Yet another African novel makes a bold entrance into Hollywood.
Way back in 2013, Deadline announced that Cary Fukunaga, the director of the critically acclaimed HBO show, True Detective, was teaming up with Idris Elba to film Uzodinma Iweala’s war drama titled Beasts of No Nation.
Word has just come through that the project is done and that Netflix, the US media-buying giant, has purchased the worldwide rights for 12 million dollars. The rights covers online streaming and theatrical release.
Those of you who know your Fela would recognise the phrase, “beast of no nation.” It’s the title of Fela’s 1989 album. Iweala, a Harvard-trained Nigerian novelist, clipped the title for his 2005 novel about a child soldier, named Agu, in an unnamed war torn West African country. Beast of No Nation, alongside Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, Chris Abani’s Graceland, and Habila’s Waiting for An Angel, spearheaded the big comeback of Nigerian fiction on the global literary scene.
This is such exciting news.
Apparently, Netflix is really hoping that the movie catches the attention of the Oscar committee, so they’re putting all their weight behind the it.
Netflix is yet to announce a release date. But since they’re hoping to get it out in time for the Oscar season, later this year is a good enough guess.
Fingers crossed. There are African literary critics who don’t care for Iweala’s novel, citing it as a classic example of the “poverty porn” genre. Add to this the fact that Hollywood doesn’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to representing the continent.
Either way, it’s one more African novel making its way to the big screen. Definitely worth celebrating.
Of course, we’re also looking forward to Adichie’s Americanahstarring Lupita Nyongo and David Oyelowo and Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls optioned for TV by Leonardo Di Caprio’s media company.
Brittle Paper is an African literary blog featuring book reviews, news, interviews, original work and in-depth coverage of the African literary scene. It is curated by Ainehi Edoro and was recently named a ‘go-to book blog’ by Publisher’s Weekly.
Asking about them in polite society usually causes raised eyebrows and mumbles about their inappropriateness, but you don’t need to be a private detective to discover that they’re bought, sold and used almost anywhere you care to look on the continent.
At the same time though, the sale of sex toys is illegal in many countries where they’re being sold, although some governments don’t even bother putting the trade on the books, seemingly relying on social shame – which is fading fast – as a means of regulation. Nonetheless, even where selling them remains illegal, sex toys still manage to creep across the border.
Basically, what seems to be happening is that the governments are anti-sex toys, but the people aren’t. The internet has made it easier for anyone who wants a sex toy to bypass the law, but it is the importers who shoulder the risks, since they’re the ones likely to have their good seized at Customs. This probably accounts for the relatively high prices of sex toys in many countries.
So what does this mean for the continent’s sex toy trade, where there’s a market but being a supplier isn’t always something you can broadcast in public?
Countries such as Zimbabwe and Mauritius have actively said “no” to bedroom trinkets but, being popular holiday destinations, there are websites that offer tips on how to “sneak your sex toy in when going on holiday”.
The situation in a few countries:
South Africa says OK to a little sexual aid
Sex toys are very much legal in South Africa. But before you shout “Of course they are, it’s South Africa!”, you might be surprised to learn that it’s only in the last decade that it stopped being illegal for South Africans to manufacture or sell sex toys. We have the enlightened apartheid government for the Immorality Amendment Act of 1969 prohibiting the sale of any item “intended to be used to perform an unnatural sexual act,” an amendment apparently intended to prevent the use of dildos by lesbians. Gratifying to be able to report that South Africa now has one of the most liberal constitutional and legal frameworks in the world on matters sexual.
What that means in South Africa today is that you cannot throw a stone anywhere in the country without hitting an Adult World, its branches so dark and seedy (at least all the ones I’ve seen) that you worry you’ll catch an STD just walking in. If they own any chic, couples-friendly branches, I haven’t come across them yet, and don’t know anyone who has. (Incidentally, the chain, which has 60 stores nationwide, is currently embroiled in a tiff with the ANC for opening a store opposite Parliament in Cape Town.)
Adult World’s selection of products ranges from videos for all tastes (BDSM, lesbian porn, women in cheerleader outfits) all the way to 10-inch long replicas of male genitalia.
There are more tasteful shops around, such as the Whet Sensuality Emporium in Cape Town (more tasteful, no doubt, because it’s women- and couples-oriented; they even manufacture their own lubricant) whose owner also gives advice to couples in her consultation room. This is beautiful cream room decorated with orchids, lounge chairs and futuristic sci-fi sex toys that look like they travelled back in time from the year 2085.
