Monday, 30 November 2009

I am a mythical being, I don't exist

Among Africans generally, same sex attraction has been a myth. It has been as much the subject of whispered conversation or gossip, as it has been talked about in absolutist, loud, angry condemning tones, usually from the pulpit, but also in the media and even in social situations. There has been an overwhelming leaning towards intolerance and there appears not to have been until recently, a moderate middle ground. Outbursts of "This is an abomination!", "Our people don't do that!", "We will never accept this!", are familiar reactions. Sometimes, homosexual behaviour among Africans is blamed upon the "white man". Our continent's leaders have even publicly declared that homosexuality does not exist among Africans. Declarations such as, "There are no homosexuals in Nigeria", or "They have been corrupted by Europeans," are common.

I heard all of this as a young person growing up in Africa, while knowing that at no time in my young life had I interacted with anyone from Europe to the extent that he would have had the opportunity to impart his sexuality on me, if at all that was possible. The only Europeans I met were those who I ran into at the supermarket, or by chance at the swimming pool at a place we called 'The Club', sort of like a country club, which was a relic of the old colonial administration. The Club was originally intended to cater for the frolicking of that administration's large number of expatriates, for whom a posting to Africa was supposed to mean a life of comfort and luxury. After independence from Britain The Club remained in existence, but it was now the domain of big-wig Africans in top government positions and their expatriate friends in the private sector, more particularly the petroleum industry; expatriates who still saw Nigeria as a veritable gold mine. Then there were those Europeans who were fellow passengers on the very occasional flight in an aeroplane. As a youngster my movements were so tightly controlled and my parents so strict, that I simply had no opportunity to stray into the hands of a predatory African to be 'corrupted', much less a European. And not even if I had actually desired to be 'corrupted' and had actively sought it..(I use the term 'European' loosely, to include every person of Eurasian ancestry).

I heard these things being said and I knew they were wrong. But I had no way of pointing out to people that they could not be correct, because here I was among them, feeling same-sex attraction, having never even once been intimate with a European. This caused me sometimes to be upset and there was a strong temptation to be negative about my same-sex feelings. There are many gay men who unfortunately succumb to this temptation; self-loathing, sadly, is commonplace among gay people. But I refused to be negative. I knew categorically that I did not ask for the feelings that I had, and that I had had these feelings for as long as I had been sexually aware, which would take me back to when I was about seven years old. I was attracted to the boys more than I was attracted to the girls at school. I liked the girls too, but I liked the boys better. There was nothing to it. I was not influenced or taught, nor was I "corrupted". And I was never ashamed of it, despite all the negativity that surrounded it in the conversations that I heard. Indeed it is in being true to my feelings that I believe I have remained pure, by staying the same-gender loving man that I was intended to be. In other words, I could in fact have become "corrupted" had I sought to become a pretend-heterosexual man, while knowing deep down that this in actuality is not who I am. I am fortunate that I did not experience to a great degree that psychological and emotional turmoil many gay men go through as they progress through their teenage years into adulthood. I was always sure of who I was, but the downside was that I found myself in a very lonely place, since there were hardly any others that I knew socially who shared the same sexual feelings. And it was impossible to share these feelings with most of my peers at the time..

Over the years I have come to realise that there are many other gay Africans. We have remained hidden because our society has been firm in its intolerance towards us. But I am convinced that this intolerance is borne entirely from the lack of information concerning homosexuality among Africans. And this is where we come in, me and many others like me who through our blogs have sought to tell our story more honestly, clearly and persuasively than ever before. The result we see of this huge unprecedented amount of information about homosexuality and Africans being put into the public domain, is that among my generation of Africans and younger, there is a greater awareness of the fact that gay Africans are real flesh and blood human beings, who are entitled to live their lives happily just as everyone else. I see the beginnings of a shift in opinion, a shift that becomes apparent when we hear respected African men and women publicly voicing moderate opinions, and calling for restraint and caution when gay people have been maliciously vituperated in the media, as in Kenya and in Uganda recently. Times are changing and I am positive that this story will have a happy ending. I just hope that I am still around when that ending does come..

