Sunday, September 30, 2007

Words and meditation

My first thought is to pop a block of Green and Blacks into my 38 year old mouth. Bibi searched high and low in this dry town to find it for me yesterday. Bless..

Then we went for a walk and got hot. We trekked to a Pentecostal Church nearby up a hill. The singing and music sounded lovely, gospelly, full of passion...

Then I had a long and lovely chat with my beloved sister Victoria. She gossiped about her magnificently unique in-laws, she told me about her plans to move near to the Devon coast and her upcoming course learning to be a hypnotherapist/counsellor.

Then, I read these words:

I live in an attic apartment under a tin roof. The strongest and most pleasurable experience of home occurs during a heavy storm when rain beats on the roof, magnifying the feeling of warmth and protection. At the same time, the beating of rain just centimeters away from my skin puts me in direct contact with the primal elements. These sensations are lost for the dweller of today's standard flat squeezed between concrete slabs.

Cooking by fire is immensely satisfying because one can experience a primal causality between the fire and the hearth. Again, this causality is lost with the electric stove - or even more with the microwave oven. Even food loses its connections with the natural world and turns into a synthetic and de-mystfied matter.

Juhani Pallasmaa, Encounters: Architectural Essays

Waiting for anyone who wants is an alternative tradition of Western thinking which links experiential phenomenology with design with ecological thinking with profound analyses of embodied being and its relation to memory, ritual and place. It also links quite deeply with Japanese thinking and writing. You might start with The Poetics of Space or In Praise of Shadows.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

2020 Vision Nigeria

Ebun Olatoye's blog on Nigerian design, here.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

John McCarthy on the Kaduna Declaration

Very interesting radio programme on religious conflict resolution in Kaduna here. Thanks Ju for the link..

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Soft Tribe

Interesting interview with Joe Jackson from Ghanaian IT company Soft Tribe and their decision to move into the Nigerian market, in this week's Balancing Act. I've pasted it below:

Faced with the dual challenges of international competition and a small home market, not many ICT entrepreneurs would simply pick up their bags and move to a bigger market. But that is what Soft Tribe’s Joe Jackson did. In this interview with Russell Southwood he talks about the challenges Soft faced and how things are working out. Soft’s move into Nigeria is not simply important for one company but touches on broader issues facing the ICT sector in Africa, including labour mobility and the likely success of locally-generated products .

Why did you move to Nigeria?

The decision was simple. The market for ERP software in Ghana was limited. It was estimated that the market in 2004 was US$15 million. Now the real estimate is probably smaller but it gives you some idea of the size. The market for the ERP software in Nigeria is US$700 million (including oil and Government sectors). Again this is probably an over-estimate but it’s much bigger than Ghana. I had to ask myself: what am I doing in Ghana as an ERP integrator?

The market is very concentrated in Lagos. There’s a lot of talk about Port Harcourt but unless you’re selling into the oil industry, it doesn’t matter. By setting up an office in Lagos, you could be at the heart of a bigger market than any other place in Africa, outside of Johannesburg.

Nigeria is a notoriously competitive market. If you’re successful, then dozens of “me-too’s” spring up. How are you finding it?

Because there are easier ways of making money, there is not as much competition as there ought to be. Selling ERP applications to international companies is not an easy way to make money. But as a West African company we have slightly lower costs than a foreign company.

How do you find working in Nigeria after Ghana? Has it been easy to set up?

Let’s describe the positives first. As a Ghanaian in Nigeria, you’re regarded as expert, as honest and as better value. On one level, our entry has been seamless and smooth. The challenges are the environmental ones. Registering a company takes a remarkably long time, up to three months. The mechanisms for setting up an office – power, traffic and recruitment – are all challenging. And it’s a big challenge getting appropriate staff. There is an enormous turnover of staff and the poorest quality of staff are looking for enormous sums of money.

The labour market has been hugely distorted by the mobile operators. In one month, I lost eight good senior programmers to a mobile operator.

Do you sell to Government?

No, we’re now only selling to the private sector. We had an experience of trying to sell to Government two years ago. We put in a bid and never heard anything. Then they contacted us and said somebody else has won the bid and wants to sub-contract to you. They ended up paying us more to sub-contract than we had put in our bid. Then the boss of the organisation changed and everything fell through.

You used to be a local company in Ghana selling local software. Now you’re selling Microsoft Dynamics Navaison products. What happened there?

When we started in 1991 our dream was to sell our own products. The target was to create an ERP product for West Africa. We were going to build the components and put them together. We became very successful in Ghana on this basis and had a large proportion of the market. We had close relationships with 30% of the 100 biggest companies in Ghana.

The first thing that changed was that IT purchasing decisions began to be made offshore. Two things accelerated this happening. One was the mobile phone. Mid-level companies now had much closer relationships with their headquarters. With telex and fax it had been difficult to maintain control. In the late 1990s, all companies tended to move towards regional organisation. For Ghana, the regional offices were mostly in South Africa, Europe and the USA.

Would you buy from a local software house? If I was in that position, I wouldn’t buy from me. The purchase of software is like a marriage. Divorce is very painful and if you have something well-known, you have something you can complain about.

We started to lose sales and what started as a trickle turned into a flood. However, certain areas we held on to for a long time. For example, payroll was regarded as a very local area of operation. Even Ghanaian companies would develop better relationships with foreign companies. Se we also started losing Ghanaian companies.

What about the financial side of this process?

We went from being small to a turnover of close to US$1 million. We then got VC money from FMO through Fidelity Bank. It wanted to invest significant money in us creating our own ERP application. However, the project wasn’t going anywhere so we had to kill it before it was over.

One of the advisers on the VC side at the beginning of the deal clearly said to me, I’m not sure you’re going to get revenues from your own ERP application. So I was talked into looking at other products and we ended up with Navision. Their partner model is very different from any other for this segment of the market. Others give you a fixed product that is mainly subsequently “window-dressed” through small changes. It’s mainly implemented straight out of the box.

Microsoft gave partners access to source code. We could develop other vertical products. In effect, there were two products: straight out-of-the box products and bespoke products. In this way, Navision allowed us to use our existing skills. So we chose the product, became a partner, invested in the training and had a huge event in 2005 to launch Navision in Ghana. At the time, we though Navision was diversification but with hindsight, it was the thing to do. Our VC partners sowed the seeds of a strategic decision.

What’s the ownership of the company now?

I own 35%. My partner, Herman Chinnery-Hesse owns 30%. Fidelity owns 30% and the staff 5%. Eventually we gave up trying to write “the holy grail”, our own ERP application. But it was very difficult weaning ourselves away from the “let’s do it from scratch” approach and going over to building with prefabricated parts. Before choosing Microsoft, we had not been using any Microsoft tools. We used Borland’s C++.

