Two weeks ago, one of Kenya’s leading newspapers, The Daily Nation, published the story of a county governor who had spent some $197 000 on accommodation at a high-end hotel while awaiting renovation of his official residence. Quoting a report by Kenya’s Auditor General however, the paper noted that the county’s government also spent some $5 300 on house rent for the same Governor, during the same time period he was living at the hotel (July 9th to August 1st 2015). If these numbers don’t speak for themselves already, then add some 1.2 billion shillings ($11 855 844) misappropriated by the same county in September of 2013. You get the picture?
What is worrying about such blatant corruption and outright impunity in Africa is not its existence; it is the recurrence. It is the fact that it is as systemic as the education sector or agriculture is to the common citizen. I worry that while a child’s disease and a region’s poverty will be well documented by some aid agency and paraded to solicit funds from some well-meaning individual, these incidences of corruption will not see the light of day in the western world. It seems as if, we Africans, would rather allow benevolent stereotypes to flourish than for our dirty linen to be aired in public. The narrative thus remains the same. Africa is poor because it is poor; and while we’re out fighting the poverty narrative, we fiercely defend the source of our poverty.
I know there is a lot of noise about ‘Africa Rising’ going around the web and in intellectual circles; I also know that this is complete hogwash. Africa is going nowhere – not yet at least. There cannot be any development on a continent that propagates and recycles the same ideals that have kept it from developing for the last 50 years. So, citizens having some internet with which to shout at western media will not in itself change the continent’s trajectory. The corruption will stay, terror attacks still go unattended and ethnic strife still pit us against each other. Just because we can tweet at CNN and get an apology does not mean we are better off as a people. While it is laudable that we are challenging stereotypes about our continent; and while we need to show things as they are, we must acknowledge that incidences of corruption too are a part of our social fabric. They might be undesirable alright; they might be shameful; but integrity to our continent and preparedness for real development implies (indeed requires) that we talk about these indecent characteristics too.
So what happens to our sandy beaches and wild animals and M-Pesa and the Savannah? Nothing. But if we want a complete story of us, we must be at the forefront of telling it. If any media speaks about corruption, or terrorism in Kenya, it has every right to. Granted, sensational reporting is below media ethics, the truth must nevertheless be spoken. It is pretentious of us Africans to imply that exposure of our continent’s weaknesses, or our politicians’ misdeeds, somehow blemishes our “good name”. Because it is this very identity that gets tarnished every time we want to keep the monopoly on talking about corruption within our borders.
There is no substitute for thinking.
Franklyn Odhiambo is an alumni of the African Leadership Academy and student of the university of California, Berkeley. Oh,and he’s Kenyan too.
“When he talks the breeze ceases and the roof trembles. He commands the crippled to rise, and they rise. He lays his fingers on the blind, and they see. He touches a widow’s sick son, and he is healed.”
“He” is Pastor Samuel, the protagonist of a new fiction series, Holy Sex, that is using the erotic genre to examine the influence and power that the church pastor has over women’s lives in contemporary Nigerian society.
Published by Brittle Paper, an African literary blog, editor Ainehi Edoro explains that the fictional pieces key into an important social phenomenon. Wealthy and operating intimately in people’s lives, pastors are equivalent “to Oprah or they are Dr Phil… they give people a sense of hope,” Edoro explains.
The author, Obinna Udenwe, is the first to eroticise the Nigerian church in fiction, according to Edoro.
Your pastor is handsome. His nose is finely chiselled. His clear white eyeballs are draped in long eyelashes. His lips are full and sensuous. His broad shoulders fill out his designer suits. And when he doesn’t wear a tie, his 22-carat gold necklace sparkles in the reflection of the glass pulpit. A thick gold ring on which is mounted a cross and a bleeding heart adorns the finger he uses to swipe the iPad screen during his sermons
Throughout the series Pastor Samuel has numerous affairs under his wife’s nose and extorts money from women in exchange for sex. The author describes female characters dressing in “plunging necklines” for Sunday service, with some antics resulting in unwanted pregnancies.
In episode two, one woman’s monologue reads: “To be perfectly honest, who doesn’t want to sleep with God’s anointed, these days?”
Was injecting taboo into the social power-centre of the church meant ruffle feathers? No, says Edoro, it’s playful fiction and not meant to be threatening: “It’s partly about the sex, it’s partly about the system,” she explains. The church has a certain power over women’s bodies, but as an editor didn’t mean to offend, just to encourage people “to think”.