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Saxophonist by Anengiyefa (Part 2)

The Saxophonist (Part 2) has now been published and to be found here.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Dour Londoners..

Let me start this by saying that I really do like London. I've lived here for quite a few years now and it is the only other city apart from Lagos that I look upon as 'home'. But..

Visiting London as a tourist was exciting. I'm sure it still is exciting for the thousands of tourists who clog up the streets during the summer months, seemingly under the impression that everybody they see around them is a tourist too just like they are. It was with this same excitement that I arrived in London years ago when I came to live here. But I was not a tourist this time, and it didn't take long for me to realise that not everyone I saw was as excited as I was.

It was in the spring and the flowers were in bloom. The air was crisp, and being fresh from dusty Lagos I thought the air smelt sweet. Then there was the fact that it seemed as if there was a giant air conditioner cooling the whole city. It was my first morning, a Saturday. And when I stepped out unto the street I was very excited. However, it struck me that the pavement was empty although it was obvious that every house on this street had occupants, since on each side of the road was a row of cars parked tightly together. So I was relieved to see that in the distance walking towards me was the figure of a man, although it was as yet impossible to make out the details of his appearance. Anyway, there was someone out here and I wasn't alone, so I quickened my step, walking towards this person who by now I saw was an older man with the olive skin of the people from the Mediterranean. I fixed my gaze on him, smiling, with the expectation that I would greet him as we approached each other. He was looking straight ahead, walking slowly, as of someone completely lost in thought. As we drew closer I could see that he was not looking at me at all, in fact it was as if he did not even notice that there was a person on the same pavement as he was.

My conditioning having lived most of my life until then in the congenial social conditions of African society, caused me to walk up to him and say the most pleasant "Good morning.." that I could muster, a broad smile on my face. The reaction I got was startling. First of all, it was as if he wasn't sure if I had said something to him. He turned his head towards me and when he was no longer in doubt that I had in fact spoken to him, the uncertain expression on his face changed to surprise. He was a much older man and in my culture one must always defer to the elders. So I greeted him again, bowing my head a little this time. Looking up at him, I saw that what was surprise had now changed to shock and then alarm. Then finally he looked at me in the the way you would regard an insect that suddenly appeared on your living room wall, saying not a word to me. His step had faltered only momentarily, and he just carried on walking as if I did not even exist. I slunk away, hurt and slightly confused..

Looking back now, I have tried to imagine what might have been going on in his mind at that moment. Probably those stories he'd read in the papers about knife-wielding black youths who rob elderly ladies in the street. It took this experience for me to learn that in London, you did not just walk up to random strangers and say hello. It seems to me that having been here all these years, I too have acquired a certain frostiness and become a bit like the Londoners who were here before me. I'm no longer as warm and amiable as I used to be.

I was out today doing my rounds from office to court and back and I made a conscious decision to make a note each time I saw someone smile. London is a very overcrowded city, thus you're guaranteed to encounter hundreds, even thousands of people in the City on a weekday. Of the very many people I saw, not one single one of them was smiling. I have heard people comment on how unfriendly London can be, and I regret to say that I will have to concur. The British famously refer to their aloofness as 'the British reserve', and they have set the tone for the rest of us who come here to join them. People hardly even talk to each other and the result is that understanding between individuals and communities is thwarted.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

To become a "Nouvelle Russe"

Hmmmm, or maybe just settle for Nastya's job.. :)

Friday, 20 November 2009

On Nigeria's witch children

Last year, the UK's Channel 4 Dispatches programme brought us a report on child witches in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. The report was titled 'Saving Africa's witch children'. Please click here to watch the whole 48 minutes of the report if you haven't seen it already. Its certainly worth watching.

On Monday 23 November 2009 Channel 4 will be showing a follow-up to that report from last year. The follow-up is titled 'Return to Africa's witch children' and I'm keenly looking forward to it.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

A beautiful version

Absolutely lovely rendition of this piece of music. I just had to post it here. Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Delphine Haidan (Mezzo-soprano), Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse. Michel Plasson (Conductor).

