Monday 27 February 2006

Nostalgia - An unfamiliar emotion

Accepting stark facts
And so this guy came up to us and suggested he was more African than all of us put together, I acquiesced my other colleagues took umbrage.
That signified an interesting analysis of pseudo-Nigerians in Diaspora. I use the qualifier pseudo- because it signifies a kind of attachment that could quite deep or generally lose with regards to how we identify with Nigeria.
It also describes those of us who have not been to Nigeria in at least a decade.
However, the difference was exemplified in the fact that though I was born in the UK, I spent 19 years from the age of 5 in Nigeria, hence missing a good bit of the race and deprivation politics of the 70s and 80s in the UK.
My other 2 colleagues had spent a maximum of 10 years in total between them in Nigeria.
The other guy (Gary) however was born in Kenya, spoke Kiswahili and pidgin English as well as some street lingo that sounded quite foreign to my “sheltered upbringing”, he had travelled through Africa and could even speak passable Yoruba.
What was most instructive of the experience was that I realised that with the African upbringing came a positive and sub-conscious affirmation – my blackness has always been part of me – encounters of racism offer me the opportunity to educate rather than take offence.
Fed him bananas - LOL
One notable case was of a Swede who asked if we still lived on trees; I forgot; you need a quick wit too. I replied, “Indeed we do, when King Carlos Gustav XVI visited, we put him in the highest tree and fed him bananas”.
It is debatable who was most overtly racist in that exchange – the devil however, is in the analysis.
Suffice it to say, I walked away with a profusely delivered heartfelt apologise from a seriously chastised man.
Now, I do not know of any visit of the King of Sweden to Nigeria, but I knew enough to appear plausible and truthful enough to deal with the ignorance expressed.
This also feeds into a crass identification label that people subscribe to where young men of African descent respond to the appellation “nigger”.
It is one thing to covert a formerly derogatory term to a term of association and community amongst us; it is another to understand that those who use that term outside the community do not use it in a positive context.
Then there is the repudiation of the term that retorts – I am a free-born African, what do you mean by nigger – exactly?
Nostalgic, what have I been drinking?
Besides that, I am experiencing an emotion I am not particularly given too – Nostalgia – I must be crazy. I still find people to speak Yoruba to, my uncle commends my African cooking as rivalling if not bettering fare he gets at home, and I am on the verge of losing my roots having spent more than half my life in Europe.
Most recently, I have been looking back at Nigeria and observing the machinations of government and social change. Blogging which journals experience and commentary about Nigeria exposes more of life to scrutiny and debate.
Naijablog for me represents an interesting assessment of issues and ideas that elicit vigorous debate. I have seen very few Englishmen adapt so well to life and culture in Nigeria.
In my case, for all the time I lived in Nigeria, I was viewed as the boy born abroad – it however meant that one had license to break many of those rules that “natives” would be seriously sanctioned for.
Was it precocious, daring, adventurous, irreverent, stubborn and determined, many of us British-born ones had away of beating that system when it came down to it.
One lasting impression I have is when a big-man business partner of mine rounded up all the staff in all his businesses including the one in which I had control and had them locked up for an alleged crime of theft.
I did not have the courtesy of being informed as I had just returned from the UK on a business trip. In the end, I went to the police station and simply told the officer I would not leave till my staff were released.
Somehow, my accent then betrayed me and I was told speaking Oyinbo (English) would not resolve this. It took one of my staff negotiating from behind bars for them to offer to release them on bail.
I signed the release papers having paid out a hefty sum that the papers clearly indicated was a cashless transaction.
I basically got fed up of the prospect of my heightened profile in desktop publishing then forcing me to have to deal with situations like this – greasing palms to get things done.
That signifies how much Nigeria had changed from the 70s through the 80s, when in times before; kids had bicycles to ride carefree into the woods without fear of molestation. Schools went on excursion to all sorts of places as part of the education process.
I could appear in the Joseph musical as Pharaoh bedecked in robes and ornate headwear. Bursaries for undergraduates were generous to a fault. We hosted the FESTAC 77 the Second Festival for Arts and Culture with great fanfare.
Getting a visa to the UK on a Nigerian passport took less than 2 days and a flight to London was NGN 115.00.
By the time I left Nigeria, none of that was possible again, my nostalgia recalls times long gone, and it is probably possible that one can once again make Nigeria what one once experienced many years before.
Suddenly, reality dawns and my comfort zone steals the prospect of an Africa Safari – probably a 2-week visit sometime in the summer.
Did I say Gary was a white guy?