There is also the annual Sexpo, showcasing the best of the best in terms of sex toys, clothing (costumes) and general erotica. Then there are clubs like the Pharoah Private Fantasy Club where they ask “Whats your flava?” Okay, I’m not sure if that has anything to do with sex toys, but I like their opening question. Not to mention the hundreds of online stores such as HoneyHoney and FemmeSensuelle.
Discreet unmarked packages
Taboo surrounding sex toys in Kenya has pretty much faded, especially in Nairobi where more and more sex shops are opening, offline (River Road is where to go, although be warned, it’s also where to go for anything from AK47s to fake death certificates or Harvard Masters certificates, printed while you wait, no less) and online. The latest to join the online fray is wittily called Bored of Men.
Kenyan laws prohibit the sale of pornography and “obscene materials,” but according to Nairobi lawyer Humprey Manyange, there is no law in Kenya that prohibits the sale, distribution or circulation of sex toys under the Penal Code or any other law. He added, though, that “…there should be caution on the mode of display and selling to avoid the disturbance of public peace and breach of public morality”.
Kenyans are spoilt for choice online with stores like Doctor Crocodildo, Pazuri Place (who claim to have delivered over 1 300 packages since 2009), RahaToys (“If you are in Nairobi, we send the delivery guy to bring the item to you” – now that’s service!) , The Secret Kenya and kenyasecrets.com (“the finest and biggest collection of sex toys in Kenya,” with same-day deliveries) – don’t ask me why my Kenyan brothers and sisters are in such a hurry to get hold of their sex toys. Door-to-door delivery and the more relaxed attitude towards sex toys means Kenyans no longer need to have their sex toys mailed in “discreet unmarked packages,” which was the case for years. Women are now spending up to 10 000ksh ($112) on vibrating bullets, but you also have shops like RahaToys where you can get a super stretchy gel erection ring for the low low price of 420 Ksh ($4) or a ‘Fetish Fantasy Series Door Swing’ for 5 590 Ksh.
And if you’re after a sex doll, you can get one of those, too.
Sex toys on the (not so open) market
In Zimbabwe, Vannessa Chiyangwa, the daughter of a well known businessman (who also happens to be a former Zanu-PF MP as well as a cousin of Robert Mugabe) caused tongues to wag not too long ago for holding sex toy auctions in Harare . If you’re going to sell them, might as well keep it classy with an auction. She also held peep shows whilst selling a selection of lingerie to further boost business. All of which was labelled “immoral” by government officials.
That enterprising lady’s case actually revealed a contradiction in the government’s official position on sex toys. According to Zimbabwe Revenue Authority’s director of legal and corporate services Florence Jambwa, the importation of the toys into the country is prohibited under the Customs and Excise Act. However, Censorship Board secretary Isaac Chiranganyika said whoever intended to import or trade in sex toys had to seek permission from the board. He also said, “Anyone who wants to do that business should first bring them [toys] to our offices for approval.” The Board’s staff members must test drive the products, after all. For quality control purposes, of course. But joking aside, this is confusing. It’s illegal to import sex toys but you must have your sex toys approved by the board before you’re allowed to sell the illegal imports? Perhaps the government is trying to encourage local sex-toy manufacturing.
According to this article in The Standard, people have been caught smuggling sex toys into Zimbabwe, and some of the main culprits have been foreigners attending the Harare International Festival of The Arts (Hifa). Apparently, it’s during the festival that officials confiscate the highest number of sex toys. Arty folk, eh? But seriously, this is probably an attempt to diss lefty Hifa with it’s “foreign” connections.
The board says they’ve kept all the vibrators and dildos impounded over the past two years (most of the sex toys are for use by women, but there are some ‘female organs’ among the contraband), a claim contradicted by Florence Jambwa who says they destroy all the sex toys they confiscate. Sounds like the Censorship Board members are having a whale of a time at home.
Sex dolls, door swings and same day delivery
If you read about Nigerians and their sex toys on This Is Africa recently, you probably assumed sex toys were legal in Nigeria. Nope. Contraband, according to government officials.
Nigerians might come over all abashed when you raise the topic in public, but sex toys are starting to become more popular in the country, even in the northern States that abide by Sharia law, but either government officials have enough wahala on their hands to add chasing after sex toy importers to the list or they know they’ll be onto a losing battle if they do.
The ownership of sex toys knows no age, social class or marital status barriers in Nigeria. In Lagos, one newspaper journalist found more than 20 shops selling sex toys (mostly small stalls), and one trader, who preferred to remain anonymous, said most of his customers were couples, with the male partners saying they preferred to have a toy as a “competitor,” rather than another man. On the other hand, another trader said she had to take her business online because people who had the “balls” to enter her shop just browsed a lot without buying much. Her sales went up by 120% with the move.
