Thursday, 1 November 2012

Things that get you thinking..



I enjoy listening to the Professor Richard Dawkins speak..

Monday, 29 October 2012

Update Number Five

My last few days in Ghana were spent in Accra, but not before I had undertaken what I can only still think of as a difficult road journey to get there from Sunyani. The journey was difficult mainly because of the state of the roads in segments of the route. Stopping over for a while (and for a second time) in the city of Kumasi, my impression of the city as being the least attractive of the cities that I was privileged to visit in Ghana was only reinforced. Whoever it is that is charged with the responsibility for keeping the city’s streets clean deserves to lose their job, or their contract, because they are doing a very poor job indeed. Driving through the city centre was a nightmare not only because the area was overcrowded and the traffic was horrendous, but this was quite easily the dirtiest place that I encountered throughout my stay in Ghana. I couldn't get out of the city fast enough. 

But then once again Ghana redeemed herself when the coach in which we were travelling (George and me) pulled into a petrol station on the outskirts of Kumasi for a rest stop and the passengers all filed out in orderly fashion to use the spotless and very well maintained toilet facilities that were laid on for our use. It was difficult to make a connection between these excellent toilets and those ones that I had complained so vociferously about in my last update. However this reprieve wasn't to last long, for it was only a short while later and only a few kilometres down the Kumasi to Konongo-Odumase road that our coach came to an abrupt halt. And we remained stationary for nearly two hours too, apparently because some serious accident had occurred up the road ahead of us. No information was passed on to us, no explanation for the delay was provided and it seemed to me that none of the other passengers on the coach even realised that they were actually entitled to an explanation for the delay, or to be told the reason why they were being held up. Eventually, though, this information trickled down.

Some heavy-duty articulated vehicle had toppled over on its side in the middle of the road and having spewed all of its contents unto the road, made it impossible for traffic in either direction to progress until the debris had been cleared off the road surface and the wrecked vehicle moved to one side. Needless to say, all of this took several hours, for there was at least a one-kilometre-long queue of stalled traffic in front of us before we had even arrived at the scene. Even when we started to move, it was at a crawl, for several miles. And as if this unpleasant episode wasn't bad enough, we still had to contend with the stretch of very bad road around the town of Suhum about an hour later, that went on for miles and miles, which made an already difficult journey even more tedious than it needed to be. Finally and quite exhausted, (its amazing that we were so tired since we'd only been sitting in a coach), we arrived in Accra and fought our way through the city's very heavy traffic to the location where we were to stay for the next couple of days.  

How time flies when you have so much you want to see and do, yet so little time to see and do them. There was so much more I had wanted to see in Ghana, for starters all those touristy places like for example, the Elmina Castle. I didn't even get to see the sights in Accra itself, save for a brief visit to the Labadi beach. By the way, it was annoying that one was required to pay an entry fee to enter the beach area, and more so when there was nothing of any particular significance at the beach to justify having to pay just to be there. My flight back to England was only hours away and the appalling traffic conditions in Accra meant that it took hours just to get from one point in the city to another. 

What I could accomplish therefore during my brief stay in the city was limited, but I have resolved to return to Ghana sometime in the not too distant future, specifically to visit and spend time in Accra. I simply haven't seen enough of the place yet. There are people in Accra that I was looking forward to meeting too, whom I never had the chance to meet because I didn't have the time. And I feel really bad about that. But please guys do accept my apologies, I'll make up for it the next time I come. So with the awful traffic conditions in mind, I made sure to set out for the airport a good 5 hours before my flight. This was one flight I was not going to miss. 

The trip home - A person can only enter into the Departures area of the Accra airport terminal building by presenting both a passport and a ticket as proof that whosoever enters the building is a legitimate traveller. And although I understand the reasoning behind this strict policy, I cant but think of it as anything other than mean and unkind, because you are forced to bid only a perfunctory farewell to a loved one who was seeing you off at the airport, with whom you might have wished instead to share a lingering hug, (or perhaps even a kiss), as you parted from each other. And even so, you have no choice but to part under the watchful gaze of stern looking airport security personnel. 

Its even worse when you have several hours of waiting alone at the airport to do before your flight, since you've arrived early, hours which could easily have been spent enjoying the company of your loved one. So you get the picture of what actually happened to me when I found myself suddenly all alone in the departures lounge, clearing immigration and going through the usual security procedures. Thank goodness for mobile telephony, because although physically alone I was still able to keep in touch with George, who insisted on remaining behind outside the airport for a while after I had left him and entered the building.

And so my visit to Ghana ended and I made it onto the aircraft bound for Amsterdam. A quick phone call to say my goodbyes and settling into my seat for what was a night flight, I thought little of the rumbling in my stomach (and ignored it), as the aeroplane thundered down the runway, lifted into the air and the night lights of Accra spread out beneath us. But it was not long before that stomach rumble declared its malevolent intentions. It was not to be ignored! 

If you know of no one who has had diarrhoea while travelling on a 7-hour flight in a fully-loaded aeroplane with every seat occupied, look no further. It was absolutely horrendous having to trundle down the aisle every few minutes or so to use the toilet in the plane, cursing under my breath; wondering what the heck I'd had to eat on my last day in Accra that had landed me in this appalling situation; receiving those funny looks from fellow passengers and the plane's cabin crew; hoping desperately that there wouldn't be a queue for the toilet when I reached it, because after all there were close to 300 people on this aircraft, with perhaps six toilets between us. Thankfully this was at night and most people did eventually fall asleep in their seats. So there were visits I made to the toilet that went mostly unobserved. 

After a few hours into the flight the diarrhoea did settle down a bit, albeit temporarily, because shortly after touchdown in Amsterdam, while negotiating my route through Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to reach my departure gate for my connecting flight to London, (for which I had to wait in Amsterdam for another four or more hours), the diarrhoea flared up again. So even while at the airport in Amsterdam, it was in and out of the toilet again, until I could bear it no longer and demanded to be shown to the airport's medical centre. Once there, I was promptly handed a high dosage of powerful anti-diarrhoeal medication by a very polite, black, Dutch lady doctor, who spoke halting English. Then I received a bill of just over 40 Euros, which I was informed included the fee for the doctor's consultation. The doctor assured me that I would feel better after taking the medication. And I did too, at least until I reached London and made my way home, but I didn't fully recover until at least after the second day after my arrival.

It was not a pleasant end to what had been a very interesting and enjoyable holiday, but it is the enjoyable parts of the holiday that I will focus on and which will remain embedded in my memory forever. In my mind I've already started toying with the idea of going off again to another interesting location. But will I visit Ghana again? Most definitely! I totally loved the place

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Update Number Four

Unplanned development is as prevalent in Ghana as it is in Nigeria, save for the scale of it, in which case Nigeria's may perhaps be greater than Ghana's. Nevertheless, even in Ghana, it is the case that most newly built homes are put up in areas where proper roads do not exist, nor is there any pipe-borne water to be connected to. And by the haphazard nature of the positioning of the electricity poles, it is possible to detect that even the electricity has been hurriedly connected to the locality.

In several of the areas that I have visited, houses (of questionable build-quality) have been constructed with seemingly no guidance whatsoever from any civic planning/building regulatory regime, nor with any regard to, or consideration for, things like safety, or access, as for example, access for the emergency services in the event of an emergency.
  
Houses seem to be built for two main reasons. Firstly, a house is built to fulfill what is seen as a requirement in the life of a truly successful person, to have his/her own home built from scratch. Secondly, much of the home building seems to be done for the purpose of exploiting what is in fact a severe housing deficit, by building substandard homes to be rented to hapless tenants, given the shortage of housing in general and the dearth of decent housing in particular.

