience  Jonathan, to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, with a desire to unseat the governor of the state. For the purpose of protecting the innocent public from misinformation by these interests, it becomes important for us to state the facts of the First Lady’s presence in Port Harcourt as follows:

Her Excellence was the Special Guest of Honour at the official commissioning of the Yitzhak Rabin International School, Port Harcourt on Friday,  June 15, during which she also received an award from the Yitzhak Rabin Centre for African Development for her successful advocacy for women empowerment and the achievement of enduring peace in Nigeria and around the continent.

She also featured eminently as Mother of the Day at the wedding of her brother and member of the Rivers State Legislature, Evans Bipi, on Saturday. The First Lady will finally receive well wishers at the burial of her grandfather on Sunday, the 23rd.

It is difficult to see how any of the activities above is associated with the political circumstances of anyone. Perhaps we need to remind those who are crying wolf and are being harassed by their own ghost, that Rivers is the home state of the First Lady, which makes her a principal stakeholder with all the rights and privileges to visit the state as she considers needful.

Soyinka, had in a press conference [video uploaded to YouTube by TV360Nigeria], asserted that the first lady’s meddlesome actions had ignited the flame that has now engulfed the governance in Rivers State.

According to Soyinka [transcribed from the video]:

This is getting to a state where an unelected person, a mere domestic appendage, can seize control of a place for 11 days and as a result of her presence, the governor of that state was told by policemen that you cannot pass here because the queen was there. What sort of jungle are we living in?… A person with no constitutional position is able to enjoy the full security apparatus of the state which is being denied a governor…

The venerable Nigerian writer, poet, playwright and the 1986 Nobel Laureate in Literature had some advice for the first lady:

My worry for her is that she should be a lady first before being a first lady. You cannot be a first lady without first being a lady. That is the only advice I have for her.

Nigerian  Nobel Laureate in Literature Wole Soyinka. Photo released by Flickr user Chidi Anthony Opara  under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Nigerian Nobel Laureate in Literature Wole Soyinka. Photo released by Flickr user Chidi Anthony Opara under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

As would be expected, first lady Jonathan, replied. A statement signed by Ayo Osinlu, media assistant to the president’s wife, reads thus:

Unfortunately, Soyinka betrayed moral duty in his recent diatribe against Mrs. Patience Jonathan… The good, old Prof. reminds one of the truth that indeed, most of the giants on the street are men of like passions like everyone else. Worse still, most of them are actually standing on clay feet and would fail the test of a gentle push.

The president’s wife also had some advice for Soyinka:

It’s an embarrassment to his throng of admirers and followers, that a sage of Prof. Soyinka’s status, who used to be a gauge of public morality in this nation, would lend himself to a propaganda of high drive, to save a governor who elected to launch into a river without applicable survival skills.

Nigerian netizens have reacted to the public exchange of words between the two. The reactions are pitched thus: those in support of Professor Soyinka and those in support Mrs Jonathan, respectively.

Reactions from Soyinka's supporters are as follows:

Chain Blinger, a commenter on Nairaland forum, wrote:

I pity her more! Imagine this stupid lady taking a swipe at the prof instead of her to hide her fat-face in shame she's even have the courage talk. Naija has gone to the dog’s family!

Mrakin, another commenter in Nairaland, criticized the first lady:

I am not happy with some of the comments here. Anyway, those are opinions. In the first place, nobody voted for the first lady. She therefore has no right to disturb the peace of ordinary citizens for ten days. There are ways she can conduct state visits without heavy fun-fair of security and road closure/barricade. UK's PM often walks from home to office without disturbing the public. All those talking back at prof are not sincerely speaking the truth about how things should be done. They should look for respectable elders in their families who will not compromise the truth.

Takedat wrote on the same forum:

Thanks for admitting that you are behind Amaechi's predicament. This is what happens when people exercise power without any sense of responsibility. Dame now believes she is larger than life.

Social commentator Henry Okelue (@4eyedmonk) made the following successive tweets in favour of Soyinka:

@4eyedmonk: Wole Soyinka hits the nail on d head, instead of us latching on to d issues he raised, spin doctors are instead changing the discussion

@4eyedmonk: Did Wole Soyinka raise valid points in his outburst? Are we supposed to allow the narrative move from the survival of our nation to isms?

@4eyedmonk: We are here arguing about isms, our constitution is getting raped with reckless abandon. Nobody said fight, just hail the guy who spoke up

@4eyedmonk: Professor Soyinka, u have spoken well. If d Wife is d President, then d husband should remain d domestic appendage that he is, and vice

@4eyedmonk: in the United States, Michelle Obama, the wife of Barrack Obama, has never, ever, been known to go to a State and insult its elected Governor

Nigeria's First Lady Madame Patience Jonathan. Photo released by Flickr user MDGovpics under Creative Commons   (CC BY 2.0).

Nigeria's First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan. Photo released by Flickr user MDGovpics under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

Netizens in support of Jonathan had this to say:

On Nairaland forum, commenter Maxymilliano asserts:

But truth be told, WS shouldn't have deployed some of the adjectives used in qualifying the person of PEJ [Patience Jonathan] in his earlier statement. Going ahead to condemn PEJ [Patience Jonathan] in strong words for a fracas that the remote cause is yet to be established by the authority concerned betray the position of WS as an ‘unbiased commentator’

 User BekeeBuAgbara wrote:

If not hearsay what other evidence does Prof. Soyinka have to criticize Patience Jonathan over River state conflict, you don't unnecessarily castigate others publicly and expect them to respect you and keep quiet because you are a noble prize winner. If he was not bias, he could have cautioned Amaechi for storming into the assembly's complex with his thugs. The Prof. should be held responsible for the consequences of his unwarranted provocation.

Writer and teacher Abigail Anaba (@Anabagil) tweeted in defence of the first lady:

@Anabagil: A statesman at this point shd seek to address the issue not try to further stoke it with inflammatory comments.

@Anabagil: Let's assume, that Dame is responsible for Rivers problems, does the Professors statement solve the problem?

@Anabagil: What practical steps has the professor taken to resolve the problem in Rivers? Did he tell us that in his statement?

@Anabagil: I know complex sentences are difficult to understand, so I really don't blame “Nigerian journalists and Bloggers”. But you too on Twitter?

@Anabagil: You the ones who see all the wrong things and try to correct them? Do you suddenly lose your analytical skills because it is Dame?

On Facebook, Kola Tubosun wrote that Soyinka's comments were sexist:

Prof Soyinka didn't say “the office of the first lady, a mere appendage of the presidency”. He said of the First Lady “a mere appendage of power”. I can't think of anything ruder or more sexist. It would be sexist if the roles were reversed and a woman commentator were to say the same thing, say in Britain, to the consort. No, the husband of the queen isn't “a mere appendage of power”. He wasn't awarded to the Queen on her ascension. Mrs. Jonathan isn't a perk of the office. Calling her “a mere appendage of power” means that she – as a person – is relevant only to the extent of her husband's position. This isn't true. She is a citizen of Nigeria with full rights and privileges as any other woman in the country. By herself, she is a relevant entity, married or not, and to the president or not. She is not an appendage of anything. The “mere” just makes it worse. I understand the frustration with some of her antics, and they deserved to be ridiculed. But NOT in this way. Not by our learned professor. And not in this century.

