Taking offence

This morning the bus driver, to put it politely, pissed me off. As many of my friends may realise it's reasonably easy to offend me because I am obsessed with the motives behind peoples’ acts – the reasons why people do the things they do can be as hurtful as the act itself.

I've written about this before, about assumptions and reactions to me based on me being a black woman; when someone acts in a way that is generally unacceptable but because I am what I am ( a particularly small specimen of one as well) the restrictions are forgotten and the aggressor assumes a power differential in our relationship. Basically, the guy believes I’m an easy target. The end result is I am accosted by shouts of “hey come over here sexy African queen” from a group of men of Somali origin, along a shopping street in the city centre.

Today’s incident perhaps wasn’t as lewd, but still it can be reduced to the lack of respect and desire to dominate that a large number of men of African origin have for women – yes sadly any such encounters I’ve had in Finland have involved Black men. The conversation took place en route to my Finnish class, it began with “Sister, do you have an exam?” to which I responded politely and ended when I refused to be baited by “So, have you slept well?”

I won’t go into any more detail because I find it very difficult to convey these encounters to people who have not experienced them, but any Zambian woman will tell you is the next question is “where do you stay?” which eventually descends into lewd offers to satisfy you as you have never been satisfied before. 

As I said, this experience is hard to describe, it is more than a degrading experience to be singled out from a crowd based on your physical appearance. It is, in fact, both racist and sexist to assume that a woman, because she is black, will appreciate such imposition or respond favourably to such baseness.

But, in my opinion, saddest of all it is a reflection of the relationship between men and women of African origin in the Diaspora – when men attempt to assert their masculinity by preying on the only segment of society they feel they can dominate i.e. black women. 

Photograph: imcool in flickr


Hiatus' end

Last week I spent one morning in a seminar entitled "Because I am a girl," held in a romantically baroque building that once served as Finland’s first girls' school. The event reminded me of why I began blogging in the first place. I contemplated starting a design or literary blog but could not muster the necessary enthusiasm. I recognised that I am surrounded by events and injustice, which I can neither ameliorate nor influence but still I have opinions and ideas as do many others. During the seminar my mentor and Plan Finland’s director Riitta Weiste said "I urge each one us to find ways to make the world more just."

As I write my home country is in the immersed in the excitement and promise that a new government may deliver, yet many are wary of the danger. Throughout the election process and the days following it, Facebook and blogs by Zambians have been invaluable in keeping me connected with my home country. Social media have stoked my fears, allayed my worries and discovered their purpose in peaceful revolution.

Now we return to some form of normality, despite the change in government, Zambia will remain an essentially unequal and unjust society. Poverty, disease and corruption will still be a reality for the majority of the population, despite what the World Bank says. It is perhaps ambitious to believe that blogging can contribute to significant change but it is undeniably one of many possible tools – and also the feeling of distance between I and home might lessen. 

To end my beginning, I’d like to thank all who have taken a few minutes to read what I have to say, and a few moments more to comment in return.

As the Magnificent Showman so brilliantly said “Break a leg - let’s get to it!

Photograph: The trial (Flickr)


The myth of a peaceful nation

The United States has warned its citizens against travel to Zambia during the upcoming election period. I' m hardly surprised. As I follow the political and social happenings not just in Zambia but in Malawi, the Middle East and now even in the UK, I also would rather be too cautious.

As I follow various blogs by Zambian and about Zambia and I take note of friend’s Facebook posts the persistent mantra is “we must pray for peace." Pray if you feel you must, but I think the crucial imperative is to act to promote peace. To ask ourselves “how do the things I do and say contribute to harmony and non-violence?”


Lost and a little pathetic

I've been pondering how in the last decade I have become so dependent on mobile phone technology and internet that when without it, as I have been for the last two days, I feel lost and rather pitiful.

While I still have internet at home, I realise I’m so accustomed to having the internet or rather, information, when and where I need it. Being unable to phone or text is bad enough, but my previous forays into mobile internet wilderness have been voluntary, still they resulted in my spending inordinate amounts of time in the world’s most northerly Burger King.

Without my mobile, I cannot indulge my love of pointless


The last child in the playground blues

I wave the last child goodbye. The one with the blue eyes always looks as if she will cry. The fat girl Minna can’t wait to get home. Her mother - with the black hair and slanted eyes, will cook something that sounds exotic tonight. It’s still not dark, but it’s late. I always must be reminded. That in summer here it never really grows dark. I wish I could stay here, with the summer sky light above me. Back home we come in from the garden only when it gets dark.

