Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wahala dey

There's an African-Latin American jaw-jaw on at the moment in town. The city centre of Abuja (otherwise known as the Transcorp Hilton) is predictably chaotic, with police every two metres and South American types yapping into mobile phones with serious looks on their faces. Nigeria must have among the highest (if not the highest) number-in-convoy-per-politician average in the world (with the President having say a 30 car convoy average, state governors pulling in say 15 cars-plus-ambulance, your average nobody politician having 5 or 6). At events like these, you have a number of bigwig politicians and their convoy retinue clogging the space. Not quite sure what the whole shebang is supposed to achieve. Meanwhile, read about this hilarious incident involving Colonel Gaddafi at Abuja Airport yesterday.

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The US economy

The dollar is looking extremely weak at present. It has lost 30% of its value against both the Euro and the Pound in the last four years. Meanwhile, the mainstay of the US economy, the housing market has entered a slump phase (a British property slump is also now widely predicted, but its hard to see how in places like London and Manchester where the boom boometh still). There will be the usual consumer pick-me-up on the back of an ever weaker dollar thanks to consumer tourists and locals chasing down cheaper imports (it looks like the 2 dollar = 1 pound is just about to be broken again). However, it is hard to see what is going to turn things around in the States.

China is now producing cars that retail at US$5000 with leather seats and a/c. How would the US car market ever recover? (Answer: it won't. RIP GM). Huge tracts of the American economy have lost their competitive advantage, forever. At some point in the near future, an ever weaker dollar will surely look like an unattractive currency to purchase for other nation's foreign reserves. Exporting in mega-volumes to America's malls will surely reach a tipping point, whereby the forex received in exchange depreciates beyond a certain point and reduces profit margins, especially as these narrowing margins are compared with other emerging consumer markets open up around the world (where margins are going in the other direction), and as US consumer credit slowly dries up in line with a property fall.

I'm far from being even an amateur economist: but why would you (in the role of a Central Bank chief) keep precious foreign reserves held in a currency that is increasingly devalued and unstable? Meanwhile, the OECD is making noises that the other big global economies - China and Europe specifically - have almost reached the point whereby when America sneezes, only America catches the cold. Perhaps only a war economy can reverse the trend Stateside? Trouble is, the neo-cons have just lost their power-base and there are too many resource-heavy flash points in the Middle East already. The 21st century might not be an American Project after all, even if all the smartest guys in the room are American. I don't see a way out for the US economy as it is, as the health-dependency of the rest of the world on the US ever so slowly starts to recede.

All the above are just my simple thoughts. I'd be happy to hear someone with more understanding of these things paint a different scenario..

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Nude

No one was in the apartment late this afternoon except me. I'd had a tough day dealing with people who have Incompetent as a middle name and Utterly as their first name (their surname is not fit for public consumption). I felt like nothing could pick me up from the doldrums of stupid-person fatigue. So I just took all my clothes off and made some flapjacks. It was a liberation of sorts, just being in the body, without textile encumbrance. I understood enfin why Fela spent so much time just wearing underpants - why else do you need to wear anything in a sultry country? Plus it feels sexy. I added peanuts to the flapjack mixture (my little tip), and used maple syrup instead of boring non-maple syrup. I'd had the song Nature Boy in my sub-conscious all day (it was on at the Bank this morning, though not my favourite Benson version). I couldn't help singing along while queuing. Just moments later on my way out, some schlemiel pushed in front of the queue to get past the electronic door system. Everyday this week one Nigerian or other has bumped some queue I'm in, which I take to be the height of uncivilised behaviour. I had to strain with every sinew not to grab hold of him and start swearing down his ears. I'm so deeply unBuddhist sometimes I can't understand why I'd ever describe myself as such.

Still, as a new friend said today, at least your human. My reply: at most, I'm human.

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Yet another Nigerian drugs mule goes down..

The only difference with this story is that it is a leading Nollywood star. Was she not earning enough, was it greed, was it the thought that she could just do it and get away with it, or was she pressurised into it?

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Prince Charles goes to the Durbar

Prince Charlie cometh to Northern Nigeria. They are laying on a Durbar for him, and doubtless a bit of polo will be arranged. One always wonders the real reason behind such visits. Usually with royal jaunts, there's an arms deal lurking in the background. Or perhaps this time there's something political going on - I'll leave you to figure out what that might be..

Talking of weapons, notice from this article that the companies that make up the British arms trade are willing to accept they are corrupt, using the importance of the arms industry for the British economy as defence (as well as the age old argument of not wanting to lose out to the French). The UK's record on arms sales is something to be hideously ashamed of - who can forget the badly concealed (in terms of their use) sales of British Aerospace's Hawks to Indonesia (used to repress the East Timorese) and who can be proud of the UK's recent foot-dragging on international legislation against cluster bombs? Every day, serious injuries and deaths are occurring in southern Lebanon, thanks to these truly nasty munitions. But from the British Government's perspective, keeping the sales figures up is all that matters - who cares who dies or is maimed? One thing is sure - you'll never get Charlie talking about the evil of cluster bombs, unlike Diana, who made a big deal out of land mines all those years ago. Meanwhile, the Scottish air-apparent has signalled his intention to commission the new generation of Trident nukes, costing the tax payer billions and billions of pounds, in direct contravention of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Tosser.

The hidden logic of the arms trade is obvious, once you think about it: if you have weapons to sell, are you going to try to sell in conflict-free areas, or are you going to sell to volatile states in conflict with their neighbours? Both the British and the French arms industries have excelled at prolonging war and conflict in Africa, as elsewhere across the globe.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Questions asked of Duke

There's been quite a bit flying around in question of Donald Duke's record in Cross River in the blogosphere (see Chxta, Arun's Odyssey etc), stemming from this article. Given the slick PR exercise of having a blog and a well orchestrated media campaign, it behoves Duke and his people to respond point for point. It does strongly look like someone on the inside is supplying the information.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Cybercrime law

Anyone who wants to read what is done about cybercrime in Nigeria, click here to read the draft bill currently being read at the National Assembly.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Abuja Carnival

I spent a couple of hours wandering up and down the procession of floats at Abuja Carnival late this afternoon and early evening. The event was based around Eagle Square, what passes for public space in the city. As usual, the show had been poorly publicised, with only a few thousand people turning up. This is a pity, because the array of costumes and music is quite amazing. I wonder how many other events on the planet could rival the sartorial plenitude of this event.. The incredible cultural variety of Nigeria is condensed into one place, and one cannot but feel awed by the country's seemingly endless diversity.

As dusk wore on, the interlaced polyrhythms grew denser and the dance of the masquerades more frenetic. Durbar horse riders galloped about, the smell of horse manure the fragrance of the dusk air. I returned to my car by the time it was dark, to find someone had lifted both my wing mirrors. It was a small price to pay. More pics here.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

IHT on Nigeria

There's an article in the International Herald Tribune on the Nigerian elections today, suggesting that the elections may well go badly, and lead to military rule.

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Liveleak

The Ogrish site has now transformed into this - more of a YouTube type format. Ogrish was (in)famous for storing all the Al-Qaeda/terrorist beheading videos. I watched one once, it was quite the most disgusting thing I've ever seen. Still, the site is a necessary resource for seeing footage the corporate media would never show. Its the new media equivalent of the Victorian freak show.

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Scoring with J

Our Jamaican friends S and J were over on holiday, staying with us in our Archway flat. It was August 2000. J, being a strict Rastafarian, was in need of some herbal relief. Being the anxious host, I did not want to disappoint. And so, leaving the two women at home, neither of them particularly enamoured by the prospects of our midnight mission, we set off in my old banger Peugeot 205. My first thought was to go to Camden, just down the hill the other side of Kentish Town. After a few minutes wandering about and asking Ethiopian taxi drivers near York Way, I quickly realised we were not in the right place. I kerb-crawled with decreasing hope around the neighbouring streets, before speeding off to what I was sure would be a much more certain destination: All Saints Road in Notting Hill. We parked the car and strolled down the street. Since my dope-fuelled days with J__ in the mid 1990’s, the once notorious street had been chi-chi’d up, with hardly an illicit vibe in emanation. We had almost reached the end of the street and our tether when we came upon a Caribbean cultural centre, with a frontage resplendent in all the flags of the West Indies. This surely would be the place, I thought.