Blogger Ena Ofugara thought that Soyinka's comments reveal an “antediluvian mindset”:

Who refers to the First Lady as a “mere domestic appendage of power” in any country of this world? Do not they know the wife plays a key role in getting votes for the husband? Is Michelle Obama not revered globally? Has the Queen of England ever hugged any human being aside Michelle? Is her qualification for that embrace not because of Obama being president? IS SHE A DOMESTIC APPENDAGE OF POWER????? Who in this century still considers women DOMESTIC??? Is the Prof not aware that women now earn even more than men in Nigeria as the beautiful brilliant ones are snapped up quickly by employers? Are our most powerful ministers these past years not been women viz Dora Akunyili and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala? What men tower above these women? So why call her DOMESTIC. Is this not an antediluvian mindset? 

And Kukogho Iruesiri Samson, a Nigerian poet, blogger and multimedia journalist, asserted:

I'm not a supporter of Jonathan
Nor appreciate his Patient Dame
But I cooked Soyinka's words in pan…
And the outcome muddied his great name

When you go all out to attack the President’s wife based on assumptions, mud must fall on your name…
Yes, I said so!

July 12 2013

Nigerian Government to Ramp Up Internet Surveillance?

Graphic by owni.eu. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 fr)

Graphic by owni.eu. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 fr)

This post was co-authored by Nwachukwu Egbunike and Dominic Burbidge.

In April, Nigerian news site Premium Times revealed government plans to purchase equipment that would allow it to conduct online surveillance on an unprecedented scale. The government reportedly had contracted with Israeli company Elbit Systems Ltd to advance the Internet and computer-based gathering of Nigerian citizens’ personal data.

While the blogosphere reacted in outrage, the government neither confirmed nor denied the allegation.

In May, warning bells exposing the government’s interest in digital surveillance rang once more. Nigeria was among the 11 countries discovered by Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto research center, to have FinFisher surveillance software in its possession. Gamma International, the UK-based manufacturer of FinFisher, describes its products as offering “governmental IT intrusion and remote monitoring solutions.” FinFisher products can obtain passwords from your computer, monitor Skype calls, and even turn on your computer’s camera and sound recording so as to watch you at work.

As sourcing in the Premium Times’ initial report was thin, many wondered if the coverage had been exaggerated. But when Minister of Information Labaran Maku gave an interview to Channels Television, the seriousness of the issue became quite clear.

In the interview, the Minister admitted the Nigerian government was indeed planning to spy on her netizens. According to Mr. Maku:

… let me say that most countries in the world… monitor internet. There is no country in the world where communication is not monitored. There are issues of security involved, particularly in a country like Nigeria where we are having challenges of terror… Where terror uses technology to destroy lives…That does not mean assault on the rights of citizens…

The government’s position was not swallowed by Internet users. In this op-ed column in YNaija, an online Nigerian newspaper, Gbenga Sesan asserted:

While the act of surveillance, for the purpose of ensuring national security, might appear noble, it is important to explain how lazy governance is at play again, in what could take Nigeria many years back into the military era when surveillance became a tool of oppression by the State. How does a nation that has no Data Privacy laws or legal provision for interception seek to monitor communication?

Mr. Sesan went on to explain why the implications of these government plans are reprehensible:

Internet surveillance is not something that should be freely given to security agencies that still show signs of military-­era tactics. Indeed, many Nigerians are unlearning various things from that military era. Security agencies need to work, but lazy governance does not produce sustainable solutions. Nigeria must put appropriate laws, checks and balances in place first. That is the least any government owes the citizens whose rights it swore to protect.

The lower house of Nigeria’s parliament has since ordered the immediate suspension of the $40m contract, indicating that its secrecy may stand in violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007. But whether the executive will heed their directive is a separate issue entirely.

An editorial for The Guardian (Nigeria) has called for a halt to the plan, citing the dangers it presents for citizens’ rights to privacy. The Nigerian government has offered the public no specific information on local, computer-based threats that might justify such a large investment.

Domestic security in Nigeria is regularly threatened by the operations of Boko Haram, a terrorist Islamist group operating in the north of the country and willing to use violence to further its aims. Boko Haram has claimed the lives of about 10,000 people since 2001, rendering the organisation Nigeria’s “number one merchants of destruction.” Given the physical presence of this threat, the need to instead pour money into high-technology tools for Internet and computer surveillance is mystifying for many Nigerians.

Parallels with the current United States debate on the NSA and Edward Snowden’s leaks are only too clear. If in the West the reach of government through technology is being called into question, is this really the best time for Nigeria to invest?

July 01 2013

May 03 2013

Hostages and Ransom Payments: What is France's Policy?

Around three months after the French President François Hollande’s decision to stop paying ransoms to hostage takers, the Moulin-Fournier family were finally released, to the immense relief of their family and friends. However, there is still no information to shed light on how this liberation occurred.

Video of the hostages following their release via zoominwal [fr]:

In January 2013, François Hollande told the families of French citizens around the world that France would henceforth follow a policy of refusing financial dealings with the hostage-takers. The time of giving in to ransom demands had come to an end.

This change had been considered during the Sarkozy era, due to payment of ransoms increasing the greed of kidnappers. Abdoulaye Bah of Global Voices noted in 2010 that [fr]:

Plus de 90% du financement des groupes terroristes proviennent de paiement de rançons. [..] Tant que les pays occidentaux paient pour libérer leurs otages, les groupes terroristes garnissaient leurs «comptes».

More than 90% of funding for terrorist groups comes from ransom payments. [...] As long as western countries pay to free their hostages, the terrorist groups will add to their “accounts”.

The crisis in Mali accelerated the process [fr]. Since when, intelligence service agents have tried to adapt their negotiation methods, breaking with the French techniques which had prevailed until that time. The adopted model was along the lines of those used in Britain and America.

French Negotiation Techniques compared to those of Britain and the US

Bernard Kouchner talked of the different approaches [fr] when trying to resolve hostage situations:

On oppose souvent un modèle français qui paie et un modèle anglo-saxon qui ne paie pas mais les choses ne sont pas si claires que cela, chaque affaire d'otage est unique et plus complexe qu'on ne le croit.

People often compare the French method, which pays, and the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ method which doesn’t, but things are not as simple as that, each hostage situation is unique and more complex than can be imagined.

Contrary to in Britain and the US, where it is clearly spelled out to citizens that government policy will not make any type of concession regarding individuals or groups who take hostages, France has not set out a precise policy in its official documents, and instead only used to warn against kidnappings.

François Hollande therefore set in action a radical change when he made his clear announcement of France’s refusal to give in to ransom demands. However, the lack of transparency over the latest liberation of hostages in Cameroon leads the onlooker to believe that the actual situation is more complicated.

