14 December 2011

Christmas cards, dictator style

Season's greetings for the discerning Africa geek! These were lovingly created by a wonderful friend of mine who prefers to remain anonymous.







08 December 2011

From the delightful Nigerian who taught me about pink gin tonics

Today, I've had two in part practically identical discussions about homosexuality in Africa that made me repost this link. Here's a - clearly exasperated - comment from a lovely Nigerian friend on Nigeria's proposed anti-gay legislation:

Nigerians should stop choosing what part of Western culture appeals to us and what doesn't: we accept skinny jeans, MTV & Coca Cola, but reject two grown men or women doing what they like in the privacy of their homes. We reject the idea of homosexuality on the basis of what is preached in the bible which itself was forced on us by colonial oppressors (who incidentally also brought with them the whole concept of homophobia, which, like it or not, did not exist before they came, simply because we didn't care enough to define and label homosexuality).

Nigerians (more than most Africans) crave western designer brands and lifestyles, a significant portion of which are conceived, designed, created and delivered to us by "gay brains" (Versace, YSL, Gucci, D&G, just to name a very few). And then they say they don't want such brains amongst them.

You can continue to deny what really exists by chastising, banning, outlawing and ostracising it. And before you know it, we will be likened to Al Shabab in Somalia who have banned football and samosas because they are "evil", or the Taliban who forbid music, art, education and so much more. In fact, why look so far for examples of where Nigeria is headed when we have Boko Haram beating on our doors to let Sharia in!

If as a Nigerian citizen you have the right to say what you want, do what you want, be who you want, then that should apply to all citizens regardless of their religion, tribe, gender, sexual preferences. No one citizen is more of a citizen than the next!

14 October 2011

Media Nitpicking: Friday Standard

Just scanned the Standard’s front page and holy cow, did they butcher it today:

In an article on new measures to save the shilling, Uhuru has, the Standard writes, lowered the limit on foreign exchange exousrue for commercial banks. I genuinely can’t figure out what this is supposed to mean (coffee just arriving at my brain) until a look at another paper unriddles it: foreign exchanges exposure.

Then I spot the teaser for Pulse magazine on the front page: ‘Kampala Courousal: Pulse transports you to Kampala for an afternoon of footbal and a ‘night run’’.

A courousal? Let’s have a look. On the Pulse cover, the courousal turns back into a ‘carousal’ and they’ve generously fetched another l to add to football. Onwards and upwards. In the main article on the football match (p. 10/11), you’ll find ‘As time tickles on’.

I quickly scan the fashion pages and have to give Pulse some credit: they manage to use ‘chic’ correctly. Twice. But the shoes described as loafers aren’t loafers, and the ‘statement heels’ aren’t exactly statement heels either.

Right, I’ve got stuff to do. If you find anything else in this edition of the Standard, stick it in the comments.

28 September 2011

Le Sigh: Recycled Soap to Uganda

More evidence if you ever needed any that Africa is a bizarre theme park for good intentions:

Told by CNN no less, and in its CNN Heroes section: The heartwarming tale of Derreck Kayongo, a Ugandan living in the US, who was shocked by the waste from hotel soaps – every visitor gets a new piece of soap, every day, and the barely used soap is being thrown out. "Are we really throwing away that much soap at the expense of other people who don't have anything? It just doesn't sound right. … My dad said people in America can afford to throw it away. But I just started to think, 'What if we took some of this soap and recycled it, made brand new soap from it and then sent it home to people who couldn't afford soap?'”

The CNN article cites statistics that every year, more than 2 million children die from diarrheal illness in developing countries. Simply washing hands with soap could be a first line of defence. Mr Kayango argues that the problem is not the availability of soap, but its cost: for people on the mythical dollar a day, a soap bar is simply too expensive to purchase when there are many more pressing priorities such as food and medication. Fair enough.

Mr Kayongo sets up what is now the Global Soap Project. Here’s CNN’s description:

“So far, 300 hotels nationwide have joined the collection effort, generating 100 tons of soap. Some participating hotels even donate high-end soaps such as Bvlgari, which retails up to $27 for a single bar. Volunteers across the U.S. collect the hotel soaps and ship them to the group's warehouse in Atlanta. On Saturdays, Atlanta volunteers assemble there to clean, reprocess and package the bars.

"We do not mix the soaps because they come with different pH systems, different characters, smells and colors," Kayongo said. "We sanitize them first, then heat them at very high temperatures, chill them and cut them into final bars. It's a very simple process, but a lot of work."

A batch of soap bars is only released for shipment once one of its samples has been tested for pathogens and deemed safe by a third-party laboratory. The Global Soap Project then works with partner organizations to ship and distribute the soap directly to people who need it -- for free.”

Rethink this for a second: The Global Soap Project requires managing the participating hotels and the collecting volunteers. The volunteers pay for shipping. The soap people need to buy machinery, pay for space, do lots of sorting-producing-heating-sanitising-testing type things ('a lot of work', as they say), pay for shipping ... to get soap to Uganda.

Here's the thing: Uganda has shops. Many. Even supermarket chains. Uganda also has soap manufacturers. When I lived in Uganda ten years ago, you were given those long soap bars for free at the petrol station if you purchased a certain minimum amount of petrol. I have heard of recent fuel and sugar shortages, but no soap shortages have hit the headlines.

If you think distributing free soap to Ugandans who can’t afford it is a good thing, then this is probably single-handedly the least efficient way of doing it. It is also latently ignorant and patronising: Send US rubbish to the ever grateful Ugandans.

How about sending some cash to Uganda to buy the soap there and then have it distributed by the local partner organisations?

Brains, people. Use them.

But heartwarming, hey?

23 September 2011

A Touch of Vagina

In last Saturday's column, I wrote about my suspicion that the new Kenya log as proposed by Brand Kenya suggested a female genital. Once you see it, it's difficult to unsee.

Check it out:


I can't imagine that I'm the only one who spots this, so I think this might actually be useful feedback.

Brand Kenya didn't think so. I'll post the link to their reply in today's Star as soon as they put it online.

19 September 2011

Homophobia Smackdown 101

1. It’s unbiblical: That may or may not be true – there are lots of people who argue that the bible is at least inconsistent on this issue, and that Jesus wasn’t much bothered. I don’t care. I’m not a Christian, and Christianity is not state religion, and I don’t care what the bible says. If you follow the bible, that’s your choice. But you can’t selectively turn biblical bits into secular law.

2. If we let the gays do their thing, we also need to let rapists and pedophiles do their thing: Err, no. Come on, use your brain: There’s a substantial difference between a situation of consenting adults and a situation where one is the aggressor and the other is the victim. If you don’t understand those basic concepts, you shouldn’t be out and about here in cyberspace.

3. If we let gays do their thing, MANKIND WILL DIE OUT: Nope. You can’t catch the gay. You are the best example for that: you foam at the mouth rather than get all hot and bothered in a nice way when you think about two guys kissing, right? See. There’ll always be a gay minority. It’s a minority. Look up the concept of the bell curve. And bear in mind: gay people have reproductive organs. Many use them.

4. Even animals have more common sense and won’t do this: Not true. Plenty of evidence from wildlife that they do do it. And gaily so.

5. But you can’t compare humans to animals: I didn’t – you started that line of argument.

6. It’s unAfrican: Me, I don’t know. I’m not African. I think all the African gay men and women might have a thing or five to say about this. And they can perfectly well speak for themselves.

7. What if the children see it? Yeah, then what? Nothing.

8. Anal sex is wrong – the anus wasn’t made for this: If you think anal sex is wrong, then don’t have it. Not all gay people have anal sex, and there are plenty of straight guys (and women) who get all bright eyed and bushy tailed about it.

9. It’s a lifestyle choice: Hardly (never mind that if I chose it, what difference would it make?). The foam-at-the-mouth hysteria in Uganda, ‘corrective rape’ and other such charitable, love-your-neighbour activities are the best example. It’s extremely unlikely that anyone would choose that kind of hatred and threat of violence just for kicks.

