Exploring Linkages...

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Like a Giant Panda…

Panda-WWF-ball.WebversionWhen I think of the football, I always remember the Giant Panda. It may be because of its widespread adoption as a mascot for football games, but then again, no! I also remember the Orca killer whale which I call the sea Panda. These two animals have a symbolic relationship with the football. They are sociable with long standing heritage, and most importantly, they share distinct colours with black and white sides and patches on their body.
But the relative harmony the Panda and the Orca whale has going with these two colours has not been shared with the football, especially in recent times. For football players and their fans, they have been torn between black and white.killer-whale_591_600x450
At the peak of a sizzling football match, Footballer Kevin-Prince Boateng, took a walk off the pitch, it was a walk to remember, a racially motivated walk. In like manner, Didier Zokora ignores a courtesy handshake from Emre  Belözoğlu  following a racist slur dished on him by Emre. Mario Balotelli the AC Milan striker,  Emmanuel Adebayor, amongst others have been at the receiving end of racially motivated slurs and chants.  Like invasive bees, criticisms have followed their actions. Subsequent to the above cases, racism in football can no longer be denied, it could not be ignored either.
boateng,pillay and Viera against racismLike most development issues, racism remains a history that has refused to go away. While I think of the many intersections like fiction and development, I always appreciate the power of sports to transform and catalyze social change. The passion that drives fans and players of different sports, most especially football can be tapped into right at its peak for transformative change.
Boateng’s reaction was received differently; many supported it while others detested it. The United Nation’s incorporation of FIFA in the last the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination may have endorsed his reaction as appropriate.
As institutions continue to discourage racism in our society, I think that there is no stronger vaccine for racism than football itself. We live in very interesting times, and it may fall on our generation to make this change possible. Never in history have fans been crazier about football matches be it a friendly or competitive game. Football has got the excitement, the emotion, the commitment; the dedication of fans world over and depositphotos_2069878-Soccer-football-ball-World-globemost importantly, generates a passion like no other game. It speaks a language that is globally understood by the 11 team members and the global 12th man (the fans).
I imagine the champion’s league final match between Chelsea and Manchester or a world cup final between Brazil and the USA. The fans are wild with sticker,375x360.u2excitement in the stadium with others glued to their TV screens all over the world. The exotic feeling of vuvuzuela sound fills the air, and everyone is in high spirit with winning expectations. The Referee’s whistle goes off and the game begins with a gentle touch of the ball by a footballer. This is followed by series of gaining and losing possession of the ball by each team with cheering fans loosening and hardening their muscles. Just at the peak of the intense game with no team winning yet, the players stop the game, calling off the match and walking off the pitch as a way of advocating against racism. Hmmnnn, I feel this can have more impact and provoke behaviour change than many other strategies.

Can fans and players of football be in harmony refusing to break colours like a pander? As a less passionate 12th man, I think they can.


                                                                                                                  -Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye

To Ihuoma and Others alike

Ihuoma is a beautiful woman, she is a village sweetheart, but she has a stain. No, it’s not the stain of blood; it’s the stain of widowhood. She is not just a widow; she is a serial widow with more than one dead husband to her conjugal resume. Her life is littered with the ghost of husbands; her skin now sticks to the black grieving uniform which mortifies her soul. The burden of raising her children hangs around her neck. It is not lightened by moonlight play for unlike everyone in the village, she is socially dead. She only knows sympathizers who just trickle in these days. This is the story of Ihuoma in Elechi Amadi’s renowned book ‘The Concubine’.
TheConcubineWhen marriage is broken not by divorce but by death, the live of the once better half becomes broken. Many things converge to determine the depth of their grief. The strength of their bond, the level of dependency on the union, and their partner, the self concept of the surviving partner, all of these work together in colouring grief. The surviving partner’s ways of life is interrupted and subsequently fragmented.
Were these to be their only fight, then it could be manageable. But some cultural rites of ritual seclusion, helps to strip the living half of the life and comfort they knew, and suddenly they become invisible. Their lives stops, most of them begin to live on the margins of our society and weeping does not lessen their burden.images (13)
This is the worst nightmare of many married women; hence it is an issue that is dear to the United Nation and other development agencies. It buys into the wider issues of gender inequality, the very things that CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of Domestic Violence Against Women) represents. Unlike widowers, widows experience domestic and social violence. This double trauma shatters them.
I have often wondered why the loss of a partner can render another partner so useless that they may actually turn to begging or living on stipends from family members to keep going. This I could connect to the prior economic circumstances of the women. But it obviously does not explain the loneliness which they suffer even beyond the mourning period. Their daily routines have been disrupted, most times in unforeseen ways, they become socially inept. I am tempted to question the self-concept of the individuals but I am cautioned by the truth that we all have rights to any identity we choose and the consequences thereof.tumblr_mdwiolUUWt1rrvcrmo1_500
The 23rd of June is a day for widows according to United Nation. Hence we need to cleanse the land of sin against widows. To cleanse this sin of omission done against this group of secluded or excluded women, we have to reconsider the economic and social impact of our social culture on them.
We can beginning by improving inheritance rights and encourage access of social amenities. Like Ihuoma, the survival of many widows may be through scraping the earth for whatever is left by others to feed the family. Many communities have economic arrangements that deny women ownership of inelastic commodities like land and other forms of properties that can yield economic comfort to the surviving family.
thumb_COLOURBOX559156The coping strategies of women like Ihuoma are not very predictable, some people though exhausted by intense care giving to a terminally ill spouseBL08_1323899f may have prepared for the imminent widowhood. Where the widow is young and unprepared, the realities are harsh. It is often suggested she remarries for her (and maybe her children’s ) economic and social security, as death can shrink any existing income. Remarriage is a challenging survival strategy because of the stigma many societies give to women carrying the widowhood title.  ‘The concubine’ presents this in the choice made for Ahurole over Ihuoma by Ekwueme’s parents.
Many times, in a partriachal society, widowhood is a dead end. The challenge of trying to keep body and soul together does not go without a fight. This is captured in the struggle between Ihuoma and Madume. In the end, every widow hopes for a cobra to come to their rescue as it did for Ihuoma.
Such help is still possible in the present day world with some adjustments in our laws and policies. For a start, couples should be encouraged to register marriages formally. We can create policies that ensure that assets are registered in the name of both spouses.
destinybloom.orgCEDAW legislates for equal inheritance rights, and our countries have ratified it. Perhaps we can pressure our government to make CEDAW effective by signing it into law.
On a lighter side, perhaps we can also ensure that on our guest list for the next birthday, wedding, or social parties, we include the living half of a couple that we once enjoyed their company together. In this way and others, we can empower and reach out to widows today.
-Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Death and the King's Horseman

