Writings of the general word's body

Monday, May 26, 2008

The horror!


South Africa - "Their Brothers' Killers"

The Guardian Editorial, Nigeria, Sunday, May 25, 2008

Murderous Xenophobia In South Africa

EVERY right-thinking African would be embarrassed and mortified by the horrendous images that have emerged from South Africa over the past fortnight. In premeditated and well-orchestrated xenophobic attacks, black South Africans have set upon immigrants from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and elsewhere, looting their homes, destroying their businesses, and inflicting grievous bodily injuries with clear intentions to kill. As at last count, no fewer than 42 immigrants had been killed in the townships around Johannesburg, the country's economic capital. Thousands of immigrants have since sought refuge in churches, police compounds and other temporary safe havens.

A good many who have survived have begun an exodus back to their countries of origin. Nothing could have been more touching than the desperate remarks of a Zimbabwean survivor, who said that it was better for him to return home to adversity, rather than allow himself and his family to be butchered by the rampaging bands of lawless black South African youths. He said that if he died at home, in Zimbabwe, his parents could locate his grave.

No rationalization can justify these murders, wanton looting and lawlessness that are dreary reminders of black-on-black violence in the dark days of apartheid. Perpetrators of this mayhem claim that African immigrants are taking over their jobs, and therefore aggravating the rate of unemployment, which is at 23 per cent, or 40 per cent (by some independent estimates). The hooligans also charge that the migrants have accentuated the pressure on infrastructure, especially housing. Above all, they allege that the foreigners are largely to blame for the escalating rate of crime in the country, which ranks as one of the highest in the world. But these are, at best, unsubstantiated allegations.

There is also the implied insult that other Africans are predominantly responsible for some of South Africa's socio-economic challenges. Those who know the country well enough need little persuasion about the abundance of indigenous criminal elements, who are capable of committing unlawful killings, rape, and running drug rings for which foreigners are being made scapegoats. It is even more shameful that the "houses" from which the immigrants have been sacked are more or less shacks in the townships of Alexandria, Soweto, and Diepkloof. There is no evidence that African immigrants have usurped or abused South Africa's welfare system.

The evidence, though, points in the direction of displaced aggression. The country held so much promise and hope, with the collapse of apartheid in 1994. But the government led by the African National Congress (ANC) has not been able to deliver fully on its promises - on jobs, housing, and general economic well-being of the black majority. The white minority still lives in opulence, while the black majority contends with squalor. Even with the enunciation of a black economic empowerment scheme, the beneficial effects are taking so long to trickle down to the majority. This has created a crisis of expectations.

Yet, there is no justification for the harassment and extermination of foreigners, more especially black Africans. Some of the black South Africans, who appeared on television and were heard boasting that they were indeed out on a pogrom against foreigners, are certainly not teenagers. They are much older, which presupposes that they were born well before 1994 when the walls of apartheid came tumbling down. That being the case, they are expected to have a sense of history - of where they are coming from, and how they arrived at where they are today. It smacks of extreme ingratitude that nationals of countries, which wholeheartedly and sometimes at great cost supported the anti-apartheid struggle to the hilt, are now being targeted for elimination in the raging paroxysm of xenophobia among black South Africans.

Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Mozambique were among the Frontline States. These countries provided sanctuaries for South Africans who fled the apartheid enclave. These countries utilized their resources to educate black South Africans, to aid their quest for freedom and non-racial rule. Indeed, the anti-apartheid struggle was one that engaged the energies of the entire black race, because of the firm belief that we are our brother's keeper. The murderous attacks on fellow Africans now show clearly that these criminal black South Africans are their brother's killers. Decent South Africans must ask themselves whether this is the image they want to showcase to the world during the World Cup in two years' time. They must also ask themselves whether these attacks in any way further or derail the cause of integration of the Southern African Development Commission.

Nevertheless, it is reassuring that eminent South Africans have spoken up against the unwarranted mayhem. Former President Nelson Mandela, his ex-wife, Winnie; incumbent President Thabo Mbeki, and ANC leader Jacob Zuma have lent their voice and authority in condemnation of the attacks. Also, last Thursday, both Presidents Mbeki and Umaru Yar'Adua of Nigeria met in Arusha, Tanzania, to discuss, among other issues, the maltreatment of Nigerians by both citizens and law enforcement agents in South Africa. We would expect President Mbeki to appreciate the urgency and gravity of the current state of affairs, which is undesirable and unacceptable. The South African government has a duty under international law to protect all foreigners living in its territory.