The fact is that an inordinately large number of Ghanaians still live in housing that can best be described as inadequate. However, it must be said that there are also some very nice and well built homes, although often times these are located in places where you might wish you were wearing hiking boots (due to the awful state in which what passes for a road is in), as you navigated the terrain to reach such homes.

Water in many areas I have visited is not pipe-borne and is almost always supplied from a well dug at the time the building is constructed. In the more well-to-do households, the water from the well is pumped by an electric pump into an overhead tank, from which it is then distributed through the home assisted by gravity. The hope always is for the electricity supply to remain uninterrupted, for when it is interrupted, which happens often, its becomes impossible for the water to be pumped into the tank. As for what obtains in the less well-off homes, well, let me leave that to your imagination.
   
Toilets - I do not understand why all of my neighbours need to know about it every time I go to use the toilet. But apparently some feel differently about this, since this is precisely what happens in large parts of Ghana, where the idea of public toilets appears to have been embraced with a degree of enthusiasm that many of us living in the modern world would be unfamiliar with.

I heard an alarming statistic the other day on Ghanaian television, when some wise person while lamenting the generally poor sanitary conditions in the said public toilets, made the comment that 5 million Ghanaians do not have a toilet in their homes. Gosh, how shocking is that?! Strolling through the village to have a poo on the other side of town seems to be the reality, a fact of life, for many people here. It seems that many here can see nothing wrong with having to do this and don't seem to know any reason why they should have a toilet in their homes for their own private and exclusive use.

But then if public toilets is the way to go and if this is what you want to do, isn't ensuring that those public toilets are carefully maintained and kept scrupulously clean the only way to justify their existence?

I think there's a desperate need for legislation in Ghana making it compulsory for every home, and especially every newly built home, to have a toilet of its own. In my humble opinion, the culture of relying so heavily on public toilet facilities is outmoded and outdated and ought to have no place in the 21st century. It is even worse when you have to pay to use a public toilet that is merely a pit latrine, is filthy and offers only bits of old newspaper in place of toilet paper. Phew, that needed to be said, so there!

Transportation - Getting from place to place within a Ghanaian city isn't that difficult, what with the tidy and orderly row of taxis at the various designated points, each row for a specific destination. For example, taxis destined for say, Dumasua, line up in a row with the taxi at the very front bearing a DUMASUA sign on its roof, which indicates to the would-be passenger that this is the taxi to be boarded. It is a shared taxi that carries four passengers, but I understand that the taxis are also available to be chartered for exclusive use. Anyway, as soon as the shared taxi has filled all of its seats and destination sign is moved on to the roof of the taxi immediately following it in the row, it sets out (often being driven incredibly dangerously) on its rickety, bone-jarring, wobbly way, with not a seat belt in sight. From the very first day I arrived in this country, I've wondered everyday why there aren't more accidents on the roads..

And the taxis in Sunyani, the city where I've been for much of my stay in Ghana, are mostly old Opel and Vauxhall models, a fact that itself was a bit of a surprise to me. Even more surprising was when Kofi, the talkative taxi driver with whom I'd struck up something of a friendship, explained that almost all of the commercial vehicles in Ghana have been converted to run on liquefied natural gas (LNG), yes, the same gas used for cooking, (or is it liquefied petroleum gas LPG? I'm not entirely sure what the difference is). Anyway, this gas is said to be considerably less expensive than petrol and runs just as well as petrol, therefore its use makes commercial sense. Kofi, who showed me the tank for the gas that had been fitted into his taxi's boot, went on to explain how the conversion from petrol to gas is carried out. I thought this a wonderful idea and was quite impressed, but not having much knowledge about public transportation myself, wondered if this technology is being adopted more widely worldwide. And if not, why not?

Getting around the city may be easy, but getting around Ghana the country, from city to city, certainly is not. More about this in the next update, as I make my way through Ghana to Accra to catch my flight back home..

Friday, 19 October 2012

Melting ice cap: What has Greenland got to lose - or gain?



Interesting report from the Channel 4 News. Read the story on the Channel 4 News website here

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Update Number Three

I should start this update with an astonishing set of statistics. I see this is an addendum to my previous update, when I drew the comparison between Ghana and Nigeria on the percentages of their respective populations that are living below the international poverty line. 

According to the CIA's World Fact Book , the percentage of people in Ghana living in poverty in 2007 was 28.5% and according to World Bank figures, 28.59% in 2006. By contrast, the figures for Nigeria in 2010 were 67.98% living on less than $1.25 per day and 84.49% of the population living on less than $2 per day.

I thought this quite shocking for several reasons, but especially so given that Nigeria's oil export earnings alone amount to over $45 billion a year. Nigeria is the largest oil and gas producer in sub Saharan Africa and the country has been a major oil producer for more than fifty years. Its even more disturbing when one sees that only very few other countries have a higher percentage of their populations still living in poverty today, such countries as East Timor, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Madagascar. And Nigeria conspicuously, albeit incongruously, has been placed by the numbers among and alongside these 'poorest countries in the world'. You can't but wonder whether policy makers in Nigeria are aware of these shameful statistics, or even if they were aware, if they care at all.

But lest I forget, this is an update about my visit to the country Ghana. Therefore, I must resist the urge to embark on a literary rampage, pouring out my frustrations about my homeland Nigeria and the state in which the country is. So back to Ghana it is then.  

Its now week three in Ghana and I've realised that my distinctly western style and manner has worked to my disadvantage many times in my deep desire to go completely native. So I've made the conscious decision to ditch the RayBan-style, light-sensitive reactions specs, which look like really cool sunglasses, (when the reality is that they're actually prescription spectacles with thick lenses without which I could barely see a thing). 

Thank goodness for the "get a second pair free" deal that the opticians Specsavers were doing in London, which I seized upon shortly before I embarked on my trip to Africa. So yes, I do have a second, non-trendy pair that make me look straight-laced, plain and schoolteacher-ish. (No disrespect to schoolteachers intended :)). And then the clothing. I've dumped fancy t-shirts and shorts for the fetching, brightly coloured shirts, made of locally produced cloth, sewn by local tailors and commonly worn proudly by many locals. Jeans are truly universal and mine have stayed, but the sum effect of the transformation in my appearance is to make me blend in more readily, although there's still the problem with the local language, of which I have been able only to acquire a few words. Twi is not an easy language to learn.

Fufu Bar - I had never heard of a 'fufu bar' until i arrived in Ghana a few weeks ago. The fufu bar is akin to what in Nigeria would be referred to as a 'pepper-soup joint'. To be more accurate though, I'd have to describe the fufu bar as a cross between a pepper-soup joint and a 'buka' or 'mama-put'. Well, you'd know what I was talking about if you were already familiar with Nigeria, but for those who aren't, I shall describe my experiences at the fufu bar and draw comparisons as I go along with the Nigerian establishments that I mentioned. But then this of course is about Ghana, not Nigeria and we must not lose sight of that.

Now 'Twi" the language of the Akan people of the part of Ghana where I currently am, is a language which just like 'Yoruba' its Nigerian cousin, seemingly may only be spoken by shouting. In other words, it appears to me, the onlooker, that anything spoken or said in the Twi language (and indeed the Yoruba language for that matter), must be shouted in order for it to be understood. I've only made this observation or remark so as to set the backdrop for the sound (or noise) at the fufu bar, where Twi was the only language being spoken (shouted) in communications between patrons and bar staff and amongst the patrons themselves. It didn't help matters (in fact it energised the already very noisy chatter), that Ghana's national soccer team the Black Stars, were billed to play a major qualifying match against the Malawi national side later that day.