The Praise singers said to Elesin “Elesin, we placed the reins of the world in your hands, yet you watched it plunge over the edge of the bitter precipice. You sat with folded arms while evil strangers tilted the world from its cause and crashed it beyond the edge of emptiness”. 
So the King is dead, and this time, the chief horseman will not ride with him to the grave. Maybe Elesin’s escape from following the king to the grave is an act of the Gods or maybe it’s just an interruption of people’s culture by Mr. Pilkings (the Colonist/District Officer) who does not understand it. What101264-final_group_headless_horse_guess_who_0018_Layer_6_copy_full-480w precisely does the conflict of the play portray?
While the King waits for Elesin, many interpretations have been drawn from this dramatic work of fiction.  Most of them in my view may be prompted by the author’s preface while others will just be a case of different people’s positionalities.  Wole Soyinka warned against an interpretation that portrays a theme of cultural clash. His prefatory explanation for the conflict at the core of this play is that of the metha-physical with a thredonic essence making Mr. Pilkings interruption of Elesin’s death ritual a mere catalytic incidence. This explanation according to critics, depoliticises the work while also limiting its interpretations.
Intriguingly, 34 years after this intensely complex play was published, the author in an interview with Andrew Gumbel of the Guardian UK, expressed his response to a Chicago cast that couldn’t master the script and were challenged with the rigours of the Yoruba dance steps. ‘I told them they were just as ignorant of African culture, African politics, African rhythms as everyone else,’ he says. What then is 2486the message of Wole Soyinka’s Death and the Kings Horsemen?
While the divergences persist, I will be making my own interpretations of the conflict in the interruption of Elesin’s death ritual by Mr. Pilkings from a development perspective. Perhaps this is not far from the struggle for meaning which permeates every scene in this drama. On this premises, I can draw inferences that the core conflict, characterizes the struggle and ongoing debates on the epistemology of the development concept and practice. The power relation for the legitimacy of meaning may be reflected upon through the conflict of this work. I cannot fail to see the tension of two cultures inherent in this conflict, one that raises a question on the struggle for meaning and its legitimacy. It encapsulates the tension between the cultures of development built on its theories against the culture of the rural communities which is built on their tradition.
No one is allowed to commit suicide peacefully in many cultures, but the Yoruba culture in this context permitted it. Just like Mr. Pilkings could not easily understand the act that Elesin was to undertake without a good grasp of the Yoruba culture, so also development practice has over the years experienced challenges of understanding the characteristics of some culture they intervene in.
Considering this, the debates on the epistemology of development comes into spotlight as it focuses on the dynamics of understanding. Whose development, for whom and by whom?  Critics of development have argued that Lucian-Msamati_1382254cdevelopment interpretations are purely Western with no participation of the recipient nations or culture. This presents development as an exploitative ploy of the former colonists to depoliticize the beneficiaries. The act of intervening in people’s culture and lives claiming to know what is not good for them by development technocrats is not legitimized and the ethics are questionable. These biases impede the objectives of development.14832591-photo-of-wooden-letter-blocks-forming-the-word-development-on-the-white-background
In literary sense, what legitimacy does Mr. Pilkings have to stop this cultural practice? The rather well meaning Mr. Pilkings must have temporarily saved Elesin’s life in that moment, but he also destroyed Elesin’s dignity and self-identity as a law abiding Yoruba man as Elesin is seen to commit nonfeasance. Could the implications of prevailing in a culture he (Pilkings) does not understand be the death of Elesin’s son Olunde who takes on the suicidal death ritual before his father who is delayed in jail?
This raises the question on whether having good intentions alone is enough for development interventions? Suffice to say that such good intentions has saved so much; well meaning interventions have contributed to the end of twin killing which are well captured in literary works in the past decades. Amongst other achievements, it helped tremendously in managing health issues like HIV/AIDS and its various consequences.
Things-Fall-Apart-by-Chinua-Achebe-300x462However the negative cost of poor power relations and misunderstanding inherent in some project implementations is not negligible. Such are represented in the death of literary fiction characters; Elesin’s Son had died in his father’s place. In a similar way, Okonkwo in Achebe’s Things fall apart has also committed suicide as aftermath of an unrest created by a clash of understanding.
Olunde before his death says to Jane the European, “I discovered that you have no respect for what you do not understand”. Obierika in response to Okonkwo’s death says “That man was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself; and now he will be buried like a dog…”
If there be one thread running through all these words, it’s the expression of regret for interruptions and failure to stick to indigenous values by the people.
An antidote to such conflict and lose is personified in the character of Mr. Brown in Things fall apart. Through his exceptional approach, we could see 300px-Brazilian_indians_000that not all missionaries worked with prejudice.  Mr. Brown, was well respected because he lived amongst the natives and tried to understand their culture. He takes advantage of this understanding of the Igbo faith to convert people. A fanatic intrusion into people’s life and faith was not going to work here; he found a way to synergize his need for converts and the community’s need for participating in the new power arrangements.
Mr.Brown’s strategy was not validated by the other missionaries, but such approach surely improves power relations. That way, the beneficiaries of many development projects will not be viewed through this predisposed lens that facilitates conflicts. They will be seen as people who have something to give, and from whom experts can also learn. An appreciation of all these in reality, may have influenced the shift in development understanding, causing a focus on participatory development. Hence the era of project blunders in development seem to fading as beneficiaries find relevance for the interventions in their lives and legitimize it.
soyinka-001There is the danger of trading the characterization of the colonists for development practice in the context of this column. This indirectly transfers all the negative and maybe positive attributes of colonialism to the motives of development. That is not the aim of the comparison I have done here. I hope that the infusion of a development perspective into Wole Soyinka’s Death and the Kings Horse men portrays how all human institutions struggle for cohesion in understanding.