In a globalised world, the gory images of African immigrants burnt to death by South African mobs will elicit horror and anger and a quest for justice. Significantly, the attacks of the past fortnight are not isolated. In 2005 and 2006, black South Africans in the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces attacked Somalis. We are sure that black South Africans are well aware that they do not possess a monopoly of cruelty. They also need to be reminded that there are South Africans living elsewhere on the continent, who have a need to be safe too. The South African government must put an end to this shame on the black race.
  • Culled from The Guardian, Sunday 25 May, 2008

Sonny Okosuns 1947-2008

Looking but a shadow of the immensely popular singer who once cultivated a revolutionary aesthetic, here's Sonny Okosuns as pictured by me on 12 August 2006 at the NMA Awards in London. The man who sang Fire in Soweto, Tire Ni Oluwa, Which Way Nigeria?... who chorused 'Namibia shall be free / Zimbabwe shall be free...' long before they were free, Sonny Okosuns passed away in Washington DC on Saturday 24th May.

Word From Africa - 31 May

News Release
Africa Beyond presents
Word from Africa
A celebration of African literature and languages
In collaboration with SABLE LitMag
Saturday, 31 May 2008, 13.00-20.15
British Museum, London
Free admission

Word from Africa is a celebration of African literature, music - and most of all language. Taking its lead from the successful 2007 event, Word from Africa will bring to London audiences diverse talent in the literary and musical fields from across the African continent, including Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Somalia, Sudan, French Cameroons, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, South Africa and The Gambia.

Presented by Africa Beyond, in collaboration with SABLE LitMag and with support from the British Museum and Arts Council England, London, the free one-day event will take place at the British Museum in central London on 31 May, from 13.00 till 20.15.

The idea behind Word from Africa arose from the immense literary talent and number of languages found on the African continent. Africa is home to up to 2,000 languages, many of them also spoken in homes and neighbourhoods across London. Each one of these languages is a door into a different world. Each language unlocks its own state of mind – its own music, literature, rhythms, history, sayings and stories. Yet you don't need to speak any of these languages to enjoy Word from Africa – everything takes place either in English, or with English translations or commentary.

Throughout the day, there is a chance to see performances with leading African writers - such as Karen King-Aribisala (Guyana/Nigeria), the Commonwealth Book Prize Winner for the Africa region for The Hangman's Game (2008), Sade Adeniran (Nigeria), the Commonwealth First Book Prize Winner for the Africa region (2008) and Molara Wood (Nigeria), the winner of the inaugural John La Rose short story competition for 'Written in Stone' (2008) - as well as musicians, poets, storytellers, translators and thinkers. There will also be a reading and discussion on Sozaboy by Ken Saro-Wiwa, with Ben Amunwa (Nigeria), Biram Mboob (The Gambia) and Uchenna Izundu (Nigeria).

Word from Africa will incorporate the launch of a new book, Dreams, Miracles and Jazz - New Adventures in African Fiction, published by Picador Africa in the spring. Edited by award-winning Nigerian novelist Helon Habila and literary activist and SABLE LitMag publisher Kadija Sesay, it is the most contemporary anthology of new African voices this decade. Readings from the book will include two of the contributors visiting from Africa especially for the launch, Tony Adam Mochama (Kenya) and Mamle Kabu (Ghana), touted as two hot new African writers to watch out for.

A creative writing workshop will be held in the Sainsbury African Galleries, and there will be a rare opportunity to get inside knowledge and advice from two of Britain's top people in the business of publishing African writers, Ellah Allfrey, senior editor at Jonathan Cape, and David Godwin, of David Godwin Associates.

The day will also feature discussions (on literary and language), storytelling in Twi (Ghanaian), Ndebele (Zimbabwean), Arabic (Sudanese), French and English, as well as poetry readings. An African market place, in the Clore Center, BP Foyer of the British Museum, will include stalls selling books, artifacts and textiles, and there will be an African arts and crafts workshop in the Great Court, suitable for all ages.

The event will close with an acoustic live music set from sublime guitarist and singer Modeste Hugues from Madagascar. His music, a 'hypnotic carpet of sound', is unique to the Betroka region of Madagascar and is influenced by the traditional sounds of the area as well as some softer South African dance rhythms. Modeste plays the acoustic guitar, but his style has been very much influenced by the rhythms and sounds of traditional Malagasy stringed instruments.

Word from Africa promises to be an exciting and inspiring day, not to be missed. So see you at Word from Africa – or should we say Lizwi La Africa (Tonga), or Amazwi aveli Africa (Zulu), or Jambo Kutoka Afrika (Swahili), or Magana a kasan Africa (Hausa), or Eray Kaagia Yimid Afrika (Somali)!