But anyway my shoulders ache from pushing Minna on the swings so I concede, climbing the stairs to our apartment. Minna told me how in winter we won’t be able to play in the playground, because it will be covered in snow “as high as my father is tall.” I like


A long way, baby!

By circumventing the Zambian postal system, I’ve acquired the latest edition of Nkhani Kulture, a Zambian lifestyle magazine. Although I had misgivings about the “K,” the magazine is a demonstration of sophistication and artistry. Its photography and print quality make it a perfect coffee table magazine and it’s an exemplar of what the Zambian entertainment industry is capable. Perusing the magazine, I can tell that they have learned many lessons from previous Zambian magazines that after a flitting lifespan have vanished into our uncharted publishing history. Bravo editorial team! 

Nkhani Kulture is indicative of the exponential growth in Zambian entertainment over the last twenty years. Music, television, fashion, artists are pursuing new ventures, as mroe Zambians are travelling abroad and following international arts and entertainment through satellite television and the internet.

Though I make an ambivalent follower of Zedbeats on Facebook (perhaps it’s my age) I still appreciate the efforts of the artists who epitomise the improved quality of Zambian music and videos. One must appreciate that creating literature, music and



One wishes that Anders Behring Breivik looked insane, that he spent his evenings painting racist graffiti on the walls and hurling faeces at black passersby. Since we cannot know what strangers who surround us think and feel by looking at them - no matter what assumptions we might make - we are left to wonder what neighbours do in the anonymity of their homes. Even in locked rooms, we now have the novelty of finding likeminded comrades online, we can create unseen secret societies, hiding in the digital world. We can confab with people who think like us and who will fertilise our imaginations and encourage us by assuring us that our ideas are not crazy.

Of course, I am not blaming the internet - a tool is what you make of it. I have found pages on Facebook with horrendous content; pages with which I would be ashamed to associate, but these pages have likeminded friends and followers who will publically declare that certain people should be raped or killed.

The awful events in Norway intrude into our lives here in Helsinki far more than the usual news we witness on TV - not just the physical proximity, but the similarity of context; the rise of rightwing parties, the relative safety and distance from most of the world’s targets and reliable security forces. While I sincerely hope justice prevails and this is the last of this kind of attack, I know that for many people such extremism is a constant reality, and I wish that for everyone we could see the end of this madness. 

Read more; Stieg Larsson and the Scandinavian right
Read more; From Oklahoma to Oslo
Read more; Norway's lost innocence 

Photograph: the Guardian


When we...

Once again, the world’s powers have seriously misjudged their ability to exert themselves over a “rogue” nation.

In a few years time if this war continues, just as Iraqis and Somalis and the citizens of other countries that have been embroiled in war for years or even decades, the Libyan collective memory of normality will begin to fade or be distorted. Gaddafi will once again become a hero, they will speak of the days when “it was safe to walk at night” and water flowed from the taps and there was peace. The details of that peace will become obscured and the reasons for going to war will be questioned.

A country doesn’t need a war to rewrite its collective memory. In Zambia, people are unashamed to express nostalgia for the days of KK (Kenneth Kaunda – dictator) and his successor FTJ (Frederick Chiluba – attempted to change the constitution in order to become a dictator).

Memory is a transient ethereal substance. When it is changed or changes how can we know? When in twenty years time we dispute the actions of Gaddafi, Kaunda or Chiluba where do we seek the truth? In Zambia, every newspaper tells a different story and now we choose to believe neither. We have are the opinions of thought leaders among whom impartiality is a scarce commodity in a country where “either you are for me or against me.”  When our history textbooks are written by the state, who do we trust to tell the truth, to record events as they really happened? 

Picture: The Persistence of Memory; Salvador Dali 


The good of the goose

After a few weeks without the motivation to blog, I came across an item in the Guardian on a spat between Germany and France on exhibiting foie gras (the fattened liver of a goose) at a German food fair.

I have very little interest in animal rights, but I do believe that our world has evolved to a state in which it can afford to treat its animals without brutality. Even if the final objective is a good meal and ultimately self gratification, I think the justification of processes such as the production of foie gras and veal are obsolete.

While in France foie gras is part of the “protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France”, in human rights speak the term “harmful traditional practice” would be used in a human equivalent, but I’m sure it applies in this case.  

Of course, one could call me unrefined, or say perhaps that my palate is unsophisticated, but the vitriol with which the French defend this practice is the same that protects other harmful cultural practices such as say underage marriage and polygamy.  

Photograph: CubaGallery on Flickr


A country in East Africa

If you look in Wikipedia this morning a new entry says “South Sudan, officially the Republic of South Sudan is a country in East Africa.”