Because this was a strategic disagreement with my partner, and it was difficult to sell our own product in Nigeria (Nigerians detest their own products and this was also the same for Ghanaian products), and because of tensions from the disagreement, I said I would set up in Nigeria. It caused me some personal discomfort as my family is still in Ghana. And although the flying time is 4o minutes, the processes of getting in and out of the airport can take 4-5 hours.

What are your future ambitions?

My ambition is to grow the business to a US$5 million turnover on several platforms. We’re starting with ERP integration but training is also a huge market in this country. We want to set up a platform for outsourcing business applications. With the kind of HR and infrastructure problems they have here, there is a market for providing software as a service. We’re looking at halfway houses, installing a client end bit of software but outsourcing things like hosting, databases and support.

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Bureacracy in Africa

Thanks K for this:

When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount and get a different horse."

However, in government, education and corporate Africa, more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:

1. Buying a stronger whip.
2. Changing riders.
3. Appointing a committee to study the horse.
4. Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses.
5. Lowering the standards so that the dead horse can be included.
6. Reclassifying the dead horse as 'living impaired'.
7. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.
8. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.
9. Providing additional funding and / or training to increase dead horse's performance.
10. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse's performance.
11. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overheads and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy
than do some other horses.
12. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.

And, of course,
13. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position!

If you understand the above, then you are obviously residing in Africa

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The Onion on Nigeria...

Here. Merci Oleander for the linkage..

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This is Nollywood

We went to the Abuja International Film Festival yesterday evening. Despite the complete lack of formal publicity, the place was full of Nollywood directors and general industry types. Evidently there is no need of an up to date website or any other communications when the grapevine is so well fed and watered.

I met Franco Sacchi (lovely guy of course) and saw the film – a straight-up piece following the hassles of an 11 day shoot (the film is called Checkpoint) in Badagry. After the viewing, a South African woman asked what the film-makers are thinking of giving back, or whether they just wanted to ‘take the story and show it elsewhere.’ The question was loaded – as if any recipient with a white face should automatically feel guilty for their actions. It is well she didn’t ask me such a question- I would have responded thus:

Does any writer or filmmaker have a moral obligation to ‘give back’ when he or she finds a story and uses it? Does a journalist? Why assume that someone with a white face finding stories in a land of black faces has to automatically give back in some way? Might their output alone be a form of giving back?

Vache stupide.

Meanwhile, apart from following the shoot, the film itself interviewed several industry talking heads defending Nollywood and the palpable lack of quality in its output. We heard the usual lame excuses, ‘Rome was not built in a day’, ‘many people earn a dollar a day – this is what they want.’ It irks me that some of the mouthpieces in Nollywood attack Francophone cinema as elitist, staking out their claim that Nollywood is somehow more real or authentic or giving the people what they want.

The reality is, apart from some notable exceptions (Tunde Kelani and the Mainframe crew etc) Nollywood cinema is grossly patronising to its audience; mute and incurious about the subtle aspects of Nigerian experience; has godawful goggle-eyed loudmouthed silent-movie-style acting (based on OTT theatre-arts techniques); involves formulaic and clichéd storylines; is driven by profit and a trading mentality not message or art; is badly organised and - perhaps most egregious of all - betrays a completely alienated take on local cultures.

Traditional spiritual practices are always portrayed as exotic (people being struck dead by lightning flashes etc) and inevitably as negative and malign. Ask yourself this: when do you ever see a positive portrayal of local religion in Nollywood films? In contrast to their Francophone equivalents, which tend to be full of subtlety and capture the rhythms of local experience and beliefs, Nollywood film is soaked in colonial mentality, ranging its full proselytising evangelical forces against local cultural values and practices. This is Nollywood is instructive in this regard: we see the producer-as-pastor praying before each day's shoot. No wonder that indigenous beliefs are caricatured so vehemently..

Despite the fact that working conditions are hazardous, there is much that Nollywood could do to improve its act much more quickly if it could be bothered – but it seems it cannot. To give three quick examples: lighting, use of microphones and script-writing. Is it so difficult to buy a reflector, or to buy better quality microphones? Is it so hard to create a script that does not repeat a thousand other scripts and has such poor dialogue and characterisation? It is sheer laziness that all three are so poorly used in Nollywood.

Another talking head in the film spouted on about how African-Americans still think Africans live in trees, and that Nollywood gives them and their children a different, more positive image of Nigeria. Pah! What is there to be proud about in Nollywood? It shows Nigerians to be irrational, overly superstitious, caught up in melodrama. It shows Nigerian men to be weak, cheating and pathetic most of the time.

Until it receives a massive kick up the arse and some honest critique, Nollywood’s output cannot be taken seriously on the world stage in the way that South American and Chinese films (to take two non-Western examples at random) can be. Nollywood's popularity (which mainly boils down to a combination of a) people seeing themselves mirrored on film and b) feeding people’s insecurities and ambivalence about local cultural and spiritual practices) does not equate to quality or worth, still less to giving the people what they want or deserve.

Instead of feeding into the brittle pride so many in the industry have by tip-toeing round the issue, its much better to provide open and honest criticism so that the industry gets its act together. In 2007, with all the cheap hi-def technology and techniques available, there is no excuse for the utter pap that constitutes 99% of Nollywood’s output.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Frank Speed film event at SOAS in December


Please click to enlarge and read properly. The event is on Saturday 8th December. Although attendance at the event is free, you have to contact the British Academy (details at the bottom of the flyer) to register in advance.

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This is Nollywood

Someone sent me a text this morning. The film is showing at the Yar'Adua Centre at 4pm today, if you are around...

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Africa Have Your Say

The Beeb is looking at a controversial topic today - you can have your say live at 16:00 GMT today on this:

How should African communities deal with child abusers? Should they be rehabilitated rather then jailed or should other traditional forms of justice be used?

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Images of the Delta


Andrea Scaringella's stunning pictures of the Delta, here. Thanks Olly for the link.

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Hilton argument

As I was leaving the Hilton just now I witnessed a furious argument between a man wearing dark clothes and one of the hotel's guards:

Dark Clothes Man: You are a bloody idiot.
Guard: You are a bastard.
DCM: You are a terrorist.
Guard: Your father is a terrorist.
DCM: I will deal with you. You will not be working here next time I come.
Guard: Go and report me. You bastard.

etc etc.

By the way, has anyone noticed anything different about the Hilton now it is the Transcorp Hilton - apart from the fact that the prices have been jacked up?

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Lagos emergency numbers

Please pass on this message:

The Lagos State Government in its effort to improve the security situation in the state has created some telephone numbers on which members of the public could make Emergency calls if they notice any security threat.

The numbers are as follows:

4931260;
4978899;
4931261;
7745705.

Multilinks subscribers are to call 100.

Remember to add 01 before the number if you are calling from GSM lines.