This Ugandan Moses leads to the Demised land

Englishman abroad
Living in the Netherlands has me searching for information that would not tax my translation circuits about ideas, events and people.
I cannot say that I am the best integrated expatriate, whilst, I understand most of the Dutch I hear; I speak Double Dutch when I open my mouth, that the natives think I just dropped in from Mars.
Being European, thankfully, I am not under duress to master the lingo before I am capable of joining the job market and making my mark on society.
Hence, I find that my channel-hopping is really a hopscotch game from CNN through National Geographic, BBC World, BBC One & Two and Discovery.
All imported programmes on the regular Dutch channels are not dubbed-over with amateurish lip-synching as you find on German television, but daintily sub-titled in Dutch – if I do venture on to any of that fare.
Long-serving CEOs bring good returns
Anyway, it transpired that as I was about to bed-in with BBC World on air I heard something about someone failing to understand democracy. But for the fact that my bed has good surface area, I could easily have fallen out.
The results of the Ugandan elections had just come in and the eternal incumbent had taken the spoils after having been in power for 20 years.
As a basic research diversion, I went off in search of CEOs who have been around since year dot and it appears CEOs of over 30 years tenure have brought back annualised returns of over 30% over their tenures. Facilitators and improvers.
Remaining a CEO is a performance-based vocation that can have you voted out once shareholders decide that you are delivering good value for their investment.
These stakeholders are making serious changes to corporate governance and if they cannot remove the CEO, they would cause enough of a rumpus to get things moving their way.
Term limits are for the best
Political CEOs are a completely different crop, they have to go back to the electorate every so often to renew their mandate or be pushed into opposition.
Fixed terms allow for leaders to give their best shot to the job and then move on for others to work at it – the erstwhile leaders move on to other grand schemes of world peace and prosperity, hopefully.
The tactfulness of George W. Bush in bringing his father and the Bill Clinton who denied his father a second term together to work on disaster relief is utterly commendable.
Jimmy Carter who left the presidency in 1980 is still about helping fledgling democracies operate their electioneering processes fairly.
Death – the panacea to eternal incumbency
In Africa, we have the second term of the Nigerian president coming to an end and there is all this talk about a third term.
Too many African leaders have been in power for over a generation that the hope of change is the certainty of death somewhere hopefully in the not too distant future.
Nigeria was suddenly liberated from the shackles of tyranny when Sani Abacha kicked the bucket in the middle of am̩nage a trois allegedly; we all cried rivers of tears Рof joy Рwhat do you think?
Many a country would get deliverance from those demigods who live like they have found that elusive elixir of life and immortality – time will tell.
Soldier politicians
So, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda who seized power in a military coup in 1986 and only just discovered through coercion from aid donors a multi-party system accuses someone else of not understanding democracy – the effrontery.
Africa is full of smart people but we have for years been governed by those who could only attain power through the barrel of the gun and then suppress opposition through despotic means and they squander the life-blood of the land.
