Friday, 27 June 2014

The South Rift Valley, Bomet, Narok, Masai Mara, more.. and Naivasha (5)

The farm was moderately large with a mixed crop of maize, sorghum and beans. It surprised me that I found what I was seeing and hearing so deeply intriguing, as Bernard showed me around and explained how things worked. There was also some dairy farming going on and we had started out at the paddock where the cows were ambling around, sometimes making that reassuring mooing sound that cows make. I thought it very interesting to hear about the milking of the cows and how and what the cows are fed. I even helped with that morning's feeding.

The cows were of the Friesan breed, a foreign breed of cattle originating from the Netherlands with a black and white coat. They were huge, all seven of the adults were female and there were a few calves too. The zero grazing system being employed meant that the cows were permanently confined in the paddock. It was explained to me how these were prime cattle for milk production and how they differed from the local breeds such as the Buran breed, which we had seen several of on our journey to the homestead and indeed, which I had observed grazing in the fields all along the route from Nairobi the day before.

It was fascinating to see how knowledgeable Bernard was as he talked about the soil, the rains and the harvest of the maize that was due in a few weeks. And as I listened, I wondered how it would be if I was living in this peaceful environment, having the same concerns and worries that Bernard was expressing, and how I would enjoy this so very much. 

At breakfast I had my first taste of mursik, that sour fermented milk beverage of the Kalenjin people, which I had read somewhere is rumoured to be a secret weapon of Kenya's world beating athletes most of who are of Kalenjin extraction. Then we set out to explore the surrounding area and the town of Kaboson.

There was the constant reminder that we were in an area that was full of wildlife. There were the calls and cries of all manner of creatures to be heard and it was not unreasonable that I would find this unsettling. After all the Masai Mara reserve was only a few kilometres from this empty road that Bernard and I were now slowly walking down, surrounded on all sides by farms and bush, walking side by side, speaking in low tones, absorbed in each other; me excitedly telling him of what a wonderful experience it was for me being here, he assuring me in his quiet measured way of speaking that he was more delighted than I was. And of course him seeing that I was uneasy, reassuring me that we were safe from any kind of attack by a wild animal, which he said would prefer to avoid humans altogether and remain within the confines of the game reserve.

The Mara River flows down this way past Kaboson and onward to the nature reserve that bears its name. It is the bridge across the river that welcomes you to Kaboson. We walked towards the river and saw that there were a few people at the riverbank, children frolicking at the water's edge, local women chattering while doing laundry. Bernard said that occasionally hippos would stray from the Mara just a short distance up this river, and that there had been confrontations, even recently, between humans and hippos in which people had been killed.

There is no fence on the Masai Mara in this area and I never really got an explanation when I asked why. But I will assume that the fact that the bordering land is settled and cultivated by humans itself serves as a barrier to the animals within the nature reserve. I had heard of electric fencing in some areas and was pleased that no such fence existed here. We were not in the reserve, but from our position close to the top of the hill, which at Bernard's urging I had struggled to climb, we were rewarded with such a magnificent view of the Masai Mara that words alone are insufficient to describe it.

I learned that the Masai Mara is the same game reserve that is known as the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The reserve straddles the border of both countries and is even more extensive in Tanzania than it is in Kenya. But the animals of course know of no international borders and wander to and fro across the border as they please. We were at a hillside location outside the reserve overlooking the Olare Orok Conservancy. We could see the tourists who were lounging in one of the camps. There was a herd of about ten giraffe and several wildebeest, gazelle and zebra. The sight was utterly stunning.

Far in the distance close to the horizon, we could just about make out elephants in a fairly large herd. And there had been baboons too, a large troop had scurried across the path in front of us as we made our way to this spot. Bernard said he liked coming here whenever he wanted to be by himself and it felt special to be alone with him here. There was not much to be said, we just sat there close together and stared at the beautiful scene that was before our eyes.

The tourists were foreign, Europeans, Americans, Canadians perhaps, there had been several of those (a Canadian tourist party) on my flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi. They were taking flights in hot air balloons over the savannah to observe the animals and the landscape. It was beautiful to see and I envied them a little, but I still couldn't help thinking how superior to theirs my experience of Kenya was. They had come to Kenya to see wildlife and would be making little or no contact with the people who live here and whose land it is. I, on the other hand, was experiencing Kenya in the way that an ordinary Kenyan would experience it. I was eating local Kenyan meals, spending my nights in a Kenyan home and not in some artificial shelter in the bush created exclusively for tourists. Mine, I thought, was the more authentic Kenyan experience. And I was with Bernard, surely nothing could beat that.

