This is a blog about me and the things that make me laugh, smile, hurt or cry!

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Timeline Safari

Recently, I decided to migrate my Facebook profile to the new timeline, a few weeks ahead of the mandatory launch. If you are yet to read up on it, read this this article from CNET. After signing up to get the timeline early, I was able to browse through my profile, from the time I joined Facebook several years ago to today. What I found was interesting.

I was reminded of things long forgotten, but it also became evident to me that there were certain things that stood out that said a lot about me. None of it was a surprise, but looking at it chronologically showed me the patterns, cycles etc in my life. I noted a few of them down.

1. I use the word conundrum a lot

2. I love Zambia in September and Jacaranda blossoms (Purple Rain)

3. I tend to post lyrics from my favourite hymns, and while I know that I have favourites, I have never posted any lines from my top 5. However, there is one hymn that I would not list as even being in my top ten of favourite hymns. But, in the last three years, I have quoted the following lines three times:

I'm pressing on the upward way,
New heights I'm gaining ev'ry day;
Still praying as I onward bound,
"Lord plant my feet on higher ground."

4. One of my favourite worship songs is Offering by Third Day. The first line, that I have quoted twice is "Magnificent Holy Father, I stand in awe of all I see".

5. I have contributed to the misuse and abuse of the word Awesome! I plan to change this in 2012, as it is a tragedy the way we trivialise a word of such deep significance and meaning. How many things in this world GENUINELY fill us with awe? Very few.

6. Bandwidth, download capacity, internet speed etc is a very BIG part of my life

7. I share and comment on the film industry quite a lot

8. I often quote lines from The Big Bang Theory, especially those by Sheldon.

9. I get my news from The Guardian (UK) and The BBC News website. Other information comes from CNET (technology) and The Economist

10. I frequently suffer from food poisoning, and feel the need to mention it each time. Ewww

11. Often, I preface my updates with the words Ndipo (a Nyanja word) and Yikes (an English colloquialism). While they don't mean exactly the same thing, they are fairly similar expressions

12. I have many many completely random thoughts

13. My life (as seen through status updates) is a weird concoction of the incredibly mundane and the terribly exciting. Examples: braiding my hair vs safari adventure in South Luangwa National Park

14. It appears that I attend many weddings

15. My support helped Novak Djokovic to a great tennis year in 2011. I was really behind him from January to December.

16. I am quite fond of talking about how the little things in life are important and carry us through the rough times.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Post Election Analysis -- two months later

Of all the Development Discussion Group (DDG) meetings this year, there was one that I was loathe to miss and it was the post-election meeting. As it happens, I did miss it and I was bitterly disappointed at being out of the country at the time. That said, I did manage to jot down my brief post-election thoughts on my BlackBerry and email them to the group. That was one week after the September 20th elections, on the 29th. This is what I wrote then:

1. One Zambia. One Nation! 

If I was there I would have insisted on a "Viva Zambia..." I expect someone to do it for me. Seriously? Yes, seriously. I have never felt prouder to be Zambian than I am now. 

2. This was the people's victory. They spoke and the system, plus our leaders had no choice but to listen. 

3. We got change, but the truth is our people wanted to give someone else the chance to eat. We are far from knowing what a different Zambia should look like. Nevertheless, we are well on our way because it had been 20 years since we last saw what the people could collectively do. Zambia and Zambians then and now are different. Though we inch forward slowly, some gains cannot be reversed.

4. We have many examples of what happens when leaders illegitimately hold on to power and how common this is in Africa. RB could have used state machinery to stay but he instead chose to graciously step aside. This is of HUGE significance to him as a person, to our way of doing things in Zambia (let us not forget that KK did it too, as did Chiluba when his 3rd term bid was rejected) and it sets our young democracy apart on this continent.

5. The true state of our young and weak democracy is seen in the defections that we are seeing en mass. Also, we may be sore losers, but we can be even worse winners.

6. Zambia has the opportunity to have our first real multi-party state and Parliament. A genuine opposition that stands for something. I hope the current opposition parties learn from Michael Sata's example. For ten long years, he was the ONLY credible and consistent opposition voice from election to election and not just in the run-up to campaigns.

7. I have some doubts about the future because I know my own people and how we worship whoever is in power and also how power changes people --even those with the best of intentions.

8. However, I remain optimistic that the future belongs to the younger generation of politicians. The performance of Elias Chipimo speaks volumes.  

9. PF ran one of the best political campaigns and showed how the rural vote still wins our elections. They have been campaigning since 2008. By building their gains there, they added to the urban vote to make the total tally insurmountable. Plus, as I have said in other fora, Don't Kubeba must go down in history as political marketing genius. One could write a PHD thesis on this. Nuff respect.

10. A recent DDG discussion on Zambia's democratic journey highlighted the weakness of our institutions. This was never more evident than in this election. The riots were because of people's lack of confidence in our institutions. They know they are vulnerable and that our officials are weak. That we still depend on the strength of individual integrity to fold or not to fold is risky and dangerous. The institution MUST be stronger than the people who run it. Otherwise we are back to depending on a benevolent dictator or in this case, a benevolent bureaucrat.

That was basically what I thought TWO MONTHS ago. This is what I think now:

1. Zambians are Political Prostitutes:
I laughed when I read the headline about Chongwe residents booing RB, just weeks after voting for an MMD MP. It is not just our politicians and chiefs who are political prostitutes, we the people are just as bad. Can we actually be trusted? I don't think so. We are opportunists and will side with whichever way the wind is blowing.