Readers of Holy Sex have certainly recognised some truth in Udenwe’s tales: “I am dumbfounded, but this is exactly a replica of what ladies see in Nigerian churches – it is such a shame,” writes Amaka, a commenter on Brittle Paper.
Though the series has been extremely popular, most online readers were not comfortable commenting publicly or sharing the link via Facebook or Twitter, says Edoro.
He continues to come to your house once a week. Sometimes he sleeps over. He asks for money. You give him double of whatever number he requests. You gossip with your friends and tell them everything. You tell them that no one kisses like him. They envy you.
So this Saturday, Pastor Samuel visits your house. You’ve just paid a lot of money into his account that afternoon. You also agreed to fund his trip to Sweden for an evangelical conference, so he has come to say thank you for paying four million naira into his account
Others who’ve made their names writing about love and sex in Nigeria include “romance author” Kiru Taye, based in London but specialising in “multicultural romance set in Africa”, and Dames Caucus who describes her style as “telling fictional stories laced with a little sex”.
Then there’s Abuja-based Cassava Republic Press who’ve set up a romance imprint. The team made a bundle of love and romance stories free to download on Valentine’s Day this year, and say their aim is to demonstrate “that romance can be empowering, entertaining, and elegantly written”.
Caucus, real name Vickie Aluta-Obueh, publishes steamy blogposts twice a month but wishes she could do more. She thinks that blogs are the preferred way for Africans to consume erotica because they’re often free to access, and, she says, can be printed out and added to people’s “naughty stash”.
Both Aluta-Obueh and Edoro talk about erotica being enjoyed by both men and women alike – unlike in the west, where the market is largely divided and marketed along gender lines.
African erotic fiction is very much in it’s infancy, according to Edoro, who says it has a long way to go to catch up with Nollywood or the music industry, who have both been successful in selling African desire for the mass market.
Edoro puts this down to African fiction still being the “preserve of the intellectual classes” and while some pop fiction , like sci-fi and fantasy, are starting to find their feet, the genre needs time to flourish.
She explains that the obstacles relate to the lack of investment in popular Nigerian writing, suggesting there’s little money for local authors beyond celebrated names like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Teju Cole.
Just as doubts begin to fog your mind, his hand, his long and smooth hand, wanders to your dress. He lifts it and reaches your thighs. You recoil, but he pulls you close.
Writer Aluta-Obueh blames Nigerian culture’s conservative attitudes to sex for choking the market: “There are so many talented erotic writers out there but fear of being vilified curbs their zeal to write,” she says. But despite what she describes as a “hypocrisy” where “anything sexual is frowned upon”, her feedback from readers has been overwhelmingly positive.
A few other comments from the readers of Holy Sex suggests that a burgeoning market is out there for erotic fiction: “Brilliant. I cringed at holy milk each time but in Naija [Nigeria] reality is stranger than fiction”, wrote a user known as Snapes. “A lot about the ease of the writer convinces me of the validity of such a story. I really appreciate such creativity”, added another user, Olatunde.
Not since the unprecedented political and economic crisis of 2008 has Zimbabwe made consistent international headlines. Punctuated by a free-falling currency, extreme food shortages, a contested presidential election and the outbreak of cholera, the small nation of 13-million became a regular international media feature as its cumulative woes led to general disintegration.
What anyone who lived through this time of turmoil – myself included – might never have believed is that it would take the death of a lion to once more locate Zimbabwe within the world narrative.
Within days of news breaking of the murder of Cecil the lion, a global petition calling for justice for the cat – said to be the largest lion in Hwange National Park– has garnered over 300 000 signatures. International media has diligently reported the latest news on the situation with updates on the American dentist, Walter Palmer, who is responsible for the trophy hunt coming in thick and fast. Additionally, #CeciltheLion has trended on Twitter, with #JeSuisCecil also featuring prominently.
For many Zimbabweans, international focus on Cecil stands in stark contrast to the barely audible attention paid to Itai Dzamara, a local anti-state activist who has been missing for over four months. Or to the precarious status of unregulated local street vendors as police mount a crackdown on their activities. Or to Sangulani Chikumbutso, a high-school dropout who has become the first Zimbabwean to design and manufacture a hybrid helicopter and electric vehicle. It is the deepest irony that in a time when the #BlackLivesMatter movement continues to gain traction in highlighting the differential scales used to value human lives, the world should cast its eye on Zimbabwe for its wildlife, with no thought or concern for its people.
