Pambazuka News 285: Somalia at the crossroads / Zimbabwean literature: a nervous condition
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CONTENTS: 1. Highlights from this issue, 2. Features, 3. Comment & analysis, 4. Pan-African Postcard, 5. Advocacy & campaigns, 6. Letters & Opinions, 7. Blogging Africa, 8. Podcasts, 9. Women & gender, 10. Human rights, 11. Refugees & forced migration, 12. Elections & governance, 13. Corruption, 14. Development, 15. Health & HIV/AIDS, 16. Education, 17. Environment, 18. Land & land rights, 19. Media & freedom of expression, 20. News from the diaspora, 21. Conflict & emergencies, 22. eNewsletters & mailing lists, 23. Fundraising & useful resources, 24. Courses, seminars, & workshops, 25. World Social Forum 2007, 26. Jobs
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Featured This Week
This week we had planned a special issue of Pambazuka News, in collaboration with the Pamberi Trust, focusing on literature and poetry from Zimbabwe, with Brian Chikwava as guest editor. Then the US bombings happened in Somalia. Consequently, the content of the special issue have been moved to the Comments and Analysis section, and these are accompanied by a podcast and videocast (details below). We are sorry if our Zimbabwe colleagues feel down graded, but they can blame the neo-cons in the US for upstaging them with this invasion.
- Conflict escalated in the Horn of Africa this week. Harun Hassan writes on how the Somali conflict fits into the far larger narrative of the ‘war on terror’
- Issa Shivji fears that the US will “paint our lands red with blood”
COMMENT AND ANALYSIS: SPECIAL ISSUE ON ZIMBABWEAN LITERATURE
- Brian Chikwava introduces the special issue on literature from Zimbabwe
- Stanley Makuwe looks at what it means not to have access to basic services
- Nyevero Muza relives Operation Murambatsvina
- Christopher Mlalazi explores the consequences of dissent in an intolerant society
- Chaltone Tshabangu interrogates the social role of women in traditional African marriages
- Jane Morris argues that writing in Zimbabwe seems to be experiencing an upsurge
PODCASTS: features podcasts and video of Zimbabwean poets
PAN-AFRICAN POSTCARD: Tajudeen rushes to the defence of this 10 theses on leadership
BLOG ROUNDUP: Sokari Ekine looks at African bloggers comments on Sadam Hussein's hanging
WORLD SOCIAL FORUM: Tens of thousands expected at WSF 2007
CONFLICT AND EMERGENCIES: Links to news on Somalia, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Uganda
HUMAN RIGHTS: UN raises Somalia bombing concerns
WOMEN AND GENDER: The legacy of rape
REFUGEES AND FORCED MIGRATION: Management of internal displacement in Nigeria
ELECTIONS AND GOVERNANCE: International support vital to new DRC government
DEVELOPMENT: Africa might be China’s next imperial frontier
HEALTH AND HIV/AIDS: Breastfeeding and HIV/AIDS
EDUCATION: Africa’s schools are a scandal
ENVIRONMENT: Why Lake Vic Water Levels Are Dropping
MEDIA AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: What you didn't see on television...
NEWS FROM THE DIASPORA: Disaster in Iraq, Haiti, and Jamaica
PLUS: e-Newsletters and Mailings Lists; Fundraising and Useful Resources; Courses, Seminars and Workshops
Mobile phones for social justice: Call for expressions of interest
Mobile phone technologies have taken Africa by storm. The technology has raised new possibilities for activism by human rights and social justice organisations and for service delivery in fields such as health care, banking and agricultural information.
In 2007, Fahamu and Tactical Tech will hold a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, that will aim to enable those using mobile phone technologies in activism or service delivery work to exchange their experiences of using the technology in the African context and plan strategies to support their work. The conference will explore areas related to the use of mobile technology in the African context, future trends, best practice and available tools and resources.
The conference will establish an African regional network of those who use mobile phone technologies and facilitate an ongoing support network. The meeting will also lead to the development of a toolkit on mobile phones put together by an international team of practitioners with relevant expertise.
As part of the development of this initiative, Fahamu is conducting research to consult widely and involve as many interested parties as possible in the network and 2007 conference.
Fahamu would like to hear from you if you have:
- Used, are currently using, or planning to use, mobile phone technology in human rights and social justice work in Africa;
- Used or are currently using mobile phones in service delivery work in Africa;
- Developed or are in the process of developing technologies related to mobile phones;
- Plan to use mobile phone technologies in the future in Africa.
Interested individuals and organisations are asked to send an expression of interest not longer than one page to email@example.com with the following information:
- Name of organisation or individual
- Contact Details
- Nature of past, existing or planned work involving mobile technology, including a description of the project, the problem it sought to address and its successes or failures. Alternatively, we would welcome seeing any reports you may have produced (any such information will be treated confidentially if that is your preference).
If you would like to discuss this on the phone (preferably using something like Skype) please let us know.
It is envisaged that the conference will be held in May 2007. Funds will be available for travel, accommodation and limited expenses of invited participants.
Further information about Fahamu can be found at www.fahamu.org and www.pambazuka.org
Somalia at the crossroads
The Somali government and its Ethiopian allies – now backed by United States military force – have won the battle for Somalia. But the war cannot end without a political settlement, says Harun Hassan in this article from www.opendemocracy.net
Somalia's enigmatic conflict has taken yet another dramatic turn. As 2006 ended and 2007 dawned, after six months of political stand-off and military build-up going on side-by-side, the situation exploded into full armed confrontation.
The result was a lightning victory for the Ethiopian army and its Somali allies, namely the Baidoa-based transitional federal government (TFG) and the "freelance" warlords supporting it. Their adversaries, the militias of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), were defeated and scattered (and, from 7 January 2007, subjected to heavy bombardment by the United States air force). In the space of ten days, Somalia's political prospects have been reversed in the most unpredictable circumstances.
A conflict that grew from small, local beginnings has now exploded onto the front pages and television screens of the world's media, reflecting the sudden "global" reappropriation of the Somali conflict into the far larger narrative of the United States's "war on terror" (or "long war").
The latest developments on the ground, and comments by United States officials, confirm Somalia's new status as a third "theatre" in this war (after Iraq and Afghanistan). US planes launched a further wave of air strikes in southern Somalia on 10 January, following bombing raids targeting (according to these officials) al-Qaida leaders who allegedly have found refuge among elements of the ICU forces in the area. In a significant move, the European Union and the United Nations have criticised the US's tactics.
The US has named three men, whom they accuse of involvement in the August 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which claimed 250 lives: Fazul Abdullah Mohamed (from the Comoros Islands); Abu Talha al-Sudani (a Sudanese) and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan (a Kenyan). There has been no confirmed sighting of the three men in Somalia, though reports suggest that Fazul Abdullah Mohamed was killed in the latest raid; in any case, the anarchy in the country and the lack of strong central government have exposed its borders (air, sea and land) to all kinds of abuse for a long time.
The area the US planes are bombing is a large jungle stretching for about 200 kilometres along the Somalia-Kenya border where the ICU militias are putting up stiff resistance. The US's main military objective is to crush the remnants of the ICU to a point of no return. The ICU here may still have more than 2,000 men in arms and ready to fight. The Somali media report that Ethiopian troops on the ground took heavy casualties on 7-8 January and hence asked for the US bombardment. Ethiopian MIG jets themselves had been bombing this area for about ten days but are unlikely to have the capacity for the pinpoint strikes that the US's superior technology can guarantee.
In all this military escalation, it is too easy to forget that innocent civilians - including those already displaced by and fleeing from the war - are being killed, perhaps in considerable numbers. Some farmers of the region are also losing the animals that are the foundation of their livelihood. This situation has the ingredients of a humanitarian disaster that compounds Somalia's already endemic human insecurity.
Dispersal and retreat
The war for Somalia, then, has entered a decisive new phase. Even less than a month ago, the current situation would have seemed an astonishing outcome. On 12 December 2006, the commander of the then-confident Islamic Courts Union militias in Somalia gave the Ethiopian troops supporting the Somali government a week's ultimatum to leave the country or face being ousted by force. But even as he made the announcement, Ethiopia had (amid scornful denials of any such activity in Addis Ababa) deployed several mechanised brigades inside Somalia and prepared them for war.
On 20 December, a day after the ICU deadline passed, gunfire crackled at the frontline between the two sides near the Somali government's temporary base at Baidoa. A new phase of the war had begun. Eight days later, the Ethiopian army had (with their Somali allies) captured the Somali capital Mogadishu and other major urban centres previously controlled by the ICU. The militants of a crumbling ICU, losing one town after the other, were forced to flee further south into the jungle-ridden region bordering Kenya.
There were two crucial factors in the unexpected good fortune of the Somali government, which had been at the receiving end of a fierce onslaught just before the final conflict. The first was the ICU's underestimation of the power of the Ethiopian army. Between 8,000 and 10,000 Ethiopian troops were reportedly involved in the fighting, armed with US-made helicopter gunships and tanks, jet fighters and heavy artillery. This force, aided by 3,000 government militias, was almost twice as large as the ICU militias, armed only with AK-47s, machineguns and bazookas.
The second factor was that the ICU's tactical plan - to capture Baidoa and turn the battle into urban and street warfare (which most of its fighters are familiar with) - went disastrously wrong, as they were forced to take on a conventional army in an open frontline. Even so, for seven days neither side had made any significant territorial gains until the ICU's defences in the central regions of Somalia collapsed.
At that point, the Ethiopian and Somali government forces took the initiative and forced the ICU militias to retreat from Baidoa. Soon, one town after another fell and the ICU was never given a chance to regroup. On 27 December the Ethiopians and their Somali allies marched into the capital unopposed. ICU fighters had been expected to fight in Mogadishu and the southerly town of Kismayo; instead they opted to retreat, and perhaps for a guerrilla war from the bush.
On 28 December 2006, Somalia entered a new era.
Victors and vanquished
Three winners and three losers emerge from the latest battle for Somalia.
The first winner is Somalia's transitional federal government itself. This body is now expected to relocate to Mogadishu (for the first time since its formation in Kenya in 2004) to fill the political vacuum, backed by a contingent of African Union troops to be deployed in the country soon.
The second victor is the Ethiopian government, which executed a decisive political and military strategy by crushing the potential for the emergence of a powerful, hostile neighbour. At the least, Ethiopia has averted (perhaps for several years) the arrival of a Somali government led by individuals combining strong religious beliefs with nationalistic tendencies.
The third winner is the United States, which has for the time being won its proxy war against Somalia's Islamic leaders whom it accuses of having links with al-Qaeda and harbouring wanted terrorists (claims yet to be substantiated).
The first of the three losers in this conflict is the Islamic Courts Union. The ICU has paid the price of its political immaturity and rash decisions. The very strength of its militias compared to the forces of the TFG, and the huge territory it came to control in the course of 2006, proved a double-edged sword in terms of its capacity for flexibility and compromise (see "Somalia's new Islamic leadership", 13 June 2006).
The second vanquished element is Eritrea, which has lost a key ally in its proxy tussle with Ethiopia for regional influence. It has, however, been learned that Eritrea had no military personnel in Somalia (against UN claims that as many as 2,000 Eritrean troops were present).
The third loser is international diplomacy, which has lost ground to violence and the preference for military action. Somalia's latest armed confrontation could have been avoided if there had been honest and firm diplomacy at crucial moments. This failure casts shame on the international community as well as the immediate combatants.
The involvement of an Islamist group helped give Somalia's latest conflict an international dimension. Yet for months, the United Nations, United States, European Union, African Union and the Arab League chose to look on as the trouble escalated towards armed confrontation. These agencies may have had conflicting interests, and doubts about Ethiopia's deployment of its army across the border "in defence of the national interest" - but they chose silence or consent. Their attitude is a green light to similar "pre-emptive invasions".
Ethiopia and Somalia
This conflict has been depicted as a regional, proxy or even (in ideological terms) a global conflict. The deeper if less headline-friendly truth is that it is yet another round of the long history of conflict between the two societies of Ethiopia and Somalia.
Ethiopia's main daily papers have used the term "mission accomplished" after their forces entered the Somali capital. Likewise, many Somali media outlets have described 28 December 2006 as a dark day in Somalia's history. This gives us an indication why these two countries may be the biggest losers in this conflict.
There is a long history of tension between these lands. Ethiopia's ancient kingdoms - from the 2nd-century CE kingdom of Aksum - invaded and ruled many parts of Somalia. The Somalis (or "black Berbers" as they were then known) were pushed towards coastal areas where they enjoyed close, trade-based relations with the ancient Egyptians. Somali dynasties and sultanates thus experienced torrid contacts with their Ethiopian equivalents; but tension worsened even further when Islam reached Somalia in the 9th century.
In the early 16th century, one of the most catastrophic wars took place. A Somali warrior with a desire to expand the rule of Islam, Imam Ahmed Gurey (or Ahmed Gran), was aided by the Ottoman empire to invade Ethiopia and defeat the army of its emperor Lebna Dengel. Along the way he captured vast lands and slaughtered many people who refused to convert to Islam. But the Ethiopians regrouped and (with the help of Portugal) counter-attacked, defeated and killed Gurey.
Four centuries later - in the wake of the imperial "scramble for Africa" at the beginning of the 20th century - another Somali warrior, Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, took up arms against the British who then occupied parts of Somalia. To stay on good terms with the European colonialists, the Ethiopian emperor Menelik II joined the campaign against the Somali leader in support of Britain by invading Somalia's Ogaden region.
In an early stage in its own era of imperial retreat, Britain in 1948 granted the Ogaden to Ethiopia and asked the UN to consider other parts of Somalia for independence. Somalia launched military operations in 1964 and 1977 to regain this region, but failed.
It is this history which overshadows the current predicament and Ethiopia's presence in Somalia. It is a past that haunts many people from the two countries.
In practice, this may not be a war between two governments, because the internationally recognised Somali government is at present in a mutually supportive relationship with the Ethiopians. But theoretically and ideologically, it is also war between the two societies.