It must have been several hours that we sat there enjoying each other's company, but time has a way of flying by when you're enjoying yourself. We were quite a distance from home, a few kilometres at least. But we strolled all the way back, walking slowly, not only because I'd said I was a bit tired, but, I suspect, because we also wanted to prolong the journey for as long as possible. We loved being alone together. We loved it enough for us to decide that the following day we would leave Kaboson and the family behind and travel to Naivasha, where we could be truly alone. And that is what we did.

To be continued

Ankole cattle
Buran cattle have survived in Africa for more than a thousand years

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The South Rift Valley, Bomet, Narok, Masai Mara, more.. and Naivasha (4)

The sun rising from behind the hill in the distance still shrouded in grey in the dull light of the dawn was the view that greeted me early the following morning when I partly pulled open the curtains of the window in the room at the guest house. Bernard's slow, long steady breaths from under the covers in the bed that we had shared indicated that he was still fast asleep, curled up in the foetal position. Neither of us had had much sleep the night before - there had been so many things to be said to each other, to be done together; so many things to laugh at and be joyful about; things to express sadness about that the entire night had been barely enough to get through all of it. So not wanting to disturb him, I pulled the curtains close and stepped out on to the balcony gently shutting the door behind me.

Birdsong together with the fresh, still, cool, highland morning air came as an absolute delight. From my vantage point on the upper floor of the building we were in, the views were stunning. I caught a glimpse of the Nyangores River glistening in the early morning light, tumbling across the rocky terrain as it made its way towards the Mara River of which the Nyangores is a tributary. The Mara is the major river in the region hence the famous Masai Mara Reserve. I had read somewhere that "mara" is the Maasai word for "spotted" or "mottled", a reference to the patchy covering of trees and shrubs that cover the landscape.

I was in the Rift Valley and Bernard was only a few feet away. The feeling was one of sheer contentment and I couldn't help thinking how far away from the frustrations of job searching in London all of this seemed. If heaven exists, I thought, it must feel something like this. It was a moment in time that will remain with me for a long time.

Breakfast at the guest house was full-English. Toast, bacon, sausage, eggs, baked beans, cereal, coffee, tea, the works. It was the second time I was seated across a table from Bernard over a meal, but this time, unlike the excited chatter over our late lunch the previous afternoon, we sat and ate in silent contemplation, staring at each other as we did so.

Perhaps he too was like me, marvelling at just how fortunate we were to be physically present with each other on this day, given that our association had begun when we were each located on different continents, separated by seas and deserts, by forests and mountains and plains and by thousands and thousands of miles. It was at this moment that I realised just how special this was; as if everything that had happened in my life prior to this time was in preparation for this very special relationship. This was the person whom I had yearned to be with. It was as if I had arrived at last at the place that I had always wanted to be. I was sure of this in a way that I had never known before.

The journey from Bomet to Kaboson was done by each of us riding pillion on two separate motorcycle taxis known locally as boda boda, my rucksack strapped to Bernard's back as we rode along. The riders manoeuvred the motorbikes down this dirt road that meandered through brushland, farmland, villages composed of traditional homesteads made up of those uniquely beautiful Kalenjin huts, more brushland, up and down and around hills, with a hint of the odour of donkey dung always faintly present in the background. And then there were the cattle, everywhere. Cattle, I was told are a very important aspect of the lives of the Kalenjin people, the native people of this place. Every man, including Bernard, owns cattle.

As we climbed off the motorbikes upon our arrival at the family homestead, there was a sense of homecoming that I found hard to explain, even though I was quite certain that no person born in Nigeria, as I was, had ever set  foot in this place that I was arriving at for the first time. The surroundings were unfamiliar, the language was one that I did not know, but I felt at home nonetheless. Perhaps it was because I had been born and raised in Africa myself, (even if not in a rural setting such as this), but I was easily able to identify with everything that I saw. It was unfamiliar, but it was not strange. I must admit also that the fact that it was Bernard's home made it that much easier.