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The things that people do..

He called me and said he wanted to use my computer because his laptop was out of order. I thought this was odd, since the Internet in commercially cheaply available in innumerable places on almost every street. Then I thought perhaps he was trying to save a few quid, but my disquiet heightened sharply when after I'd told him that I would be away at work at the time when he said he'd need to use the computer, he quickly retorted that he would only have to turn up at my doorstep early in the morning before I left home, and that I could then leave the keys of the flat with him..

I left home that morning leaving him in my flat, but with a puzzled frown on my face. Deep down I suspected that he was up to something dubious, but I had no way of knowing what it was. I was trying to be a good friend to a friend who was in need, or so I thought. So I quickly erased all negative thoughts from my mind and focused on my activities for the day ahead. I returned home unusually late that evening and found him still there. I discreetly inspected the flat, but there was nothing to arouse my suspicion or to give an indication as to what he had been up to during my absence. I then dropped him off at home and put the entire episode behind me, although I couldn't stop thinking that it was rather strange that he would insist on using my computer in my flat while I was away. This was almost two weeks ago.

Last evening I was stretched out on the sofa trying to relax after a particularly busy day when my phone rang. I was surprised, since most calls I receive are on the mobile phone. This one was on the land-line, a number that only few people have, none of whom I was expecting a call from. I answered the call to hear a strange voice at the other end of the line greeting me familiarly, asking me why he had not heard from me.. Pardon me?? Are you sure you have the correct number?? He then repeats my number to me and asks me if I'm not Tony (not his real name). Hearing this I was even more surprised. I explained that I know who Tony is but that he doesn't live at this address. To which this gentleman who called himself Mike said that he had been in the flat two weeks ago and that the said Tony had the keys to the flat. Tony had shown him around, telling him that the flat was his. Tony had used my address to obtain a loan from this person, who I later find out is a loan shark.

It took supreme effort on my part to remain calm as I explained to this gentleman what had really happened on the day Tony showed him into my flat. I tried to explain that I wasn't Tony and that I knew nothing of a loan or what he was talking about. At first Mike was having none of it. He didn't know what Tony and I were up to, he said, but whatever it was, I'd better pay back his money this point what immediately flashed through my mind were those stories I'd heard about people who failed to pay such debts and how they got their kneecaps smashed. I was losing my cool..

This Tony person has been a friend of mine for many years and I have looked out for him every step of the way. I could hardly believe what I was hearing, but gradually the pieces came together. Now I understood why he had wanted to "use my computer" while I was away. I'd been conned, or to put it more accurately, my so-called friend had betrayed the trust that I had in him. I gave Tony's number to Mike and told him Tony's real address. I then called Tony and expressed my displeasure at what had happened. A few minutes later Mike called me back to say that Tony was not answering his phone. I tried to call Tony again, but as expected his phone was by now switched off.

I have tried to call him several times today and his phone is still switched off. Indeed the message I get when I call his number is "you have dialled an incorrect number...". Driving home this evening, I drove past his building, but his flat was in darkness. I don't know whether to be worried about him, i.e., whether Mike has come down hard on him; or whether the police have been invited and he's locked up somewhere...but then if that was the case, surely the police would have invited me to make some kind of statement. Then I wonder if perhaps he has gone into hiding..I feel so protective of him and feel sorry that I revealed his real address. But at the same time I'm angry at his callousness and his dishonesty. I really don't know what to think..

This is what happens when you fight corruption

I saw this article on the BBC website. It accurately describes the nature of the corruption in my country and how entrenched it is. It also precisely reflects my views. Please read it and then listen to this interview.

Nuhu Ribadu was at Law School at the same time as me. Some have attributed his meteoric rise to prominence to his connections with powerful people in politics. However, his stand on corruption, an issue I care very much about, arouses inspiration.

Monday, 16 November 2009

How it all began..