Africa Day in Trafalgar Square

Next to Miriam Makeba is her grand-daughter.

The 11-year-old percussionist is Makeba's great-grandson.

Later today, Trafalgar Square will rock to the beats of Africa, come rain or shine (likely rain, as last year) for Africa Day. With the shocking news and images coming out of South Africa, my heart is not exactly warm towards the so-called Rainbow Nation just now. But I don't suppose I can blame its greatest singer, Miriam Makeba for that, and so I thought I'd blog my pics from last year's Africa Day in Trafalgar Square. The weather was horrible on the day, but I told my sons: this may be your one and only chance - your very last chance - to see Miriam Makeba (who came out of retirement to play the free gig) in the flesh. And so we dressed up warm, I took my umbrella and off we went to Trafalgar Square. We were pounded and soaked to the bone by rain, all day. But no one there minded once Mama Africa came out. Certainly not my sons, who thanked me afterwards for taking them to see the legend. Performing with Makeba on the day were her grand-daughter; the brilliant percussionist, only 11, was the singer's great-grandson. One of Makeba's favourite backing vocalists, Innocent, who in the old girl's words is "not so innocent" also featured.

Last Thursday evening I was on a radio programme, African Essence, on Resonance FM, presented by Debbie Golt. Kadija George and I were on the show to promote the upcoming Word From Africa programme. Debbie Golt is an amazing source of what's happening in Africa London, mentioning on the airwaves in passing lots of events even I didn't know of. It was thanks to something she said on air that I discovered that Manu Dibango will now headline today's celebration (replacing Les Amazones de Guinée who could not get visas to get into Britain to perform for the Trafalgar Square crowd... same old story of the visa humiliation of the African artist wanting to enter the UK to perform... officially, Les Amazones de Guinée can't come because of "circumstances beyond their control"... ).

Also on the programme are: Bassekou Kouyate, Kanda Bongo Man, Busi Ncube, Emmanuel Jal, Inemo Afrobeat Experience, Kaago Drummers, Black Eagles Dancers, DJ Rita Ray and DJ Eric Soul.

Africa Day in Trafalgar Square is a legacy of Ken Livingstone's Mayoral vision, and this year's celebration was already programmed before he lost the London election. With Boris Johnson as Mayor now, I don't suppose a celebration of African culture and music will be high on his agenda. It may not be far-fetched to think that Africa Day in Trafalgar Square will die a quiet death in a few short years...

  • Images taken by MW in Trafalgar Square, London, on 28 May 2007.

14th Street & Serenity

Here's a blog you should be checking out over the next few weeks. And thanks to Catwalq for drawing my attention to this web project, a sort of pass-the-baton story relay involving 12 bloggers-writers lasting about a month. The bloggers will write about something that takes place in the urban center known as 14th Street and Serenity Avenue. One starts the story, and the next blogger takes it up from there, taking his/her narrative cues from what the earlier contributor/s have written. Interesting. With contributors as diverse as Catwalq herself, our beloved UKNaija and the sassy Waffarian, there promises to be a variety of styles and perspectives. Something for everyone, so check it out.
The first instalment, 'Scorned', goes up on the blog today Monday.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Farafina on America

View the YouTube webvert for Farafina Volume 13, guest-edited by Adichie. I'm still reading through the edition, comprised mainly of essays by over 30 contributors on theme of [Africans looking at] America. My own thoughts may come later...