How were the Moulin-Fournier family freed?

The French family were taken hostage on February 19, 2013 in Cameroon, and claimed by Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist group. The hostages were freed on April 19. News website Slate Afrique asked Did France pay a ransom to Boko Haram? [fr] the day after their liberation:

Des questions qui se posent avec d’autant plus d’acuité que l’on se souvient des revendications de Boko Haram, lorsque la secte nigériane a confirmé être l’auteur de l’enlèvement de cette famille française, dans la localité de Dabanga, dans l’extrême-nord du Cameroun, le 19 février dernier

These questions take on ever greater importance when we remember Boko Haram’s demands when the Nigerian sect confirmed responsibility for the kidnapping of this French family, near Dabanga in the extreme north of Cameroon on February 19

The article also remarked upon the discretion of the French and Cameroon governments on this affair.

The French government has reaffirmed that it did not break its resolution and that it did not pay a ransom. The members of Boko Haram had let it be known in a video uploaded on February 25 that they wanted family members “imprisoned in Nigeria and Cameroon” to be freed. The Nigerian government then intervened, however, details of any negotiations [fr] were not disclosed.

As for the Moulin-Fournier family, they told the media through crisis management consultants gestiondecrise.com [fr] about their tough experience without disclosing any information concerning the conditions of their release. The question of what is French policy in hostage situations therefore remains open.

May 01 2013

‘Africa Is A Country’ Blog Challenges West's Idea of Africa

This isn't another blog about “famine, Bono, or Barack Obama,” warns the blog Africa is a Country in its description on Facebook.

The ironically titled blog aims, among other things, to do away with the the narrative told and retold by western media that Africa is “a perpetual sob story”, Africa is a Country founder Sean Jacobs told Global Voices.

At the same time, Jacobs said, the blog is a collective of scholars, writers, artists, filmmakers, bloggers, and curators who together produce online commentary, original writing, media criticism, short videos, and photography that is working to reimagine Africa as a community.

 

SeanJacobs.

The founder of the Africa is a Country blog, Sean Jacobs. Photo courtesy of Sean Jacobs.

We recently caught up with Jacobs, a media and international affairs scholar who currently teaches at The New School in New York, to talk about the blog.

Ndesanjo Macha (NM): Will you briefly tell us about yourself?

Sean Jacobs (SJ): I was born in Apartheid South Africa and grew up in a working class coloured township in the city. I am very much a product of segregation, anti-apartheid student movements, affirmative action and the euphoria represented by political freedom in South Africa. I went to the University of Cape Town (still very white at that time) on a scholarship and worked briefly as a journalist before I came to the US as a Fulbright Scholar in the mid-1990s [...]

I returned to South Africa at the end of my studies as I felt I would miss out on the experience of working there while democracy was still fresh. So, in 1997 I got hired by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, an organization which played a central role in South Africa’s political transition. [...]

In 2001, I came to New York City to take up a graduate fellowship at The New School. I eventually settled in New York City and got married.

I suppose I consider myself an African immigrant in America now (I have two children who were born here) and while I keep up with specifically South African politics, I have also come to care more for how the continent and its people is represented in media here. That’s where Africa is a Country came into the picture.

NM: What is Africa is a Country?

SJ: Africa is a Country is a blog that developed over time — and I want to emphasize this process as it wasn't always clear what it would be become — into a collective of scholars, writers, artists, filmmakers, bloggers, and curators who together produce online commentary, original writing, media criticism, short videos, and photography that deliberately challenge and destabilize received wisdom about the African continent and its people in Western media (that definition includes “old media,” new social media as well as “global news media” like Al Jazeera).

Our main outlet at present is the blog, though we've collaborated with film festivals, print publications and co-hosted public events. We also count as part of our community people who read or comment on our site each day. We've sourced some blog posts and eventual regular contributors from amongst our readers.

NM: Why “Africa is a country”? Isn't Africa a continent?

SJ: Of course we don’t literally believe Africa is a Country. The title of the blog is ironic and is a reaction to old and tired images of “Africa.” As one of the core members of the collective, Neelika Jayawardane, explains in the “About” section on our Facebook page, the blog is that and more. That is, Africa is a Country is also about constructing a kind of “country.” One where the “nation” operates outside the borders of modern nation states in Africa and its continental and conceptual boundaries. So, yes, the blog announces that Africa is indeed a “country,” an imagined community whose “citizens” must reinvent the narrative and visual economy of Africa. I hope that makes sense.

NM: How did you come up with the title of the blog?

SJ: I can’t pinpoint the exact source or moment. It was definitely a mix of factors. There were countless instances of celebrities, politicians (including some who denied immediately that they had said so) who would make the mistake of talking about “the country of Africa” or be very vague of where they traveled when they visited the continent or who exactly (a country, a people, a city, etc) they were describing. In other cases, some journalists implied that Africa was a country in their writings or reporting. But there was something else I did regularly. While blogging as Leo Africanus, I started writing the words “Africa is a Country” in one or other incredulous post about some clearly misdirected reporting from and about Africa. One day I decided to just rename the blog Africa is a Country. It helped that the title attracted more people to show a sudden interest in or reading the blog or that searches for “Africa is a country” led to us.

NM: Who are other authors involved in creating content for the blog?

SJ: Currently the collective consists of about 30 core members and a fluid cast of contributors. So we’re a mix of graduate students, professors, activists, development workers, writers, journalism students, art critics, novelists, photographers, activists, filmmakers, a DJ, and a film curator, among others. [...]

NM: What kind of readers visit your site and where do most of them come from?

SJ: We now have more than 11,000 Facebook “Likes,” close to 20,000 Twitter followers, and average between 7,000-10,000 hits per day on the blog, which has had over three million total views since we made the name change. Readers come from all over, though a fast reliable internet connection helps. So most readers live, work or study in the United States and/or Europe. On the continent, most of the readers come from Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya.

NM: What are your greatest achievements with the blog so far?

SJ: That’s for our readers to decide. Again, let me drew on something Elliot and wrote down recently when asked the same question: We feel that global, by definition that’s usually Western, media — with few exceptions — have shown themselves time and again to be utterly unable to cover the continent in the depth and detail it demands, still less with any appreciation for Africa as a site of astonishing cultural and artistic production. Africa is a Country aspires to offer an international-scale corrective to this, not in terms of patronising “positive” news stories or PR-style neoliberal boosterism, but through the sustained daily work of presenting and engaging critically with the cultural and political life of Africa and its diaspora. [...]

Of course, not everything we do is hardcore: Something we are very excited about is the launch recently of a page on the blog titled “Football is a Country.” We've managed to convince some excellent writers, photographers, film makers and bloggers to commit themselves as contributors and we’re hoping to expand on it.

NM: What is most read post so far?

SJ: The most read post on the blog thus far has been by Elliot Ross on Kony 2012.