The numbers are also prominently positioned on Lagos Live.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Abuja International Film Festival

Apparently the Abuja International Film Festival is next week (see the pasted text from Balancing Act's Broadcast e-newsletter below). All I could find out about this festival online are this page, and what seems to be the festival's webpage here which is out of date and Google tells me has content which may harm my computer. Any one got any better information?

Here is the text from Balancing Act's Broadcast page:

Next week Italian-American filmmaker Franco Sacchi’s This is Nollywood is being shown at the Abuja International Film Festival before coming to the Raindance Film Festival in London in October. Sacchi’s film uses the making of Bond Emeruwa’s film Checkpoint as the core of a look at Nollywood’s actors and producers. Russell Southwood spoke to Franco Sacchi about the money behind the movies, the origins of Nollywood and the desire to raise production standards.

The tale that claims to be the founding story of Nollywood sounds both apocryphal and very Nigerian. A distributor of blank VHS tapes had a container load of them and they were selling very slowly. He decided to spend US$2,000 to make a movie on one of them: Living in Bondage was created and it has sold over 1 million copies.

Nowadays the money to finance Nollywood films comes either from local business people or the diaspora. Historically, films have had budgets of $5-10,000 but more recently some film makers have been pushing that up to US$20,000. As Sacchi told us:”The film we follow in the documentary – Emeruwa’s Checkpoint – had a budget of N6 million (US$46,000). Films have been made that cost much more than that but they don’t seem to sell well”.

The films are generally shot using DV cameras and cut using digital, non-linear editing. As a result, films are made in an incredibly short period of time, usually 7-10 days. A system of “stars” has developed and as emerges in the documentary, many of these stars are making up to three movies at any one time. To outside eyes, it may seem held together with paste and string but an economic ecology involving producers, directors, crew and actors has developed.

Nollywood films are little bit like the old Hollywood B movies. They tell stories of crimes gone bad and passions with disastrous consequences:”Nollywood film makers have stories to tell and they have no fear.” The films are made at feature length (90 minutes) or sometimes in two volumes of 2 hours each.

Whilst much of Africa is used to seeing Nollywood movies on TV, very little revenue is actually generated from these sales:”Producers sell to TV for visibility. The real sales come from sales of DCDs and videos.” A successful production will sell 30-50,000 copies and there is a highly organised distribution system that had its origins in the selling of pirate versions European and American films. In the large cities like Lagos there are large official film markets and even video shops in up-market shopping malls on Victoria Island will have a full wall of Nollywood. But it’s not just in the cities for even the smallest villages will have a video shop.

The films are made for immediate consumption because as with its older brother Bollywood, piracy is an enormous problem. No sooner is a film out and on sale before it becomes pirated and some part of the revenues begin to drift away from the official distributors. The films are either produced on video or DCDs. The latter are more basic and rugged than DVDs but play on almost any DVD player. Picture quality is comparable to that seen on VHS tapes.

When Sacchi was making the film two years ago, films were selling for as little as N12. However, if this proved too expensive, then people can rent or view movies in a “video parlour”. The latter is rather a grand term for a set of people sitting round a television in a room. These exist even in the villages. It is little wonder that Nollywood has been so successful at this price as what it competes with is priced at a completely different level. On a trip to Abuja last week, we saw pirated American DVDs selling for N300 and a visit to the cinema in a shopping mall to see The Simpsons cost N1500. With cinema seats costing this price in these kinds of markets, it is little wonder that traditional cinema is not growing.

The continent’s francophone film-makers are extremely sniffy about the Nollywood upstart. Whereas they make beautifully filmed and scripted movies that are critically acclaimed, they are rarely seen widely by African audiences. By contrast with Nollywood, it’s a case of “never mind the quality, feel the width”. As Sacchi puts it:”These films are part of a wave that is about belief in the future rather than artistic films. But they will make artistic films in the future. Nollywood is a grassroots movement. Francophone films are culturally important but their makers are not a grassroots movement. One of these days one of these film makers will come out with something brilliant. They have given Nigerians a way to look at themselves differently.”

Sacchi has discussed running training for the film-makers seen in the documentary:”We’re going back to see if we can establish some kind of training. They feel they need training at this stage and need to improve the film language. They are starving for new equipment and ideas.”

Nollywood is an interesting contrast to the more conventional film industry found in South Africa that turns out a relatively small number of films with much larger budgets. Perhaps it needed Nigerian ingenuity and complete self-belief to take the business model and turn it on its head. And Nollywood probably has more teach Africa as the future of movie making outside of Hollywood is more likely to favour Nigerian film-makers. They have capacity to make a film like Hong Kong produced gangster trilogy Infernal Affairs that was turned into the Hollywood movie The Departed. If they can tighten up their skills, perhaps anything is possible on a low budget. For as Spike Lee once rather acidly quipped:”What’s a US$50 million budget movie? A US$10 million budget movie once everyone got through stealing.”

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on the Margi

Interesting piece of online ethnography on the Margi tribe on the border with Cameroon. We can use the word 'tribe' again can't we?

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

the squaddies part 2

They are following me. I am at the french café and the squaddies are here. Toks boy- you will be relieved to know I talked to them..

They are here training peace keepers for missions in darfur. Doing good stuff in other words..

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KD city

I'm in Kaduna, blogging from my phone at 3am. After a day of dayjob jawjaw yesterday I went in search of kaduna treats. The first lebanese restaurant listed in the guide book had closed down, the second-Byblos- was not yet open for the evening's business. The driver then took me to a quiet road and told me the nearest gate was also a lebanese restaurant. It didn't look like much. He went inside and soon enough a middle eastern guy in his mid thirties came and welcomed me to Sou's Place.

Inside we came to an open courtyard with thatched huts and banana trees, and a larger dance floor space to the side. I ordered a Heineken and pizza with no cheese- there was no fatoush. The guy came to chat. He had a slightly nervous stance, like a bird on a branch. He told me his place is a favoured hang out with the big men of kaduna.I suggested he tile the low walls with small moroccan tiles. He thought for a second and said I am going to do that- that is a good idea. The converstion was a little stilted. He left me for a while.

Then, two white guys arrived. I thought at first they were gay because of the beefy arms and shaven heads, until I caught some of the conversation. They were American soldiers, swapping combat stories.One told an exciteable tale of swooping down a valley in Afghanistan in an Apache and conducting an 'L formation' ambush and 'taking out' nine men.His language was peppered with tactical acronyms, such as 'QRF's' and 'J amps'. I considered the reality of war, and the video game version of it this man had. There was a necessity to his converstion nonetheless. He had to talk about these things- the reality of the lives that were lost insisting within the boy wonder magic of his talk...

After about an hour my pizza came. The base was layered with cheese. Oh well.