10. I have no issues with gay people as long as they don't chat me up - then I'll hit them: Easy, my friend. If that happens, be civilised and say 'thanks, no, but thanks'. If I hit everyone who chatted me up and who I'm not interested in, there'd be lots of black eyes, and I'm not Marilyn Monroe by any stretch of imagination. I say 'thanksbutnothanks'. To all those good Christian married guys, too.

11. Gay guys are sick, but lesbians are kinda cool: You're not talking about lesbians, you're talking about two straight women getting it on with each other for the sake of a straight man. As with the vast majority of couples, two lesbians won't be very keen on having you drool away when they get it on with each other. Pretty much like you won't slap your best buddy on the shoulder and ask whether you can watch while he's doing his wife.

EDITED TO ADD:

12. I don't understand it/I find it disgusting: That may well be the case, and you're of course entitled to think so, but that's irrelevant. I don't understand how people can spend every Saturday watching football, and I may find people chewing with their mouth open disgusting. My problem to deal with.

13. ... but don't rub it in our faces/force it down our throats: Most people actually don't - as one gay Nigerian blogger said, she never wanted to talk about her sex and love live in public because she thought it was private. But since so many other people were talking about her private sex and love life, she decided to speak out. Also: It's perfectly ok for a heterosexual man to post a picture of his wife with, say, a mention that he thinks his wife is cute. Normal behavior, right? The equivalent from a gay man, however, is suddenly 'rubbing it in our faces'.

More importantly, perhaps, the legal situation in Uganda now longer allows the option of 'as long as they do whatever they do behind closed doors, we'll all be fine'. Because even what people do behind closed doors is no longer legal, and can land them in prison for many years.

14. But they are recruiting people! This argument is, funnily enough, usually brought up by people with the most vociferous disgust of homosexuality. So you're so incredibly disgusted and repulsed - but you argue that not-gay people can be 'recruited'? EDITED TO ADD (7 July 2015): I will NOT publish any comments that make the same dumb statements that I have already refuted above('But we will all die out!', 'Can I now marry my dog?'). So save yourself the energy.

01 September 2011

Upstanding Sudanese Citizens (North and South)

I'm reading Sudan news.

Thankfully there are occasionally some good news. Very pleased for the citizen (and, possibly, the sheep, although I suspect that Eid might have ended their lives prematurely):

'Citizens in Abu Hamra (South Darfur) recovered over 50 sheep belonging to citizen Haroon Ishaq al-Bakhit from three armed horsemen on Sunday.'

And more upstanding citizens in the South:

'Bul Community in Diaspora Challenge the Wisdom of Abysmal SPLM Leadership in Unity State [press release]
Unity State (Bentiu) is the underwriter for the South Sudan nation in term of wealth and manpower, the oil-rich Bentiu accounts for 90 percent of South Sudan's daily oil production of 490,000 barrels and the sons and daughters of Bentiu are well known for their courageous and determination, they will always willfully takes risks if they observed injustice and unfair play.'

One should always challenge the wisdom of abysmal leadership with courageous.

One of my favouritest Southern Sudan articles ever was a news report on cattle wrestling. Regrettably, I don't have the link anymore. Also, I fear I'm getting a bit carried away here.

25 August 2011

More Le Sigh from the US – or: God’s Recruitment Process Flawed

It’s a good day for Africa stories from the US: Here’s a fun article about the Riegers, a family from Tillamook who are about to move to Gulu in northern Uganda as missionaries. God called them, you know. They will set up the Rieger Ministry that will ‘focus on orphans, child moms, ex-child soldiers and those afflicted with HIV/AIDS.’

Susan Rieger is ‘excited about what she has to offer the women and girls of Gulu. “I’m going to teach nutrition, gardening, work in the school, and develop exercise programs for people with AIDS.” She’s quite fit and likes running, but anticipates that being difficult:

‘She and her daughters will wear modest dresses and avoid doing anything to put themselves in overt danger, such as running for exercise. This will be a difficult adjustment for Susan, who is an avid runner.

“I put in 30 to 40 miles per week here,” she said. “When we get there I’m going to have to do step aerobics and yoga in the house. I might be able to run with Joe, but I would have to wear a dress, and we would have to go early in the morning before it gets too hot.”

I’m not really sure how a dress is going to help. I checked with Jane Bussmann (not known to jog in dresses) and she said she went running in Gulu, no probs.

She’s also not so confident about the school system:
‘Susan will also be homeschooling four of her own children in Africa. “In Uganda there is no public school,” she explained. “Every child who attends school has to be able to pay the fee, and the highest grade they teach is sixth.”’

Well. Uganda has a free primary education system, although I expect that like in Kenya, some ‘fees’ must be paid regardless, and the quality probably isn’t impressive. Wikipedia says: ‘The system of education in Uganda has a structure of 7 years of primary education, 6 years of secondary education (divided into 4 years of lower secondary and 2 years of upper secondary school).’

Anyhoodle. More substantially, what bugs me is this:

Here is a population that has indeed lived in incredibly difficult conditions. How is a bunch of Americans, well intended, but who seemingly can’t use google, who literally have no idea where they are going, qualified to address this? “These people have lived in trauma, it’s all they know. It is our mission to teach them how to function in peace.” Because you understand what it’s like to live in a civil war zone, because you have the skills for post-traumatic stress disorder counselling?

Susan Rieger plans to “to mentor and disciple child moms. I want to get to know them and teach them how to tend their children. The idea is that if we love on them and show them love, they will then be able to turn and love their children.” Because Ugandan child moms don’t know how to love their kids, and they don’t have parents, family, mothers and grandmothers to teach them parenting in their own community?

Is it just me, or is there something quite (albeit unintentionally) patronising about this whole venture?

Le Sigh: First Lady-Type Persons Visiting Dadaab

Mike Pflanz recently wrote a great piece about the visit of Jil Biden, the US Vice President’s wife, to Dadaab. Dadaab is really the hotspot of ‘look, people are dying!’ tourism at the moment. Here are the logistics behind Biden’s two-hour visit, according to Pflanz:

‘Watching the wife of the US vice-president touring the world's biggest refugee camp for famine-hit Somalis was a scrum of television cameramen, international reporters and Washington staffers thumbing their BlackBerrys. A circle of secret-service agents, their oversized shirts flattened by the hot wind onto the outlines of bullet-proof vests and pistols beneath, fanned out, watching 'the perimeter'.

Parked off to the side, waiting to whisk the visitors back to the airport, was a convoy of 29 polished vehicles, including armoured US embassy Land Cruisers driven the eight hours up from Nairobi the day before.

Two US Army Hercules C-130 aircraft were flown in – one as a backup in case of technical hitches – to transfer the Americans to Dadaab from their overnight flight from Washington. They would fly home the same day.’

And we’re working our way down the hierarchy: Just now, Cindy McCain, wife of US Republican Senator John McCain, has found her way to Kenya and to Dadaab. She found horror, death and starvation of biblical proportions, as she recounts in an interview with her daughter Meghan McCain:

‘It’s a horrible situation that has been going on for quite some time; it escalated recently due to lower-than- normal spring rains and lack of food security due to the increased conflict.’

Yeah, that. And also two decades of civil war in Somalia and no functioning government, which doesn’t really help. Aidan Hartley recently pointed out in a good piece in the Spectator, ‘Drought didn’t cause Somalia’s famine’: ‘the ‘Somalis’ are not starving. The victims are mainly the weak or minority clans — or anybody who has not armed himself to the teeth. Add to this political mix the failures of the United Nations and its main sponsors.’

Well, she does try to look at the context. Here’s an insightful piece of analysis:
‘There are bad guys roaming around this place not because they want to be good citizens but terrorists. Somalia is where the pirates are. We’ve had so many issues in regards to our military. They kidnap people on a regular basis— kidnapping is an industry there. It’s in our best interest to make sure these people are helped. I also encourage those that have the means and are willing to come here—and I’m particularly pointing at Hollywood.’

But my favourite bit of the whole article – Meghan: ‘If you weren’t my mother, I wouldn’t know this was going on.’

Try reading the bloody news, for crying out loud.

28 July 2011

Social Media and Nairobi Social Capital

Good things in sadness?