A guy in dreads came out and greeted us, shaking hands loudly with J. ‘What-a-gwan dread?’ the guy said. J meanwhile had begun to study the flags with a slight frown. ‘Hey mon’, he began’, ‘W’appen to de Jameyakan flag? You gat all de flags of de kyaribeyan, but naat de Jameyakan one?’ It was the turn of the dreadlocked guy to frown. He then swung round and pointed with irritation to the top right hand side of the frontage. ‘What ya talking bout brethren. Dere is ur Jameyakan flag. D’ya want de flag to cover de hole of de building?’

With this inauspicious start, we got down to business. J was used to asking for what he called a ‘ten bag.’ For ten Jamaican dollars, you got what appeared to be (from J’s spatial miming earlier on in the car) to be the size of a Tesco bag full of ganja. Meanwhile, I had no idea how much ten Jamaican dollars was, but knew that twenty quid would be enough for perhaps an eight of an ounce. J asked a little diffidently for a ten bag, hoping that the dread would understand and be able to translate into local currency and requirements. The dreaded guy stared J levelly in the face and calmly asked for seventeen pounds in return. I fumbled and brought out a crumpled twenty. Our new friend then disappeared with the money and went back inside. A few minutes later, he brought out a tiny amount of substance, wrapped in cellophane, as well as three pound coins. J held it outstretched in his hands, his face the very portrait of incredulity. ‘Whaaat!’ ‘You mean this is what I get for seventeen pounds!’ After a few seconds of increasing disbelief, he popped it inside his jacket pocket, and we were off. As we drove home, he explained that this was nearly all their daily allowance for the holiday –and that S would not be best pleased. At that point, I think he concluded his case for the prosecution concerning the fundamental meanness of life in the UK.

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FOP's birthday, 2004

It was the Managing Director of Phillips Consulting, Foluso Phillips’ 50th birthday. Everyone called him FOP, in line with a general house rule that the higher you were in the food chain, the more entitled you were to having your name initialised. He always wore a bow-tie to work, as part of a consistently dapper look. In appearance, he was a cross between Duke Ellington and Denzel Washington’s uncle, with something crisply Hollywood about him. Every time I looked at his face I drew an imaginary pencil moustache on it, while Paul Robeson warbled in the background. Alas, we were a long way from Beverly Hills inside the UBA building on Lagos Marina.

We were ushered into his plush over-sized office for the birthday celebration. First of all, Babs, the Financial Controller, gave the eulogy, peppered with the obligatory references to God and Jesus. Then it was FOP’s turn to thank everyone for their contributions and best wishes. After a few minutes of this, FOP invited Pastor ___, another employee, to lead the prayer. Pastor ____ quickly began a prayer which had a call and response structure, with people calling out ‘Amen’ (or rather, ‘Amin’) every now and again, while the pastor drew in breath. After a few minutes of blessing proposals, anointing invoices and thanking Jesus for our clients, he signalled it was time for individual prayer. All thirty or so employees in the room (except me) closed their eyes and started speaking in tongues, their faces bunched up in a furious passion. Some waved arms in the air, others fought with invisible enemies in an imaginary boxing ring. The sound was like putting your ear next to a bee-hive, quickly spun words buzzing through the air, confused, frantic human sounds layering on top of each other. I didn’t know what to do, or where to look. So I stared out of the window at the ships docking at Apapa, while sinking slowly into the carpet.

After a few minutes of conversing with our God, we all had to line up and hug FOP. I have not cringed so much since I was a small child, being kissed by the pursed and rubied lips of some vast smothering Aunty. Thankfully, my turn was quickly over with. I couldn’t help thinking of the Indian mystic whose religious offering is instant enlightenment with one heavenly clasp. Except that enlightenment did not come my way. I was soon to make my exit from the extended Pentecostal family that is Phillips Consulting.

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On to Lagos

The two-day writing workshop in Abuja ended yesterday afternoon. The participants thoroughly enjoyed the course. The party now moves on to Lagos, for a book reading at Bookworm this afternoon, with Church visits etc tomorrow, followed by various tv appearances and another workshop in the next few days, with the grand finale being a trip to Accra next weekend.

Its an incredibly tough slog getting a publishing company off the ground in Nigeria. Bibi needs to sleep for a week. She has been a star, as has Abidemi.

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The cricket

Waking up early, I watched a bit of the cricket (the Ashes) from the Gabba in Brisbane. There was something almost terrifyingly superior about the Australian performance and their brutal determination to make amends for losing the ashes last year. England's leading pace bowler, Steve Harmison, is washed up, each time he bowls one is thankful it is not a wide. It reminds me of the worst days during my playing days, when nothing goes right. Meanwhile, Ricky Ponting looks invincible with the bat. Australia are a magnificent team, England a boyish embarrassment. It just goes to show that excellence in sport has nothing at all to do with the numerical advantage of a large population, and everything to do with infrastructure and attitude.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Finally - a cure for insomnia

You can now download and read all my academic papers and presentations here.

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The Muslim phone

We bought Bibi's phone a year or so ago in Dubai. Its one of those fancy pda phones with pocket pc Windows functionality, a built-in video camera blah blah. When I first switched it on it automatically installed a swathe of Islamic applications, the most crucial one being an automatic muezzin call. Five times a day the phone turns into a mini-minaret: what sounds like a broken-hearted man pleading with anyone within earshot to get thyself to the mosque forthwith. The interface was also populated with arabic script that was a devil to delete.

I thought I had sorted everything out until 4am this morning, when the phone started to chant again. There must be some kind of code buried deep in the phone's firmware which means it is destined to be the call-to-prayer in our lives. With a very loud and lambasting muezzin a few metres away from our house (its less a call-to-prayer, and more a We're keeping this loudspeaker on as long as we like) its all a bit much for we Buddhist infidels. Now there's a thought - what would a Buddhist phone do?

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Christine

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Marphy

At Barcardi, Jos, last night..

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The road to Jos

At one point, you go through a wall of cacti, either side of the road. Lovely.

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Petrol station, Jos

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Jos bus..

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On 'the event'

While I have no desire to defend Badiou (I don't know his work at all well), there is something to be said in defence of what we might call the 'philosophy of the event.' The major figure prior to Badiou being of course Deleuze. It is important to understand a little of what is at stake in appealing to 'the event', and to see it as much more than an attempt at revealing one's credentials for dense abstract thought. Here's my little bloggy-type attempt:

Everything in European (aka continental philosophy) starts with David Hume, the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher. In the 18th century, Hume laid out a radical form of empiricism which stated that there are no ideas or concept that lie outside of the process of habits creating mental associations. There are no universal ideas, only bundles of mental experiences which cohere in one mind and are gone. The implication of this line of thought being that there is no self which stays constant across time, nor is there any other form of mental or physical permanence.

There is a lot more to say about Hume, but you get the picture.

Hume's philosophy woke a certain Prussian, Immanuel Kant, from his 'dogmatic slumbers.' Kant set out, most significantly in his Critique of Pure Reason, to show that thoughts and ideas have a universal structure, which he termed the 'transcendental.' Kant's notion of the transcendental is a long way from mysticism or 'transcendentalism' - by the transcendental Kant intended to refer to the laws that govern the understanding and reason. For Kant, our mental world is a highly structured world, governed by apriori conditions (principles that are in place prior to any possible thought). Just as Newton had discovered universal laws for space and time, Kant's transcendental rules were an attempt at creating a framework for all mental activity: thoughts, dreams, conceptual systems, and an argument in favour of the persistence of a rational self across time.

Now, major swathes of twentieth and twenty first century thought can be thought of as an attempt to re-engage Kant's thought (sometimes by going back to Hume, as Deleuze did), by questioning the limits of universalism in thought and in metaphysics. This is where 'the event' comes in. Introducing 'the event' is a way of

a) denying there are such things as rational enduring selves across time or universal ideas but b) not falling back into the brute empiricism of Hume, where the possibility of philosophy itself is crushed under the weight of flesh, bone, desire and random synaptic circuitry.