Understanding democracy includes not abusing your incumbency by allowing equal air-time to all parties during the electioneering process.
Unfortunately, it appears most opposition to these fossilised governments can only come from erstwhile friends and partners of the tyrannical government as differences lead to a Damascene conversion to better things about democracy, freedom, liberty and prosperity.
Breakaway opposition personalities
Such is the case of Dr Kizza Besigye who was once the personal physician of Yoweri Museveni – he probably took a cardiograph and decided Museveni’s heart is not in the right place.
Dr Besigye, never really had a good enough shot at the presidency, no sooner had he returned to Uganda when trumped up charges had Besigye incarcerated and running the gauntlet of the courts as Mr Museveni was free-wheeling on the future of his people.
Twenty years for the roll of dishonour
Twenty years is a long time to be in power, even if you have done a lot to change the fortunes of the country and its people.
However, we read that in 1986 Uganda was probably one of the poorest countries in Africa and we hear of no particular progress till the 90s based of copious amounts of foreign aid.
After 14 years in power, in 2000 Uganda qualified as a Heavily Indebted Poor Country Hurray! Apart from a handful of those countries, most of them have poor democratic records.
The unrest with the Lord’s Resistance Army still rumbles on having started in 1987 as AIDS has thrived and abated during the regime of a man who has really not moved his country out of the doldrums.
Mr Museveni protests that time is not yet up for him, after 20 years, he believes he still has much to offer and hence the constitutional removal of presidential term limits.
If you have not represented radical change for your people for 20 years, you cannot suddenly come up with great fresh ideas, especially when all executive power is vested in the presidency whilst the legislative and judicial arms of government are literal perpetrators of the tyranny beholden to the President through patronage. It is too unhealthy to countenance.
The George Bush Book of Democracy
This Moses is not leading his people to a promised land; more a demised land.
+        What gives any one man the right to think he is the best his country can offer for the governance of his people?
+        Why does every despot who has plundered the resources of their country believe so much in their unassailability that the most minor dissent is treated like treason?
Now we have to take democracy lessons from Yoweri Museveni – this world has gone crazy.
However, I cannot blame him, he takes a leaf out of George Bush’s book of democracy which is all about people going to vote – suddenly the people (Palestinians) vote for Hamas and democracy mutates to electing only those you are pleased to see in power no matter how corrupt they are.
In the last 4 years Uganda has come 88/91; 93/102; 113/133; 117/159 in the Corruption Perceptions Index – as the sampling has increased so has their position worsened progressively – this does not bode well for anyone, especially for the Ugandans under 21 who have known no other leader than this megalomaniac.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers two meanings for megalomania – one can easily award both to President Yoweri Museveni with honours.
1 : a mania for great or grandiose performance
2 : a delusional mental disorder that is marked by infantile feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur

Sunday 26 February 2006

The people are high on opium - VI

A personal Islamic excursion
From the time the cartoon saga broke onto the global scene 4 months after the initial Danish newspaper publication, I have tried to study the actions, reactions, retributions, violence and commentaries that have kept this thing running for over a month.
Having explored the context of the cartoons, my Muslim heritage and the concept of freedom of expression, I intend to bring this “The people are high on opium” series to a close with one essential topic for reflection – predicated on the sayings of Mohammed (PBUH).
Our debt to Islamic civilisation
First, I call to remembrance that Islamic/Arabic civilisation provided us with the basis of our present day Western numerals.
Also, whilst Algebra (Arabic: al-jabr) does have a long progeny, modern algebra owes its existence to works of the Muslim Persian scholar Al-Khwarizmi in 820, four centuries before it was introduced to Europe by Leonardo Fibonacci.
In fact, we owe a debt of gratitude to Islamic civilisation for developments in mathematics, ground-breaking ideas in medicine and the concepts of civil society whilst the Western world then halted the advancement of the human race in the Dark Ages. See References [1][2][3]
Carly Fiorina the then CEO of Hewlett-Packard gave a speech just after the 9/11 incident and she said this much.
The civilization I’m talking about was the Islamic world from the year 800 to 1600, which included the Ottoman Empire and the courts of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, and enlightened rulers like Suleiman the Magnificent.
Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to this other civilization, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians. Sufi poet-philosophers like Rumi challenged our notions of self and truth. Leaders like Suleiman contributed to our notions of tolerance and civic leadership.” [2]
The ink of a scholar
There was a time when Islamic scholarship made a whole lot of difference to civilisation as it has to humanity.
Nowhere is that admonition and call to a present-day Islamic Einstein most resounded than in one of Mohammed’s sayings.
The ink of a scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.” [4]
When I came upon this quote, I despaired about how some religious leaders had diverted viable Islamic resources from ink to blood and many who might have lived to become great scholars are shovelled down the path of becoming martyrs.
This saying of the prophet is further reinforced by this; "What is the best type of Jihad [struggle]?" He answered: "Speaking truth before a tyrannical ruler.Riyadh us-Saleheen Volume 1:195 [5]
Tyranny [6] is described in terms of oppressive power or rigorous conditions imposed by an outside agency or force. That would definitely bring the Palestinian struggle under the spotlight.
The sufferings of the Palestinians is grievous indeed, but one can say more blood has been spilt in the Intifada than ink in the negotiations.
Furthermore, in the light of the atrocious insult and slur that the Danish cartoons depict, we hear the prophet say; “To overcome evil with good is good, to resist evil by evil is evil.” [4]
This saying would probably appear in any other religious book and it shows how we all probably have gone astray, being lead down the cul de sac of discord instead of the open road of enlightenment.
Resurrect the age of reason
The context of this message is simple; it is time for the age-old tradition of enlightened Islam to come back to the fore, not that of fundamentalist Islam that skews the message and creates a clash of civilisations, but that which builds upon civilisation through scholarship.
We need the emancipation of scholarship that keeps the engine of knowledge cranking forward in aid of humanity and in spite of circumstances.
In quick-fire succession, we can see that the quest for knowledge is paramount for the Muslim as it is for all humankind.
Here are other quotes attributed to the prophet.
The acquisition of knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim, whether male or female.” [7]
I would suspect the Taliban got it radically wrong there, considering Taliban means the seeker of knowledge; as they kept females out of school.
Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded.” Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 2, Number 38 [7]
Has anyone gone back to the book to see that this pervades every strata of Islam? No better quote to state that extremism creates no perfection brings bad tidings and offers no beneficial reward.
Worship, without knowledge, has no goodness in it and knowledge without understanding has no goodness in it. And the recitation of the Qur'an, which is riot thoughtful has no goodness in it.” [7]
I think it is time for the protesters to reconsider their strategy, we now all know that those cartoons were insulting; however, in the light if all said and done, it is unlikely that Islam has been best represented by what ensued.
If Islam is the religion of peace; would the peacemakers please step forward?
‘Nuff said!

Saturday 25 February 2006

Tram 26 is running 26 hours early - NOT!