As is typical anywhere in Africa, I was warmly greeted  by those whom we met. I was welcomed and treated with the great respect that is customarilly accorded to visiting strangers. I too am African and the showing of respect and consideration for others, which is customary among Africans, came naturally to me also. I was pleased to see that all those decades of living in Europe had not robbed me of, nor eroded that respectful nature, which is intrinsic to all who have been raised in Africa and in an African setting. True, I did not know their language, but they themselves were aware of this, acknowledged it, and spoke only in English whenever they spoke to me or addressed me.

It was easy to fall into the welcoming embrace of these gentle people and enjoy their warm hospitality. I felt almost as if I was one of them, a new member of their family. And in a sense, even though they did not know the full extent of it, I was indeed one of them.

We were in one of the several scattered homesteads that surround the small town of Kaboson. We had driven straight to the homestead so I had not seen Kaboson itself. Tomorrow, Bernard said, he would show me around his farm (he insisted on calling it a shamba) and we would go and see Kaboson. And of course the Masai Mara  too. The evening  meal was ugali and vegetables with roasted goat meat.

Bernard and I settled in for the evening, his room illuminated only by the solar powered lamp standing on a small table in the corner. Outside, the evening air had become quite cool, but in here it was warm. And it was very cosy. And it was peaceful. And then we slept. And in his room I felt truly at home.

To be continued 

Tea crop
Nyangores River

Kalenjin hut

Author's note: Although some of the photos in this section are not mine, they are in fact a true depiction of the scenes that I have attempted to describe and are indeed photos of the very same places that I was describing. I experienced some difficulty in keeping my phone/camera well charged while I was in that area, and was unable to take as many photos of my own as I would have wished to do. My sincere apologies to those whose photos these are. I did not know how to go about seeking permission to use the photos. But I've only used them to help me tell my story.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The South Rift Valley, Bomet, Narok, Masai Mara, more.. and Naivasha (3)

An hour after leaving Narok we descended a hillside as the road wound its way steeply down into a broad valley. Down below in the valley ahead of us was the sprawl that was Bomet. I knew this because a few minutes previously, the young man seated next to me had in response to my query informed me that we didn't have much further to go. Approaching Bomet, we pulled up at a police checkpoint where a stern faced policeman clutching his rifle paced down the side of the vehicle peering through the windows, strangely staring down towards the feet of the passengers, probably searching with his eyes for some contraband that may be concealed underneath a seat. But this didn't interest me as much as the conversation that was taking place up front between the driver still seated in his cab and a policewoman who, also armed, had sidled up to him. I observed the driver hand to her for inspection a small bundle of documents which I presumed to contain his driving licence and other official documents for this commercial vehicle.

The policewoman shuffled through the documents, seeming to closely scrutinise one or two of the papers. Then a currency note suddenly slipped out from the bundle and dropped to the ground. It was clear to me that the driver had placed some money among the documents, to be discreetly extracted by whichever police officer it was who asked to inspect them. This policewoman seeing that her treasure had dropped, moved her foot gently to step on the currency note, moving her leg as little as possible. A fairly strong breeze was blowing so I understood why she would have been determined to keep the money firmly pinned down with her foot until we had driven off.

Seeing this, I chuckled involuntarily and I saw that some of the other passengers too had noticed what had happened, given that the man seated behind me had gone very quiet. He had since the commencement of this journey been shouting ceaselessly into his phone in a language that I thought was Kisii, but now with stretched neck, he too was silently peering through his window to see what this policewoman would do next. And then, as if to get us out of the way, the policewoman quickly handed the papers back to the driver and with a wave of her hand signalled that we were free to go.

So we drove on further into this valley, surrounded on all sides by hills splendidly covered with neat farm terraces that made for some breathtakingly beautiful scenery. I was somewhat annoyed that by this time the power of the battery on my smartphone, which had so far doubled faithfully as a camera, was so low that recording these lovely scenes in pictures was not possible.

Shortly afterwards, finally, we entered into the quaint little town of Bomet, the capital and largest town of Bomet County. This seemed a smaller town than Narok, but it exuded an aura that accords with its importance as an administrative capital. Just a few hundred metres down the one main road in the town and the bus turned left into the crowded bus station. We had arrived at last, this was where I would be getting off the bus before it continued on its journey to Litein and then onwards to Kericho. And Bernard would be here somewhere close by, awaiting my arrival.

Except that he wasn't.