A decade from now, I wonder if this new country will still honour the two million whose deaths justify its existence? With oil, continuing feuds and the likelihood of North Sudan continuing to menace the new country – it’s unlikely. The UN and various donor nations have already moved in and the World Bank and IMF will soon enough make their mark with “investments.”

My wish for Sudan is that they, or rather their leaders do not follow the certain path to despotism and kleptocracy – losing their empathy for the people they lead and thus deepening the gulf between the rich and poor, and between the government and the people. I hope that the excesses of wealth and power the characterise “leadership” in many newly independent or democratic countries do not become the hallmark of this new country for which so many people have died.  

Photographs: Jose Miguel Calatayud Flickr


In praise of - Acaye Pamela

A friendship born in my spell in Uganda, Acaye Elizabeth Pamela is a natural poet and determined to leave an imprint in the Ugandan art scene. From before I met Pam she pursued her career in print and on stage; performing in festivals, writing plays such as “The other woman” and even creating a musical. She has published anthologies of poetry “Echo of senses” and her new album of poetry “Awecu- I shall speak” is scheduled for release.

Pam is described as a poet, playwright, television presenter and activist and has added designer and mother to her list of accomplishments

Sacred tears
These sacred tears which inhabit my sanctuary;
Springing from wellsprings of broken dreams turned fossils,
And en-flamed wounds turned sacred ground for legends of pain and betrayal ,
That once was beauty.
What say you that, I shed these tears for sentimentality
Of what should have been and still can be when I am granted the grace to be and become that,
Of whom I must become.....
The jewel and the crown within and without.

Uganda 2010
Let the thunder cry and mind not the weeping of the sky,
They are only clearing their throats to rejoice with us.
I hear the Nankasa drums in Buganda picking up in tempo,
The Njigge drums from Alur land are also sounding alongside the mournful Agwara horn for change:

The Otole and Larakaraka dances are drawing near from Gulu, Kitgum and Pader,
The wind can blow teargas into our eyes!
 It will not stop us from walking the walk of freedom.

Blame it on the wind that has seduced the song from between our lips;
Or on the birds that have joined in the chorus, singing;
‘We shall preserve our land.’

Blame it on this relentless wind that cannot stop asking our souls!
“Are you ready for the great revival that is pouring down?”
Are you ready for the great awakening that is already here?
Are you ready to exercise the power of your vote?
Are you ready? Oh! Are you ready?

The Akogo’s, Adungu’s , Ngalabi’s and Nangas  are noisily sounded yet,
 Our feet rediscover the rhythm of our journey despite the long shadows of our present?
Even if our season is short, we shall rain our land into bountiful harvest. 
 Our voices rising above the thunder and lightning!

Even if as we reach forth to claim our harvest we find wilted and rotted fruit,
We shall pick them from the ground, slice off the rotten bits and
Relish in their succulent flavors as we savor them on our tongues.
We shall cast our votes with our minds and not our hearts.


A touch of motivation?

As one of a crowd of seven thousand, I revelled in the atmosphere in yesterday’s Pride parade in Helsinki. I’m not referring specifically to a “gay” atmosphere; at Mr Gay Finland’s float or the men in pink dresses, but rather at the idea that the participants were there without remuneration, coercion, reward or sycophancy. 

Anyone familiar with Zambian parading will know what I mean.

Where were the government or company sponsored suits, the tee-shirts, lunch, transport and the mandatory speech by “The Guest of Honour?” Did I forget the all-important banner? And where oh where was the “motivation” (a euphemism I learned as an intern in northern Uganda)?

Yesterday, I joined in the parade because I care about LGBT rights and not because there was a reward awaiting me. I also know many people in Zambia who really do believe in the power of such marches; of people standing up in public to declare their rage, desire or discontent. However this enthusiasm is not universal - as shown in the money spent on suits/shirts/lunch/banner/etc.

Perhaps it’s time for the organisers of our parades could ask themselves if the huge sums of money spent could be invested in other means to reach our goals. Perhaps the World AIDS Day celebrations would survive without motivation, but I’m certain the other days – Women’s, Youth, Africa Freedom, Independence etc – would be abandoned if our various forms of “ensuring participation” ceased.

We’d have to find reason to march, perhaps rediscover what Africa Freedom or Independence Day were intended to signify. But that is highly unlikely for too many people (not all) have a vested interest in these parades which have become another chance to bag a free lunch and tee-shirt.