Last week, I received this email from a friend:

‘Looking for A+ blood in Nairobi for little Jamie, age four and a half. His parents were in Uganda doing voluntary work and he got food poisoning last Thursday and then renal failure Saturday. After an eight-hour overnight drive to Kampala where they can't do dialysis for children, he's in ICU at Gertude's and has been unconscious since Monday; he's struggling to wake up but his haemoglobin's low and they've run out of blood.’

I put a brief appeal for blood donations on my Facebook page and on my Twitter page as well, and was impressed by how quickly everyone spread the word. Sadik, a Facebook friend who I’ve only chatted with online and who I’ve never met in real life, was one of the people who went to Gertrude’s to donate.

Sadly, little Jamie lost his struggle, and my heart goes out to his parents – I can’t even begin to image how horrific a loss this must be. I’ve never met Jamie or his parents, but I sent a short note to the lady who had acted as the liaison to his parents to pass on my condolences, and she replied as follows:

‘Thank you so much for your love and caring. We were astounded at the response to the blood appeal - only two phone calls and 10 emails started it. When donors said they'd seen it on twitter, don't even know how that works, it was enough to make us cry. James and Avril were so thankful and amazed; they went down to thank every new group of donors who arrived. They were frantic on Friday morning - in the UK, it would be unimaginable for strangers to take it personally and act so fast, in Nairobi they had five donors within two hours. His death is a devastating loss.’

Nairobi can work like that.

Also encouraging:

An alliance of Kenyan media houses and large corporates launched the Kenyans for Kenya initiative – a straightforward fundraiser for the famine victims in northern Kenya that you can contribute to with a simple mobile money payment (although you can write a cheque as well). The smallest contribution is KES10, and there is no transfer fee. Today, Airtel announced that they have joined the initiative, too. Kenyans for Kenya aims to raise KES500m.

There’s another, very similar initiative called FeedKE that also seeks to raise funds for the Kenyan Red Cross by mobile money. There’s a bit of a palaver in the blogosphere over whether the media owners and corporates shouldn’t have hooked up with FeedKE, but I think that’s pretty irrelevant: These are not competing products or services, and it doesn’t really matter where you send your money to as it’s going to famine relief anyway and there’s no costly bureaucratic infrastructure duplication. FeedKE had good outreach on social media, but having major media houses and corporates included in fundraising means much, much wider outreach. So send a couple of hundred shillings to either one of them!

In an ideal world, focused economic policy would pre-empt some of these crises, and a competent government would have an early-warning system and, importantly, act on it – I had a little vomity rant in my Star column last week. But this is clearly not an ideal world, and I think it’s great that Kenyan citizens and corporates got on the case. I also think it’s amazing to see how mobile money and social media can give this a huge boost.

28 June 2011

The Standard's Financial Journal is having a particularly impressive day

The Standard was the second paper I read today, and by the time I got round to the Financial Journal insert, I felt a little worn down already, so it took a nudge from the ever lovely Limo for me to do my duty to society. Here goes:

KQ is yearning for growth!
Kenya Airways, we learn, is hugging risks to drive revenues, possibly biting off more than they can swallow. This will involve complimenting ticket sales with other revenue streams. And now that KQ has ordered 10 Embraer, it is sending shivers among small airlines serving the East and Central African market. This article is accompanied by a text box titled: ‘Airline Woes: It’s Just a complicated Math’.

Then turn the page.
On p. 6 and 7, you’ll find exactly the same article published twice, albeit with different photographs and two different headlines, none of which is particularly elegant:

CBK finally concedes foul play in shilling attack

and

Central Bank smells fishy attack on sliding shilling.

There’s a lot to be said about this, and the fact that Standard can’t make up its collective mind whether to use CBK or Central Bank is just a minor issue.

Moving on swiftly. On p. 8, we find this intriguing subtitle: ‘Commercial banks return peanuts on savings even as they rip from high lending costs’.

I’m feeling exhausted. And there are more pages.

23 June 2011

Africa Curios

Alice Temperley makes pretty clothes, but I had a bit of a WTF reaction here:

'We stayed with the Mursi tribe ... I asked one of the women to take out her lip plate and I engaved William and Catherine on it with a nail. I know they love Africa, so I've just sent it to them as a wedding present. It's a piece of history they'll really appreciate' (Sunday Times magazine from 12 June 2011).

10 June 2011

Buy fragrance, donate water - how does that work?

A Ghanaian friend sent me a blog post on this Acqua for Life Challenge sponsored by the Giorgio Armani:
http://www.acquaforlifechallenge.org/en/content/project

It promises to provide 100l of clean water for every bottle of fragrance bought.

Since I do finding-out-things for a living, I was curious how exactly this worked.

The one bottle of fragrance = 100l of water equation sounds like a great deal, but is clearly a PR tool: lots of charities use something similar to fundraise. The send-a-cow charities often let people choose cows, goats etc from a catalogue to send to a specific village, but typically, that money goes into the fund for a programme rather than to individuals. Which makes sense, but it's still a little dishonest in advertising. Same with Kiva, the online small loan platform: people who choose to provide a small loan to help small entrepreneurs in developing countries are given the impression that their money will go to a specific entrepreneur. Again, this is not true, as the money is bundled and then given to (micro) finance institutions to onlend to their clients. This has been debated online quite extensively recently.

But back to fragrance purchase = water for kids. So how *does* this work?

The website is full of very pretty blue pics, and hardly has any useful information. Nothing of substance even here:
http://www.acquaforlifechallenge.org/en/content/whats-ghana

I then consulted Google, and Google tells me that the implementing partner organisation, Green Cross International (GCI), is a Geneva-based non-governmental organisation founded by President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993. Its main areas of activity are:
• conflict prevention
• sources of conflict and war, and
• value change

The section on structure and organisation shows an impressive governing and honorary board. See here:
http://www.gci.ch/en/who-we-are/structure-and-organisation-of-green-cross-international.
Robert Redford is an honorary member - yumm!

The staffing section is much skinnier with 11 employees: http://www.gci.ch/en/who-we-are/staff.

Since this includes the president, vice president, and chief operating officer, it's a bit top heavy, but they might all be incredibly effective in preventing conflict. It doesn't strike me as an organisation that has much experience in carrying out on-the-ground water projects, but then they have a local implementation organisation: Green Cross Ghana.

But back to my initial quest of finding out how this water for fragrance thingie works:

I have dug around a bit and found the Ghanaian school programme under Conflict Prevention, sub-category Water for Life & Peace, sub-sub category Access to Water and Sanitation. Logical, not so? There's the 'Case Study Ghana'. I'm not sure this is quite the right term as Ghana seems to be the only project and is actually a pilot - they state that they plan to expand the project beyond the five communities that they currently work in.

The programme was launched in February 2010 and plans to do this:
'SWGS aims to provide safe drinking water, as well as sanitation, environmental and health awareness for children and their local communities in transboundary river basins. This includes:
1. Setting up a rainwater harvesting system
2. Providing ecological latrines
3. Bringing more water to the communities by building additional water systems
4. Running educational programmes'
(from http://www.gci.ch/en/what-we-do/conflict-prevention/water/access-to-water).

I can't find more details. They have a backgrounder on the school initiative in Ghana to download, but it basically repeats the information from the website.

So I still don't know how one bottle of fragrance = 100l of clean water actually works. I'd be keen to see the amounts raised through this so far, and what exactly they have been spent on – and how much went to GCI and how much to their local implementation organisation. When I clicked on the Aqua for Life Challenge website, an automatic counter told me that 44.646m litres of water have been ‘raised’ so far.

I think I’d also be more comfortable with donations being used for such a project if the implementing organisation had done the pilot already and had therefore demonstrated its expertise in running such projects.

08 June 2011

Grace and Graceland

When I was a teenager, I had a copy (on tape – remember those?) of Paul Simon’s Graceland. Back then, I loved the music, even though I had no idea of the history behind it. A while ago, I bought the DVD of the 1987 Harare Graceland concert after fishing around for the individual tracks on YouTube. The music still stands all those years later, and I was blown away by the beauty of the performance and the strength of the performers – it’s a historical document.