They reportedly saw this as “a sign of the end and the beginning of Sodom and Gomorrah” aka “Jesus is coming”.
According to the product specifications, the dolls’ skin texture was “99.8% human texture,” but with a price tag of $6 000 they’d better be, right? Clearly imported for the rich, these super dolls. What about the man on the street, I ask. The dolls last two years, are completely adjustable to any position, have a hundred sensors all over the body (including thirty in/on the private parts), get “wet,” and moan when penetrated. The “best money you will ever spend,” according to one man who is either the sole importer or a very, very happy customer. No wonder my Nigerian sisters were in an uproar.
One woman wondered “…what technology is turning the world into; even my husband saw it on the internet and he developed interest in it. My fear is if he gets it, it will be the end of our marriage.” Another was certain her husband would go for it, but said it was none of her business. One randy commenter said he’d forego a car to buy such a doll!
For those not wishing to sell or forego their car or break the bank, there’s Intimate Pleasures (Nigeria’s first online sex shop catering specifically to women), the owner of which, feminist writer and human rights activist Iheoma Obibi, also holds “Wellness and Intimacy” afternoon sessions.
There are shops selling sex toys in Ghana, offline (in Accra, at least; some street hawkers even sell them) and online (Area 51, GH erotic; you can even WhatsApp your order), though, again, the government considers sex toys “obscene” and has been known to close down sex shops. Women in Swaziland throw “product parties,” and have been calling on the government for years to legalise the sale of sex toys, stating that there’s no valid reason why women should be deprived of their inviolable right to choose how they pleasure themselves.
This appears to be a case of governments failing to move with the times, and to comprehend the reasonable desires of their citizens. I’m willing to bet that all the officials making it unnecessarily difficult to get hold of sex toys own sex toys themselves.
Governments, we want our sex toys, and we will get them any way we can, whether you like it or not!
Kagure Mugo is a freelance writer and co-founder and curator of holaafrica.org, a Pan-Africanist queer women’s collective which engages in activism and awareness-building around issues of African women’s identity, experiences and sexuality. Connect with her on Twitter: @tiffmugo
Men in suits order takeaway cappuccinos at the counter. A trendy young crowd occupies comfortable sofas, armed with laptops for a brain-storming session over cafe lattes, frappuccinos and soft jazz.
The morning scene wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in New York, London or Paris but cafe culture is a new phenomenon in Nigeria’s biggest city, where until recently finding a decent espresso was a battle.
The bright young things and senior managers were in Cafe Neo, on Victoria Island in Lagos, which has been specifically designed to cater to the tastes of “repats”.
Ngozi Dozie and his brother Chijoke created the chain with returning Nigerians in mind, in the full knowledge that years spent abroad alter views, tastes and expectations.
Now the brothers hope to conquer Africa’s major cities with 100% African coffee before giants of the business such as Starbucks try to capture the market.
“The demand (in Lagos) is very high. There’s a significant minority of people who love coffee and want to drink coffee but haven’t had access to coffee,” Ngozi told AFP.
The “significant minority” have studied and worked abroad, coming back in their thousands from the United States or Europe as austerity measures kicked in after the global financial crisis.
While they were away, Nigeria – already Africa’s most populous nation with some 170 million people – became the continent’s leading economy — and a country ripe with opportunity.
With economic growth has come an emerging middle class, which has increased six fold to 4.1 million households between 2000 and 2014, according to a recent study by Standard Bank.
Indian inspiration A number of US chains such as KFC and Domino’s Pizza are already in Nigeria and increasingly popular, despite the astronomical costs of running a business in the country.
Poor or non-existent infrastructure forces businesses to rely on huge electricity generators to keep the lights on when the public supply goes off, sometimes for up to 12 hours a day.
The brothers’ idea is to first conquer the Nigerian market before Starbucks, which has more than 20 000 cafes in 65 countries across the globe but none in sub-Saharan Africa.
Ngozi Dozie is not yet 40 and is himself a “repat”. Before embarking on the business venture, he knew friends who would bring back bags of coffee from the United States.
He said he was inspired by India, where Cafe Coffee Day has largely cornered the market, despite the increasing presence of international chains such as Britain’s Costa Coffee or Starbucks.
“India is a fantastic example with Cafe Coffee Day,” he explained. “We aim at something similar.
“We’re starting young right now and our aim is to grow as such that yes, Starbucks may come, but we want to be the choice of Nigerians, because there’s that affinity with something that comes from here, in Africa.”