Conquering fears to learn anew
Sometimes I wonder if I would ever do a few things that everyone else does, except get married. Like learning to drive, learning to skate or rollerblade without the need for hand brakes and then getting rid of those ankle weights and aqua-phobia and going for a swim.
I never learnt to drive and that for many reasons. As a kid we had servants, housemaids, drivers, gardeners and security men.
My mother being a school teacher, lecturer and principal at various times in her career somehow managed to get us involved in some housework nevertheless like sweeping, cooking and washing up, however, with the mind that we should learn about service before we expect to be served.
I cannot say that served me well in boarding school, but beyond that, I did take away a few good tips and techniques for cooking and well pressed shirts. Ironing those pleated skirts was nothing short of torture, but I endured, whilst it lasted.
Car wash driving school
Well, as I got to my teens, all my age mates jumped at the opportunity to was their parent’s cars, a job the drivers did so well that it did not bother me one bit.
It transpired that the desire to wash was not so much about washing but the opportunity to start the car, look under the bonnet (hood – US English) and then move the car a few centimetres under vehicular power.
A gleaming clean car was enough to obscure parental intuition about the mischief their kids have been up to.
In the process, they all learnt to drive and drive well that their parents were confident enough to let them handle the car and consequently, the driver began to have a life; they had the whole weekend to themselves.
I don’t want to be a driver
As people of my parents’ generation were serious party goers; the children did get their parents to the parties, but the parties were gatherings of adults as the children got consigned to the position of chauffeur, but with a bit of recognition – the host at times deigned to acknowledge the driver-child.
Given my crude prognostication abilities, I probably foresaw this situation so I ended up being an observer of the society around me.
When I eventually considered learning to drive, my father suggested the car was too big for a learner, it was a Peugeot 504 – you tell me.
Well, he seemed to know better, an occasionally annoying accountants’ trait, the number of driving lectures he had given his drivers are innumerable.
Mum’s fast and furious
My mother however has been driving since before 1969, she even taught my uncle to drive as I sat in the back seat of the car we brought back from the UK that almost ended up in a paddock  as it hit a tree with my mum in it – scary stuff – she survived but the car was a complete wreak.
I remember once, as we drove towards Lagos one afternoon, we were overtaken by a driver who then had his head sticking out looking backwards for minutes as my mother drove with indifference.
She never had road rage, but she was a deft hand at the steering, why would I want to drive, everyone seemed to a good at it, and I literally slept off in anything that moved – probably a birth defect.
So, it was no surprise that I was not a witness to an accident I was involved in, at least my father knew he could not rely on me to help the driver out of his predicament.
A technical taxi driver
When I moved to the UK, most of the Field Engineer jobs were like glorified taxi-driver duties which just involved computer board-swapping on client sites; you were not paid to deduce just switch; power on and leave – not a job for me.
In Nigeria then, we never had the luxury of swapping boards, rather, you found out what the faulty component was through troubleshooting and warmed up your soldering iron to replace that part.
At least that was possible with IBM PC computers and Apple II computers till those got too sophisticated for user serviceable parts.
In London, the essential thing was living near the tube, the choice of several tube lines meant you eventually got where you were going.
Tardy city transport
When I died in Ipswich (well, you cannot live there) for 2 years, I only had to walk to work and after my job returned to London, commuting straight into the City meant I got to work earlier than those who lived in London even though I was 75 miles out of London. Such is the beauty of public transport.
So here in Amsterdam, just as they were about to launch Tram 26 to the Central Station in May 2005 all buses that served the Central Station from just outside my block were withdrawn from December 2004 – 5 in all.
This service must have affected up to 5,000 people but, not one protest did I hear from anyone – boy! They do get away with a lot when it comes to atrocious customer service.
Then Tram 26 was launched the newest trams service in Amsterdam and you could not correlate the timetables with the electronic sign which were out of phase with arriving trains.
The public address system just parrots the falsehood on the signs.  What frustration!
How could there be 12 minutes between trains and the electronic signs indicate 26 minutes only for the train to arrive 19 minutes later?
The other day, I indicator was on 4 minutes for 20 minutes, I would have better vented my spleen with a brisk walk to the station.
So imagine my amazement when that unreliable timetable panel was replaced with a cut-price advertisement to London in your car on the ferry.
Public transport can only get better.