I have been encouraged by the PF party faithful who have spoken out against some of the defections from other parties to the ruling party. Why? Because they know how long the PF was in the political wilderness and are entitled to look down with righteousness indignation at those who now want to ride on the coattails of the success others spent ten years fighting for.

2. Public Media
As a communication specialist, I have been heartened by efforts of our new Minister of Information, Broadcasting and Tourism to try to change the way our media does things. I say try, because some work cultures are so deeply entrenched it will take a very long time before our public media really understand what public interest broadcasting or communication really is. They simply do not know how to do it any other way. On the other hand, this is Africa. I imagine our journalists would rather err on the side of caution and continue with state propaganda as they have always done. After all, they know on which side their bread is buttered. Still, especially in the weeks after the election, it was refreshing to see, especially our national broadcaster, attempting balanced reporting.

3. A Man of Action
Our President remains a man of action. Recalling his maiden speech to parliament on 14th October, which was notable for some bold moves, the highlights for me were:
  • Proposed security of tenure on customary land. I would LOVE to be in that consultation meeting as this is such a difficult issue; 
  • A new constitution in 90 days, drawn up by a small technical committee. They should not fail the people, please. All we want is a constitution that will stand the test of time; that is not drawn up to eliminate certain people, but that is for generations to come; 
  • Decentralisation at last, with what looks like a decent intergovernmental fiscal relations policy. The budget did point to somewhat of a phased administrative decentralisation; 
  • Further chuffing of chiefs. It distresses me how little regard we have for our traditional leaders and it is about time the government gave them due attention and respect; 
  • A proper road network from district to district. This would really change things up for so many people. You can have decent public transport to everywhere. Telecommunications, electricity, water commerce and other developments will follow the roads. Could this lead to making it much easier for qualified staff to agree to be posted to rural areas once they know they will not be cut off for months at a time? I sure hope so; 
  • Splitting Northern Province in two. The province is huge and poverty is high. Perhaps this will lead to better use of resources to ensure they actually reach the people; 
  • Moving Southern Province HQ back to Choma. Hopefully, this will lead to a continued focus on tourism as a growth sector; 
  • Transforming Zambia National Service camps into youth training centres. As a youth worker by passion and practice, this was great news to me. Our youth are tired. They are not skilled or educated, they are unemployed and there are so many of them. We really needed this and I really hope that it works out well.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Butterflies On My Mind

Today, the 25th of November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. As a development worker, I have commemorated this day for almost fifteen years as it is the first day in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which culminates in Human Rights Day on 10th December. You can follows the 16 Days of Activism Facebook page here.

What I did not know until July this year is that the 25th of November marks the day the Mirabal sisters were savagely murdered for their part in trying to overthrow a brutal dictator and liberate their husbands, their people and their country.

Who were the Mirabal sisters?

The Mirabal Sisters - source

The Mirabals were four Dominican political dissidents who opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. Three of the sisters were assassinated by persons unknown on November 25th, 1960. The Mirabal women grew up in an upper class, well-cultured environment. Their father was a successful businessman. All became married family women. Minerva became particularly passionate about ending the dictatorship of Trujillo after talking extensively with an uncle of hers. Influenced by her uncle, Minerva became more involved in the anti-Trujillo movement. She studied law and became a lawyer, but because she declined Trujillo's romantic advances, he ordered that while she would be issued a degree she was not to receive her practitioner's license. 

Her sisters followed suit, and they eventually formed a group of opponents to the Trujillo regime, known as the Movement of the Fourteenth of June. Within that group, they were known as "The Butterflies" (Las Mariposas in Spanish) because that was the underground name that Minerva was given. Two of the sisters, María Argentina Minerva Mirabal and Antonia María Teresa Mirabal, were incarcerated and tortured on several occasions. Three of the sisters' husbands were incarcerated at La Victoria Penitentiary in Santo Domingo [from Wikipedia]. 

The Mirabals died in a ruse where their husbands were deliberately moved from Santo Domingo to a prison on the outskirts of Puerto Plata, so that when their wives went to visit them, the sisters were lured into a trap, specifically so they could be brutally murdered without witnesses. The sisters, with their driver (Rufino de la Cruz), were strangled and clubbed to death. To hide the murder, the bodies were placed in the jeep they had travelled in and rolled off a cliff.

The Dominican public did not believe the government's story of the "accident". Historians consider their murder a turning point in the downfall of Trujillo's dictatorship. Following the Mirabal murder, support for the dictator waned as the resistance gained momentum. The Catholic Church became openly critical of the regime. On May 30, 1961, six months after the Mirabal's death, Trujillo was ambushed and assassinated [SourceSource].

The Mirabals on the 200 note Dominican peso - source
While 25th November had been commemorated by women's activists in the Americas since 1981, on 19 October 1999, at the 54th session of the General Assembly, the representative of the Dominican Republic on behalf of itself and 74 Member States introduced a draft resolution calling for the designation of 25th November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The purpose of commemorating this day (the anniversary of the Mirabal sisters' death), was to invite the world to raise public awareness of the problem of violence against women. The draft resolution expressed alarm that endemic violence against women was impeding women’s opportunities to achieve legal, social, political and economic equality in society. The Assembly reiterated that the term "violence against women" would refer to acts capable of causing physical, sexual or psychological harm, whether in public or private life [UN].