And in the middle of all of this was seated poor little me, not comprehending a single word of what was being said (or shouted) all around me, save for when the familiar name of a famous footballer was uttered. But then there was George, seated beside me, all the time at my side as he had been since I'd stepped off the aeroplane and out through the 'arrivals' gate at the airport weeks ago, his attention constantly focused on me, watching for and responding to every facial expression, answering every question my curious and inquisitive mind could throw at him, meeting my every need, offering me a place of safety from all that uncertainty, a place of warmth and comfort even during those violent night-time tropical thunderstorms that have characterised my stay here thus far..

Then finally the fufu arrives and is served in a large earthenware bowl, which I am kindly informed is known in the local language as potayua. The fufu itself looks a bit like the pounded yam of Nigeria, which I enjoy so very much when well prepared and served with a tasty, leafy sauce such as egusi or edikang ikong. But at this fufu bar, the fufu sat in what can best be described as a pool of 'light soup'. I'd heard of light soup long before I ever saw or tasted it and I'd always been curious to know what it was. But as it turned out, light soup is the same thing as what is known as pepper-soup in Nigeria. Indeed, light soup is what I'd always had (and enjoyed immensely) at that Ghanaian restaurant in Dalston, London, although I'd thought that it was pepper-soup that I was having. So you see, there's little difference between pepper-soup and light soup.

The only difference if at all, is the way each is eaten in Ghana and in Nigeria respectively. In Ghana, light soup is eaten in the way that in Nigeria the more substantial sauces such as egusi are eaten. In Nigeria, pepper-soup is eaten with a spoon and can be sipped like tea. Indeed, pepper-soup is often slurped when its hot, much in the same way that a person who doesn't know better slurps his tea from his cup. Please can you imagine having pounded yam with pepper-soup? Or to describe it more vividly, just imagine your lump of pounded yam sitting in the middle bowl of pepper soup? I couldn't do it and had to give up on the fufu in the end. But I sipped (and drank) the light soup as best as I could. The 'bush meat' that came with the soup was an absolute delight though and between George and I, not a single piece of it was left behind.

This report on the fufu bar would be incomplete without a comment or two on the assortment of drinks on offer, all alcoholic and all locally produced. First of all, there was something called kasapreko that looked a bit like a stout, but which I'm reliably informed is consumed in copious quantities and used by the bar's patrons to boost their appetites. Then there was "Alomo Bitters'. It must be bitter, I thought, so "no, thank you very much". And then the usual suspects, akpeteshie  and  burukutu, homemade gin and homemade brew (beer) respectively. But just in case you've started wondering, I had only a glass of water to wash down the light  soup and bush meat.

In the next update I'll be discussing my thoughts on more substantial issues like housing, roads and yes, the toilets in Ghana.  :)

Friday, 5 October 2012

Update Number Two

The vibe in Ghana is of peace and stability. Stability here is so consistent, it almost can be taken for granted and life can become predictable. And just as I do when I'm in England, I do feel very safe here.

On the news yesterday was the report about the two dozen or so students murdered in cold blood by "unknown gunmen" in Nigeria, and it was easy for me to see immediately that such an incident could hardly occur in Ghana, where issues surrounding upholding the rule of law and maintaining law and order seem to have been worked out exquisitely.

First off, the Ghana policeman is the best looking policeman on the African continent by a mile. Gosh, you can't but admire him in his ultra smart uniform! But the Ghana Police Service does not only have the smartest uniforms, it is also one of the more well disciplined and effective police forces in Africa, and certainly more so than their Nigerian counterpart. I make comparisons with Nigeria because of the similar histories both countries share; sister countries with much in common.

Then there is also the fact that in Ghana, things are better organised generally. I watched and listened to what was a very impressive parliamentary debate yesterday, relating to the creation of additional constituencies in the run-up to the country's forthcoming elections in December. The arguments put forward by the MPs for and against were not only compelling, they were extremely well articulated as well, such that it was impossible to come away from from viewing this without feeling that in Ghana they are bang on target and have really got the fundamentals and basics perfectly right. They have developed a system of democratic government that actually works and they seem to have put in place a solid foundation for a prosperous and successful future, with revenues from oil soon to be pouring in too.

The outcomes are in the figures and the numbers. As of 2011, in the UNDP's Human Development Index (HDI) Ghana was classed as a Medium Human Development country, in the same category with countries such as Botswana, Egypt, South Africa and India. Nigeria on the other hand and despite her immense wealth, languishes in the Low Human Development country category, in the same category with countries like Chad, Liberia and Mali. Even when expressed as a percentage of the population, in Nigeria there are significantly more people living below the international poverty line (which is roughly about $1.25 per day, as revised by the World Bank in 2008), than there are in Ghana. This is a clear indication that Ghana manages her resources more carefully and much better than Nigeria does, given that Nigeria is the significantly wealthier of the two. And this all said, I know which of the two countries I would think of as being safer to invest my hard earned resources, meagre though they might be, if faced with having to make that choice.

Before I end this update, I will just add that for the last three days the electricity power supply to the place where I am located was shut off. Only this morning, after two hellish, sweaty nights without the joys of having a fan to lull you to sleep, has the power been restored.

Yes I know its been all serious and full of praise for Ghana in this update, but no, what I have on my mind concerning Ghana is certainly not just praise. More updates to come.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Update Number One

Its nice to be awoken in the early morning by the sound of a cock crowing. Its refreshing and remarkably earthy and reminds you of just how close to nature you've been in the last few days. It becomes even nicer when you realise shortly after you wake, that the cockerel was only performing a brief solo and that he's in fact the lead singer in an orchestra of birds, as you hear and listen to the amazing dawn chorus of the birds in full flow.

Its not that pleasant however when you are brought round prematurely from your afternoon nap by the loud "Thud", "Thud" of next door's lady-of-the-house pounding foofoo with a mortar and pestle, with gusto, almost as if the taste of the foofoo depends upon just how vigorously it is pounded in the mortar!

Another thing, I'm pretty glad that I gave up smoking, because had I still been a smoker I'd be tearing out my hair in frustration by now. I have not seen a single person with a cigarette in their hand since I arrived in Ghana last week, neither have I seen a single cigarette being sold in any shop or store. I've even gone so far as to search with my eyes for discarded cigarette butts by the roadside, but have not discovered a single butt as yet. Oh of course I know that there must be some people here who do smoke, but they must be very few indeed, next to being almost completely unnoticeable, invisible.

What a far cry from Europe, a continent where the smell of tobacco smoke hangs heavily over entire city districts; where housewives hang out of windows in high rise apartment buildings puffing away at a cigarette held daintily in one hand, mobile phone clutched to ear with the other, (for the gossip must continue, even while making the effort to spare the toddler in the flat the burden of second-hand smoke inhalation); a continent where workers routinely skive off their duty posts when at work, to go for that "crafty fag".

I've been located in a place that thinks of itself as a suburb of a regional capital city, but which in reality is little more than a small, rural village that just happens to be geographically located a few miles from the regional capital city. The thought that came to my mind immediately upon my arrival here was of the similarity of this place to my ancestral home village of Twon Brass in far away Bayelsa State, Nigeria. The pervasive smell hanging in the air in both places is the aroma of woodsmoke, from the open-air wood fires commonly used for cooking. Unlike in Twon Brass where the woodsmoke smell is flavoured with the aroma of smoked fish because the prevalent occupation there is fishing, here in this place in Ghana where farming is the main occupation, the woodsmoke is complemented by the musty aroma of milled maize and cassava. The woodsmoke aside, the aroma of the homemade alcoholic spirit akpeteshie, also known as ogogoro, kaikai, (or atuwor in Twon Brass) hangs in the air. 