Photographs; USAFRICOM on flickr, Mwila Agatha Zaza 


"Life times" and memory

Nadine Gordimer's latest anthology is an orange five hundred and fifty page tome, suitable for use as a footrest. But of course such a collection of masterpieces of modern short fiction can’t always be used to appease the posture of my five-foot-one-and-three-quarter inch frame.

Human beings have unreliable memories, especially when separated from a particular world by time and distance. We need to be prodded to recall the events and atmosphere of thirty or twenty years ago. Considering that the average life expectancy of a Zambian is less than forty, my childhood is actually a lifetime ago.

Ms Gordimer prods me to remember scenes on the evening news of South African youth running from armed police, the pictures hazy through the teargas. Apartheid was the theme that followed us from day to day, why were the shops empty, Coca cola missing, fuel, and where was affluence? I was too young to understand Structural Adjustment Programmes and the treachery of the World Bank and IMF, but old enough to understand that in South Africa people were tortured and killed for the simple reason that they were black.

Ms Gordimer reminds us of those times, tales of the 1950’s and 60’s. Not all blatantly about apartheid, but shrouded in its mist - the affluence of the whites anchored in the subjugation of blacks, racial microcosms that could never merge, language that could never really convey meaning or intent and that often left behind confusion or misunderstanding. 

photographs: scatterkier, the man booker prize on flickr


In Damascus?

Yesterday, I spent the morning in a group discussion on the theme “The media’s role in social change.” The premise of the seminar was that the mass media can be used not only in development education but of course as a tool in more dramatic change – such as the oft repeated example of Facebook in the Egyptian revolution.

New media, social media or whatever other distinctions or euphemisms can be employed (I essentially mean blogs and Facebook) have seemingly been legitimised and have become a hot topic in the wake of the Arab and African crises. Wherever international development specialists gather, seminars, discussions and workshops are organised to analyse and critique the use of new media as a means to development.

However as the antics of Tom McMaster prove blogs and Facebook are vast and unregulated territory. Therefore are they really the best public spheres for development education? For instance, Facebook pages are as likely to be endorsing good causes as they are to be promoting violence and violation of human rights. Additionally a random survey of blogs shows the majority of them to be personal diaries or concerned with making money.

The fact of the internet is; as a blogger I may not be the facade that I exhibit, also I do not answer to any code of ethics other than my own and I do not have any responsibility to promoting good or morality. Does this make me unreliable? 


How the other tenth live

Blue skies and wisps of cloud, it’s Sunday in Helsinki and one must take a bike ride through the safe, planned and mapped bike routes of the city.

Filled with runners, bikers and walkers, the routes take us along the seaside, through the forest and through some of the wealthiest and most desirable neighbourhoods in East Helsinki.

In contrast to our neighbourhood, in Hertonniemenrannan the natives are invariably white and the local alcoholics and tattooed would-like-to-be toughs are distinct in their absence. In Marjanniemi multiple storey homes have private parking and beach views and children gather to practice sailing little boats at a private pier. In Kulosaari, large gardens are the norm as are old rambling homes, at least one with a private jetty and one with a small plane parked on a private beach.

This is the Helsinki no one tells you about - the Helsinki of affluence, where the famed image of a classless society falls flat.

Finland is known for its generous and egalitarian social welfare and education system and policies and the relative absence of poverty and crime. However, though its wealth distribution is fairer than most countries, its wealthiest 10% percent are responsible for 20% of its consumer spending. Designer clothes, pricey baby buggies, Marimekko shopping bags and grocery shopping in Stockmann’s are clues to the ostentatious nature of that 10%.

Recently Helsingin Sanomat published a feature that described the phenomenon of parents living in lower income areas going to desperate lengths to enrol their children in schools in wealthier neighbourhoods. This was put down to racism, that parents did not want their children in schools with immigrants. However one lone voice of reason explained this tactic secured better schools for their children in a country renown for scholastic excellence, meaning there must be a perceived superiority of schools in wealthier areas. I believe officials are less willing to contemplate this prospect of educational inequality because it would be proof that the policy of equal education, which is great source of pride, has loopholes.

Photograph A Happonen


Dark girls?

I don’t wish to denigrate the pain of the women in the video, but I have memories of the desire to be fair skinned – but also of wanting to be tall and thin and to have all the traits of “beautiful women.”  Looking back, this was part of the period of growing up, the years when one is learning about beauty, when one is still only able to see the most glaring examples of what is considered attractive.

To clarify, I am not talking about inner beauty or intelligence or humour. As an adult looking back at the icons of my youth, from music, films or even girls at school who were popular with the boys, I see that they were no more or less beautiful than I. A few years ago some friends and I were reminiscing of our secondary school days and came to the conclusion that (in general) the darkest boys pursued the fairest girls. In fact many of the fair skinned boys ended up with darker girls.

