Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Letter to a young(er) romantic...

Dear Boy,

You will always think and hope and pray that she will come back.
But she never will.
It is as true now, as it was then.
In the past I'd hear Christians say that God doesn't break his own rules of physics,
miracles are merely a bending of God's rules.
If she comes back, it's like that - a bending of the rules.
She will never really return.
It was as true then, as it is now.

Sleep well,
Manboy (for we're still learning)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Stalinist in our midst

Am I the only one who's slightly uneasy with the langauge people have revelled in using with Gordon Brown this week. Brown's former permanent secretary described him as operating with "Stalinist ruthlessness". During the budget debate, opposition leader, David Cameron, was prepared to make jokes about Brown sending other possible Labour leadership candidates to the gulag. Cameron read PPE at Brasenose, and surely he studied Stalinist Russia, and might have heard about the 20million people reportedly killed by Stalin. Would anyone ever make jokes about sending people to World War II concentration camps? There was a real stink when the former Italian prime minister and lord of all things politically incorrect, Silvio Berlusconi, compared a German MEP to a Nazi concentration camp guard. For some reason educated people feel that Stalin's murderousness was somehow okay, and we can crack jokes and compare Gordon Brown to him without furrowing so much as a brow. Whatever the joke is, I don't get it.


Kwame Kwei-Armah looked at the impact of the television series, Roots, on the psyche of those who watched it. I vaguely remember Roots, but nobody will ever forget the name of the main character, the slave, Kunta Kinte. Roots has particular resonance for Kwame Kwei-Armah because it was watching it at age 12, that made him pledge that when was older, he would trace his roots and change his name. So Ian Roberts from Hillingdon, became Kwame Kwei-Armah, Ga names from Ghana.

The last ten minutes of the documentary is as poignant a piece of radio as you will ever hear. A class of pupils in South London watched the first two episodes of Roots, and gave their reaction afterwards. At the risk of patronising them, the eloquence with which they express their horror and disgust made me shift uneasily as I listened. One white student said the treatment of the slaves brought shame on white people. Most evocative of all seemed to be the beating Kunta Kinte endured as he was forced to change his name. There's nothing as intertwined as one's name and one's identity. Being removed from one's land is criminal, and being stripped of one's name is just evil.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lent Talks

Radio 4 has been broadcasting the Lent Talks every Wednesday, and yesterday was the turn of human rights campaigner, Shami Chakrabati. She delivers a very compelling argument comparing the trial of Jesus Christ to the treatment of terrorists suspects in today's world. Other speakers include Cherie Booth on restorative justice and Zaccheus, Chas Bayfield on money changers in the temple. Shami Chakrabati's talk must be listened to/read:

Accounts of the trial, torture and execution of a man called Jesus over two thousand years ago form part of one of the most powerful and enduring stories ever told. For Christians of course, these chronicles have a particular historical and spiritual significance. The events tell of a necessary and divinely-ordained path to resurrection, which Christians celebrate at Easter, the most important day in the holy calendar.

People of other faiths and none are sometimes wary of dwelling too long on this part of Jesus' story. This is hardly surprising in the light of the way it has sometimes been used and abused to promote anti-Semitism; a somewhat ironic outcome given the repeated message of the central character.

It would also be foolish to try to appropriate the story for broader social or political objectives, however well-meaning. All the same, this story is so pervasive, so embedded in our wider culture, that it's difficult not to respond to it on a practical human level.

As a human rights advocate in 2007, I find many contemporary resonances in the passion story. We can choose whether or not to believe that Jesus was the Son of God - but he was definitely the son of a woman and the vulnerability of the individual human being in the face of oppression, is essential to his story.

In a time of genuine fear of crime and terrorism, societies and governments are faced with all sorts of dilemmas and obvious temptations to sidestep the most basic notions of justice in defence of stability and the greater good. More...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A noble gesture

What does a deputy mayor do when couples refuse to be married by him because he's black? He organises a mass wedding of 700 couples who will be married by him.

Trade Roots

Trade Roots will probably be one of the more interesting programmes broadcast on BBC throughout the slavery season. Michael Buerk basically goes to the British institutions that have strong links to slavery. He goes to Birmingham and Manchester to see how they got their wealth from slave money. And more harrowing, he talks to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, about the church's involvement in slavery.

Monday, March 19, 2007

What the...

This is exactly the kind of thing that pees me off. Nigeria doesn't understand selective adherance to Western culture. We lap up everything from "abroad" without a modicum of discernment, without question, just soaking it up like a sponge soaks up filthy water. It seems NTA now apparently has those ghastly ITV post-midnight quiz shows, where people pay an arm and a leg to phone in and answer a question they inevitably get wrong. The quiz scandal was the first phone-in palaver before the Richard & Judy and Blue Peter debacle.

