The Other Side of The Border

By Alexis Teyie, Kenya

I was finally brave enough (i.e. so grieved as to convince myself I cannot possibly be further moved) to look at images from South Sudan. CAR is unpalatable, Eastern DRC I regurgitate when no one is watching. But this? It is like seeing a child you knew (a neighbour’s perhaps) grow into a self-destructive youth. We followed the pangs that marked its conception (the back and forth in Nairobi), the ripening, and the violence of its birth (as with all creativity). The crowning sparked weeping down to Cape Town; I said to someone then, we are midwives. I said, this is natural and beautiful.

Should I admit that this, too, is natural? That the violence involved in birthing insinuates itself into our very core, as a matter of fact. That there is no recourse; there is only selective application of moral rectitude. Shall I say, when a baby weeps inexplicably, rub its gums–it is growing teeth? Will I then have to confess, I fear it will consume itself; that whatever remains cannot live long suckled on the congealed blood of its mothers?

Yes, it must be natural. How else can we bear watching that little banner underneath the news broadcasting our depressing headlines across TV sets, like a shameless advert for failures we can’t possibly explain to ourselves. I have been conditioned to flinch every time my news tabs pop up on the screen: bombingcoup200deadhungerethniclinesreligioustensions; they all just meld together now. What this is, is a factory belt doling out bite-sized packages of (my) life too ugly to be placed un-ribbonned beneath some people’s Christmas trees—an industry of misery. Still, it just must be natural. Look at her neighbours: Uganda, a tween deciding who its friends are, and does it like itself?; Kenya, a teenager trying to grow into its new voice, to establish a wardrobe, an identity; Ethiopia, reticent, clamping down on growing pains; CAR, leaving and returning incessantly, how to run away from yourself?; Egypt and Libya, and their identity crises, can I love myself if I am no longer the same?

Nonetheless, I admire the latter most: After 3 years I am finally beginning to apprehend the “Arab Spring”, and via Fanon no less. So much pressure placed on these (our!) revolts, so much censure after the fact: not sustainable, not fully inclusive, not well thought out, not properly organized, not truly beneficial etc. Inasmuch as we can write/think productively about the efficiency of new media, the potency of mass movements etc., it is necessary to recognize that it was simultaneously a collective sigh and a struggle to inhale: This life, now, is unlivable, we’re tired; but we want more, we need more. Like one drowning, they grope/d for breath while waves of suffering ground them to the core. I prefer suffering, as opposed to lack(ing); to borrow a term Erik Anderson and Roland Barthes are both fond of– wound. This is more to the heart of it–more than absence. It expresses the degeneration of a limb, the slow rot of a part of you, the fact that they always scar—

This is especially true when we take into account the various arguments made after Gaddafi  (RIP) was ousted: such high standards of living, oh look they have electricity (how delightful!)–all variations on the expectations placed on natives: Be grateful, say yes Baas, thank you mzee.  Personally, I was not particularly impressed because they embodied various logical fallacies: slyly undercutting the credibility of citizens by patronizing them (ad hominem); standards of living rose during Gaddafi’s rule, therefore he was solely responsible, and could not possibly be a bad leader (post hoc ergo propter hoc, ignoratio elenchi); circular reasoning; moralistic fallacy; mind-projection fallacy etc. All this is to say, it is possible to appear well-fed, to be overweight even, and yet malnourished (See mal de caribou). The goal is not to consume large quantities, but rather, enough of what is necessary, what is nourishing.

Oppression compresses this yearning for nourishment (/wholeness) into a flammable mass; it begins to pulse desperately, itching to stretch atrophying limbs, to run, sometimes to dance. The power of (true) revolution, then, is its capacity to coalesce this shared need to breathe. The gesture of revolution must be the fist breaking through earth–germination, growth, reaching for light, and life.

It is not wholly inaccurate (nor sacrilegious) to compare this body-politic to the individual (not personal?) body. Why aren’t we asking why self-immolation was the preferred mode of suicide (a rejection of this life, an assertion that there must be better, that better does exist)? Why was it so effective, so moving? To see a body eaten alive by flames, to know that their insides must have been already burned out for it to come to this—can one remain unmoved? More than the internal turmoil, I am interested in the externalization of this pain, the marked exhibitionism. Setting oneself on fire, on a public street screams: Look at me! I am hurting. You cannot hide from what is implied: You are responsible. It draws you into its intricacy, and enforces a sense of reluctant community. You are both victim and voyeur. Can you see images of Bouazizi and not feel a connection with the humanness of that reaching out, that fist breaking through earth? This is Protest: lacerating and lightening.

Is it possible, then, to witness and experience the struggles in South Sudan (even if it is just clicking away on some device), and not be moved?