Meanwhile, here's an excerpt from Sunday May 11th edition of Toyin Akinosho's Artsville column (in The Guardian, Lagos)...
Farafina Hits The Mother Lode
The current issue of Farafina, the literary magazine,is enjoying a round of earnest conversation among the Lagos arthouse crowd. Everybody, it seems, has something to say about the edition, which is guest-edited by the novelist Chimamanda Adichie. Still, one of the more interesting takes on the publication comes from a cyberspace input by the architect Ayo Arigbabu, who contributes a “design sleuth” column in Guardian Life, the pull out in this newspaper. Arigbabu starts by recalling Adichie’s main motive for choosing America as theme for the edition.“She insists she wanted 'to create a messy montage ofsorts, inspired by those Nigerian Sunday Newspapers in which the answers of ordinary people to a question, often a ridiculous question are printed on a two page spread". But then, according to him “there were just too many essays, which got repetitive (and thus tiresome considering the theme: 'America' - of course everybody would write about the land of plenty that still manages to dash the tallest dreams) after a while”. In spite of that, Arigbabu says that the magazine “does come together though”. He then does some sort of review:, “Teju Cole's reparte with a cab driver in New York is my favourite. Karen King's piece falls flat but there are enough other interesting bits and pieces to make up for it...Like Ogaga Ifowodo's Shock Jock country. Biodun Jeyifo goes on and on...a whole essay to say America is the best place for African academics? I would have been more interested to read little anecdotes about him toasting some hispanic chic in between lectures... I mean, do you really go to America and spend all your time blowing grammar? The design is simplistic, (though I'm still attracted to the title design for Ndidi Nwuneli's 'A Common burden'...cool!) but works for readers who just want to get on with it and can't handle complex visual gymnastics, the content is robust with 29 contributors, Gado's cartoons were witty and mature and the magazine seems like it could have done with a few more interludes like his to break the monotony of all those 'centre spread essays'. Perhaps Miss Adichie should have asked the contributors to tell unusual stories about their experiences in / about America, if she had, instead of asking for 'essays', it might have turned out more of a lurid expose and less of a predictable scrap book...but then, that's exactly what she wanted...a'int it?” The magazine is on sale at Nu Metro Stores in Lagos.

  • Farafina 13's cover is actually blue, but by some magic it came out orange on this blog. Go figure!

New Read 2

Here's another new/ish read. Newly published in Farafina volume 13 guest-edited by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A version of Victor Ehikhamenor's story, 'Passport to Heaven' is available online as earlier published by Eclectica.
"You greet everyone with a toothy, cauliflower smile. Even your shylock landlord gets a good greeting from you. Your co-tenants in the Face-Me-I-Face-You house know your expression has lightened. They are suspicious. Something is fishy. Christopher is a tight-ass-son-of-a-bitch who does not laugh. Christopher is a yam head who wears the Nigeria misery look of no-petrol or food on his face. Christopher is spokesperson of the downtrodden masses of the earth who curses the Obasanjo administration at any given time. "Maybe he has a new girlfriend," they whisper to each other. You keep smiling. You cannot risk telling them the source of your joy. Someone might come calling in the night with a machine gun, demanding your passport to heaven. You have to keep your secret like an un-hatched egg. Even Fatima, your off-today and on-tomorrow girlfriend, cannot hear this. You will tell her a day before your departure, or maybe not at all. Femi has sworn an oath of silence, and except for the mechanic and panel beater who will contribute to the ticket fund, no one else will know.
The days go by slowly. You call Pius, your friend in Washington, D.C., to tell him the good news. He will be your host till you find your feet in an unknown land. He is happy for you and at the same time cursing the consular officer in Kaduna for the extra burden added to his already debilitating American load. But he will not tell you that. You will see for yourself.
  • Farafina magazine is available by subscription for direct delivery all over the world for $79.99 for 6 issues a year. Email Farafina (subscriptions@farafinamagazine.com) for more information.

New Read 1

I last bought Harper's Bazaar (or was it Harpers & Queen?) when Salman Rushdie wed Padma Lakshmi in New York and the pictures (featuring writer-wedding goers including Zadie Smith & Kathy Lette) were splashed on the pages of the magazine. Golden couple now blissfully divorced... I bought the magazine again this month, the June issue, after I read on Petina Gappah's blog about a story in there contributed by Orange Prize winner -
(talking of the Orange, how the prize went totally drain-ward this year, with the wholly misguided choice of that embarrassment of a celebrity who's always falling drunk out of clubs, changing clothes on the streets and being pictured with strange stuff seemingly up her nose - as a judge! I'm talking of Lily Allen, who people actually thought was cool. Once. The choice of Allen as judge raised not a few eyebrows - including Maggie Gee's - and apologists used up all their choice words defending the selection. Lily Allen left the Orange with peels only, when she 'dropped out' of the judging panel. Soon after, we learned she'd actually been dropped by the organisation after failing to turn up at judges' panel meetings. She helped 'select' the longlist, apparently - by phone. She more than proved the point some made all along, that she had no place on a literary award judging panel. Ms Allen has gone even more erratic since, only a few shades better than Amy Winehouse. Pity. It shouldn't happen to an Orange Prize judge. Or, it shouldn't have happened to the Orange Prize).
- anyhow, about what we were speaking... I read on Petina Gappah's blog that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a new short story in the current issue of Harper's Bazaar, so I went and got me a copy. Amarachi is the story, about a young Nigerian woman who comes back home from America for her wedding, all changed (to her mother Mrs Njoku's consternation), and with a Kenyan fiance in tow.