Broken English

Ken Saro-wiwa, Hmmnnn!

His murder was a travesty to modern day Justice, his death by hanging made him an iconic casualty of a capitalist world.  But maybe www.shabazi.orgwe can do him justice by validating the causes he represented while he was amongst us. One of them is protecting the rights of Indigenous people all over the world. This also means protecting their languages from extinction and giving voices to people living on the margin. Ken Saro-wiwa fought for the Ogoni land, an ethnic minority in Nigeria whose landscape were targeted and destroyed for crude oil extraction by Royal/Dutch Shell Group, or do we say destroyed by development?
In his fiction novel ‘Soza Boy’ we follow the character of ‘Mene’ on his journey of transformation from ‘Mene’ to ‘Soza Boy’ (Soldier Boy). What is interesting about Saro Wiwa’s novel is that Soza Boy does not speak the Queen’s English. He communicates to us in Broken English; a translated version of an English Language which has left its natural boundary. It’s just the way it is spoken in Dukana Village.

“Some people have chopped the people food and sold the cloth that the Red Cross people ask them to give all the people. They are selling this food and cloth and afterwards they will preech to the people… these bellymen are friends of the sozas and of the politicians and the traders. And they are all trading in the life of men and women and children. And their customer is death.”

“Dukana is not like Dukana again. Where are chief Birabee them and all those his chiefs who every time will take bribe from the people? Where is Pastor Barika singing his song in the morning and in the evening and every Sunday telling all his lies from the pulpit to the women of Dukana? Where are all the young men with their long prick and big blokkus? And where are all the young young girls with JJC just waiting for the young men? Sozaboy, Dukana don die. The war have buried our town.”

150px-Sozaboy_CoverPerhaps this explains why this work of fiction was not popular amongst readers despite how impressed I am by his ingenious and humorous writing, making him poignantly the best writer for the issues raised below.
According to the late writer, “Sozaboy’s language is what I call ‘rotten English,’ a mixture of Nigerian pidgin English, broken English and occasional flashes of good, even idiomatic English. This language is disordered and disorderly. Born of a mediocre education and severely limited opportunities, it borrows words, patterns and images freely from the mother-tongue and finds expression in a very limited English vocabulary. To its speakers, it has the advantage of having no rules and no syntax. It thrives on lawlessness, and is part of the dislocated and discordant society in which Soza boy must live”.
This work highlights strongly the conflict in the language choice of global development. Language is an expression of nationhood and identity; it is a vital tool for the transmission of values, spiritual and traditional beliefs, and the entire histories of a people from generation to generation. In most countries, even homogeneous ones, we have significant minority languages. But the desire for globalization is perhaps sending indigenous languages around the world to extinction.
The_seated_scribeCritics of ‘Soza Boy’ hit mostly on its choice of language as limiting and ridiculous. This leads me to wonder how we can promote diversity through the existence of different cultures, identity and language when we do not appreciate and encourage the use of minority languages. How do ethnic writers from multi-lingual societies like India and Nigeria confront issues of self, ethnic and national representation in language choices in the face of global audience from dominant cultures? In many cases, writers are forced to think and write in dominant languages about rural realities and minority issues. This presents a dis-connect as I wonder if the local people ever become their readers or benefit from the message they carry.
Suffice to say that over half of the ethnic minorities in the world who are often targets for development, are not English or French s_r01_RTR33M00speakers. In most cases, they are the custodians of the indigenous languages. Yet dominant languages are promoted to them through education as the pre-requisite for a poverty free life, an assurance for socio-economic mobility. But is mother tongue sustenance a barrier to socio-economic development or education? Who says people are not literate because they were educated in local languages?
Education is a major vehicle for empowerment, it’s one of the Millennium Development Goals, used widely to promote sustainable development, but its implementation is also fracturing indigenous languages. It is widely understated, that through formal education, people learn a dominant language at the cost of the mother tongue.
IMG-20130607-WA0000Language discrimination noted in educational approach to development may indeed be reinforcing inequality; it depreciates the capabilities of a people as their language is sent to the bin for the choice of say English, French, German amongst others. It can be argued that the use of dominant languages even in very influential development research concerning the well-being of indigenous people perpetuates subtractions in global linguistic repertoire.
Putting the importance of understanding and promoting local use of language over a dominant one can be a good approach to combating poverty, promoting democracy and citizen’s participation. A language carries with it cultural strength, if a child is educated in a dominant language; they are indirectly transferred to a dominant culture. They probably will suffer low self esteem compared to their peers who are lucky to have their mother tongue as a dominant language. More so, the trans-generational transfer of that language is broken and eventually threatened by extinction.
Adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – along with other relevant human rights standards – provides the foundation for strengthening language rights and discouraging extinction of languages.  But are not these declarations just a Paper Tiger?10035166-copie_new
How does development approach respect or appreciate language right of indigenous people? Could this in any way give reason to the conflicts that arise between institutions and aboriginal people who reject development? Could the conflicts in places like Orissa in India and Ogoni in Nigeria regarding the management of  their natural resources have been avoided if their language, values and rights as a minority where protected?
If the gains of making the world a place with one culture, fewer language, same people is perhaps worthy enough, then the promoters have to grasp the importance of appreciating indegineous languages. The role of promoting and understanding indeginous languages may be underplayed, but therein lays a key trigger for sustainable development.
220px-Ken_Saro-WiwaGovernment and development agencies/non-governmental organization can still right the wrongs if for example, we consider promoting reading and writing cultures in indigenous languages. More authors may choose to go the way of Ngugi wa thiongo who now writes in his mother tongue despite the minority they present in readership.
Ken Saro Wiwa, is fondly remembered as a civil right activist, writer, with many more books which I intend to read. His positive contributions were cut short by a government that was determined to end his political career at all cost. Saro-wiwa may be dead, but the language and rights of indigenous people does not have to die with him.