Many years ago I was given a present for doing very well in my degree exam at university. It was a return air ticket, Lagos-New York-Lagos. Up until that time, a foreign holiday was given as a gift when one graduated. It was the tradition in my family and I had looked forward to it for years. And so of course I was terribly excited when the time came. However, things did not go quite as expected. Those were the days when you applied for a passport in Nigeria and waited for several months for your passport to be issued, if at all. My passport had expired years previously and for one reason or the other, I had failed to do anything about it. The fact that I was busy studying at university too might have had something to do with my inertia. But anyway, there had been no reason to suspect that the couple of months between the day when I wrote my final exam and the date when I was due to commence my studies at Law School would not be sufficient time within which to obtain this vital document, go on holiday to New York, return home and still have enough time to tell everybody about all the things that I'd seen and done in America.

But as the days went by, I slowly began to realise that perhaps this passport would not be issued in time for me to make this trip after all. And that perhaps I was destined to spend the whole of those two months sitting at home, praying and hoping each day that as the folks returned home from work in the evening, they would bring with them the good news that the passport had arrived. The days were long as I sat at home alone, sad, reading, watching television and it was at this time that I noticed that the garden in front of the house needed to be worked on, as if it had not been there all along staring me in the face..In my despair the garden presented itself as an escape, a place where I could literally bury in the soil all of my anxiety and my disappointment; forgetting all of the pain that I was feeling. So I dug into it and found that I was actually enjoying watching the plants gradually respond to the endless hours of careful pruning and tending that I gave them. And this provided for me a sense that I would have missed out on something really beautiful had I gone off to New York.. Needless to say then that New York did not happen and I didn't feel too bad about it in the end, because I'd gained something in my life eminently more satisfying, valuable, meaningful and long lasting, than a mere few weeks of shopping and pounding the pavements of a strange city..

Thus my love of gardening was born. Within a few weeks of starting work on the garden I even turned a bush of wild lemon grass into a magnificent topiary plant, something I'd never seen anyone do.. Although the plants were already present in the garden when I'd started working on it, they were turning feral, as the garden had been neglected for all those years since the day when the gardener inexplicably failed to turn up for work. For the entire one year of Law School then, I would return from school in the afternoons and immediately roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty in the garden. Nothing else seemed to matter to me as much as the plants. And even though it was only a small front garden, I would spend hours and hours working in it alone, to the point where I became familiar with every single flower, every leaf and branch. It was like an obsession..

Now, many years later, I'm still looking after plants. I like the way they communicate their state of health, the way they shine and look healthy when they're happy, and droop and sag when you've neglected them a little. They're forthright and honest and they don't play games, which is more than can be said for many of us.. :)

Saturday, 14 November 2009

WW2 and me..

I'm fascinated by the history of the second world war. I was thinking about this recently while watching another WW2 documentary on the History Channel, something about the convoy war in the Atlantic in 1941 or thereabouts, about Admiral Karl Doenitz and his U-Boat submarine 'wolf packs'; the Enigma machine, the battleship Bismarck, said to be the most powerful battleship in the world at the time, and the surprising way she destroyed HMS Hood, a battleship that was until then the pride of Britain's Royal Navy; Churchill's "sink the Bismarck" order and the amazing sea battle that ensued afterwards; the way the Bismarck became crippled after her rudder was damaged by an outdated Swordfish torpedo dive-bomber from the WW1 era, leading to the sinking of the now limping German battleship after she was hit by more than 300 British shells fired from a flotilla of chasing British warships.

When I turn on the television, the first thing I do is to flick through all of the documentary channels, searching for something about the war. Fortunately for me the British, who seem to be especially proud of their exploits during this war, have ensured that at all times, one or another of the TV channels is screening one or other documentary film about this war. So there is no shortage of stories about the war...and I just looove it.

For me, where this fascination began I think must be when I used to read and collect Commando comic books as a youngster. My brother and I collectively must have had no less that 1,000 of those comics in our collection. I grew up believing that the Germans were the bad guys, since the history of the war that we read was that which had been written by the victorious Allies. But as I grew older and became able to analyse the facts more dispassionately, I have come to respect many of the Germans, especially the military professionals. By this I mean those military officers who did the actual planning and fighting. I believe that Germany may have fared so badly in this war not only because the Allies were superior in military power, but more particularly because Hitler and his Nazi functionaries usurped the authority of direct military command, much to the frustration of the leadership of the Wehrmacht.