It was only after a nervous 30 minute wait seated on a bench outside a cobbler's stall by the dusty roadside that I spotted Bernard in the distance approaching. He had seen me before I saw him, I could tell this from his intent stare in my direction. The battery on my phone was now completely flat and it had been impossible for me to inform him of my arrival and of my location. In truth, he had arrived at the bus station even before I did, but he had been waiting at the opposite end of the bus station from the end at which I was seated. He had been waiting at the exit, while I was seated by the entrance across the bus station from where he was.

Its not fair that the world does not permit people like us to run towards each other and jump into each others arms in public and in full view of everyone, because this is what my overwrought mind wished for. What happened though, was different. Bernard and I were meeting for the first time, but it felt more like meeting a long-lost old friend. The handshake was firm, the smiles were warm, the glint in the eyes was exciting and told of many exciting experiences ahead to be shared. But first things first.

I had omitted to make a certain payment at the hotel in Nairobi before I left and had received notification of this by text message during the journey. I was to make this payment by M-Pesa, the mobile-phone based money transfer service pioneered in Kenya with which I was unfamiliar. It fell to Bernard to put me through my paces, so the first thing we did together was to cross the road and enter into the Bomet branch of the Agricultural Finance Corporation, the government credit institution in Kenya that provides credit solely for the purpose of developing agriculture. They are also a M-Pesa agent. Having successfully carried out the transfer, there was the opportunity for me to have what turned out to be a very informative chat with the official who had attended to me. In our conversation he gave me some real insight into the work that they do financing local small-scale farmers. It was a predominantly agricultural community, he explained, and I left  his office with a greater understanding of the scenes that I had observed on my journey here.

When this was all sorted out it remained for Bernard and me to find a place to retire for the remainder of the day. The plan was for us to spend the next several hours exclusively in each others company, attempting as much as we could to make up for all that time that had not had together, which we felt that we ought to have had. Tomorrow, we would relocate to his home in Kaboson, a small community off the main road about  43 kilometres from Bomet, close to the Masai Mara Nature Reserve. So we checked into a guest house in town, but found to my mild annoyance that on arriving at the room that we had been allocated, the cleaning lady was still in the process of preparing the room. Proceedings, therefore, were to be postponed until later, so we put down my rucksack and set out to find lunch..

Saruni Camp Masai Mara

(To be continued)

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The South Rift Valley, Bomet, Narok, Masai Mara, more.. and Naivasha (2)

As I said before, the most striking thing about the countryside in this part of Kenya is the prevalence of agriculture activity, presumably because of the rich volcanic soils. The scenes that I encountered were reminiscent of sights that I had previously seen only in England, farm after farm, after farm, with human dwellings dotted here and there; although in Kenya, unlike in Europe, these dwellings were not just the single farmhouse with the odd barn or two. Here, the dwellings were more of a small cluster of several homes perched on the edge of a vast expanse of communal farmland; fields that were covered with this season's maize and wheat crop, and with evidence of the employment of agricultural machinery at some point in the recent past.

These clusters of homes were scattered right across the countryside as far as the eye could see, all along the entire route, save for the occasional stretch of acacia brushland, or rocky terrain, where it was evident that farming was not viable. But even on that land which was not cultivated, one could see large herds of cattle and goats herded by Masai herdsmen and boys, often in traditional Masai attire, the animals sometimes gathering at waterholes to drink. And all of this was presented to my eyes through the window of the bus and from the fairly busy highway on which we were travelling. I found it quite magical.

There was also to be seen the occasional European-style farmstead, but these were far outnumbered by those farms that clearly were owned and run by the indigenous people.

The land was not flat, this was after all the Rift Valley. It undulated significantly, seemingly endlessly, with large hills and massive rock outcrops. And the farms extended up the sides of the hills too, because the farmers use the terracing technique as well; neat orderly terraces, which, all put together, made for a scenic beauty that was hard not to gasp in astonishment over.

A few hours of this and then we reached the outskirts of the town of Narok, a mostly Masai town that is a major staging point for trips to the famous Masai Mara National Reserve and the Ngorongoro Crater which is across the border in neighbouring Tanzania. Narok, with a population (I later learned) of about 40,000, is not a big town in the sense that I am accustomed to, being a large city dweller myself for all of my life. But it is a lively town. And busy. There was a lot going on, commerce, trade, wheeling and dealing, money to be made from the eager, naive tourist aplenty. I liked it, this was my kind of place. Unfortunately, I would not be staying here for anything more than a brief rest-stop. I was after all on a journey of a different sort, a journey to Bomet. To meet with Bernard.


Part (3) coming up soon. 