Since 'Amarachi' is all of one page, I don't suppose Harper's will thank me for reproducing the page visually here, but here's an excerpt we typed up earlier:
"They were on their second cups when Sochienne said she wanted to have her wedding at Amarachi, the village house where she had spent her childhood holidays; she preferred a venue of emotional significance to an overpriced gilded hall. Mrs Njoku choked on her tea. The hall was already paid for but, more important, Amarachi was old, the grounds sloped, this was the rainy season and the mud would ruin women's shoes and nobody would take a wedding seriously if it was held in that backwater. Indeed, nobody would come."
Not quite what Mrs Njoku planned for her daughter's wedding. The short-short story is illustrated with images posed by the author herself. It seems she channelled the mother in one image, and the daughter in another. Wordsbody's preferred image is reproduced here. Those wanting to read what happens with the wedding at Amarachi, are to seek out Harper's Bazaar.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

God of Poetry, God of the Caine?

Congratulations to Uzor Maxim Uzoatu who's Nigeria's flagbearer for this year's Caine Prize. His story, Cemetery of Life, published in Wasafiri 52 earned him the nod for the author of 'God of Poetry'.

Joining him on the shortlist are Ghanaian Mohammed Naseehu Ali (for Mallam Sule); Malawian Stanley Onjezani Kenani (his story: For Honour); South African Henrietta Rose-Innes is shortlisted for the second time (for Poison); and she's joined by her compatriot, Gill Schierhout (for The Day of the Surgical Colloquium).

Judges are (1) Chair Jude Kelly (who is the artistic director of the South Bank Centre - where the Caine writers will read on July 6); (2) Hannah Pool; (3) Mark McMorris; (4) author of In the Country of Men Hisham Matar; and Jonty Driver.

The 2008 Caine Prize winner will be announced at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, on July 7.

New Read/s

Lots of essays, interviews, reviews - in the new, 4th edition of African Writing - and plenty of short stories. Among the contributors is Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond whose attitude laden story, Bush Girl, follows a young Ghanaian woman bent on making it as a model in New York.

When I had overstayed my visa seven summers ago, my plan was to cash in on all the “You are so striking!”s I had heard on my many long vacs to London and New York. The Plan was to be discovered. The bit of fashion that had trickled down to me in Ghana through magazines and MNET (when cable had finally hit Ghana), had convinced me through Iman and Roshumba and Naomi that the world was ready to celebrate my kind of beauty.

The summer I had come to visit Auntie Freda, the summer before I was to start my first year at the University of Legon, I knew I wasn’t going back to Ghana until I was international. I didn’t know what I would tell Daddy or how I would get around the strictures of my three-month student visa, but that was before 9/11 and back then I knew God, so I prayed.

I couldn’t go back to Ghana. Sure, Daddy had a lucrative business. A big house. A driver. A Land Rover for the unfinished roads. A Benz for evening outings and afternoon luncheons. But I wasn’t a business or science student. I wouldn’t be snapped up by Mobil or Shell or some other multinational, be paid in dollars, meet and marry a boy whose father owned a home on Switchback Road. Besides I didn’t want any of that. I wanted the big house, the luxury cars, the dollars and sterling on my own terms. And I had a plan to get them. I was going to be a supermodel.

When Daddy called to tell me the recurring teachers’ strike had resumed, I felt convinced of God’s endorsement. That very night I prayed a promise to God that I would serve him forever if he made me the international supermodel I knew I was born to be. I practically fell to my knees with thanksgiving right in the middle of the shop when Selima, then the manager at Alain et Riette, asked me in her raspy Moroccan accent if I’d be willing to work off the books. Thank you, Jesus! Thank you Lord, for loving me!

Back then I got it, but I didn’t get it. I had read in Allure Magazine that Paulina Models, then newly-opened in SoHo, was looking for girls with a “different look”. In my 19 year old mind I didn’t realize that just meant they were looking for the latest industry obsession, girls from behind the Iron Curtain.

On my first day on the job I went to four agencies on my lunch break. They all turned me down. At one agency a woman emerged from a glass office and asked me, “How tall are you?”
I answered with the truth, “Five-seven.” After all, what? Carolyn Murphy was 5’7” in flats. Kate Moss was shorter. They had both come into Alain et Riette to try on shoes. Another divine endorsement, I thought back then.

This reminds me of a story of mine in which a Nigerian girl dreams of becoming a model in London, complete with a similar line noting Kate Moss' non-model-standard height. And Ms Brew-Hammond's story has given me a new catchphrase, "After all, what?"