Another point of similarity between the people of the two places is their fondness for a big, noisy, raucous funeral, or "finral" as they say in Ghana.                

Let me conclude this update by saying that I have been searching, but in vain, for red peppers since my arrival here. Alarmingly, I was unable even to convince the lady who sold me some fine, large green peppers at the market, that there are in fact peppers of that size and shape but which are red in colour. She was incredulous and said she'd never seen such nor even heard of such peppers. So there I was standing in the middle of the market, confused, bewildered, scratching my head, but am now determined to get to the bottom of this and find out the reason for the absence in Ghana's Brong Ahafo Region of any knowledge of the existence of red peppers. I must now shut down this computer and get myself into town. Later then..

Friday, 28 September 2012

In Pictures

 Street and market scenes





                                        The approaching elections                          
Funeral alley

All pics taken this afternoon in Sunyani, the capital city of Ghana's Brong Ahafo Region.

Ghana: First impressions..

I find that in Ghana people are calmer, less noisy and generally more gentle than people in Nigeria. But the roads in Ghana are just as perilous and the driving just as crazy as in Nigeria. Indeed, Ghana is every bit as chaotic as Nigeria is. So far, I have found one or two bright sparks though. The impressively well organised rest stop on the Accra - Kumasi highway for one, which made a 225km journey that took 7 hours to complete, much less nightmarish for me than it could have been. The highway itself is a good road in the most part, but our progress was severely impeded in those parts of the road that go for miles around the town of Suhum, which are bad, very bad. The person in charge of roads in Ghana really needs to sit up and do something about that road please.

And then there is Kotoka International Airport, whose capacity was practically overwhelmed when three planeloads of passengers arrived within minutes of each other. That airport, in my view, is failing to meet the expectations of those like me who think highly of Ghana, including several foreign visitors who arrived at the same time as I did, and especially those arriving in the country for the first time. 

I spent the day yesterday completing the difficult journey by road from Accra to Sunyani in the Brong Ahafo Region, well, only if sitting in a reasonably comfortable air-conditioned coach qualifies to be described as a "difficult journey". :) My tour continues and I expect to be posting updates from time to time or whenever I get the chance..

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Miwako

Hers is in the only name that I still remember of all the dozens of nurses who cared for me, looked after me and nursed me all those years ago when I was gravely ill and in hospital. And hers is a name that I will not forget, not ever.

For Miwako, I would have been just another one of the multitude of patients that she had the job of caring for. But for me, she wasn't just another nurse. She was different, special, unique; she was my Japanese angel; the one who lit up the room each morning when she entered to wake me, clean me up, change the sheets, tidy up, serve my breakfast and feed me, while soothing and encouraging me at the same time with her sweet voice and calm but warm demeanour. 

And then she would prepare me for the day's interminable prodding and probing by the hordes of doctors, consultants, specialists of all shade and hue, many of who would end up sticking one tube or other into almost every available orifice in my by then withered and very ill body. And then those annoying phlebotomists who would turn up with enormous needles, prick my arms and burrow into my emaciated flesh in their daily quest for blood samples, an act which they persisted in until my veins almost totally collapsed in protest! The word 'miserable' does not sufficiently describe how I felt during this very grim episode in my life, an episode that lasted for months. 

But through all of this, there was Miwako. She was by no means the only nurse who worked on the ward and the nurses worked in shifts too. So there were long periods when she was not on the ward at all; periods when I longed dearly to see her and have her by my bedside, handling me gently, as was her way. And even on the mornings when she arrived on the ward, (she seemed only to work the day shift, for I have no recollection of having her around during those long, lonely, awful nights), she would enter my room in the midst of a group of nurses with whom she was meant to work together as a team. But even in the midst of her colleagues, Miwako stood out. She was radiant and she shone. And on seeing her, my hitherto crestfallen spirit would lift instantly. And it would seem to me as if it was just Miwako and I in the room, as if none of the other nurses even existed. 

Then Miwako would smile at me and in my mind, which obviously was by then quite delirious through illness, I would have extraordinary visions of strolling through the park, hand in hand with a fragrant Miwako, singing sweet songs to her, telling her how good she had been to me. Then I would be rudely brought down to earth and back to the reality on the ward, when I was abruptly shuffled from one end of the bed to the other by the nurses in their bid to change the sheets! But thankfully Miwako would still be there, in the room with me, fussing about, tending to my every need. And by her just being there, strangely, I would feel reassured that I was going to get over this illness and that everything would be alright in the end. 

Everything did turn out well in the end, thanks to the expertise of the doctors in whose care I was and thanks to the excellent nursing care that I received. Ten years on, I do not remember the names of any of the doctors, save for the consultant with whom I was required to maintain follow-up sessions after my discharge. I suppose it is a testament to how much of a good nurse Miwako is (or was to me) that I still remember her and think about her as often as I do. I have been back to the ward to express my gratitude to the nurses recently, but the staff were almost all new faces. I would have loved very much for Miwako to know just how much the  kindness that she showed meant to me and how much it contributed to my recovery. I don't know if she'll get to read this, or even if she will remember me at all. But all the same, to all those Miwakos out there who touch people's lives in a special way, thank you.             

Monday, 20 August 2012

Lonmin-Marikana: The End of South Africa's Post-Apartheid Settlement?


The killing of 34 striking miners by police at the Marikana mine in South Africa last Friday is a tragedy that touches more than just the families and communities of the dead. It also highlights the failure of post-apartheid South Africa to improve the lives of  a majority of its citizens.

The incident has opened up wounds and exposed the bitter ironies and contradictions of the country almost 20 years after the end of apartheid. Graphic TV coverage filmed just behind the police line went round the world and recalled memories of massacres from the Apartheid era – Sharpeville, Shell House, Boipatong and Bisho.

Trouble at the mine had been brewing for some time. A report by the church-backed Bench Marks Foundation last year revealed that local communities at the Marikana Mine were “frustrated and angry with the mining company… levels of fatal incidents were unacceptable… residential conditions under which Lonmin employees live are appalling”. The report said that last year the company sacked 9,000 workers. 

Lonmin, the London based company that owns the mine, is the reconstituted Lonrho which was described in 1973 by the then Conservative Prime Minister, Ted Heath, as “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. Its internal procedures at that time broke company law and Lonrho also ignored sanctions against white-ruled Rhodesia. Its chief executive, Tiny Rowland, spread corruption throughout Africa, and systematically exploited the continent’s workforce. That era has thankfully passed. But ironically, one of its current non-executive directors is Cyril Ramaphosa, the former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers and the key negotiator for the Africa National Congress in the talks that led to the end of apartheid. Evidently, not even his status and skills could create a deal that would have avoided these deaths.

We will have to wait for the government inquiry to report on the causes of the fatal clashes, but I have seen no clear analysis of what led directly to the confrontation. Most agree that the strike was led by a new militant union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMC), which was spreading a militant message and edging out the 30-year-old National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). The NUM is now in an uneasy alliance with the ANC government and subscribes to its broad policies and strategies. It seems that the new AMC Union and some of the miners at Marikana saw an opportunity of getting higher wages by striking and using violence. It is also possible that it was a one-off incident caused by unfortunate misunderstandings.

Somewhat confusing is the fact that although almost a third of the workforce at the mine are ‘sub-contractors’ – casual labour, recruited and paid by gang masters – the strike was led by the rock drill operators: an elite workforce who do tough, dirty, dangerous work but are not badly paid by South African standards. They, like most workers in the formal sector, got above inflation pay-rises last year.