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The South Rift Valley, Bomet, Narok, Masai Mara, more.. and Naivasha (1)

When I departed Kenya that night in September 2013 after an eventful four-week holiday, (during which, among other things, the Westgate shopping mall terrorist tragedy happened, and only a few hundred metres too from the location in Westlands, Nairobi that I'd been visiting on the morning of the incident), I had no inkling that in a matter of months I would be back in this lively city. Yet here I was in the third week of April 2014, in Nairobi, lying in the same bed, in the same room, at the same hotel that I had stayed on my last visit. 

The wonderful staff at the hotel seemed pleased to have me back as a guest. They even joked that they'd reserved this very room specially for me, knowing that I'd turn up again soon. And while it was nice to receive such a welcome and be treated as some kind of special customer, my stay at the hotel would be for just a few hours, because this time, I had arrived in Kenya with a decidedly and altogether more intrepid mind set.

The journey to Nairobi had itself not been without its difficulties, what with a sleepless twelve-hour stopover at Amsterdam Airport. But I thought of this only as a minor discomfort, for in my mind I was undertaking a voyage of discovery. The hope was that an annoyance such as this one would be more than made up for in the end.

The trip was paid for with the few pennies that I'd been putting aside. I left my last job a few months previously, currently had no income and had been busy for weeks searching furiously for a replacement job. My bank account wasn't exactly bulging, but I managed to convince myself that notwithstanding, this short break would be well worth it, (even if the only way to justify it was to see it as a break from the stresses and frustrations of job searching).

I set out on the journey full of yearning and a desire for something different; in need of a diversion; something to take me and my mind to places we had never been. It had to be Kenya - there was a nagging feeling that I had previously only had a glimpse of the place; a nagging feeling that there was unfinished business which needed to be seen to; a feeling which translated into something like a magnetic attraction towards the place.. And so there was considerable anticipation and expectation. Nairobi, clearly, would not, on this occasion be sufficient. I wanted more..

So the very next morning after the night of my arrival in Nairobi, leaving my heavy travel bag behind for safekeeping in the back office of the hotel's reception and armed with only a rucksack, I set out of town on a bus from the bus station at Mfangano Street, headed towards the town of Kericho, in the area known at the south Rift Valley. I had taken a ten-day break from my routine in London and this was one break I was determined to wring every drop of excitement and education out of.

My plan was to hop off the bus at Bomet, the county headquarters of Bomet County, meet up with my Facebook friend Bernard in town and then later make my way with him to his home on his farm, or "shamba". Shamba is the word for 'farm' in the Swahili language. And this is exactly what happened.

Meeting Bernard in person for the first time was lovely, but spending quality time alone with him thereafter was much, much better. We two together were like a sword and its sheath, or a revolver and its holster, fitting into each other almost perfectly. And whilst our friendship had existed only over the internet and through the phone, we both knew that there was something special about the connection that we had. However, we had had no way of realising quite how intensely special that connection actually was until each of us found ourselves in the physical presence of the other.. And it was even more so after we had spent several hours in each other's company.

We always knew when we used to speak to each other that we agreed about most things, but being together in the same room brought home the realisation (for me at least), that I was in the presence of a person with whom I would never argue or disagree on any issue. This was slightly unnerving at first, but secretly, I wished that Time would freeze right there and then and come to an abrupt stop, so that I would never have to leave this place and so remain forever in the company of this awesome man; listening to his voice, watching with pleasure every time his face lit up and his lips parted in a smile. We soon discovered that words weren't needed often, because, instinctively, almost telepathically, each of us seemed always to know what the other was thinking...and then we would exchange a knowing look and a knowing smile.. Oh that delightful, toothy smile.. And I suspect too that his thoughts towards me would be of a similar hue. But let me not digress..

The aim here is to attempt to discuss, as closely as I can, the way that I spent those ten days. So let me step backwards in time a little bit and describe my impressions and observations of that bus trip from Nairobi to the South Rift Valley. 

As soon as the bus turned left off the A104, a road that runs north-westwards from Nairobi via Naivasha, the first striking observation was of the preponderance of agriculture activity wherever you looked or turned. A few kilometres beyond the junction town of Maai Mahiu the town located at the junction where the bus turned off on to the 'B' road leading westwards towards Kericho, we came upon what I considered must be the Rift Valley itself. It revealed itself to me as a very steep precipice immediately to the left of the road that we were driving on, a precipice that was little too close to the tyres of the bus, (I thought to myself) and there was no protective barrier. It seemed almost as if the road had been constructed on top of a cliff and on the cliff's very edge. The cliff itself sloped downwards sharply, almost vertically for hundreds of metres at least. And while I do not consider myself to suffer from an irrational fear of heights, I'm not a mountaineer either. Neither am I a bird..