In this light, the political soundbites and the international dimension of the current situation are less important than this latest black spot in the relationship between the two neighbouring societies. The reason for this is that history will not recall Ethiopia's triumphant operation in Somalia as the work of two allied governments, but rather as one of the greatest military success against the rise of political Islam in Africa - if not the whole world.
War and politics
Somalia's president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, says that this moment is a new beginning for Somalia and a chance for the international community to help. The US, EU and the AU have responded. It is now official that AU troops will be sent in - perhaps as early as the end of January - although their mission's mandate has not been specified.
Ethiopia's leader Meles Zenawi says it intends to keep its troops in Somalia for only a few weeks, and to leave once the AU troops arrive - a position supported by the US and British government. But the victorious Somali prime minister, as he returned to the capital, says the Ethiopians will stay as long as the Somali government needs them to stay. This very sensitive option is a real possibility. Could it also turn victory into defeat?
There are two reasons to think so. The first is that the Ethiopian intervention is a diplomatic nightmare for the international community. When the east African regional states initially proposed - after long and painful two-year negotiations - sending troops to Somalia in support of the Somali government, they were careful to exclude countries bordering Somalia (Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti) - as all three had conflicting interests over Somalia as well as large ethnic Somali populations.
This view was echoed after the formation of the Somali government in 2004, when the transitional parliament approved the deployment of African troops but specifically excluded the same neighbouring countries. In December 2006 too, when the United Nations adopted a resolution allowing the deployment of 8,000 African forces in Somalia, these same three nations were again excluded. All this makes a strong case that the Ethiopian entry into Somalia violated international norms and legality.
Second, the three engaged governments - Somali, Ethiopian and American - will find it hard to change the perception of Somalis towards the Ethiopian forces, considering the circumstances of their entry, specifically if the situation on the ground becomes unfavourable to the latter (if, for instance, the TFG fails to deliver and insecurity continues to reign, and/or the ICU re-emerges from the bush).
There have already been anti-Ethiopian demonstrations in Mogadishu in protest at attempts to collect arms. The Somali government has now delayed the arms-collection policy indefinitely. Meanwhile, tension is rising in the central town of Beletweyne after the Ethiopians detained a high-ranking commander of the Somali government forces after he pardoned and refused to hand over the local chairman of the Islamic Courts to the Ethiopians.
The problem for the government with regard to the defeated ICU is that the latter carries no political stigma other than the allegation by the US and Ethiopia of links with terrorists. Thus, if it survives the current onslaught, it will not be surprising if some ICU officials reappear in major towns in a few months.
Present and future
This makes a diplomatic option continually relevant. The prospective deployment of African Union troops will also need new and creative political initiatives in order to reach a solution. The Somali government will have to act in a reconciliatory manner and avoid vengeance and scapegoating; militias and clans will have to be disarmed across the country on equal terms and in return be given guarantees of justice and security; the government will have to avoid disunity while trying to perform miracles of delivery.
The Somali government and its Ethiopian allies have occupied places where the ICU has ruled for several months with a substantial record of achievement: it implemented law and order, opened all the ports (along the longest coastline in Africa), rebuilt major government institutions (the presidential palace, Mogadishu's international airport, the high court, the prison, and the foreign- and information-ministry blocks) - and disarmed all the warlords. It is a tall order for the government, but even half of what ICU has managed in the same period would be seen by many Somalis as a significant step.
The military success of the Somali government and the Ethiopians, and the post-war deployment of troops, will count for nothing if no solution is found to the politics of one of Africa's most complicated conflicts. Any failure here will haunt African Union's military commanders who will have to deal with the political fallout, and the Somali people will continue to suffer.
Somalia, Ethiopia (and the US) have already made one major political error, by installing four warlords (none even members of the Somali government) to govern areas they ruled before the ICU ejected them.
This raises in sharp form the question of whether the ICU could make a comeback. Somalia's political process has been stagnant for most of the past sixteen years - dominated by the same warlords and clan leaders. The dramatic turn of early summer 2006 brought the ICU to a commanding position, which they went on to lose after six months. The present stage will see two major deployments of foreign troops within a short period. The chances of yet more surprises are real. Will one of them be the return of the ICU through guerrilla war, or in the form of another resistance group.
Two scenarios could contribute to the return of the Islamic Courts Union. The first is that the transitional federal government continues to rely on foreign support - from Ethiopia or other African troops, or both - but does not earn the trust of ordinary Somalis. The second is that the TFG does not find a political mechanism either to accommodate or to expunge the freelance warlords, thus making the restoration of security very difficult. The longer these warlords stay outside the government the more opposition groups are likely to increase.
The battle has been won, at least for the moment. Yet there is no sign that the war will end soon. Somalia remains at the crossroads.
• This article by Harun Hassan was originally published on openDemocracy.net under a Creative Commons Licence. If you enjoyed this article, visit openDemocracy.net for more. Original article link: http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-africa_democracy/somalia_crossroads_4236.jsp
• Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at www.pambazuka.org
Somalia: The Next Afghanistan + Iraq?
Issa G Shivji
Following US attacks in Somalia this week, Issa Shivji argues that Africans have constantly warned of the American military design on the Eastern seaboard of Africa.
On 9th January 2007, while we were basking in the limelight of Dr Migiro’s appointment, BBC reported that an American Air-Force AC-130 jet had bombed a site in Somalia near the Kenyan border. The excuse was the usual one – to destroy alleged Al-Qaida agents who, the Americans have constantly propagandized, are part of the Union of Islamic Courts. The planes flew from an American air base in another African country, Djibouti.
This is a very, very ominous turn of events. Africans have constantly warned of the American military design on the Eastern seaboard. Yet, our “leaders” have thoughtlessly been currying favour with this vicious military power. In the horn, the heavily militarized Ethiopia has become their ‘on the scene agent’, doing the dirty work of the American warmonger.
First, the Americans pushed through a Security Council resolution to send an African peace-keeping force to Somalia. This was only a cover; anyone could have seen it. The most important part of that resolution was not so much the peace-keeping force but the lifting of the United Nations (UN) embargo on arms sales to Somalia. The resolution provided some legitimacy – albeit fig-leaf - to the Ethiopian military presence in that war-torn country. Unilaterally, with of course the green light from the US, Ethiopia invaded Somalia ostensibly in support of the so-called Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
The TFG is a cruel joke. It is made up of former warlords who have kept the murderous killings alive in Somalia for the past 15 years. These warlords are supported by the US and the Ethiopians. It has simply no base in Somalia. No government in Somalia with even little roots could have ever allied with Ethiopia, which is essentially an occupying force.
Regrettably, Tanzania co-sponsored the Security Council Resolution. Worse, Tanzania is the only African country which is a member of the American sponsored International Contact Group. The other members are the US, UK, Norway, Sweden, Italy and the EU. The AU, Arab League and Kenya attend as observers. The contact group ploy was clearly meant to by-pass the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). No wonder Kenya was angered when Tanzania, without proper prior consultations with Kenya, agreed to be part of the Contact Group.
Ethiopia broke ranks with IGAD when it invaded Somalia. The US broke ranks with the Contact Group when it struck Somalia. So much for regional and international collective peace-keeping!
Who authorized the US to strike deep into Africa’s heartland? Let us not be taken in by the so-called Al-Qaida presence. This is not the first time the Americans are telling a blatant lie. They did it in August 1998 when Clinton ordered his cruise missiles to attack the al-Shifa Pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. The Americans said it was producing VX gas. In reality, it was producing medicine. Clinton knew it, but human lives, except American, matter little to US presidents. Again, Bush told a lie that Saddam was hiding weapons of mass destruction. He told another lie that Saddam was connected with terrorists. We have seen the results.
If we keep quiet about American military planes flying over African skies, they will paint our lands red with blood. Within less than a decade, the Americans have razed two countries to the ground, allegedly in search of terrorists. This air-strike is a curtain raiser to expand the Middle East War theatre to Africa. We forget this only at our peril. The US ‘war on terror’ is worse than the proxy-hot wars that the US instigated on the continent during the Cold War era. Now, it is fomenting and instigating civil wars in which Africans will fight Africans, not only across borders but within borders – Muslims against Christians, moderates against extremists, radicals against liberals. It does not matter to them. During the Iran-Iraq war Kissinger quipped: “Let both houses burn”! And when asked about the death of half a million Iraqi children due to sanctions, Madeline Albright shamelessly intoned: “It is worth the price”.
The US has just announced the formation of an African command within its military forces to “train African troops” to hunt down terrorists (meaning our own people). The truth is, and the American spokesmen and women say it openly – that the command has been set up to protect oil resources as 25 per cent of US oil needs come from Africa.
Somalia today has all the ingredients of becoming the next Afghanistan or Iraq. God forbid! The people of Africa must rise up to condemn the American strike without reservations. The youth of Africa must understand that the MacDonaldisation of the world is accompanied by MacDonnelisation [MacDonnel Douglas is an American firm supplying defense needs.]. Don’t be mesmerized by globalization.
Globalization is the most militarized phase of imperialism, just as it is the beastly face of capitalism.
• Issa Shivji is a retired law professor.
• Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at www.pambazuka.org
Links to Articles on Somalia
Pambazuka News Editors
- Somalia as a Military Target
- Conflict in Somalia: Islamic Courts Abandon Mogadishu as UN Warns of Humanitarian Crisis
- Why Did Ethiopia Invade Somalia?
- Somalia: Hold the applause
- War and Reaction in Ethiopia
- Somalia Victimized by U.S., Ethiopia and Their Warlord Allies
Zimbabwean Literature: A Nervous Condition
Brian Chikwava comments on the literature of Zimbabwe. "Thankfully, in spite of or because of the difficulties that Zimbabwe is going through, the turn of the century has seen a quiet adjustment in the publishing of fiction, giving new voices a better platform to be heard," writes Chikwava.
One can argue that great literary works are rarely about good sentences or syntax. Given a good literary mind, these are insignificances that will normally sort themselves out. More often than not, it is the pulse of the mind behind a piece of work that either turns it into a shoddy bundle of words, or a creation that will find resonance across cultures and connect people’s experiences in ways unenvisaged before. Such minds have been seen in geographically disparate corners of the world: Nawal el Saadawi in Egypt; Augusto Roa Bastos in Paraguay; Abdullah Hussein in Pakistan; Ngugi Wa Thiong’o in Kenya; Boris Pasternak in the Soviet Union; Steve Biko in South Africa; the list is endless.
Whilst this is a literary pantheon that many a Zimbabwean writer can only dream about belonging to, one hopes that perhaps an urgent pulse is entering the work of Zimbabwean writers, both established and the upcoming writers.
Thankfully, in spite of or because of the difficulties that Zimbabwe is going through, the turn of the century has seen a quiet adjustment in the publishing of fiction, giving new voices a better platform to be heard.
In this regard there has been amaBooks’ Short Writings From Bulawayo, Volumes I to III, Weaver Press’ short story anthologies Writing Still and Writing Now, of which a natural progression ought to be Writing Nervous, for it is a nervous pulse that beats beneath the face of any Zimbabwean, be it a writer or a crack lipped mother in the rural areas who knows first hand the kind of tricky relationship a child can have with its empty stomach, or a nurse in diaspora who dreads the text message from her family asking her to wire more money back to their family who find themselves increasingly unable to look after themselves in an economy ravaged by inflation, the unemployed citizen who braves the aquatic predators of the Limpopo to become an illegal immigrant in South Africa, or the firebrand intellectual who dabbled in utilitarianism of a Stalinist variety – advocating the tearing down of the social fabric and national institutions in the name of the final revolution, the third chimurenga – and now finds him/herself sitting at his/her desk; pondering the question of again cutting whatever is left of our national nose to show what we are capable of when push comes to shove. All are in a nervous condition; all are hostages. That includes the president himself, who held hostage by his own will, is nervous about the future. Nervous because although he may have seen the moral shallowness of imperialism, colonialism, global capitalism and mutations of such, far from raising himself above such moral conventions, he continues to live in a moral depravity that he makes up for by exercising brutal power over ordinary citizens. His would be a fascinating contribution to Writing Nervous.
That Zimbabwean writers of wildly differing opinions, whether inside or outside the country, find themselves moved to commit pen to paper in larger numbers, is a healthy development for Zimbabwean literature. And it is perhaps fitting and natural that such developments should be accompanied by the appearance of the above mentioned short story anthologies that have given new writers platforms to be heard. Gone are the euphoric and rather innocent days when the unknown short story writer had to look to the magazines Parade and Moto or the Sunday Newspaper supplements to cut their teeth.
Those were the days when Auntie Rhoda, Parade Magazine’s famed agony aunt, had the answers to all the citizens’ questions, from the challenges of living with alcoholic husbands to handling bad tempered mothers in law who were going through ‘…a mental pause’ (sic). Today the social pulse is a different one, the questions are bigger and perhaps true of Cameroonian scholar Achille Mbembe’s view of many a post colonial African country: ‘…a reality that is made up of superstitions, narratives and fictions that claim to be true in the very act through which they produce the false, while at the same time giving rise to both terror, hilarity and astonishment.’ No doubt there are still issues that Auntie Rhoda would still be able to take in her stride, but even she would probably quiver at the thought of an impending whack on the head were she to give answers that are sympathetic to one political ‘truth’ at the expense of another. Because of this, it is appropriate that some of the tricky questions be dealt with in these recent short story anthology series; the conversation can no longer be with Auntie Rhoda, but amongst the writers themselves.
Perhaps due to these and other developments, new writers have come into visibility, myself included. These include Stanley Mupfudza, Gugu Ndlovu, Andrew Aresho, Edward Chinhanhu, Chris Mlalazi and Lawrence Hoba among many.