This is not to say that black Zimbabweans do not have any affinity for, or pride in, wildlife. The historical totemic heritage of the Shona people, which is still practiced today, is premised upon peoples being classified into different clans named after animals and wildlife common to local terrain, including the lion. Such groupings, by clan, foment kinship and solidarity and are instructive on marriage patterns; for instance, it is not advised that two members of the same clan marry as this is considered a sort of incest. Additionally, the pre-colonial legacy of the mhondoro – protective spirits said to reside within lions when not visiting a human host or spirit medium – still endures.
In her article, ‘The white man’s dog’, Gillian Schutte challenges the idea that black people generally have no relationship to animals and states, that the “the black man’s dog” in many instances is used for protection and hunting; functions more inclined towards utility than a humanised relationship. She also brings to discussion the economic challenges to many of maintaining animals as pets.
Many Zimbabweans, if not most, would never have heard of Cecil until Monday. Most Zimbabweans will never have visited any of our tourist destinations such as the Victoria Falls or Great Zimbabwe, let alone gone on a game drive or safari. These are not activities associated with a population generally in survival mode and as a result, little exposed to the culture of travel for leisure. It then follows that such activities continue to privilege a foreign tourist market and minority local middle class.
In my efforts to learn more about Cecil, I came across YouTube videos recorded by some foreign tourists on safari. In one video, camera shutters go off in paparazzi fashion as the visitors gasp and sigh in awe of the lion’s roar.
Indeed, Cecil was a majestic animal. And indeed, he died a senseless and unjust death. But this instance, as with many others, shows who has power to evoke global empathy and amplify select narratives about Zimbabwe.
And it isn’t Zimbabweans.
Even as the global narrative around Africa is said to be shifting, the continent is still generally depicted around two stereotypes: its poverty and its wildlife. And unlike stories of strife and suffering, often leading to general global apathy, it is far easier to quantify – and therefore exotify – an Africa of harsh savannah plains, regal animals and majestic sunsets. And in such depictions, the less African people there are to deal with, the better. Here, I think of productions like the The Lion King, still playing to full audiences around the world and theme parks capitalising on ‘the heart of Africa’ experience by re-enacting voyeuristic scenes of a perfect animal paradise.
In many ways this shows how the world, particularly the west, continues to interact with Africa; either as expatriates and missionaries (amplifying the poverty aspect of the stereotype) or as tourists (favouring the safari and wildlife experience). As a result, it’s an outlook that continues to omit the in-between realities; the rising metropolises, the complex socio-political terrain, the evolution of cultures, the human history.
To entirely denounce this attention, however, would also fail to profit on its potential. Zimbabwean tourism has been on the wane for many years now, and a national discussion on how to conserve and promote our diminishing natural heritage is long overdue, especially in light of the fact that government has taken to selling and exporting local elephants to Asian markets. It would be a shame for any generation of Zimbabweans to grow up without the hope of seeing any wildlife in their own country.
But it would be a bigger shame if this was all the world would ever show its empathy and humanity towards.
Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for women, Her Zimbabwe, and is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter.
My uncle, Lovemore Dexter Mushaka, died in 2000 before the age of Google and Facebook. He was 40. For many years he was a legend in the family. He only existed as an idea. All I knew about him was that he lived in America. He left Zimbabwe in the early 80s with his wife and their baby. I was too young and vaguely remembered him.
He spoke on the phone with his elder brother, my father, constantly. Our connection was through postcards he sent every Christmas, sometimes accompanied by a box of new clothes and some American memorabilia. Opening the box was always an occasion.
He returned to Zimbabwe in the late 90s but he was always on the move, chasing his dreams or looking for the next big deal. Uncle LDM, as we called him, had many business ventures of varying success. Then we heard in the news like everyone else that he was starting a TV station. He named the station after himself, LDM Broadcasting Systems.
The government of Zimbabwe had decided to rent out the second TV channel to independent companies to shake off pressure from civil rights groups to liberalise the airwaves. Unfortunately, the arrangement did not last. The new broadcasters – Joy TV, LDM Broadcasting and Munhumutapa African Broadcasting Corporation – were soon switched off air, apparently because they defaulted on their rent payments.