On the other side of the road to the right, another cliff, but this one rising vertically upwards such that the road appeared to have been constructed at the cliff's bottom or base. The road was clearly on the side of a mountain, winding its way around the mountain's side in sharp, tight bends and turns, the driver of the bus being careful to avoid oncoming traffic. I soon noticed that I was the only person on the bus who appeared to be nervous. The others seemed calm, nonplussed, those who weren't dozing happily biting into their sugar cane and chewing on their roasted maize purchased from vendors who, when the bus stopped briefly at Maai Mahiu, had thrust their hands through the open windows holding cobs of maize and sticks of sugar cane.

And the bus continued on its way down this road which seemed to be located at the top of one cliff and at the bottom of another cliff on the opposite side of the road. But soon enough we descended from this mountainside on to a vast, dry, dusty plain that looked distinctly more arid than any other landscapes than I had seen thus far on this bus trip, with dust-devils blowing everywhere. The dust-devils were even visible in the distance.. as far as the eye could see..

It was cultural heaven..
That's a dust devil right there

Lake Naivasha.. There were hippos here, I heard them

At Bomet..

I was standing about 20 ft away from this giraffe..
The shore of Lake Naivasha

Author's Note: I'm working on the second instalment. Hope to get it done soon..  :)

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Are Homosexuals Human Beings?

The theme of the 1993 United Nations world conference on human rights in Vienna was Women’s Rights Are Human Rights. I was with the Civil Liberties Organization then and attended the conference. Why was it necessary, you might ask, to state that incontestable fact 45 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the very first article of which asserts unequivocally that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights?” Aren’t women human beings? Funny as it may sound, the status of woman as human wasn’t always “settled.” Indeed, a much earlier conference is believed to have been convened in France, circa 586 A.D., to resolve the question whether or not women were human!  It was my former colleague at the CLO, Chidi Anselm Odnkalu, now chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, who first mentioned this outrageous outcome of prejudice born of the fear of difference—whether it be racial, gender, religious, sexual, or even plainly ideological.

In having her humanity doubted, woman, the primal Other of history, the first to embody difference (ab-normal-ity, deviance from the perceived norm), shared a common fate with Africans, other so-called persons of colour, and many oppressed groups. Thus, as the great white men behind the American Declaration of Independence proclaimed the fact that “all men are born equal” to be a “self-evident” truth, their diction betrayed the exclusion of women from equal humanity. And it was not until 1920 that the 19th Amendment ensured political equality for American women by making them voting citizens in the self-vaunted land of freedom.

One of the disingenuous yet appealing justifications for the frightful antipathy to gays and lesbians in Nigeria is that same sex relations are foreign to African culture. Those who bay for the blood of homosexuals, who would have them jailed for 14 years even when billion-dollar thieves in government and business are awarded national honours—not to mention election riggers, wife beaters, child deserters and abusers, rapists, paedophiles, Daddy Overseers who fleece their flock and sleep with their female congregants (married and unmarried), etc.—justify their lack of Christian love, charity, or plain fellow feeling by resort to a cheap and convenient cultural nationalism. Respect for the equal humanity of gay persons, they say, is a foreign concept being imposed on us by the imperialistic West. And then without batting an eyelid, they quote from the Bible or the Koran—as if Christianity and Islam were African religions! But they fail to cite one African religious or cultural practice that punishes homosexuals with the force of law. Or an African jurisprudence that sanctions imprisonment as a form of penal justice.

In a series of essays published in December 2011 and January 2012 on the dangerous tide of homophobia in our land—see “Homosexuality and Nigeria’s Enochs and Josephs,” “Homosexuality, Biology and the Bible,” and “Sex and the Church’s Missionary Position” (The Guardian, 19 and 28 December 2011 and 9 and 10 January 2012), as well as “Ekwe and the Raging Army of God’s Protectors” (Vanguard, 23 January 2013); also available online, I asked the venerable Rev. Jasper Akinola, the spiritual-cum-political leader of the anti-gay movement, why, if he was the ├╝ber-cultural nationalist that he claims to be, he scorned the Church of Orunmila and chose to be a priest of the Church of England? An Anglican congregation, if he needs to be reminded, founded and headed by King Henry VIII in protest against the Roman Catholic Church’s refusal to indulge his appetite for adultery.