Some have come into the public eye through the British Council’s Crossing Borders programme, amongst them, Chaltone Tshabangu, Adrian Ashley and Blessing Musariri, while from the diaspora poet Togara Muzanenhamo, Stanley Makuwe and Petina Gappah (who was recently shortlisted for the 2007 HSBC-SA PEN Literary Award along with Chris Mlalazi) are emerging. And to add an urbane and gritty realism to this cacophony of voices is a gang of spoken word practitioners like The Teacher, Manikongo, Lucius, Comrade Fatso and Mbizo who, through their performances at The Book Café poetry slams have over the years been creating another row in the choir, right behind such seasoned performance poets like Chirikure Chirikure and Ignatius Mabasa.
The names mentioned here are only a handful picked from many equally good writers. In the years to come, some will be able to tap into the national psyche and produce inspired and great works, while many more of us, will be lost in the fog of our condition. Today, with the aid of digital chatter, our perceptions of our epoch are set to multiply dizzyingly, and from this heap of words, facts, fictions, sophistries and startling lies, one hopes that something will emerge, something that will at least measure up to the past works of names such as Charles Mungoshi, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Yvonne Vera, Chenjerai Hove or Shimmer Chinodya. No doubt, the hurdles ahead are many, and the intellectual demands on the writer or poet of today are greater. Whereas yesteryear it was enough to talk of Zimbabweans’ suffering in the colonial era and during the war, today it is the fictions of liberation that must be put under scrutiny; it is time to ask harder questions, and perhaps soberly consider, creatively enquire and consider in our own different ways, such assertions as those of Czech born playwright Tom Stoppard who in reference to communism in Eastern Europe suggested that ‘…revolution is a trivial shift in the emphasis of suffering.’ To question continuously, put one’s finger on a nation’s pulse and at the same time hold the mirror to its collective face without flinching, one imagines, is the staff of works whose worth is not only judged by syntax or the number of adverbs.
This issue features work by some of the writers/poet mentioned here, who in their own ways, are questioning and revealing today’s Zimbabwe. In Chris Mlalazi’s story, choices evaporate, Chaltone Tshabangu revisits the hilarities of the traditional matrimonial arrangement, Nyevero Muza relives the siege, while in Stanley Makuwe’s story, the undead mothers, fathers and children of the revolution, threaten insurrection. In his poem, Mass Murdering Silence, Victor Mavedzenge (a.k.a. Lucius) is carried by tender memories. There is also some inspired poetry from the Book Café’s poetry slams on the accompanying podcasts.
• Brian Chikwava, is a Zimbabwean writer who lives in London. In 2004 he was the winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing and is currently is working on a novel alongside a short story collection.
• Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at www.pambazuka.org
Life In A Third World Mortuary
Stanley Makuwe looks at what it means not to have access to basic services from a point of view of dead people. Through a dialogue among corpses in a mortuary, Makuwe criticizes a government system that disregards the poor, while simultaneously, exposes a rotten system that rewards unscrupulous politicians whose only concern is to fly around the world and shop at the most expensive boutiques.
“What brings you here?” an old voice asks from the top shelf. A maggot crawls on the old body’s face.
“We are all dead. That’s what brings all of us here,” bellows a young voice.
“Is that how you speak to your elders? Young men of today have no respect. That’s why you die young. Long ago no-one of your age would be seen in places like this. We were healthy and strong like oxen pulling a yoke. Look now, how many of your age do you see around here? You die before you grow pubic hair, while you still have breast milk on your noses.”
Another voice groans and says, “Thank you for starting the conversation. Anyway what brings you here old man?”
The old body clears its throat before saying, “I have no family. I divorced my wife and she went away with my son. My parents said, ‘you are now a grown up bullock, you have to graze for yourself,’ then I left their home to look for a job here in the city. You have to know someone to get a job in this country.
For me I knew no-one. I was left homeless and jobless. I slept under bridges for many years. The cold weather kicked me to death. Someone found me dead and informed the police who bundled my decomposing corpse into a metal coffin and brought it in here.
“Government people appeared on the front pages of newspapers, on radios and television talking about the things they said they were doing for the people – donations of food and clothes to the needy, building houses for the homeless, providing free medical treatment to the underprivileged. But they had no money to look after a useless old horse.”
The stench in the mortuary almost chocks the dead bodies to a second death.
“You would put them out of budget. Fuel is now too expensive. Better one old man dies than having ten BMWs grounded,” a young body with says.
“No-one has turned up to claim my body,” the old voice continues, “we are becoming overcrowded in here. Do you think the president knows we are here? He is a great man, that president of ours. He wouldn’t let us suffer. Lucky are those who died when milk and honey were still flowing in the rivers of this country. I feel sorry for those who will die in ten years’ time. Sometimes I feel you are lucky, young men. You died at the right time, when there was still space in this mortuary.”
To the body on the floor, “what killed you?”
“Nurses and doctors went on strike for pay rise. The government said they had no money because they wanted to buy bulletproof vests, handcuffs, bulletproof cars, tear gas and batons, and to train more police dogs. Apart from that, the president was abroad attending to very important matters so they had to wait for his return so he could decide how much increment the medical staff would get, if they were going to get any. I heard he wanted to return but his wife said she wanted to do her shopping so he had to wait and help her carry her shopping bags. You see, he is a busy man.”
“They held fruitless talks while we took turns to die. It started in the first cubicle. I was in the fifth cubicle. I thought by the time death got to me the medical team would have returned to work but I was wrong. I held on for a while but in the end gave up. I couldn’t wait any longer. I woke up dead one morning.”
“We are piling up. I don’t know if my family will find me in this place. Who said hell is somewhere up there?”
The doors slide open. Deafening silence fills the whole mortuary. The sound of a poorly oiled cart breaks the silence, followed by heavy foot-steps and a thud, signaling the arrival of another dead body. The doors slam shut and the sound of the broken wheels slowly fades away.
“I can see a child. Why are you here little one?” enquires the old body.
“I fell sick. My mother took me to clinic. Nurse said I was too sick and I had to be transferred to the district hospital. There was no ambulance. Father put me in our scotch-cart.” The door opens again. More bodies are rolled on the pile. Other bodies shout words of welcome before the child continues.
“When we got to the district hospital doctor said I must go to the provincial hospital. There was no fuel for the ambulance. Mother took me there by bus. People were staring at me and mother. The whole bus was whispering about my sickness. At the provincial hospital they said I must go to the central hospital. We took another bus. When we arrived there was a long queue of very sick people waiting for their hospital cards to be stamped. Mother asked for permission to jump the queue. ‘You must have brought your child early. We are all sick here,’ a man shouted at her in a harsh voice.
“Our card was stamped but not before mother paid all the money she had been left with. We waited for doctor. When he came he examined me and said I needed an x-ray for my chest. We had to wait for the next day for the x-ray department to open. When it opened we were told that the x-ray machine was not working. We went back to see doctor. There was yet another long queue. At last we saw doctor. He wrote some medication. We went to the pharmacy and we were told the medication prescribed by doctor had been out of stock for many moons,” the child’s voice pauses as a fly buzzes around her body.
“Mother broke down and cried, ‘what do you want me to do with my baby. Help my baby please. She is dying. Help her please.’ ‘What do you want us to do? It’s 4 o’clock, we are closing now,’ the woman at the pharmacy said to my mother before she shut the pharmacy doors. She had no mercy in her voice. And I am here today.”
A rat runs across the mortuary. Female bodies scream but other bodies pay no attention. Women.
“Your story, child, sounds like mine. I lost cattle, goats and chicken trying to be treated. I went to witch-doctors and spiritual healers. One of the witch-doctors told me my brother’s wife had bewitched me. He took frogs and lizards out of my chest and bathed me in chicken blood. My brother divorced his wife.
One of the spiritual healers said my uncle had bewitched me because he was jealous of my successful life. He gave me cooking oil to add to my bathing water. It didn’t help. Finally, I came to this hospital. The doctors gave me water through the veins. I was semi-conscious when I heard one of them saying to the other, ‘these are AIDS symptoms.’ Days later I was dead.
“I had money. Real money. Not a few dollars in the bank but millions that could buy me anything in the world. I spent it with women of all sizes and colours.”
“I died when I was drunk,” a faint voice whispers. His eyes are wide open, staring at the derelict roof of the mortuary. “I was beaten to death by young men dressed in green. They said I was a supporter of the opposition coming from a party meeting.”
A woman’s voice interrupts, “I was a strong member of the Women’s League. One of those women who wrap around cloaks with the president’s face printed on them.”
The voice starts singing a song of revolution.
(Let us go and take the country. It is ours. Let us go and take the land. It is ours.)
It is a hive of activity as mortuary attendants take turns to bring in more bodies, fresh bodies, some with blood dripping down their faces to the cold floor. The mortuary attendants pinch their noses as they walk into the mortuary. The opening of the door brings in some fresh air making the bodies feel refreshed.
“You deserve to be at the heroes’ acre, woman,” an invisible body shouts from the far end of the mortuary.
“No, I do. I was a war veteran. A liberator of my people,” an angry male voice says.
“We both do,” the woman’s voice reasons, “we must be buried at the Heroes’ acre. I don’t think our president knows we are here. The president wouldn’t allow this to happen. Someone hasn’t informed him. Do you think the minister of information informed him?”
“How can you expect him to inform you about a place he has never been before?”
“Before I died I heard from someone that he is a busy man. He has a demanding job that keeps a minister busy.”
“What kind of a job is that?”
“It’s one of the greatest jobs in this part of the world. It’s about talking the truth on radios, televisions and in newspapers. You have to be a professor to hold such a high post.”
“Someone told me the minister of information has another job in the government as a spin doctor. You see, he is a minister and also a doctor. He is too busy to inform the president about dead people rotting somewhere in a mortuary.”
“Spin doctor!” exclaims a surprised voice, “what kind of a doctor is that?”
“You don’t know?” asks another surprised voice, “a spin doctor is the president’s personal doctor. He treats him of the stresses caused by being a president.”
“Doctors of today,” says the old voice, “let people die in hospitals while they work in government as ministers of information. They have no ethics anymore. Look at that girl’s nose. It’s rotting. If things go on like this, we will march on the streets. We can mobilize all other bodies in other mortuaries. We have to speak with one voice. Our ancestors said one finger cannot kill lice. Just imagine dead bodies marching on the streets demanding fair treatment in the mortuaries.”
A huge applause.
“You have spoken, old man,” the young voice says, “your mouth has spoken. You are wise, I must admit. We must not only protest for fair treatment in mortuaries. We must also protest for fair treatment of our living families.
They have been suffering for too long. The leader of this country is taking them nowhere. If it were not for his mismanagement of the country we would still be alive. Those with no wisdom believe he is a great leader but the truth is this country has been brought down to its knees by this man. I want him out of office. How, I don’t care. As long as we kick him out. The living ones have failed to push him out. It’s now our turn, the dead, to do it.”
“I support you, my friend,” says another young voice, “if we start our own opposition party we can easily win elections just like that. People want change. They don’t care who brings the change, as long as the president goes. They are prepared to vote for anyone or anything, even if it means voting for a donkey.”
“You must be joking,” says the female voice, “who would vote for a dead people’s party?”
“Other dead bodies will vote. In this country dead people are more than the living ones. If all the dead bodies vote we can win. Imagine this country being run by dead bodies!”
“You must be dreaming in your everlasting sleep. The country would be dead too.”
“It’s dead already, killed by a living person.”
Huge applause and laughter.
Five more bodies are thrown in. The old body asks loudly, “What brings you here young people?”
“Don’t you know there is a civil war going on out there? Can’t you hear the sound of AKs and landmines?” says a bleeding body, its voice full of fury.
“Are you saying you have just died? What for? For your masters? You die while they are busy holding endless meetings in five-star hotels.”
The old body starts to weep, bringing grief to the whole mortuary. As the bodies wipe their tears from their lifeless cheeks, a thin and malnourished body is brought in. It wastes no time in making its voice heard.
“My, my, my, I wish you knew what’s happening out there. There is a drought with a mouth full of long teeth; it is biting and killing the old and the young. Our leaders said the granaries are now empty. They are surviving by shopping overseas. We, the poor, can’t afford to shop overseas. Only two days ago, before I died I heard that our very own president took his family to a far country for shopping. Him and his wife and two children took a two hundred sitter jet to fly to the far country to shop. They diverted the route of the plane so that they could use it to carry their groceries. Those who saw it returning said it was full of groceries, even on the roof, like a bus going to the village.
“We, the poor, wait everyday for death to knock on our doors. It knocked on mine. I said to it, ‘come in,’ because I had no choice. I had nowhere else to send it because it had claimed the lives of my loved ones. My children died. We buried them last week. I died this morning. Only the strong survive out there. If the civil war misses you, drought makes sure it does not, or it leaves you devastated.”
“I wish I was a government official,” a tearful voice speaks, “I heard they have a nice mortuary. I heard it’s a mansion of a mortuary. A palace. The bodies bath and dress in suits. They get the most expensive chemicals, oxygen, perfumes and three main meals and snacks in between.”
To another decomposing body, “Hey, you have been quiet. Why are you not talking? Are you happy with your dead life?”
“I listen and take information.”
“Are you a newspaper reporter?”
“No, I am a member of the government’s secret agent. The way you are talking compromises the security of the country. I am not warning you again!”
Fear grips the whole mortuary and there is dead silence.
• Stanley Makuwe is a Zimbabwean writers based in Auckland, New Zealand. His short story collection, Under This Tree & Other Stories, was published last year by Polygraphia. He is also last year’s runner up for the BBC World Service Short Story Award.
• Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at www.pambazuka.org
The Siege (A sixty minute day)
Nyevero Muza relives the siege. “It was Kumarukesheni where the siege had assumed a brutal appearance. Those who had, when the times were still good, spread spurious roots into land they did not own and called that land equally pretentious names, or those who owned land by wartime credentials, were unceremoniously uprooted and their settlements instantly razed to the ground by ravenous fires or front-end loaders.”
As they poured into the school’s well-manicured grounds in their crispy winter uniforms, the children were blissfully unaware of the future that myself and others of my generation, as parents were conjuring up for them. In the sky a thick blanket hung, still smelling of years gone up in smoke.