Friday 24 February 2006

The people are high on opium - V

Still more cartoon deaths
Cut to Nigeria and the cartoon row has claimed quite a few more lives in the Muslim north and retributions in the Christian south.
We need to return to this free speech dialogue again and see what the exercise of rights entails without consideration of the possible consequences of that action and the ensuing responsibilities.
We, in the West do have democratic principles that enshrine and ensure a clutch of freedoms which includes expression, life and association amongst others.
Our secular society
Our constitutional, societal, legal and political heritage is Judeo-Christian in precept, example and context even though the separation of church and state presents Western societies as nominally secular.
The only part of contemporary Europe that has an inkling of any Islamic heritage is Spain through the Moorish occupation of Andalusia, whilst the architecture remains, Spain is still one of the most Christian-conservative countries on mainland Europe.
In general, all people of all races and religious persuasion have to subscribe to the basic secular law of the land; in Europe, neither Sharia nor Moses’ law holds any kind of precedent; no, not in European society.
It is therefore incumbent on citizens and residents to seek redress through the due process of law either criminal or civil if they are aggrieved; no matter the magnitude of hurt suffered.
Not so much an Arctic rag
However, we should look at the actions of the Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten newspaper which was founded 1871 and is generally considered Liberal-Conservative with a contemporary penchant for right-wing immigration commentary and an early Twentieth Century history that has paid lip-service to fascism, Nazism and despotic governments.
However, it would be unfair to prejudge the newspaper on those views though its opinion is generally right-wing in perspective.
In arguing for why they published the cartoons, it is understandable that people have been afraid to publish Islamic material for the fear of exciting fundamentalist backlash.
It is also commendable that the newspaper decided to open up debate on these issues through commissioning copy that resulted in the cartoon depictions.
Serious food for thought
However, in the light of prevailing events we can assess the position the newspaper took and create the following food for thought
+        With a history as theirs, this project would have done well to incense, annoy and inflame those fundamentalists
+        They commissioned material for a subject that they have no particular experience of; Denmark is hardly Islamic – for instance, do they have a religious correspondent with an Islamic background?
+        The material could have had more credibility if the publication included intellectual input from Islamic scholars on the issues they wanted to address – indeed, there is a dearth of conventional Western teaching material for the Islamic tutelage of children.
+        They underestimated the impact their material would have on their potential audience – Danish imams probably never read the newspaper but they caught on this edition.
+        They lost control of the context they were trying to convey such that others were able to hijack their message and then manipulate it for more ulterior motives – A few more dastardly and despicable cartoon depictions were added to original set to incense the global campaign of outrage.
+        They ignored the fact that every freedom of expression includes an implicit responsibility for the consequences of free-agent actions especially in a global context – How would they account for the consequent loss of life and business stemming from this freedom of expression?
+        Adherents of Islam (1.2 billions) are not a race confined to some geographical location, they are everywhere, hence the global riots – Islam is not just about the Middle-East with only 18% of the global Muslim population, and there are at least 60 million Muslims in Nigeria – 10 times the population of Denmark. See Demographics of Islam.
Responsibilities underpin our freedoms
Technically, the Danish government has no need to apologise for the antics of the newspaper, but there is no doubt that that principled stand has had more far reaching consequences beyond that Arctic backwater.
For triviality sake, I might have the right to kick around a football in my back garden, however, if in the process of that kick-about the ball breaks a window-pane in the neighbouring house – do I expressly defend my rights or quickly take responsibility?
My view is that the right to the freedom of expression is sacrosanct and must be preserved, but in the context of understanding that rights entail consequences which could at times be immeasurable and unforeseen.
This is not a call for self-censorship but the need to engage all affected parties in order to create balanced copy that can diffuse tensions that might otherwise develop.
Where we have full knowledge of the facts we can express ourselves with authority, in the absence of that; opinion should have researched, balanced and considerate attention to maintaining civility; at the minimum.
Stepping up to full responsibility
Beyond the freedom of expression mantra, it is time for Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten to begin to think about the humanitarian respite they can bring to the suffering and damage the exercise of their rights has created.
+        Implore the Prime Minister to engage in their behalf the work of apologising for the consequences of their actions
+        Create a fund to help Western-Islamic discourse
+        Find out about every individual who has died as a result of the cartoon riot and seeking to alleviate the sufferings of their survivors
+        Devote resources to helping mend the fences that have lost Danish businesses years of painstaking global business goodwill
This is very much like mending the neighbour’s window-pane after that unfortunate kick-about.