Alexis Teyie is part-student (Amherst College), part-dreamer and is presently working on Project 55 to archive her beloved stories from Africa.

Bounty-Hunter

By Rebecca Njeri; Kenya

I became a bounty-hunter when I was thirty-three years old. The first time a woman approached me with a bounty on her man, I was shell-shocked. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how her love for this man had morphed into a loathing that could only be extinguished with the vengeance of death. She offered me fifty thousand dollars; twenty thousand dollars would be paid in advance and the rest after she had confirmed that he was dead. I had been a gun for hire before. Political assassinations were easy to comprehend: human greed and the want for political and economic power. Bounty-hunting was different. The women who came to me had calm eyes set in beautiful faces. They asked me to kill their husbands in the same unruffled motions with which they ordered a second shot of espresso at Java House.

My first client was Wanjiku Wesonga. She was an enigma of a woman. A highly successful business woman, she was a household name admired by many and revered by even more. After suspecting her husband of cheating for a little while, she had hired a private investigator who supplied her with enough incriminating photos and videos. I imagine she must have felt some hurt at the time. I imagine too that she must have cried at the betrayal. When she called me two months later—after unsuccessfully asking him to stop the affairs—she was beyond wrath. I saw a look that would become familiar during my years as a bounty-hunter. Cold hatred masked as indifference. Indifference masked as empathy. I learnt that calm fortitude with determination was the only way you could tell a woman whose soul was parched for human blood. The hysterics were long gone, and with them reason and remorse. The women would always greet me with warm, full-bosomed, Channel  No. 5 hugs. They would smile as they explored the various methods that they preferred I use to eliminate their husbands. Wanjiku said she loved guns, but a gunshot wound would be too swift and painless. She said she was fascinated by accidents but she didn’t want any other people to get hurt during his demise. She cared! She said he had been struggling with his health. A heart attack would be perfect.

Wanjiku and I met twice; and that was as many times as I met any of my future clients. I was a retired assassin. I had been reluctant to come out of retirement but curiosity drove me to meet this woman. That cloudy afternoon at Java House, amidst the heavy aroma of imported South American coffee, she asked me if I had watched the Hunger Games. I hadn’t. She narrated it to me: her lovely sotto voice in dissonance with the things to which it gave voice. His disrespect for her had cost him his value in the chase. Emotional duress and the risk of AIDS had made him a liability. After years of creating her personal brand, Wanjiku Wesonga—and with her business clientele based on her reputation— a cheating spouse would end her career.

I thought then to recommend that she sees a counselor. She wasn’t the villain and she wouldn’t need to pay as high a cost for her husband’s indiscretions as she imagined. I told her so. She said it didn’t matter. I heard the vengeance in her voice. I had heard before that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. I knew that even if I turned her down she would find someone else, so burning was her determination.

We slipped Potassium Chloride into his drink at a high-end pub where he had taken his other woman. The autopsy report said he had died of a heart attack.

She mourned at his bed-side. Her children mourned. She wailed the length of the mourning week and maintained a long face during the burial. The day after the funeral she met me at the same Java. She had the rest of the money with her. Her sotto voice had dipped even lower and her calm eyes were pits of sorrow. I told her the threat was gone and that her chase for the good life could go on uninhibited. “Happy hunger games, Wanjiku Wesonga. May the odds be ever in your favour.” A bleak smile spread across her face. I felt sorry for her.

Even though they were my first, the indiscreet men became a decreasingly small percentage of my victims. The women had such a capacity for love and forgiveness. Alcoholics and wife-beaters—they were most often both— became the bulk of my clientele. It was self-defense. I knew what I was doing was murder but if not this one I was committing; it would be that of the women who hired me. These women were my sisters and my mother, especially my mother. Their bruised faces bore the blows many paying and unpaying men had lain on her frail body. The drunken abuses to which their children were subject were the words whose echo caused me sleepless nights in my childhood. Their broken limbs were my bad eyes and their poverty my own poor vocabulary and bad Math skills. I was a God-father for these women and their children. Word of mouth got me multiple clients. I did some free kills: my own corporate social responsibility. Like Wanjiku Wesonga, the calm eyes would always be pits of sorrow at the second meeting. The calm voices would be a notch lower. It seemed like regret but I refused to believe it was. I felt some pride in being their vigilante and I was glad that these beautiful, industrious and loyal women were free of abusive husbands.