A church, moreover, that was the ideological bulwark in Britain’s imperialist mission of colonial conquest through the “wiping out of the tribal (read cultural) memory” of the natives (to adapt Major Pilkings’s apt rebuke, in Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, of Joseph, his native houseboy who, converted yesterday, had become the next day an unwilling native informer on the “primitive,” unchristian, ways of his recently colonized Yoruba people). I am yet to receive an answer from the retired primate of King Henry’s Nigerian converts. We know, however, that the purported defence of African values (defined by whom?) is only a fig leaf to cover an onerous legacy of the Abrahamic faiths: making a sin of sexual desire, whether it be hetero- or homo-social in nature. Not even after marriage—a social undertaking not to be confused with the natural, hormone-driven, impulse of sexual orientation—was sanctioned as an inconvenient solution was the problem solved.

But in blaming the West for something that has been present in every human society and in the animal world as well from the origin of time, the self-righteous army of God forgets that the West persecuted homosexuals until quite recently. Now more Catholic than the pope, they cannot bear to hear the same West that brought them the bible change its mind about any of its creeds and catechisms. “How dare you admit,” they shout, foaming at the mouth and wagging a finger at the Archbishop of Canterbury, “that gay people do not choose their sexuality any more than heterosexuals choose theirs, and then proceed to treat them as human beings equal to us virtuous heterosexuals? How dare you ordain a gay bishop in OUR church?”

The zealotry of Nigeria’s army of the faithful fits perfectly the ungovernable fervour of the reformed sinner who, once converted, must prove him- or herself more devoted to the cross or crescent than his pastor or imam. Thus, if Pope Francis, reminded of Christ’s admonition, “Judge not that ye may not be judged,” can say in response to the question of gay priests, “Who am I to judge?”, Nigeria and Africa’s religious leaders say, “We are the ones to judge and punish. God is too merciful and his judgement too long in coming.” This is the sort of holy frenzy that makes full-grown African men and women sing with all pious sincerity, “Wash me [Lord Jesus] and I shall be whiter than snow!”

But the question is inescapable: are homosexuals human beings? If the answer is yes, then they must be accorded their human rights and dignity. Sexual relations among consenting adults are no more harmful to society in same sex relations than in opposite sex relationships. If there be any harm, it is the mad rush in the name of a strange and false notion of African values and the dictates of foreign religious doctrines imposed by conquest, to erode the laws of privacy and civilized behaviour to criminalize what is at worst a sin, as if God cannot be trusted to punish that among other sins on judgment day. Yet, by pandering to the prejudices of a majority closed to reason, that cannot be persuaded by logic—recall that it was the majority that freed Barabbas the murderer and crucified Jesus—or scientific evidence such as is changing the mind of the West that once thought homosexuality was a disease, the result of a psychiatric disorder, to authorise the Draconian re-criminalisation of same-sex relations, President Jonathan may have unwittingly done the gay and lesbian community, all of rational humanity, a favour.

For the law will not make homosexuals disappear from, or cease to be born in, Nigeria. After all, where do homosexuals come from, if not from heterosexual parents? Persecuting them will only make that barbaric stance solidify Nigeria’s reputation as a country quick to descend on the weak, poor and vulnerable while straining every muscle to protect and honour the rich and powerful. Yet, it is invariably the case that whenever power has to resort to maximum force to have its way, it has lost the moral ground and is very close to defeat. And so to our brothers and sisters persecuted for being gay, I say take courage: the darkest hour of night is just before dawn.

This was originally published here and here.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

When we legalise discrimination..

When a law such as the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Law recently passed in Nigeria is met with the kind of widespread support within Nigeria that we have seen, we know for sure that Nigeria is in deep, deep trouble. This is a country now firmly on its slide down the slippery slope of repression and discrimination against a segment of its own citizens. 