As I have mentioned in an article about hair, our immediate surroundings are a better indicator of what we eventually feel about ourselves - hair, skin and body. If one has a mother who is constantly berating her child for having dark skin then is it society to blame or the mother? Other mothers are sources of reassurance for their daughters who feel a societal pressure to be fair, thin and have straight hair.  

Though much of the obsession with skin colour is about wanting what you cannot have, African American films and television series often depict dark skinned girls as “ghetto girls.” In a circle of friends (think Girlfriends) the dark-skinned girl is the uncouth one – the one given to snapping her fingers, speaking in a ghetto drawl and starting fights. In mainstream TV black women are rarely as obviously categorised by colour (when they are portrayed at all). It is as advantageous to black or mixed race women to look as white as possible, as it is for Indian, Hispanics and other races to be as European as they can.

If movies or television are not specifically about racial matters then they tend to negotiate their way around black women, especially regarding sexuality. I watched only the first two seasons of Grey’s Anatomy and was very interested in how only one black man was involved in the sexual shenanigans of the hospital and no black women at all – fair or dark.

To return to my experience with skin colour, the fair skinned girls did not necessarily have better outcomes regarding relationships, marriage and attributes of intelligence or diligence were a better indicator of success in their careers. 

Dark Girls” to Premier in October.
Directed by Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry
Uploaded on youtube 26 May, 2 011


A marketplace of possibilities

Yesterday’s erratic weather couldn’t keep me away from the Maailma Kylässä festival that is being held in the centre of Helsinki. The “World Village” celebration is an annual gala of multi-ethnic music, literature and food – and is fun.

It is also the largest exhibition in Finland of the work of non-governmental associations working locally and in international development and advocacy. The Finnish government is supportive of NGO and many of the groups have partner agencies or projects in the developing world. In the Marketplace of Possibilities, one could see evidence of many, many projects on everything from drop toilets to comic books.

Which of course leads to the oft repeated but yet inadequately answered question “Why isn’t international development aid working?”

But I will not discuss that question here, instead I’d rather applaud the work of the volunteers who find time and expend effort to try to improve the lives of the poor and marginalised using the tools and funding to which they have access. These small voluntary groups have endured despite trends in international development aid, in spite of Paris and Dakar Declarations, World Bank reports and etc, ad nauseam, ad infinitum.

The work they do garners little publicity; most of the accolades are reserved for larger international NGO who can finance media campaigns resplendent with pens, brochures, badges and photographs of smiling beneficiaries.

Also present at the festival were Amnesty International, who have often relied on volunteers and public participation. In search of freedom for Mexican and Chinese activists and dissidents, a launch of balloons skyward by the gathered audience somehow may help secure their release. More likely it may send a message to oppressive governments that the population of a small country are observing the situation where politicians refuse to engage.

In the meantime, international donor nations are reneging on their overseas financing promises, berating one another for unrealised aspirations, tip-toeing around China and once more researching new global development models. 

Photographs: Samuli Leminen


Pieces to ponder

Saudi woman driver - Manal Al-Sharief, petition for her release underway
A petition with more than 1,000 signatures is being organized on her behalf.

The lawyer of Manal Al-Sharif — the 32-year-old Saudi woman who drove her car in Alkhobar on Saturday — denied that Al-Sharif burst into tears inside the women's section of the Dammam prison and asked her investigators to extend their questioning to include a number of women who led her into controversy. 

Read more here 

Parents keep child’s gender under wraps
By Zachery Roth

When many couples have a baby, they send out an email to family and friends that fills them in on the key details: name, gender, birth weight, that sort of thing. (You know the drill: "Both Mom and little Ethan are doing great!")

But the email sent recently by Kathy Witterick and David Stocker of Toronto, Canada to announce the birth of their baby, Storm, was missing one important piece of information. "We've decided not to share Storm's sex”

Read more here and here

India's census reveals a glaring gap: girls

India's census reveals a country obsessed by boys and sex-selection laws that no one will enforce. Continuing female foeticide explains why the child sex ratio is getting worse 

Read more here 


Our reality

It is an unfortunate country in which the only support for LGBT rights comes from the Catholic Church. In a statement the Catholic Church has stated its position on homosexuality saying the people who engage in the practice were human beings who deserve respect – which is far more than anyone else in the country will concede.

Nonetheless, as the homosexuality war continues and the accusation of supporting gay rights (human rights) has become the greatest slur that can be hurled at an individual, party or organisation, one has to wonder what will happen to Zambia come the next elections.