I once read somewhere that both the hunter and the hunted run out of breath. As I hear the mound of soil above my own mother’s grave give a sigh of relief at a premature yet welcome death, I feel glad that I have spared others a life on the run. A heavy and laden earth breathes easier as her children sleep through less-troubled nights. I imagine it must be easier to live with the weight of a murder than with a constant fear of it. I am glad I came out of retirement. I believe, as Charles Dickens mused in A Tale of Two Cities that “it is a far far better thing I do, than I have ever done. It is a far far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”


 Rebecca Njeri, Co-founder of African Youth Journals, is a second-year student of English. She is an innovator, a writer and a voracious reader.

Creating Sustainable Social Enterprises: A Reflection on the Clinton Global Initiative

By Muyambi Muyambi

The majority of young people I have met at conferences want to begin nonprofits, which is undoubtedly a noble cause. It is almost the new trend but it is one fraught with negative consequences for the developing of our nations. Africa in particular has become a laboratory for nonprofits. Every idea, good or bad, is tested on the motherland.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, but I once again found myself surrounded by inspiration. At the Clinton Global Initiative University conference, this year held at Washington University of St. Louis in Missouri, both young and old took the stage to share their wisdom and experiences. The gravity and importance of the mission at hand, uniting to confront the most pressing issues of our generation, hung heavy in the air, so much so that even comedian Stephen Colbert, known for his satirical performances, couldn’t help acknowledging it.  Although Colbert took the stage to lighten the mood, during a question and answer session, he shared his love of reaching those who are most vulnerable, especially widows and children without food. In that moment, I saw a serious side of Colbert I never knew existed, and it made me realize just how much potential and dimension is within all of us.

Since I got involved with CGI U, my life has changed profoundly. The project I passionately pioneered, “Bicycles Against Poverty,” received its first funding. Flash forward a few years later and we now have a full-fledged organization that has distributed over 600 bicycles to date. Between the average family of 4-6 people sharing a bicycle and the occasional lending to neighbors who do not have one yet, BAP has touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people daily, monthly and annually. Because of CGI U and BAP, both my life and the lives of my countrymen have been changed forever.

But this year at CGI U was different. The past three times I had attended as a student, sat in sessions and plenaries, took it all in and later contemplated how to turn what I had learned into action. This year the tables had turned; maybe I should have expected it since I have now graduated from college. This year, while I still sat in plenaries, I was now charged with leading a session on monitoring and evaluation of projects. Along with a senior knowledge analyst from Echoing Green, Liza Mueller, I attempted to inspire and instruct which, after multiple rehearsals via Google Hangout, seemed to be effective enough. Throughout the session, I felt like I was just sharing basic experiences coupled with a few econometrics tricks I’d learned in college. But to my surprise and satisfaction, one student among others walked up to me after the session: “It was great to hear your practical knowledge and examples. Thank you,” she said. With that, I knew I had achieved exactly what I had set out to do.

The tables made a full 360 at the “Exchange and Dinner” session of the conference, which involves attendants snacking on finger foods while walking through student project exhibitions. The projects on display are divided into different categories: health, poverty alleviation, environmental, etc. As I meandered through the projects I started to realize a trend in my reactions. Every time I saw a piece of technology on display, I was immediately drawn to it. You might think this is because I am a millennial, but it’s actually because I associate technology with empowerment. Developing a technology requires capital; therefore, inventors seek out financially sustainable models to make the product accessible to communities. And in most cases, this would involve the targeted community contributing to the cost of the technology or product, promoting a sense of ownership in the end.

But as I continued to walk through the showcase, my heart began sinking in despair. My mind was crowded with unending questions, one of which was “How do we develop Africa? Or the developing world in general?” I am talking in the next 50 years at least because I think we have often promised a change in the conditions of the poor but have fallen short. The methods of implementing aid in the last 50 years have yielded low returns, so it make senses to abandon such methods. That is throwing money at issues. We simply need to go beyond our current schools of thought.

One of the major issues I see is the ever growing body of nonprofits. The majority of young people I have met at conferences want to begin nonprofits, which is undoubtedly a noble cause. It is almost the new trend but it is one fraught with negative consequences for the developing of our nations. Africa in particular has become a laboratory for nonprofits. Every idea, good or bad, is tested on the motherland. If someone can convince their family about their idea, they think it’s worth implementing in some random community they know little about. So I think there has to be a shift from this mindset, perhaps to profit-making ventures benefiting communities, which has already begun happening but not to the extent that it should. Our job is to make this the new trend among young people. And there is certainly no better place for to begin than colleges where most students are first introduced to the issues of development.