But I also want to mention a number of other excellent posts (and I am going to have to leave some posts out of this list, though that does not make them less deserving): There’s Boima Tucker’s explorations on DJ culture and Jeremy Weate's “When Kim Kardasian Came to Lagos and “419ed the 419ers”. Separately, we’ve featured a number of interviews such as Zachary Rosen’s interview with artist Toyin Odutola, Corinna Jentzch’s interview with the German photographer Gregor Zielke, Amkhelwa Mbekeni’s interview with Bongeziwe Mabandla and historian Dan Magaziner’s interview with the author of a book on Marcus Garvey.

April 24 2013

Human Rights Verdict Could Affect Cisco in China

photo by kaoticsnow on a CC license

Photo by kaoticsnow. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 2011, two separate lawsuits were filed against Cisco Systems alleging that its technology enabled the government of China to monitor, capture, and kill Chinese citizens for their views and beliefs.

The first case involved practitioners of Falun Gong, a religion that is popularly known for its use of qigong exercises and has an estimated two million or more members in China. The suit was filed on behalf of Charles Lee, Guifu Liu, Ivy He, and several anonymous plaintiffs and accuses Cisco of marketing its technology to construct the Golden Shield, or what is popularly called the Great Firewall of China, while knowing that its products would be used to target dissidents. At least 2,000 members of the Falun Gong have been killed by the government of China, according to The New York Times, and many more have been tortured or harassed.

The second case (the Writers case) involved a group of internet writers and activists who were similarly targeted by censors of the Great Firewall. Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi, Liu Xianbin, and anonymous co-plaintiffs claim to have been harassed, arrested, and tortured because of their online writings.

To what extent are these human rights violations attributable to technology provided by Cisco? The complaint in the Writers case states that Cisco began marketing its products to the Chinese government in 2002 when the Great Firewall was still in its infancy. The available evidence is especially compelling in the Falun Gong case. It includes a leaked Cisco marketing team PowerPoint slide explaining that its systems could be used to “Combat ‘Falun Gong’ evil religion and other hostiles.” Other documents reveal that Cisco may have customized its products to specifically monitor groups like the Falun Gong, and were so significant that the plaintiffs in the Falun Gong case amended their complaint in March 2012. (For an excellent backgrounder from 2011, read Jillian York's piece for EFF here.)

The plaintiffs in both cases sued under a variety of laws including the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a crucial 200 year-old law that has been successfully used to hold human rights violators accountable in US courts.

The ATS was used in several law suits in Nigeria involving a group of writers and activists who were jailed, tortured, or executed by the military regime in the mid-1990s for peacefully protesting the destruction of Niger Delta wetlands by Royal Dutch Shell and other international oil conglomerates. The claimants in these cases sued Shell, arguing that the company had aided and abetted the Nigerian government and violated international law.

When the Supreme Court agreed to revisit the ATS in Kiobel v. Shell—the latest of the string of Nigeria cases utilizing the Alien Tort Statute—both Cisco cases were put on hold in October 2011 because their outcome would be affected by the top court's ruling. Human rights activists feared the worst from the conservative court, and they were right to be afraid. In its decision, the court significantly narrowed the scope of the ATS by citing a principle called the “presumption against extraterritoriality”, a legal term of art that means that laws should be interpreted as only applying within the U.S. unless clearly stated otherwise. (Click here for an in-depth explanation of Kiobel at PEN.org.)

photo by longtrekhome on a CC license

Falun Dafa practitioners. Photo by longtrekhome. (CC BY 2.0)

The Supreme Court judges issued three separate concurring opinions in Kiobel, which do not have the force of law. These suggest that if there is a significant enough American interest, then a federal court could properly hear an ATS case. Cisco is headquartered in the U.S. and was selling its products abroad, so this seems like a significant interest for Americans. The victims, however, were Chinese nationals, although some of them now reside in the US. It is therefore unclear whether the plaintiffs would overcome the burden to show that Cisco's actions affected an American interest.

Even if US federal courts hold that the Alien Tort Statute does not apply to the Cisco cases, the plaintiffs in each suit also filed claims alleging violations of state law (in California and Maryland, respectively) and the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which governs the ability of companies to disclose private user data to government and law enforcement officials. On the surface, these claims are not nearly as strong as an ATS claim before Kiobel. In 2009, a judge in a California federal court held in Zheng v. Yahoo! that the ECPA does not apply abroad, even when information that is disclosed abroad passes through computer servers on American soil.

Before Kiobel, there was no guarantee that human rights victims could win an ATS case on the merits in federal court, and the cases often resulted in settlement. But we have now come to the point when critical human rights cases may not even be argued in U.S. courts at all. This is a terrible loss for human rights, and even a loss for corporations. Litigating the Cisco cases in open court would provide a vital human rights record for the global community about how tech firms operate.

There is another formidable hurdle: the legal team that defended Royal Dutch Shell in Kiobel, led by the former dean of Stanford Law School Kathleen Sullivan, is also defending Cisco.

Human rights are good for business. A 2012 open letter from a group of socially responsible investors representing over $548 billion in investments explicitly stated [PDF] that human rights can and should be protected by businesses. This goal was reinforced by the UN's Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which require companies to actively protect human rights, respect them, and provide remedies to victims of human rights abuses that result from actions by companies. Unfortunately, the facts in Kiobel and Cisco suggest that we are not there yet, and we need the courts to show us the way to go. In this sense, the Supreme Court has provided no real guidance.

 

March 26 2013

Nigeria's Chinua Achebe Remembered as ‘Trailblazer’ for African Literature

Nigerian author Albert Chínụ̀álụmọ̀gụ̀ Àchèbé, better known as Chinua Achebe whose internationally praised writing gave Africans a voice by destroying the mold cast by colonialism, died on March 22, 2013. He was 82.

Achebe's seminal novel, “Things Fall Apart“, was one of the first African novels written in English to achieve worldwide success. The novel, which was published in 1958, has been translated into more than 50 languages.

In a testament to the profound impact of his body of work, Achebe's death has been mourned around the world.

Chinua Achebe (1930-2013)

Chinua Achebe (1930-2013). Image released under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) by Stuart C. Shapiro

Two literary contemporaries of Achebe – Wole Soyinka and J. P. Clark – mourned the loss of their “brother” on African entertainment website Bella Naija:

For us, the loss of Chinua Achebe is, above all else, intensely personal. We have lost a brother, a colleague, a trailblazer and a doughty fighter. Of the ‘pioneer quartet’ of contemporary Nigerian literature, two voices have been silenced – one, of the poet Christopher Okigbo, and now, the novelist Chinua Achebe.

It is perhaps difficult for outsiders of that intimate circle to appreciate this sense of depletion, but we take consolation in the young generation of writers to whom the baton has been passed, those who have already creatively ensured that there is no break in the continuum of the literary vocation. We need to stress this at a critical time of Nigerian history, where the forces of darkness appear to overshadow the illumination of existence that literature represents.