The logic of the event suggests that rationality inheres within a specific context - that is, that reason is relative to a specific framework of understanding (and of being) - but that there are possibly limitless forms of understanding (and being). This is where it gets complicated, because one wants to ask lots of questions about what constitutes a context, how there can be multiple rationalities etc etc. Answers to these questions lead off in many directions, depending on which philosopher you are reading.

The main point to take away however is that the thinking of the event is the thought that there are no truly universal conceptual laws or ideas, that there is no one pre-determined form of 'reason', but that this does not imply pure chaos or 'absolute relativism.' What it does imply is a more subtle way of understanding Hume's original radical empiricism:

There is only this moment, this scene. Everything else has already happened, or is yet to happen, or is in an elsewhere that can only be a deferral, from the perspective of here and now. All linkages to these other places must be re-made and re-worked, from within this perspective. All legacies must be renewed, all apparent continuities must be taken up again, and re-interpreted according to the needs of the present. In short, nothing is a given, or can be taken for granted as an apriori, even the conditions for the possibility of thinking must be subject to critique, starting from this moment..

The 'thinking of the event' is therefore an attempt to think according to the specific demands of the present and what is at-hand, however that present may be defined (scientifically, economically, materially etc etc). It is a call for vigilance (not to be swayed by historical legacy, at the same time not to reject all historical legacy). It is also a call to be alert to the difference of the present (this situation may strongly resemble a previous situation, but still we must ask, what is new here? What has altered?)

As a philosophy of everyday life, it calls for a poetic attentiveness to the world. As a political philosophy, it underpins anarchism, in the philosophical sense of an-arche (a suspension of all founding principles). As a form of scientific method, it is closely proximate to complexity theory - the idea that most phenomena in the world attain their complexity through a specific set of initial generative conditions. It also has more than a passing relationship to a generalised idea of quantum mechanics, in the sense that subjectivity always conditions 'the object', and vice versa. There is no such thing as 'pure objectivity', but then neither is there 'pure subjectivity.' Scientific method cannot entirely divorce itself from a humanistic perspective on the world (in the same way that contemporary understandings of genetics cannot be divorced from the role of existential/cultural/environmental factors - both in human and non-human beings).

In a phenomenological sense, it is a call to always 'begin again', in one's mode of thinking, in one's relationships to others and to the world, within the compass of the incessant work of returning to the 'things themselves'. It is prompt to be aware of all that may becoming stale in one's relation to everything else. It is a prompt to return to sensuosity, and the complex ontological ecologies that make up being-in-the-world (the way we live, and the way it affects the world). We are all related; nothing is fully disconnected from anything, but the reconnections have to be remade, redone, at each moment.

The philosophy of the event calls for work, and re-work at every moment, for the purposes of re-defining what it is to live through our historical moment. It is a powerful and perhaps inexhaustibly rich thought, that forces us to wake up from our dogmatic slumbers, again and again and again.

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To Jos

For a book reading at Barcardi - the local watering hole. Christine and Marphy sang sweetly after Abidemi read from her book (pics to follow). Everyone wears coats and scarves in Jos, as if it is mid-winter in Chicago. I always find this comical, given that the temperature is equivalent to a mild spring day in the UK.

The trip back to Abuja in the morning was lovely, the scenery just outside the town is stunning, with the biblical Shere ridge gradually receding as you descend away from the cool air of the plateau. Unfortunately, we were stopped by traffic police in white tunics just as we crossed from Plateau State into Kaduna State. They are strategically positioned outside of mobile contact, with soldiers near by. They fleeced us for N2000 on account of some spurious missing vehicle 'particular'. Of course that's bullshit - we have all the requisite documentation. Needless to say they didn't give us a receipt. Both the former Finance Minister and the DG of NTA announced publicly that corruption is exaggerated in Nigeria. Either they are completely deluded, or they simply don't encounter it from their exhaulted positions. To anyone else, it occupies every niche of society.

Then near Abuja, the car decided to overheat. We let the engine cool down. We were near another police checkpoint. The police were irritated with us because we were witness to their continued harassment of motorists for bribes. They delayed one poor woman for 20 minutes. They only let her go when she gave them a baseball cap.

Nigeria sometimes likes to grind you into little pieces and then spit you out.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Badiou


Since Giles Deleuze took advantage of gravity to smash himself to a pulp on a Parisian pavement a few years ago, the mantle of esoteric/cultic French philosophe du moment has transferred to Alain Badiou. This wiki entry gives a fair indication of the complexity of his thought, combining as it does set-theory as ontology, as well as an utter rejection of any representational theory of aesthetics. Best of all is the fact that a student has posted a diagram from Badiou's hand from a lecture only yesterday onto the site (see left). Wikipedia always amazes, if you let it.

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Salaam Brick Lane

Just finished reading Tarquin Hall's Salaam Brick Lane, an account of his real-life experiences living in Banglatown for a few years with his Indian girlfriend (now wife and BBC journalist). If you live in the West and you commute, its the perfect book: well observed and a joy to read. Hall has a keen ear for dialogue, whether it is his leather-jacket shop owning slumlord, his Albanian friends or the fading cockney characters in the pubs of Bethnal Green Road.

Best of all, its a song in praise of the centuries-old mongrel multiculturalism of England, writ small via the continuously varying experiment in hybridity also known as Brick Lane (from Huguenot weavers to Jewish exiles to the Sylhetic Bengalis of today). We English have always been hybrid (and rarely ethnically 'pure') - we've always imported our monarchs, raided other people's languages and stole all our culinary ideas from foreigners (even fish and chips ain't English, innit?). Never one for truly original ideas, we are highly adept at 'borrowing' and adapting those of others. Even as a vegan, I have to say: long live the chicken tikka masala!

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Californian spirituality..

A book of essays and photographs on California spirituality, by Erik Davis (who achieved a cult following for his book Techgnosis a few years ago), the photographs taken by Michael Rauner. I'd like to buy it when I can. I'd like to know more about exactly how California acquired its spiritual fecundity. What drove the mystics West?

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He left and it was too late

I go to the local lab for a routine malaria test. I enter the small room where the lab technician works, say hi and perch on the stool. I roll up my sleeves. Just then, a man enters. A spectral flash of irritation crosses my consciousness. I hate queue jumpers. He stands by the door. Quickly, I notice something is awry and my annoyance melts away. He stands very still, and he stand close to the door. He is nervous.

"About my result. What am I to do?" His voice is laden with sorrow.
The technician, who is putting a phial into a box, looks back at him.
"Please. I am not a doctor. I cannot help you." Her tone is dismissive.

By now, she has produced a pricking blade, to extract a drop of blood from my thumb. I fumble to put back my cuff link. My mind is spinning. The roulette wheel slowly clicks to a stop and now I understand. His sorrow transfers itself to me in a Van der Graaf moment: I need to act.

But she already has my wrist in her rubber gloved hands, and performs a practised jab. I am adrift from the world, following his footsteps away, into a chaos of confusion and desperation. Tonight, he will be at the Church, eyes closed with all his passion. Or he will be swinging in the loneliest place he can find to die. She presses the blood onto a thin film of glass, and hands me cotton wool. It is too late, he is gone.

In Nigeria, people diagnosed positive have no information on what to do next. Counselling is rare, and non-existent in the labs. In the ignorance about the cheap drugs now available that will sustain their lives to what is widely considered by those-that-know to be a natural span, their lives are destroyed. Some will pray for deliverance. Others will end themselves. Meanwhile, Aids is big business, for those with an NGO tale to spin. The lack of information is an abstract crime, that will inevitably lead to concrete deaths.

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RIP Robert Altman

Director of two of my all time favourite films, Gosford Park and Short Cuts. His take on the English class system, and his use of spatial narrative in Gosford Park is nothing short of genius. Meanwhile, Short Cuts was a revolution in non-linear interwoven narrative.

I shall watch Gosford Park tonight for probably the tenth time, in his honour.

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The tour

Abidemi reading from her book at Silverbird Galleria. The roadshow is now at University of Nigeria at Nsukka. Bibi had wanted to meet the VC of UNN, but he wasn't there. His secretary said he wouldn't see her anyway, as she was wearing trousers (he's a born again)!

Obviously, its ok for rampant sexual abuse of female students to continue as a perk for the male lecturers at universities across the land, but women wearing trousers? There is no greater sin.