It’s possible that something deeper is happening here. The success of the new South Africa has always depended on the ability of the government to rebalance society after apartheid by creating jobs and providing health, education and other benefits to the mass of people. On the whole, South Africans have been very patient. At first, the poorest were encouraged simply by seeing black ministers and civil servants in government. They would wait their turn.

Like two lines tracking across a graph, the expectations of the people and the delivery of the state narrowed, widened, and narrowed again over the years. But they have still not met. The clock has always been ticking and it is clear after nearly 20 years, the gap has actually widened. And now a new generation is coming through who never experienced explicit apartheid and the struggle against it. They are exposed to all the consumerism and celebrity lifestyles that the rich world produces. They want it and they want it now.

The deal struck in the early 1990s between the last apartheid government, the ANC and the mining houses was that the free market policies be allowed to continue (under apartheid this was, of course, an un-free market) but with three changes. Firstly all negative discrimination had to end. Economic opportunity as well as the franchise would be extended to all South Africans as would services such as health, education and pensions. Secondly, black people should be given an ownership stake in South African business and a greater role in managing it. This positive discrimination became known at Black Economic Empowerment; a huge panoply of rules and regulations, tax break and contracts to incentivise or force companies to give stakes and employment to non white people. Thirdly, the mining houses, which are the major source of South Africa’s wealth, were allowed to de-list in South Africa and ship their capital off to other countries and tax havens.

Has the deal worked? A short book published this week by the veteran South African economist, Professor Sampie Terreblanche, spells out why is hasn’t. He points out that for most of the last century 20 percent of the South African population owned 70 percent of the country’s wealth, while 70 percent of the population owned only 20 percent of the wealth. Put another way: in 1993, the year before Nelson Mandela was elected President, the richest 10 percent of South Africans owned 53.9 percent of the country’s wealth.  In 2008 the richest 10 percent owned 58.1 percent. During the same period, the income of the poorest 50 percent declined from 8.4 to 7.8 percent. This growing imbalance makes South Africa one of the most – if not the most – unequal society in the world, says Terreblanche. “Since the early 1970s the poorest 50 percent of the population has been exposed to a vicious circle – or a downward spiral – of growing poverty, growing unemployment and growing inequality” he says.

Terreblanche blames this growing poverty on the historic political, economic and social compromise agreement between the last apartheid government, the ANC and the South African Communist Party. He writes: “When it was decided that taxation and expenditure would remain a fixed proportion of GDP, it was not possible for the ANC government to implement a comprehensive redistribution policy. The elite compromise created the space for a black elite formation, but not for a policy that would alleviate the poverty of the poorest 50 percent”. In fact, he says, it has made it worse.

Was the explosion at Marikana the first sign that people realise the pact has not worked? 

By Richard Dowden and taken from here

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Julian Assange asylum: Ecuador is right to stand up to the US

An excellent take on the Julian Assange asylum story.

Ecuador has now made its decision: to grant political asylum to Julian Assange. This comes in the wake of an incident that should dispel remaining doubts about the motives behind the UK/Swedish attempts to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. On Wednesday, the UK government made an unprecedented threat to invade Ecuador's embassy if Assange is not handed over. Such an assault would be so extreme in violating international law and diplomatic conventions that it is difficult to even find an example of a democratic government even making such a threat, let alone carrying it out. 

When Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patiño, in an angry and defiant response, released the written threats to the public, the UK government tried to backtrack and say it wasn't a threat to invade the embassy (which is another country's sovereign territory). But what else can we possibly make of this wording from a letter delivered by a British official?

"You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the embassy. We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr Assange's presence in your premises, this is an open option for us." 

Is there anyone in their right mind who believes that the UK government would make such an unprecedented threat if this were just about an ordinary foreign citizen wanted for questioning – not criminal charges or a trial – by a foreign government? 

Ecuador's decision to grant political asylum to Assange was both predictable and reasonable. But it is also a ground-breaking case that has considerable historic significance. 

First, the merits of the case: Assange clearly has a well-founded fear of persecution if he were to be extradited to Sweden. It is pretty much acknowledged that he would be immediately thrown in jail. Since he is not charged with any crime, and the Swedish government has no legitimate reason to bring him to Sweden, this by itself is a form of persecution. 

We can infer that the Swedes have no legitimate reason for the extradition, since they were repeatedly offered the opportunity to question him in the UK, but rejected it, and have also refused to even put forth a reason for this refusal. A few weeks ago the Ecuadorian government offered to allow Assange to be questioned in its London embassy, where Assange has been residing since 19 June, but the Swedish government refused – again without offering a reason. This was an act of bad faith in the negotiating process that has taken place between governments to resolve the situation. 

Former Stockholm chief district prosecutor Sven-Erik Alhem also made it clear that the Swedish government had no legitimate reason to seek Assange's extradition when he testified that the decision of the Swedish government to extradite Assange is "unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate", because he could be easily questioned in the UK. 

But, most importantly, the government of Ecuador agreed with Assange that he had a reasonable fear of a second extradition to the United States, and persecution here for his activities as a journalist. The evidence for this was strong. Some examples: an ongoing investigation of Assange and WikiLeaks in the US; evidence that an indictment had already been prepared; statements by important public officials such as Democratic senator Diane Feinstein that he should be prosecuted for espionage, which carries a potential death penalty or life imprisonment. 

Why is this case so significant? It is probably the first time that a citizen fleeing political persecution by the US has been granted political asylum by a democratic government seeking to uphold international human rights conventions. This is a pretty big deal, because for more than 60 years the US has portrayed itself as a proponent of human rights internationally – especially during the cold war. And many people have sought and received asylum in the US. 

The idea of the US government as a human rights defender, which was believed mostly in the US and allied countries, was premised on a disregard for the human rights of the victims of US wars and foreign policy, such as the 3 million Vietnamese or more than one million Iraqis who were killed, and millions of others displaced, wounded, or abused because of US actions. That idea – that the US should be judged only on what it does within its borders – is losing support as the world grows more multipolar economically and politically, Washington loses power and influence, and its wars, invasions, and occupations are seen by fewer people as legitimate. 

At the same time, over the past decade, the US's own human rights situation has deteriorated. Of course prior to the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, millions of African-Americans in the southern states didn't have the right to vote, and lacked other civil rights – and the consequent international embarrassment was part of what allowed the civil rights movement to succeed. But at least by the end of that decade, the US could be seen as a positive example internally in terms of the rule of law, due process and the protection of civil rights and liberties. 

Today, the US claims the legal right to indefinitely detain its citizens; the president can order the assassination of a citizen without so much as even a hearing; the government can spy on its citizens without a court order; and its officials are immune from prosecution for war crimes. It doesn't help that the US has less than 5% of the world's population but almost a quarter of its prison inmates, many of them victims of a "war on drugs" that is rapidly losing legitimacy in the rest of the world. Assange's successful pursuit of asylum from the US is another blow to Washington's international reputation. At the same time, it shows how important it is to have democratic governments that are independent of the US and – unlike Sweden and the UK – will not collaborate in the persecution of a journalist for the sake of expediency. Hopefully other governments will let the UK know that threats to invade another country's embassy put them outside the bounds of law-abiding nations. 

It is interesting to watch pro-Washington journalists and their sources look for self-serving reasons that they can attribute to the government of Ecuador for granting asylum. Correa wants to portray himself as a champion of free speech, they say; or he wants to strike a blow to the US, or put himself forward as an international leader. But this is ridiculous. 