For New York Times book critic Dwight Garner, Achebe deserves to be called the father of modern African literature:

Mr. Achebe was a mentor and role model to a generation of African writers — he’s often referred to as the father of modern African writing. But like many novelists who find success with an early book, Mr. Achebe found himself almost solely defined by “Things Fall Apart.”

It’s been more than 50 years since the publication of Mr. Achebe’s pioneering and canonical novel; it no longer seems to stand, to a Western audience at any rate, for African writing as a whole. His talent and success have helped spawn an array of postcolonial writing from across the continent. Among the talented young Nigerian writers alone who cite him as an influence are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Lola Shoneyin.

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a moving eulogy for Achebe in the Igbo language on Farafina Books blog:

Ife mee. Nnukwu ife mee. Chinua Achebe anabago. Onye edemede nke di egwu, onye nnukwu uche, onye obi oma. Keduzi onye anyi ga-eji eme onu? Keduzi onye anyi ga-eji jee mba? Keduzi onye ga-akwado anyi? Ebenebe egbu o! Anya mmili julu m anya. Chinua Achebe, naba no ndokwa. O ga-adili gi mma. Naba na ndokwa.

A tree has fallen. A mighty tree has fallen! Chinua Achebe is gone. The inimitable wordsmith, the sage, the kind man. Now who is there for us to boast about? Who will be our rampart? How are the mighty fallen! My eyes are in flood with tears. Chinua Achebe may your soul rest in peace. It is well with you. Rest in peace. [Translation done by Mazi Nnamdi Nwigwe]

Nigerian authors have lost a friend and mentor, Remi Raji, president of the Association of Nigerian Authorslamented on the organization's website:

Eagle on Iroko, the master-artist, the compelling stylist of the English language has left the world of the flesh, he left in the middle of a revived discourse of the fate of our Nigerian nation. And it was a symbolic day. In the commemoration of the UNESCO World Poetry Day, things fell apart in the firmament of Nigerian and African Literature. A bleak day indeed, the devastating reality, the ending of a huge chapter in the history of African Literature. Adieu Chinua Achebe, adieu irreplaceable son of Africa.

Poet and essayist Niyi Osundare celebrated this worthy son of Africa on news website Citizens Platform:

But if the sheer force and range of Achebe’s fiction gave Africa a voice, the fearless truth of his critical interventions challenged so many myths and deliberate falsehoods about the most misrepresented and recklessly abused continent in the world.

Achebe knew, and he tried to get us to know, that Africans will remain mere objects of the stories told by others, until they, Africans, have started to tell their own story their own way – without shutting out the rest of the world. Achebe challenged the 20th century philosophy of fiction as a pretty object d’art, arriving with works which foregrounded the human condition and told the wondering world that the clotheless Emperor was, indeed, naked! He entered a plea for the urgent necessity of an entity called ‘applied art’ and emboldened us to look triumphalist Formalism in the face and demand to see its passport. Yes, Achebe told a world sold to the art-for-art’s-sake mystique that it is, indeed, possible to be an accomplished novelist who is also a teacher.

Richard Dowen wrote on the website African Arguments that Achebe bore a lot of similarities to Nelson Mandela:

A conversation with Chinua Achebe was a deep, slow and gracious matter. He was exceedingly courteous and always listened and reflected before answering. In his later years he talked even more slowly and softly, savouring the paradoxes of life and history. He spoke in long, clear, simple sentences which often ended in a profound and sad paradox. Then those extraordinary eyes twinkled, his usually very solemn face would break into a huge smile and he would chuckle.

He had a look of Nelson Mandela about him. Both have that ability to look very stern and solemn and then break into a huge smile. It happened when they met each other in South Africa, his daughter, Nwando, told me. At first the two men just looked at each other and then burst out laughing as if recognizing their brotherhood. Both romantic about Africa’s traditions, they talked and talked. Mandela had read Things Fall Apart when he was in prison on Robben Island and he said of Achebe: “The writer in whose company the prison walls fell down.”

The University of Nigeria has declared a period of mourning for Achebe, who worked as a professor there. Achebe, according to the university's vice-chancellor, gave a voice not only to Africa but also to human civilization:

Prof Achebe was one of the academic titans whose presence on the faculty served as a beacon of light that drew the world to the University of Nigeria. He taught in the Department of English as well as carried out research at the Institute of African Studies.

After the epochal Things Fall Apart that gave a voice to African literature and its people, Achebe continued his pioneering endeavours with the founding of Okike, a foremost journal of African literature that birthed the careers of many a distinguished writer. His work in leading research into the cultures of the Igbo and various groups in the Institute of African Studies further cemented the reputation of the University of Nigeria as a centre of liberal learning in the best traditions. Achebe in his work gave to the language, culture and people of Igbo land, a universality that positioned it as one of the major ethnic groups of human civilisation.
Achebe's family has not released plans for his burial.
The homage to Achebe continues to trend globally on Twitter. And from Global Voices we chant our ode to one of Africa's brightest literary stars [written by the author of this post]:
Ije oma, Albert Chínụ̀álụmọ̀gụ̀ Àchèbé
Bulu anya anyi n'ala mmuo
Ka anyi bulu anya gi n'ala ndi di ndu
Okeosisi ada
Umu nnunu eju ofia
Kachifo Ogbuefi Achebe
Safe journey, Albert Chinualumogu Achebe
Be our eyes in the land of the dead
While we be your eyes in the land of the living
A great Iroko has fallen
The birds are scattered in the forest
Good night, Ogbuefi Achebe

March 19 2013

“Tough Skin and Brains”: Nigeria's Apps4Africa Winner Talks Tech Innovation in Africa

Nigeria's Prowork was one of three winners of the 2012 Apps4Africa Business Challenge, a competitive funding programme for African innovators, start-ups, and businesses.

Prowork is a project management and real-time collaboration tool for businesses which facilitate teamwork via mobile (Blackberry, Android and Java supporting phones), Web, and API platforms. Fresh off winning the Apps4Africa award, co-founder Francis Onwumere (FO) chatted with us about Prowork, tech innovation in Africa, and how to make the most of Nigeria's poor infrastructure.

Nwachukwu Egbunike (NE): You are among the three winners of the Apps4Africa Business Challenge. How do you feel?

FO: We are very delighted with this award and very grateful to everyone who has made this possible.

NE: What is Prowork? When and how did it start?

FO: Prowork is a mobile first enterprise class project management and collaboration solution for businesses. It’s like Microsoft’s Sharepoint or Basecamp but mobile and easier to use, more powerful, with real time collaboration everywhere, anywhere. Prowork is available via mobile, the web, SMS and a robust API to allow developers to extend the functionality.

Back in 2009 I started collaborating with my co-founders Ope and Namzo on our IT consultancy business, we used several collaborative tools but somehow it just wasn’t working. Then we discovered that we were not alone. Many businesses faced the same loss of productivity by improvising project management and collaboration.

Prowork unlocks this problem by putting power of project management and collaboration on one platform and making it mobile first such that project management takes place where the actual project activities happen. So when Startup weekend came to Lagos we decided to build a prototype at the event and in June 2012 we went commercial.