The feeling of anxiety was unmistakeable, in spite of the laughter and chatter of a schoolyard. The siege was getting more pronounced by the day; seizing all those who tried to escape and throwing them right back into the centre. I turned my back on the school and commanded the car to join the slow, procession of other cars that unerringly and dutifully transported people from homes to their jobs in the offices and factories of Harare.
I inched forward until I discovered the cause of the agonisingly slow speed of traffic. An accident! A Nissan Sunny had smashed into the back of a VW. The owners, still unable to believe their joint lack of luck so early in the morning, were negotiating a truce at the side of the road. The police had been notified but having been informed that no one was injured, would probably turn up years later, panting from cycling Chinese-made “mountain bikes” to remove cobwebs from the scene of the accident and open a docket for yet another case of “driving without due care.
As I manoeuvred past the scene, taking care not to run over bits of broken glass and twisted metal on the tarmac, I promised myself that I should never have to find myself entangled in such a situation so early in the morning.
Further down, a snaking queue of motor vehicles of all shapes and sizes, now close to 2 kilometres long and still growing, was forming itself on the side of the road. The forlorn looks on the faces of the owners of the cars or their agents said that they were not looking forward to whatever they had joined the queue for. I traced the queue until it veered to my right and found its way into the police station where it disintegrated into several other smaller queues. The motorists were waiting their turn to be subjected to thinly veiled arrogance disguised as traffic policemen, which one had to contend with before having their car cleared. Those who knew someone or could pay the required amount of money did not have to deal with the queue; the policemen simply came to them.
As I eased the car into the road that would soon swallow me and throw me up right in the middle of the city centre, I saw people waiting alongside the road for anything with four wheels to rescue them from the tyranny of waiting, roadside dust and early morning sun. They thumbed for lifts, stretching their hands right into the road. I didn’t stop; they stared at me open-mouthed, unable to comprehend why a lone motorist should choose to abandon them like that. Didn’t I know that they had money to pay me for my troubles? Didn’t I know that they had jobs to go to too, and bosses to contend with when they eventually arrived late for work, as they were bound to? Didn’t I know that they too had, like me, families to feed?
On the other side of the road, women from the market waited with their prized assorted wares – tomatoes, shrivelled vegetables, onions, avocado pears, maputi – which they hoped to sell at a profit at small stalls back in the kumarukesheni and eke out an honest living for their families. Soon an old battered Peugeot 504 would pull up and inexplicably gobble all of them and their wares and take them back to a more familiar environment.
It was Kumarukesheni where the siege had assumed a brutal appearance. Those who had, when the times were still good, spread spurious roots into land they did not own and called that land equally pretentious names, or those who owned land by wartime credentials, were unceremoniously uprooted and their settlements instantly razed to the ground by ravenous fires or front-end loaders. Now these people carried their battered egos, some in their hands, some in hired trucks and yet others in ubiquitous pushcarts as they receded to the barrenness of rural homes to stare defeat in the face and face an uncertain future.
And there were the policemen keeping peace. Every tenth person you saw was one.
I expected getting into the city centre to provide some sense of relief for my harangued nerves, but the city itself was a sorry sight. It had been relieved of what the owners of the country - the murambas3 of this world called tsvina4: flea-market operators, black market foreign currency dealers, drug peddlers, flower vendors, street kids, prostitutes and common criminals all in one fell swoop.
Flea markets that had once been teeming with all manner of life were now deserted, empty shells that told a story. Hopes and dreams had been ambushed by a merciless clean up exercise and hounded to the periphery of possibility.
The erstwhile sellers of everything from cellular phones, cellular phone pouches, chargers, imitation trainers and oversized FUBU jeans had since retreated to nondescript corners to ponder their next move. What had once been flea markets were now flee markets, patronised by imperious policemen with jackboots, bloodshot eyes and uncompromising baton sticks. They had an attitude and knew how to use it. They turned everything upside down in search of foreign currency but found none.
Now all was quiet and all form of life was gone. The streets were empty, if not for the march of nine-to-fivers, who approached their sweatshops with a sense of trepidation.
I parked the car in the basement, amongst the neat rows of other cars whose owners were still lucky to have fuel, now a precious commodity that sent big men from pillar to post, from Q to Q at the behest of an SMS or a quick telephone call. My own car was fast running out of fuel and there was no telling which Q it was leading me to.
At the foyer, there was an impatient mass of people whose attention was intently focused on the only elevator that was still working – the other three had been cannibalised for spare parts to keep the one elevator going. When the elevator eventually turned up, the mass of people jostled to get inside, just as they did with the ETs.7 As the elevator door closed, it shrieked in despair.
I opened the door to the office to find that only one person had arrived. The rest were probably still stuck in some Q somewhere, wishing they would never have to go anywhere if it took so much trouble. As I sat at my desk at 0830hrs to tackle my share of the day, I could see the sun setting. The only light I could see was somewhere far away, beckoning frantically for someone to see it.
• Nyevero Muza is a Harare based writer and poet.
• Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at www.pambazuka.org
Say No Now!
Christopher Mlalazi explores the consequences of dissent under an intolerant society. Through the lives of Bakithi and Bongani, Mlalazi outlines what it means to be a dissenter, the unintended effects this may have on the family of the dissenter and the tragic consequences that dissenters face in an undemocratic society.
They had been moving across the river for some time now, when, suddenly, Bongani threw his hands into the air, and his body disappeared with a splash under the water.
Bakithi’s heart lurched, and he heaved himself towards where Bongani’s head had disappeared. Just as suddenly, Bongani’s head and shoulders erupted out of the water in a shower of spray. He gasped and spluttered water. He was clutching his now dripping wet bundle of clothes to his chest. Bakithi gripped Bongani’s shoulder. In his left hand he also held an identical bundle. ‘What happened?’ he asked, his breathing heavy.
‘I slipped on a stone!’ Bongani cried out, his left hand wiping water back over his head.
‘Be careful,’ Bakithi said, then caution took over as he remembered that sound carried easily over water, especially at night, and his voice dropped lower. ‘Come on, let’s go.’
The moon disappeared behind a large chunk of scudding cloud, shaped like the head of a snarling lion, and complete darkness engulfed them. ‘Which way?’ Bongani’s voice asked from the darkness. A night bird shrieked above them, the sound amplified, as if the darkness had tried to do something terrible to it.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Which direction?’ Bongani’s voice was faint. ‘I can’t see anything.’
‘What are we going to do?’
The stricken moon re-appeared. Bakithi quickly looked around him. He thought he could see the two banks on either side of the moon washed river, darker smudges in the darkness ahead and behind them against the lighter sky.
‘I can see!’ Bongani cried out.
‘So can I,’ Bakithi’s voice was solemn.
‘So let’s get going!’
‘Which way? The banks look all the same to me.’
There was silence, and below it the drone of mosquitoes that relentlessly attacked their ears. ‘You are right,’ Bongani broke the silence. ‘And we have no time to lose - remember the crocodiles?’ He voiced both their unspoken fear. He looked at the surface of the water, trying to see underneath it – but it was as good as looking into a mirror. And the part of his body submerged into the water felt so exposed, as if it was hanging down into nothingness.
Bakithi did not reply. Instead, he reached for Bongani's free hand and gripped it in his. And so the twin brothers stood hand in hand in the moon-washed chest high water, drawing comfort from their physical contact, as they had once done so in the sacred waters of the womb. Bakithi looked up at the moon, as if trying to draw inspiration from it. It disappeared behind another cloud, as if to disassociate itself from their plight, plunging them into darkness yet again. A shooting star defiantly streaked across a gap behind the scudding clouds. Bongani whispered softly, his eyes on it, ‘Protection -!’ and the comet winked out.
‘What?’ Bakithi asked.
‘A shooting star,’ Bongani whispered.
‘I also saw it also,’ Bakithi whispered back. ‘But it disappeared before I could think of a wish.’ The moon appeared again. ‘Listen Bongani,’ there was an urgency in Bakithi’s voice. ‘I think I can feel the current. The river is flowing that way.’ He pointed with a finger. Bongani held his breath, and tried to feel the water with his body. Was it moving? It felt, and looked, still to him.
‘That is downstream,’ Bakithi was saying, still pointing. ‘The east. So, if you face downstream,’ he turned and faced his downstream. ‘The South African border is on the right hand side. Let’s go.’ Without warning, Bongani disappeared into the water again, this time silently. Bakithi instinctively grabbed out. His hand fastened on a wrist. He felt another greater force pulling the other way, the water churned, a scaled tail flashed above it -and his heart went cold. The moon disappeared.
Bongani’s head broke surface, he screamed, and disappeared again. Bakithi still clung to his arm with all his strength, now using both hands – he had cast his bundle of clothing away. Bongani’s screams tore up the night whenever his head appeared above the water. Overhead in the troubled sky, the moon quickly appeared from behind a smudge of cloud, bathing the world, and the grim battle in the river, one of many in the world, in its pale light.
Suddenly, the force pulling Bongani the other way ceased. The hard pulling Bakithi was caught by surprise, and he almost fell backwards. He pulled the hysterically screaming Bongani against his chest, and wrapped his arms around him. ‘Go that way!’ he yelled into Bongani’s ear, pushing him hard in the direction he assumed was the one they had come from, where lay home – he was no longer sure now - the home they were fleeing from, that, the last time they had seen it, had been in flames.
Three days previously, Bakithi had jerked to wakefulness late in the night, to the sound of loud singing outside his hut. A chill had crept down his back, for right away he knew. Sethu had woken up after him, and she had held his hand in a tight grip, the whites of her wide opened eyes showing in the darkness.
‘What is it?’ she had whispered, fear in her voice Their one year old child, Sipho, who slept next to the wall so he could not fall off the single bed, had started screaming shrilly. ‘Come out, sell outs!’ A voice had shouted above the singing. ‘We are dead,’ Sethu had announced.
The singing was now an uproar, and the earth resounded to the stamp of feet. Bakithi had stood up from the bed. He had groped for his trousers on the wall, where he hung them from a nail. He had taken the trousers and, as he was pulling it on, a whiff of smoke had reached his nostrils, and a familiar crackle. Shirtless, he had rushed to the door and flung it open.
His mouth had opened in shock. Across the yard, the roof of his twin brother’s hut was ablaze, orange flames that leapt joyously to the sky, lighting the yard and the singing crowd in gold. Some of them held flaming torches aloft, like initiates of a satanic cult. A fleck of soot had floated past his eye, and he had looked up.
‘Hayi aah!’ He had grunted in further shock. The thatch of the roof of his hut was ablaze too! He had gone back into the hut, the light from outside now casting a faint light into it. Sethu was scrambling into a dress. He had grabbed the screaming child from the bed, took Sethu’s hand and they had rushed outside, where they were immediately surrounded by the singing mob, most of them youths. His mother and two sisters, his twin brother Bongani, also shirtless, with his wife and two infant children, stood in the middle of this circle. Tears streamed down the cheeks of Bakithi’s mother.
An elderly man had stepped forward, carrying a pistol. Bakithi knew his name. He was called Ninja, the leader of the forest camp. The rest of the group also carried an assortment of weapons that ranged from stones, sticks to iron bars. Ninja was dressed in green military trousers tucked into boots, a black t-shirt, and a black beret. ‘You thought we wouldn’t know, dog!’ Ninja had addressed Bakithi. Sparks crackled above the flames that devoured the huts, seeming to reach out at the stars that blinked in disbelief from the sky.
‘Why are you burning my home?’ Bakithi’s mother, maSibanda, had cried out. ‘Because of these dogs,’ Ninja had spat, pointing his gun at Bakithi and Bongani. ‘They will see tonight, stinking sell-outs!’ One of the youths had unraveled a poster in front of Bakithi. On it was written in bold red letters; SAY NO NOW!
‘This is your work!’ Ninja had accused the twins. ‘You were seen. Deny it.’ He had cocked his pistol. The twins had not replied, but just looked sullenly at the poster, Bakithi rocking the crying baby against his naked chest. Bakithi’s mind had flashed to the other posters hidden in the forest. Posters he instinctively knew they would never put up again.
Ninja had smiled, a gap toothed smile. ‘Say no now,’ he had said, then seized a burning torch from one of the youths and walked towards his mother’s hut, which was still untouched by flame, the torch held above his head. ‘No!’ the twins, their two wives and maSibanda, had all cried out with one voice. Laughing, Ninja had thrown the flaming torch at the roof, and the dry thatch had immediately caught fire.
A sobbing maSibanda had watched her two boys led away by the militia, and she wept fresh tears for them. Her husband had been taken exactly the same way by the soldiers a decade and a half ago, and she never saw him again. And that man who had burnt her hut had been leading them, although younger then. She could not forget his face, especially that gap toothed leer. It was seared into her memory with the hot branding iron of rape. And the crime her husband had committed had been ‘harboring dissidents’, although the said dissidents had forced their way into their kraal, forced them to cook food for them, and then, after eating, had left - after threatening them not to say anything to the soldiers when they tracked them there. Her husband had told the soldiers all this - with a gun pressed to her head – when they had come the following day on the spoor of the dissidents, but still, they had taken him away, just like a lot of other villagers had been, after Ninja had pulled her into a hut and forced himself on her.
The twins were force marched by the singing mob away from the village, and deep into the mopani forest, boots on their posteriors urging them on. They passed darkened homesteads, dogs barked at them, stones were thrown at them by the youths, and finally, an hour later, they came to the camp. It was a hastily made pen of thorns bushes, a few weeks - and terror - old, and they were thrown inside it. A fire was burning in its middle under a fig tree, with some other youths sitting around it, passing a mug of what was obviously the local illicit brew around.
Their hands were lashed with ropes to overhanging branches of the fig tree. Then, the youths still singing loudly, and Ninja, now carrying a sjambok, had stood before them. ‘Who gave you the posters?’ he had asked Bongani first.
Bongani had not replied. Ninja had regarded Bongani silently for a moment, and then he had turned to Bakithi. ‘Who gave you the posters, my twin?’ Bakithi had also not replied.