Ethan Zuckerman has an interesting write up on the background to the Graceland album here.

Simon recorded the album and played the Zimbabwe concert with an amazing line up of African artists, for which I love him muchly: a musician doing what he does best, and to do so, he sought out his South African peers.

The Daily Mail of all publications recently had an interesting article on the corrosive legacy of LiveAid, and what I find particularly irritating is that these days, musicians and actors expect us to listen to them hold forth on how to save Africa. Shouldn’t we have sent Wahu and Nameless to Greece to advise them on their financial crisis?

Live 8, the 2.0 version of LiveAid and a massive global circus to fight poverty in Africa, started out without African musicians. When they were later added to the agenda, they were sent to play in an artificial rain forest – interesting symbolism no?

When Bono heard that the great, late Ali Farka Tour√©, accomplished musician and mayor of Niafunk√©, did not think the Live 8 concert was a good idea, he reportedly said: “If he doesn’t reckon Live 8 are helping his people, maybe they should rethink him being mayor.”

I will listen to Bono et al when they play concerts in Africa like they play concerts in Europe and the US. Nairobi, Kampala, Kinshasa, Lagos, Accra, Bamako, Dakar. They are musicians. They do music. Just not in, for, with Africans?

I’m looking forward to the Hugh Masekela concert tomorrow and Albertina Sisulu’s recent passing made me think about South Africa’s history again.

With gratitude to those who stood up:

14 May 2011

You Stud

I thought it was interesting that Willy Mutunga had been put forward as the new Chief Justice: I had met him once and thought him a perfectly lovely, intelligent man, and judging from most of the comments on the Nation website, a lot of people were happy and excited about this. And the process in which he was selected certainly seemed clearer than the previous attempt to appoint the Chief Justice.

Except:
‘what about the stud on his ear, what does it mean to our society??’

Wait. I hadn’t actually seen this. My netbook is small, the picture on the Nation website was small and the stud was, too, so it hadn’t registered with me. But this is clearly a matter that calls for an explanation:
‘A CJ with a stud? He must tell the whole country why he wears a stud to dispel rumours and theories of stud wearers. I want to know whether it is a confirmation why some people voted NO during the referendum.’

Now why exactly would this be of any concern?
‘MUtunga may turn oround judiciary but he is abit queer. i wish the panel would have advised him to remove the earings to avoid being accused of womanising of effiminizing judiciary. Nancy Baraza will b a good DP cj’

Somebody suggested that there were customs in Kenya that allow for men wearing earrings. Well, not so fast, my friend:
‘you need to research why a man of his stature would only pick a stud out of all the range in African cultural attire. Today a stud is worn for a different reason and worse for a man at that age and intellect.’

Be sloppy on chief justices with questionable jewellery selection and you might come to regret it:
‘the little things we ignore today return to haunt/destroy us tomorrow. This is not a matter of how many degrees he has but morality. I again have no issues with his morals until he explains the stud. The stud has everything to do with his brains, since they tell him to wear it.’

Just morals? Hell, Mutunga’s studdedness might even precipitate the end of the world:
‘I almost endorsed Dr. Mutunga because of his academic background. That was before I saw the earring. Maybe he could tell us its meaning. Because these are the signs of the last days, mean wearing long hair like women and wearing earrings! That earring for a man speaks volumes of his spirituality. Beware you guys might be put under a spell and then controlled from the deep.’

A sober voice suggests that perhaps he is the right person after all:
‘Do we want sycophants and boot leakers or leaders who can stand up and say no when things are wrong.’

And there’s this pragmatic angle:
‘thanks for the WIG he mast wear. The stad wont show.’

After all:
‘May the two Principles consult and endorse the two amicably. Kenyans yarn for a fast and full implementation of the new constitution.’

Indeed. Don’t get your knickers into such a fucking twist over an earring, guys. And by earring, we all know you mean gay.

All quotes from the comments on http://www.nation.co.ke/News/politics/Lawyer+Mutunga+nominated+for+CJ+post/-/1064/1161862/-/q3snycz/-/

15 April 2011

Nitpicking

I've been watching the Blair Witch Project with half an eye and that's quite incredible, but even more incredible is this story published by the Standard: An ICC suspect lost a bag with USD10m in cash at JKIA when he came back from Den Hague. Regrettably, the identity of said returnee is a bit of a mystery, as is the entire case: "He had it when he came, only his bodyguards have recorded statements. He fears the perception the public would have of him if it were revealed he had with him such huge amount of money," the Standard quotes a 'senior police officer'. Indeed.

While we still marvelled at the whole story, a friend pointed out that USD10m in USD100 notes would weigh around 100kg, i.e., would a bit too big and heavy for hand luggages.

This reminded me that I recently emailed the Star to complain about an article that claimed the 'Hugging Saint' had hugged 50,000 people in 24hrs. Not possible. I calculated it, I think with a conservative estimate of one person every two seconds. The journalist probably took this figure straight from the press release, and/or otherwise made it up. Of course Ms Hugging Saint is of no relevance, so the fact that I actually calculated this and wrote an email just goes to show that I'm really developing some OCD with Kenyan papers.

A few days later, I found an article about rabbit breeding. Reportedly you could sell an adult rabbit for KES15,000, which struck me as quite extravagant. I started googling for Kenyan rabbit prices ... and then saw sense and went back to work. This is out of control.

31 March 2011

Mermaids were costly, but invisible

This is also one of my absolute favourites. I was a little surprised that Zimbabwe, a landlocked country, had a mermaid mythology, but my lovely colleague Chris Melville, the Africa ueber geek, gave me a book that explained that lakes and rivers are entry ways to the underworld (the book also had a chapter about a priest who, before he became a Christian cleric, had been raised by a witch father, and had travelled to that underworld regularly. He said that there were airports and universities in the underworld, and people trained in dark arts to then later re-emerge in the World Bank and the IMF in the upper world).

Again: enjoy!

Reported on Zimnews, sometime in 2005: Mermaids were costly, but invisible

Harare - A woman has testified here that she paid a popular local musician to fly in five mermaids from London to help her recover a stolen car and cash. Businesswoman Magrate Mapfumo said she paid US$5,000 to fly the invisible mermaids here on the advice of musician Edna Chizema, who is on trial for theft, the state-owned Herald reported yesterday. Mapfumo testified that she sought Chizema's advice after her car and millions of Zimbabwean dollars were stolen. Zimbabwe's Shona people believe mermaids are fearsome enchantresses capable of wreaking vengeance on wrongdoers. She said she also paid for the mermaids to be housed at Harare's plush tourist resort, the Jameson Hotel, and supplied with cellphones and generators to cope with the capital's frequent power cuts, the paper said. "I asked about their names and I was told they were called Emma, Charmaine, Sharvine, Bella and a fifth one who was said to be an Arab mermaid," the Herald quoted Mapfumo saying. "She (Chizema) told me I could not see the mermaids as only spirit mediums could do so."

30 March 2011

Swazi Donkey Incident

Also one of my all-time favourites. I believe this was the front-page story at the time, and since Swaziland only has a population of about 50, everyone knew. Enjoy!


Man has sex with donkey

BY BANELE DLAMINI

MKHUZWENI - A teenage boy was caught 'red handed' by a woman fulfilling his sexual cravings by engaging in sexual intercourse (bestiality) with a donkey last Friday at Mkhuzweni.

The teenager Sanele Simelane (19) was caught in the act by Jabulile Mavuso on Friday morning (8am) having sex with the animal in the homestead where he lives while others were away.

Simelane was caught with his 'pants down' straddling the donkey belonging to Mfanawenina Mdluli, in an act that is believed to have lasted for about 30 minutes.

Mdluli's homestead is situated about 100 metres away from the Hlatjwako homestead where the act was committed.

The donkey's name is Mhlosheni because of its khaki like coat.

Simelane is believed to belong to the Jericho Christian faction.

Mavuso said that she could not believe her eyes when she saw Simelane first seduce the donkey before actually having sex with it.

According to Mavuso, she was passing above the Hlatjwako homestead when she saw Simelane in a compromising position with the donkey, rubbing a stick against the donkey's genitals.