NE: What makes it unique among the numerous apps being developed daily on the continent?

FO: We are solving a pertinent problem like the other joint winners of the competition. The value proposition of technology products has to meet concrete needs of people and businesses. There are many startups in Africa solving problems, competitions like the Apps 4 Africa Award help to encourage and showcase them. We’ll get to see other unique solutions enter the spotlight in future competitions.

  • NE: Is tech innovation Africa’s future?
(Prowork team) L-R: Ope, Francis and Namzo

(Prowork team) L-R: Ope, Francis and Namzo. Photo used with permission from Francis Onwumere

Technology innovation is the future of the whole world. It however presents a special opportunity for Africa to leap frog the gap between them and developed countries. In today’s world, every aspect of our lives and industry benefits from technology hence there is ample room to innovate.

 

NE: Some people argue that African tech innovators are not really innovators, that we clone or imitate tools that have been developed in the West already. Is that true?

FO: It will be difficult here to give a yes or no response. Education, formal or informal, gives insights for creativity. Hence the West and Africa have a lot to learn from each other.

NE: Why is it a challenge for African technology entrepreneurs to turn the apps they create into viable businesses?

FO: Entrepreneurship training and mentorship is missing in most of our curriculum, you can’t go very far with a trial and error strategy. There is then a need for people who have done it and been there to hand-hold the upcoming technology entrepreneurs in the continent.

NE: What, in your view, is the significant pros or cons of building a team among Nigerian tech professionals?

FO: Every technology entrepreneur that wants to do right builds a team around people they trust, work hard, share common interests, and ambitions – i.e. friends. Without friendship, teams will fall apart when the journey gets tough.

NE: Infrastructure is a bane to development in Nigeria. How much did it affect Prowork?

FO: Growing tech companies can be significantly expensive and frustrating in Nigeria due to the infrastructure gap. However the immense market potential can offer returns that undermine this business threat. At Prowork we strategize to circumvent obstacles from a lack of infrastructure in our operating environment. You’ll need a tough skin and brains but it’ll be worth it.

NE: What can African governments do to encourage innovation?

FO: There is an urgent need to improve infrastructure and education. Every government needs to take entrepreneurship seriously by creating a favourable business climate for promising local entrepreneurs and businesses.

NE: With this recognition and award, what are your future plans?

FO: Prowork will make the most of the award, cash prize and mentorship, to increase adoption among discerning businesses across Africa, primarily.

NE: Do you have any advice to young and upcoming tech entrepreneurs in the continent?

FO: Strive for excellence, collaborate, and don’t give up. Dream and your dream will fall short.

March 10 2013

The State of Torture in the World in 2013

On January 23, 2013, an excerpt from the annual report of l'ACAT-France, A World of Torture 2013, makes a fresh assessment of the state of torture in the world [fr]:

“A report called A World of Torture in 2013, assesses torture practices that continue to be alarming, from Pakistan to Italy, by way of South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Bolivia. From authoritarian regimes to democratic countries, none are exempt from criticism on the topic. In 2013, torture remains as endemic, omnipresent and multi-faceted as ever”.

March 06 2013

Nigerians Shake Up Twitter with Yoruba-Language Tweets

Twitter was abuzz with Yoruba, one of the three major indigenous languages spoken in Nigeria, on March 1, 2013 as speakers of the language lit up the microblogging site with tweets in Yoruba as part of a campaign to celebrate the language on social media and to pressure Twitter to include it in its translation project.

Nigeria, famed for a population of 160 million, officially speaks English but also has over 500 ethnic languages, with Yoruba being one of three major native languages spoken there. It also spoken along the West African coast in Benin and Togo as well as Cuba and Brazil.

Users tweeted in Yoruba under the hashtags #tweetYoruba and #twitterYoruba. One of the organizers of the campaign, Kola Tubosun (@baroka) explained the reasoning behind the effort on his blog:

The Tweet Yoruba Day on March 1, 2013* is to continue the annual tradition, but with less emphasis on pressuring Twitter but on celebrating the beauty and importance of the mother tongue usage in the age of modernity. It might never happen any time soon that the only means of communication online would be any of these local languages with a limited number of speakers (Yoruba has over 30 million), but as long as these means of communication exist, there would always be new ways of transmitting culture and a distinct world-view.

The Nigeria Tweet Yoruba day began last year and garnered enough attention to be contacted by a Twitter translation official, Tubosun wrote. But aside from a brief follow-up from Twitter, there hasn't been any news since:

This practice began last year as a means to pressure Twitter to include Yoruba in the list of languages into which the platform is being translated. There was a partial success in form of a response by a Twitter translation desk official who assured that while the message has been heard, it would take a little while more to include the language, for logistic reasons.

#TweetInYoruba Day 20013 (Credit: ktravula.com)

#TweetInYoruba Day 2013 (Credit: ktravula.com)

Here are some tweets with our translation from Tweet Yoruba Day campaign:

@DAINJURER: Oloore re ko ni fi obituary da e mo! Fi adura yi ranse si eniyan mewa ti o feranju. #tweetinyoruba [Your predestined helper will not get to know you through your obituary. Send this to ten of your loved ones.]

@renoomokri: Bi iwo ko tile gba wipe ohun kan wa ti o le se lati gbe Naijiria ga, saa gbagbo wipe Naijiria, orile-ede títóbi ni. [A tweet to all Nigerians-Even if you believe there is nothing you can do to make Nigeria great, at least believe that Nigeria can be great.] #TweetYoruba

@baroka: Since the day is young in other parts of the world, ibi ni emi a ti duro na. Eyin ara Amerika, e maa ba iyoku lo. E ti yege na [This is where I will stop. The Americans should continue with the remaining. You will succeed.] #tweetYoruba.

@seunonigbinde: Oluwaseun : Thank you Lord, Olayide: Wealth has come, Temitope: Mine is joy OniGBINde: the royal drummer has come #TweetYoruba

@bumight: Ewo ti e ni ede gèésì ti mo fi n twiiti yii? [Why am I tweeting in English?] #TweetYoruba

@molarawood: O dabii pe awon ara Amerika fe ki Kadinali (cardinal) won yi, Timothy Dolan, di Poopu lehin Benedikti. Sugbon emi o ro bee. [It seems the Americans want their Cardinal, Timothy Dolan, to become the Pope after Benedict. But I don’t think it’s possible] #TweetYoruba

Much of the African continent's important writing is happening on social media these days, Nigerian literary critic Ikhide Ikheloa (@ikhide) said in a recent interview on the literary blog Brittle Paper. Given that language and literature are integral components of a nation's identity, put down the novel and log on to Twitter and Facebook for a well-rounded idea of the world, he said:

It is interesting and frustrating to me that when we talk about literature, it is always in the context of books, alone. It is perhaps now inappropriate to use books as the sole determinant of cultural norms in today’s world. I would go further and say, in the 21st century, the book is a wretched barometer of African writing. You will need to go to the two most important African novels – Twitter and Facebook, in addition to blogs and websites to get a really good read on these issues… One reason I do not read books as much these days is that I cannot get enough of the writing on Twitter, Facebook and blogs. I am transfixed…

 

February 11 2013

10 Best African Food Blogs

MyWeku compiles a list of 10 best African food blogs for 2013: “There are seemingly a million food blogs out there, but only a handful showcase African food. Even so it has still been a struggle to pick 10 of our favourites for this year (2013).”