Ninja had held up his free left hand, and a joint had been instantly pressed into it from behind. He had taken a deep hissing pull, his eyes still on the twins, then he had held up his hand and the joint had been taken away. His eyes had still not left the twins, as if sizing them. ‘I asked who gave you the posters?’ he had finally shouted. The twins had just looked sullenly at him without replying. ‘Water,’ Ninja had said, and, as if from nowhere, two youths carrying plastic buckets had stepped before the twins. They had thrown the water at the twins, drenching them, and then stepped back.
Then Ninja had whipped their upper bodies, one after the other, with the sjambok almost to tatters, all the while accusing them of being ‘fucking sellouts.’ Later, the tormentors had withdrawn from the pen, and closed the entrance with a thorn bush, leaving the twins still tied to the tree, almost unconscious with pain. As the night lightened to dawn, the drunken singing and arguing outside the pen had died down. The fire in the pen had also been reduced to a few glowing embers and ashes, but the twins, faced with the ugly reality of unceremoniously visiting the underworld, were still wide awake in their bonds.
Then a bush at the side of the pen had moved, and opened. Bongani had been the first to see it, and he had whispered at Bakithi to look in that direction. Then an old woman had crept in trough the gap. A superstitious terror gripping their hearts, the twins had watched her approach them. She had got nearer, and they had both recognized her. It was their mother’s sister Rebecca, a childless widow who lived alone in a nearby kraal. She was renowned in the village for not taking nonsense from anyone in the village, and conducted herself almost like a man. She carried a gleaming knife in her hand. Without any word to the twins, she had cut them free from the tree, and immediately fled out through the gap again, her skirts flying.
When the twins had cautiously emerged from the gap, she was nowhere in sight, and their captors were also out of sight on the other side. Two hours of hard running later, headed south away from the village, and the sun now risen to a bright morning, Bakithi and Bongani had stood shirtless under the shade of a mopani tree, sweat coursing down their bodies, stinging their whip wounds.
‘What are we going to do now?’ A worried Bongani had asked his twin. His mind was on their kin they had left behind in the burning kraal last night. ‘We have no choice,’ Bakithi had replied. ‘Let’s head for the border and follow the others across.’ ‘What about our families?’ But there was no answer from Bongani. A hard three days walk later, the twins were crossing the river.
Bakithi whirled around and faced the place where he thought the crocodile could be lurking. He was yelling and splashing the water with his hands, at the same time retreating slowly backwards. A whimpering Bongani desperately splashed away in the direction his twin brother had pushed him towards. His right leg felt not there, and a great big fire where he thought it had been.
Two hops away, and the yelling behind him suddenly stopped. He looked back in the moonlight Bakithi had disappeared. ‘Bakithi!’ he screamed hoarsely.
A great force thudded into Bongani’s left leg under the water. Teeth clamped on his knee, shattering bone, and he was violently twisted under. The last thing the young man saw was the silver eye of the moon silently watching him from the troubled sky.
• Chris Mlalazi is a playwright and fiction writer from Bulawayo. His work has been featured in the Crossing Borders project and several publications. His story, Broken Wings has been shortlisted for the HSBC/SA PEN Literary Award 2007.
• Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at www.pambazuka.org
Last Minute Grooming
Chaltone Tshabangu interrogates the social role of women in traditional African marriages. Commenting on what is expected of women, Tshabangu writes: “A decent woman sits like this; legs tucked beneath her like so, or legs stretched out before her, thus. Always covered.”
Sit down Lulu, sit down. What time is it? Good. Thixo! You have been busy this morning, eh? Now, what have you done since daybreak? No, don’t tell me. I will tell you. You woke up at third cock-crow and made a fire in the kitchen. You heated bathing water for the children, swept the kitchen and washed the plates. That is good, daughter of my mother, except for one thing; those plates should have been washed yesterday. Hen-roaches must be forced to lug their shiny brown suitcases elsewhere. I must state the obvious, even if you dislike it – that saying about cleanliness and godliness? Thiiixo, where would we be without stating the obvious?
Sit up straight, Lulu! Ah! A decent woman sits like this; legs tucked beneath her like so, or legs stretched out before her, thus. Always covered. And never, never sit on a stool in the presence of men. Mother must be getting old. If you must sit on a chair, sit nicely, don’t squat or perch as if you are negotiating the hole of a pit-latrine, or sit as if there are thorns between your thighs. Do it! Now! Yes, like that. What is the use of a wife who sits as if she wants to trap the sun with her nether parts?
Right. You swept the yard, at the same time prepared porridge for the children. You bathed the children, dressed them up for school, watched them eat and saw them off. Good. Then you went to the river to collect water.
How many buckets did you bring? Three? Not bad, but not enough to fill up the drum. Anyway, you heated bathing water for father, went to the bush to collect firewood and now, you are preparing breakfast for everyone.
Admirable, daughter of my mother. Admirable. Except for one other thing; I never saw you, and I have been watching you closely, I never saw you wash either your face or, Jehova ka Shadreck lo Misheck lo Abednigo, your hands! You do right to squirm. I saw you go behind a bush. I don’t know what you did there. You know what you did there. You are a big girl now. A woman. Lulu, there is no point in being neat by half. Thiiixo! Everything is important, child of my mother; when to bath and how to bath, how often as well as changing your knicker and so forth. Hmm?
And, mntaka S’gugude, do something about your fingernails! Yeyi! You have been digging up roots or what? Look, that body of yours must be treated with respect, girl. And nobody else will do that better than yourself! Don’t treat your body with contempt, child. What use is reckless attention? Thix’! Treat it with respect and you will be amazed at what it will do for you. Hmm?
Yet I must warn you, mother’s child, it will not be easy. Yes, there will be long, sweet moments. You smile. Yes, smile. Keep smiling, sis. But, there will be long, terrible days too.
Everybody hates dirt, I think. Well, except for Vundla, who enjoys his home and wife inspite of what we both know. That woman is what is called inuku. Don’t laugh. I could say isinyefu, but that would be too severe. Besides, she is good hearted. God does not give you everything, nkazana. But the point is be …? Yes. Be clean. As clean as? There's my girl! No woman has a cleaner size nine.
Men detest badly cooked food. So do I. So do you. Do that and your food will get cold on the table. Ever heard the indaba called ‘The Slammed Door’? Perhaps not. Never mind. If you like talking, and I know you do, teach yourself to listen and consider your views. Nag him if you will, but at the right time, at the proper setting. Yes, there is a time for everything, even for nagging! It does get things done you know, sometimes. Overdo it, he will walk out of the house, the door is likely to be slammed and you may earn yourself tingling ears and a swollen upper lip. Besides, you never know what he might bring back; another beating or worse.
In marriage, winning isn’t everything. Besides, you can win, quietly, every time, without being like the pee of a drunkard about it. Always remember that. As for friends, well, you are a married woman now. Some friends are like Joel's boots, which stink worse when he's wearing them. Others are like honey - sweet to the tongue but the stomach can only take this much before it brings up what you ate during that drought. And yet others are like your own shadow - they will stay peacefully with you and you will never tire of them.
Need I say more? He will get you what you need, if he can, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing to waste. In fact, it will do you well to conserve, conserve, conserve, for that is life. Use your hands. I don’t think that your ambition is limited to being a mere ‘goal-keeper’. Be as independent as decorum allows and he will respect you more.
Oh, another thing, his relatives are your relatives. You will treat them no differently from your own. But, I have no fears for you in that respect.
You know him, he likes his beer. Be glad that he does not smoke. Ever been kissed by a combination of masese and Shamrock? Remember Joe, my Joe? Hee hee. Thixo! Don’t ask. However, remember; you can’t win everything.
As for bedroom matters, I have nothing to say but this; be clean. Each man takes to his bed with relish, unless he is sick or something is distracting him. Can be very energetic too, even by the standards of your age. Hee hee. You have been taught how to handle a man – I bet there is no better teacher than Aunty Eliza. Yes? Take it from me, the most ridiculous things that Aunty Eliza taught you are the most important! Hee hee. Now, that is a powerful tool you have there, sister. But you cannot use it to hold him at ransom. Weeeell, maybe once, but at your own risk. Oh, I suggest that you take a dish of water, a towel and soap. Never mind any peculiarities, as long as they don’t hurt you, or demean you. But, each man his madness. Have fun, that is what sex is all about. Hee hee hee.
Lulu, I suppose you are still… intact? What are you laughing at? I am serious! Of course it is important! Well, not very important I should think, but it has its advantages. What’s that you said? Oh, I don’t know, but it is important, somehow. It reflects well on our family, does it not?
The important thing, my sister - children. All marriages need children… everybody needs children, I think. If there is anything God believes in, it is children. Children, they are the only viable faith! I hope you understand. Life! Aaah!
Come here. Come outside with me. Look at all this, this parched selfish land that gives us sustenance grudgingly. Yet, is it that it is selfish? Is it that it is entirely barren? Completely inadequate for our dreams? No. Never! Why? Because we have grown up on inadequacy. We have grown strong on pain and pain has become something else, which we embrace with a smiling fortitude. Look at the sky above us, these trees and burnt grasses… this is home. All these things around us are prayer. Over there, the graves of our fathers, those mountains and the scorched river beds - our home, our prayer. We address our lives the same manner we address our ancestors; with prayer, with ancient resonances which the elements understand. All these things pray along with us. Winds blow and in a while, dust settles. There is a meaning in all these things; there is a meaning in what we seek to achieve. The occasional storm, laughter, pain, suffering, joy… joy… we lay our fears and tears at the feet of the most feared god… especially us, women, you and I. We are the lips, the tongue, the very mouth that fashions the words to move men and persuade gods. We are prayer. Like this land that brings forth, though grudgingly, we women must also bring forth, abundantly.
I pray that that prayer becomes the stuff on which your children, our children, will grow strong upon. Inhale with me, is this not fresh air? We make it fresh by our laughter, women laughter. We make this horrible land beautiful for our husbands, our parents, our children and even for those who have gone before us. So, sister, in making your man happy, you will also be making us happy and our prayer all the purer and certain to obtain blessings. We must seek happiness, for it will not come to us all the time.
Why am I repeating myself about prayer? Because it means that we are not alone. It also means that we cannot take our lives and the gifts we have been given, for granted. There are things we can be proud of, as mothers, and you are going to make a mother of us, yet. But, there is a pride that will never allow us to remain committed and sane enough to keep the family together. Beware. Also, there is a despondency which will not allow those who have not been given particular gifts to lead sane lives. I can no more shake my fist at the sky, spit on the graves of our ancestors than clap my hands for myself and tell my heart that I care not. I have realised that even though in my hands I cup a gift I have received quietly, I can only move on and hope.
Even though my hands remain cupped, as though I have received nothing yet, it is because of hope, not greed. I have also realised that it is possible to refuse what you have been granted. Fortunately I have also been made to realise that it is possible to turn whichever way and still remain insane - and that the insanity itself, could be a gift. So, I have accepted mine and my hands cup a different song entirely. But, enough for now.
Remember, even the juiciest mopani caterpillar has thorns. One day you will have children and one day, perhaps, you will be different. We must change, but it is our responsibility to let dogs eat their own vomit and not to help them lap it up. What I am trying to say… what am I saying? I am not trying, I am telling you this; one day there will be hate between us. It is to be expected. But it cannot be allowed to overshadow what we seek to do here. No matter what happens, I shall remain your sister. S’khova is a good man… in fact, he is far better than most men we know, certainly better than that boyfriend of yours whose major kick is njuga. Yes yes you part ways with that crook a long time ago but he lived for njuga anyway. And, I wonder how you managed to hold him off for so long, he must have been an insistent type that one. What was his name by the way? Almost? Almost what? Hee hee!
I know your man; he is a good man. His mother, well, you know her. His sisters, now. His sisters are mean, venous bats who will not hesitate to criticize and condemn. Don’t mind them. Their families broke down nineteen-long-ago, when animals could speak. Anyway, I will be there to help you.
Hand me that cup of water. Thanks. I talk too much eh? Daughter of my mother, I am glad of what you have decided to do. I am particularly grateful because it is you Lulu, and not somebody else, not any of our sisters but you. Thank you.
So, get ready woman, today you will meet your husband, my husband. Our husband. Hurry up, Thixx! You don’t want to keep your husband waiting, do you?
What if you what? Fail to have children? Sister, we will crawl beneath that bridge when we get to it. Move it, girl!
• Chaltone Tshabangu is a Bulawayo based writer. He has in the past participated in the British Council sponsored Crossing Borders project and last year was a joint winner of the BBC World Service Short Story Award.
• Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at www.pambazuka.org
The words in italics are from the Ndebele language:
Thixo – God.
Jehova ka Shadreck… - God of Shadreck, Misheck and Abednigo.
Mntaka S’gugude – child of S’gugude
Inuku – very lazy person, dirty.
Isinyefu – worse than inuku.
Masese – opaque millet beer.
Njuga – game of cards, bets are placed.
Short Writings from Bulawayo
Writing in Zimbabwe seems to be experiencing an upsurge. There are obviously huge problems for publishers – few people have any spare cash to buy anything but the bare essentials for survival, and few bookshops in Zimbabwe stock any books that are not set school texts. Writers too are affected by the struggle for survival – paper and pens are expensive, let alone computers, which are beyond the reach of the majority, and there are few outlets for their work. But writers are writing, and publishers publishing.
Over the last three years, five collections of short writings have been published by two publishers: Short Writings from Bulawayo I, II and III from amaBooks and Writing Still and Writing Now from Weaver Press. This piece focuses on the Short Writings from Bulawayo series.
Many pieces in these anthologies document the effects of the crisis in Zimbabwe in stories and poetry. Writers are reflecting what they see happening around them day after day - the human suffering resulting from government policies. This is particularly pronounced in the most recent of these collections, Short Writings from Bulawayo III.