A commemorative stamp from 1985 - source

So, by now you may be wondering how on earth I ever even came to learn about these amazing women. 

Earlier this year (2011), in The Lusaka Book Club, we read a book entitled, 'In The Time Of The Butterflies' by Julia Alvarez. I had never heard of the author, but I had come across some of the issues covered in the book while reading another book club title in 2010 called 'The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao' by Junot Diaz. Both of these books concern the Dominican Republic and the tyrannical reign of dictator Rafael Trujillo. As someone who prides herself on being pretty well informed, I was rather disturbed to find that prior to reading Oscar Wao, I had never even heard of Trujillo and the many evil and wicked things that he did. I never gave much thought to the Dominican Republic, aside from that it shared the island of Dominica with Haiti, it's much poorer and oft-maligned neighbour.

In this excerpt from a New York Times review of Oscar Wao, the protagonist, a lovable, overweight, self-confessed Tolkien geek and second generation Dominican-American living in New Jersey describes life under Trujillo in his home country from 1930 to 1961 as follows:

“Homeboy dominated Santo Domingo like it was his very own private Mordor; not only did he lock the country away from the rest of the world, isolate it behind the Plátano Curtain, he acted like it was his very own plantation, acted like he owned everything and everyone, killed whomever he wanted to kill, sons, brothers, fathers, mothers, took women away from their husbands on their wedding nights and then would brag publicly about ‘the great honeymoon’ he’d had the night before. His Eye was everywhere; he had a Secret Police that out-Stasi’d the Stasi, that kept watch on everyone, even those everyones who lived in the States.”
His 30 years in power, to Dominicans known as the Trujillo Era (Spanish: La Era de Trujillo), is considered one of the bloodiest ever in the Americas, as well as a time of a classic personality cult, when monuments to Trujillo were in abundance. It has been estimated that Trujillo's rule was responsible for the death of more than 50,000 people, including 20,000 to 30,000 in the infamous Parsley Massacre. The brutal murder on November 25, 1960, of the three Mirabal sisters, Patria, María Teresa and Minerva, who opposed Trujillo's dictatorship, further increased discontent against his repressive rule. [from Wikipedia].

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Julia Alvarez's book that inspired my decision to learn more about the Mirabals is part fact, part fiction. In order to tell their story, she has had to fictionalise many scenes.'s review states that: 

"Alvarez breathes life into these historical figures--as she imagines their teenage years, their gradual involvement with the revolution, and their terror as their dissentience is uncovered.Alvarez's controlled writing perfectly captures the mounting tension as "the butterflies" near their horrific end. The novel begins with the recollections of Dede, the fourth and surviving sister, who fears abandoning her routines and her husband to join the movement. Alvarez also offers the perspectives of the other sisters: brave and outspoken Minerva, the family's political ringleader; pious Patria, who forsakes her faith to join her sisters after witnessing the atrocities of the tyranny; and the baby sister, sensitive Maria Teresa, who, in a series of diaries, chronicles her allegiance to Minerva and the physical and spiritual anguish of prison life".
In the Time of the Butterflies is inspiring, heartbreaking and educative. It is definitely the highlight of my book club year and well worth reading.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is probably one of the most original books I have read in years. It is witty, funny, entertaining and educative. I highly recommend it. Did I mention it won the 2008 Pulitzer prize for fiction?
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz


Thursday, November 24, 2011

There is only ONE Masuka!

For a few years now, "There is only ONE Masuka!" has been my personal slogan. A number of people have asked me what this means. So, I thought I would share that this is for three main reasons.

1. For most people that I personally know, I am the ONLY Masuka that they know. A few years ago, when I last did a Google search for my first name, most of the references to Masuka came from Japan and other Asian countries. In Africa, there is a well-known hotel in Tanzania by the same name. In Southern Africa, the late singer Dorothy Masuka is the most recognisable example. Masuka is a common last name in Zimbabwe and coincidentally, my own last name is also pretty common there.

And then, Google has me -- Masuka M.

Contrary to popular belief, my name has no relation to the word common in eastern province languages which means to be set free. Hence, our national anthem in Chichewa translates the line 'Freely we stand' as 'bomasuka'. Officially, my family identifies our tribe as Luvale, which is after my Father's family. My mother is Luchazi, a much smaller, but related sister tribe. However, both of my names are actually Chokwe. My paternal grandmother, after whom I am named, was Chokwe too.

In Chokwe, Masuka has two meanings. The first is given primarily to girls. There is a proverb associated with the name, but loosely, the name means one who comforts children.The secondary meaning, primarily applied to boys is one who is skilled at preparing a calabash for use.

I do not personally know any other Masukas. The ones that I do know of are Zimbabwean (and Masuka is their last name). There are definitely more, but I have personally been told of three other Masukas known to my general circle of friends, family, colleagues etc. Two are male and one is female, but we are not personally acquainted.

2. St Augustine is quoted has having said, "God loves each of us as if there were only one of us".  As a result, I try to look at myself the way God does. I really am fearfully and wonderfully made and for that reason, there is only one of me.

3. Uniqueness is Overrated and I think that those people who are overly concerned and preoccupied with proving how different they are from everyone else are misguided and insecure because they are actually NOT that different from a couple of hundred other people in the world. More, if you count those that have passed away or are yet to be born.