February 07 2013

Nigeria: Meet the Person Behind Fela Kuti’s the Best of Black President Artwork

Wes Flexner speaks with the person behind the artwork for “Best of Black President Pt 2″: “Mr. Jaeger has worked on several of Knitting Factory’s Fela efforts including Fela: Live In Detroit 1986, and the Ginger Baker compiled Fela: Vinyl Box Set 2.”

February 04 2013

The Future of E-Commerce and Mobile Payments in Africa

Mbawana Alliy says that e-commerce & mobile payments in Africa will not scale without business process integration:”As I tell the startups in our accelerator who are exploring integrating payments, its not just about accepting payments its about a business process and even business model rethink and in turn convince both consumers or businesses to pay electronically to effectively monetize their services.”

January 30 2013

Free Mobile Phones for Nigerian Farmers?

At the end of 2012, the Nigerian Ministry of Agriculture made public its plans to provide free mobile phones to rural farmers. According to this report:

Ibukun Idusote, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture, was reported as saying that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture would procure ten million mobile phones, worth about N60 billion, from China and the US for free distribution to rural farmers across the country.

This triggered reverberations in the Nigerian blogosphere. Kikiowo Ileowo asks where the government got the statistics – that warrants 10 million mobile phones for 10 million farmers – from:

The question… is where exactly are the 10million farmers? Are they from the army of the unemployed 16, 074, 295 or from the already employed 51, 181, 884. If their answer is the former, what exactly are they producing that Nigeria has not become a hub of everything food?

Now, understand that a large portion of food production in Nigeria is done through mechanized farming which makes use of less manual labour. The ‘farmers' Mr. President wants to provide handset for are subsistent farmers who produce what they mostly consume in their homes. I have a garden at the back of my house; does that qualify me as a recipient of the ‘Jona-phone'? I see no reason why the president in conjunction with his minister of Agriculture would insult the collective intelligence of Nigerians by playing to the gallery with a noble idea that has revolutionised countries like Uganda, Kenya and India.

There has since been a correction on the real cost of the phones:

…the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, has corrected the report that the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Mrs. Ibukun Odusote, said the phones would be bought by the government at the cost of N60 billion, his explanation that the phones will be supplied to farmers through Public/Private Sector partnership…

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria's Minister of Agriculture

Dr Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture rose up in defence of the project. In a press release he says:

When I came on board as minister of agriculture in July of 2011, I found a corrupt and totally inefficient fertilizer sector. The government was spending huge amounts of money on direct procurement and distribution of subsidized fertilizer, but less than 11% of farmers got the fertilizers. Some of the fertilizers paid for by government were never delivered to the warehouses. Some of the fertilizer delivered contained more sand than fertilizer while a large portion of the fertilizer subsidized by government found its way across our borders to neighbouring countries where it was sold at prevailing market prices.

This technology-mediated solution, he asserts, ended the corruption associated with fertilizer distribution:

We ended four decades of corruption in the fertilizer sector within 90 days of my assumption of office as minister. How did we do this? We were able get subsidized high quality fertilizer and seeds to our rural farmers by introducing the GES (Growth Enhancement Support) scheme in April of 2012. The GES scheme delivers inputs (fertilizers and seeds) to farmers directly by using farmers' cell phones. We created an electronic platform (e-wallet) on which we registered farmers and agro dealers who own shops that sell farm inputs all over the country. To date we have registered 4.2 million farmers and about 900 agro dealers.

The Minister thinks that although many Nigerian farmers are illiterate but are able to use mobile telephones:

Some people think that our farmers are uneducated and cannot use cell phones. The evidence does not support that. Under the GES scheme, we made it possible for farmers to transact business in their own local languages using their cell phones. From data we collected based on farmers’ use of cell phones to access fertilizers and seeds last year, we found that the total number of transactions done by phone with respect to the GES scheme was 4.9 million. Of these, 1.2 million were in English, 620,000 were in Pidgin, 2.2 million were in Hausa, and 854,000 were in Yoruba and 344 were in Igbo. From this data, we have no doubt that our farmers are well able to use cell phones.

Technology, according to the Dr Adesina, aided his judgement that there would be no food crisis after floods swept through some parts of the country:

When the floods occurred, there was panic in the land… I was not moved. We used modern technology to guide our decision. Using remote sensing and satellite imagery, we mapped out the extent of the flood and determined that no more than 1.17% of our total cultivated area was affected by the floods. Our detractors wanted the world to believe the opposite, that food crisis was imminent. They were wrong. Today, five months after the floods, we do not have a food crisis.

Nonetheless, some netizens still have unanswered questions. Olusola Adegbeti asks:

One must then poignantly ask, though it be a rhetorical question, if the purchase and distribution of GSM phones to hundreds of farmers spread across the length and breadth of a country so large as Nigeria is the most critical and challenging of issues bedevilling the Nigerian agricultural sector at the moment? Your guess is as good as mine. Running on the heels of the above, it is convenient to say that one does not need the wisdom of Solomon or the prophetic insight of Isaiah to be led in the direction of the myriad of issues that have since rendered the agricultural sector beggarly, issues such as lack of easy access to land for farming, absence of reliable and corruption-free financial institutions to empower farmers acquire the required modern machinery for mechanised and commercial farming that is usually the backbone of every nation, lack of easy access to requisite technology and agro-chemical support-structure for sustained annual and perennial farming as well as animal husbandry….

The Sun asks if farmers really need new mobile phones, when they already have one or have other sources of information?

The telephone is also clearly not the best way to reach farmers who mostly live in the rural areas. Rural information centres, traditional communication models and the radio are much better channels. There are also many more direct initiatives through which the government can boost agricultural production in the country, than provision of telephones. More importantly, the government does not need to buy telephones for farmers because those among them who could use such phones, already have them.

With handsets selling for as low as between N2000 and N3000 in the country, any farmer that is worth the name can afford to own one, and most likely has one already. If they do not, what the government needs to do is to empower them to be able to afford such a basic tool.

Disu Kimor thinks that it’s another white elephant project:

Such white elephant projects will only reinforce the perception of Nigeria as a laughing stock of the rest of the world where we like to teach the blind sign language. Any developing country such as Nigeria, wishing to develop its agricultural sector will focus direct government intervention to help farmers and boost food production on achieving steady supply of working capital, improve research and development, water supply, ensure low cost of fuel and labour, (corruption-free) subsidy on farming equipment and basic infrastructure.