The effects of Operation Murambatsvina or ‘clear out rubbish’, where hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless, are seen through the eyes of those at the receiving end of the destruction in the work of Diana Charsley, in her short story Forgiveness, as their homes are razed to the ground.
It is not only the newer writers who record the present moment. Established writers like John Eppel and Albert Nyathi document, through poetry, record the destruction of communities and vendors losing their livelihoods. John Eppel in Sonnet with One Unstated Line:
‘Hear the cry of hornbills lost in yards
of rubble and rags, to split the ears
of those who stand and watch; and the guards
unguarded, hammering, hammering.’
and Albert Nyathi in Ode to Departed Writers:
‘Operation Murambatsvina came
With a large broom called bulldozer
And the new townships which were blessed
With the cutting of ribbons were all gone
Africa Unity Square had roses
And now it is clean again’
Writers are looking at issues hitherto largely avoided in fiction. In Thabisani Ndlovu’s powerful story The Boy with a Crooked Head, the violence inflicted on the people of Matabeleland during Gukurahundi is seen through the eyes of a child – ‘I wonder why Uncle Vikitha, a useless person, was made to disappear … by soldiers who looked like us but spoke our language in a funny way.’
Christopher Mlalazi’s id i weaves together, in a nightmare township landscape, the realities of Murambatsvina and the present hardships with the effects on a family of the atrocities committed in 1980’s Matabeleland: ‘My brother’s problem is not hereditary, it’s the army and what they did out there that did that to his head.’
Mlalazi again turns to Murambatsvina in his piece The Bulldozers are Coming, published in the 14 December 2006 edition of The Zimbabwean, where he documents the effects of the ‘clean up’ on a woman who miscarries.
The land issue appears in several stories. Catherine Buckle’s Full Circle in Short Writings from Bulawayo II shows the pain of dislocation experienced by both a white farmer thrown off her farm and a black woman subsequently thrown off her small plot on the same farm. Masimba Manyonga’s A Seed of Hope in the first Short Writings from Bulawayo details the hopes and the despair of an impoverished ex-combatant farmer as he journeys from his rural home to the streets of Bulawayo, where his finds evidence of economic breakdown wherever he looks. Fiction that documents what the writer sees happening around them is often more accessible than history and is able to capture the human story.
Even in the midst of the tragedy of Zimbabwe, there is still humour in the collections, in some of the township characters of Christopher Mlalazi and in the protagonist in Godfrey Sibanda’s The Coming. In The Coming, the narrator is unable to attend the Great Leader’s rally because of diarrhoea; his excuse is mocked by one of the youths who has the task of rounding up everyone to attend the rally: ‘The Great Leader is coming and you want me to believe there’s suddenly an epidemic in this town. And the epidemic only affects members of the Opposition Party.’ Mzana Mthimkhulu’s writings can always be relied upon to bring a touch of humour, such as in his depiction of an eager young boy in a school choir competition in The Concert.
However, poverty, despair, hopelessness, AIDS, loss, queues – the suffering of the people - are recurring themes in much of the writing. Juba, in Farai Mpofu’s story Whirlwinds, in Short Writings from Bulawayo II, walks the streets looking for, and failing to find, permanent employment, despite his qualifications. In the end, he decides to ‘rob three or four of those township dwellers, raise enough money to go to Johannesburg, and graduate into the world of crime.’
Ignatius Mabasa’s character in Paying to Die has ‘never had the guts to go and get tested.’ Instead, he seems ‘to have decided to help the disease he believes is there, by living carelessly.’ The mother, in Judy Maposa’s One by One My Leaves Fall, loses all four of her children. ‘One by one my leaves withered and fell. All dead. All gone.’
In Pentecost Mate’s Pay Day the people in queues ‘are mostly quiet because there is nothing left to talk about. They have talked about price rises, about shortages of basic commodities, about the changing laws and rules that govern them, about the taxes they pay…. They have talked about the fuel crisis … about power cuts, water cuts…. And about salaries below the poverty line, about the huge sums of money they owe….’
As would be expected, queues have become a ubiquitous topic. In John Eppel’s My Dustbin, poverty and hunger drive children to rifle through dustbins:
'These children have acquired the patience of queueing;
children of the neighbourhood; suburban;
queueing at my bin for a lucky dip.’
Phillip Chidavaenzi writing in the Sunday Mirror comments, ‘the economic hardships in Zimbabwe today continue to offer a fertile template for literary works. … (These collections of short writings) have given a whole new generation of Zimbabwean writers that could have remained in the wilderness the space to display their wares and in the process make their claim on Zimbabwe’s literary space.’
Many of the writers whose work was first featured in the Short Writings from Bulawayo series have gone on to ‘claim the space’: Christopher Mlalazi has had short stories published in the Edinburgh Review and in the Caine Prize anthology, The Obituary Tango, Deon Marcus’s poetry collection Sonatas has won first prize for poetry and drama at the Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association awards and for Best First Book at the National Arts Merit Awads, and several writers have had stories published in Writing Now and in other collections.
There will be more writing from many of the authors featured in the Short Writings from Bulawayo series to look forward to. Bryony Rheam, Christopher Mlalazi and Raisedon Baya have novels either completed or at the finishing stages, Thabisani Ndlovu and Mzana Mthimkhulu, amongst others, have collections of short stories awaiting publication. John Eppel has a new short writings collection, White Man Crawling, due to be published in 2007.
The writing of now is naturally a reflection of our times. A unifying theme in many of the stories and poems is loss – of livelihood, of innocence, of purpose, of freedom, of love, of belonging, of culture, of home, of country, of life. A reflection of our times. ‘Dreams shattered beyond repair.’ (Tawanda Chipato, from Hope, Short Writings from Bulawayo II)
• Jane Morris is an editor with amaBooks, publishers of Short Writings from Bulawayo I, II and III.
• Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at www.pambazuka.org
Carry me softly through the night
On the slightest breeze hold me tight
Lest I be blown away
And from your side
In a world so torn and angry
Walk with me –hold my hand
I am a child in the eyes of your love
I shall stand back tenderly
And let all sorrow and fear depart
Let your tender sigh
Let the memory of you
Carry me softly
Through the night
As I tenderly hold
The memory of you
• Victor Mavedzenge is a Harare base visual artist, comedian, poet and actor who was in the play Territory which was featured at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
• Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at www.pambazuka.org
In defence of the ten theses on leadership
Tajudeen Abdul Raheem
Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem hastens to the defence of his ten theses on the new leaders in Africa (http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/panafrican/39066). The power-worshippers, he says, believe only in one thing: power. And whoever is wielding it at the moment, they have only one party, which Nigerians call AGIP (Any Government In Power)
My piece last week has, predictably provoked a number of reactions from all kinds of corners.
First, there were those who say ‘we told you so’ or ‘welcome to your senses’. They were cynical about the 'New leaders' from the start and were never as enthusiastic about them as I and many others were.
Secondly, there were the hardcore believers in these leaders who still believe that they are progressives caught up in the realities of holding power in a dependent state and are engaged in tactical manoeuvres rather than strategic sell out.
Thirdly, there were those who agree with all the analysis but believe that the problem is more structural than personal degeneration. That the system is amenable to the excesses that we decry and all of us can become its victims unless we are willing to take it on fundamentally.
And finally, there were those who accuse me of still being naively puritanical by expecting that people in power can behave differently.
I must concede that all of these have elements of truth in them. But they do not diminish the points I made last week. We are not judging these leaders by intention alone. It is on their record in office. And most of them have now been in power for more than a decade. There is no need to be smug about ‘we told you so’ because those who do not make mistakes are those who do nothing. The fact that history may not turn out the way we like does not mean that we stop doing things unless we are ‘sure’ we will succeed.
Political independence did not bring economic independence and liberation to our peoples in many countries, does that mean we go along with the recolonisers who argue that everything has been going wrong since colonialism ended in Africa? We can critique the anti-colonial movement and struggles without throwing away the historical and political victories it brought to us. Without those struggles many of us may never have had the opportunity to go to school or even realise that what we were having was neo-colonialism.
Similarly the ‘New Generation’ of African leaders did bring about many positive changes. Maybe their ‘historic mission’ is to stabilise neo-colonialism. Therefore it is the responsibility of other generations to transform the situation. As Achebe used to say, many critics criticised him not for the book he had written but the ones they should have written!
Those who are happy that the New Leaders turned out as bad as they feared remind me of some of the Trotskyites who were jubilant at the collapse of the old Eastern Bloc believing it proved their case against Stalinism without realising that the right wing counter revolution was directed at all socialist forces whatever their differences.
The undying band of believers in these leaders are a mix bag of the usual power worshippers, genuine patriots and faithful supporters. The power-worshippers believe only in one thing: power. And whoever is wielding it at the moment, they have only one party, which Nigerians call AGIP (Any Government In Power). You will find them in every government virtually since Independence singing the same praises of the leader as everything, omnipresent and omniscient, and if he is not in charge the “country will collapse! Initially our new leaders detested such characters and shunned them but over time you find such people are getting closer to them, as their former comrades and decent people move away from them. There are many such charlatans around president Museveni in Kampala today.
There are also many genuine patriots who think that the leaders still mean well but are constrained by circumstances both objective and subjective to become ‘moderate’ given the fact that reactionary forces are the dominant forces globally. Such patriots try to preserve some progressive nucleus within the regimes. In many countries the leaders tolerate them and used them especially in propaganda at election time, in the grassroots mobilisation and to maintain progressive contacts internationally. But often they lack real influence in government policy that is policed by pro IMF/WB technocrats. They are given direct access to the President or made advisers but no access to real policy.
In the end they become apologists for the leader blaming ‘people around him’ for misleading him. But the key question is who appoints these advisers? Is it not the President or Prime Minster himself? How come we are always ready and willing to blame ‘those around the president’ instead of the president who surrounded himself with those people in the first place?
As for my friends who take a more structuralist view of the challenges: I agree with them, but only up to a point. I have been around many corridors of power long enough to know and be very sympathetic to the pathetic demands on an African leader, not just the president. Anybody with some office, comes under extreme pressures from family, clan, friends, relatives (in the most expanded sense), in laws, cronies, fellow officials, not t talk of the corporations, foreign governments, companies, etc.
All of them seeking one favour or the other. People in power are supposed to deliver miracles, legislators are supposed to bury every constituent who died, donate generously at various Harambee in Kenya, pay school fees and even participate in the wedding of their constituents! The reason why this is so is the extreme poverty faced by majority of our peoples and also some enabling cultural norms that perpetrate this. The other reason has to do with the weaknesses of our institutions.
The challenge of leadership is to find a more institutional and collective public policy bases for dealing with these problems. Instead, what you get is a more personalised power relations that has turned the New Leaders into destroyers of institutions. If any of them were to die today there will be so much chaos because they have not allowed institutions to develop their own autonomy. They have become the system, rendering the country like an aeroplane on a long haul with only one pilot and no auto pilot mechanism! Any leader who cannot imagine life without leading or the country surviving without him is on an expensive ego trip on the backs of his or her peoples. If after 20 years of presidents in power, people in Kampala or Harare can still not imagine life without the president, then we should ask: what have these leaders being doing in all these decades?
Finally, I am too involved not to realise that power both objectively and subjectively changes those people entrusted with power, the people around them but a progressive person must show their progressive credentials in the face of all the challenges. At the end of the day the questions to be asked must include: what do you stand for? In whose interest are you governing? How do you want to be remembered? By the size of your bank account and number of cars in your garage or the fabulous mansions you own across the world? Or the honest service you gave to your country?
We adore Castro today and remember Nyerere with nostalgia as we celebrate Madiba, not because they did not make any mistakes buy because we knew where they stood and on whose side they are. The problem that most of the ‘New leaders’ face is that people just do not know on whose side they are anymore. And in some cases the painful truth is that they seem to be there only for themselves. And will do anything (including enlisting as headmen, pointsmen or foremen for imperialism) to remain in power.
* Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is the Deputy Director, Africa, for the UN millennium, Campaign. He writes this weekly column in his personal capacity as a concermed Pan Africanist.
* Please send comments to email@example.com or comment online at www.pambazuka.org
Global: Solidarity with the People of Haiti!
Information about International Day in Solidarity with the People of Haiti
The United Nations forces in Haiti (MINUSTAH) – backed to the hilt by the US, France and Canada – are continuing their bloody assault on the poor majority, targeting especially leaders and supporters of the Lavalas grassroots democracy movement.
From: Grassroots organisations in Haiti
Dear Activists for Haiti,
The United Nations forces in Haiti (MINUSTAH) – backed to the hilt by the US, France and Canada – are continuing their bloody assault on the poor majority, targeting especially leaders and supporters of the Lavalas grassroots democracy movement.
On December 22, 2006, some 400 UN troops conducted another day-long raid in Bois Neuf, Cite Soleil – an operation on the scale of the July 6, 2005 UN massacre in the same neighborhood – with many civilian residents dead and wounded. Since the "Christmas massacre", UN forces have repeatedly raided Cite Soleil shooting off their weapons.
In response, Fondasyon Trant Septanm, an 11-year-old organization of victims of the 1991 and 2004 coups d'etat in Haiti, has issued acall for renewed protests in many cities of the world on February
This is the anniversary of the overthrow of the dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier in 1986. Haiti will be demonstrating on that day – so should we!
The February 7th International Day is part of a campaign against the US/UN Occupation by the popular movement in Haiti, leading up to February 15th when the UN Security Council is due to renew its Haiti mandate.
We need to act now in solidarity with our Haitian sisters and brothers, whose unbreakable spirit, in the face of severe repression, just won’t stop.
Building on the international demonstrations for Haiti held on July 21 and September 30, 2005 The July 6th massacre by UN troops in Cite Soleil sparked an international campaign, culminating in a day of solidarity actions in 15 cities and five countries on July 21, 2005. The campaign succeeded in breaking through the media blockade, exposing the massacre.
This was followed by the first International Day in Solidarity with Haiti on September 30, 2005, when coordinated actions in 47 cities in 17 countries on 4 continents condemned the bloody US/UN occupation and demanded that Haiti's sovereignty and democracy be respected.