There are now 7 billion people on this earth, with more being born every day. That means that there are many many many people who look like me, who act like me, who talk like me, who walk like me and who even think like me. But that doesn't make me feel any less like Masuka. I do not value myself any less and that does not in any way diminish who I am or my place or purpose in this world.

I LOVE being me. There is only ONE Masuka!

Since writing this in 2011, in 2012 I met one of the Masukas. She works in banking. A friend delighted in sending a message that I should ask for Masuka. I hurriedly corrected her mistake and she smugly insisted it wasn't. Later I found out why.

The same year I travelled to Kaoma in a village deep in a Chokwe area and met four Masukas of varying ages from Grandmother to great grand daughter.

The same year I got an email from a man originally from Congo DRC, living in Kenya who is also named Masuka and happens to have Chokwe roots too. He had always wondered what his name meant until he read this post.

In 2014, I encountered the male Masuka by email and met another Masuka who was the one I am most often confused with, because we both worked in the health and HIV sector at one time.

And so ends my Masuka adventures so far. There is only ONE Masuka!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What Kind of Change Do Zambians Really Want?

Naturally, with all roads leading to 20th September, we are all living and breathing the coming elections.
On Facebook, in conversations over coffee, in the queue at the supermarket etc, everyone is talking about how we want change and Zambians want to see a new government.

I wonder what this change really is.

Do we want a new government because we have a desire to see our country run in a different (and hopefully better) way? And, do we have a realistic and feasible idea of what that looks like? How will be know it when we see it? What are the steps our political leaders should take in order for us to know that real and lasting change is taking place.

Perhaps we want a new government because we are tired of seeing the same people plundering our resources? We know that mainly people seek election to public office so that they can take advantage of our weak governance and accountability structures and siphon public resources into their own and their families' pockets.  As a result, we feel that it is time 'they' shared and gave someone else a chance to 'eat'.

Or, we believe that there is a remnant of Zambians who are willing and able to make good decisions for this country, who are willing to put aside their own interests and those of their hangers on (ecosystem of friends relatives and associates hoping to get rich or die trying) in order to develop Zambia.

The Zambia that I Want:

Firstly, this country requires a new Constitution. One that will stand the test of time; one that is developed for my children's children and NOT in response to the current political climate or conditions. There is no need for another round of consultations, a constituent assembly or an NCC. All that is required is 8 to 10 knowledgeable people to draw it up and submit it to referendum or Parliament for ratification. If, as predicted, our next parliament will be a real example of multi-partyism, it would be a perfect time to adopt a Constitution for ALL Zambians and not just a few.

I also want to see a Zambia that values education and is willing to invest in our children from early childhood through to university level. We need our universities and colleges fully funded so that we can innovate and create our own solutions to our development problems. I want an education system that is closely aligned with industry and which rewards independent thinking instead of the current rote memorisation (how can this STILL be the way to pass at tertiary level)?

A national development plan or strategy that is backed up by legislation, policy, education/training and investment in key sectors. It is all very well to go around the country consulting people (and this is important), but hard and strategic decisions must be made about what we as a nation would like to focus on for our own development's sake. Some of these discussions and plans are already there, they just need more attention to make them happen well.

As a communication specialist by education and practice, I would like to see an end to state controlled media and instead, the rise of public interest broadcasting and newspapers. If our editors and journalists thought less about how to make the government and party look good, they might write more insightful and analytical articles. Despite what some people think, tabloid journalism exists in all countries (developed or otherwise), so some of the crap that is written/aired is not because it is Zambia, but on account of the deplorable state of journalism ethics and standards in the world today. However, in other countries, they have high quality journalism too, to balance things out. They have options, something which we lack in this country. NB: I note that we have independent and community media who are trying -- emphasis on trying.

We need to get more serious about fighting corruption. I definitely think that we have made a lot of positive strides in the last few years, but so much more needs to be done at all levels. So long as small-time crooks and petty corruption at village and community level continues unabated, how can we expect to stamp out corruption where hundreds of thousands of dollars are exchanged.

I think that we could do with a comprehensive transport and communication network. If the whole country was opened up for people to travel and communicate freely, so much more development could take place as the many development and investment opportunities could be more easily exploited.

We need to take maintenance seriously. I come from Chingola, once the cleanest town in Zambia. What we had was pretty good. If we valued prevention over cure, my hometown would still be a beautiful place. Once things become dilapidated and run-down, it is very expensive to fix them. But, if maintenance was something we valued, we would spend a lot less money trying to get stuff fixed and replaced.

Lastly, we need more accountability in all spheres. The Auditor General's report comes to mind here. Such exercises (important baby steps toward accountability), must count for something more than just being published. We must be seen to take clear and firm action regarding what is highlighted in the report. I know that the powers that be have taken some actions, but citizens want to see tangible evidence. This is what gives us confidence that our systems and institutions are working. So this one is probably a better PR issue. I actually think that people would be surprised just how much the government actually does that is good, we just never get to hear about it. Perhaps, we announce and publicise the wrong things. My point is that there should be no need for public outcries or donor pressure in order for decisive action that promotes transparency and accountability to taken. Members of Parliament, Councilors etc must be accountable to the people that elect them.