And to her surprise the donkey stopped moving and adhered to the young man's advances.

Taking a closer look Mavuso realised that the man could no longer resist his sexual urges, as he discarded the stick he was using opting to use his right hand instead.

Enjoying

"The donkey raised its tail as if it was enjoying what he was doing to it. For a second I did not know what to do but later left to call a neighbour to witness the act," she said in a surprised and disgusted tone.

She said that they together with a neighbour, Shikisha Dludlu who apparently is Simelane's uncle, watched in awe as Simelane 'fore played' the donkey by gentle rubbing its genitals before proceeding to have sex with it.

"He positioned the donkey on a slight slop and penetrated it for a long time but the entire duration including the touching of genitals lasted for about 30 minutes. Dludlu said we must not disturb him and therefore we let him finish before making our presence known," she added.

Mavuso was further puzzled by the fact that the donkey did not resist the penetration, "it seems as if it was enjoying itself. As he continued it was wiggling its tail and did not attempt to kick at him."

All the while Simelane did not utter a word. Upon ejaculating the man is said to have spent a few minutes facing down as if gasping for air but was interrupted by the exclamations of Mavuso who said that she was totally disgusted by the incident.

Pants

She said that they asked him if he was aware that his pants had become wet in the process but instead they received threats from Simelane. "He threatened to stab me and we left him alone," she said exclaiming that she spat in disgust as they watched Simelane satisfy himself.

Simelane is said to have fetched the donkey, which is one of eight that Mdluli owns, from its grazing land situated a walking distance away leading it to the homestead's kraal where all the 'action' took place.

The donkey's owner, Mdluli, said that he uses his donkeys for farming and that at no point in time did he suspect that his livestock was being subjected to such acts. "He had to be arrested because there is no telling what else he would get up to. Besides I did not want him to spread animal diseases to other people. What he did is despicable and cruelty to animals," he said.

He said that his donkey was rather old such that if it were a human being it would have grandchildren.

Simelane was reported to the police by Mdluli on Saturday and he was arrested the following morning.

Reported

He said that he had not reported the matter to his chief yet.

It is not known if Simelane and the donkey had been enjoying a 'sexual relationship' besides this time that he was caught in the act. It is also not known if he has a girlfriend. He is said to have arrived in the area a few months ago with a member of the Hlatjwako homestead. However, it was gathered that prior to this arrival he had once worked in the same homestead and was regarded as part of the family.

In 2001 an act of bestiality was reported, but then a man was caught having sex with a cow in its kraal.

The act is said to have been going on for quite some time.

25 March 2011

NTV's Daytime Audience: Bushy tailed more than bright eyed

I’ve done daytime NTV twice now. The first time, I was invited by Wallace Kantai, and I asked him whether he knew what the audience looked like for their 1pm show. ‘We’re still trying to find out,’ he said. Wallace and I have been buddies for a while, so we chatted away happily for about 45min in what was a fun session. Later, I had a look at my email and found a number of Facebook request from people who had seen me on the show. Interestingly, these were all young men, probably in their 20s. So is this NTV’s daytime audience? Or was there an element of self selection?

Not all of these Facebook ‘friendships’ ended happily:

I deleted the young man who asked me how I ‘compare being an atheist and Christianity’. I told him that there was plenty of online material available on this issue, so if this was of interest to him, he would just have to do the research. No, he insisted: He’d HAVE to know from me personally. Yes, he brought out the capital letters. After he posted a religious item on my page for the third time, I decided it was time to part ways.

A second virtual contact sent me this message: ‘Aint no wise guy but wuld reali luv to get down wit u! mmmm... precisely’. Mind you, I’ve never met him before. We exchanged a few messages in which I tried to explain that not only was this badly spelled, but also inappropriate. He eventually seemed to see the point of the latter, but then surprised me with this: ‘Would have really loved to lick you from head to toe.’ Gone.

Today I was invited by Larry Madowo. It was a much shorter discussion, but nevertheless yielded some interesting Facebook follow up:

‘hi, i hope u well, i have a business idea and hope that u could finance it please, lemme know.’

Also, a friend request with this message: ‘R u singl andrea am xo xo krazy ova u jst saw u on ntv.’

And as luck would have it, a former Facebook stalker also watched it and sent me an sms that ended with ‘Don’t u b tht quiet though!’. This was a man who had expressed an interest in ‘having intimacy’ with me, and was quiet unbothered by the fact that I didn’t even want to be friends with him. I intend to stay very, very quiet.

22 March 2011

Why I don't feel so positive about Kenya's higher education right now - or: Are they smoking crack?

Macharia Gaitho kindly shared this today. And of course they had to be matching. Read and enjoy:

PRESS RELEASE - WEST SHOULD STOP BOMBING INDIA

Good evening everyone?

This is to inform all the media houses that there will a huge demo tomorrow at 10.00am by University students from uhuru park to the french embassy. University students will be calling on countries like USA,Quartar,France ,Britain, Denmark and others to provide a peaceful solution in India than bombings and attacking them. We will be matching from Uhuru park,haillesellassie, moi avenue ,kenyatta avenue then to the embassy. Thank u.

Signed,

MOSES NANDALWE-Sec Gen. Universities Student Leaders Association-Kenya[USLA-K]
FRED KUBAI-UON
SIMON GATHUO-KU
CALVIN OCHOLLAH-UON
FRANK OCHENG-UON
CYNTHIA ALLUVISSA-AVIATION
OTOA GARANG-KU
REUBEN WANGOKHO-Kenya Poly

10 March 2011

Congo on the Brink: No – really?

I have learned about this thanks to actor Ben Affleck: "Having just returned from the Congo last month I can assure you that Congo is on the brink" (source).

Thank you, Ben. This was news to me. Or was it? Wait. Hasn’t Congo (Congo-Kinshasa, I assume, although Congo-Brazzaville isn’t so peachy either) been on the brink for, errr, years now? In fact, this is DRC’s address, in case you ever want to mail something:

DR Congo
On the Brink
Central Africa

Actor Affleck testified before the US Congress's Human Rights subcommittee. I don’t doubt Affleck’s good intentions for a second, but it beats me why anyone would listen to an actor on DRC, even one who has visited DRC several times. There are easily a gazillion people more qualified to speak about DRC, and anyone who doesn’t object to be told about DRC by an actor needs to get his/her head examined. And as long as Affleck doesn’t recognize this, he can’t be serious either.

And more aid, Ben? What exactly is more aid going to do?

That is all.

28 February 2011

Smackdown 101 for ICC Boycotters

Kalonzo Musyoka, the ‘servant leader’ – and yes, these are quotation marks of derision - has wasted plenty of public funds and his servant-leader time that is also paid for with public funds by running around the continent to badger other countries presidents to support Kenya’s bid for an ICC deferral.

For this little pet project that he so diligently executes on behalf of the president, Kalonzo Musyoka came up with a couple of astonishing statements. Reportedly. I use the word ‘reportedly’ here on purpose because Mr Musyoka often calls up media houses and complains that a) he never said such a thing ever, and also that b) he was quoted out of context.

According to a Star reporter, he argued that under the law, the government was obliged to pay the legal fees of those who were acting in the course of their employment during the 2007/2008 post poll chaos, i.e., Hussein Ali and Francis Muthaura. More interestingly, he added that ‘it would be very expensive for the six named as bearing the heaviest responsibility for the violence and further called on Kenyans to help each other in catering for the fees as it would serve to also bring us closer together as a nation.’

More recently, he also said that local prosecutions would enable the courts to ‘dig dipper’ (although I credit Nation’s copy-editing with the ‘dipper’ bit).

Let’s look at this for a second:

Kenyans – yes, those people who elected the servant-leader, I presume (he *did* get a couple of votes) and the whole other sorry lot – overwhelmingly want the prosecutions to take place in Den Hague. End of. Be a servant leader, Mr Musyoka. Or, to use an expression that has become incredibly popular with politicians recently, ‘read the mood of the country’.

And remember that it was the MPs who coined the fun term 'Don't be vague, it's The Hague' while they voted against a local tribunal repeatedly.