Back in the hotel,
I watched Chelsea in the second half against a Norwegian team. The ground was half empty. I was too tired to be bored, and too bored to be tired.

And now I cannot sleep. The radio-alarm clock keeps making a noise and there is no way of turning it off without
smashing it.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

I'm singing the bandwidth blues...

Our ISP, Suburban, has not been providing bandwidth for a week. Its almost impossible to call them up, so you have to go in person. They always say, 'In the next few days, we're having problems with Germany' etc. etc. They haven't got a clue.

The only Wimax competition, Startech, has run out of equipment and only serves businesses anyway. Direct-on-pc has run out of equipment too. The CDMA operators, Reltel, Starcomms and Multilinks, offer appallingly slow bandwidth. Rosecom, the only DSL provider with access to SAT-3, has epileptic service.

One fine day (2010?) there'll be decent affordable broadband in Abuja - instead of the expensive fake broadband we have at the moment. By then, the rest of the world will have moved on to another technology platform. When oh when will there be a submarine cable to replace the SAT-3 failure? Here's some news from Balancing Act on what's happening in this arena:

Nigeria's Mainstreet Technologies to build new international West coast fibre
For Mainstreet Technologies threw its hat in the ring this week to be the first to complete an African west coast fibre project to compete with SAT3. The cable will connect 12 countries, some already connected to SAT3, others not. Russell Southwood spoke to the project's CEO Funke Opeke and discovered how it intends to win the race to complete.

Nigerian Funke Opeke spent 20 years in the USA working in technology companies(including Verizon's international and wholesale divisions) before coming back to work for a spell as CEO of the incumbent Nitel. It was out of this that she recognised that "after two years in Nigeria how painful the infrastructure limitations were." So in May 2007 she set out to build a new competitor cable to SAT3:"I want to do something for the region and this cable makes good sense both in commercial and development terms."

Dubbed MaIN OnE, the cable will connect the following 12 countries: Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria (Lagos and Port Harcourt), Gabon, the DRC and Angola. There is an option to extend the cable to South Africa if the Government there changes its attitude to external operators:"We've been a little disappointed with the South African Government's attitude."

The project is currently budgeted at US$300 million and Opeke is out "pounding the pavements" looking for sources of finance. But she is optimistic:"The good news is that there is a lot of interest. There is a new capacity in Africa in general and Nigeria in particular to fund projects of this magnitude. There's currently more interest than needed for our requirements."

The project will be African-led. The business model is that Mainstreet Technologies will pay for the landing stations and the cable and shareholding will be open to all comers. Early equity investors will have some price advantage but it will not be significant over the life of the cable.
The cable will have a capacity of 2.56 terrabits and Opeke anticipates that prices will be 10% of current prices and it will still be profitable. Prices will drop further as capacity is sold through. According to Opeke:"We're already talking to some of the larger operators." The company to run the project will be set up in a couple of months time and it says it will have the cable in place by 2009.

But what of the Glo-1 cable that seems to be leading the race for completion:"The Glo-1 project is the most substantial but it has its limitations. Globacom had an advantage when the market was not fully liberalised. I would question whether its "go-it-alone" strategy will work. We want to make sure to adopt an open, wide-based approach."

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Crash..


The wheel fell off our car as we were driving near our house on Sunday. As you can see from the pic, the bolt that secures the hub of the wheel to the car pinged off. There are three bolts that do this - the other two must have fallen off before. The mechanic that we had been using had been working on something that had gone wrong with the steering a few days before. In many parts of the world, he would be a worried man, with a claim of criminal negligence filed against him. In Nigeria, there is nothing we can do. If we'd been going at speed, or at a junction, we might have died. So many fatal accidents in Nigeria involve wheels falling off like this. With no licensing system, dodgy mechanics continue to be the norm.

The only silver lining in this story was that we have now found a trust-worthy mechanic - he spent the whole day repairing the car yesterday. As for our former mechanic - one day he'll do this and someone will die - and nothing will come of it.

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A strange rainbow


A friend texted us on Sunday morning: look at the sky! I trekked downstairs and there it was - a rainbow that circled the sun. Can anyone explain this phenomenon?

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Upgrading your country

Monocle magazine's latest issue has a piece on how to improve your country for investors, tourists etc.

Below is an extract from the piece. Its interesting to see where Nigeria is in all this - given the ambition to be one of the top 20 countries in the world (not sure on what criteria, how and by when)..

"You’ve mastered the basics (a respectable ranking on various transparency indexes, good human rights record, healthy citizens, decent inward investment), but you’re still of a bit of a nowhere nation according to a recent global poll… What to do?

1. Develop an appealing national cuisine
2. Develop a wine, beer, spirits industry
3. Be recognised for being fair and just
4. Re-engineer the heavens (if you don’t have good weather, hire some good photographers)
5. A good brand travels (a well run, safe and iconic airline)
6. Behave yourself! (be polite and well mannered to foreigners)
7. Go easy on religion
8. Master infrastructure
9. Build brands people want
10. Invest in athletics"

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Tender for the FIFA U-17 trophy upgrade - please circulate

Call for Submission of Bids: Upgrade/Renovation of FIFA U-17 World Cup Trophy

Our Client is the parastatal in charge of the round-leather game in Nigeria, under the supervising influence of the National Sports Commission. Arising from the recent win of the Under-17 World Cup by Nigeria for a historic 3rd time, our client observed with dismay the disgraceful and dilapidated state of the trophy, and the fact that it does not currently befit the status of Nigeria as a giant of Africa, and 3-time winner of the Trophy. Our client is therefore desirous of renovating/upgrading the esteemed Cup, in line with the rule of law(making).

SCOPE OF WORK

Major Work:
· Re-electroplating of entire trophy with 44-carat gold.
· Replacement of Map of Africa on the trophy to reflect the emerging United States of Africa.
· Enlargement of the map of Nigeria within the map of Africa, to reflect historic, groundbreaking, 3-time win.
· Installation of Nigerian coat of arms on the base of the trophy.
· Procurement of bullet-proof vest for the Trophy.
· Production of U-17 soccer world Cup history manual in all the two-hundred-and-fifty languages of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to accompany the Trophy.
· Provision of supporting stand for Trophy to allow for easy movement on National occasions.
· Provision of satellite tracking device to be embedded in Trophy to discourage kidnap by militants.

Supporting Work:
· Drafting and express delivery of complaint letter to FIFA on the poor maintenance of the Trophy by Mexico, the 2005 winners.
· Construction of befitting, airconditioned, bullet-proof glass display case for the Trophy.
· Construction of state-of-the-art display hall for the display case. (The Hall shall be known as the Patricia Etteh Under-17 International Trophy Display Hall.
· Provision of CCTV cameras, and satellite security equipment for the Hall.
· Provision of bullion vans, and power-bikes to form a secure convoy for the conveyance of the Trophy on nationwide tours.