The homosexuality debate has long ceased to about homophobia. Instead it has become a display of the failure of the democratic ideal, the lack of political dogma and the continuing and entrenched disregard for our people’s reality regardless of our gender, sexuality or religious orientation.

Moreover the groups entrusted as our defence from the excesses of our state - civil society and churches are allowing themselves to be manipulated, to be drawn into petty skirmishes at the cost of the real battle – authentic political representation and leadership.

Any non-governmental organisation that challenges the government to account for its actions is immediately accused by another NGO or religious organisation of being political. Of course challenging poverty and corruption and demanding political transparency is political! But must one be in a political party to demand accountability and honesty? 

Photograph; "Sophie" by Mary Sibande


Once again - the rapture

Meanwhile, here in the rapture, we are wondering why the sky is not raining fire, hail and brimstone (insert emoticon here). The question at the breakfast table is why people once again fell for the words of determinist cult leaders?

We are fortunate that the Rapture has ended in good humour  for example “that rapture was very subtle - oh hang on, where is everyone?” but let us not forget Heaven’s Gate and the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments and the many other tragedies among believers of the end of days.

The earth has a finite existence – the end of the earth is certain. But why is it that people pursue this end date? 1916, 1999, 2012 or 21st May 2011, it could be any date and the finer points may be different, but essentially the good would be whisked away to glory while the rest of us would be subjected to a slow torturous death.  “The good” equating to the followers of the cult or leader in question and “the rest” anyone who is isn’t.

In my opinion, the rapture and other forms of judgement day derives from the undying belief that there is justice for the maltreated, marginalised and poor. Moreover this judgement must be public, mine enemy shall watch as I am carried up to the right hand of a god and moments later I will watch as they are punished for all the injustice I have suffered will begin.

For many people today, justice and human rights are concepts that belong to the privileged. Our people who work for a dollar a day do not work less than the rich - they work more. For this they are rewarded with disease, disability and finally a shortened lifespan. Meanwhile, the rich flaunt the laws with impunity while the poor rot in jail for the theft of a goat or mobile telephone.

As long as there is injustice people will continue to believe in supernatural reparation. This so-called prophecy is another example of exploitation. A number of believers took the word of this man and gave away their worldly possessions, jobs or at least vested their faith in his words and they join the ranks of the disappointed and dispossessed. 


Songs about Tuesdays

A bout of writer’s block has kept me away from blogging for the last week. Meanwhile, my daily process of immigration continues. Last weekend involved cheering Finland for the first time in the Eurovision song contest and watching the hockey world cup, watching a Nigerian movie and pondering songs about Tuesdays. 

The annual spectacle of Eurovision is a global demonstration of mediocrity. Whereas there are some acts that one would say are “too good for Eurovision” the rest are misapplied talent. Looking back at Abba, perhaps one of their worst songs won the contest, spawning a tradition of nonsensicality that is the hallmark of Eurovision. Nonetheless is one wants to launch an international career in music from say Belarus, how else except Eurovision?

The hockey match was mildly exciting and the revelry that followed sucked me into the spirit of things. It’s been a long time since Zambia has won a significant international title barring women’s boxing –which of course does not attract the attention that it should, so to be part of a celebrating nation was exciting.

Also on a sports related note, the conviction of some Zambian footballers in a match fixing scandal here in Finland has made sad watching. These men have exchanged tangible opportunities for successful careers for immediate and fleeting financial gratification. Integrity and sportsmanship to the wind for money!  

Photograph: Michiyo Flickr


Peering through the smokescreen

As I read this I think of an article I had the misfortune to read and I wonder how it is that so many of our learned people in Zambia can’t see that the same tactic is being used in our country?

As our now discarded draft constitution was being formulated, no single subject was as contentious as that fearsome act of homosexuality. By the time critical issues such as our voting system and local government autonomy were brought to the public’s attention they were almost an afterthought, everyone’s energy and enthusiasm had been spent. It was left to small groups of dedicated politicians and civil society to do battle.

What better way to discredit a politician than to claim that he will legalise homosexuality in homophobic society? Better still make the accusations while a major kingdom is threatening accession.

What will happen next? Will prominent opposition and civil society members suddenly be accused of being gay? Will the public be able to see that a tactic to discredit and possibly criminalise them?

While Ugandans are being shot dead and maimed on the streets for protesting the impoverishment, their parliament is holding hearings on their anti-homosexuality bill instead of the tackling the situation in which their people live. The people have identified their needs through their acts of protest. They are stating that their immediate needs are a decent standard of living and democracy, no one is protesting against homosexuality. Yet this is what is on the Ugandan government’s agenda.