Turning all non-profit oriented groups to social enterprise groups, where profit is used to benefit communities directly, however, does not come without challenges. We need to convince this generation nonetheless that lean businesses and viable social enterprises are the best ways to effect social change. During CGI U, for example, I ran into a seemingly financially sustainable waste treatment project aimed at using its profits to build latrines in India. During our conversation, the founder leaned toward me as though sharing a secret and confessed his love for making a difference. He said that he did not care about the money from the project; he just wanted to build latrines for people. I was confused as to how the two were mutually exclusive, but I smiled and asked for his business card. In my eyes a successful business would ensure his independence from donors, affect more people, and possibly get investors to expand his social enterprise. It is therefore this simple fact of financial sustainability that needs to be drilled into our current generation of world changers. And there is no better way to be financially sustainable other than to run a social enterprise.

Afrikanah

By Rebecca Njeri; Kenya

The inevitable thing about being decolonized is that a part of you leaves with the colonizers, and a part of them stays with you. They market your “native” dances fueled by “primitive” energy. They market your bead work, soapstone and wood carvings. You on the other hand learn their religion, their language, their history and their policies.

This my African accent No, this my

Kenyan accent No, this my

Kikuyu accent

This my full African curves

These African breasts and hips

These Afrikanah kinks

This Africanness

This simplistic African diction. No, this simplistic Kenyan diction. No, this my

own simplistic diction; Kenyans are flamboyant in their word choice.

Afrikanah mami, caught between being decolonized and being modern.

My mother, like most other women of her generation is a decolonized and modern African woman. She is educated. She is independent. She has two children. She is Christian. Not to say that these are the trademarks of decolonization and modernization but then again, who says they aren’t. Sometimes I jokingly say to my mother, “Mama, you should have had eleven kids like cucu. I would have had nine other brothers and sisters and when Mburu was in school I wouldn’t feel so lonely. My kids would have had ten uncles and aunties. They would never lack family.” But then again, as a “modern” woman, I wonder where my mother would have found time to pursue a Masters Degree and spare cash to feed and adequately educate eleven children.  I suppose the times chose for her.

Kenya got its independence from the British in 1963 and became a sovereign republic in 1964. Being decolonized means that we have to shun the influences that the British imposed on us over the one hundred years they had authority over us.  If I was to make a quick list, we have to shun: Christianity, monogamy, taxation and capitalism. However, since it is the 20th and 21st centuries, we have to strike a balance between being decolonized and being modern. For example, a decolonized person can practice the polygamy of his forefathers. However, a modern person’s family must be limited by his economic ability and ambition. Since there are mortgages and school fees to be paid, the modern man will keep the monogamy of the colonialists. Take for example, also, female circumcision. Being decolonized would mean re-embracing female circumcision as a rite of passage. However, being modern, the health and personal consequences of allowing this ritual are too looming to be ignored. A modern woman will shun circumcision.

Being decolonized I would rebel against Christianity and try to find the gods of my father. I would pray facing Mount Kenya as my ancestors did and pour libation before partaking of meals and drinks. Wastefulness I hear? How about Thanksgiving? I would also realize that being called Rebecca Njeri puts me in an unnecessary dilemma. Truly, all my Western friends ask me what my real name is. I am hard-pressed to explain how even my grandmother and several aunties are named for the Rebecca in the Bible. (Future husband, if you are African like I, our children will have African names. They must have a solid understanding of their inherited identity. When they are old enough, they will be grateful to be named for their forefathers and not for heroes who were taught to us by missionaries and colonizers. They will be Afrikanah.)

The inevitable thing about being decolonized is that a part of you leaves with the colonizers, and a part of them stays with you. They market your “native” dances fueled by “primitive” energy. They market your bead work, soapstone and wood carvings. You on the other hand learn their religion, their language, their history and their policies. They leave you their names, their government and education structures. You spend centuries trying to perfect the colonizer’s model. You are colonized, decolonized and finally neo-colonized. And then, the Chinese super-power emerges and the cycle threatens to repeat itself. Your African grandmother invites you for a pot-luck and you eyes drop in wonder.

I am Afrikanah. I am colonized, decolonized and neo-colonized by England.

I am well-toward being colonized by the Chinese.

This my African accent No, this my

Kenyan accent No, this my

Kikuyu accent

This my full African curves

These African breasts and hips

These Afrikanah kinks

This Africanness


 Rebecca Njeri, Co-founder of African Youth Journals, is a second-year student of English. She is an innovator, a writer and a voracious reader.

Same Old Tricks, Just a Different Day

By Andrew Mulembe; Kenya

Remember when we were kids and made fittingly childish threats when our parents’ denied us our guilty pleasures for our own good? Yes. Now, remember when our parents’ caved in to all of our requests simply because we threw such tantrums? No. Assuming you had good parents, you have absolutely no recollection of such a thing.  Well, things have since changed, if you were a toddler back in the day, you’re perhaps all grown up now, if you were a parent, you’re probably a grandparent now; and the tantrums are now a thing of the distant past. As a wise man once said, the only thing that is constant is change. But how then, can we explain a never aging nay, never maturing toddler, who as years pass, grows perhaps even more immature. Our dear MPs’, and I use dear only rhetorically, not to imply that I am in any way particularly fond of them, seem to have perfected the art of throwing tantrums. The aim in life is usually to outgrow such childish impulses, but who cares about growing up, who cares about moving on, who cares about dispensing their patriotic duty to the nation while you could further impoverish the country?