[Ecuador's President] Correa didn't want this mess and it has been a lose-lose situation for him from the beginning. He has suffered increased tension with three countries that are diplomatically important to Ecuador – the US, UK and Sweden. The US is Ecuador's largest trading partner and has several times threatened to cut off trade preferences that support thousands of Ecuadorian jobs. And since most of the major international media has been hostile to Assange from the beginning, they have used the asylum request to attack Ecuador, accusing the government of a "crackdown" on the media at home. As I have noted elsewhere, this is a gross exaggeration and misrepresentation of Ecuador, which has an uncensored media that is mostly opposed to the government. And for most of the world, these misleading news reports are all that they will hear or read about Ecuador for a long time. 

Correa made this decision because it was the only ethical thing to do. And any of the independent, democratic governments of South America would have done the same. If only the world's biggest media organisations had the same ethics and commitment to freedom of speech and the press. 

Now we will see if the UK government will respect international law and human rights conventions and allow Assange safe passage to Ecuador.

By Mark Weisbrot and appearing in The Guardian newspaper here

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

A stalker..

Its been over two years when I first observed that a certain individual who lives in the same city as I do, has been frequently performing Google searches with the search word "anengiyefa", my name, a search that would inevitably lead him to this blog. 

Anyone who owns a blog knows how to keep track of his visitors, so I have noticed every single visit this individual has made to this blog. I can tell that this has been the same person, because he consistently uses the same IP address. I can also tell that this person has something to do with the London Borough of Merton Adult & Community Learning and/or the Borough of Lambeth. And I say this person is a "he", because its safe to assume that this is a man, since much of the time, women are more sensible than this person has shown himself to be. 

Save for some mild curiosity as to who this might be who apparently has such great interest in me, these visits haven't bothered me that much. His last visit was yesterday at 3:21pm, when he arrived on the blog via my Twitter account, having used the link to this blog that appears on that account. So it is clear that he checks out my Twitter updates as well. The visit previous to yesterday's was sometime last week, when he arrived on the blog having done a Google search using the search words "latest news on anengiyefa" . It was when I saw this that I reckoned I'd have to speak up about this and write this post, since I know that sooner or later he would invariably stop by and get to read what I have to say.

I am not inaccessible and we both live in London. My email address appears on the right hand column of this blog. Rather than creeping around in the shadows constantly doing Google searches for me spanning over a period of years, it isn't that difficult to drop me an email. You might even get to chat with me, if you're lucky :). No really, this is now becoming a bit creepy and is starting to make me feel slightly uneasy.. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Romantic men, 1920s  Word Game
Word Game 
For the most part, gay men in the far distant past didn't use words like "lover" or phrases like "he is my boyfriend." Rather, signs of intimacy or a relationship were more subtle.


Gay Drag-Cakewalk Dance, 1900

Drag-Cakewalk Dance, 1900



 Comic Postcard-1930s

Comic Postcard-1930s 
Yes, it is unflattering in its depiction of African people. Yes, it is a caricature. Yes, it is a stereotype. Yes, it is undoubtedly RACIST! The postcard is from the 1930s. It dates back to a time when Europe disregarded ethnic and tribal boundaries and divided Africa up into colonies where land and people were exploited. 

More adult oriented postcards from the era that were distributed privately among like minded individuals were more risqué than the above card. In their depictions of same-sex behaviour, typically shown were African males with huge sexual appendages dominating willing European males----a preferred iconography largely still in existence today. (Side Note: In gay mainstream and general mainstream media, there is a phobia of showing men of African descent romantically involved with one another; and, few are willing to challenge the phobia). 

The postcard above is evidently different in what it shows. The card is non-erotic. All the subjects in the card are African. In the midst of largely heterosexual couplings, one gay couple is featured prominently holding hands as they lovingly look at one another without so much as a disapproving glance from the straight couples. Outside the way the Africans are drawn with buffoonish facial features, the postcard is supposed to comically depict a “sentimental” slice of daily African life within some unknown colony. Same-sex relationships in Africa is nothing new, as anthropological and ethnographic observations predating European colonialism reveal. There once was a time when same-sex behaviour was accepted as part of the larger arc of human expression and not frowned upon. Same-sex behaviour could be accepted and even valued in Africa’s many ethnic tribes. Under the intellectual and Judo-Christian influences of a Europe claiming to have only the best interest of the people always in mind, much of this acceptance and valuation disappeared. One of the myriad reasons used for colonial domination was the so-called immorality of the land’s people----e.g. evidence of homosexuality. 

After the colonial powers left, much of Africa chose to keep foreign customs or laws morally frowning on or criminalizing same-sex desiring folk. Observed and oral histories that were evidence of a tolerance or an outright full embracing of same-sex desiring behaviour, became largely denied and forgotten, to be replaced by the intolerable homophobia that make for today’s headline news around the world in a now “free” Africa.  Source

Historic photos of men of African descent..

I stumbled upon this, Hidden In The Open a photo essay and collection of African-American male couples throughout history going as far back as the 19th century. Trent Kelley, the collector and historian, notes that:
“Some of these images are sure to be gay and others may not. The end result is speculative at best, for want in applying a label. Not every gesture articulated between men was an indication of male to male intimacies. Assuredly, what all photographs in this book have in common though, are signs of Afro American male affection and love that were recorded for posterity without fear and shame.” 
“I want the world to see the photographs. I want the black gay community to see the photographs and men in particular so they know they have a history to be proud of,” says Kelley.

Many of the photos are in black and white and as you contextualise each photo with the time and era that they were taken, you see that these men faced possible racial violence. The affection in many of the photos are subtle and even in some cases, hard to see. But Kelley notes that on the back of  one photo was written “my special friend.”  

The collection of photos presents a history of affectionate African-American men within the United States. And in my view, it puts paid to that vague idea that intimacy between men of African descent is non existent, was unknown or unheard of, or even that it is somehow alien. 

Trent Kelley, the collector, writes: 
Historically, the Afro American gay male and couple has largely been defined by everyone but themselves. Afro American gay men are ignored into non existence in parts of black culture and are basically second class citizens in gay culture. The black church which has historically played a fundamental role in protesting against civil injustices toward its parishioners has been want to deny its gay members their right to live a life free and open without prejudice. Despite public projections of a “rainbow” community living together in harmonious co-habitation, openly active and passive prejudices exist in the larger gay community against gay Afro Americans. 
Pockets within Afro American culture have on occasion wanted to deny that its men could ever be gay and part of the overall African American experience. Gay was traditionally conceived as a white man’s predicament, a sexual orientation and affliction common only to him. By persistent influence to a culture not historically his own, the disparate Afro American man became gay. The prurient interest in the otherwise “straight” Afro American male by a white male effectively turns the black male gay. 
Of course, this was all nonsense as Africa has a long history of homosexuality predating European incursion into the continent. Open acceptance of the gay male varied from tribal community to tribal community. The gay male often occupied an honored high place in the African tribal community. In some instances, he either publicly or privately took another male as a marital partner without prejudice from his community. Where the predominant religious influence was Islam, the construct of male affection depended on the prejudices and custom within a specific local community where in some instances a man had a wife for procreation and a socially quiet husband; the male couple was expected to be discreet about their relationship. (There is plenty more on the Flickr page)
There are quite a few photos to look on the Flickr page. The photographs are best viewed by using the slideshow function.    

(UPDATE) Explosion Rocks Abuja Shopping Center | Sahara Reporters


Sahara Reporters has learned that a car bomb has exploded near the Banex Plaza in Abuja, Nigeria. The car exploded in front of Park 'N Shop at Shefiff Plaza, close to Banex Plaza in Wuse 2. FCT police commissioner is there at the moment, as the police put up barricades around the area. No one is allowed to take pictures at the moment. 
Unconfirmed reports state that one person has been injured. However, according to the latest statement from Police Spokesman Frank Mba, no causualties, injuries, or property damage has been recorded. 