Men like Admiral Gunther Lutjens, U-Boat Commanders like Otto Kretschmer and Gunther Prien can only be admired for their dedication and their immense skill. General Erich von Manstein was an excellent and very highly regarded military strategist. The origins of Blitzkreig (lightening war) the tactic with which the Germans subdued much of continental Europe and Scandinavia can be traced to this General. Other German Generals too numerous to mention, have records that are impressive. And this is not even mentioning the fact that in terms of technological advancement, the Germans were miles ahead of the Allies, although I will concede that in the battle of Britain and the war of the Atlantic, the British in particular gained a technical advantage with their invention and development of radar and sonar technology..

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

I have a crush..

He's a friend of my boss and he visits our firm's offices frequently. He is a Chartered Accountant and does the firm's accounts from time to time. He's very dark and has a thick moustache, very white teeth and a smile that kills me a little each time I see it. And he's just the right sort of age too, signs of grey in his hair making him that much more attractive...and that voice, Lord!

It was this voice I heard this afternoon coming through the open door of my boss's office that caused me to lose concentration on the very complex task I was doing, and to go weak at the knees. The only acceptable reaction I could think of, short of rushing up to him, hugging him and fluttering my eyelids while smiling into his face, was to come here and let off some of the heat under my collar by writing this post...

Its almost like being a teenage boy (or is it girl? ) again.. Yeah, go on, laugh at me.. :)

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

ARVs and their long-term effects..

I have been a champion of that message which says that a diagnosis of HIV infection in 2009 is not the death sentence that it was 25 years ago. Indeed, in the part of the world where I live, hardly anyone dies from HIV related causes. A newly diagnosed HIV infected person is more likely to die in a road traffic accident than of causes related to his HIV infection. So efficacious are the new generation of antiretroviral drugs that I always held the view that the prognosis for most HIV positive people is a normal life expectancy and the enjoyment of relatively good health for the duration, albeit living with a chronic medical condition likened to any other, such as diabetes....Until I read this article, which says that long-term dependence on ARVs can cause patients to get older faster and show early signs of dementia and bone weakness usually seen in the elderly. I read the article and it got me thinking..
"... in the last year or so, doctors have been troubled by the emergence of a new kind of AIDS story. Take the case of James L., 46. After testing positive in 2001, he went on a drug cocktail and life returned to normal with little effort. His exercise regime only intensified. He even went back to school for a master’s degree. At work, he rose to a six-figure position at a telecommunications firm, and his personal life flourished. He was, he told me, “a regular gay male.”
"Then, halfway through a screening of the film Syriana in his local cinema, he had a disturbing revelation. He sat through about half the movie before he realised suddenly that he had seen the same movie two weeks earlier. Indeed, James ultimately pieced together evidence suggesting he’d seen the film on three separate occasions. The same problem haunted him at work. Where he had once earned praise for his organisational skills, he now drew warnings. He seemed incapable of recalling recent events with any reliability. “It’s an Alzheimer’s-like state,” he explains. Earlier this year, he was diagnosed with HIV-associated cognitive motor disorder."
I am informed that the Protease Inhibitor class of drugs is the culprit and is the main cause of this "HIV-associated cognitive motor disorder". A very scary thought indeed, since most of the beneficiaries of the advanced HIV treatments that are available today are people in their 20s and 30s, in the prime of their lives. The drugs might have saved their lives in the short term, but may have the long-term effect of impairing their ability to function as fully capable, competent and productive human beings.

In countries of Africa such as South Africa, Botswana and even Nigeria where infection rates are high, the consequences for a significant segment of the population who must continue indefinitely to receive ARVs in order to stay alive, could mean in future not being able to work or to make a meaningful contribution to society, while at the same time presenting society with the added burden of providing care. James in the example given above, is now dependent on disability welfare payments..