A dreaded year

The twentieth of May marks a year to the day I plaited my hair into tiny braids and began the process of “locking.” Of course there have been days when constant unravelling, lopsided growth and dryness have had me irritated and longing for the safety of hair extensions, but those days have been mere hiccoughs in an otherwise fascinating period.

Recalling that in November last year I had to give my dreads significant chop for various reasons, my hair has locked into approximately three hundred medium to small dreadlocks as a result of my own efforts, research and patience.

Looking in the mirror, contemplating how I will photograph my locks, I realised that this is the first time in my life that my hair reflects me, the first time that it has personality. It is not mainstream (smooth, glossy) and neither is it truly radical (freeform chunky locks). Some of my locks are longer, fatter or curled, but I can tie them into neat puff for important occasions, or leave them loose.

Since I used an interlocking method, I don’t need creams or gels to tighten them and I don’t require any specialised moisturisers, conditioners, hair food or any other concoction that the natural hair websites would claim you do. Head and shoulders shampoo has kept my head itch and dryness free and Sulphur 8 braid spray keeps my dreads oiled and moisturised.

The greatest lesson learned, however, is freedom from the trap that women of all races and cultures fall into - being tied to your cultural ideal of beauty. I no longer envy the hair of beautiful black women in Essence or Black Hair magazines, because they are focused on long hair and on straight hair.

I have found that many natural hair and dreadlock websites also focus on one thing Length! Short natural hair and short dreadlocks are part of “a journey” to long hair. This is a pity, because as Masuka noted a few times, we all have different hair.

The truth of about individuality is that some of us are not destined to have hair that flows down our shoulders regardless of how much mosquito poo, extract of eel or callus of toad that we try.

Photographs; Mwila Agatha Zaza
Cross-posed on Zed Hair



As violence once again erupts in Uganda, I ask myself again what dictators will not do to stay in power. Watching from a pedestal as his country, once one of the most promising economies in Africa, descends into poverty and chaos, does Museveni like what he sees? Is death and poverty irrelevant?

Uganda has survived some of the most brutal civil wars and dictatorships of modern times, Museveni fought a bush war and emerged a hero, but twenty years later he epitomises what he fought against - fraudulent elections, using the military to enforce power, race and tribalism.

I wrote previously about the distance between leaders and their people. In pushing their people to the limits of survival such leaders are asking people to martyr themselves either in violence or when they cannot survive the daily challenge of feeding themselves or fending off disease. The babies and children that die unattended in hospitals are sacrifices to maintaining the wealth and happiness of the corrupted leaders and civil servants.

Somehow this is not enough for the Musevenies of this world. Their money is siphoned off the wellbeing of their people, yet such leaders are content to massacre the same people who make their lifestyle possible.

photographs: Reuters; Edward Echwalu/Reuters


Gorillas and Girls

Of course, I was perturbed when two Gorilla masked figures made their way down the aisles offering the audience bananas, however if their intention was to capture my attention - they succeeded.

The Guerrilla Girls say of themselves “We’re feminist masked avengers in the tradition of anonymous do-gooders like Robin Hood, Wonder Woman and Batman.”

Going by the pseudo names of Frida Kahlo and Käthe Kollwitz, two of the founding members of Guerrilla Girls are unashamed Feminists and activists. Donning gorilla masks is the Guerrilla Girls method of attracting attention to their cause and provoking a reaction from the mainstream. They've had successes but also disappointments, but their message was clear “change doesn’t just happen – you have to make it happen”. They  have committed themselves to a cause for twenty-five years and that may not be achieved in their lifetime.

They provided me with much needed motivation, the last few years working with gender and sexuality has been discouraging, disconcerting and depressing. The realisation of how strong and how entrenched is the resistance to equality has left me at times emotionally drained and questioning the effectiveness of any action that I could pursue.

While I am not the gorilla mask type, I was encouraged by their words “Invent your own way of being an activist” and their tireless assault on patriarchy and continuing to stand up and call themselves “Feminists” in times when the word is so misunderstood. 

Photograph: Mwila Agatha Zaza; Guerrila Girls 


Art, magic and omission

Having being to Museum of Contemporary Art’s (Kiasma) ARS11exhibit, I have been left pondering the absence of magic and witchcraft in its exhibit.

After reading about the goings on in Mansa and the alleged transfiguration of a man to goat in Nigeria, I wonder why the theme of the supernatural was almost completely absent in an exhibit about contemporary Africa, barring one item by Ardmore arts of South Africa.