Today, violent repression continues against grassroots activists and communities – by UN forces and paramilitary death squads [like the Little Machete Army] created by the Haitian National Police. We're talking not only about killings, but sexual abuse, beatings, house burnings, arbitrary arrests, and the prolonged, illegal detention of people without any charges. UN forces have been repeatedly implicated in these activities.
Our call is for each city to organize its own Haiti solidarity activity on or around Wednesday, February 7, 2007 – to be coordinated as a single worldwide mobilization.
It could be a march, rally, public meeting, vigil, house meeting or civil disobedience – whatever you are able to do – in support of the following demands:
End the brutal US/UN Occupation – Respect Haiti’s sovereignty Stop the killings, sexual abuse and massacres of the poorby UN troops, police and paramilitaries under police control Free the political prisoners – No more illegal arrests & detentions President Aristide must be free to return to Haiti – Respect the Haitian Constitution Launch an independent inquiry into the February 29, 2004 coup and forced removal of President Aristide Perpetrators of the coup and massacres of the poor must be brought to justice – Reparations for the victims Join us in this important mobilization. Let us know by phone or email what solidarity activity you are organizing for on or around February 7th, so we can build the campaign. Use your contacts in other cities and countries to spread this movement.
For the February 7, 2007 International Day in Solidarity with the People of Haiti, Lavarice Gaudin, Veye Yo Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, Fondasyon Trant Septanm Margaret Prescod, Global Women's Strike Dave Welsh, US Labor/Human Rights Delegation to Haiti Contact the Feb. 7th Organizing Committee at 510-847-8657 or firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com> to add your name.
The call for the February 7th International Day is supported by representatives of these grassroots organizations in Haiti:
+ Comite de Defense des Droits du Peuple Haitien (Committee in Defense of the Rights of the Haitian People)
+ Confederation des Travailleurs Haitiens (Confederation of Haitian Workers)
+ Femmes Victimes Debout (Women Victims Stand Up)
+ Collectif des Parents et Amis des Prisonniers Politiques (Collective of Relatives and Friends of Political Prisoners)
+ Coordination Nationale des Organisations de Droits Humains (National Coordination of Human Rights Organizations).
+ Fondasyon Trant Septanm (September 30th Foundation)
The Niger Delta Crisis
I read with great interest the article ‘Niger Delta: Restoring the rights of citizens’ (http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/38222) by Ike Okonta on the Niger Delta crisis. One thing, however, left me with some doubt about the explanation provided by the author for a very complex situation.
The author does not mention that one of the MEND requests is that Nigerian authorities release former Bayelsa State Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, jailed on corruption charges. His story should be well known in the UK since he managed to escape from house arrest in that country while under guard for money laundering.
It is difficult to believe that such requests can be in line with the principle or idea of "bringing the civic back in".
Probably one of the reasons why Oporoza (or other villages in the Delta) is in the condition described by the author is because the money which was supposed to be used for development was instead used by the Bayelsa (and other state governors) to build mansions in the UK, USA or South Africa, and to build refineries (in the case of Alamieyeseigha) in Latin American countries.
The situation in the Niger Delta is not so clear and the links between so called militant groups and the corrupt government officials is not very well understood. So the claim of MEND militants being political subjects forced to pick up AK47’s to restore their rights as citizens is, in many instances, questionable.
The Right to Food Means More than Food Security
I appreciate Jagjit Plahe’s article ‘Sacrificing the Right to Food on the Altar of Free Trade, (http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/39046) published by Pambazuka News. However, the otherwise excellent analysis is somewhat muddled because, as stated in Note 1, “The terms food security and the right to food are used interchangeably in this paper.” Perhaps Ms. Plahe could consult my book, Freedom from Want: The Human Right to Adequate Food, published in 2005, and in particular its chapter on trade. I have also explored the relationships between the right to food and food security.
The importance of the distinction can be illustrated by reference to the first paragraph, where Plahe speaks of “developing countries having to negotiate the right to food within the World Trade Organisation.” Actually, the right to food is well established in international law, and explained authoritatively in General Comment 12 by the UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. There is still room for interpretation, of course, but the right really is not up for negotiations at the WTO.
Plahe says that the developing countries’ options to address food security are seriously limited by their obligations under the Agreement on Agriculture. However, as I see it, many national governments are quite willing to sacrifice their people’s food security for what they see as other sorts of gains they might obtain by opening their trade doors. There is nothing in the Agreement that forces them to do that in a way that sacrifices their own people’s food security. Indeed, there is nothing that requires these countries to be members of the WTO. They can opt out. They have chosen to “buy in” to the stories that richer countries tell them about the benefits of trade, not fully appreciating the ways in which trade systematically benefits the rich more than the poor, steadily widening the gap between them. I wouldn’t blame this on the WTO or the Agreement on Agriculture. The poor countries need to make their own analyses, and stand up for what will work for them.
Plahe’s conclusion says, “How, when and if states can regulate trade to uphold the right to food will be determined by international trade rules, and not by international human rights standards.” That may somehow be true in terms of the economic and political pressures that are applied, but there is nothing in international law that makes it so. Indeed, the dominant view is that human rights standards prevail over international trade rules. The poor countries should insist that human rights always prevail over trade rules.
China in Africa
The critical phrase in Firoze Manji's essay ‘African Perspectives on China in Africa’ (http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/38873)
as far as I am concerned is 'uncritical acceptance or mere rejectionism'.
As an African at home, I am aware of prejudices against Chinese products. I am also aware of some substandard practices which dominate production of these products. Their sales outlets are everywhere in Nigeria. Imitation goods are common. As a result, we have to be circumspect. The inspectorate arms of government bureaucracies must be strengthened in order to perform their oversight functions.
The Chinese manufacturers themselves should realise the enormity of the tasks ahead. Africa needs genuine business partnerships as there is a huge market for goods to be sold. But the whole purpose would be defeated if their goods turn out to be inferior. Business ethics all over the world need to be governed by trust and commitment to excellence.
African Heads of State ought to welcome the investment opportunities provided by the Chinese, but they have an obligation to ensure that the people get the best deals. The rail network the Chinese want to build linking Lagos with Kano through Abuja is a welcome development in this direction.
If the African continent has been disappointed by the West, the Chinese should remember history and know that rejectionism would follow once the wrong signals or actions are given. Thanks for a stimulating essay.
Social Movements at the WSF
The article ‘Social Movements Set to Assert Their Presence at WSF Nairobi 2007’ (www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/38952) by Onyango Oloo managed to capture all the salient points about the WSF. In a very subtle and diplomatic way he has said loudly what the WSF should not be. This article is a must read for all journalists, whether seasoned or not, in covering the WSF, for it explicitly highlights the who, why, what, where, when and how of the WSF leaving only the fleshing out to the journalists. I highly recommend this article for all.
Review of African Blogs
During 2006 the number of blogs by Africans at home and in the Diaspora more than doubled. However, they are still the least applied of all the emerging technologies (email, listserves, forums and IM) largely due to cost, slow internet speeds and a general unawareness of the medium. Despite this, African blogs have been able to challenge governments on issues such as corruption, human rights, economic policy and social justice in their respective countries (often anonymously) in ways that could not have been possible without risking arrest or harassment in the past.
Sites such as the ‘Kenyan Mzalendo’ site which was set up to monitor the activities of the Kenyan parliament; ‘Kenyan Unlimited’, a Kenyan community of blogs; and the ‘African Women’s Blogs’ created as a collaborative site for African women bloggers are all examples of innovative uses of blogging technology. Many of the personal blogs have become sites of expertise on technology in Africa (White African), human rights and social justice (Black Looks and This is Zimbabwe), African literature (Wordsbody), political commentary (Chippla’s Weblog and Kameelah Writes); chronicles of the daily activities and lives of HIV/AIDS patients and carers (Nata Village Blog) and many more.
This year’s first roundup kicks off with some commentary on the recent execution of Saddam Hussein as viewed by African bloggers.
Gambian blog, 'Home of the Mandimories' - Barbarity, (gambian.blogspot.com/2006/12/barbarity.html) is scathing in his criticism of the execution and the reasons behind the war in Iraq and the cost in lives (thousands and thousands of Iraqis and 3000 US soldiers and money ($3trillion to date).
“We invaded Iraq to convict Saddam Hussein, so we could execute him by tying a nose around his neck. What a barbaric act. But hey, it makes for cool television and the ratings are sky rocketing…The lives lost and the dollars spent to get us there? They were totally worth it, weren't they? I mean, s***, even if we don't get another darn thing out of being stuck in this God-forsaken hellhole, we got to see Saddam swingin' from the end of a rope, brother. Woo-HOO. That is what our boy king wanted all along. What a sad act.”
Kenyan blogger, 'Thinkers Room' - (www.thinkersroom.com/blog/2006/12/they-shouldnt-have-hanged-saddam/)also disagrees with the hanging but for different reasons:
“Most importantly, Saddam did very many unspeakable things in his long and un-illustrious rule. The only person who knows all the grisly things Saddam Hussein did in great detail is Saddam Hussein. And now that he is dead, all that information is lost as well. There are things that Saddam did that we will now never know. As Saint Peter looks over his books Saddam must be thinking Who’s laughing now?’”
Both points of view are valid, in my opinion, but I would add that the crime Saddam was tried and hanged for was one of the few that did not implicate the US and other Western governments – he should have been tried for the mass murder of 5000 Kurds or his murderous activities during the Iran/Iraq war; he should have been tried in the International Court and not in Iraq. Furthermore, the trial was a sham and the execution disgusting. Thankfully because of the illegal phone video we all got to see what really happened at the moment of death – and who comes out looking like the decent guy in all of this? Saddam who until the end was dignified and somehow the barbarism that surrounded his death made HIM seem the human one! Ironic.
For 'Egyptian Chronicles' - Is This Islamic Ethics (egyptianchronicles.blogspot.com/2007/01/is-this-from-islamic-ethics.html) the abuse of Saddam Hussein during and after the execution is an:
“…ironically those brain heads made from him a hero and also enforced the division between Sunni and Shiites not only in Iraq but in the Arab world…Brain heads!”
Another major story over the New Year was the invasion by Ethiopia of Somalia to remove the Union of Islamic Courts.
Somali blogger, 'The Voice of Somaliland' - (waridaad.blogspot.com/2007/01/by-its-ill-judged-invasion-of-somalia.html) accuses Ethiopia of being an accomplice in Bush’s War on Terror. He believes the invasion is ill-advised and ill-fated and will be resisted by the Somali people and will draw in other countries in the region such as Eritrea.
“The danger this time is that the resistance will draw in other countries. Eritrea, which fought its own costly war with Ethiopia, does not need an invitation to help its enemy's enemy. The UIC is also said to be receiving financial assistance from rich leaders of sympathetic Islamic sects, drawn from such countries as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Gulf sheikhdoms. And the most explosive fuel will be the involvement of the US on the side of Ethiopia. General John Abizaid, commander for the US central command, is reported to have visited Ethiopia last month, after which Ethiopia moved from providing the Somali government with ‘military advice’ to open armed intervention.”
Once again the US uses proxy armies to fight on its behalf. There are areas of criticism to be levelled at the Union of Islamic Courts but at least in the short term they brought peace and stability where there was chaos, violence and fear during the period of control by the warlords who have now been reinstated, courtesy of Ethiopian dictator, Meles Zenawi, friend to the US and British governments. Maybe in 10 years time when he has completed the massacre of his own people they will want to hang him too like Saddam. But it won’t be for the invasion of Somalia – that would show up their dirty little secret deals with a ruthless leader.
'Ethiopian Politics' - (ethiopianpolitics.blogspot.com/2007/01/anti-ethiopian-protests-rock-somali.html) comments on the angry response of Somalis to the invasion by Ethiopia on their country.
'Chippla’s Weblog' - (chippla.blogspot.com/index.html) discusses the “Interconnected World” in which we live and the interdependency of governments on each other and of course blogs.
“Governments across the world are realizing how heavily dependent they are on one another. For instance, few governments would be glad to see the United States dollar depreciate rapidly. Not even the Chinese government, which silently aspires to superpower status a few decades from now. Holding about one trillion dollars in foreign reserves (a large percentage of which is in United States dollars—exactly how much, remains a state secret), a rapid depreciation of the dollar would hurt China badly. Poland may bark at and prevent the European Union from signing favorable treaties with Russia. But even Poland knows that there is a limit to how loud it can bark. Heavily dependent on Russia for gas, should Gazprom, the mega Russian gas company, decide to close its gas pipes to Poland, a large number of Poles would be forced to freeze out the winter.”
Unfortunately as Chippla points out, this interconnectedness and interdependency does not translate into a better world – a safer place, a more humane place, a more egalitarian place. On the contrary it is leading to a world of the exact opposite where human rights are being eroded and greed is becoming an acceptable form of behaviour.
'African Media' - (africamedia.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/01/de_beers_attack.html) reports on the response of De Beers to an article in the Los Angeles Times which provides context to the movie Blood Diamond. Both the LA Times and the New York Times were pressurised by De Beers lawyers to detract on their statements. Such is the power of De Beers and Diamonds! Below is a sample of the criticisms made and De Beers response:
"The article stated that De Beers is exploring for diamonds on land in Botswana that was formerly occupied by the Kalahari Bushmen. That claim is made by Survival International on behalf of the Bushmen, who were relocated by the Botswanan government, which is partnered with De Beers in a diamond company called Debswana. A De Beers spokesman says that while it has explored in the Bushmen's former homeland in the past, it has never mined there and ‘today has no activity of any sort in the region.’”
The film died – De Beers and the Diamond Cartel fought back - and blood diamonds – well it was just another Hollywood film after all!
'Black Looks' - (www.blacklooks.org/2007/01/opening_and_closing_the_gates.html) comments on an expose of the “Dirty Little Secrets” behind the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation by the Los Angeles Times (hopefully the Gates’ wield less power than De Beers and the LA Times will not have to retract it’s investigative report). The Gates’ are busy giving away money to immunize children in Africa and other areas of the majority world and at the same time are investing huge sums of money in companies that operate unethically and irresponsibly in those countries.