QUALIFYING COMPANIES:
In responding, qualifying firms should send the following documents and details:

· Company profile, including names and contact details of directors. (At least one Senator, Minister or Member of House of Reps of the Federal Republic of Nigeria must be on the company board)
· Company UNAUDITED financial report for the past two weeks.
· A 100-word (max) proposal in any Nigerian language.
· Certificates of Tax-Evasion for the past twelve years.
· Evidence of previously attempted renovation and/or upgrade projects. (Such projects preferably carried out on brand new buildings, cars and infrastructure).

Caveat: RIDICULOUSLY AND EMBARASSINGLY LOW BIDS WILL BE REJECTED, AND OFFENDERS WILL BE SENT TO THE ICPC FOR PROSECUTION, AS WELL AS BE ASKED TO FACE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY JOINT COMMITTEE ON RENOVATION AND UPGRADING MATTERS.

All proposals should be addressed to:

U-17 FIFA World Cup Trophy Renovation/Upgrade Coordinator,
White Elephant Consulting,
628, Patricia Etteh Crescent,
Asokoro, Abuja,
Nigeria.
Email: under17trophy@whiteelephantconsult.com

on or before the 31st of October, 2007.

The sum of 500,000 naira only, enclosed in a suitably labelled ghana-must-go, should accompany the submission as bid fee. Proposals unaccompanied by a bid fee will be forwarded to the Undue Process Unit for blacklisting from future government patronage.


(c) Tolu Ogunlesi, September 2007

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

RIP Mary Danladi

I read this in the paper yesterday and haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. Sex worker Mary Danladi had her throat cut over a N500 dispute between her and a customer in Abuja - then the killer tries to bribe the police to stay quiet. The story is sure to be quickly forgotten (already it is yesterday's news). Somewhere, a family must be starting the process of coming to terms with the immensity of grief. Everywhere and all the time, women are violated by men and the world loses its humanity, once again. May she rest in peace.

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Damina season slowly closes..

The light in Abuja has been shimmering bright for the past couple of days. On the way home from work yesterday evening, Aso Rock looked looming and imperious against the deep azure of sky. All of a sudden, I felt a flutter of breathlessness pass through me like the shadow of a cloud. The cumuli up and to the left of the rock looked like whispy Himalayan peaks. I succeeding in fooling myself once again (the trick can only last for a few seconds, before the regulatory fascism of the conscious mind stamps out all sub-conscious fancy) that I lived amidst snow-capped mountains, breathing air stroked fresh and lightly perfumed by mountain flowers. It reminded me of the magic of last Christmas, when we finally saw the high peaks in the distance while visiting a Mandir in the foothills above Ananda. Damina season is slowly seguing into Harmattan...

I am still not in track with the seasons here. The temperate body has the four seasons wired into unconscious anticipation. The body feels the first pangs of spring with a subtle erotic force after the closed doors of winter, sinks deep into the languid torpor of high summer, then, with the crystallised dying of the late October light, fills the mind with mild foreboding at the lack of light in the months ahead. But in the tropics, the temperate body is adrift. How long does it take a body to adapt fully to a different climate? Perhaps never.

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The cook, the feather, the photo, the truth..

A few years ago, we were living in VGC in Lagos and had a Beninoise cook named Jo. Over time, we suspected that he’d been surreptitiously ‘taxing’ us during his shopping trips. Of course, Jo protested his innocence, with an insulted wounded-puppy look on his face. We wanted to know if he was telling the truth. In the past, when we’d tried to shake out some honesty from our driver at the time (this time about charging us going-to-the-garage-and-refilling-the-tank-tax), Godwin, we made him swear on a metaphorical bible – as you do - only to find out later the dawg had been lying. When Bibi told her mother, she was exasperated. “What do you expect – swearing on a bible that isn’t even there!” was the gist of her response. At this point, we realised that you cannot import truth-pressure tactics from the still Christian yet unpraying West to Nigeria. I suspect the orality of the culture reduces the capitulating bite of a holy book brought virtually into the conversation…

We told a friend about our predicament. His suggestion was that we got a feather, dipped it in some red paint, and forced Jo to touch the feather and repeat his story. We got the picture. Not wanting the faff of procuring both feather and paint, Bibi came up with a free adaptation. She told Jo, in slow and sombre tones, that she’d given his passport photo to a woman in Lagos, and that if he didn’t tell the truth once and for all, the woman had told her that bad things might start to happen to him. If he told the truth however, all would be well.

The results of the ruse were dramatic. All barriers to the truth crumbled like the levees of New Orleans against the force of a juju version of Katrina. Jo explained to us that it was only 300 or 400 naira at a time, and not really stealing…

Now, how do we find out if our driver in Abuja is sneaking a bit of taxi-driving in between dropping me off and picking Bibi up?

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Monday, September 10, 2007

A Nigerian education...

[written sitting on the floor with a Star and a Ghana-mus-go bag, at MMA1 yesterday]

Its all too easy for an outsider (or new insider) with the benefits of a Western education to get all snobby about Nigeria, with attitudes along the lines of, “this place can teach me nothing. The society is utterly dysfunctional, the people pre-rational, pre-modern and without principles.” Many expats (and repats) think this way in the secrecy of quiet-yet-frustrated moments after yet another exasperating episode.

This is a shame (and a psychological flaw), as there are many ways in which valuable life (and business) lessons can be learned from living here:

Negotiating complexity.
Widespread complex dysfunctionality can be excellent training in handling ambiguous non-rational environments. The simple act of driving in a city like Lagos is an instructive example. With few street signs, unlit roads at night, an abundance of informal structures cluttering the visual environment and the constant threat of armed robbers (whether dressed in police uniforms or otherwise), driving proficiency requires an ultra alert stance, and a highly attuned ability to discern barriers, threats and opportunities. Again, buying a ticket at the local airport in Lagos is a highly complex and dramatic process, with no visible queues about when the next plane will take off, no advance warning about the numerous subtle strategies of the touts, and no reliable information that correlates advertised flight times with actual times. The traveller who wants to get to her destination as soon as possible needs to navigate the space of the domestic terminal with all the alacrity of someone playing a shoot-em-up video game on a PS3. Extreme reflexes are required.

Understanding risk
Nigeria is a low-trust, high-risk and high transaction cost society. The standard infrastructure of trust that one can rely on elsewhere (contract law, rational actor behaviour, ethical principles enshrined in conduct codes that are enforced by processual checks and balances etc.) simply do not exist in Nigeria. Moreover, Nigeria is a multi-layered and highly dynamic society, meaning that any project or intervention carries with it an array of risks that simply cannot be anticipated. As well as the usual categories of planning risks, organisational risks, legislative risks etc. there is also the category of ego and emotional risks – dynamics promoted by the superior force of ego over logic in Nigeria. The learning opportunity for working in Nigeria is therefore to appreciate the dynamic and volatile nature of risk in one of the most dynamic and volatile markets. Anyone who can succeed in the Nigerian risk environment can succeed anywhere else on the planet with ease.