Related to the above point, I would similarly like to see a Zambia where ordinary citizens take a more active role in their own governance. So long as we allow leaders to get away with doing very little for four and half years, they will continue to do so. It is not for a benevolent leader to grant us effective and transparent governance but for we the people to demand it.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In Case Of Unrest... Election Day Survival Strategies

Last week, I was at my regular beauty salon and observed a sign posted on the door and counter that read something like this:

"We will be closed on Tuesday 20th Septmber for the elections and on Wednseday 21st September. The rest of the days in the week will depend on unrest."

As we gear up for elections, some observers have noted that Zambia is fortunate precisely because we don't know what the outcome of the election will be. In other African countries, everyone knows and election day is just a formality. Either people are intimidated into voting for the ruling party or the elections will be rigged regardless of what citizens, NGOs and donors say. Happily for Zambia, that apparently is not the case here.

There are those who firmly believe the ruling party will remain just that; and there are also those who are confident that Zambians are ready for change and will say so at the polls.

Others maintain that Zambia is in a good place because our young democracy has grown enough in the last few years to make rigging a lot more difficult than it was a decade ago. Technology of voting tools, training and awareness of election staff, monitors etc and the knowledge of the general public about the rules and procedures has advanced dramatically since the second and third republics.

Whatever the case, my visit to the beauty salon reminded me of the cold hard facts. We may be slightly better off than some other countries (whatever that means), but the reality is that in the Africa that we live in, civil and political unrest remains a reality. What does everyone do in the days leading up to an election? We fall back on the basic survival strategies that are tried and true:

1. You fuel up your car and make sure you have a full tank because you don't know what will happen to the fuel supply system, prices etc
2. You make sure your freezer and pantry are stocked with basic food supplies
3. You also ensure that there is enough bottled water to drink and that the drums and containers are also filled up in case the water supply is affected
4. You buy enough candles, kerosene/paraffin and charcoal, just in case the load shedding becomes 3 days instead of 3 hours
5. You make sure you have enough airtime in your phone in case it is not safe to go outside to top-up.
6. You even pull out your old radio that you haven't used in ages. This is just so that you can tune in to BBC at the appropriate time. Depending on how the results go, you can't be too sure if the local news outlets can be trusted
7. Lastly, but not least, you put your important papers and documents in order, in the event that you and your family must flee.

The way I see it, we cannot ever have free and fair elections until as Zambians we no longer feel the need (openly or privately), to resort to the above default strategies whenever election time rolls up. I strongly feel this will only happen when the citizens of this country have enough confidence in our governance institutions to know that justice will be administered no matter who you are or what you have done.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Walking Down the Streets of Soweto

"Bring back Nelson Mandela, 
 Bring Him Back home to Soweto
 I want to see him walking down the streets of South Africa tomorrow!"

The broadway musical, Sarafina! (also later made into a movie), made Masekela's song even more popular 
These famous words from the song, Bring Him Back Home by Hugh Masekela ran through my mind as we drove into Soweto on a recent visit to South Africa. It wasn't a tourist trip as one might assume. I accompanied a friend, who accompanied a friend who was invited by another friend to tag along while he visited his friend who lived in Soweto. That's a lot of friendships. Fortunately, the friend who was driving, understood that it's not everyday that a foreigner gets to visit Soweto (when not on a guided tourist trip). Hence my friend and I got to tag along with our other friend.

The FNB Stadium in Soweto (known as Soccer City during the FIFA 2010 World Cup)
As a Zambian, I am very proud of the role that my country played in the liberation of Southern Africa, and especially of South Africa. The comradeship that characterised our leaders' relationships in the 50s and 60s is perhaps something that can never be recaptured. 

June 16, 1976 -- Hector Pieterson being carried after being shot
Being in Soweto also brought to mind the Soweto Uprising of June 16th, 1976. In the rest of Africa, this day is commemorated as The Day Of the African Child as designated by the African Union (then Organisation of African Unity - OAU) in 1991. That day is remembered by the iconic picture of a boy named Hector Pieterson, who was shot and later died as police fired on school children protesting the government's newly introduced policy to teach in Afrikaans. We didn't visit the Hector Pieterson museum, but we did see the sign.

The museum is that way

We also passed by the famous Regina Mundi church, where many of the children in the Soweto uprising ran to for safety. Because public gatherings were banned, the church was the only place where black South Africans could legally meet. As such, many meetings and discussions took place within the sacred walls of this particular catholic church.

Soweto's Iconic Landmark Feature -- the Orlando Power Station Cooling Towers
The Orlando Power Station cooling towers is one of the most iconic Soweto images. They appear almost everywhere that Soweto is depicted. One tower contains South Africa's largest mural paintings, while the other is a massive advertising billboard. The towers were decommissioned several years ago, but they are the site of bungee jumping and other adrenaline sports.

Winnie Mandela's House
Naturally, we swung by Winnie Mandela's house too. There really wasn't much to see, other than the glaring absence of the Zambian flag. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and conclude that it was being washed.

Can you guess who the main residents of the Soweto sub-township of Lenasia are?
It was interesting to be in a place to which we were once all so connected. It represented an ideal -- that until we are all free, then none of us in African are free. Walking and driving through the streets of Soweto, so many things were familiar. It is Africa after all. From the roadside businesses and advertisements showcasing everything and anything, to the people gathered around a mechanic's having a drink. The hairdresser's is always a busy place and there is one on every corner, just like you will find grocery stores, churches and Coca Cola containers. The school playgrounds look pretty much like they do back home. Everybody avoids being crammed four-four in the back seat of the mini-buses that they call taxis here.