No, Kenya most certainly doesn’t have the capacity to prosecute those cases. The judiciary is notoriously corrupt, and even if – and that’s a huge if – Kenya actually made any credible moves towards cleaning up the judiciary, it will take years for this to take root. These cases don’t have years. And if we ever needed a reminder (we don’t), the infuriating bitchfest around the appointment of the AG and CJ are evidence that Kenya doesn’t have its act together.

The new constitution won’t make a blind bit of difference here either – spend ten minutes in traffic and you know how nobody, from the minister with flag to the ordinary citizens, has any respect for rules. None.

Local prosecutions ask a government to investigate itself. A classic case of conflict of interest. It will not happen.

Kenya cannot ensure witness protection. Period.

Nothing in the old or new constitution made chopping someone up with a panga legal. Nor was it legal to chase someone away from his/her property, loot his/her property, or burn people. I am not aware of a single prosecution. Why not? What’s stopping this? It doesn’t need Den Hague, and if anyone were serious, there’d have been plenty of court cases already.

Kalonzo Musyoka also said that alongside a local tribunal, the government would resettle IDPs. I, for one, don’t understand why a resettlement is necessary in the first place. If there is no fight and no acrimony, Mr Ruto, why can’t those people go back to their own property? What’s the problem? Is there any reason why they can’t go back? And if there is a reason, then what has stopped the Kenyan government from resolving this problem? This has nothing to do with ICC or not ICC. At. All.

Remember this?

Club-footed Social Media Poverty Poster Child

So this is a little intriguing: News.com.au has an article about Darren Rowse, described as ‘one of Australia’s biggest bloggers’, and his trip to Tanzania to ‘to test the idea that social media can be used for good.’

I think that one of the cool things about the internet is that you don’t actually need to go anywhere to check things out. Darren surely must have access to google and online news as well, so he might have heard the odd story or five about an entire Twitter and Facebook-supported revolution in Tunisia and Egypt. Maybe he could have sat down and googled around Africa/East Africa a bit and checked out what people here are up to in social media and the internet in general?

Because then we might not have ended up with the usual little poverty poster child for his initiative. This time, it’s not flies in the eyes and a distended belly:

‘Rowse said one of his main goals was to let people from Tanzania tell their own stories. "A little boy with a club foot or a cleft pallet (will) be able to tell his story in a way he may not have been able to do," he said.’

I think he meant cleft palate, but aside from that, I hope he also asks a business woman in her shiny big four-wheel drive to ‘tell her own story’.

‘We'll be blogging on the road, really, wherever we can find internet access, tweeting and creating videos.’ Just bring a smart phone and you’re good to go wherever there’s network coverage. That's how we do it here. The whole mobile thing, you know. Look it up. It's on google.

Yeah yeah, good intentions. I know.

11 February 2011

Toes and Doglet

Doglet looking at the garden and fresh pedicure from Aromatics Spa, with OPI nail polish 'Lincoln Park After Dark', and mother-of-pearl button flip flops from Annabel Thom's shop Zebu shop at the Junction.



Before that, I was wearing 'I'm Indi-a Mood for Love', also from OPI, with my new, supergorgeous shoes from Mocca at Westgate:


There are shoes, and good shoes, and shoes that you just know will change your life, and make everything perfect:

08 February 2011

Local Content: Smart Kenyan Porn Venture

I wrote this for my column in the Star in early December 2010.


Sometimes you really have to wonder, and I wondered twice: First, like everyone else, about the pope’s comment that condoms might be permissible in male gay prostitution. And just as we all thought it was weird, but at least a small step, I wondered again when Cardinal Njue issued a lengthy statement that the pope was quoted out of context (how Kalonzo Musyoka of him), and that ‘the position of the Catholic Church as regards the use of condoms, both as a means of contraception and as a means of addressing the grave issue of HIV/AIDS infection, has not changed and remains as always unacceptable’. Right on, sir – this has the benefit of clarity. No gray areas, no subtleties, no scope for decisions. Just step away from the rubbers and you’ll be right as rain.

However, Njue then also boldly claimed that ‘thankfully prostitution and homosexuality are alien to Kenyan society’. Now make-believe is great – I have an alternative world in my head in which I own a sizeable collection of Prada shoes and am having coffees with Zaha Hadid to discuss the house she’ll design for me. But apart from that, I strive to be a little more empirical.

I do understand that the good cardinal must be very busy with church matters, and probably doesn’t get to hang out much in pubs and bars where you’d encounter prostitutes. Perhaps he doesn’t drive along Kenyatta Avenue past the working ladies in the evening much. Most likely he doesn’t spend much time in the bars where Nairobi’s gay community drinks. Maybe he has no gaydar and just wouldn’t spot them anywhere around him. But both prostitution and homosexuality are very much part of the fabric of society in Kenya as anywhere else in the world. And since the previous US administration has so powerfully demonstrated what an enduring mess you can create with the Bush II approach to reality ("I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe — I believe what I believe is right."), I’m respectfully dedicating today’s column to Mr Njue and the pursuit of facts.

I write about ICT issues quite regularly. Apart from the infrastructure and technical issues, there’s the big area of digital content that interests me: Internet access is growing rapidly, more and more people use their mobile phones to go online, and then there’s the transition from analogue to digital TV. All of this has created vastly more space for digital content, and consequently more demand. The digital space also forces us to rethink categories like local and international: I remember Alex Okosi from MTV explaining that they would promote African content, but not exclusively so since MTV also wanted to be a window the world. I love that I don’t need to be in the UK to read the Sunday Times and have access to the NY Times every day. By the same measure, very local content becomes accessible to the world.

One of the more interesting digital ventures I have come across is a Kenyan adult content website. At first glance, it’s not very sleek at all: The graphic design is a bit basic and haphazard, as is the spelling. The videos they sell are clearly a low-cost production, no exactly super-attractive actors, very basic settings. But here is why I was impressed: Kenyans are a peculiar lot - just remember the stylish Celtel ads and how everyone turned up their noses because the models didn’t ‘look Kenyan’? Not a mistake these guys make. It’s deliberately local content and as with TV series such as Makutano Junction, the audience will identify with it. And then they take the local angle a step further by having tribal smut. Yes, really: they advertise ‘vernacular dirty talk’. They make full use of mobile payment mechanisms: send your payments by M-PESA or Zap (and no sambaza, they warn). They work with whatever technology their clients have: If you have a good internet connection, you can download the videos after payment. If not, you can order DVDs for delivery. The website also has a page with hook ups and one for pre-approved sex workers (and the latter don’t look very alien to me). While they clarify that selling videos is their main focus, this will generate extra revenues and extra traffic.

And, I just noticed, they have a little ‘Be wise – use a condom’ alert on the top left of the website. Sensible people.

It’s a great story – and at the same time common as ugali. Enterprising Kenyans are part of the global smut industry, and like everywhere else, porn uses and drives technological developments. Porn might be illegal in Kenya, but this restriction becomes meaningless in the digital space where there is a deluge of adult content already. It’s a hugely competitive space and the internet has, in fact, been a revenue killer for a large part of the established porn industry. But how many providers of digital vernacular smut do you know? Well played, I think.

I, for one, am not Catholic, so I don’t take reproductive health advice from a celibate man in a dress. But the pope’s word and that of his clerics carries weight with a great many people. So some sort of engagement with reality would be good. I recently laughed when I found the term ‘evidence-based policies’ because it seemed silly – what else would it be based on? I don’t laugh anymore.

28 January 2011

Tales of the Doglet: School Lane

Ollie the Doglet needs to go for a walk every day. He’d happily go for several walks, but has to have at least one. Otherwise he’ll sit on the sofa next to me (i.e. almost at eye level) and stare at me persistently with an expression that is both eager and a bit anxious. It wears you down.

These were from my old neighbourhood, on School Lane:


‘Is it a dog?’ (10-year old girl)
‘What do you think it is?’


On Matundu Lane, an older man walks towards us in a calm and composed manner. As he comes closer, he raises an eyebrow, ever so slightly, and then glances at Ollie, without breaking his stride, without really turning his head:

‘Cat?’ he says
‘No’, I say. ‘Rabbit in a dog costume’.