Our books, at The Media Store, Silverbird Galleria.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

The argument from evil

Listening to the esteemed Rabbi and the Archbishop respond as Humphries probes, I find their responses to his versions of the so-called 'argument from evil' unconvincing in the extreme. The argument from evil is perhaps the most difficult argument for a believer in either religion to answer: if God is perfect, all-knowing, interventionist, omni-powerful etc.- how does He let suffering and evil occur? It never made sense as a small child, and it does not make sense now. One is forced to one of two conclusions: either He is a sadist and enjoys suffering (or callously allows it to happen), or he is not all-powerful, interventionist after all.

Humphries is open and ready to share in the joy of the beliefs of the Rabbi and the Archibishop, but neither comes close to explaining the basis of their faith. I share Humphries' feeling: I look upon people with 'faith' and feel like we are in different rooms separated by a solid glass wall (a bit like at an airport): either they have found a secret which they cannot articulate in any foundationalist sense, or they have merely taken an irrational leap into an unfounded system of belief.

It simply re-affirms the centrality of Buddhism in my life, because Buddhism, as more of a practical pyschology and spiritual grounding in the world than a faith, does not posit an all-powerful God. At the centre of Buddhism is the attempt to embrace dukka - suffering. Rather than run away from suffering in the name of a universe created by a divine Creator who is somehow outside yet inside the world, Buddhism suggests that all there is is this world, and the spiritual depth of the world lies in our practiced ability to confront suffering. Suffering here isn't simply the Holocaust, Rwanda, a family member dying of cancer etc; rather, dukka refers to the suffering of temporality itself. Life is transient; we all suffer from it. Only when we engage and embrace our own mortality can we begin to deepen our relationship with our own bodily-grounded spirituality.

Buddhism is then much less a faith, and more a step-by-step method to enable us to face reality in all its awesomeness. We will die. Nothing will happen afterwards except perhaps our memories will live on. Some people will die in pain. Others will be raped or bereaved in violent ways. All of this is suffering, as time itself is suffering. Through mindfulness and loving kindness we slowly open ourselves to this reality, strong in the knowledge that our ego-conditioning is illusory, that we are just one energy node in the universal process of becoming. Our death is not final because we will live on, it is not final because the world will live on. If we can de-condition the cravings of our ego to a certain level, we will see that this is enough. Perhaps we will see, in a state of enlightenment, that the world is perfect in every way, even through the evil..

I have yet to tread so far as those last few sentences in my own practice, and perhaps will not come within a light-year of enlightenment should I meditate for six hours a day for the rest of my life, but the Buddhist path avoids theological knots about the argument from evil by confronting suffering head on, locating spirituality right there, where the suffering takes place. It is the opposite of escapism.

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Bellview and explosives

A man was arrested on Saturday trying to smuggle explosives onto a Bellview flight at Lagos Airport. According to news reports, he was going to detonate them while on board. The gap between attempting to smuggle explosives and actually wanting to detonate them has yet to be closed - perhaps he was delivering them to someone? It nevertheless lends credence to the widespread rumour that last year's Bellview crash was caused by a bomb - a view espoused explicitly by the airline's chief executive and considered as a possibility by both Fani-Kayode and the FBI (who have recommended a criminal investigation is launched).

Meanwhile, its open season for armed robbers in Abuja. There have been numerous hold ups in the past few days. On Saturday, Wakkis, an Indian restaurant favoured by ex-pats, an armed gang entered by the kitchen, and relieved all inside of wallets, phones etc. It is not a time to be jolly.

To think how close one can be to all this drama. I was in the same Lagos local airport the day the explosives were found (and would have boarded a Bellview flight were it not sold out); I was in Wakkis the day before the armed robbery.

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Little Lord Fauntleroy of VI

Snapped entering Silverbird Galleria, playground of the privileged.

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In Search of God

An excellent series on Radio 4 -presenter and self-avowed atheist (and attack-dog political journalist on the Today programme) John Humphries talks to a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew and asks them, in 30 minutes each, to persuade him in favour of their specific faith.

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Re-defining Afrocentrism

It seems to me that Afrocentrism as it is popularly conceived of is dead, or is need of serious re-engineering. To define terms: Afrocentrism in my understanding refers to any culture or set of ideas that hold "Africa" in high esteem, especially from a spiritually redemptive perspective. The referent, "Africa", is often vaguely defined, and varies between different Afrocentric discourses. At times, the emphasis may be placed on Egypt and the Kemitic, at other types the Nubia (presumably because of the darkness of the Sudanese skin), at other times on Ethiopian culture (most notably through rastafarianism), sometimes on the Ashanti or the Akan in Ghana, at other times still on the Yoruba and Ile-Ife. These redemptive discourses were popular during the civil-rights movement and into the 1970's, but have been on the wane ever since, just as the pan-Africanist movement has all but died out.

It turned out that Afrocentrism served the spiritual and emotional needs of the deracinated host group (those in the black diaspora) much more than it met any needs in Africa. There are many narratives of the return home post Alex Haley for diasporic blacks, often via Ghana and the obligatory trip to one of the slave forts, Cape Coast etc. , the most recent notable text being Black Gold of the Sun by Ekow Eshun. The experience of the return is often highly complex, with the jubiliant immediacy of being on African soil and confronting 'gates of no return' on the tourist trail tempered by the realisation that one is perceived to be as much a foreigner as any white gum-chewing burger chomping American. The fate of the brave rastafarians who ventured forth to their ancestral homeland in Ethiopia is no less poignant; rejected by and large by the conservative, anti-marijuana host population, the Jamaican immigrants are growing old and the population is not being replenished; some have already left in disappointment.

And so, afrocentrism, while in its many guises has served significant spiritual needs, has done little or nothing for Africa. Given the name, it has been an utter failure, ultimately a form of involuted narcissism. The root cause of the failure was a projected black essentialism: as if diasporic blacks, upon return, would find an ancestral connection across the hiatus of history and the Middle Passage. Instead of any essentialist linkage, the experience was of complexity, fragmentation and contingency. No automatic pathways through the forest emerged. It turns out, a la Gilroy mapping and theorising the journeys of Baldwin, Wright and co, that the Black Atlantic is a criss-crossing of historically contingent journeys, rather than any kind of immediate genetic re-connectivity.

Yet still, there is enormous enthusiasm for Africa, by diasporic blacks and other interested parties alike. There therefore should be a redefinition of what it is to be Afrocentric, away from redemptive (and ultimately unrealistic) essentialist fantasies, in favour of offering genuine support and alignment with contingent realities on the continent.

The Afrocentrism of Band Aid/Live Aid is not what is required. This merely promotes the image of the African-as-victim, in need of the fluffy contributions of pop stars to come to the rescue.

The Afrocentrism of essentialist myth-making is not required either. Afrocentrism 1.0 was just as much an exoticisation as orientalism was for the Victorians.

Afrocentrism 2.0 (for want of a better term) needs to be about creating tangible and meaningful two-way linkages. It needs to be just as meaningful an experience and encounter from the African side as from the Western side. It needs to involve listening, from both perspectives. It needs to be sensitive to historical specificity, and to the myriad African cultures of the continent. Being afrocentric means one is immediately in favour of dropping the debt, strongly against selling arms to fragile or volatile African regimes. It means being in favour of stronger UN mandates in places like Darfur (rather than simply witnessing the carnage). It means creating exchange programmes between African universities across the continent (both for lecturers and students alike) - with the rich Western universities offering free online access to subscription-only archives and journals. It involves African ethnographers doing their research in Western cultures as much as vice versa.

In other words, while it may have just as much spiritual content as afrocentrism 1.0, it needs to be reciprocal and practical at the same time. Enough of fantasising and waxing poetic about Africa. The time is ripe for active engagement with African realities.

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Ngugi fall-out

The furore surrounding the treatment of Ngugi wa Thiong'o in an Oakland Hotel recently (see Black Look's post here) simmers on. I was so angered I followed up her suggestion and emailed the Chief Exec. I got this reply today. For a CEO in the hospitality sector, I must say I'm impressed:

Dear Community Member

Prejudice still exists in America. It is real and palpable. While we’ve all witnessed superficial changes in America over the past four decades, the reality is that people “pre-judge” each other way too much, whether it’s based upon skin color, religion, sexual orientation, age, economic status, or some other factor that makes one “the other.”

