Friday, September 29, 2006
I'm also curious as to who this world's biggest thief is. Surely it's someone who was formerly in government, as ordinary 419 criminals don't have access to funds as large as those in government coffers. We all have names in our heads, and of course there was that supposed World Bank email which circulated and mentioned a few prominent names and the amounts stolen. But publishing that would be libelous...
Thursday, September 28, 2006
The passage is a reminder of how difficult it is for democracy to take hold in the developing world. Mexico was essentially a one-party state until Vicente Fox and his National Action Party (NAP) broke the jinx in 2000. There has been a struggle between the NAP candidate, Felipe Calderón (who won officially), and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the left winger who has challenged the results - even declaring himself head of a parallel government.
Some things for context. In Mexico, presidents are allowed only one six-year term. The seat of the presidency is called the Eagle's Throne. Cárdenas refers to Lázaro Cárdenas, president of Mexico between 1934 and 1940.
It's hard, this democracy thing, isn't it?'An honest man,' the Old Man said. 'I can vouch for that. He thought of himself as the Hercules who was going to clean the stables of Mexican politics. And I warned him, "It's dangerous to be really honest in this country. Honesty may be admirable but it ends up as a vice. You have to be flexible in the face of corruption. I know you're honest, Tomás, but close your eyes - like divine justice - in the face of the corruption of the rest of them. Remember, firstly, that corruption lubricates the system. Most politicians, government employees, contractors, etc, won't have another opportunity to get rich once the six-year presidential term is over. They'll go back to oblivion. But they want to be forgotten, so that nobody accuses them of anything, and rich, so that nobody bothers them. Then another gang of villains will turn up, but denying them the chance to pocket anything would be a mistake.
'"What you need," I told Tomás, "is to surround yourself with scoundrels, because you can control the corrupt. It's the pure man who's the problem, the one who gets in your way. In Mexico there should be only one honest man, the President, surrounded by a lot of tolerated and tolerable scoundrels who in six years' time will disappear from the political map.
'"The bad thing about you," I said to Tomás Moctezuma Moro, "is that you want the map and the land to match. Look, live at peace in the centre of the map and let the labourers of corruption cultivate the land.'"
The Old Man sighed and I could almost feel a tremor in the hand that was pressing down on mine with incredible strength.
'He didn't listen to me, Valdivia. He proclaimed his redemptive intentions right, left and centre. That way, he believed, he'd gain the greatest popular support. And he was acting out of conviction, without a doubt. He was going to put an end to corruption. He said it was the lowest form of stealing from the poor. That's what he said. The thieves were going to jail. The poor would have protection against abuse.
'"Slow down Tomás," I told him. "They're going to crucify you if you go round playing the redeemer. Don't announce what you intend to do. Do those things when you're sitting on the Throne, just like Cárdenas did. Don't destroy the system. You're part of it. Good or bad, it's the only one we've got. What are you going to replace it with? You can't just invent something overnight. Be satisfied with making an example of a few scapegoats at the beginning of your term. Make a moral statement early on and then you can rest." But he didn't listen to me. He was a Messiah. He believed in what he was saying.'
I was stunned. He crossed himself.
'Who killed him Valdivia? The cast list is enormous as the cast list of the film The Ten Commandments. Do you remember? Drug-traffickers. Local bosses. Governors. Local presidents. Corrupt judges. Bent policemen. Bankers fearful that Moro would take away the public subsidies that financed their private incompetence. Union leaders afraid that Moro would force them to be voted on and approved by their union members. Truck drivers overpricing their merchandise. Millers exploiting the corn-producing local farmers. Loggers turning forests into deserts. New land owners controlling land, seeds and tractors, while impoverished farmers continued to use the ox and the wooden plough.'
Did the Old Man sigh, or was it the parrot?
'The list is endless, I tell you...'
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
The oil companies do it in Nigeria with gas flaring, where more gas is flared than any other country in the world. In Bangladeshi, the government had to cancel plans to build a coalmine after adverse publicity from the project. Several people died during protests over a project that would have destroyed hundreds of villages. The company, Asia Energy, wouldn't let journalists travel to the area, for obvious reasons. The Daily Star newspaper of Bangladesh even says that there are lessons to learn from Nigeria's industrial and environmental experiences.