Is Marriage Still a Private Affair?

For over 172 hours, the French parliament and senate engaged in a heated debate. It was followed with furious clashes and near fist-fights in the National Assembly; the bone of contention was the bill on whether gays and lesbians should get married. This became one of the most debated in the history of France.
images (10)It makes me wonder why many states prioritize being in citizen’s bedrooms and legislating human emotions rather than more precious human needs. While African countries are plagued with livelihood issues, hunger, unemployment amongst others, the Nigerian government also prioritized the passing of a bill that will jail any supporter of gay marriage for 10yrs and more.
Some things are guided by common sense, others are guided by morality. The sensibility in the priorities of our leaders and lawmakers is what puzzles me. In the face of hunger, terrorism, unemployment, poverty, war amongst other burning issues, the investment of the states in legislating the wrongs and rights of the marriage concept needs to be k13128037questioned.
The Suicidal death of a 78yrs old far right French historian as his form of radical opposition to same sex marriage at the altar of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris this week climaxed it all. If Chinua Achebe were still amongst mortals, we would be asking him a question; is Marriage still a Private Affair? 

The Stranger with a One Eyed Box

Reading the Lion and the Jewel as a child, I saw an old Bale Baroka that was in contest with Lakunle to marry the otherwise beautifulProf-Wole-Soyinka Sidi. That was all I saw. Reading this rather complex drama with so many themes and interpretations again this year, one phrase stuck to my mind, ‘the stranger with a one eyed box.’  What strikes me most is the interpretation I could readily give this in the context of development.
bride priceLakunle captures the character of the ‘stranger with the one eyed box’, the man from the outside world. Lakunle who detests the idea of paying Sidi’s bride price, takes photos of Sidi and hitherto, a picture book is produced about the village. There is the picture of Sidi on the front page. Sidi is overjoyed that she graces the cover and other leafs in the magazine, and her beauty will be announced to the world. To note precisely how well placed she is in the magazine, she asks ‘Is not Bale’s image in the book at all?’ The response was ‘oh yes, it is. But it would have been much better for Bale if the stranger had omitted him altogether. His image is in a little corner somewhere in the book, and even that corner he shares with one of the village latrines.’
LionJewelMetaphorically, the above narrative addresses the power of representation. I imagined it to capture the western process of representing Africa with the picture of its unassuming children floating on their screens as a tool for fund raising. Many times the power of the lens to capture, prove and evoke a particular perception has been used severally by unethical western photographer to create and reinforce the identity of a poor Africa through the faces of the children gracing the papers, television screen amongst other mediums.
You know what I am talking about, those pictures that rape a child’s dignity. Those pictures that go with captions of poverty, hunger, the picture of a teary black child, clad in pants or maybe dirty clothing, with grimy hands, with a little startle and helplessness all over his or her face.
Telegraph.co.uk A tear runs down the cheek of an HIV-positive child at a home for the terminally-ill in Roodepoort, South Africa