As one of the owners of the Hotel Vitale and Americano restaurant, I want to publicly apologize for the treatment Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o received from one of our employees on November 10. While this employee has a good work history, the truth is that this employee “pre-judged” and disrespected the Professor by assuming he was not a guest in the hotel. Within a few minutes, when this employee was proven wrong, he was remorseful and ashamed and he has been put on leave from work as we review this matter further. What is troubling is that he, along with all of our employees, received mandatory diversity training, yet this incident still happened. I am deeply sorry for the offense this has caused Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o and the community. I have sent a private letter of apology to the Professor, as has the General Manager and the offending employee.

This is a matter of great importance to me personally. I went to Long Beach Poly High School, one of finest inner city public high schools in America well know for its diversity. I have a mixed race foster son who identifies as African-American. I am in a long-term relationship with an African-American. Our company supports more than one dozen local multi-cultural organizations. In sum, we have always tried our hardest to assure we are part of the solution, not part of the problem. That is why this incident is personally very troubling for me as we have created a diverse workforce that has high employee satisfaction and, relative to other companies, we have a grass roots track record of respecting our employees, our customers, and the community. Yet, clearly we are not perfect and we need to do better.

On Friday I met with key members of PAN (Priority African Network) and we came up with mutually-acceptable means of making amends to the community. This will include a public apology ad in a local newspaper, a donation to an anti-racism local non-profit, and deeper anti-racism training of staff (beyond just normal diversity training).

Thank you for expressing your sadness, anger, surprise, and anguish. We are using it as a continuing “wake-up call” to assure that every one of our employees respects every single person they come into contact with – whether they are a customer or not. Every human deserves to be respected and acknowledged.

Signed

Chip Conley

Founder & CEO

Joie de Vivre Hospitality

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

NITEL wakes up?

Two Brits from BT have taken over NITEL and MTEL - Steve Brookman and John Weyr respectively - as part of the management contract arrangement they have with Transcorp. I suspected something was up when we received a big bill last week - the first in months. We'd deluded ourselves into thinking our NITEL landline was for free calls. Oh well. Let's hope they do a good job and sort out that old chestnut SAT-3.

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Ikoyi blindness

The lyrics are as pertinent today as they were then. Driving round Ikoyi last night, I had the familiar thought: this is where the elite live? The roads are black at night (none of the street lights work, and there is seldom power). Our host in an otherwise-lovely Bourdillon apartment has not had water for SIX WEEKS. The roads in Ikoyi are pretty bad - on the East side of Kingsway (where the Governor and the DG live) they are passable (but expect a bumpy ride), meanwhile, Ikoyi West of Kingsway (in the direction of Obalende) are Martian (in fact, there are probably smoother roads on Mars). Visitors who knew Ikoyi 20 years ago are unfailingly shocked by the state of disrepair the neighbourhood has fallen into. It seems the residents of Ikoyi are blind to the state of disrepair around them - or is it that they are powerless to make a change?

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More provocation

Another thought on my throwaway post. One looks at black America today, and one wonders what the civil rights movement (lawyers and all) really achieved. On the one hand, an awful lot - Brown vs the Board of Education etc. On the other hand, it achieved nothing. Many towns and cities in the US suffer from racial apartheid, with blacks, whites, latinos living in separate cantons. There's no need to cite statistics such as percentages of prisoners, life expectancy, access to healthcare and medical insurance etc between the races because we all know them.

As a well-known Nigerian academic working in the states once said to me: 'America? Its a plantocracy and always will be.'

Take Chicago for an example. It is the epitome of the racial apartheid that plagues American cities, with a huge gulf between life just north of the CBD and life just south. The same goes for Boston and countless other American cities. It is a sad and sorry state of affairs, and a continual warning to those who think America 'solved' political theory with its constitutional set-up. As I've argued in the past, it is precisely the strength of the American constitutional framework that is America's weakness: it breeds a sense of superiority, and curiously blinds Americans to de-facto realities. One of which is the morphing problem of race.

This is really what annoys me about Beyonce and co. Its not about the talent of a Jay-z (of course the guy is talented, how would he have succeeded otherwise?) its about the mess that America is in, and the way in which vast tracts of black-American culture have been co-opted, commodified and numbed from all challenge and resistance (or so it seems). It is less a point about specific individuals, and more a lament about the collective compass of the times: cynical times when heroes are laughed at, and crass materialism and misogyny rule the roost. What was so special about the film Rize was its depiction of a black counter-culture that explicitly eschews commodified hip-hop. Of course, since then, crumping has become commodified, and part of mainstream hip-hop. Such is the way of things.

The point can be made more generally: like many British people of a centre or left-of-centre persuasion, we are still living through the disappointment that participating in the biggest demonstration in living memory (against the war in Iraq in 2003) counted for nothing. It was our Paris 1968 moment. It seems there are no tactics and strategies left, either in favour of black liberation in America, or in favour of fighting fools like Blair, when their finger quivers above the button. Our lament is therefore not really about the music, its the spirit of resistance that the music stood for.

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24-mania takes over

Well, it does in our little world. Sister-Yetunde has at least one pirate box set and watches it compulsively. Meanwhile, when I arrived in Lagos, our host was watching a different (non-pirate) series at home. I remember when 24 first appeared on UK TV years ago, and not being able to watch it. I can't quite fathom why people like it - or perhaps they like precisely what I don't like: the constant sense of background anxiety, which every now and again condenses into torrid drama. The shaky hand-helds and screen splits are also irritating and a little passe - a little too NYPD-Blue. I suspect that there's legions of people out there who dislike 24 as much as there are legions of those who like it. I also suspect that it is popular for those who believe the world is populated by invisible 'dark forces' and other superstitious bunkum. Still, Kiefer Sutherland must be laughing, igniting as it has done the fag-end of his career.

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Nigerian airlines

Fani-Kayode seems to be (against expectation) striking the right initial notes on improving the airways here. First he gathered all the owners round and bollocked them. Then, in today's news, came the announcement that five airlines are grounded: IRS, Spaceworld, Fresh Air (yes, there is an airline called that here!) Dasab and Sosoliso. The Punch mentions Nicon Airways (and not IRS), so there's a bit of confusion over who can fly and who cannot.

Needless to say, flying back to Abuja today was a nightmare. I managed to get on a Nicon Airways flight, which was over two hours late. There was an air of desperation about the whole affair. Nicon Airways has two aircraft (FFK has banned airlines with only one plane, and those that fly with bald tires). The one I took was flying in from Owerri, and heading straight to Jos after Abuja.

The flight attendant kept praying over the intercom. At one point, envelopes for 'charity' were passed around. Amazingly, some people gave money (with no guarantee that the money would reach any needy destination). The plane itself looked like it was on its last legs - two of the luggage lockers were minus lids so no luggage could be put there (leading to suitcases all over the place which eventually were put in the hold). I had a seat on the wing. I studied the rust around the screws the other side of the window. The plane seemed very old. The pilot (I think it was he - Captain Kaduna) came on the intercom at one point to deny rumours that the airline had been grounded. Meanwhile, just before I left Lagos, an IRS airline had arrived to take a load of passengers somewhere. As we were landing, another flight officer came on the intercom to announce we had '40,000 metres' visibility at Abuja. As the air was thick with harmattan dust, the true figure can only be a tenth of this.

When we arrived in Abuja, there was the usual chaos. The arrivals hall was filled with huge cardboard boxes (plasma screens and the like). At least two airlines' luggage was mixed up together. I was amazed to get all my luggage back.

With all this chaos just before Christmas, I can't imagine what its going to be like when diasporic Nigerians start to return for their hols in a few weeks' time. FFK has a job on his hands. I almost feel like praying for him!

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Throwaway Nigerians


I get the term from Bibi - as a catch-all for all those crazy creative Nigerians out there in the diaspora who wouldn't dream of living in Nigeria and being forced into banking or law or some other faceless fatface job. Throwaway Nigerians may visit the mother country from time to time, but only a tiny few would ever dream of living there.

One such is Keziah Jones, the incredibly talented musician who has from the start, followed his own path. Bankers and lawyers seldom do anything to change society (ok they play their role). But compared to troubled creative elements who put their life on the line for their art, their value is insignificant. Nigeria needs to find a way to pull some of these people back, if the country is to transform and embrace creativity: the engine room of capitalism and development.