Slag heaps from years of mining are a familiar sight to any Zambian from the Copperbelt
At the same time, while a lot of what I saw was the same, it was also very different. Off the top of my head, two examples come to mind: 1. The varying levels of affluence within the township are much more evident than in Lusaka or Kitwe. 2. The dressing is quite different too. Women wear shorter skirts and dresses -- not as short as in town, but definitely shorter than back home.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Fifty-two Days to Go

Yesterday, President Rupiah Banda dissolved Parliament and announced the date of the 2011 tripartite elections to be Tuesday, 20th September.

I have always voted on principle. I don't believe in the whole "don't waste a vote" school of thought, which means everybody just votes for the most popular opposition candidate regardless of who the person standing is. This way, no one needs to take any responsibility for their vote. 

In our 'Westminster' or constituency system, each candidate is voted for by the people (as opposed to the party in a proportional representation system). In theory, this means that s/he is also accountable to the people. We are far from reaching this level of accountability in our governance system, but I do think that we have the right foundation to strenghten and build on our system.

In light of recent events in Malawi and earlier this year in North Africa, I am hopeful for peaceful elections and for a free and fair campaign period.

Hope often disappoints. In fact, the Bible says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick". Nevertheless, Hope is free and that's where I'm putting my money. 

Someone once said, "without pressure, there is no expectation". So, as I look up to the world with hopeful expectation, fingers crossed that I don't get spat in the face.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Thirty Years of Living With and Being Affected By HIV and AIDS

Who would have thought we would still be living with and affected by HIV and AIDS some 30 years after it was first reported? 

UNAIDS estimates that 34 million [30.9 million–36.9 million] people are living with HIV and nearly 30 million [25 million–33 million] people have died of AIDS-related causes since the first case of AIDS was reported on 5 June 1981. The agency has released a report, AIDS at 30 
The report found that in the third decade of the epidemic, people were starting to adopt safer sexual behaviors, reflecting the impact of HIV prevention and awareness efforts. However, there are still important gaps. Young men are more likely to be informed about HIV prevention than young women. Recent Demographic Health Surveys found that an estimated 74% of young men know that condoms are effective in preventing HIV infection, compared to just 49% of young women. 
In recent years, there has been significant progress in preventing new HIV infections among children as increasing numbers of pregnant women living with HIV have gained access to antiretroviral prophylaxis during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding. The number of children newly infected with HIV in 2009 was 26% lower than in 2001.

In New York, world leaders have gathered (from 8–10 June 2011) for the 2011 UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS. I am sure they are discussing how the heck the world failed to get control of this disease. I am pretty sure no one thought that it would be this big, be around for so long, nor devastate as many lives as it has.

At the same time, the doom, gloom, fear, stigma and ignorance of the 80s and 90s left many unable to believe that people could still have quality of life and be HIV positive. Many who were working in public health back in 1981 would have little idea that people would be able to live for decades with the virus. I would say that in countries such as ours, being ostracised because of HIV is rare. AIDS is just too prevalent in our society for us to ignore it anymore.

We are ALL affected.

Certainly, discrimination still happens and you don't get open disclosure of sero-positive HIV status very often, but we have surely come a VERY long way in our knowledge and understanding of what it means to be living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. This is thanks in large part to our founding father Dr. Kenneth David Kaunda who took the brave and bold step of publicly accepting the reality of AIDS in his own family way back in 1989 and ensured that Zambia would take a leading role in successfully responding to the pandemic.

I first became an HIV activist in 1996, when I joined the Anti-AIDS club at college. I transferred to the University of Zambia in 1997 at the beginning of the abstinence movement. Back then, it was all about condoms. The abstinence crew were ridiculed and struggled to find funding outside of the church. Then, George Bush and the Mexico City Policy (or Gag Rule) came along and changed the landscape of the HIV response. Abstinence became all the rage and the ABC lost favour and began to fall out of fashion.

I remember the firm stance taken by former Heath Minister Brigadier General Dr Brian Chituwo who was instrumental in making clear that government policy supported all the ABC options.

Some years after the Gag Rule was re-introduced, George Bush came up with another idea; the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) committed USD5billion over five years to AIDS related projects.

I also recall the first efforts to ensure access to treatment for all and the subsequent struggle for attention to prevention efforts (in my view, the most important aspect of the HIV and AIDS response). The statistics tell us that there are more people who are not infected with HIV and we should be doing all we can to keep it that way. At the same time, it is encouraging that we now have options to ensure that people live longer and healthier lives and are able to contribute to a productive economy, to society and to culture. If anything, the zeal, determination, drive and motivation of PLWAs at many times adds up to much more than the lazy and dependent attitudes of the apparently healthy who contribute nothing to our country and only drain it of limited resources.

Over the years, I have noted how we have had to change our vocabulary. We have learnt to be more inclusive and less combative. We try to judge and condemn much less. However, you still see and hear the ignorant refer to AIDS patients, innocent victims and fighting AIDS.

An unfortunate development over the last 30 years has been the increasing number of children living with HIV. The sad reality is that because this disease does not affect Western countries to the same degree, the level of funding and interest in research will not bring about huge rewards as the people who need the drugs/cure cannot afford to pay premium prices.

CNN has done a great 30 year Timeline of AIDS that is very interesting.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Africa Freedom Day

Tomorrow, 25th May is what we in Zambia commemorate as Africa Freedom Day. Many other countries just call it Africa Day. This year, according to the Inter Press Service, Africa Day focuses on Youth and Development.