Unicef time-to-share-banner-aug

Many times I imagine they look helpless in the face of an adult stranger clicking away their faces with a camera, seeking not their consent. If you have been in Europe and watched the television, you certainly know what I am talking about. Otherwise, you may not fully grasp this because these pictures like Sidi’s pictures are not taken for the consumption of the calibre of people objectified therein.
Large_format_camera_lensThis issue occupies a problematic place on the theatre of fund raising in international development. Yes Aid Agencies are doing amazing jobs supporting developing countries with fund. They need funds to replenish; they need to make people donate towards helping needy countries and supporting different causes. While the intentions may be great, the medium of realising their objectives remains in questions.
Kevin Cater the Pulitzer award winning photographer of the picture of the ‘Sudanese Girl’ must have undoubtedly had goodkevincarter2 intentions, the award was even better. But the good intents collapsed under the weight of the criticisms of taking a dying child’s picture without saving her. This experience was so bad it was noted to influence Cater’s suicide few months later. The world many times judges actions and not the intentions. The act of capturing a particular moment, a particular expression, a singular scene in a person’s life and continuously recycle it even when the person has moved on from there has come into question severally. Beyond the responsibility of the photographer is an organisation that understands the implications of using the face of poor children as an emotional anchor to justify their actions.
Children in challenging or vulnerable situations in European Media always have their faces obscured to protect them and their future. There is a double standard here as this gesture is not extended to the African child. This particularly disrespects the dignity of the very lives the agencies claim to help. Is there no better way to raise funds without using the innocence of a child who in most cases is unaware of the distance his or her picture has travelled?
A striking connection is made in the fact that the pictures of Sidi like the pictures of these children are not meant for the village a4d75127215f52c18ccd5844527298c4_Sconsumption. These pictures continue to challenge the governance of the countries they are taken from. There was a promise to put Sidi’s image on the stamp; this is comparable to the image of these children donation-form-main-imagebeing iconic to the poor African identity. People, who are subtly pressured to give by the vulnerable positioning of another, will subconsciously see the beneficiary from a position of weakness or as a lesser person. Over the years, poverty has stuck as an icon for African countries; it has even become natural resources of the people. Every natural resource is to be paid for, there are ethics and laws guiding its purchase, but again the poverty of Africa is exploited freely. Lakunle was not going to pay what it cost to have Sidi. To him, ‘to pay the price will be to buy a heifer off the market stall’. Worthy of note, is the positioning of Baroka the Bale of Ilujinle by the latrine, the African government is ridiculed in this process as they are portrayed as powerless in protecting the dignity of their future; their children.
I imagine different scenes, I imagine the power relation between the photographer and the subject, the power behind the lense, the power to define. What will the picture of this stranger look like if the tables were turned and s/he is captured by the child? If a child Kid with camera-1was asked to tell their own story through the camera, what story will s/he tell of that moment s/he was snapped? Will they tell the story of a poor Africa or a warm Africa? The story of a hungry Africa or of their loving father, mother, brother, sister and friends? I am still imagining.
Consciously or not, the Author Wole Soyinka’s injection of the ‘one eyed box’ is a way of presenting how people select and interpret what they want from a field of many activities happening around them.  The myopic perceptions created by this imagery are captured in the word ‘one eye’ which tells that the true context may not be well appreciated. In the case of children who have a long life ahead of them, these pictures, their recycling and usage have them trapped in the contest of vulnerabilitybe12e1b3-099f-4b99-b42b-02e5d8ca01e0 even when in reality the children have grown away.
To the next stranger with the one eyed box intending to click unethically at a poor child and travel with their pictures to landscapes the child may never step foot in, reflect on this. I hear the children speak in Sidi’s voice saying  ‘every time your actions deceive me, making me think you merely wish to whisper something in my ear,  then comes this licking of my lips with yours, it’s so unclean’.

Our Grand Mother’s Drum

I love Mark Hudson the Journalist, but I love more his semi-fiction novel ‘Our Grandmother’s drum’ which bridged the gap mark-hudsonbetween travel and fiction writing. It is the story of the lives of women of the Mandinka tribe, Keneba, West Kiang, Gambia. The Fiction name Dulaba was given to it by the award winning author. Bored with his London realities, the young Tubab Marky (as he is called by the women) is drawn to the mystery of the Gambian women and hence set out to honour his curiosity. There he worked as an amazing anthropologist, escaping the researcher’s bias by living and toiling the earth with these women through the seasons of hunger, of rain, of sunshine and abundance. He was not just a visiting tubab (white man), he was a part of them, a member of their Saniyoro kafo (women’s club).  Even though his feelings of difference as a result of his skin colour remained ever present, he stayed through the year.
The ethics of his data gathering has remained in question as it may have been unconsented that he would publish a novel about them. It implies that he stole the secret of the women of Dulaba, creating yet another impression of the European unethically taking from Africa’s natural resources including her poverty and ignorance. Having noted this, Hudson has done a fantastic job situating the IMG_3981women of Dulaba and their lives in the map of humanity. He gave a poignant story vividly describing the people, the culture and the landscape in joy and sadness, he indeed created a portrait of rural African life. As is expected of our rich Africa, 140various subject matters were covered ranging from female genital mutilation, religion and agriculture amongst others. One relevant for this column is the representation of women’s role in African agriculture.
Have you ever heard these comments about women feeding the world? Have you read that in sub-saharan african, women contribute 60-80% of labour in food production for household consumption and for sale? These are few examples of dominant narratives of women in African agriculture. Every time I see this, I have often wondered if I would still find so many women toiling the field as described and I wondered what men did. I grew up going to the farm with my parents (even though I detested it then); I remember there were men and likewise women tilling the earth in neighbouring farms. Farm work evolved around family relationships and so even men, women and children like us played a role. I guardian.co.ukalso remember that my mother and many of her friends in the rural village were in addition traders who I saw in the traditional Afor market. Hence I am startled at the power some of these claim and the figures that they carry have for conviction. Many times I wondered about the lives and stories behind the statistics quoted.  Each one of them noticeably displaced our men in the field and put them anywhere else.
All of these claims have in the past decades unequivocally influenced the structure and design of development investments in the African agricultural sector. They make a gender case for the challenges of African agriculture and support policy debates in funding and promotion of activities for women in African agriculture.
Like Hudson, in 2012, I carried out an academic research travelling through maps of different claims. I pitched my tent on one of them, following their trajectories right on my desk to confirm the origin and character of evidence supporting it. Four decades after, the origin remained traceable to the identity constructions of women IMG_3982in agriculture by Esther Boserup. Her 1970’s much renowned work ‘Women’s Role in Economic Development’  created an identity for rural women, it put them out there but it also generalized their realities.
There certainly has been substantial changes in African Agriculture, considering the amount of investment that has gone into it from aid agencies over the years. If not for its political expediency, why are these changes not reflecting in the claims? This old data remains shaky and overstates the facts, its continued recycling speaks even more. But Hudson’s work gives me another perspective.
The narratives in Our Grandmother’s Drum gives qualitative evidence validating the claims of the hard working women and the lazy men theory, it is the story behind the claims I have been looking for. Yes, in Dulaba, women probably contribute more than 70% considering the realities that are presented by Hudson. With glimpes of brightly coloured clothes flashing in sunlight we see the African-women-farmers-300x199great mass of women milling over the land in Dulaba. The women of Dulaba spent their life time in a circle of childbearing, domestic labour and manual agriculture summing up in the rhythms created by mortar and pestle as they pound and cook. With their songs and dance, voices of different generations of women rise together, they create scenes of domestic intimacy that excludes the men. From the planting to the weeding time bindeyo when women battle with the earth to preserve their crops, all these putEthnic_Woman_Walking_with_a_Goat_100427-234387-779042 together, amounts to little more than slavery according to Hudson. But where are the men in Dulaba?
Mention is made of young men working in rotations two decades before, planting large fields of groundnuts and millet. Now, Hudson record that ‘while the men liked to sleep through the day, the women had continued their task’ as described. He validates that indeed women may actually be feeding the Gambian world.
As I think of the contrast between Dulaba and the landscape I grew up in, I realise that the world of Africa may be similar in many ways but also peculiarly different. Dulaba in Gambia may never be the same with my landscape, but the importance of agriculture inIMG_4001 (2) Africa’s development cannot be doubted. So now I ask if we may actually continue to focus on the investment on women or do we find a way of galvanising the men and the women through development project without fracturing family and other social relationships? Can the strengthening of our agricultural sector also strengthen the gender and family relationships in agriculture just like in the time I grew up?
Thank you Mark Hudson for the perspectives you bring, but I thank more, Christine Okali for blessing me with this book, she is a dear teacher who has always challenged many of my assumptions.
-Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Is the Marriage Market Stillborn?