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3rd Nigeria Social Forum coming up...

Please pass on:

INVITATION TO THE 3RD NIGERIA SOCIAL FORUM AND WEST AFRICA SOCIAL FORUM HOLDEN IN LAGOS


The Steering Committee of the 3rd Nigeria Social Forum and the West Africa Social Forum cordially invites you to the 3rd Nigeria Social Forum and the West Africa Social Forum

With the theme “Election for Social Change”

The forum would also be a market place of ideas and constructive debate that would respond to the challenges of political and economic governance in Nigeria and the West Africa sub region vis-à-vis election and its processes. The social implications for the people in their quest to ensure a free and fair election towards enthroning a people centred government. The 3rd NSF and WASF is a move to mobilise Nigerians and the people of the region towards setting the agenda for elections in their country while galvanising civic participation in elections as a tool for mobilisation to effect the desired social change.

The forum would focus on Elections and its various components and as a tool for civic mobilisation among other events to be organised by participating organisations. The forum would also give participants the opportunity to engage those seeking political office as well as political parties and their manifestoes. The forum will hold on:

Date: 21st – 24th November 2006

Venue: Women Development Center, Oba Ogunji Road, Pen Cinema, Agege Lagos

Time: 9:00a.m. Daily

You can register as a workshop / seminar convener or as exhibiting organization. Furthermore, a space has been provided for interested organization to exhibit best practices or new innovation

For registration and further information, visit the Nigeria Social Forum website at www.nigeriasocialforum.org and for enquiries contact the secretariat at info@nigeriasocialforum.org or call Ken on 0803593903 Kenneth@nigeriasocialforum.org. ,Isiaka on 08056256023 or Mary on 08034084084

another Nigeria is possible

Solidarity forever,

ABIOLA AKIYODE–AFOLABI

CHAIR, NIGERIA SOCIAL FORUM.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

"I accuse the oil companies of practising genocide against the Ogoni people"

Who said this, and where is it said? Click here to find out. They should drive it down to Waterloo for (s)Hell to examine their consciences with. Thanks Frizzy Logic for the schnapps.

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Mak Kusare

I spent a pleasant afternoon shooting Mak Kusare on commission. Mak is one of the hottest talents to spill out of the ever-more-interesting National Film Institute in Jos. These people are going to transform Nollywood, or rather bypass it to produce the first genuine cinema in Nigeria (Tunde Kelani and the Mainframe crew being the notable precursors). The new theatrical-release business model (as opposed to VCD marketing from Lagos and Onitsa etc) is helping to drive the transformation, as is the increasingly sophisticated technical know-how at the NFI (check the camera he's using in this shot - which he described to me as 'semi-professional'). Mak's first film is called 90 Degrees - it will be out on theatre release soon. I only had chance to watch the opening sequence in his studio today, but believe me, Nollywood it ain't. This guy is going to make waves, as Jos NFI goes from strength to strength. Its exciting to be around at the birth of a new art form in Nigeria.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Al-Jazeera in English

Media theorists of the future will look back on the early history of Al-Jazeera with relish - imagine the exam questions in 2025: examine the effects of pan-Arabic television news networks on Islamic society in the early twenty first century?

The fact is, Al-Jazeera has changed the media field. No longer can Arabic/Islamic caricatures in Western media go by unchallenged. The Arab world found a voice, and an angle of interpretation, that makes sense from their cultural perspectives. The long-delayed launch of Al-Jazeera in English merely extends that contestive reach. Its effects on Islamism will be interesting to see: will it take the steam out of wahabism by presenting a moderate mediagenic line, or will its focus on Arab/Islamic suffering and injustice in English further fan the flames (to second/third generation English-first-language Arabs?)

Africa needs something similar to Al-Jazeera, to represent an African perspective on the world. When will it come?

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Waiting for the phone to call

Someone from the BBC World Service called again this evening. They were having yet another Have Your Say show on homosexuality, using the South African legalisation of gay marriage as pretext. I fed the lady a few thoughts and waited for the phone to ring to have my say. It didn't. Not having access to the World Service (apart from online, but who wants to sit endlessly by the computer?) meant I didn't get to hear what was said.

My prepared thought was this - and I'm not sure it has been as studied/theorised as much as it should be: in Nigeria, as elsewhere in Africa, everything goes as long as the law is not involved. As soon as any kind of progressive legislation comes within a few thousand miles of Nigeria, the law makers run the other way (after all, the extreme homophobia enshrined in law banning any kind of talk let alone action in favour of gay relationships was a result of a high-level political trip to South Africa). Meanwhile, anything goes, as long as it is not raised up into public discourse. Whence this dynamic? How come everything is permitted at one level, yet everything is denied at another? How can people deny that sexuality does not always run straight and narrow, pretend that it is a western/colonial import, given what they know takes place?

Such collective self-deception can only be the result of a fundamental lack of honesty or engagement with actual dynamics of society, as well as a deep-rooted denial of the many frequencies on which sexual desire resonates. A framework of religious fundamentalism does not help: the Abrahamic monotheisms that we are bequeathed with never fail to get their theocratic underwear all a-twist when it comes to desire (Songs of Solomon the noble and poetic exception).

This bifurcation between the legal and the informally permitted points to a larger issue, way beyond sexuality: how can progressive legislation ever take root in many African countries, when anything that is allowed is allowed only to the extent that it takes place behind discursive closed doors?

Maybe the answer lies in economic determinism. African societies are still conditioned by rural/agricultural mores and outlook. Globalisation will attenuate local rumps of hypocrisy and double standards in time. At present, many African cultures are a long way from accepting let alone embracing their own internal complexities.

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William Wilberforce


One of the proudest moments of my life thus far was when, at the age of 24, I attended my graduation ceremony at Hull Town Hall. The university was lucky to have a virtuoso organist at the time, so as we all entered cap and gown, Bach was reverberating out from the magnificent organ, vibrating body and stirring the soul. As I sat down, the tears welled up, and the proverbial hairs on the back of my neck prickled. If you have yet to hear Bach's organ music played in a cathedral: it is one of life's most uplifting experiences.

My granddad had died while I was revising, which pushed my revision into overdrive. I was determined to do well for him. And so, from being a middling lazy 2ii candidate in my second year, my essays started hitting the 70% mark. On the day of the exam I was possessed. I had read volumes and volumes of exegesis on Aristotle, I knew my Spinoza.. And then my German friend Martin turned up after the last exam with a bottle of bubbly and a huge smile..

In the end, I got a first - my lecturers told me it was a very high first as well. For the first time, I saw myself as someone who could achieve more than I could imagine, if I put the effort in. It was the turning point that led inexorably to an MA and a PhD. And I learnt a lesson: that in the midst of death, there is energy and creativity and transformation available.

And so there I sat, waiting my turn to collect my scroll. The dignitary given responsibility to hand out the awards was the Great-Grandson of William Wilberforce. He sat in a throne-like chair. He seemed to be about 120 years old and very frail. He was so aged that he only got up to shake the hands of those who achieved a First - all other grades he merely passed their scrolls while seated. A flush of pride swelled up when he slowly and gingerly got up to shake my hand, and at that nano-moment, I felt contact with history.

Although the abolition of slavery in the UK is a complex event, the role of William Wilberforce, Hull's finest eighteenth century son (and perhaps its finest son ever) should not be overlooked. There was an interesting piece in the New Statesman recently about him. Next year Hull will celebrate the 200th anniversary of abolition in style, with a renovated Wilberforce Museum. It will be worth a trip to Hull to visit - I went there several times as a student, gemming up on slavery. The University has set up an Institute for Slavery and Emancipation, offering post-grad degrees in slavery studies. Perhaps the most salient and sobering fact from the NS article: when the slave trade was finally abolished, there were approximately one million slaves in the British Empire. Today, UNESCO estimates there 27 million worldwide.