Produce and consume Neo has three cafes currently in Lagos and two others are scheduled to open early this year.
There is another outlet in Kigali. All the cafes only serve 100% Rwandan arabica, which has become one of its main selling points.
The chain is hoping to branch out across Africa and expects to have between 20 and 30 cafes in Lagos alone within the next four years.
“Neo, in Tswana, the language in Botswana, means ‘gift’, and of course it also means ‘new’ in Latin,” said Dozie.
“So, it’s a new way… a new approach to coffee, a new approach where we, as Africans, drink the coffee that we produce, that’s been a gift for us, as opposed to exporting it and importing sub-grade coffee.”
Africa’s main coffee producers such as Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda currently export most of their products to the United States and Europe.
Kayitana John Bosco was brought over to Nigeria from Rwanda to train locals on how to make a proper coffee at Cafe Neo – and said it was time for a change.
“Our first coffee tree was planted in 1904,” he said of his homeland. “We’ve been producing coffee for more than a century. But brewing, the consumption… it’s really still down.
“I visited a coffee farmer in 2007. That old man had been doing coffee farming for 20 years, but he didn’t know the taste of it.
“So, his job was to do farming, harvest, send. He didn’t know where it was going or what it was used for.”
Mention northern Nigeria and the first thing that may spring to mind is Boko Haram. Zainab Ashadu is hoping to change that — by selling designer handbags.
The Nigerian designer is the brains behind the Zashadu brand, whose modern, colourful creations use the ancient art of tanning and leather-dyeing from the country’s north.
“I think people like the story behind the bags. They like the fact that the bag has roots and origins,” the 32-year-old told AFP at her bustling workshop in a working class district of Lagos.
From the cramped premises in Festac, which buzzes with the sound of Singer sewing machines, a team of about half a dozen artisans make between 200 and 300 bags every year.
Ashadu’s parents were from the north, which is these days rarely out of the news because of the Islamist insurgency that has been raging since 2009.
But the region has long been known for its high-quality leather, which the designer turns into clutch purses and handbags that sell overseas for between 150 – 800 euros.
The leather comes from the north’s biggest city, Kano, goatskin from the ancient northwestern city of Sokoto as well as python skin from snake farms in the region.
Sustainability, know-how Unlike European fashion houses, which import raw leather from Nigeria and then tan and dye it overseas, Ashadu decided to make use of the centuries of know-how of artisans in Kano.
“It is very important for me to work in a sustainable way,” she said.
“I work with small families of tanners, the animals are traceable, we use vegetable dyes and other environmentally friendly dyes, and also the dyers work all together to save energy.”
The designer gets her inspiration from hours of hunting for bargains in the maze of stalls in the huge Mushin market, in the Lagos suburbs.
The market sells Nigerian leather off-cuts and rejects, particularly from Italian fashion houses.
“It’s so vibrant… there’s so much leather available and sometimes the sellers have no idea of the quality of what they sell,” said Ashadu.
“There’s antelope – that is very soft – there’s goatskin, sheepskin…”
From there, the material is turned into bags by her team, all of whom have been trained at a specialist school of leatherwork in the northern city of Zaria.
Adaptability Ashadu is one of an increasing number of returning Nigerians or “repats”, chancing their arm in their home country after years spent overseas.
She spent her early childhood years in Lagos but was a teenager in London, where she was variously a model, actress, buyer and architecture student.
She came back in 2010 and has had to adapt to a different way of doing business.
“You need to be tough-skinned, adaptable and to have a great sense of humour,” she said.
“Nigeria is a very hard place to… do anything, let’s put it that way. It’s definitely very hard to run a business. But it’s more earthy. You feel like your feet are on the ground.”
Understanding and adapting to a different style of doing business is key to getting ahead, with some overseas firms looking to invest in Nigeria put off by red tape and logistical constraints.
Power cuts that often last more than 12 hours are a major problem and force businesses to invest in huge, costly electricity generators.
At Ashadu’s workshop, in a modest house belonging to her family, power comes from a small generator.
What’s important is adapting as much as possible to how her employees work, rather than trying to apply to the letter what she learnt at the London College of Fashion.
‘Made in Africa’ Zashadu bags have won a small but loyal following locally. Private sales have been held in unexpected locations such as a hotel suite with champagne and macaroons and at an upmarket yacht club.
In the last year, the brand, which is marketed online abroad, has established a presence in boutiques in London, Miami, Dublin, Johannesburg and most recently in Paris.
French designer Charlotte Ziegler, who sells Zashadu bags at the Franck et Fils department store, said she was intrigued by Ashadu’s unusual profile and also its “sustainable luxury”.