For years, we have had an inherently flawed system; a system where MP’s regulated their own earnings, if you could even call it regulating. Now, I’m not a rocket scientist or anything but if you let me decide what I was being paid, I’m pretty sure that figure would be astronomically higher than it is right now. But we grew; we as Kenyans, over time, saw a problem and fixed it. Enter the Salary and Remuneration Commission (SRC), a body whose main function is to regulate the payments of state officers to a fiscally sustainable level. And they did just that. Realizing that the commission had actually done what it was supposed to do, an idea obviously foreign to MP’s, they quickly started throwing tantrums and issuing ‘threats’ against the SRC. They even threatened to pass laws to amend constitutional tax. Sad is the only word I can come up with to describe a situation in which legislators only legislate as a retaliation to being demoted from the most paid politicians to perhaps the third most paid politicians.

Honorable Mithuka Linturi with all seriousness took to the floor to clarify that he and other MPs were not in parliament for lack of better things to do, but were in fact ‘sacrificing’ their obviously much much more lucrative and much better dealings to help Kenyans out. Call me ignorant, but last I checked sacrifice involved actually giving something up for the sake of others. Considering that since they were elected into parliament, our esteemed MPs have done little but selfishly and unashamedly fight for increased pay, I think it’s safe to say that this is certainly not sacrifice Honorable Linturi. And if in some twisted world it is, then we would gladly oblige to find cheaper sacrifices, I’m sure they are no shortages of them. Another MP claimed that the SRC had stripped them of their dignity. In what world is dignity determined by salary, not withstanding the fact that if it was, our MPs would still be some of the most dignified politicians on planet earth. You stripped yourselves of whatever little dignity you had left. The constitution in Article 249(2) ascertains that the commission is answerable only to the constitution and the law, not to parliament, as speaker Muturi suggests. In fact the section that he quoted of the SRC act, 26(2) does not exist. There only exists a section 26, no subsections. Fighting the very law you’re supposed to uphold is what stripped you of your ‘dignity’ MPs. Stop trying to hide under bogus claims of unconstitutionality and veiled threats. It’s way past that stage in life where you get to throw tantrums. This country chose you to legislate, to help solve problems, to forge a path forward; a path to prosperity and a brighter future, perhaps even one where the nation will be to sustain your ridiculous salaries. So stop being the problem. Man up and move on.

Sincerely yours,

A weary Kenyan.

Cultural Innovation through the Telling of Stories and Fables

By Ayo Morakinyo, Nigeria

Growing up was fun for me because I loved listening to stories and often learnt vital lessons from them. I remember the interesting fables of ijapa (the tortoise), that illustrated how cunning, tricky and dishonest the shelled animal is. His wife too, Yanibo, added a measure of diversity to the stories. Many times, she would support her husband, Mr Ijapa, in the dubious endeavours, and at other times, expose his secret schemes to the victimised parties. In one of the funny stories I remember, Ijapa stole some money from friends and was planning to buy a horse from his loot. So, he informed his wife, Yanibo, about his intention. Yanibo did not care to know how her husband had gotten the money to buy a horse but she was overjoyed. While rejoicing, she frolicked around the bedroom to demonstrate how she would tirelessly ride an imaginary horse. She began by saying, “I will ride it like this and like this and like this and like this and like this…” Angered, Ijapa shouted, “Do you want to kill the horse? Don’t you know it will die if you ride it like that?” But Yanibo deafened her ears to her husband’s queries and continued gambolling. After a while, Ijapa’s fury heightened and he grabbed a stool and hit it on his wife’s head. Yanibo cried out sharply and died suddenly. Eventually, the village guards captured Ijapa. He was brought before the King and judged in the presence of his previous theft victims (the dog and elephant). A few morals from the story would be that: one should not steal; when angry, one should not make a decision or take an action but instead leave the environment; one should not be as talkative as Yanibo and one should not take what belongs to others without their consent.