We both walk on.


There are always guys on bikes with crates on the back who deliver milk or bread or other goods to the small kiosks in the area. One of them – either perennially cheerful, or very proud of his knowledge of dogs, or possibly both – saw Ollie chew grass and, cycling past, called happily ‘It’s taking its medicine!’.

A few weeks later, a different corner, he threw us an exuberant ‘It’s glazing!’


Ollie was still very little when we lived on School Lane:

Find Ollie Doglet on Facebook.

26 January 2011

Tsavo in a Taxi (Dec 2005)

It had seemed a reasonably straightforward idea at the time, in October. Rather than buy four tickets to fly from Nairobi to Lamu in the peak season, hire one vehicle (because they are always ‘vehicles’ and never cars) and drive. So I had left my trusted taxi driver Samuel with such instructions when I left in October, and felt sorted about it. By the time I was back for Christmas, things had turned a little more interesting: According to Samuel, hiring a van would have been very expensive indeed and also a bit uncomfortable – who wants to do that long drive in a matatu, after all? Hiring a proper four-wheel drive would have extortionately expensive as it was, well, high season. I couldn’t quite get to the bottom of why Samuel hadn’t done the booking in early November, but it was too late anyway. As we were planning to leave on Thursday, and it was Monday already, I took him up on his offer to use his car. A typical white station wagon with the yellow Nairobi taxi stripes on the side. Four women plus a guitar plus luggage.

One woman was then, with sufficient drama, taken off the passenger list: We had meant to pick up Denise from Nairobi airport on the way out to Lamu on Thursday morning, but for an afternoon, it looked like she might not be able to join us at all: Darfour airport, in eastern Sudan, had been summarily, and at very short notice, closed ‘for maintenance’, never mind the scheduled flights. Eventually, her travel agent had worked unspeakable magic and found her a flight out to Mombasa, and then managed to book the missing leg to Lamu for the next day. At the same time, I sent a text to Lorna and Mine: ‘Fancy coming to Lamu with us? Plenty of space in the house’.

It took them less than a day to agree, and they brought two new important additions: Their green-white Landrover as an additional car, and the suggestions to not follow Mombasa Road all the way to the coast, but to take the scenic route through Tsavo National Park. A bit longer to drive, but far more fun, said Mine, who should know.

On Mombasa Road
So we set off on Thursday morning, a bit later than planned, but with coffee in flasks, sandwich material, chocolate cookies, and two cars. Lorna and Mine in the Landrover, with Gillian in the back, and Kechil and myself and her guitar in Samuel’s taxi. Mombasa Road out of Nairobi goes past the turnoff for Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and is a little shabby at first – not outright potholed, but uneven, and it’s difficult to go very fast. It leads through the industrial area, dry and dirty, with rusty buildings. As the city peters out, the trucks both old and new, but all big, remain constant in both directions, a steady stream back and forth from Mombasa seaport. The landscape keeps changing slowly, dry areas, flat areas, hills at the sides, some dry-ish low vegetation. After a while, the road turns smooth and fast – thanks to EU financing, as we read from the signs. Small settlements at the roadside are often clearly geared at travellers and in particular truck drivers – and create a paint-by-numbers network of the transmission of HIV/AIDS throughout the country.


After gunning down a near perfect road for miles, the bliss reaches its end – the road hasn’t been finished all the way to Mombasa, and we need to go sideways on a much bumpier older road, with less space for the big trucks, whilst the proper road is still being extended.

Then we lose the Landrover. We’re in the wrong place and wait too long and they have passed us by, so once we’ve figured out where everyone is, we race off to catch up with them at the gate. The landscape is emptier and wider as we turn off the road to the left to Tsavo National Park gate. The guys at the gate have a look at Samuel’s car and tell us it should be ok: it has been dry for a long time. We have a picnic as we won’t be allowed to get out of the car once inside the park. We shouldn’t, in any case. Sometimes it can’t be avoided. As, for example, when Samuel’s tire goes flat just a few kilometres into the park. Brilliant, I think – we’ve only just started. With Lorna’s help, the tyre is exchanged quickly for an even more fragile one, with its profile nearly run down smoothly. I try not to worry because there’s really no point now, and on top of that, I can’t even change a tyre to save my life. But what do we do when the next one goes? There’s very little traffic in the park, and after a while, we’re out of mobile phone network coverage, too.

Through Tsavo
I soon stop thinking about this, though. Tsavo is spacious, and the earth changes from deep amber to white and yellow sand. A range of hills (large hills? small mountains?) to our left, all seemingly cut off straight at the top. Before it a river snakes its way through the park, and on its banks, despite the low water levels, vegetation is green and lush, with large palm trees swaying.


The roads are graded, but well maintained and relatively easy to drive. What grows on both sides is dry and thin. When entering the park, Mine had warned us that Tsavo elephants were notoriously bad-tempered – according to her, they charge without warning, at the drop of a hat (an elephant hat, presumably). And they mean it: they *will* follow you. I believe that it might take a few moments for an elephant to get going, given their huge mass, but don’t know how fast they can get, and certainly am not keen to test this in a Nairobi taxi. On a graded road. With the spare tyre on.

It’s in the middle of the day and scorching hot, so most animals must have decided to hide away and wait it out. A few of the usual jumpy things around – dik dik, tiny antelopes, lovely chunky larger waterbuck – and a few elephants. When we were coming down a road to a bend, we see three elephants ahead of us crossing the roads from the bush on the left into the bush on the right. We stop the car to figure out whether more were going to follow, and as the bushes on the left have stopped moving, decide to move forward carefully – just to stare a buffalo in the face. Now elephants may be bad-tempered and have a short fuse in Tsavo, but buffaloes are knows as stupid and aggressive pretty much everywhere. We pull the car back a few metres, take a deep breath, and then decide to give it a go again. All wildlife has duly disappeared into the bushes and leaves us to pass through. Bit giddy, though!

The entire drive through Tsavo is nearly 100km to Sala Gate – through the heat and dust, on rattling graded roads. The landscape opens up as the mountain ranges eases off, and the river, snaking away irregularly at some distance from the road, remains the guiding green thread through the park. We stop occasionally to catch a better glimpse of the few animals, and apparently I missed out on a group of giraffes right at the end of the road, when I was getting sleepy – but saw a family of bush pigs, tails up straight like antennae in a very un-pig-like fashion, scoot across the road.

Outside Sala Gate, we turn left after three kilometres for the Crocodile Camp where Samuel hopes to have the whole in his tyre sealed. This takes its time and is done while the rest of us sit on the Landrover in the staff quarters, watching chicken roam around, and the camp staff sitting on their doorstep watch us sit on the Landrover.


It’s late in the afternoon, and everyone is a little too mellow to expend much energy, but we know that we really should get going – even now, it is already unlikely that we’ll reach Malindi in daylight, and we have not even made any bookings for accommodation, a concern, as the coast is booked solid over the holidays. Another headache is that we initially planned to do the drive – without Tsavo – in one day, but haven’t been able to get in touch with Wildebeest, the place we have booked in Lamu. I am a bit freaked out that they will give the two ‘penthouses’ away if we don’t turn up as announced. I had earlier sent several texts back and forth with Mwangi, asking him to get us a different phone number for Wildebeest. But for now, there isn’t even any mobile phone network, so I can’t check whether he had any luck.

Sala Gate to Malindi
The road outside Sala Gate towards Malindi is really no better than the road inside the park and I feel a little uneasy when I realise that we will have to drive a major bit in the dark – is that a good idea? But there’s no choice. Lorna and Mine are speeding away, in what I take as an effort to get through the dark as quickly as possible, which does not make me feel any easier. Even though Samuel pushes his taxi to the limit to keep up with them, sometimes we can only just see their taillights disappear over yet another hilly top. Kechil and I frantically, tensely concentrate with him, and flinch every time a particularly big piece of rock hits the bottom of the car. We flinch a lot. There are a great many big stones on this road. And this is not a car particularly suited for this road, with ridges that makes it look like a giant washboard, and breakneck speed doesn’t help matters. Sometimes, the car literally surfs and glides on the raised sandy ridge in the middle of the road. I take a quick look at my phone, but we are still out of network coverage, and so I can’t tell the girls to slow down. But eventually, I get the chance to ask them myself: After more than an hour of a mad, tense race, we see the Landrover waiting for us at the roadside. In the dark, at a roadside in the middle of absolutely nowhere, that is. We may have passed the odd sign of a settlement off the road, but this still clearly qualifies as the middle of nowhere. Mine looks at us: ‘We’re finished’. It turns out that they’ve run out of petrol, and that was the reason for their speeding – trying to get as far as possible with the last drops.