Disu concludes:

One day, posterity will judge the quangos and political leaders of this country whose main pre-occupation is keeping the country on its knees or embezzle and waste much needed public funds.

January 17 2013

Nigeria 2012: Great Challenges and Even Greater Victories

“Africa's most populous country and it's brightest hope. Nigeria is an odd place to find a silver lining. In spite of its all-too-visible failings, I believe that Nigeria's mix of talent, resources, and gall will one day pull the country up out of Africa's Nth World.”

- Blaine Harden, “Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent”.

2012 was a curious mix of tensions, anguish and hope for Nigeria. The blogosphere never had an idle moment. We present our picture of Nigeria, from an amalgamation of some of the stories that made news on Global Voices in 2012. These narrations represent a country, where challenges arise continuously but also unceasingly emits hope.

Citizen media and activism

Early in January 2012, Nigeria got the world's attention with a presidential announcement that withdrew the subsidy on fuel. Trade unions and civil society organizations responded with #OccupyNigeria protests. For days, the nation was shut down: no one worked, earned or learned. Of particular interest was the galvanisation of cyberspace with face-to-face protests. This synergy between online and real time protest was articulated by African Urbanism:

Occupy Nigeria Logo (Courtsey: Nigerianstalk.com)

As a lover of communications, media and especially social media, there are two things about this movement that make me especially excited: 1) First, the impressive role that social media is playing in terms of documenting and for coordinating activities and 2) the astounding amount of people that are making use of this medium to make their voiced heard… “Follow#occupynigeria #fuelsubsidyfor just a couple minutes and you'll see precisely what I'm talking about — in a highly mobile country of more than 150 million, tweets are coming in so fast at times it’s almost impossible to keep up with the conversation.

In July, we reported the reaction of netizens to the call of the Nigerian Senate President – a move he later denied – to clamp down on social media. This news ignited the blogosphere and was perceived as a declaration of war by netizens:

Digital natives also amplified the voices of offline victims who were displaced from their slum homes in Makoko, Lagos.

@chineduozordi: After her shanty in Makoko was demolished by the government, Janet and her 3 kids simply moved into their canoe ensconced under the 3MB (Third Mainland Bridge).

Twitter users were disgusted not because a slum was demolished but how the way it was done. Apparently, the victims were not given enough time to find alternatives.

@tejucole: The living conditions in Makoko were appalling, but appalling, too, is waking up to guns, bulldozers, violence, and sudden homelessness.

 

We introduced you to Battabox a Nigerian Conversation - which engages real life stories from the street, weaves a narration and presents it to a global audience through online videos. Here is an interview with Christian Purefoy of Battabox with our author, Nwachukwu Egbunike.

The mob justice meted on the “Aluu4″ was a rather horrid and horrifying low point for Nigerians. Julie Owono discusses the incident and its aftermath in this post – “A Legal Solution to Mob Justice in Nigeria”.

Nigerian Bloggers and Tweeps Saved #Oke was one of the greatest manifestations of hope that emanated from the Nigerian blogosphere in 2012. Oke, a young Nigerian almost lost his foot to diabetes if not for a campaign that was facilitated by netizens. He was flown to India where he got medical attention. This story is a part of the Global Voices eBook: African Voices of Hope and Change.

In Lessons from the #SaveOke Campaign Fairy GodSister’s highlights four components:

Social Media is Powerful 

I’ve never doubted the power of social media (wouldn’t have studied it if I did) but if I did, this campaign would have forever put paid to those doubts. The speed with which the blog posts spread and the amazing functionality called the ‘retweet’.

Nigeria is in Trouble

Oke’s story was just another instance pointing to a problem we (Nigeria) haven’t gotten past. Unfortunately, even in 2012 we are still in the ‘reaction’ rather than ‘proactive’ mode. No one thinks to plan for the future, hell we’re barely getting through today!

Who Sings for the Unsung?

How many people die every day because they have no access to qualitative healthcare? How many ‘trivial’ cases transform into life threatening because they were not nipped in the bud with adequate treatment? Who sings for the unsung?

We are still the World 

Social media has always and will always revolve around people. Social media without human involvement can be compared to a beautiful car without a driver: it is nothing without our input. It is one thing to sit in the comfort of your home and moan every day about everything going wrong with the country, how the government doesn’t care, how we need a ‘paradigm shift (lol), etc. It is a totally different (and more profitable) thing however to do your civic duties, know your leaders (local and national), and then hold them accountable by getting informed, asking them questions, you know the drill.

 

Politics, Diplomacy and Arts

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy. Image released in the public domain by www.imf.org/

Ngozi Okonjo Iwealla’s (NOI) bid for the World Bank Presidency generated global ripples online and offline. She was also grateful for the support from other African countries. NOI’s Facebook post stated as follows:

I am honoured by my nomination and the support of multiple African Nations to make the World Bank more representative of the people it serves. As an employee of the Bank for 22 years, I know of its commitment to improving the lives of those in developing world. It is that passion that inspires me to do the most I can for Nigeria as the Minister of Finance.

Although the Nigeria’s Finance Minister lost the bid to the US favourite, she was seen as the best candidate. And this was obvious with netizens continued talking even after the selection. On her Facebook page, Ngozi congratulated the new World Bank president and adds:

With regard to the selection process, it is clear to me that we need to make it more open, transparent and merit-based. We need to make sure that we do not contribute to a democratic deficit in global governance.

Nevertheless, by our participation we have won important victories. We have shown what is possible. Our credible and merit-based challenge to a long-standing and unfair tradition will ensure that the process of choosing a World Bank president will never be the same again. The struggle for greater equity and fairness has reached a critical point and the hands of the clock cannot be turned back.

Nigeria-China relations were a mix bag. In July, Oiwan Lam, reported protests that were triggered because of the suspicious death of a Nigerian in Guangzhou's Sanyuanli District while in police custody. In September, the Lagos State Government introduced Mandarin in public schools.

Zuma Rock, in Abuja – capital city of Nigeria – was one of the contestants in the voting for One of the Seven Wonders of Africa. Similarly, two Nigerian writers – Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka – were among the list of contenders for the 10 Most Influential African Thinkers Alive.

The Osun Osogbo Sacred Groove – a UNESCO designated cultural site – made a comeback to the global scene through a documentary. The producer, Immanuel Afolabi spoke to Nwachukwu Egbunike – among other things – about digitalizing Africa's spiritual experience.

Sports

Richard Wanjohi chronicled the buzz generated by the death of Rashidi Yekini (1963-2012) – one of Africa’s highest scoring heroes in football.

Rashidi Yekini - Nigeria's soccer legend. Photo source goal.com.

The North Bank Evening Standard from Gambia also shared highlights of his career:

Yekini scored nearly 40 goals as a Nigerian international, and represented the nation in five major tournaments, including 2 World Cups, where he scored the country’s first-ever goal in the competition. He was also named the African Footballer of the Year once

The William Sisters, Serena and Venus, were in Nigeria between October 30 to November 2, 2012. In this post we presented the rousing welcome they received in Lagos.

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