Most of the fables I loved were those aired on the local television (children’s shows and story time programmes) and tales told by grandma at the appearance of moonlight. Others were read to me from the many storybooks my father bought for me and my siblings. Grandma’s stories were usually family-inclined, complicated and almost unending. She told us stories about the incidents and people that existed before even our mother was born. She would ask us for the meanings of some Yoruba proverbs and smiled at our ridiculous interpretations before providing the right meanings. That was what happened in my childhood and early teenage years. Today, technological advancement and the invasion of our homes by foreign media have sent story-telling behind closed curtains. These days, children observe foreign culture on TV and adopt it as their own. An instance is seen in the new taste of fashion in urban Nigeria. Fashionable mini-skirts did not walk into Nigeria in one day; they were first seen on TV, liked on foreign fashion shows before Nigerians began importing and selling them in boutiques. Guys who wear ear rings learnt it from the hip hop stars and ghetto shows aired on American television. Unless you were a member of the ancient sango family in Nigeria, the wearing of earrings was generally perceived as a poor behaviour and wearers were treated as outcasts. Well, human rights cover all that today and the path-paving factor is that you can wear what you like. These days, almost nobody defines the dressing ethics in many exposed societies. It’s legal. It’s your right. You can wear what you like. A hybrid of foreign cultures have been embraced in Nigeria and are somewhat diminishing the sustainability of Nigerian cultures.

The use of local languages is banned in several primary and secondary schools. Native greeting patterns are discouraged in some parts of the corporate environment. Fewer number of people patronise local-made products. The cultures of countries with more economic power are being superimposed on the core Nigerian traditions through the power of media and a sense of culture inferiority resident in the minds of Nigerians who consume foreign media. This has reflected itself in the modern Nigerian family settings and truly manifested in the areas of story-telling and sharing of home-training fables. Like an elder recently said, “some of the ambitious parents of today hardly have time to do home work with their kids let alone tell fables to them. Kids and the younger youths are trained by the media and the average metropolitan youngster in Nigeria wants to imitate Americana in dressing and speech. Ladies show off their cleavages and wear bum shorts in public, guys sag their pants and wear studs fashionably and the little ones want to dress to like Barbie doll and Ben 10.” While I commented that people have the right to wear what they like, I know that most of the fashion features he mentioned were adopted from the American hip hop culture.

The act of story-telling as done by parents in time past is disappearing with the rapidity of new and constantly evolving conurbation. Even in the rural areas, where the telling of fables and stories was a tradition, just a few of the inhabitants share time with their children, telling tales. Culture, especially the art of teaching ethics through tales and fables, is fast vanishing in Nigeria. We are gradually evolving from a people of artistic taste to one leading a hybrid of American and Nigerian lifestyles. But while in every society, the succeeding generation should always seek means of improving culture with current realities, the good part of other people’s culture is what should be adopted, not the condemnable acts. Of course, people have their rights reserved but there is also a need to pride ourselves in our cultural values. We should attempt to illuminate the dark areas of our culture and bring about a cultural innovation that complies with modalities of the modern age. We can simulate the good in our cultural values with new technologies and transfer them to other nations. That’s one major way of creating innovation and resurrecting the good in our own culture. Then, our friends in the diaspora, our media-consuming youths and the forthcoming generations will be reminded of who they are and learn a non-colour basis for defining real Nigerians.


Ayodeji Morakinyo is a graduate of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology. He blogs with Deliberation & Contemplation at www.moraks.blogspot.com and corresponds for the commonwealth youth community. He is a lover of ICT and Media.

 

African Poetry Anthology

By Kristin Wilson
Recently, a number of us have begun assembling works, notably poetry, written in African languages on a blog titled “The African Poetry Anthology”. In one sense this endeavour is trivial. As a molecular biologist, I recognise how many African countries are rife with demonstrations of the Red Queen hypothesis. In fact, just in my experience of a little over two decades in various cities in Africa, there are many ways in which poetry in indigenous poetry, at least in my admittedly limited purview, does little to scratch the surface.However, I have always been partial to the arts. At best, I’ve got an artistic persona but very little of the talent. Kind, otherwise unoccupied people think my work ‘interesting’, whatever that means. Most people are unlikely to bother with it. In my experience of the Arts in various cultures and contexts, I have become convinced that the necessity for artistry is primordial. If I were ever to agree with anthropologists that argue that culture is a uniquely human attribute, I would agree with those who make this argument on the basis of human artistry.

I believe that for every culture, its art, as expressed through music, language or ceremony is fundamental to identity. In fact, the research of many linguists, psychologists and anthropologists has not only brought to light the complex ways in which language interacts with culture but has also demonstrated that the intricacies of that interaction enables culture to evolve language and language to evolve culture. I have read many works of African poets but they have all been in the languages of colonisers. As a speaker of five African languages, I think this is a tragedy. Granted, most of my exposure has been in academic or otherwise formal contexts and this might account for this. But even in my own forays into African oeuvres the overwhelming prevalence of French, English and Portuguese is alarming. For a continent with over 2000 (by some counts 3000) languages, the scarcity of poetry written in our own mother tongues and dialects is something that begs attention. If we compel ourselves and the generations before us to express our thoughts and sentiments in tongues that are not really ours, I am convinced that we lose a tremendous deal of who we are.

