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

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!