Below is an official statement from Nigeria Police Forces in Abuja: continue reading

Blog Author's Note: There is little that is unusual about this report. Reports such as this have been coming out of Nigeria almost daily, for years now. What has provoked my ire though, is the general response there has been to these incidents.

Nigerians seem to be obsessed with their 'God'. Nearly all the comments made by readers in response to the story when it was originally posted on Facebook by Sahara Reporters, make one reference or the other to God. Examples: "God knows the faceless who are killing innocents, God's judgement will prevail" "God is watching and he will surely intervene" "God knows everything" "God will reveal the perpetrators of this evil act" "May God be our saviour" etc, etc. And interestingly, on the other side of the divide too, the actual perpetrators of the violence are themselves using their belief in their God or Allah, or whatever you wish to call him, as a convenient cover story for their heinous crimes.

In my humble opinion, only a desperate people who are left with no tangible hope, will cling to their 'belief in God' and think of this as the only way out of their situation. Even the authorities in Nigeria now openly call on God to come and intervene in a situation they have clearly lost control over. But is the situation in Nigeria really a matter for God? 

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Making Nigeria Work Again (I)



One insightful way of describing the myriad of Nigeria’s complex and inter-twined problems can be daunting and debilitating in unraveling or solving. Some Nigerians yearn for another military coup for a military dictator to knock heads and solve their problems. This proposal, in my view, is out of the question. First, the record of military rule in Africa is abysmal. Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Chad, among others including Nigeria, were all ruined by military coconut-heads.They were all generals.

Even General I.B. Babangida (rtd), himself remarked that: “Every military regime is a fraud. Anybody who heads a military regime subverts the wishes of the people”(The African Observer, Jan 18-31, 1999; p.6). Second, the entire West African region is fed up with military coups. ECOWAS will never support a coup in Nigeria. Witness ECOWAS response to the coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau.

Some Nigerians have suggested a break-up of the country. This is also a non-starter. Even the hopeless African Union would not support that because it would set a dangerous precedent for the continent. Africa has more than 2,000 ethnic groups and if each aggrieved group were to break away, we might end up with over 1,000 little “Djiboutis,” each with its own national flag, anthem and perhaps a Swiss bank account for its president. And Nigeria could also end with over 250 mini countries.

Still other Nigerians say a strongman is needed to end the nonsense and clean up the mess but this is a wrong approach. Remember what President Obama said in Accra in July 2009: “Africa doesn’t need strongmen; it needs strong institutions.”

Road Analogy – Traffic Laws

A useful way of analyzing Nigeria’s problems is to use a road analogy. In Nigeria, drivers are required to drive on the right and to stop at STOP signs or when the traffic light turns red. They must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks or zebra crossings and must obey the speed limit. If they are making a turn, they must switch on their turn signals. They must obey one-way signs and so on. The body of these rules and regulations is called TRAFFIC LAWS. If ALL drivers obey the traffic laws, there would be sanity on the roads and it would be possible to get from Point A to Point B SAFELY and in good time.

Now, imagine a situation where only a few drivers obey the rules of the road or traffic laws. Assume some big buffoon thinks he can drive anyway he likes at whatever speed – even the wrong way. Assume another nitwit insists on driving on the left side of the road because he is left-handed. Guess what would happen on the roads. There would be horrendous carnage, chaos, fatal accidents, and wreckage.

Ever driven on the streets of Lagos? The last time I was driven through the streets of Lagos in 2009, I tried to find and count the number of commuter buses without a single dent on it. I couldn’t. I also tried to see if drivers would stop at traffic lights, if you could find them. Few did. I will never forget the taxi ride to the airport – at break-neck speed. My heart was in my palm, thumping. Obviously, driving in Lagos would be much, much safer if all drivers obey traffic laws. But the federal government couldn’t ensure that. It built itself a new capital at Abuja and FLED from Lagos!

This road analogy can be applied to the general Nigerian or most African societies. In any organized society, there is a body of rules and regulations which EVERYONE must obey and follow if the society is to survive, rejuvenate itself and progress. A society cannot exist without rules and principles that govern relationships between a person and other persons, the community, and the environment as well as handle problems that may arise within these relationships. A set of such rules, codified or not, may be termed “law.” Six may be distinguished: Natural, contractual, statutory, customary, religious, constitutional laws.

Natural law constitutes the body of rules people must follow in order to live and work in peace. 

First, they must avoid physical harm or damage to another’s work and property. Second, they must honor their obligations or contracts with others, and, third, they should compensate those on whom they inflict harm and whose property they damage. When people conduct their lives in this “live and let live” way, the natural order of human world is respected. There is peace and natural law prevails. The human world consists of many separate individuals, each capable of feeling, thought, speech, and action. Inevitable interactions create a web of inter-relationships and boundaries that separate one person from another in his words, works, and actions from those of other persons. When people respect that order and the boundaries that define it, they act justly – justice being nothing else than the will to respect the order of the human world and to recognize in word and action what belongs to another.

When people act justly, they refrain from treating another person as something other than a person or as some person other than he is and from treating what belongs to one person’s as if it belonged to another. They minimize and may even eliminate confusion about who said, did, or produced what. This in turn makes it possible to attribute responsibility, praise and blame, merit and demerit, to whom it is due. Thus, when people behave justly, they do not threaten one another’s life, freedom, or property, but act towards one another in peaceful, friendly ways. (van Notten, 2001; p.14). There are some groups who prefer natural law to laws promulgated by the state. For more, see this link: http://jim.com/rights.html

A contract creates a set of binding rules but it applies to only those who have specifically agreed to it. It is rather limited in its scope and does not empower a signatory to infringe upon the rights of others who are not party to the contract. The “contract” may be a verbal agreement or a promise to repay a loan in the presence of a “witness” and actions to be taken in case of default.

Statutory laws are “rules of conduct designed by government employees, legislated by a parliament, promulgated by a government official such as a king or a minister, and enforced by a police force controlled by that official” (van Notten, 2001; p.16). The police typically have a monopoly over the use of force or the weapons required for redressing injustices. In a dictatorship, statutory laws are decrees or diktats of the ruling despot. In a democracy, statutory law is “politician’s law.” The people have little say in its design, promulgation and enforcement. Their representatives do so in their behalf but there is no guarantee that they will do so or promulgate laws that protect life, liberty and property. Statutory laws can be oppressive. “While these powers (laws) are supposed to be used to defend every person’s right to life, liberty and property, the truth of the matter is that they are regularly used to restrict those very rights. Politicians do this with impunity by first establishing a monopoly over the country’s policing powers” (Heath, 2001).

Customary laws are not commands or legislated rules. They “are conventions and enforceable rules that have emerged and are respected spontaneously, without formal agreement, among people as they go about their daily business and try to solve the problems that occasionally arise in it without upsetting the patterns of cooperation on which they so heavily depend” (van Notten, 2006; p.15). Customary law does not mean every custom is recognized as “law.” However, when a particular custom is repeatedly recognized in a traditional court, it may become law.

Religious laws are by definition those laws that are derived from the Bible or the Qu’ran. For example, the Ten Commandments and the Sharia lay down laws, enjoining their followers to obey. Many of them are straight-forward injunctions such as “Do not steal.”

A Constitution may be regarded as a social contract between the rulers or government and the governed. Constitutional laws are those derived from the Constitution and when freely negotiated, is the law of the people, defining how their society is to be organized and governed. Constitutional laws specify the rights of the people and the limits of government. They are supreme, taking precedence over all laws. They are also sovereign, meaning they cannot be abrogated by one individual or political party with a majority in Parliament. The supremacy of Constitution law is due to the fact that a nation may be composed of different ethnic and religious groups. While each group may have its own particular laws, there must be one law – Constitution – that keeps or is binding on all groups within the nation.