A future where African children growing up in the many cities of the world, can grow up reading stories, essays and poetry in their mother tongues is anything but trivial. In my experience, it makes quite a bit of difference to the appreciation of my identity that I can express the intricacies of sentiment and experience in my mother tongue. Indeed, I think it ironic that when one purchases an ‘African Poetry Anthology’ (not in translation) one reads poems in European languages. How can we be intimate with our cultural and historical identities when we describe them in languages that are inherently foreign to them?

I hope that the African Poetry Anthology project is only the beginning. In fact, I hope that the need that my colleagues and I have identified is unique rather than widespread. Most importantly however, I hope that you will join us in addressing this purported gap in our literary experiences. If you have the means to contact established poets, if you know that you possess talent, please consider submitting. Whatever our different cultures, ethnicities or tribes, we all possess a capacity to produce poetry in our own languages.

If you have any questions, submissions, comments or would like to join the team, send an email to: africanpoetryanthology@gmail.com
Check out our blog: http://africanpoetryanthology.wordpress.com/
Twitter: @AfriPoetry
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/africanpoetry

People

By Taribo Osuobeni

From the day that I was born my color put me at a disadvantage. Like my hands were tied around my back, pulling and tugging and bugging about why from birth I started at the bottom of the status quo; The socioeconomic ladder. Why? I questioned like an atheist stressing and questioning the nature of a God, now before I implode and explode I question why? Why were my people born without respect because God decided to glaze us over with the permanent tan that is our color; our identity; our validity; our color of serenity? Why do others automatically gain that respect because they are not, of… THAT color? Take the paint brush and dip it in history; his story, her story, our story. Take that brush and color me with the blood, sweat and tears, fears and trembling hands, hands that picked and plowed this so called land, this nation where nationally we seem as one but that one is divided into one, that one group scaled out at a ton and took their blood stained boots and mounted on the throats and backs of the blacks who already stacked the baggage of lies and put downs of society from the start.

From the start it seemed like we were made in the white man’s hands, molded and scolded we stood, pressed down, chewed up, spat out and told that grime and slime is seemingly more appealing than your kind. But under pressure forms diamonds, and under pressure do we form, the pressure of labels and norms of haves and have-nots, of blacks and the occasional cop, of stacks of a cotton box all for the cost of the psychological murder of my people. My people who practically. No. My people who actually built this country, factually they made this country, our lives wade in this country, deep in the ground where they lay in this country, our brothers and sisters, mothers and misters rot and all for what? So that when a black man walks by you clinch your purse? So that the only time you listen to us is when we incorporate a rhyme or a verse? So that my brothers are still packing and stacking and hacking up blood, while bloods are set crippin, slipping and tripping, cocking back pulling the clip in, gun shots ringing and singing those sad songs all the wrongs and what belongs to us but what’s not given, our demoralized woman and children! Our demoralized woman and children. I’ve already gotten to the point but let me restate myself; we live in a land where what’s wrong seems right, a black kid picks up a book all of a sudden he’s white. He’s Caucasian if he’s smart and a little polite, if he doesn’t load up and dump or blow trees am I right?  We came from slavery to shooting three’s and catching touchdown passes, but do you remember when they tied us up and hung us in masses? No. Picture the men, women and children; Dangling, feet clapping, necks twisted, lives strung up on a tree. These were my people; your people; our people; People….

Grey Generation

By Esther Idza; Kenya

Grey generation
Our elders say we are a lost generation, one with nothing to show for our existence.
For our grandparents fought for Kenya’s independence,
And our parents laid the foundation for the prosperity of our nation,
But what have we accomplished?
Like barren pieces of land filled with water craving cracks, they compare us to.
They call us an accursed lot with no comprehensible future too.
With memories so shallow, and with irresponsibility tattooed in the deep of our black skin,
We have forgotten the essence of who we are.
We are a grey generation.

We are a grey generation.
We have succumbed to the beast that came to subdue our culture and heritage.
We have given up our ways to the Western world and spit on our ancestor’s graves.
We have no soul left, not a grain of African substance in us.
We have turned away from our parent’s ways and insisted on treading paths that have never been charted out before.
Bobbing our heads to a tune so different to the one they are used to sway to,
They are frustrated.
We have forgotten the essence of who we are.
We are a grey generation.