So this is a bit of a crisis situation. We’re trapped in the embodiment of Africa’s ‘infrastructure constraints’: rudimentary road, no power, no street lights, no telecommunications. Well, a tiny bar on my phone display, on and off. Five women, one sturdy taxi driver, two cars full with things, darkness falling rapidly. This doesn’t look good at all. Gillian, first time ever in Kenya, in Africa, has no sense of fear, but the rest of us are getting very uneasy.

In the middle of nowhere does have a connection to the world: a matatu passes us by, but they can’t offer any help – what we are looking for is a pipe to suck some petrol out of Samuel’s taxi and put it into the Landrover, which, unsurprisingly, they don’t carry. And then, our guardian angel arrives. And he looked like Osama bin Laden – slight, bearded, skull cap, friendly eyes. More specifically, he came with this father, his two sons, and some farm workers in a pick-up truck. As soon as they had heard about our problem, they made it their own and did not relent until they had practically tucked us into our overnight accommodation: Mahadi – the Osama-bin-Laden lookalike – decides to take his car and Lorna (and Gillian, who bounces along like a puppy in search of an adventure) to the next village to see if they can buy some fuel from generators, and he leaves his father, the two boys and one of his staff with the rest of us. Samuel, in the meantime, shoots off in the other direction to see if he can find a pipe.

The rest of us just have to wait. Mine chats with mzee, Mahadi’s father, about his farm and the drought, and I decide to feed the kids with chocolate cookies. They only speak Swahili, but chocolate cookies are universal. And so we wait and wait and wait. When three slightly drunk young guys turn up and start eyeing the Landrover and the luggage, we are again reminded how easily this could have gone wrong, and are grateful that mzee engages them in a conversation and distracts them for long enough until Mahadi, Lorna and Gillian reappear – with fuel! According to Lorna, Mahadi had walked from house to house, and negotiated with everyone, and then even refused to be reimbursed for the money he spent. We’re amazed, and speechless with gratitude and relief. Just as we’re filling the fuel into the Landrover, Samuel reappears with a piece of pipe so that we can top the Landrover up some more.

Then Mahadi tells us to follow him – he’d guide us to the nearest petrol station on edge of Malindi. This is still quite a bit of a drive, but never has a petrol station looked so beautiful and welcoming to me! Of course we also still don’t have any idea where we could sleep, so he recommends Ozzie’s, furnishing us with directions, and then we waive his little group off with cheers and intense gratitude. However, that was not yet the end of it: Malindi is not very big, but of course we can’t find Ozzie’s, and stop at a small food place to ask for directions – just to run straight into Mahadi again who was buying fries for his sons. In the end, they lead us all the way to Ozzie’s where we are welcomed by a tall Muslim gentleman with a long robe, a skullcap – and a distinctly camp demeanour. Had he swooshed a feather boa over his shoulder, I would not have blinked. He hands us the keys for two rooms with flourish and tell us to use the bathrooms and showers on all floors. ‘If anyone complains, tell them I told you to!’.

Last activity that night? Shower and a stroll to a beachfront restaurant to wash out the adrenaline with a big double vodka and some food. It’s the title of Kate Adie’s (most excellent) book, but I’ll borrow it here: the kindness of strangers. It’s been an amazing gift at the end of an amazing drive.

And we did make it to Lamu eventually.


20 January 2011

Probably Still my Favouritest-Ever 419 Letter

Subject: Nigerian Astronaut Wants To Come Home

Dr. Bakare Tunde
Astronautics Project Manager
National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA)
Plot 555 Misau Street
PMB 437 Garki, Abuja, FCT
NIGERIA


Dear Sir,

REQUEST FOR ASSISTANCE-STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL

I am Dr. Bakare Tunde, the cousin of Nigerian Astronaut, Air Force Major Abacha Tunde. He was the first African in space when he made a secret flight to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979. He was on a later Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989. He was stranded there in 1990 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. His other Soviet crew members returned to
earth on the Soyuz T-16Z, but his place was taken up by return cargo. There have been occasional Progrez supply flights to keep him going since that time. He is in good humor, but wants to come home.

In the 14-years since he has been on the station, he has accumulated flight pay and interest amounting to almost $15,000,000 American Dollars. This is held in a trust at the Lagos National Savings and Trust Association. If we can obtain access to this money, we can place a down payment with the Russian Space Authorities for a Soyuz return flight to bring him back to Earth. I am told this will cost $ 3,000,000 American Dollars. In order to access the his trust fund we need your assistance.

Consequently, my colleagues and I are willing to transfer the total amount to your account for subsequent disbursement, since we as civil servants are prohibited by the Code of Conduct Bureau (Civil Service Laws) from opening and/ or operating foreign accounts in our names.

Needless to say, the trust reposed on you at this juncture is enormous. In return, we have agreed to offer you 20 percent of the transferred sum, while 10 percent shall be set aside for incidental expenses (internal and external) between the parties in the course of the transaction. You will be mandated to remit the balance 70 percent to other accounts in due course.

Kindly expedite action as we are behind schedule to enable us include downpayment in this financial quarter.

Please acknowledge the receipt of this message via my direct number 234 (0) 9-234-2220 only.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr. Bakare Tunde
Astronautics Project Manager
mailto:tip@nasrda.gov.ng

A Jolly Good Read: Today’s Star

I had a great time with the Star this morning:

Smirk-making: '"Such action is arbitrary, autocratic and smirks of an attitude by a government that does not care about private investment", the business people said.'

I also really enjoyed the details about Ruto's attempt to shake off the ICC. His lawyer, Katwa, said: 'The court failed to rule on the substance and merits of the case and just casually dismissed it'. Possibly, I wonder, because it has no substance and merit?

And more: ICC registrar Sylvana Arbia received Ruto's application, dated 1 Dec, on 18 Dec. 'In transmitting the application to the judges, Arbia complained that it was communicated with "considerable difficulty" by Katwa.'

And then the cute story of Kalonzo Musyoka's photo gift to Hillary Clinton. Not, as I initially thought, a pic of him in a casual shirt, with his phone number and ‘call me xxx’ scrawled over it, but of Mr Musyoka with Bill and Hillary Clinton. The US administration had this to say: "Permission to retain for official use only because 'non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and US government".

Intriguing: '20 Kirinyaga pupils expelled over "immoral" tae kwondo'. Hmm!

And finally, a beautiful Imelda Marcos quote: 'When they opened Imelda's cupboards, they did not find skeletons. They only found beautifully made shoes.' Bless her.

A Year of Win!

It’s only January and the year is proving incredibly promising already on all levels, personal and professional:

'I would like we create a working relation to built each other capacity and enhance more opportunity as we increase client base.’ From the director of a modelling and casting agency. A natural fit with country risk analysis!

And possibly also romance?

‘Hows the going buddy, it gives me pleasure on my part to write to you since i happen to working in the company that you frequently contribute business annalysis on; The star newspaper. Thats quit impressive.I should commend you on how you do your annalysis and the way you present your views. Am writing to you too on purposes since am in interested in getting to know you ,This is due to the fact that am a media practioner with a biased towards business related stories.’

Yes, I'm feeling optimistic.

16 January 2011

Mobile Phones Everywhere: Horses

Today, my friend Eline came along to go horse riding in Karen. She’s ridden before, so after about half an hour on the field, Ernest sent us off with Francis, one of the stable guys. We meandered around Karen and every once in a while, I spotted Francis chatting on his mobile, whether his horse was walking or trotting. No pictures, because I always leave my phone behind when I ride.