Innovation
Importing tried and tested strategies, methods, services and products into the Nigerian market and expecting consumers or clients to respond in a similar manner as elsewhere is almost a guaranteed recipe for business failure in Nigeria. The seven successful habits, the three strategies, the purpose driven life – all will fail if business vision is not mapped onto the realities of the Nigerian market. What is required are a set of fully thought-through tactics associated with different forms of market response scenarios. Armed only with passion and a clear image of the future, the business vision may quickly transform into business blindness. Nigeria therefore pushes the business or social entrepreneur into thinking through innovation on all levels in terms of the empirical reality of a multi-dimensionally complex society. What better test of an innovator is that?

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

MMA2


I arrived at Lagos airport at 2pm this afternoon to the usual chaos - touts, noise, everywhere people helter skelter and no information about which airline is leaving next. As I had a big ghana-mus-go with me, it was not easy checking each desk to find out who was leaving for Abuja. Bellview was fully booked, but some guy whispered that he could 'arrange it.' I laughed.

The only available flight was Aero at 19:45, with check-in at 18:30. I bought my ticket and resigned myself to a few hours in the utter discomfort of the domestic terminal's departure lounge. The place was crowded, with not a spare seat in sight, so I bought a Star, sat on the floor and opened up my laptop. I'm sure a hundred minds were thinking in unison 'these oyinbo/onyeocha/baturi people sha.'

The hall slowly emptied as flights to Calabar and Kaduna left. At 18:30 I was alone in the hall (strange I thought). The Aero counter was awash with arguments. The simple task of sticking a number to the ticket and checking in luggage was clearly a bit too difficult for an airline

with decades of experience of dealing with the Nigerian factor. People were pulling at each other, cutting the queue - all the usual desperate tactics. I did my bit to calm people down and chill the line down some.

Then it was my turn. I checked in my gmg, only to be told the plane was not leaving from this terminal - we would have to go by bus to the new terminal. I had visions of buses never arriving and planes leaving without us...

How wrong I was. After 5 minutes, a minibus arrived and whisked us to MMA2 as it is known. It was at this point that the frustrations of the near 6 hour wait washed away. MMA2 is easily the best designed, smartest, swishest etc etc airport in Nigeria. The main concourse is huge - cathedral sized. There's a quiet hum of efficiency about the place, with escalators leading up to the various levels. Apparently, it only opened yesterday - for the Aero flights. I took a sneaky picture of the main concourse on the way up (the second picture here) - only to find that others were taking pictures in the departure lounge with abandon. No one in a uniform came up and did a militaristic admonishment. Wow. The guy behind me in the queue for the scanners couldnt contain himself. He called someone up, "Hi. Yes its me. I'm in the new domestic terminal. Its soooo beautiful.' Inside the departure lounge, the waiting travellers seemed at ease with the world like I have not seen in a Nigerian airport before. Let's hope that the big spaces they have for retail are filled with cafes and enjoyably designed and laid out shops, rather than the Mama-Put excuses the old airport had..

Even though the security situation has gone from dire to terrible in the past few days, the new MMA2 airport is something to be proud of in Nigeria. It just goes to show how important good design is in any society.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Leadership for Change in Africa: conference

Leadership for Change in Africa
One day conference

Saturday 22nd September 2007

9.30am to 5.00pm (followed by entertainment)

At the Commonwealth Club, 25 Northumberland Avenue,
London WC2N 5AP

We are delighted to invite you to attend a one day
conference for emergent leaders with a passion for
Africa , and for established leaders looking to help
guide the next generation. Speakers include: William
Gumede, Wangui wa Goro, Parselelo Kantai and Onyekachi
Wambu.

For more details, please email the address below to receive a registration form.
Pre-registration is essential.

For more information about the event and the book (and
registrations) contact Donna Rob erts on 0207 389 4123
or email: rsvp.events@britishcouncil.org

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Morocco

I had to dig out pictures from our two trips to Morocco, in 1999 and 2003 for a job. Below are just a tiny few. Morocco burns brightly in the imagination years after having been there. Somehow, the design culture there is strong: traditional mud-brick kasbahs still stand proud against the intense blue Atlas sky, the Riad (a house with an open inner courtyard) is still the best way to build a house, the perfection of Yves Saint-Laurent's Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech. Oh and the mint tea is the bestest.

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In the souq, Fez

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Friends chatting


Djemma el Fna, Marrakech, 1999.

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Jeremy, Marrakech, 1999

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Bibi, looking down at the kasbah..

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Bibi and Jeremy, Maroc, 1999


at the Kasbah of Ait en Benhadou in the High Atlas..

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Women's empowerment organisations in Nigeria

Baobab campaigning for women's human rights
Kind promotes and organises women's empowerment initiatives
Wrapa Women's Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative

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Kitu Kizuri


A magazine for African women. Here's a sample article - "Advice from African married women." (thanks FO for the link):

Life they say is a journey but it appears that for single African women over the age of 30, life is a marathon. Like many married women, I have often watched with shock at how my single friends over
30 (with strong intentions to marry), fail to see the abundant ‘diamond in the rough’ type of men at family parties, weddings etc. In order to help our single sisters figure out the game of love, we
gathered advice on what they should do from African women who are married and often see what the single sisters don’t. Here is what the married women had to say:

1) Don’t focus on the Exterior-------LOOK INSIDE......DEEP INSIDE.....If he is short....they have shoes to fix that problem. If he does not dress well....don’t worry you can fix that with time. If he
says, ‘shicken’ instead of chicken......you can teach him the correct pronunciation or change yours to ‘shicken’ as well. Focus on his character, his ambitions and his principles. These will be good
indicators of his suitability as a mate.

2) Broaden your horizon -------- Ladies let’s be realistic, you are now living in the Western world. There are a ton of good men that are not necessarily from your tribe, village, country or race. Be
open to the possibilities.

3) Step out of the Box ------------ Have a social life beyond your job. You cannot be found if you constantly work or stay home.

4) Drop the Defensive Attitude ------You are the Woman and He is THE MAN.

5) Don’t look for Mr Ready Made--------------Be willing to start from scratch together.

6) LEAVE OUR MEN ALONE -------- Appreciate from far what hard work and time we have spent to get our men to where they are now.....and aim to do the same with your own man....not ours.

7) COOK - Men have not changed much since creation. The basics still work quite well for them. That being said....COOK....and make sure its what he likes to eat.

8) Know your Competition - Ladies, past 30 eh, there is no need for ‘shakara’ also known as pretending. If you want to talk to him, pick up the phone and call. At this age your competition are women
between 21 to 25 and trust us....they are go getters.