When in 1996 these ARVs became widely available, the excitement was so great that nobody thought to foresee what the effects of the long-term use of the drugs might be. But when you think about it, there was, and still is, an immediacy of need for these medications. And being new drugs, there was never and has not been since the opportunity to test their long-term side effects, before their approval by the relevant authorities and distribution for use..

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Myth or Reality? An Ethnographic Exploration in Togo, West Africa

Presented at 5th African Population Conference
Arusha, Tanzania (December 2007)
Virgile Capo-Chichi, Regional Researcher for West & Central Africa, Population Services International
Sethson Kassegné, Research Director. Population Services International - Togo.

§ Same-sex relations are denied in most African countries even though studies have found cultural and traditional practices that demonstrate their existence for centuries (Roscoe & Murray, 1998).
§ Compared to other regions, Africa has the lowest levels of awareness and communication with regards to male-to-male sex (McKenna, 1996) and the most repressive laws against it.
§ Men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection as demonstrated by studies in many settings (UNAIDS, 2000).
§ Except in South Africa, little is known about how male-to-male sexual activity takes place in sub-Saharan Africa.

Study Objectives
§ Explore current practices as well as historical and cultural perspectives relative to male-to-male sex and homosexuality in Togo, West Africa.
§ Understand the sexual behavior of MSM
§ Identify factors related to HIV preventive behaviour among MSM

Background: Togo
§ Small West African country bordered by Republic of Benin (East), Ghana (West), Burkina Faso (North) & Atlantic Ocean (South).
§ Total land area = 56,600 km²
§ Population = ~ 5.3 million
§ Life expectancy = 55 years (UNDP, 2006)
§ Ranked 147 in Human Development Index (United Nations, 2006)
§ HIV prevalence ~ 3.2% among general population (UNAIDS

Data & Methods
§ Study conducted in two phases using gate-keeper interviews and an adapted peer ethnographic (PEER) approach (Price and Hawkins 2001).
§ The study was conducted in four communities in Togo: Lomé, Aneho, Sokode & Kara
Phase 1: Exploratory phase with gatekeepers in each study community
§ 20 MSM identified through members of various NGOs working in HIV
prevention (first wave of participants)
§ Focus group discussion (FGD) conducted by the study team with the first wave of participants
§ Individual interviews with those 20 MSM using open – ended questions
§ Training of those 20 MSM
Phase 2: Discussions with MSM
§ 102 additional participants identified by the 20 initial MSMs through snowballing and peer networking (second wave of participants)
§ Individual interviews conducted by peer interviewers with the second wave of participants
§ With all study respondents, a survey of knowledge and behavior regarding STIs and HIV/AIDS was also administered
§ Data were collected using local languages (Mina in the south and Kabyè in the north).
§ The data were audio – recorded and later transcribed
§ Data analysis using qualitative data analysis software The Ethnograph™

Lack of agreement among gatekeepers about the existence or history of male-to-male sex in their communities
§ Some gatekeepers strongly deny the existence of male-to-male sex and homosexuality in their communities. Even some local journalists believe that the “phenomenon” must have been imported from the west.

“…homosexuality as it exists nowadays is unknown to traditional African societies. There was no man-to–man sex… In contrast, traditional chiefs of priests in the process of their enthronization were known to have lived in isolation and therefore participated in ‘recurrent’ masturbation to satisfy their sexual desires. This is what was perceived as homosexuality.”
(gatekeeper, Kara)

§ Other gatekeepers believe that same sex relations and homosexuality have always existed in traditional societies in Togo

“…tendencies towards homosexual behavior have always existed among men as well as women. It is more pronounced among men and that’s why they were called ‘nyonu – sunu’ (man – woman); that is, a man living as a woman. Or, alternatively, ‘sunu nyonu’ (woman-man) because they tend to behave like a person of the opposite sex.” (Gatekeeper, Aneho)

§ Homosexuality is also believed to be linked to some magical and mystical practices used to acquire power and test the validity of amulets and “charms”.

“Becoming homosexual” in Togo
§ Some FGD participants described their experience as a “natural” progression from childhood sexual play to a homosexual identity realised in adulthood.