As Zimbabwe was proving to be a difficult operating environment, my uncle shifted his focus to neighbouring Zambia. His company was soon granted a satellite broadcasting licence by the Zambian government to establish a radio and TV multi-channel satellite facility that was to be built in Kafue, a town in the south-east of Lusaka. It was set to beam programmes to the entire SADC region. Two years after signing the agreement my uncle was dead. He certainly had foresight for what was to come, the proliferation of satellite TV.
In Zimbabwe, the broadcasting industry has not expanded in any significant manner since 1980. There has been only one state broadcaster that has dominated Zimbabwe’s airwaves, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. Instead of the popular acronymic name ZBC, many call the institution, Dead-BC. Some places in the border towns of Beitbridge and Binga have had no TV and radio signal since independence. It is just recently that the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe has awarded radio licences to ‘independent entities and individuals’ all of whom have strong links to the ruling party, Zanu-PF.
Under the stewardship of Jonathan Moyo, state media channels increasingly became propaganda platforms. Stringent media laws such as Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) were passed to frustrate independent media and protect state monopoly on access to and distribution of information.
The political and legal environment made it near impossible for the entry of divergent media players. Government introduced a 75 percent local content policy to shut out external influences. Zanu-PF jingles, talk shows on patriotism and one-sided political programmes bashing the West and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change became the agenda.
Zimbabweans tuned out en masse. People started using Wiztech and Philibao decoders to decrypt South African signals. The free-to-air decoders, despite their illegal transmission, offered millions of Zimbabweans with alternative views and perspectives. TV shows such as Generations, Muvhango and Isidingo gained cult-like followings.
It is estimated that more than three million Zimbabweans used the free-to-air decoders to access foreign channels rather than subject themselves to Zanu-PF propaganda and the general poor programming on ZBC. A few well-to-do families subscribed to Digital Satellite Television (DStv). According to the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry report on the state of media in Zimbabwe released in March, Zimbabweans generally regard both public and private media as manifestly corrupt and designed for disinformation, propaganda and information cover-up.
The government’s reluctance to speed up the switch from analogue to digital has been widely viewed as political. In an ideal situation, digital migration will foster media pluralism or diversity by enabling the broadcasting of more channels with a wider range of programming. As a result viewers and listeners would be able to receive more diverse information and opinions.
My uncle’s TV station earned me a few points with girls at school. Its brief existence coincided with the time when I was finishing junior high school and slowly contemplating what to do with the rest of my life. I toyed with the idea of becoming a dentist or architect because I thought these professions would make me feel rich and important. But I had a natural affinity for writing and media and my uncle became an immediate example of the possibilities.
In January this year, I went to America for the first time to tread on the same ground as my uncle. Even though I have been a journalist for almost a decade, I felt it was time to step up and learn the business of media. It was no longer just enough to write but to come up with platforms that encourage and enable young people to participate in the national discourse. I also believe that young media entrepreneurs who develop new business models and innovative projects will shape the future of journalism in Africa.
The legend of Lovemore Dexter Mushaka lives on even though he still feels like an idea, a dark-suited dream that briefly walked in the streets of my youth. I only got to know and interact with my uncle during the last two years of his life but his ideas to enable millions of Africans to have access to information and quality journalism have never been more potent. It is an ambition I will fulfill.
Twitter was recently ablaze with criticism over Madonna posting a photo of her adopted black Malawian children, David Ritchie and Mercy James, rubbing her feet.
In the image which she posted on Instagram, Madonna is lying on the floor with the children kneeling on the ground in front of her, as they each rub a foot. The caption reads, “#motherlove… how I’m gonna get through the day. Mercy and David give the best foot rubs!! #rebelhearts.”
Regardless of the fact that Madonna has been raising these children as her own since 2009, some of Madonna’s fans and the general public found it offensive that she would post the pic of them massaging her feet. The photo sparked outrage on Twitter with where the argument was made that she is treating them as slaves.
On the other hand, there were also Black and Latino women who were not offended by the photo, responding that this is a “normal” act of love that occurs between a mother and her children, stating that they only saw an innocent expression of love by both Madonna and her children. Such a seemingly “innocent” act is by no means uncomplicated when it comes to Madonna.
Her preferred method of making the headlines lately, seems to focus on stirring racial tensions in order to get publicity. Last year, she caused similar controversy by posting an Instagram photo of her white son, Rocco Ritchie, in the boxing ring with a caption reading, “No one messes with Dirty Soap! Mama said knock you out! #disnigga.” In doing so, many of her critics wondered how then, was she addressing her black son, David? Her response was to brush them off as “haters”.