In one of the quizzes, they asked, "what would you find in a woman's handbag?" And a couple of the answers, which only a perverted serial killer type would have gotten, were rawl plugs and balaclavas. Rawl plugs and a balaclava. What is she? Catwoman, doing some DIY? Nigeria, being the great importer of all things foreign, has also imported some British tat. The phone lines are crackly as the set is wobbly. That said, a white board is definitely upmarket, considering most school children use blackboards. Somewhere they would have had no problems recruiting, as Nigeria is replete with them, is some "presenter" wittering inanely as she extends the shelf life of whatever ghastly riddle is being playing out.

I remember being upset when Silverbird started a few years ago. I was pleased that we at least had a cinema, but I was also wary that it'd just become like any other multiplex in the world - altars to popcorn and Scary Movie I, II, and III. To some, that's no bad thing in itself. But when people start seeing the arrival of a cinema as the arrival of Nigeria as a viable place to live, I despair. Which is exactly our problem, we love all things foreign, for no rhyme or reason.

But worse still is bloody BEN showing us that bilious piece of television in Britain when we can't even play the game. How, oh how? I feel doubly insulted.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


The world is cooking. Global warming is real. Human (and cow) carbon emissions are partly to blame. The scientists who disagree, are quite frankly, rogues. As Marcus Brigstocke says, I don't expect to see wasps on my Chritsmas pudding. So what sacrifice should we human beings make to save our own skins? Stop flying? Stop driving? Stop tumble drying?

Sadly, there are some things I'm just not prepared to do. I'm not prepared to give up flying. I have though tried to give up other things, most involuntarily. My car packed up, and I haven't been able to afford a new one, plus I'm not particularly bothered anymore. I have a drying rack, so I dry my clothes on them, and only use the tumble dryer in emergencies.

I turn off lights religiously, I don't leave things on standby. I recycle my bottles and papers, I reuse my plastic bags. San Francisco might be banning plastic bags, and the advent of biodegradable plastics would go a long way to assuaging my guilt. But no matter how hard I try, I doubt I'll ever be carbon neutral.

Back to flying. I can't see any replacement for flying. Cycling to New York across Greenland, Newfoundland, transatlantic sharks snapping at your heels, is not my idea of saving the planet. Flying was the greatest thing that emerged from the post-industrial revolution West. I just cannot imagine giving up flying, especially if there's no alternative.

If you're keen to hear about someone dedicated to a green life, spare a thought for Barbara Haddrill. She was to be a bridesmaid at one of her best friends' wedding in Australia, but refused to fly because of the damage air travel does to the environment. You can imagine how much of a conundrum she was in, considering she lives in Wales. What did she do? She quit her job and proceeded halfway around the world in 50 days, on a various modes of transport except flying. A real green trooper.

The long version:

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Atiku barred

INEC has barred Atiku Abubakar from running in April's elections. However, this won't be the last we hear of this, as Atiku will appeal, etc.

Friday, March 09, 2007

NPF torture

The Nigerian Police Force routinely tortures inmates and suspects. Quelle surprise...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Hold the Front Page!

Yar'Adua is alive. The BBC Hausa service spoke to him at 1403hrs GMT from the hospital in Germany. That's Nigeria for you, we can't even rely on what should be very credible sources.

Yar'Adua dead?

Yar'Adua went to Germany for a "health check" yesterday. The rumours in Nigeria are that he is dead. I've got it from very good sources that he's dead. There hasn't been any official confirmation, which is why nobody is reporting it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"Ghana, your beloved country, is free forever"

The words of Kwame Nkrumah, as he declared Ghana’s independence in 1957.

There's something about Ghana's 50th anniversary celebrations that makes me wish I was Ghanaian. My dad went to school in Ghana, developing a love for highlife music when he was at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. As a result of his dalliance with Ghanaian culture, he gave me the name “Kofi”, which means born on Friday. Oddly enough, it isn’t one of those African names that only certain members of your family call you, but never quite made the birth certificate. Kofi is on my birth certificate, in black and white.

I’ve always felt a strong affinity towards Ghana, and in the past, I’ve been mistaken for a Ghanaian. Some of the best adventures I had as a young’un were in Ghana. Between 1993 and 1998, I went to Ghana about twice a year. My school was in Lomé, in neighbouring Togo, and every half term, we’d rush off to Ghana. We’d pitch up at a beach resort in Kokrobite, spend all day swimming in the beach, getting sand in the unmentionable bits of our swimming costumes, and swallowing copious amounts of salty Atlantic water. There would always be someone who felt they were some human incarnation of a fish, and would swim away into the horizon, until only little black dots could be seen. Then a housemaster or housemistress - who were all Ghanaian, except for a couple of Brits - would bellow at the top of their lungs for us to come back to shore. The boys would laugh as the girls screeched whenever the tide took them towards the rocks that were crawling with crabs. If we weren’t swimming, we would be in Accra’s teeming markets, trying to buy the finest Reebok trainers which we couldn’t get in Nigeria.