As a diversionary tactic, this law has been an unmitigated success so far. It has diverted the minds of long-suffering Nigerians from the real issues; the poor quality of life for its citizens which the country's successive governments have made sure to maintain for decades, the lack of security, the lack of basic services and amenities that are taken for granted by the populations of most of the other top-50 largest economies of the world, of which Nigeria is one. (Nigeria is the country with the 37th largest GDP in the world, according to the United Nations, The World Bank, the IMF and the CIA Fact Book, all authoritative sources.) It is also the only country, which, although clearly regarded as a wealthy country, has nearly 85 percent of its population living on less than $2 per day and classed as a Low Human Development country in the UNDP's Human Development Index, lower even than the Republic of Congo and Tanzania. (See the 2013 HDI Report here). 

Respecting the law is not what Nigerians are known for, (it would be hard to disagree with me on this). The presumption, therefore, that this law is likely to be badly abused is not unfounded. If anything, this is a highly likely outcome, and more so given that the law's application extends to non-homosexuals who are alleged to be associated with suspected homosexual persons. I foresee widespread abuse. I predict situations where scores are settled between adversaries with allegations relating to homosexuality being wildly slung about and the myriad consequences of such, of the sort that we cannot now even begin to imagine. In short, this is a very bad law. It is a law that allows for Nigerians to be arrested on the streets on the mere suspicion that they may have homosexual associations. I personally, feel nothing but shame at this point in time, for I am connected with a country that promotes and upholds such hate, ignorance, intolerance, bigotry and prejudice. 

I will conclude with this very apt posting by someone on Facebook:

"For 50 years, Nigeria has been undermined by violence and rampant graft. Their solution? Bash harmless gay people.
Barely a day after they started their anti-gay witch hunt, Boko Haram launches a major bomb attack. Glad the Nigerian regime is focusing on the real danger, the gays!" - Brian Farenell
I came across the following in today's Premium Times, a progressive Nigerian publication. 

"We, the undersigned, wish to ally ourselves with these voices of reason. We unreservedly condemn the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Law and urge civil society and human rights groups to start a campaign that we hope will soon result in its abolition.
We also urge the eminent personages across the world who have condemned the so-called law to go beyond diplomatic gestures and put pressures on the Nigerian government wherever they can. Specifically, the United States and the United Kingdom should, forthwith, impose diplomatic sanctions (e.g., denial of visas) on all Nigerian functionaries, including journalists, the clergy, and policymakers associated with the passing of the law.
There are many reasons why every right-thinking person should oppose this law.
First, it is based on a spurious, uninformed and one-dimensional reading of ‘African culture.’ Second, it criminalizes a section of Nigerians for nothing other than their natural sexual inclination.Third, it ignores the fruits of many decades of scientific research which proves decisively that homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Fourth, the law threatens to reverse the gains made by programs aimed at fighting the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the country.Fifth, it is absurd in terms of the jail time it stipulates for those who associate with LGBT people. Sixth, it casts Nigeria in a bad light for no good reason, putting it in the vulgar company of other countries where homosexuality is criminalized.Seventh, it gives law enforcement agents an open check to go after innocent Nigerians in the name of upholding the law. Finally, the law impinges on Nigerians’ freedom of speech and association, and expressly violates the rights of minorities in a free and democratic society.
It is not the business of any state, let alone the Nigerian state, to interpose itself in the private affairs of two consenting adults. Any human act or practice that does not infringe on the freedom of others cannot and should not be criminalized. Homosexuality does not harm us as a society and people. It is the hypocrisy, venality, and corruption that pervade our society that are the source of our problems.
Ebenezer Obadare, Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Akin Adesokan, Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Wale Adebanwi, Davis, California, USA; Lola Shoneyin, Abeokuta, Nigeria; Jude Dibia, Lagos, Nigeria; Jeremy Weate, Abuja, Nigeria; Chido Onumah, Abuja, Nigeria; Amatoritsero Ede, Ottawa, Canada; Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome, Brooklyn, New York, USA; Olufemi Taiwo, Ithaca, New York, USA; Tejumola Olaniyan, Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Ike Anya, London, UK; Kunle Ajibade, Lagos, Nigeria,; Moradewun Adejunmobi, California, USA; Sean Jacobs, Brooklyn, York, USA; Adeleke Adeeko, Ilorin, Nigeria; Olakunle George, Providence, Rhode Island, USA; Wendy Willems, London, UK; Ikhide R. Ikheloa, Maryland, USA; Rudolf Okonkwo, New York, USA; Jide Wintoki, Lawrence, Kansas, USA"

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Dubai.. in pictures

Atlantic The Palm
Burj Khalifa

The Burj Al Arab in the background
The Souk Madinat Jumeirah