‘… If the bride price is not paid, the bride will die at childbirth’. These words thwarted every ambition for happiness, books (1)progressive living and well-being for the character ‘Akunna’ in Buchi Emecheta’s ‘the Bride Price’. The author used this work as a medium to explore several social issues of which for me, the marriage economy falls into. The theme focused on the politics around establishing a marriage in our society. An important strand in the conflicts it projected is the contentions around the dowry. One will ask why the bride price of a woman is so important. In ‘Akunna’s 400_F_49638666_kfrIsxJnFg2vQurfpzWy2XHMd8ddqzARexperiences, we see a poignant story of faith in the economic difference being educated can make in a woman’s bride price. Through several social upheavals twisted along cultural lines, this work does not just expose how cultural beliefs can rape the mind. It adds to the existing body of knowledge that reminds us of the importance of marriage, not just for meeting physiological needs, but also for its economic benefits as it indirectly contribute to the local economy of people.
According to Margaret Mead, marriage is a socio-economic arrangement where consideration is made of wealth, class and job skills wealth of the man and woman. For better or worse, marriage for Akunna’s society had more than a social relevance. While it is portrayed to be protecting a withering culture of class and caste, the relevance of any victory the ‘Ibuza’ culture might have had in this work is most conceivable in today’s world from an economic lens.
It is not in doubt that marriage is the lifeblood of the economy. Believe me, where the economy is, that is k1312803714413356-3d-marriage-word-sphere-on-white-backgroundwhere all governments pitch their tents. This is proven through by the realities of the over-protectiveness of the rules of engagement for the marriage institution by many states in the world. Within international development, civil right debates are dominated around issues on whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to get married or not, arguments have been made on the emotional and cultural implications of this. Most interesting is the economic dynamics of this new paradigm to private and social benefits. But the fear for the unknown impacts of legalizing non-heterosexual union decades away keeps the decisions hanging. All of this speaks of the importance of marriage to the local, national and global governance.
While many states consider the pressures of legalizing homosexual marriages, most African countries like Nigeria do not find it a images (10)threat. So I am often caught in my thought wondering what the consequences are for my country and others alike.
While the pressure pots are yet to hit our constitutional door steps, shouldn’t we first of all soften on the stance of whether gays and lesbians should get married and worry more on what is happening to the commitments at the heart of the already established marriages?  What in the society has influenced the increase in divorce rate, the desensitization of stigma around single parenting, the delay in age of marriage and more so the rising choices for homosexual relationships? Is there a collision of forces? what precisely has influenced this paradigm shift on the part of men and downloadwomen to produce a loveless economy laced by rising impression that marriages is bond-less and a terminable institution?
Commitment is the core of every marriage. The global economy is driven by sexual, emotional and other forms of commitment between two (or maybe more) people. At the induction of every marriage commitment, a tree of economic growth is planted that increases many sectors of the economy. Need I say that marriage has been the springboard for producing a nation’s labour force? But that core, is threatened heavily, so is the economy.
bld016719Many elucidators have given numerous perspectives in response to the evolving trends; some have charged falling sex ratios, changes in supply and demand balance, rise in age of commitment, amongst others. But then, different societies may have their account of what is changing the pattern of the wind that drives marriages.
Zainab Alkali’s ‘The Stillborn’, gives an insight which may account in certain ways to the position of young women. It represents a 51QTyupPXRL._SL500_AA300_shift in mindset that has organically taken root coming from a disenchantment of a failing marketing approach. De Beauvoir states that ‘marriage is the destiny traditionally offered to women by society’. Marriage is a woman’s destiny, and the hunger to fulfil that destiny injected into every young woman is reinforced with the carrots of a heterosexual intensely romantic relationship dangles just everywhere. With all naivety, the character of ‘Li’ in ‘the Stillborn’ hung to the dream of a romantic marriage that will provide material and emotional support and be the answer to all her problems. In ‘Li’s theory, all she had to do was provide him sexual satisfaction, cook his meal and cuddle him to her breast, and then the dreams will come true.
love-carrots-low-res-iStock_000013121473MediumLike her friend ‘Faku’, these women became disillusioned as their belief and faith in marriage meeting their needs remained a stillborn. Marriage was not a Siamese twin relationship where their heart beat together and two halves made a whole. They had believed a lie, for them, pursuing the promises of the carrot was like chasing a moving target. Finally, there is a shift in mindset for the women and a redefined approach to seal the cracks on the wall of their life. Their new understanding redefines marriage and their expectations; it recasts the patriarchal society and the favoured role given to men. Questioning conventions, ‘Li’ uses her new mindset as a weapon of self empowerment.
Such disillusionment and rapid changes in the economy has raised many daughters of ‘Li’ who see it more practical ???????????????????????????????????????for educated single women to sustain themselves and their children without a man’s help. The traditional value of marriage keeps withering away by the day, in the mind of a man, maybe the character of ‘Habu’ saw commitment to ‘Li’ as a constrain, controlling and confining him to the eventual robbery of his masculinity.
Like gold, diamond and currency markets, the marriage market can suffer swing in prices with small changes to the supply and demand ratio. Such swings can be caused by a changing perception. In the case of marriages today, the swing hits strongly at the level of commitment given by individuals in the institution and those outside.
10318535-married-couple-bride-and-groom-figurine-inside-a-roll-of-us-dollar-banknote-bills-isolated-on-whiteThe lack of that organic growth in the culture that sustains marriage in the heart of people needs attention of everyone interested in sustaining economic growth driven by marriage.
Succinctly, this review has not given an explanation of what is happening to marriages, it only suggests and adds to existing perspectives using works of fiction. The views that the characters in ‘the Stillborn’ conceptualizes may again give insight on how to progressively focus on sustaining our socio-economic development, considering that individual and family patterns fit into larger socio-economic structures of our society.download (1)
Nonetheless, how high the demands for marriage will be in the future will depends on what approach of  development each person and the society adopts. If we choose to consider a holistic approach that prioritizes the well-being and happiness of the people, the marriage concept may suffer a shock as individuals will define marriages on the backdrop of happiness, self esteem amongst others. But if we choose economic approach, then it may continue to survive just the way it is.
-Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Marriage is a Private Affair