Africa is always painted as this verdant and fertile land, the place to be in tune with nature. Perhaps it was true 100 years ago, when rich explorers travelled to the Dark Continent to shoot game, but that myth is literally disappearing. Deforestation, overfarming, desertification, famine, flooding, landslides, you name it, the continent is afflicted by it. The saddest thing is that Africa gets all the environmental carnage you'd expect from the industrial revolution, but none of the benefits. No increase in technological know-how, no increase in job prospects, just plain old rubbish.
Nigeria has no waste disposal mechanism. There are piles of rubbish which engulf roads and trap communities in Lagos. I have seen enormous piles of rubbish being burnt in built-up areas like Maryland. Lagos, and Nigeria in general, can't deal with its own waste, so how on earth was it supposed to deal with excess waste from abroad? The Dutch company that considered disposing of the rubbish suddenly raised its rate to 40 times the originial price. 40 times. "This is too expensive, let's go to the bend-down boutique of waste disposal. Let's go to Africa", they thought.
And so the crap gets dumped in one of Africa's most beautiful cities (don't know if civil unrest has ravaged it). People die. Nothing changes. Some people have been arrested for the dumping, but what if the stuff hadn't been dumped in the largest city, Abidjan? If they had gone further up the coast to smaller San Pedro, nobody would have flickered an eyelid.
The defecation on Africa happens because the governments let it happen, and the companies can get away with it there. There seems almost no point to the law unless it's used. Trifigura and the like need to know what they're letting themselves in for if they go near the African coast with their crap.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Several African countries hold a special emotional tug on my heart. Ghana, Cameroon, Somalia, Zambia, Gambia, are some of them, mainly because of friends I had in secondary school who were from those places. Most people who went to my school are armed to the teeth with teases for any of these countries. Nigerians bore the brunt of most of the teases, for reasons far too obvious and numerous to mention.
One of our favourites was the Gambia, or Gambia. The "the" was adopted in 1965, after independence, probably to aspire to some lofty African Kingdom. The "the" isn't used much anymore, a sign that men in cravattes are dying out. Gambia's in the news; Yahya Jammeh, or the Mosquito Soldier (or something similar) as we called him in school has won a third term in office.
Yahya Jammeh (pictured) is a fascinating character who became Gambian president in a military coup in 1994. Aged just 29, he was the world's youngest president. Before the elections, the man reportedly declared that he would rule Gambia for another four decades. I can't find a reference for it, but will put one up when I do. We called him Mosquito Soldier because he was as skinny as a mosquito, would probably cave under the weight of a rifle, and he wore those oversized aviator sunglasses so beloved of African military rulers. None of us could understand why a tiny country like Gambia should have a coup. What was there to control? At the time, the population was just over a million people.
Sir Dawda Jawara had been a sit-tight leader, having been president for 24 years when he was ousted. There was an attempted coup d'état in 1981, which was thwarted by the Gambia's neighbour, Senegal's army. It'd be interesting to find out the course of the 1981 coup, because the Gambia didn't have an army. So heaven knows how they planned to seize power.
That coup was the turning point in Gambia's modern history, because after that an army was established. And now the clincher, Nigeria had a hand in training their army. In the '80s, military assistance came from many countries, inlcuding the US, and the UK. But in the '90s, after some unrest in the newly formed army, Nigerian army officers were actually in charge of the Gambian army.
In school, it was our idea of playground intellectual talk, just like we'd debate about capital punishment, and the role of America as world police (how some things never change). For some of us, it was thoroughly amusing that the Gambia had never witnessed a successful coups d'etat. But put Nigeria in charge of the army, and voila! The Gambia was tiny, they didn't need an army, we'd mutter to ourselves. And when they get an army, the ask the land of Abacha, Babangida, Buhari to look after affairs - bad idea.
After the 1981 coup attempt, the confederation of Senegambia was established with Senegal. The union didn't last too long, but made a lot of sense. Gambia is the smallest country in Africa, a tiny strip of land around the River Gambia less than 50km wide. It is surrounded on all sides by Senegal, except in the west, where the River Gambia opens out into the Atlantic. Basically, they Gambia is almost like an autonomous part of the Senegal which speaks English.