At night, there was fish and fried plantain, or more specifically kelewele, kenkey and shitto. We had to adhere to some unwritten but obvious codes; boys were meant to stay in their rooms, and girls were meant to stay in theirs. But we were 15 and 16 year olds with raging hormones, which meant rules would be bent, and boundaries pushed. And in some instances, rules were shattered to pieces, and boundaries were erased. There was this girl, bless her heart… We’d spent the last couple of days of the trip together, with sparks flying like in a welder’s shop. That night, we had our own mistletoe moment, but under the clear Ghanaian moonlight. To quote Osgood Fielding III in Some Like it Hot, “Zowee!”

Sometimes, instead of Accra, we did Cape Coast, Elimna, Tema, Kumasi, Lake Volta. The slave forts at Cape Coast and Elmina Castle bring a tear to the most tear duct dried men. I’ll never forget the immaculate motorway between Tema and Accra, 50km of smooth uninterrupted tar. Or Tetteh Quarshie Circle, a roundabout to trump all roundabouts.

The first time I went to Ghana was in summer of 1991. My mama was having a conference, and it was a ridiculously long summer holiday because the Nigerian educations system had just changed from January – December school years to September – July. The summer had been one of globetrotting for me, starting the summer with a couple of weeks in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, followed by Egypt and India. It was the last summer that I was eligible for half price tickets, my mum’s little boy would soon start paying adult fares. I’ll do this while I can afford it, my mum thought.

We travelled by road from Lagos, to the Seme border, Hilla Condji the conduit between Benin and Togo, and the Aflao border more or less in the heart of Lomé. Even though we were attending a high powered conference of which my mama was one of the chief organisers, my petit garcon self was very much appreciated and welcomed. I was given a delegate’s pass and also given responsibilities (don’t ask me what). Everyone called me by my Ghanaian name, which I was proud to tell them I had. “My name is Kofi”, is how I introduced myself. My mum never went to Ghana again without someone asking about Kofi – he must be a big boy now. He is…

My first trip to Ghana should have been much earlier. In the late 80s, our househelp, Aunty Comfort, was supposed to take me with her for a few days on her Christmas break. But Ghana Airways put an enormous spanner in our plans. We went to the airport everyday for three days, in an effort to get off the ground. It never happened, and so my first trip to Ghana was delayed for a few years.

Aunty Comfort was our househelp for much of my childhood, until she returned to Ghana to get married. She wasn’t just a househelp, she was family. She carried me as a child, she cooked for us, she helped me with my homework, she bathed me. My mama trusted her implicitly. I remember coming on holiday to London in the early eighties, with my tiny hand perched in Aunty Comfort’s. My mum would wave goodbye, and Aunty Comfort would look after me until we got to my uncle’s or aunt’s in London. When she was leaving, we all cried. My mum cried, Aunty Comfort cried. I cried.

One thing many Nigerians will never forget, as one of my friends put it, is the caning dished out by Ghanaian teachers across the land. No Nigerian education is complete without the shillelagh of a Ghanaian school or lesson teacher. My lesson teacher, Ditchfield Amegashie (a name to instil fear) carried his white switch in his briefcase. Teacher Ditch was as diligent as a cock at dawn. He always crowed.

At work, our instincts have been to become carping journalists, asking whether we’re just painting too much of a rosy picture about Ghana’s golden jubilee. But nothing can put a dampener on this party, nothing can rain on this parade. It’s a good time to be alive, to witness a milestone in Africa’s history. To mark the 50th anniversary of the country that started the cascade of decolonisation. In his independence speech, Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah said, “We again rededicate ourselves in the struggle to emancipate other countries in Africa; For our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.”

Gye Nyame.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Help me out here...

I've been watching the car crash television that is Idols auditions, the West African version of Pop/American Idol. I've been cracking up, you probably would as well.

Obamania to Obamination...

Anyone who wants to run for president of the United States, should expect to be scrutinised intensely. How old was he/she when they stopped bed wetting? Did they inhale? Have they had any affairs? What colour underwear do they like? And of course, what denomination of Christianity? JFK made history by becoming the first Catholic president of America, and the country had no Catholics candidates until John Kerry in 2004. For the 2008 elections, there will be some strong contenders with interesting religious backgrounds. There's Rudy Giuliani, who's Roman Catholic, (not to mention his several divorces); Mitt Romney, who's a Mormon; and there's flavour of the month Barack Obama, who's a Christian - and if you believe some of the reports, he belongs to black separatist almost heretical church. Read more...