7) Know when to UNLEASH the Nookie - Should you sleep with him on day one or should you sleep with him after 9 months? Our panel of married women all had different stories with different outcomes.
Only you can determine when the time is right but it is extremely important that the nookie be part of the TOTAL package you offer (cooking, strong listening skills, good manners etc....) and not a
side dish.

8) Establish Yourself as a Unique Brand - What is your story? Who has influenced your life? What is important to you? What inspires you? Why should he pick you? Knowledge of self will increase self
confidence thereby making you more attractive.

9) Forget the night clubs----------- You will not meet him there. So don’t bother.

10) Know when to say.... ‘to the left, to the left’ - - - - - You cannot date a man forever. If you have been seriously dating or living with a man for two years and no mention of marriage has come
up.....stop wasting your time with him. End the relationship. Move on.

11) Diversify Your Social Life ---- Keep yourself busy. Get active in the community, expand your horizon. If you are Nigerian, don’t just attend Nigerian events or events held by your village
association in America. Make friends with other Africans as well and attend their events.

12) Mail Order Groom ---- Sometimes taking a vacation and visiting home might just be the best way to find your spouse. Your nagging relatives may have found the perfect mate for you, so do give this
option a try.

13) Be Patient - Don’t get desperate and don’t ask questions like, ‘so where is this going’ on the second date. Take your time.

14) Set Goals for yourself and accomplish them while you wait.

HAVE A WONDERFUL SEPTEMBER

Angela Ogbolu
Editor
Kitu Kizuri

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Made magazine


The second edition of the new Nigerian men's magazine Made is now out. You can pay to read the online version here.

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Marriage in Nigeria?

Interesting PhD thesis: Nigerians don't do 'marriage.'

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Lagos Book and Art Festival this November

Check the Cora blog (also linked at the side) for the full programme and updates..

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Rubbings Minds this Sunday...

The indefatigable Chude Jideonwo and the RedSTRAT posse (organisers of the Future awards) are putting on another Rubbing Minds event this Sunday. What's it all about? As RedSTRAT's Dir of Operations explains:

“the idea of Rubbing Minds is to make it cool and hip for young people to discuss the issues that ultimately define them, as young people, and as Nigerians. We took up this challenge because of our impatience with the way young people in their 20s and early 30s are being engaged. The fact is, the more you keep presenting those kinds of sessions in a boring, clichéd monotone, the more you alienate a generation of young people who have been exposed to the modern savvy of international debate and politics.”

Click on the link above to find out more and register - there are only 40 seats left..

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The value of a head..

Another grisly head-trafficking story. The sooner the belief that human heads have some kind of intrinsic fetish value is challenged, the sooner the business model for these guys will evaporate. However, judging by the conversations I've had with Nigerian Christians and Muslims alike (no matter how professional, no matter how oyinbo-ised, no matter how evangelical etc.), it doesn't look like the belief in the power of the head is going away very quickly.

Perhaps this group needs to set up shop in Nigeria.

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African docs at the Arcola later this month..

AFRICA MINE: Music and Movement
23rd September - 7th October 2007
Arcola Theatre, 27 Arcola Street, Dalston, London E8 2DJ

Africa Mine – six documentary feature films, bands, DJs, speakers, running projections, housed in Arcola Theatre in Dalston over three consecutive weekends – creates a space where a sundry London audience can gather to enjoy and discuss music, film and politics in Africa.

The subjects range from a charismatic old Zanzibari woman whose story includes the myth of her own death, the Kuti family's ongoing musical legacy to stimulate a Nigerian audience on visceral and political levels, Papa Wemba elegantly smuggling illegal immigrants, to a motley crew of Sierra Leoneans who, whilst living in a refugee camp, formed a band that has ended up touring the world.

Screenings will include panel discussions and an opportunity to meet filmmakers, media professionals and experts from Africa and the Diaspora.

In the bar area, hosted by Kalabash Movement, there will be live African music and DJs between and after the screenings.

Partners include AFFORD (The African Foundation for Development), Kalabash Movement, The Frontline Club, Black Cultural Archives and PocketVisions.


Programme details:
(Sunday double bills, start times are 4pm and 7pm)
Sunday, 23rd September 2007
4pm: Importance of Being Elegant
George Amponsah and Cosima Spender, UK, 2003, 70mins
Followed by Q&A with the director George Amponsah
7pm: Jupiter's Dance
Renaud Barrett, France, 2007, 60 mins
Sunday, 30th September 2007
4pm: Suffering and Smiling
Dan Ollman, Nigeria/US, 2006, 65mins
Presented in collaboration with The Frontline Club and Kalabash Movement
7pm: Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars
Zach Niles and Banker White, Guinea/Sierra Leone/USA, 2005, 78 mins
Sunday, 7th October 2007
4pm: As Old As My Tongue
Andy Jones, UK/ Zanzibar, 2006, 66 mins
Followed by Q&A with the director Andy Jones
7pm: A Lion's Trail
François Verster, South Africa, 2002, 55mins
Followed by Q&A with the editor Peter Neal
Full programme info:
Tickets:
Double bill £8
Single screening £5
Booking through the Arcola Theatre
Box Office: 020 7503 1646
http://www.arcolatheatre.com/

Thanks to my fat friend for the link.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

How to make a Chapmans..

I'm writing something which requires knowledge of Nigeria's homegrown non-alcoholic cocktail, Chapmans. Trouble is, surprisingly few people know the actual ingredients. In the course of my (admittedly lazy and half-arsed) research, I have yet to meet someone with confident knowledge of the exact recipe. My dear readers, can you help out?

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Labyrinths, at a price..

Want a copy of the 96 page collection of poetry Labyrinths by Christopher Okigbo? Its yours for just UK363.53 from Amazon. I was reminded of this rarest of works by this piece in last Sunday's Observer - Okigbo's work is Ben Okri's forgotten gem. Okri, ever the master of profound prose, writes,

Labyrinths is an interlinked volume of poems. Christopher Okigbo was an extraordinarily gifted poet who died in 1967 during the civil war in Nigeria. It is his only volume of poems, a meditation on everything from our origins to our obscure destinies; it's autobiographical; and it's a piercing lament on war. I think of him as our Lorca. He belongs to that class of poet who brings out one work and that work is a world. It says everything he needed to say in his lifetime. It should be read by everyone in every country. I can't think of him without the shadow of tears in my heart.

It is such a shame that along with many other works of Nigerian letters, Labyrinths is out of print and forgotten..

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Wikileaks

This might, just might, be revolutionary. Here's what they say on the homepage:

Wikileaks is developing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and participatory analysis. Our primary interests are oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we expect to be of assistance to peoples of all countries who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations. We aim for maximum political impact; this means our interface is identical to Wikipedia and usable by non-technical people. We have received over 1.2 million documents so far from dissident communities and anonymous sources..