Senegal and the Gambia are more or less the same. Same cultures, same languages, same religions. The reason for the split can be traced back to colonial times, and the so called Scramble for Africa (Thomas Pakenham's book, highly recommended). The French grabbed the land around the Senegal River, the British grabbed the land around the River Gambia. So post-colonial era some speak French, and some speak English.
Gambians are extremely warm and hospitable. Ever had a traditional Gambian meal? When I'd go to friends' for Eid, the food was normally an incredible rice dish, laced with healthy morsels of lamb. They'd serve it on a large tray, and everyone (I remember up to six of us) would sit around the tray and tuck in. We used our hands, scooped some rice, squeezed out the oil (it was always quite oily), and tossed the dollop in our mouths. Excuse me while I drool.
Being the smallest country in Africa, our Gambian friends faced jibes by the hundreds. Some of the ones I remember, and still make me chuckle: Gambia's so small that when I was flying over, I blinked and I missed it. My personal favourite was: Gambia's so small that if you leave the tap on for five minutes you'll cause a flood.
Here's to the Gambia.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Even though I'm black, I've never been able to build up enough bilious rage to be upset by people blacking up. Either it's not offensive at all, or it's one of those latent forms of racism which some black people ( I have been one in the past) don't realise is being targetted at them. Nevertheless, Hannah Pool puts up a robust argument about why she finds blacking up despicable:
Have you ever wondered what Kate Moss would look like as a black woman? No, me neither, but for those of you who have - well now we know, thanks to a picture taken by Nick Knight for yesterday's Africa issue of the Independent newspaper.There's also a history of blacking up to accompany Hannah Pool's piece.
You can just imagine the meeting. "Let's do an Africa issue," says Well Meaning Executive Number 1. "Great, who shall we get on the cover? Iman? Naomi?" asks WME 2. "Nah ... too obvious. I know, how about Kate Moss? Let's make her look African!" Cue much back-slapping at their own cleverness, followed by, perhaps, a lunch of jollof rice and curried goat to seal the deal. Read on...
Anybody with access to a radio, television, newspapers, or internet, would know the consequences of bandying the Prophet Mohammad's name willy-nilly. And the rioters would know that burning churches is so last week in the West Bank (pictured), rather passé . What Jigawa needs is not arrests, but internet. It would solve all the ignorance problems.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
IBB is serious. After last month's report in the FT about him wanting to run for president in next year's general elections, he has now revealed his plans to the rest of Africa. He appeared on the BBC World Service programme, Network Africa, this morning; listen to the interview. I'm seething with rage. The irascible Jeremy Paxman once said that when he interviews politicians, he thinks, "why is this lying bastard lying to me?" That's how I think of Babangida. Why is this fat, lying, coup plotting, thieving general lying to me?
He never gave anyone the benefit of anything constitutional, and he now clings onto it for the chance to run for president. The constitution needs to be rewritten. Any constitution that can allow Babangida to run for president, within 13 years of him plunging Nigeria into the madness that was Abacha, deserves the paper shredder treatment. Barefaced cheek.
In 2000, the late Pierre Salinger, White House press secretary during JFK's administration, said that if Bush won, he'd leave the US. He made good on his promise, and moved to France, where he died in 2004. If IBB wins, consider me a Nigerian exile. I will not set foot on Nigerian soil so long as IBB is president.
If Nigeria votes IBB in, they deserve him and everything he does to them. After all, people get the governments they deserve. By far the worst IBB-related sentiment I've heard is the "na him spoil am, so make e come fix am" claptrap. Apparently, when a builder through shoddy workmanship, brings down your house, you should invite him once again to rebuild it. You're right, it doesn't make sense.
This is the part where I'm supposed to implore all right thinking Nigerians "not to vote for him, because I really love my country, and I really like visiting, and please don't make me stay away." Bollocks. Not voting for IBB should go without saying. Like nobody should have to tell an adult not to put their hand in fire, or not to smear dog poo on their face. It's common sense. No person with a brain would do these things, so why vote for IBB?