But she admits it was a risk.
“For 200 or 400 euros, people sometimes prefer to buy a product with a (recognised) designer label,” she said.
Ashadu is confident and knows that she’s tapped into a trend.
“People love Africa and Africa is something that is new in this way and people love to jump on bandwagons,” she said.
“And this one ticks all the boxes: it’s made in Africa, it’s beautiful-looking, it’s made sustainably, it’s international.”
Mention African style and the fashion crowd thinks Lagos, or Johannesburg. But Uganda’s emerging designers – using a mix of local craft and global savvy – are hoping to give them a run for their money.
Fashion in the east African nation may be viewed as frivolous by many, with the industry under resourced and local designers facing fierce competition from cheaper secondhand clothes and Chinese imports.
But tickets for Kampala’s first ever Fashion Week earlier this month sold out swiftly, with models strutting the catwalk showing everything from sequined hot pants to accessories made from cow horn, to a dress made from the country’s unique bark cloth.
“In so many ways anything to do with being artistic is a struggle here, people don’t take it seriously,” said Ugandan-born designer Jose Hendo, now based in Britain, who showcased her work in Africa for the first time at the show.
It follows similar successful recent fashion weeks in Burundi and Rwanda, while Kenya’s opens this week in Nairobi, as east Africa moves to boost its stake among the continent’s designers.
The show had international backing, with the same production crew – LDJ Productions – who provide technical support for New York Fashion Week helping out in Kampala.
LDJ Productions CEO Laurie De Jong, whose team have also helped Mumbai, Miami, Toronto and Los Angeles get fashion weeks off the ground, said New York’s version was now one of the city’s top three revenue-producing events.
De Jong said Uganda’s talented designers and others working in the industry could offer the country a “huge, huge economic boost” if supported more.
The Kampala Fashion Week show featured 10 Ugandan women and menswear designers, many self-taught, and marked a comeback for Natasha Karugire, the daughter of President Yoweri Museveni.
“My prayer and hope is that Ugandans will all wear our own clothes and that the second hand clothes market will fizzle out of our society,” said Karugire, whose label J&kainembabazi sent out bright, floral dresses with traditional beading at the collar.
‘Big earner’ Hendo’s collection for the show featured jackets, trousers, coats, headpieces and other accessories made out of the bark cloth from local trees, mixed with cotton, silk and denim.
The award-winning ethical designer came up with the idea of using bark cloth after a 2001 trip to Uganda with her family.
“I spoke to my mother and realised there’s so much to it, it is not just about making tourist souvenirs,” said Hendo, who has developed far more complex designs than the ubiquitous bark cloth hats and place mats usually on sale.
“What is exciting is that it is organic, the process of making it has never changed in 600 years.”
In Uganda’s royal kingdom Buganda, bark cloth is worn for coronations and other important cultural ceremonies. Making it is an ancient craft, listed on Unesco’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”
Hendo is now selling her creations in Uganda and Britain, where she has three shops.
Kampala’s show ended with Ugandan model Stacie Aamito strutting the runway in Hendo’s breathtaking “fairy dress”, featuring a bodice made from bark.
Aamito, 21, had a “humble” upbringing in northern Uganda, before winning the African franchise of the “Next Top Model” reality TV show earlier this year. The beauty is now signed to an elite agency in New York, where she lives.
But she said her family had been doubtful of her career choice at first, telling her that “‘you need to be a lawyer, you need to study and be something, because if you’re a model you’re not anything’,” she told AFP.
“Most people do not take fashion seriously” in Uganda, she said, but insisted the trade could “definitely be a big earner” for the nation.
Local sector Kampala Fashion Week founder Gloria Wavammuno (29), said her tailor aunts, who lived during the era of dictator Idi Amin – a time of “very long skirts and no trousers” – were supporting their families through the local trade.
“One of my aunts is sending her children to very good schools, two of them have gone to college in America and Canada,” she said.
Some designers travel to China to source their fabrics but Wavammuno wants to support the local sector.
Wavammuno, who interned for British men’s designer Ozwald Boateng and has participated in fashion weeks in New York and Paris, showed off her jackets, raincoats and “woolly things” made from “furniture materials for sofas and curtains.”
They were teamed with sandals, handbags and collars created from Uganda’s famous giant Ankole cow horn and fish, sheep and cow leather.
Designers are hopeful, even though Wavammuno admits Uganda’s fashion industry is starved of resources.
“Our fashion school doesn’t even have a seamstress,’ she said. “It doesn’t even have machines.”