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Mubadala operating in Nigeria as Newco

I did a double-take on p39 of Sunday's Dis Day. New GSM entrant Mubadala - which paid US400m for its licence - is to operate in Nigeria under the brand name Newco. This must surely be a mistake. If not, its an even larger deficit of imagination than calling your company Transcorp. It reminds me of the 1970s cartoons (was it Rocky and Bullwinkle?) where there would always be a van with Acme written on the side, reflecting the John-Brown generic company name of the time. Somebody tell me the journo, Tunmise Adekunle, has got it all badly wrong. Or perhaps Mubadala don't think the market deserves any attention on branding? With murmurs from the NCC that number portability is looming on the horizon, they may have made a big mistake.

Readers, can you suggest an alternative brand name before its too late? Here are some of my suggestions:

Voom
Klik
Woosh
Sabi
Jam

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Mandela on Abacha

Interesting post (and thread) on the Guardian's Comment is Free site today about Mandela's public and private relationship to Abacha during the time of the Ken Saro-Wiwa 'trial' - in the context of an alleged code of brotherly silence from one African leader to another in respect of human rights issues. Here.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Ante-natal classes, Nigeria-style

An ex-pat friend is pregnant here in Abuja. She went to the National Hospital for an ante-natal class. This is her account:

Last week I had the fascinating experience of registering at the ante-natal clinic at the National Hospital. I was told to arrive early to get my number - and so got there soon after 8am. Some had arrived at 7am. They stopped giving out numbers at 9am. I was number 19; there must have been 40+ of us in total (quite often there are over 100 - perhaps the numbers had reduced because of the rain).

As all of us were first time registrants, I followed the ‘go there’, ‘do that’, ‘fill this in’ instructions to have urine tested (must take some ready done next time), weight, height and blood pressure. I got called back at one point because the girl who was entering my card details on the computer at a painful speed had a gap for my ‘tribe’,

‘I really couldn’t say, do you have a space for unknown?’ I said with a smile.
She clearly did not.

Then we were all summoned together for our ‘talk’. This started with prayer and was followed by songs. General hospital activity continued around us (even the loos were being cleaned) as we sang

‘Dey say, Madame what ting dey make you fat-o?
My oga (husband) de ting dat make me fat-o’ as we danced to show off our bellies.

Then the talk began, the first 30mins was a run down of charges, what our registration fee included and how vital it is to pay in advance, don’t request a 2 bed ward when you can only afford a 6 bed ward etc.

Then we were given a severe warning about being on time and collecting your number on clinic days: ‘Your bag will not be given a number, your husband will not be given a number, your pregnant friend will not be given a number’.

Then followed some advice about clothing (‘if you wear high heals you will not be given a number’), and then reasons for attending A&E (‘you cannot attend A&E if you were too late to get your number).

Then we had a tour which included the delivery ward with women in action - deep in labour. I thought the person behind me was saying something to me but she was just praying for the woman moaning in the bed in front of us.

Finally we were assigned to the medical teams whose care we will be under. I was then was seen by the Dr for my appt. He already had urine, BP results and did a thorough but swift assessment. He sent me off for my blood tests (which happened straight away) and to make a scan appt and I’ll see him again in 4 weeks. All in all a thorough if not slightly bizarre experience...

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Mimi magazine

Excellent online magazine for African Women - Mimi.

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Okomu Eco Resort

One of the highlights of our first trip to Nigeria together in 2000 was a day trip to the Okomu National Park, not far from Benin City. Once inside the tropical rainforest, the almost continuous canopy creates a shaded light, while the sound of tropical fauna echoes through the huge sinewy trees. With over 200 species of birds, 700 species of butterflies and rare monkeys and chimps (as well as the odd crocodile and elephant), its a nature-lovers treasure trove. The best bit was climbing an enormous 40m+ cotton silk tree with a trunk the width of two or three cars, via a ladder leading up into infinity. Its good to see that the place has been developed recently with eco-tourism in mind - the website linked to above is not at all bad. If you're thinking of visiting Nigeria and want a relaxing tropical rainforest experience away from it all, this might be a good option.

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The dinner party

Foreigners visiting or living in Nigeria are often puzzled by a commonly experienced phenomenon: they never get invited to the houses of the Nigerians they meet or work with. No matter how many times the Nigerian colleague is invited to the expat's house, there is no reciprocal invitation. No one can ever quite work out why. "Is it because Nigerians are unfriendly?" "Is it because they are embarrassed about their homes?" "Is it because they worry about what to cook?" "Is it because they don't really like us?" Expats sit around and discuss this issue, scratch their heads and do not come to any solid conclusions..

At a dinner party last night, I think we came close to uncovering the reason why the return invite never comes. In my experience, it is simply not part of the culture here to associate eating food with a social gathering occasion in the form of a dinner party. Eating food is not seen as necessarily a communal event - it is often framed quite functionally in terms of satisfying need. Food is not contextualised as cuisine in Nigeria - with the inevitable association of preparation, display and hosting that that word imports. One sees this in the food itself, which is not presented with aesthetics in mind - in contrast say with Japanese food, which is almost aesthetically charged. Again, the idea of combining the act of eating food with conversation is alien to the culture - as I found out during an unfortunate incident in Ibadan (but that's another blog post). Associating a dinner party with sociality is therefore by and large outside the parameters of the culture. Westerners, ingrained in the idea of breaking bread and the Last Supper etched indelibly into their sub-conscious, cannot see beyond the projection of their own expectations onto other cultural patterns.

There is quite a lot of opportunity for comedy in this cultural difference - I write little theatre pieces in my head imagining different scenarios. Friends tell stories of the time they were finally invited to a Nigerian friend's house, and being sat on a chair and given food, while the hosts carry on with their business. They recount their silent confusion - "why are we not all sitting down together?" Then, the inevitable photo album is brought out. When Nigerians play host they want you to see their photos, it seems.

At other times, some expats have actually been invited to a dinner party, but there's tension, as if the hosts do not quite know what to do. I went to one such party (one of the few times we have been invited to dinner by Nigerians in the time we have spent here). The couple were slightly older - in their forties. It was like a scene from Abigail's Party transposed across time and space - tension threatening to break the silent surface, but not quite ever managing to. The conversation was stilted - even though we knew our hosts quite well, and another couple we were friends with were also there. A buffet had been set up - we had to walk to a table to serve ourselves. It was all rather awkward - as if we were celebrating a special occasion - without anyone knowing what the occasion was. You can imagine the sound of cutlery striking china..

Before anyone jumps on my head with abuse - I am not dissing the Nigerian way here - just noticing a form of cultural difference that goes unnoticed and yet is the cause of much comedic confusion..

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