The same goes for Buhari, and all the other power hungry maximum military leaders. Stay in the bloody barracks.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
- Wait until the president is playing the role of world statesman abroad. If you can help it, make sure he's gone to a gathering of his peers, such as the UN general assembly. In Africa in the 80s, the overthrown leader would likely have been military, and he would have been attending that most prestigious of khaki parades, the OAU. At such a gathering, one can assume that many of his bezzie mates would laughed at him - for getting his chair pulled from under him.
- Roll your tanks into the capital city and declare marshal law. Threatening to shoot anybody who moves an inch, oddly enough, gets you in the good books of the citizens.
- You must, must, shut down all media. If possible, play the kitsch patriotic military music, as this should remove the people's will to live, let alone stage a demonstration.
- Make sure you suspend the current constitution. After doing that, you need the coup de grace. Promise to restore democracy. The point of suspending the current rule of law is so that later, you can restore a new and improved military one.
- Even though this is not your doing, people will take to the streets. They will take pictures with tanks, celebrate with soldiers, welcome the new regime. Take credit for it, and say you're doing the will of the people.
The people will eventually get disillusioned with you. Then another military faction will take over. Repeat cycle until oil, terrorists, or communists are found in your country, at which point the US will invade.
Monday, September 18, 2006
"Al-Qaeda in Iraq said in response to remarks by Pope Benedict XVI linking Islam with violence, that it will wage jihad (holy war) until the West is defeated, in a statement posted on the Internet Monday."
That resolves everything...
Banning of emaciated waif skeletal fashion types at London Fashion Week.
David Oyelowo, of notorious Shoot the Messenger fame, on kids sticking with the Bard.
Launch of Tinubu backed party in Nigeria.
Crash of military aircraft in Nigeria.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Last week, junior members (Brownites presumably) of his government signed a letter asking him to step down, and seven resigned from the government as well. Hence Teflon Tony was forced to announce his departure date, within a year, or May 31 as the Sun reported.
The speech was set to be his first public appearance since being forced to make the announcement. I've seen Tony Blair on television. The man is a performer, and on that stage on Saturday, he performed. After a hearty, almost nostalgic welcome, his first sentence was, "and I haven't even gone yet." He was humorous, affable, statesmanlike even. None of the blows inflicted during the week appeared to have wounded him fatally. The man stood tall, addressed his faithful, oozing that Tony magic which brought in the first Labour government for 18-years in 1997. They don't call him Reagan's original moniker, the Great Communicator, for nothing.
He walked to the microphone, tieless, in a grey shirt and suit. The clapping and standing ovations began. I'm cynical about politics. I know how they work, and this was another chance for me, as a journalist, to sneer at them. A woman sitting almost directly in front of me must have been a strategic clapper. One of those instructed by the spin doctors to applaud at certain points during a speech, triggering other strategic clappers, and infecting the whole room. Try resisting to clap when the person next to you is trying to dislodge their hands with the ferocity of their applause. It is difficult. Or try remaining seated when everyone around you is giving the Prime Minister a standing ovation.
On his way out, walking through the aisle near where I was sitting, he shook hands and waved. Most people sitting on an aisle seat shooks hands with Bambi himself, most people wanted to. At the very back of the hall, a woman was standing with her hands by her side. And as Tony got to her, it was obvious she had no intention of shaking Tony's hand. But Tony, ever the baby kissing, people hugging statesman, grabbed the limply dangling hand and shook it with vigour. I laughed my head off. It wouldn't do his current credibility any good if he was seen to receive a snub from an audience packed with his faithful.
It felt like being present while history was being made. He had just announced that he was leaving, he was en route to being jeered at in Beirut, staged walk out at the TUC. It was probably the week that something fatal stuck to Tony's teflon. If he is forced to leave at Labour's annual conference, that would be the fatal blow, but it seems unlikely.
Such gatherings are attended by the media élite and politerati. Adam Boulton of Sky News stood with his camera team, and Steve Richards of the Indy sat on one of the back rows observing from a healthy distance. Brian Hanrahan walked around with a microphone and minidisc recorder, quizzing politicians.