The ARS exhibit brought the works of thirty artists linked to Africa (not necessarily African) and sharing the themes of migration, environment and urban life.

Sorcery and the supernatural pervade the lives of many people of sub-Saharan Africa. The rioting in Mansa reminded me that many Zambians have an unquestioning belief in the supernatural regardless of their religion. For them the dismembering of corpses to create wealth and transmogrification is possible in the temporal realm and therefore their fear that led to mass rioting and looting was justified.
Several of the images at ARS alluded to witchcraft – I have written before on Nandipha Mntambo work. Her installations, claimed in the brochure to be “loaded with masculine power” alluded to the supernatural with their blend of human and beast.

Many other images could be interpreted as portraying or alluding to magic, but except in the artwork referring to HIV and AIDS it was not identified in its own right. Magic is integral to many people’s everyday life – thankfully not mine, it is interesting that a portrayal of contemporary Africa could omit it. 


Icons and Illusions

Having subjected myself to Willow Smith’s “Whip my hair” I found a blogger who actually saw Willow Smith as sending a positive message to black girls about their hair. From what I can see, Ms Smith wears a variety of hair extensions and has straightened hair. Some black girls do have a type of hair that allows them to “whip their hair back and forth” but most of us don’t.

I would like to see more girls with kinky hair in African American popular culture. Where dark skinned black girls are shown, there is a tendency to them appearing to have spirals or very long hair. Recalling Ashley in “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” and Tia and Tamera Mowry from my teen years – I yearned to have hair like theirs. I dreamed of the day my mother would permit me to straighten my hair and it would like magic, grow long enough to swish and swirl when I walked.

The African American media is where most of our black beauty and fashion icons and modes originate. Black boys are shown from the darkest to the fairest hues and have curls or kinks, men’s hair reflects the diversity of black men. Whereas girls, on the other hand, overwhelmingly have long or spiralled hair to the extent that in some television families two dark skinned parents have fair skinned daughters with frizzy rather than kinky hair.

I offered to give advice on transitioning a little girl from permed and this would be it – to be your daughter’s icon. Don’t make natural hair sound like a chore and a curse “my hair is so... (dry, impossible, hard).” Don’t denigrate our hair and make it seem inferior to other hair types by constantly adding length – extensions and braids. Look for styles that make you look cool, chic or elegant so that our girls learn that their hair, like the rest of their body, is as good as anyone else’s.  

Cross-posted here 


And Zambia too

The success of the much derided Perussuomalaiset (True Finns) political party in the Finnish parliamentary elections astounded a few but offers a few lessons for Zambians and their could be leaders.

Zambians desperately need something to believe in; an ideology, the assurance of temporal gain that stirs our soul enough to take us to the poll booth. Preferably this will not be a message of hate, xenophobia and religious fundamentalism that has stoked fires under many populations causing carnage and bloodshed.

The second lesson is youth. Nine of the new Finnish MPs are under 30. The old guard is Zambian politics is essentially that – old. They battle among themselves, switching allegiances and swapping seats. They have learned to play old-school politics. Many of our younger people have experienced more than the Zambian way of doing things, they have lived, worked and studies in other countries and some are even involved in politics there. They run our banks and telephone companies as international professionals. A large enough force of fresh faces would make a significant change in political strategies.  

Finally, we learn that free and fair elections can make a significant change in our country’s politics. A party that is founded on what its people want can move from minority to majority. This can happen if we impassion our people, wake them up from their apathetic slumber and give them something for which to vote. 


Roundup - Women and revolutions

Women Irate at Remarks by President of Yemen

SANA, Yemen — President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s suggestion that antigovernment protesters in the capital were in violation of Islamic law because women were allowed to mix with men stirred a women’s rights march in the capital on Saturday, as thousands of women in this staunchly conservative country made Mr. Saleh an object of public derision. 

Prominent during revolution, Egyptian women vanish in new order 

You saw them. I saw them. We all saw the women of Tahrir Square, marching, yelling, dancing, singing, smoking, waving signs and taking hits alongside their fellow citizens. Then we blinked, and they were sidelined, pushed out of the political process faster than you can say, "Women are human beings too." 

The way things have shaken out for women in post-revolution Egypt, it's easy to forget that it was a courageous young woman who summoned protesters to the streets in the first place. On January 18th, a charismatic activist with the April 6 youth movement named Asmaa Mahfouz invited fellow Egyptian citizens to join her for a Day of Rage on January 25th. Facing down the camera, she told her audience "Do not be afraid."