'Africa is the world's second largest and second most-populous continent; it is rich in diversity, abundant in ethnicity and bursting with languages. Africa Day (25 May), which marks the founding in 1963 of the Organization of African Unity, now known as the African Unionprovides an annual opportunity to reflect on the challenges and achievements of the Governments and peoples of Africa.
This year Africa Day will be celebrated all over the continent and in the Diaspora under the theme: “Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development’’. Africa Day is a day designated specifically to the celebration of African diversity and success.  It is an opportunity to acknowledge the progress that African countries have made, while reflecting on the challenges faced in a global environment'.
 The statue can be viewed at the Government Complex in Lusaka

To be honest, I have never really sat down to think about what Africa Freedom Day means to me. I, like many others, simply put it down to being another public holiday when I can kick back and relax. And yet, it grieves me that our society (and this includes the government), does very little to add meaning to what should be a sacred day. The survivors of the holocaust vowed to keep on telling their stories so that the world would "Never Forget". What are our African stories that we should choose to never forget? What does our Independence Day mean to us in 2011. Do we even remember what it was for and the price others paid to set us free? What about Heroes and Unity day? What is that all about, other than being Trade Fair weekend? Our flag independence may mean little with the hindsight of 50plus years, but if given a choice, who would choose to turn back the clock an remain in oppression, ruled by invaders from a distant land. 

As a Zambian, I should never forget the proud heritage of my country in setting this continent on the road to freedom. However, as a young person living in the 21st century, I want history to remember Zambia for what we did to take Africa and it's people forward. We should not forget the past, but neither should we always look back on it with doe-eyed fondness. We have so much more work to do to tackle poverty, disease, corruption,  dependency ...the list goes ever on. 

Nevertheless, one day, Zambia Shall Be Free!

Picture: Lusaka Times

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Football Fanaticism vs Patriotism

Recently, I got into an online discussion with a friend about football. He and I support opposing teams in the English Premier League. Our conversation turned to the unhappy fact that many supposed football fans are unable to have a rational conversation about the sport or their team with other supporters. This was prompted by my posting a comment about our Manager, who accused the opponents in the upcoming match of being obsessed with the Champion's league. I assured my friend that I consider myself to be one of the few enlightened football supporters.

For those in doubt about where my football 'allegiance' lies

I love my team, but I see no need to insult other people because they support another team. Do people have nothing else to do with their lives than engage in fake and extremely contrived rivalry that is just plain ridiculous.

If more people in Zambia applied as much passion, loyalty, dedication, time, effort, energy and finances to the state and welfare of our nation, as they do to football, Zambia would be a great country indeed. Fathers would spend more time with their children and many a bar would go out of business (no major loss in my book -- perhaps HIV and gender based violence would conversely reduce also). If our political and corporate leaders were half as interested in development as they are in football, we would be a middle income country right now and not by 2030. Our national football team rarely struggles to raise funds from the national budget or from big business sponsors. At the same time, if we invested a fraction of the time and money that we do in foreign football into the local game, our national team would a have a steady supply of quality players. Then, perhaps I would consider the Chipolopolo Boys as deserving of my devoted attention. 

It distresses me that people get so emotional about football, but not many of the injustices we see around us everyday. If we were as patriotic as we are blind supporters of football clubs, to the point of insulting or beating up other fans after the loss of our team, our country would be in a much better place. And patriotism is not the same as supporting the national team. We are so forgiving of football teams, players, managers etc, but are so quick to jump ship and abandon our country (figuratively or physically) when things get rough. We take time to plan our schedules and finances around the sport, but will not go out of our way to support local businesses and products. A mediocre and under-performing team still gets people crammed into a bar to watch another defeat.

Don't get me wrong, I am a loyal (but informed and rational) football and Manchester United fan. I went to the world cup in South Africa, for the love of the game. But honestly, some football supporters need to get a life. 

It is for this reason, that I rarely have football conversations with the unenlightened and ignorant majority of football supporters.


Friday, March 25, 2011

A Vital Voice

This short video inspired me and brought tears to my eyes. It is sad that girls must bargain in order to have a better life. But, what I have learned from this, is that the smart person uses the resources available to them to make a better life.

In many instances, we work against harmful cultural practices, but examples like this show that everything can be turned to one's advantage. The one who comes before sunrise, brings good news. Wow!

Monday, March 14, 2011

"We Are Tomorrow's Zambia"

This past Youth Day, on 12th March 2011, our still happening, 74 year old president, sent us a message.

Yes, RB has a YouTube Channel.

I definitely like the fact that someone in State House is trying to communicate with youth in a language they think young people will understand and relate to. This is a good start, which the idealist in me wants to believe can lead to more dialogue and engagement with young people. And quite frankly, I don't see anyone else making the effort to communicate with me as a young person. And so, advantage - Banda.

We all want to be heard, to feel understood and to know that we have been considered -- that we matter. Every good PR person knows this.

Obviously, the discerning will see through such tricks. But, honestly, I don't think we have very many of such people around. In a developing country such as ours, the masses are satisfied with very little and that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly how our leaders like it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day - 100 years of Phenomenal Women

Phenomenal woman, I salute you.

I was inspired to write this morning, by the fantastic coverage in today's Guardian to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. It is a public holiday in Zambia. A small, token recognition, but every journey begins with a small step.