“If a boy who is used to bathing and sleeping in the same bed as his boyhood peers from the time he is young, when he grows into adolescence he would want to do the same. As an adult he will realise that he is attracted by other males.” (participant focus group # 1)

“… Homosexuality has never come from somewhere else… from your childhood. What you do and your habits show that you will become homosexual. One is born with it. It is not acquired.” (participant focus group # 2).

§ Other FGD participants believe that a tendency toward male-to-male sex can be acquired from forced or agreed sexual relations with another man, or social pressure.

“You become homosexual out of necessity…because you want to behave just as your friend.” (participant, focus group # 1)

“Some people are attracted by other homosexuals. When they (homosexuals) are attracted to a heterosexual, they will do everything (they can) to take make him a part of their group. If it pleases him, then he will stay.” (participants, focus group # 1)

§ Most participants agreed that men who are innately attracted to other men remain homosexual for life. Those who have “become homosexual” may change their preferences toward men or women during the course of their life.

Lifestyles and community perceptions
§ Self-identification for the 122 MSM that participated in this study was as follows:
o 44% active homosexual (playing a “male” role during intercourse)
o 18% passive homosexuals (playing a “female” role during intercourse)
o 26% versatile homosexual (could play either role)
o 12% bisexual (sexually active with both male and females)
§ Participants explained that MSM use coded language to identify one another. The most common local term used to refer to homosexuality is “Zangboin”. Passive homosexuals are called “Zangbointés” and active ones are called “Zangbointeurs”. The place where homosexuals have sex is called “Zangbointoir”.

There was a unanimous perception among all participants (gatekeepers and MSM) that community perceptions of homosexuality are negative. This results in discriminatory
behaviours against homosexuals, such as insults and sometimes beatings.

Social organisation
§ Social networking is used as a survival mechanism for MSM in Togo. Networking serves to create solidarity among men. Network members have specific places to meet, discuss and exchange their views.
§ According to participants, social networks can be formal or informal. Formal networks are considered as true institutions with clear rules and group leaders.

“A group needs clear rules to function…before you accept someone into your group, you must make sure he will be able to comply to those rules.” (participant focus group # 2).

HIV and STI awareness
§ 75% of MSM could identify at least one STI; 71% cited gonorrhoea and 49% cited syphilis.
§ Correct knowledge about symptoms of STIs was low (less than 20%).
§ 90% of MSM are aware of HIV/AIDS, but only 40% cited unprotected sex as a source of infection.
§ The vast majority of MSM (81%) who cited sexual transmission as a source of infection believe that transmission only occurs during sex with a woman and therefore do not feel vulnerable to HIV infection when having sex with men.
§ Approximately 60% of MSM cited fidelity as the only means for avoiding HIV

Sexual behaviour
§ Age at first male-to-male sex ranged from 9 to 20 years with a mean of 17.6 years
§ First male partner was
o a friend: 65%
o a family relative (uncle, cousin, brother or other family member): 19%
§ Approximately 48% reporting having had intercourse with women prior to their
first sexual intercourse with a man
§ Reported numbers of current male sexual partners was:
o None: 18%
o 1: 50%
o 2 or more: 32%
§ 30% of respondents reported having concurrent male partners
Condom use
§ Approximately 32% of MSM reported using a condom during their first sexual
intercourse with a man
§ 60% reported condom use during their last sexual intercourse with a man
§ 21% reported consistently using condoms with male partners
§ Reasons for non-use of condoms included:
o Trust in partner
o Condoms not available
o Lack of pleasure while using condoms
o Partner’s refusal
o Negative beliefs about condoms

§ This study demonstrates that male-to-male sexual activity occurs in Togo and that many MSM self-identify as homosexual
§ Sexual practices among MSM put them at increased risk for HIV infection
§ There is urgency in addressing the needs of MSM in Togo, including:
o Improving awareness about STIs and HIV transmission during male-to male sex
o Promoting MSM-friendly services to improve access to condoms and VCT services
§ Using existing social networks among MSM to disseminate messages and recruit
peer educators

You can read this in full here.
For more interesting reading, click on The Politics of Homosexuality in Africa.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Stonewall Broadcast Award 2009

Samira Ahmed won the Stonewall 'Broadcast of the Year' award last night, for her report from South Africa on “corrective rape” following the murder of female football star Eudy Simelane.
Watch the report...