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International Dublin Literary Award 2007

Four Nigerians on the long-list:

Uzo Iweala
http://www.impacdublinaward.ie/2007/Titles/Iweala.htm

Helen Oyeyemi
http://www.impacdublinaward.ie/2007/Titles/Oyeyemi.htm

Diana Evans
http://www.impacdublinaward.ie/2007/Titles/Evans.htm

Jude Njoku
http://www.impacdublinaward.ie/2007/Titles/Njoku.htm

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Abidemi Sanusi tours Nigeria








Cassava Republic Press presents:
























Abidemi Sanusi on tour

Leading Nigerian-British writer Abidemi Sanusi tours Nigeria with her two heart-warming novels, Kemi’s Journal and its sequel Zack’s Story. This is your chance to meet the lively and witty author, pick up a signed copy of both novels and meet other book lovers.






















TOUR DATES

Lagos
Sat 18th – NuMetro bookshop, Silverbird Galleria, V.I. (4pm)
Saturday 25th - Reading at Book Worm, Eko Hotel Shopping Complex, Ajose Adeogun St, V.I. – (2pm)
Sunday 26th – Reading at Day Star Centre, Ikosi Road, Kudirat Abiola Way, Oregun (10am)
Monday 27th – Reading at Agip Hall, Muson Centre (African Refugee Foundation - part of the Liberian Celebration Day) (4pm)

Nsukka
Mon 20th – Reading at UNN Staff Club (6pm)
Tues 21st – Public Reading University of Nigeria, Nsukka

Jos
Wed 22nd - Reading and Performance at GAP (call 0806 966 3006) (6pm)

Abuja
Friday 24th – Reading at NuMetro (Ceddi Plaza) (6pm)

Thanks to our sponsors:














For more information, check www.cassavarepublic.biz or email bibi@cassavarepublic.biz, or call 0806 966 3006

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ultraviolence

As I'm sure most of you have been following, the Sudanese-govt backed Janjaweed has now crossed the border into Chad to continue its evil. You would never know this if you only read Nigerian newspapers. An attempt at genocide every bit as barbaric as Rwanda is now happening in a country that borders Nigeria. The silence is deafening..

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The perfect blog

I shall be eternally grateful to my old sparring partner Shango for introducing me to the Sartorialist. Everyday he/she posts an interesting fashion snapshot, most often from the streets of New York. Check today's image for example. It is a lovely extendable concept - there should be one for London - which can surely equal if not exceed New York for street fashion, and the Lagos edition would be a scream..

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Wimbiz

Its the annual Wimbiz conference in Abuja at the moment. Wimbiz is a corporate-women get together. All they really do is have the annual Abuja back-scratcher. It seems that everyone loves to hate Wimbiz - almost all the women I talk to bitch about it.

The problem seems to be that all they do is organise the once-yearly owambe at the Hilton. So the things you might think of that a women in business organisation could set up - mentorship schemes, training programmes, scholarships, fighting against the rampant sexual abuse in the corporate world (young female banking marketers are given a pack of condoms when they start work) etc. they do not do.

What irks is that they always have to invite men to speak as well. Women in Nigeria are often their own worst enemies - propagating the mother-wife aspect of their lives over everything else. There is a fundamental symbolic lack revealed by the men-speakers issue: the need for men to legitimate the proceedings. There is no such thing as sisterhood in Nigeria or value placed in a space apart for women here.

The trouble is, corporate women the world over tend to be unpolitical, if not depoliticised, and Nigerian corporate women are just part of the same pattern. The sad thing is that women in the West who have climbed rungs on the corporate ladder have done so because of radical feminists pushing at the social envelope continuously in decades gone by. Unfortunately, many young Western women have negative associations of feminism - such is the depths of their ignorance.

In Nigeria, there is no radical feminism, just as there's no radical politics in general. Wimbiz will do little to change the configuration, and feminism is a far off mirage in a far off desert. 50% of the population of Nigeria will continue to be disempowered, and to disempower themselves in the process.

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The INEC website

The INEC website says all you need to know about how serious the 'democracy' part of next years 'elections' will be - a triumph of form over content.

No one I know has registered to vote. No one I know quite knows how to register to vote.

If you click on Elections/Registration you get a 'Coming soon' notice.

The coming soon elections simply cannot be the result of universal suffrage - on this basis it will be 'selections' not 'elections'. Apparently only 2% of the eligible population has registered yet - perhaps that is an over-estimate.

It is nothing to get too upset about - the processes and passion for democracy aren't developed enough here to expect any more. No one is prepared to jump under a horse for change either.

If a decent technocratic vp is selected, there should be pressure put on them to take democracy more seriously in time for the next round. INEC can scarcely be blamed for any of this - they lack the funds to be more effective.

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Just got this email.. on Frank Speed's films

I am Doig Simmonds, work colleague and long time friend of Frank Speed. I am now involved with collating all of Franks film and also hopefully his stills of Nigerian culture. We worked together since 1956 till I retired from Nigeria in 1974 and Frank in 1983. Any one interested in his films should contact me. Can you put this on your Blog site please. I don't really understand how bloggs work! - Doig. Email: doig.simm@btinternet.com

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2007

I know nothing, I am an outsider, this country is highly complex. But sifting through all the conversations I've had, this is the pattern I see emerging:

1. The North is biding its time. Everything is under control
2. Obasanjo has resisted a Northern candidate, but appears now to have relented from what the weekend's papers said
3. The Northerner of choice at the Villa is Yar-adua (according to This Day Sunday)
4. There are quite a few good reasons for (3). The link between Obj and his older brother, the fact that he was one of the first to declare his assets in 1999, the fact that he is perceived as relatively innocuous and benign - similar to the choice for John Major over a decade ago - he offendeth no one.
5. Once a Yar-adua or similar benign/harmless/symbolically valuable northerner is backed by the PDP machinery (Obj is going to take over as Chairman of the party post May 2007), the race will be on for a technocrat pro-reform VP. This is where Ngozi may come back in, or perhaps even Oby (Igbo woman technocrat seems to be the formula).
6. Utomi and Duke should not be dismissed. If there were a functioning democratic process, Duke would probably do very well across the South (but less well in the North for obvious reasons). However, their function is not really to try and win, it is rather to alter the terms of the debate. Both candidates are easily smart enough to realise this. Their role is transitional - to change the paradigms in which politics takes place in Nigeria, away from quasi-tribalistic loyalty to one uber-party, towards pro-reform issues and policy oriented politicking, based on merit, achievement and rational argument.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Streaming Nollywood

Check iNollywood for streaming Nigerian video films. They have a pretty good selection. Thanks O for the link.

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Yoruba keyboard

Click on the image to get a good look.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

A collaboration platform

Its difficult to get collaborative projects off the ground in Nigeria - everyone wants to be Big Oga, and no one trusts anyone else. And yet, there are so many people in-country and out that share the same dreams, and more specifically, the same intervention ideas, whether practical, infrastructural, intellectual, creative etc.

Here's the kernel of an idea - why don't we set up a collaboration platform. Nothing hi-tech - an adapted blog site in combination with a chat site engine would do. The site would have a solid information structure so users could quickly find their area of interest. The aim of the site would simply to put like-minded people with like-minded project intentions together - a sort of web2.0 for development, forusbyus style. The only rule of engagement would be that the site is for people genuinely interested in collaboration (as opposed to ip theft!) The platform would enable private groups to be formed for more ip-sensitive discussions. Above all, the site's value proposition would be something along the lines of: together, lets transform Nigeria.

What do y'all think?

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Timbuktu twinning

There's a lovely little story in today's Sindie about Timbuktu looking to twin with one of three shortlisted British towns/cities: Hay on Wye, Glastonbury or York. There are parallels between all three settlements and the Malian city, in terms of being ancient spiritual sites and trade nodes in times long past. It would be interesting if the trend to twin African and Western cities developed. Who would twin with Ife, Benin or Kano and why? Instead of the near meaningless twinnings between Western cities (benefiting a few councillors, rotary club members and businesses at best) these associations could lead to genuine links, tourist opportunities, cultural exchanges and a different model of development. The idea of the Timbuktu music festival developing and becoming a Glastonbury for West Africa is interesting - especially if people travelling there also insist that they offset their travel footprints to pay for infrastructural development or anti-desertification projects.

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RIP Frank Speed

Film-maker and ethnographer of Nigerian culture in the 1950s and 1960s, including the film Were Ni: He is a Madman (1963) - which documented traditional Yoruba treatments of mental illness, followed by collaborations with choreographer Peggy Harper on a series of dazzling films about traditional dance and masquerade styles from different areas of Nigeria, including the Gelede masquerade from western Yorubaland and the extraordinary Kwagh Hir masquerades of the Tiv.