Thus, every society must have some body of laws to govern itself by. For example, one does not arbitrarily go and steal or seize someone else’s property. All societies disallow that. Nor does one grab, rape and impregnate a woman if one wants to have a child. When everyone obeys and follows the same law, “the rule of law” is said to prevail, meaning it is the law that rules, not the whims of some autocrat. Thus, it is this body of principles and rules – or the rule of law — that stands between sanity or progress in the society and utter chaos or anarchy. Similarly, traffic laws are what stand between sanity and order on the roads and total chaos and carnage.

The rule of law is not something that is alien to Africa. Each traditional African society also has a body of principles and rules which everyone – including chiefs and kings – must follow. It is called customary law. It may cover a wide area — from nationality, land, chattels, marriage, testamentary disposition, defamation to modes of enforcing payment of debts. For example, ownership is generally recognized as arising from original acquisition or legitimate transfer by way of gift, purchase, etc. When a person applied his labor, superior mental powers or business skills to a piece of previously un-owned land and generated a product or developed an artistic motif, traditional law allow them to retain ownership of such land, product or motif.

In traditional Africa, one did not take the law into one own hands. There are customary ways of resolving disputes. A dispute may be taken to native courts – called gacaca in Rwanda – for a resolution. Among the Arusha of Tanzania, “there was a very strongly held value that disputes should be settled peacefully by persuasion and by resort to the established procedures for settlement” (Carlston, 1968:310). Similarly, the Tallensi of Ghana abhorred killings and violent resolutions of conflicts. For precisely this reason, they celebrated the Golib festival, during which all feuds and hostilities between clans were prohibited. This festival emphasized “the themes of food, harmony, fecundity, and the common interests of the people as a whole” (Carlston, 1968:109).

Customary laws enjoin respect for elders and parents, especially mothers. The elders are regarded as the fonts of wisdom and experience, while mothers are regarded as the pillars of society. This is captured by the African proverb: “Educate a man and you educate a single person but educate a woman and you educate an entire nation.” Everyone, including chiefs and kings, are required to obey customary law. Even in the rigidly-controlled Kingdom of Dahomey in ancient times, Boahen and Webster (1970) found that, “Although the king’s word was the law of the land yet he was not above the law. 

Dahomeans like to recount how king Glele was fined for breaking the law. When gangs of men were working cooperatively either on state roads or building a house for one of their members, it was a law that a passer-by must approach the leader and make an excuse as to why he could not break his journey to assist in the work. Permission was almost inevitably given, the law being largely designed to reinforce courtesy. King Glele’s procession passed one such group without asking to be excused. He was stopped by the headman and fined many cases of rum and pieces of cloth for breaking the law…The fact that the kings of Dahomey (now Benin) were prepared to obey the laws they themselves created was the difference between arbitrary despotism and despotism which realized that its power and position rested ultimately, no matter how indirectly, upon the will of the people (p.108).

Traditional African custom required that the elders, the “old men” instruct the youth in native law and custom. As instructors, the elders were expected to be of good behavior and comport themselves well to serve as role models for the youth. Consequently, contraventions of the law by elders were viewed more seriously and punished more severely because the elders were expected “to know the law.” Consider the following cases from Schapera (1957): Among the Kgatla, a man who had refused on demand to give up cattle that he was looking after for someone else was not only ordered to do so, but was also fined, `because he is an old man and ought to know the law’ (Kgamanyane Pilane v. Ntwai Moeng, 22/1938).

In a matrimonial dispute among the Ngwato, the husband’s conduct was found especially reprehensible , `because he is an old man, from whom younger people should learn how to behave’ (Dikeledi v. Makgoeng, 153/1938).
And in another Ngwato case, a village headman who had abducted another’s wife was fined more heavily than usual because in his position he was expected to set a good example to others (Monyanda v. Radipitse, 151/1938).

The chaos and carnage in modern-day Somalia is a telling example of what happens to a society when some groups refuse to abide by the SAME law. The road analogy is even more pertinent and applicable here: Somalia is a country where some groups refuse to obey the same traffic laws. The Somali are ethnically homogenous and proud people. They are fiercely republican and base their society on their customary law called xeer. They refuse to accept an alien system imposed upon them. Heath (2001) expressed it well: “Most Somalis prefer their customary laws and institutions, which they call xeer. In their experience, the xeer constitutes the heart of the Somali nation. They believe that without the xeer the Somali nation would fall apart, lose its identity, forgo its solidarity, forfeit its civilization and relinquish its culture. The xeer is the cord holding the house of the Somali people together. Indeed, it is thanks to their customary law that the traditional political system of the Somalis took the form of a kritarchy, not a democracy.

But Somali politicians had other ideas. They hold the xeer in abject contempt and prefer contrived statutory law which will allow them to lord over the people. As van Notten (2006) noted: “During the 20th century, the Somalis were subjected the heavy-handed policies of the colonial powers. These powers left a form of government behind that was at odds with indigenous Somali political culture. It took the Somalis 30 years to get rid of it and return to their pre-colonial political structure. Many problems arose in the course of this, but gradually the Somalis are resolving them. Foreign observers fail to understand what they are doing; they think the Somalis have been trying to establish a democratic government and constantly failing to do so. In reality, the chief aim of many Somalis is to clean their indigenous legal and political system of its foreign elements (p.139).

In short, the crisis and carnage in Somalia is due to a clash of laws. Not all are following the SAME traffic laws. The Somali prefer the customary law, the xeer. The colonialists, political elites and the Islamists prefer other laws. When the colonialist tried to impose their own laws on the Somali, they fought them and gained their independence. When dictators and political elites tried to impose decrees and statutory laws on them, the Somali fought them too and drove dictator General Siad Barre out of office into exile. Obviously, if the Islamist group, al-Shabaab, tries to impose the sharia on the Somali, they will fight it too.

Clearly, the solution to the crisis in Somalia does not lie in having a strongman impose the Ten Commandments on the people; they will fight it. Nor does it lie in breaking up the country. For one thing, the Somali are a one-tribe nation (ethnically homogenous), so one can’t have one tribe going this way and the others going the other way. Even then, Puntland and Somaliland broke away but no country has recognized them. The obvious solution is get ALL Somali to obey the SAME traffic laws.

Now, which LAW must ALL Nigerians follow and obey: Natural Law, Statutory Law, The Ten Commandments, The Sharia, or The Constitutional Law? If you said, the Constitutional Law, you are right but has it been followed? And what happens when the president holds the Constitution in vexatious contempt, refuses to follow it and blurts, “I don’t give a dam”?

We explore these issues next.


George B. N. Ayittey, PhD.

 References

Ayittey, George B. N. (2006). Indigenous African Institutions. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Transnational
Publishers.
Boahen, A.A. and J.B. Webster (1970). History of West Africa. New York: Praeger.
Carlston, Kenneth S. (1968). Social Theory and African Tribal Organization. Urbana: University of
Chicago Press.
Heath, Frank Douglas (2001). “Tribal Society and Democracy” in The Laissez Faire City Times,
Vol 5, No 22, May 28, 2001, available at: http://www.afrifund.com/wiki/index.pcgi?page=CtrySomaliland
Schapera, I. (1957). “The Sources Of Law In Tswana Tribal Courts: Legislation And Precedent,”
Journal of African Law, Vol.1 No.3:150162, 1957.
Van Notten, Michael (2006). The Law of the Somalis. Trenton, NJ: The Red Sea Press, Inc.

Blog Author's note: This has been stated to be Part (I). I shall stay tuned to the source from whence this came and post any additional Part(s) as and when they appear.