The corridors of power had shrunk with so many politicians in one place. Former Bethnal Green and Bow MP, Oona King, dressed in her usual Hoxton chic way; Sadiq Khan and Dawn Butler, 2005 intake London MPs both, sat next to each other. Defence Secretary, Des Browne, arrived in his official Jag, all worthy and mighty. Hilary Benn spoke at one of the seminars, and one could see his zeal for International Development. He says he's "a Benn, not a Bennite", detaching himself from his father's radical legacy. Yup, he's no Bennite.
People have very strong feelings about Tony Blair. He has dominated the British political scene for more than a decade, straddling it like Major Kong riding on a bomb at the end of Dr Strangelove. British politics will not be the same without him, for better or worse.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Monday, September 11, 2006
When DSP Alamaramalamadingdong (Nigeria's erstwhile female governor) got impeached last year, his deputy Goodluck Jonthan said, "I enjoined my fellow Bayelsans, and indeed all people of the south, not to be dampened by the sad events of the recent past. On the contrary, I urge old and young to use this incident to reposition the state for a better future." That was part his inauguration speech. He was obviously "repositioning" himself and his family.
Today, officials say they've seized $13.5m from Mr Jonathan's wife. Less than a year after he became governor, and his wife can afford to buy a learjet...
Sunday, September 10, 2006
"If you can escape the crime, survive the "go slows" and the officiousness, and deal with poverty on an unimaginable scale, it's one of the most exciting, unpredictable places in the world." Well, good luck escaping all those things.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Reading it reminds me of many young Nigerian women. Except that most of them wouldn't have a "diverse range of friends", and wouldn't be able to tell you when they became Christians. It's also amazing that the Guardian has so many Christians writing in, it must have been all five readers who responded. Read on, perhaps you would've had better advice.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Another wonderful term used in City People is "Big Boy", eg Lagos Big Boy or Abuja Big Boy. Yours truly would be a London Big Boy. This London Big Boy lives in New Cross, with close proximity to local amenities. He can be sometimes seen buying the best cuts of BOGOF chicken at the New Cross Sainsbury's. He also has access to some of the best in modern transport. He's often a guest of London Mayor, Ken Livingstone's TFL. There are even rumours that he once said, "My other car is a bus." No other London Big Boy can claim to own a whole bendy bus, much less the two (453 and 436) he has been spotted on. There are rumours that he's going out with a woman, but our sources would not divulge more.
Every so often, they put up advertisements looking for English graduates to work on the paper. If they indeed have any English graduates working on their staff, they should sack whoever is in charge of recruitment. That said, they've improved a bit recently.
I read City People because the magazine (or is it a newspaper) tells me both what I need to know, and what I don't need to know. Its politics coverage is very good, with politicians from the length and breadth of Nigeria touting themselves as the chosen one in its pages. As for what I don't need to know, and what is also often irresponsible journalism, I don't need people's personal details. In the past few weeks, I've seen people's vehicle licence plate numbers, and email addresses. Putting such information into the public domain compromises people's security - even if they claim to be Tuface Idibia's baby-mama.
The edition of August 23 had an interview with singer and actor, Onyeka Owenu. Her interview was fairly impressive. She is going to be running for the chairmanship of the Ideato North LGA in Imo State. City People sutpidly asked her if the position wasn't too low for her. "I think it's a very special position, because you're directly in contact with the people, and you can see were the shoe pinches, and you can begin to concentrate or lay emphasis on those things that are most important to them."
That, to me, is a someone who is passionate about her community. She doesn't want to be in the Senate, but close to where the action is. No pushing of pen and paper in the corridors of Aso Rock, but localism and humility about what can actually be achieved.
Take Gani Fawehinmi at the last elections. Gani is a people's champion, a political gadfly, gnawing away at the powers that be. But would he ever be president? No. He ran for a position he had no chance of winning. A smarter move would have been to run for the Senate, or governorship, but not president. He would have had a better chance of winning, and been in political office, helping to make changes. Alas, he lost his bid to be president, and would have been in the political wilderness for four years by next year's elections.
Anyhoo, I'm off to read this week's City People. Apparently, Ojukwu has some disease.