Does anyone anywhere have access to his work? There are probably tapes sitting somewhere in a Bloomsbury basement, providing food for the termites.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

More on the KSW living memorial

OK - I've found some pictures of the sculpture here as it was being unveiled. One has to ask why Ken Saro Wiwa is such a big deal in the UK, whereas he doesn't even register on the scale in Nigeria (there's been nothing I've seen in the Nigerian papers or on television about the anniversary of his murder). It is, I believe, quite a complex event to unpack. There is first of all, anti-corporate activism involved - KSW stands as a hero-figure for struggles (journalistic or otherwise) against big-business exploitation the world over. Secondly, is the need to find African resistance heroes, and the desire in the Western symbolic undertow to construct a strong African masculinity figure. KSW stands next to Fela Kuti in this respect. There isn't space and time to go into how this symbolic mechanism works, but it tends to say more about the Western imaginary than it does about realities. The West obscures Africa, and continues to react to the terms of its own obfuscation as a form of symbolic guilt. Hence Live-Aid, Geldof and all the rest of it.

An interesting post-colonial type PhD thesis could be written on Ken Saro-Wiwa as symbolic figure, and how his reputation is constructed differently in different places. I am still suspicious of the common Nigerian dismissal - that he was in cahoots with Abacha, that he had others killed, that he was no angel. Whether there is noise and dirt in amidst all the heroism, sometimes we would do well to continue to focus on the heroism. Even heroes have their human, all too human side. This was a man that stood up and wrote and fought and died for his people. How many in this land would go that far? And under what terms could Ken Saro Wiwa be a celebrated resistance figure in Nigeria? What aspects of the configuration would have to change?

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Posthumous, humous

Sokari Douglas-Camp's sculpture in memoriam to Ken Saro-Wiwa has been unveiled outside the Guardian's Newsroom (opposite their current HQ on Farringdon Road in Clerkenwell). If anyone has a picture of the piece in situ, please post to your blog.

Jonathan Glancey admires the sculpture in today's Guardian, in contrast to most monuments and memorials in Britain. Would that there could be such a monument to KSW in Abuja. In fact, would that there were any monuments in Nigeria of any worth (correct me if I am wrong). In Lagos, there are a few orishas outside corporate buildings (such as Sango outside the old NEPA office on Marina), politician and nationalist Herbert McCaulay on Broad St, but for the most part, Nigeria suffers from a lack of well thought out and creative monuments. There should be a striking Fela Kuti in the middle of an Ikeja roundabout at the least, just as there should be an Achebe in Ogidi or on the University of Ibadan campus. And there should be more to remembering the Civil War than the falling-in-to-ruin museum out East.

Instead of memorials to past heroes and solemn events, in Nigeria we have roads named after still-living and just-dead criminals, displaying in full technicolour their dysfunctionally aggrandised sense of self. Things will change, as a sense of genuine people-centric value returns to the civic realm, bit by bit.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Another blog to watch

This will be interesting. Tune in to the unfolding tale of our friend T, as he and his family move back to the mother country from blighty in the next few months. This man suffers fools not. And his wife knows how to use a gun. He has a vision of a new Nigeria that he is going to be part of. The naijablogosphere is starting to rock..

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Nigeria's first female governor


With all the dust around IBB's entrance into the Big Throne race, comparatively little has appeared internationally about Nigeria's first ever female Governor, newly 'elected' Virgina Etiaba, in troubled Anambra State. The BBC's local journalist Sola Odunfa describes her as 'tall and matronly in carriage.' This is sexist - its surprising the Beeb's editorial filters let it pass. Would they notice if he described a Nigerian male politician as portly and stiff in carriage? I smell the sifting dust of a thousand fading files in Bush House's basement..

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Helicopter crash

Another Act of God - this time a helicopter crashes near Warri. 5 people were in the craft, one 'casualty' says the local news. The harmattan dust is whirling up in Abuja, making flying more difficult. There is no reason to believe that another crash will not occur soon..

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Artemesia tea

My little theory about growing your own Artemisia Annua and drinking the tea as a highly effective self-help way of preventing malaria is confirmed here. Long term readers of the blog will recall I bought some of the seeds a few months ago from America. My gardener friend Donatus was to try and grow them, but unfortunately, the seeds I gave him were lost when someone stole his bag. Still, we have some more seeds left so it might be still just about the right time to try and grow them. Thanks to B for the link.

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Virginia Falls..

At last, the democrats have taken both houses. The long and complex task of redeeming the international reputation of a fallen superpower after the drunken holiday-prone disaster that was Dubiya can begin. We are entering a new political configuration. Blair the-poodle is a spent force, Bush will doubtless spend yet more time back at the Crawford ranch. We can only look back with sadness on the tragical farce that was Iraq, and the unholy mess these two men have made in the Middle East. The only consolation is that at least these two human weapons of mass destruction are on the verge of decommissioning..

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Memories of Gabrielle Roth

I'm buried under snow at the moment. Here's something from my memory project:

"Bibi introduced me to Gabrielle Roth’s 5 rhythms. Roth is a Californian (I think. If she’s not, she ought to be) who claims to have 'discovered' there are but five fundamental rhythms at work in all dance forms. I only remember two of them: bubbles and staccato. An evening doing the 5 rhythms involves dancing in an uninhibited, drug-free fashion to many different kinds of music with a group of others, releasing the inner beast of bodily creativity. Or something.

We went along to a drafty church hall in Kentish Town in the late 1990’s, paying ten quid to get in. The hall was filled with people, many exhibiting somewhat unusual behaviour. A bearded man in a thick woolly jumper was grunting and stroking the wall. A dreadlocked woman in leg-ins was cavorting erotically with the floor.

Suspending a sense of the ridiculous, I eased myself into the spirit of the occasion. It was quite liberating to focus entirely on the visceral kinesthetics of bodily-being-in-movement. The MC at one point asked us to pick a partner, and ‘stare at your partner as if they are the most important thing in your world.’ Adventurous as I was, this was a little too much Californ-eye-ay for me. However, the woman in the leg-ins had clamped her eyes on me and had drawn herself close, and was gazing with laser-like intent into my eyes, while wafting her arms around like a windmill. I could do little else but join in.

The second time I went, some odd serotonin/endorphin/natural chemical event happened in my brain on the way home. I found myself singing and dancing on the tube like a mad man. I had become the hirsute man, stroking the wall, at least in my head. There may not be 5 rhythms in the world, but there is something to be said for a few hours of uninhibited dancing."

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Govenor Donald Duke's blog

Is here. Thanks Chxta for the link. If the post were to be given to someone based on vision and merit, Duke is the automatic first choice. If the usual 'your turn, my turn' rules are to apply in 2007, then a Northerner has to take the throne. But are there any with Duke's sense of direction and ambition for the good of the country?

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Exhausted

I took my Prince 2 project management exams today at the British Council (its cool, you can take the exam at any British Council office anywhere in the world) - after months of self-tuition with a cd and the incredibly boring Prince 2 manual. The hour long multiple-choice Foundation exam is a doddle - I'm sure I got over 90%. The three hours fifteen minutes Practitioner exam I'm a lot less sure about. It seemed very straightforward, too straightforward in fact - basic questions referring standard elements from the manual to the scenario. Either I've done quite well or I've ballsed it up. I have an agonising six week wait for the results. Hopefully it'll be a nice Christmas pressie.

Meanwhile, loads of work is banking up. I have my Final Report to write on my EU project (finally I get to tell some truths about the lack of technology leadership in the Federal Government). Then there's Abidemi Sanusi's tour, which is really exciting. Then, a mate and I are organising an intensive 3-day transformational workshop, bringing the bright boys from Elemental over to Abuja from the UK in December. Should be very interesting. There are a few places left, so if you or someone you know would like to come along, drop me an email - its great value given you will come out transformed..

Meanwhile #2, I'm hoping I get to meet Funmi Iyanda manana, she's in town. I think her blog is the bogs dollocks, especially now she's sticking vid feeds up there. I predict a Nigerian blogging explosion in the next few months to rival Iran..

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