Disturbing reports from South Sudan

I saw an interesting report today. The video is not available to be embedded, otherwise I would have shown it here. You can see clips from the report here.

Unreported World, Channel 4 News (6 November 2009) Escalating violence in South Sudan has claimed more lives in 2009 than the conflict in Darfur, but has been largely ignored by the western media. Reporter Ramita Navai and director Julie Noon uncover a disturbing new trend of women and children being directly targeted. More than 2000 people have been killed in 2009 in South Sudan, and a quarter of a million people displaced. The unrest is threatening to destroy the 2005 peace deal that ended Africa's longest and bloodiest civil war, which lasted 22 years and saw over two million people killed.
Most of the fighting has been concentrated in the country's most volatile state, Jonglei. Navai and Noon find thousands of people waiting for a UN emergency food drop in the town of Akobo. They have all fled recent attacks and have not had enough to eat for over two months. People tell Navai they have been forced to eat wild grass and leaves. Everyone she speaks to has had loved ones killed as a result of the fighting.
The influx of over 25,000 refugees has put Akobo on the brink of a famine. A convoy of UN barges carrying food aid should have been delivered less than a month ago, but it was attacked and over 700 tonnes of food were lost. After hours of waiting, the hungry crowd is turned away; not all their chiefs have arrived for the distribution, and food cannot be handed out until they do. The team follows a woman called Nybola as she returns to her makeshift shelter. She has lost her husband and three of her six children in two separate attacks. She says she suspects two of her children were abducted - a phenomenon that is on the rise.

The team returns to the airstrip in Akobo and talks to the commissioner. He explains that ethnic clashes and cattle rustling are traditional in the region, but that the sheer number and nature of the killings suggest that there is more at play. He explains that people believe the Khartoum government is arming militias to fuel the fighting. Khartoum denies this.
The team visit Akobo's only hospital, which serves over 50,000 people. All around the grounds are mothers holding severely malnourished children. There are 640 children being treated for malnutrition in the hospital, with 20 new cases arriving every week.
The team journeys north along the Sobat River through an extremely tense area. Suddenly Navai and Noon are forced to duck down on the floor of the boat - they've been shot at and their guide has spotted around 15 armed young men on the riverbank. The team then meets the group responsible for attacking the UN barges, a 500-strong militia called the White Army. Their leader says that he attacked the UN barges as he believed the route is being used by the north to supply weapons to a rival tribe. The north in turn blames clan rivalry and cattle rustling for the violence. The northern government claims that since the war, weapons have always been around, and suggests that the warring in the south is due to a lack of development and infrastructure, and of the rule of law.

In Bor, the state capital, Navai and Noon visit children who have recently been rescued after being abducted during attacks. Twelve-year-old Umot was fishing with his parents when they were ambushed. He says he saw his mother and three friends killed before he was snatched.
While the team is in Bor, more fighting breaks out in a village called Duk Padiet. At the airstrip in
Juba, the capital of South Sudan, the team film helicopters landing, full of injured people. Even though it's a two-hour flight from Duk Padiet, the hospital in Juba is the only one big enough to cope with casualties of this scale. The team discovers that thousands of men had attacked the village, killing more than 160 people. Navai speaks to Major General Kuol Diem Kuol, the spokesperson for the SPLA, South Sudan's national army. He claims the north has a hand in the violence that is happening and predicts more massacres in South Sudan.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

My trip to Birmingham today..

On arrival at the train station this morning

Walking to the train..

Settling in for the journey..

Speeding past Wembley Stadium..

Arrival at Coventry. Poor lighting, sorry :)

Then on to Birmingham International Airport. Bad light again :(

Pulling into Birmingham New Street after exactly 1 hour and 16 minutes..

The above two photos were taken from the back seat of a 'black cab'

The cab itself, only this one was blue.. :)

My destination...

And the return journey begins...