images (5)‘… when it comes to marriage, it’s not that simple’ Nnaemeka said in Achebe’s ‘Marriage is a private affair’.  Iimagese  believe him, considering the different dynamics the marriage concept has produced over the years. Marriage permeates almost every culture and society in the map of humanity, promoting sexual, emotional and other forms of commitment between two (or maybe more) people. That commitment in itself has serious implications to the economic development of a people. It has continued to thrive through many decades and centuries. But in the wind of change, many things wither.
It is amazing to see how like humans, social concepts evolve and change. Marriage too has changed. In growing up days, we were all children of two parents. The only kid who had just a mother had lost his father not long before. As the years rolled on, more students images (6)had one parent and later in life when I visited homes of friends, their parents were more of house mates and that commitment that bonded many marriages was fast withering. More so, some mothers I knew were never called wives before their children came forth.
In this era, the increasing rise of homosexual marriages is undeniable. The changes also spreads to parenting. Few years after Elton John and his husbands’ adoption denials caused media frenzy and increased awareness on homosexual parenting thereof. There are so many intersections to this issue and I cannot exhaust them.
images (3)Whether or not we choose to acknowledge marriage as an institution, it sure has lots of benefit and administrative convenience going for it. Married workers are considered more productive, hence marriage benefits earning. Marriage gives automatic inheritance rights and grants social security benefits. It protects and can reward your emotional investments when things don’t work out unlike when you just date. There are many more unspoken advantages of being married than I know of.
This week, I am reviewing this concept through works of fiction to help elucidate the politics and drivers of the marriage concept. On my table already is Achebe’s ‘Marriage is a private affair’. Suggestions of other works of fiction I could consult will be highly appreciated.

Who wears the mask?