Given such a response, either the pop star is a racist or she is oblivious to historical and contemporary race relations or she is simply insensitive about them – all which are problematic for a parent raising black children in a world where racial hierarchies are still prevalent.
Another and perhaps more plausible reason was that she is doing it for publicity. Madonna – never one to shy from controversy – was very aware of the message, meaning and reaction she would get by posting both of these photos.
Why this photo angered so many
When a rich white woman from the Global North adopts poor black kids from the Global South, one needs to consider what the historical structures that lead to this situation are. This includes the inequality in global racial, social, political and economic relationships. When critics saw this photo it reminded them of these historical injustices that are still permeate our societies.
Although some who saw the photo commented that ‘racism’ is a part of the past, it is not and shouldn’t be treated as a relic in the backdrop of a world where black churches are target of hate crimes in the country of Madonna’s birth.
Colonialism is also not a relic of the past because neo-colonial relationships exist in this new global world order that keeps “Third world” countries poor and in need of interventions such as “aid” and “adoption” whilst protecting the interests of the Global North and its businesses. To some, Madonna’s actions are a simple extension of the colonial processes. She is an epitome of the “Great White Savior complex” in which a white savior comes to “save” Africans from themselves, their land, but causes damage to Africans along the way.
Madonna in Malawi
Since the day she set foot in Malawi, her entire involvement there, including the adoption of the children and the building of the schools has been controversial at worst and deceptive at best. Madonna has caused her fair share of damage in Malawi in her attempts to “save” Malawi. This has been covered by the media, including Malawian journalist Mabvuto Banda, who meticulously chronicles Madonna’s involvement there.
The star circumvented the country’s adoption laws due to her position as a rich celebrity from the U.S, the Kabbalah center which was affiliated with her charity was being investigated for tax fraud by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS); she hired a PR company who scapegoated Malawian employees for being “corrupt” when her money for her academy went missing. Prior to this, she had colluded with the Malawi government to displace villagers for the school that never materialised; and she then said she would build smaller scale schools but built a handful of structures, most of which were classrooms which she called “schools”. Many of her actions involving Malawi speak to a rich celebrity who feels very much entitled in her transactions with Malawian people.
Not that every single international adoptions involving rich white celebrities from the global north adopting poor African children is problematic. Madonna did not have a seamless Angelina Jolie-style adoption. It was a Madonna-style one – filled with controversy. In light of the aforementioned controversies in Malawi, when pictures of her using Malawian kids to rub her feet surfaced, it was likely to make some people uncomfortable. The photo was a commentary on much larger issues surrounding Madonna’s involvement in Malawi, and more specifically international adoptions there.
Rather than being quick to celebrate that someone has come and “saved” children who would otherwise have lived a life of squalour, we need to look at the larger implications of international adoptions for Malawi. There are “bigger issues” such as consideration for the welfare of adopted children.
Malawi has a real problem with international child trafficking where children are sold as sex slaves, sex workers or otherwise are exploited for their labour. Therefore, in a country susceptible to such dealings, when a seemingly ‘innocent’ foot rub surfaces, it may very well remind some people of the thousands of adopted children from African nations who are exploited for their labour under the guise of ‘adoption’.
Of course, many have argued that Madonna can afford to hire workers in the service industry to provide services such as massages to her. However, exploitation and abuse of children is not an invention of the poor, nor limited to them – it can happen anywhere and in many forms. The abuses suffered by MacKenzie Phillips at the hand of her own celebrity father is one example of how money is not a determinant of parental abuse.
To argue that it is impossible for a rich celebrity to abuse the labour or services of a child is simply absurd – particularly a child that they adopted. The whole situation was strangely reminiscent of Cinderella – with Madonna in the role of the evil step mother who works her adopted step child to the bone. Although unlikely, one can only hope that David and Mercy are not secretly living a life of service to the material girl.
Madonna’s actions are not benign. She knew what controversy she would stir by posting it. She has never posted such photos showing her biological children doing this. Most likely, the sole purpose for posting the photo was for publicity. The Instagram photo made reference to the hashtag “#rebelhearts” – the name of her new album. This speaks to an attempt by a celebrity to shamefully use race and privilege in order to get some attention.
Sitinga Kachipande is a blogger and PhD student in Sociology at Virginia Tech with an African Studies concentration. Her research interests include tourism, development, global political economy, women’s studies, identity and representation. Follow her on Twitter: @MsTingaK