But of course we are a grey generation!
We mix black and white to create a hue of grey that aptly defines who we are.
We seek the good in the white and squeeze the bad out of the black so that we can mold a world that will suit us.
We refuse to be limited by dogma and other people’s expectations of us, and we create a completely different channel through which the river of our lives can flow through.
We abandon retrogressive customs that were engraved into the minds and lives of our ancestors.
We shun the degradation of an African woman and place her in an equal place as her male counterpart.
We refuse to judge people based on their tribe as opposed to seeing what they can bring to the table,
We have not forgotten the essence of who we are.
We are a grey generation.

We are a grey generation.
We are modern, not colonized.
We are not afraid to follow our inner voices, and with the tenacity and spirit that dwells in an African’s blood, we go straight for what we want.
And we will raise our voices and speak for Africa, for it is home.
We will revel in the depth of our grace and in the thick of our lips.
We will not bow to the expectations of another people but we will create a new destiny for ourselves.
We will adore the values that our elders have taught us and hand them down to our children.
Yes, we still have soul.
And African substance is what makes us laugh even in the most difficult of times.
We have not forgotten the essence of who we are.
We are a grey generation.

We are a grey generation.
We can be fine on our own, but we still need your guidance.
We need you to understand the meaning of compromise.
For there can hardly be absolute blacks and whites in this thing, there can only be shades of grey.
And no, we are not a lost generation.
The skies have changed and priorities have shifted, and we know change is never comfortable,
What was important for you back then may not important for us now but that is not the point.
We are not without accomplishments; we are exploring ourselves and the world around us.
And no,
We have not forgotten the essence of who we are.
We are a grey generation.

AFRICAN WOMEN: MAKING A DIFFERENCE

By Oriyomi Adebare

Many things have been said about the African woman and she has been repeatedly stereotyped as the weaker sex, the one who must live in the shadow of her husband, the one who has no say in political or economic issues, and one whose responsibility is only to her husband and children. All of these are in line with many African cultures which are male dominated and any woman seen behaving differently is seen as an ill-mannered woman who was not properly brought up. In spite of all these constraints, a few women have dared to live outside the norm and they remain forces to be reckoned with. One of such notable women is Wangari Muta Maathai, the first female to earn a doctorate degree in East and Central Africa, the first African female Nobel peace prize winner and the founder of the ‘green belt movement’.

Wangari Muta Maathai was born on 1st of April 1940 in Ihithe, a small village in Kenya, to a rural farming couple. She was the third of six children and the first girl child. She had her primary and high school education in Kenya at a time when educating female children was seen as a waste of time but because of her elder brother’s and her mother’s determination she enrolled anyway. She got an opportunity to have her university education in the United States under the John Kennedy scholarship just before Kenya regained it’s independence from the British imperialists.

On completion of her undergraduate studies in 1966, Wangari returned to Kenya where she hoped to work as a research assistant at the University of Nairobi. However, this was not to be. The professor she was to assist later denied her the job and instead offered it to someone else who was not only a male and also from his tribe. This was to be the first in a long line of sexist and ethnic battles she had to fight. She would eventually get a job at the same university where she progressed to become a professor of veterinary anatomy

Besides challenges in her profession, Wangari Maathai was also dealing with challenges in her marriage life.. She got home one day to discover that her husband of eight years, with whom she had had three children had packed out of their matrimonial home. Her husband had decided that he couldn’t tolerate her boldness anymore and gave in to societal pressure that did not give room for women to outshine their husbands. Since her husband was a politician and he wanted to humiliate her, their divorce was open to public debate. Wangari did not let this deter her and instead got more involved with environmental and societal issues eventually founding the ‘green belt movement’, an organization committed to replenishing the trees exploited by the colonialists and fortune seekers. With the help of other women she succeeded in planting more than 20 million trees.

Her outspokenness on societal issues which the then authoritarian administration in Kenya saw as an affront on their leadership got her into trouble many times. Between January 1992 and July 2001 she was beaten, jailed, forcefully arrested and detained five times and was even hospitalised from the beatings she got. However, this only added to her zeal to continually speak out against barbaric environmental practices and oppression of the poor. Her efforts were eventually recognized by the international community which  awarded her a number of awards including the Nobel peace prize in 2004.

Wangari’s story is one of hard work; determination and the will not to allow anything deter one from achieving their dreams. In her own words:

I have always seen failure as a challenge to pull myself up and keep going. A stumble is only one step in the long path we walk and dwelling on it only postpones the completion of our journey. Every person who has ever achieved anything has been knocked down many times. But all of them picked themselves up and kept going, and that is what I have always tried to do.

Wangari died of ovarian cancer on 25th September 2011. She will always be remembered by many; the women she paid to plant trees, the women that she organised to secure the release of their wrongfully detained sons and the countless others who were blessed through her in one way or the other.