my.vanderbilt.edugoodpersonpublicationsThe column this week is aligned to the last post. It’s no coincidence that I  choose to be responsive 20130225_IOM_307to an issue that had reoccurred in the media last week. International media captured the ongoing debate on the sex trade law between the United States government and organisations that benefit from the PEPFAR (Presidents Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) funding. Prostitution remains a controversial issue, little wonder I struggle to get an appropriate definition for it.  Hmm… That flesh for cash business; anyone that buys or sells the flesh for cash is a prostitute. Did I hear you say I am wrong? Speaking jocosely, you must be an American politician, a man, a moralist or a judgemental person to disagree with me. You can be everything else but not one of the three gods of Setzuan or Shen te the renowned prostitute.
In the stereotypical way of engaging the issue of prostitution in many societies, Bertolt Brecht Photo by Johny Knightpresents ‘Shen te’ (alias the Prostitute) who lived in ‘Setzuan’ (an imaginary city in China) and relates with masked men. (I say masked men because we rarely know who patronizes a prostitute. Maybe because they are ignored being that their involvement is inexorably, a force of nature that is above the law.) With his noted style of using masks in his work, the writer presents an interplay of characters and scenes that gives insight into survival sex work and the poverty that drives it.
In a time when good nature was rare and the laces of poverty littered everywhere, three gods visited Setzuan in search of one good person. Contrary to the ideals we may expect, the search of the gods yielded ‘Shen te’ as the finest human being in the capitalist impacted city of Setzuan.
In Bertolt Bretchs work, Der gute Mensch von Sezuan literarily translated the good woman of Setzuan; we see a society existing in cycles of poverty. According to Wong (the water seller) there is ‘nothing unusual about poverty’ here. In Setzuan, we are reminded images (1)that goodness and capitalism cannot coexist. The characters in this play proved that evil and criminal acts are necessary for a capitalist system to survive as they grease its wheel. The three gods suffer a dearth in their search because there really may be no good person existing in such a system that is not corrupted by the obscenity of capitalism.images
One begins to question how goodness and morality alike should be prioritized by an individual in the face of hunger, lack of shelter and all the needs that comes with poverty.  How also does a state cladding a capitalist coat suggest that morality should loom over policy decisions that govern issues like prostitution which in many cases, is a detritus of immoral capitalism? A good case in point is this 2003 anti-prostitution law of the American Congress which has not been reversed.
The Anti-prostitution law reads that federal funds may not be used to ‘advocate the practice of prostitution’ or ‘provide assistance to any group or organization that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution’. Hence it requires that all PEPFAR beneficiaries take a pledge in accordance with the law against prostitution.  The United States is the largest governmental donor of HIV/AIDS funds in the world, hence taking the pledge or denouncing it has huge implication for global health. Prostitution inarguably is a strong component in the fight against HIV/AIDS and the broader challenges of Human Trafficking issues amongst others. This cobweb relationship is inextricable and therefore any policy intervention that ignores it is problematic. Engaging this from a law and policy perspective of international development, the review of this law is neccesary. Through the past week, media has captured activities focused on this as the Supreme Court responds to the amicus briefs filed by UNAid and other organizations for its reversal.
httpwww.lowbird.comdataimages200903girls-love-thief-in-the-mask-012931.jpgIn America, likewise many other countries where prostitution is illegal, the laws are based on ideologies which are morally inspired, lacking sincere grasp of realities. The moral ideologies are often deflated by the verity on ground and compounded by the strategies adopted in implementing the law. Many times through enforcing our law, we discriminate participants in the skin trade by continuously masking and protecting the recipients, and prosecuting, humiliating and stigmatizing the service providers. More women have been victims of this unfair rule except for rare situations where men like the morally upright Elliot Laurence Spitzer (the past governor of New York) are exposed for political gains.
It will be short sighted of me to say that the solution for countries that criminalizes prostitution is in adopting a more holistic approach that equally engages both the supply and demand angle of the flesh for cash industry. Short sighted because I think there is need for the policy makers to understand the intricacies and drivers of the sex trade market. Prostitution in many cases is driven by poverty which must be addressed. It’s also worthy of note that prostitution is an addiction, a means of livelihood, a coping mechanism, a hobby amongst others.
Bertolt Bretchs dramatizes poverty and survival sex as a driver for ‘Shen te’ who proclaims that ‘I should love to stay with one man… stock-vector-teardrop-a-woman-touching-a-masked-man-the-characters-and-the-background-are-on-separate-layers-37520596I’ll like to be good but surely there’s rent to pay’. Cyprian Ekwensi’s narrative in ‘Jagua Nana’ presents us a psycho-social case in point in understanding the drivers of prostitution within the urban African society. With the Character of ‘Jagua’, we find a young woman whose sojourn into the skin trade sprang from her restless spirit and a search for adventure.
Though written many decades ago and representing different social contexts, the two writers through their characters, show that empowerment and new preoccupations can wean women off prostitution. The high point for the two protagonists is seen in their shifts into trading and becoming more useful to the society. While ‘Shen te’ opens a tobacco shop and becomes the angel of the slum, Jagua also goes into socially profitable ventures.
If Americans where gods, they will judge Shen te, if they had the power, she would know no empowerment.  Many thanks to the absence of PEPFAR in Setzuan, Shente got a new life as the angel of the slum who ran a tobacco shop.  The three gods of Setzuan were clearly non-judgemental,  It appears reasonable to look beyond the actions of a prostitute and focus on the intent. In the face of stinking poverty and lack which gnawed the three gods in Setzuan, the mask of morality dropped. The gods empowered ‘Shen te’ not on the grounds of morality but that of necessity. Where the gods to be judgemental,  their own morality will be deciphered and hence they will be found wanting for sharing shelter with a prostitute.
Through his master piece character ‘Shen te’, Bertolt Brecht calls for us to think outside the conventional box, it persuades a thorough consideration of many issue of obscenity far and above prostitution. A moral law against prostitution may be ideal but should not be a precondition toimg_125927872942_49207_eventoriginal sustainable development interventions. Apart from a possible negative impact on global health, another implication is that some people’s livelihood will be set on fire, children of prostitutes will walk the streets and yet the world will worse. Rather than shut the door on their faces, we must think of how to shelter them. Maybe replacing a law against prostitution with a law against poverty and inequalities can wean those to whom the flesh for cash business provides bread and butter.


A wordle generated specially for the series on prostitution. I have been inspired by the many names I could derive from sex trade.

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