I had initially thought of writing about the many phenomenal women that have inspired and motivated me in my life, but perhaps I will list them at the end. Instead, I wanted to explore a little bit about the negative attitudes toward women's development and gender issues in Zambia today.

I live in a country officially listed as one of the poorest and most disadvantaged places in the world for a girl child to be born and grow up in. The lot of a woman in Zambia is not an easy one. It is even harder for girls. To make it to the age of 16 or even 21 means you will have survived many hardships. In Zambia today, many people have become tired of hearing about gender. There are many men (and very many women), who look around the offices and board rooms and on TV and see women CEOs, managers and executives and think that our work is done. Have we come a long way? Yes we have. But, we are far, far, far away from arriving at our destination.

How quickly we forget that the women we see in the offices and on TV are the tip of an anthill. I attended a meeting chaired by one of Zambia's prominent gender activists. There were many representatives from various districts in the country. One senior government official from northern province commented that the fact that she (my boss), was in her position showed that we now had 'gender'. Her response struck me. She said, "Do not look at me as the Executive Director and do not look at me on TV or because I write a newspaper column and think that I represent Zambian women. I am the exception!"

In a population of 13 million, those people who make it to college and into the formal sector are the 5% minority. Of these lucky few, much less than half are women. It baffles me how often we forget this. People ask me why I always talk (including frequently in this blog), about how priviliged I am? This is because in my work, I am always looking at statistics and I see myself in them everyday. What stands out is the larger number on the other side. If we who have been advantaged, think we have 'arrived' and that we can afford to say that "women must now work to be recognised on merit", as though affirmative action has achieved so much (when it has not), then it is a sad day indeed.

I am where I am on merit and perhaps because it was recognised by someone that it is important to give young women an opportunity to progress. I am grateful for that because I know I deserve every reward I have been given and I have earned every promotion or achievement I have received. I am definitely saying that merit is what we should strive for, but to think that we have somehow achieved equality because a bank or two has a female CEO is just plain ridiculous. We would be doing a great disservice to the many other women in this country to whom we have a responsibility to bring up with us as we go forward with our personal and national development efforts.

Yes, it is our responsibility. Intergenerational justice demands it.

When we pick up the newspapers or flick through the roll calls of history, we will see named women and many more unnamed, undocumented and un-photographed women who have fought battles for women who they would never know or see. Those who fought for our independence. Those who fought for a woman's right to vote; to be educated; to work outside the home; for equal pay and benefits. For the right of women to shop and travel and socialise where they wanted. Then are those women who challenged the way we dress and do our hair; who showed us how to sing, and perform, and make money. Those who set up their own businesses and empires. What about the women who reminded the world that it is not right for women to be battered, abused or sexually assaulted; who ensured that perpetrators of such crimes were punished? The women who fought for our health care; who fundraise for research into breast cancer and other diseases that mainly afflict women. Those who entered professions that were male domains and excelled. Those who pushed the envelope so that I would have the right to choose to do it too or not to do it if that was MY choice. I am grateful to those women who write, document and film the plight of women and girls all over the world who need to have their stories heard. Because many years ago women in England took to the streets so women could vote, I am a registered voter; and will make my choice count in our elections later this year.

Phenomenal woman, I salute you.

We owe it to these women to continue in this cause and we owe it to the girl in Chadiza whose parents would rather sell her off in marriage at the age of 12. Even though the Head Teacher knows this is wrong, s/he has no means to offer a definite promise of a better future should the girl not get married. What are the prospects to get out of Chadiza or rather, have a better life right there in Chadiza? It should not be about getting a fancy job in an office, but being empowered and educated enough to live a better life where you are. We know that every year of education a girl child receives adds to her own life expectancy and even more years to the lives of any children she may have. I believe that education remains the window of opportunity for women to better their own lives and ultimately the nation and the world.

Phenomenal woman, I salute you.

In this vein, I am starting a trust with a friend of mine, that will try to encourage women from my village who have 'made it' to give back and help the next girl. Now, it is well known that I am from the Copperbelt, a town girl through and through. But the role models in Chingola town are lining the streets. I am talking about my registered village in Kabompo District, Northwestern Province - where my mother comes from.

This idea was inspired by two trips I have made in my work. One was when I worked in Chadiza, in the Eastern province of Zambia. We had spent a week in a community doing a PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal), and when we asked the young people who they could point to that came from that community and had gone on to school and finished and then on to college and was working, who they looked up to as a role model, they could only mention one guy who had become a teacher somwhere in the next district. Obvioulsy, this was one small community/ward. But the truth is that I heard the same story in many other communities and districts and provinces as well. The most recent was in Kaoma, where the older women we spoke to were able to name one lady who is a senior civil servant and was very active in the community by coming back to develop the area and encourage others.

This project is not about those who are rich enough to have extra, but ordinary working women who make enough to get by, giving a chance to others. Even though we give support to our own families, there are always those who don't have connections or relatives in town to help them out. This is not a huge NGO, but just young women getting in a car and contribting money for fuel and accommodation to go and speak at schools back home to encourage girls and motivate them with positive role moedls who don't come from rich families but who are just ordinary women trying to do something for other women.

Phenomenal Woman of the last one hundred years, I salute you.

The spirit of ubuntu is this - I am, because you are, because we are. One hundred years from now, may I have lived a life worthy to be counted as one of you.

Phenomenal woman, I salute you!