“With the right hand, the children of the Niger Delta are being saved from getting polio and measles and with the left hand they are suffering from bronchitis, asthma, eczema, boils and other skin problems as well as cancer due to the continued flaring of 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day in the region by the oil companies, and the pollution of drinking and fishing waters from oil spills and old rotten pipelines that leak oil – both at the expense of the Gates Foundation...
"Oil companies are not the only socially irresponsible organisations associated with the Gates Foundation. Other companies rank high as polluters, as well as the very pharmaceutical companies producing anti-retroviral drugs that are unaffordable to the majority world. Ironic when one of the Foundation’s major donations goes to HIV/AIDS.”
• Sokari Ekine produces the blog Black Looks, www.blacklooks.org
• Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at www.pambazuka.org
House of Hunger poetry slam in Zimbabwe
House of Hunger
To coincide with this week’s special issue on Zimbabwe, we bring you both a podcast and video recorded at The House of Hunger poetry slam, which was organised by the Pamberi Trust in Zimbabwe in 2006. These multimedia productions showcase young artists performing inspirational works on such topics as women’s empowerment, child soldiers and corporate power. They demonstrate that at a time when freedom of expression is stifled, artists are still finding a voice.
Please note two poems are in Shona language, and you can find the translation on the Pambazuka News website at
Brought to you in partnership with the Pamberi Trust with music kindly provided by Thulani Promotions
Ethiopia: Gender-Based Violence Raises HIV/Aids Risk
Efforts to address the plight of women infected and affected by HIV/AIDS are lagging behind in Ethiopia's profoundly conservative society, while they continue to bear the brunt of the epidemic. "Women are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia, mainly due to a lack of know-how and control over how, when and where the sex takes place, particularly in the rural areas, where culture and religion dominate the rights of women."
Kenya: Male Participation Crucial to Reducing Gender Violence
Activists are calling on Kenyan men to become more involved in campaigns to end the widespread physical and sexual abuse of women and girls, a problem that is putting millions of women at greater risk of contracting HIV.
Rwanda: Women MPs to Host International Summit
Members of the Forum of Rwanda Women Parliamentarians (FFRP) will February 22-23, host an international conference to share experiences with their counterparts from various countries around the world. The disclosure was made January 5 by the Forum president Judith Kanakuze, during a FFRP meeting held at the Novotel Hotel.
South Africa: Call to improve girls education
Oprah Winfrey could be doing so much more to improve girls' education, said ActionAid after the TV star opened a school for poor girls in South Africa this week. Winfrey used $40 million of her own money to launch the school while the following day Gordon Brown re-iterated his promise of $15 billion aid, promising to make universal primary education a key foreign policy goal.
South Africa: Raped girl's body found down cliff
Police on Wednesday (10 January 2007) recovered the body of a 13-year-old girl who was apparently raped and then thrown over a cliff in Durban's Molweni area. The police search-and-rescue unit had to retrieve Londi Mdunge's body, which had fallen nearly 60m down a cliff overlooking the Inanda Dam.
Tanzania: UN Gets the First Woman Deputy Head
The head of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki Moon, picked Tanzania's Foreign Minister as the first woman UN Deputy Secretary General on Friday. Asha-Rose Migiro takes over the post previously occupied by Britain's Sir Mark Malloch Brown.
Africa: End Government Support to Militias
Chadian and Sudanese militias and other armed groups are committing serious human rights abuses against civilians in eastern Chad, and the Chadian government must do more to protect civilians from such abuses, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today (9 January 2007).
Africa: Islamists arrested in Egypt "face torture" in Tunisia
An Amnesty International statement claims that the Egyptian authorities were preparing to forcibly return four Tunisian nationals – Ayman Hkiri, Ahamed Lahbib, Mhamed Almadiri and another whose name was unknown. If returned to Tunisia they would be in grave danger of torture, Amnesty added.
Africa: Rwanda governor trial begins
The trial of a Rwandan official accused of being one of the main instigators of the 1994 genocide has begun at the UN war crimes tribunal in Tanzania. Tharcisse Renzaho, the former governor of the capital, Kigali, has been charged with genocide, complicity to commit genocide, assassination, and rape.
Africa: Transitional justice in sub-saharan africa
Using a comparative lens, this paper explores the challenges encountered during efforts to pursue justice in a number of sub-Saharan African countries in transition. For example, in many cases domestic prosecutions are neither systematic nor timely, partly because of the poor judicial capacity.
Africa: UN raises Somalia bombing concerns
The United Nations secretary-general has expressed concern that US air strikes in southern Somalia could increase hostilities and harm civilians. Ban Ki-moon's warning came as The Associated Press news agency reported more US attacks on suspected al-Qaeda fighters in the country on Tuesday (9 January 2007).
Gambia: Activists seek legal redress
Though the seat of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, The Gambia has over the years been known for its dwindling human rights records, in particular torture by security forces. But the purported torturers will soon be challenged at the international legal courts, a clandestine activist group reveals.
Global: Call for Case support applications
The African Human Rights and Access to Justice (AHRAJ) Initiative aims to expand the domestication of international human rights standards in Africa through modest financial support for litigation and development of legal opinions, and amicus curiae briefs.
Global: Negative perceptions about refugees
Refugees and asylum seekers get a bad press in some sections of the UK media, but one advocacy group is using drama to counter the negative public perceptions. The Actors for Refugees production of The Asylum Monologues has played to more than 2,000 people around England and Wales since opening in London on June 25, 2006 as part of celebrations in the UK marking World Refugee Day.
Global: Somali community warn of refugee deaths
The Somali community in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, has warned of more deaths as increasing numbers of Somali migrants make the perilous journey to Yemen to escape the civil war. The warning followed reports that 140 migrants, mostly Somalis, were missing and 17 had died after their vessels capsized off the Yemeni coast last month.
Kenya: Misery of refugees stranded at Liboi
The over 7,000 refugees barred from entering Kenya on the Somali side of the border near Liboi are a perfect picture of a humanitarian disaster in the making. The Standard and KTN team at Liboi traced groups of deported refugees who have been holding out at the shared border stretch commonly known as no-man’s land, hoping that they would be taken in.
Morocco: Morocco tries to expel migrants
Moroccan police have violently rounded up more than 430 sub-Saharan migrants since late December and tried to force them over the Algerian border, rights campaigners and support associations have said.
Nigeria: Management of Internal Displacement in Nigeria
This research examined the management of IDP’s in Nigeria based on the February/May 2000 communal conflict at Kaduna, Northern Nigeria, as an example and a focus for the study. The research took place against a background of few empirical studies of IDPs in Nigeria specifically within the purview of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.
Somaliland: Female returnees regain financial autonomy
To support the sustainable reintegration of returnees, UNHCR has since the 1990s been rebuilding infrastructure and helping returnees – mostly women – find sources of income. The UN refugee agency helped build a school, police station and water well as more and more people started returning here.
Sudan: Sudanese refugees face a tough decision
Deciding whether or not to return home 20 years after you've left isn't easy. But this is the dilemma facing 70,000 southern Sudanese refugees who have lived in Ethiopia for two decades. Many have never seen their homeland: they were born and raised in refugee camps.
DRC: International support vital to new government
The international community should continue its support for the new government in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to help it overcome serious security and political challenges, the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think-tank, said on Wednesday (10 January 2007).
DRC: MONUC to Redeploy Troops in Western DRC
After the elections and the dawning of a new political era in the DRC, MONUC will commence a new redeployment of troops in western DRC. Lt. Col. Didier Rancher, the MONUC military spokesperson, explains this redeployment.
Guinea-Bissau: Former prime minister seeks refuge with UN
Less than a week after a previous head of Guinea-Bissau’s navy was assassinated, a former prime minister has taken refuge at the United Nations compound in the capital, Bissau, after the government issued a warrant for his arrest.
Kenya: Storm Over Electoral Commission
Religious leaders, the Law Society of Kenya and Kabete MP Paul Muite have added fire to demands that President Kibaki consults widely before appointing 19 new commissioners to the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK).
Nigeria: Political party meeting fails to take place
As predicted, the planned meeting between Action Congress and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) slated for Tuesday (9 January 2007), in Abuja, failed to take place. The parley was to strengthen the alliance between the two in the calculations for April general elections.
Sudan: Public Showdown Exposes Widening Chasm in Sudan
Exactly two years ago, the Sudan government and the southern rebels Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) struck a peace accord, halting a bloody north-south war in Africa's largest country. The historic signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) brokered by Kenya in January 9, 2005, in Nairobi, silenced the guns in one of the longest armed conflicts in the continent that spanned over two decades.
Liberia: Lawmakers Confess Receiving Money to Remove Snowe
Two lawmakers have confessed to receiving money for the purpose of removing House Speaker Edwin M. Snowe, Jr. from office. According to a statement issued in Monrovia by Representative Samuel Bondo of Bong County and Margibi's Representative, Saah Gbollie, they were given US$5,000 each with the request that they execute a resolution to remove Speaker Snowe from office.
Nigeria: "We 'll Stop Corrupt Politicians"
Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Mallam Nuhu Ribadu yesterday (9 January 2007) vowed to stop any corrupt politician from contesting forthcoming general elections, saying that such persons can run but cannot hide.
Rwanda: Former bank boss arrested
Police on Friday (5 January 2007) arrested the former Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Bank of Commerce, Development and Industry (BCDI), Alfred Kalisa on corruption and office abuse-related charges he allegedly committed at the time he was at the bank's helm.
South Africa: DA Seeks Probe Into Kickbacks Claims
Pressure is mounting on President Thabo Mbeki to establish a judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of corruption in the multibillion-rand arms deal, following weekend reports that the British Serious Fraud Office is investigating kickbacks paid to a former defence ministry official.
Zambia: Task Force Mandate Extended
President Mwanawasa has extended the mandate of the Task Force on Corruption indefinitely, a move that has cheered the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ).
Africa: Africa Might Be China's Next Imperial Frontier
Chinese Foreign minister Mr Li Zhaoxing will spend more than half of this month in Africa, visiting about a dozen countries. China is making itself an indispensable player in Africa. A recent study indicates that it has overtaken Britain to become Africa's third most important trading partner after the US and France.
Africa: IMF's MD Arrives in Africa
International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Managing Director Mr. Rogrigo de Rato will Tuesday (9 January 2007) visit Africa to discuss the problems facing the continent. The visit will afford him the opportunity of directly hearing from African policy makers and opinion leaders on the best way the Fund can be of support to the continent towards reducing poverty.
Africa: The Cost of Making Money in Uganda
What does it take to do business in Uganda? This is the question that Doing Business 2007--a new World Bank and International Finance Corporation study sought to find out. The study compared 175 economies including 23 high-income Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development economies, 45 from Sub-Saharan Africa, 23 from East Asia and the Pacific Region, 28 economies from Europe and Central Asia, 31 from Latin America, 17 from Middle East and North Africa and eight from South Asia.
Ivory Coast: China promises Côte d'Ivoire billions
China has promised funds to the crisis-ridden West African state of Côte d'Ivoire. Ivorian authorities described the gesture as a fulfilment of a promise made by China at a recent China-Africa summit in Beijing.
Africa: Breastfeeding and HIV/AIDS
A prospective cohort study has found that HIV-positive Kenyan mothers who breastfed their babies had faster declines in CD4 cell count and body mass index than those who formula-fed. However, breastfeeding had no effect on viral load or overall mortality among the mothers after two years.
Africa: Malaria - Vaccine Expected in 2011
Dr. Seth Owusu Agyei, Director of Kintampo Health Research Centre (KHRC) in the Brong Ahafo Region has stated that he is very hopeful that by the year 2011, the centre would have come out with a malaria vaccine RTS,S, which is currently going through clinical trials, for use in Ghana and across Africa to control malaria.
Africa: Maternal nevirapine-based ART
Women who received single dose nevirapine at the time of childbirth had better outcomes from nevirapine-based triple combination therapy if they started antiretroviral therapy more than six months after delivery, US researchers report in the January 11th edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Global: ARVs for children needed urgently
The World Health Organization has issued a call for more pharmaceutical companies to develop d4T and AZT-based fixed dose antiretroviral combinations suitable for use in children of varying ages as part of the drive to expand treatment opportunities for children with HIV in developing countries.
Global: CD4 cell percentages
HIV-negative patients with cirrhosis have low CD4 cell counts, but normal CD4 cell percentages, American researchers report in a study published in the February 1st edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases.
Africa: Africa's Schools Are a Scandal
When, sometime ago, Mahmood Mamdani, former Professor of political science at Makerere University, gave us a disturbing diagnosis of what has gone wrong with that institution of higher learning, it earned him considerable wrath from the dons.
Kenya: Taking 'Young Mothers' Back to School
She appears to be in her mid 30s, although she is just 16. Perhaps Amina (not her real name) could now be in secondary school had she not become pregnant at the age of nine.
South Africa: Underperforming schools remain open
Underperforming schools in Gauteng and the Free State will remain open, the provincial education departments said on Tuesday (9 January 2007). The [provincial minister] is not closing any schools for non-performance," said the Gauteng education department spokesperson Mbela Phetlhe.
Uganda: Asians to Open Varsity in Jinja
Jinja mayor Mohammed Baswali Kezala has revealed that Asian investors are planning to establish a university in the district. Kezala said the investors are seeking 30 acres of land for the university, adding that municipal authorities were in the process of securing it.
Uganda: Free secondary education plan unveiled
Uganda has begun implementing a free universal secondary education (USE) programme in 700 public and 280 private schools in the first phase of a scheme aimed at making education accessible to all, officials said on Monday (8 January 2007).
Guinea: Africa's first vulture sanctuary
The government of Guinea has designated a specially protected area for vultures, the first of its kind in Africa. The 'vulture sanctuary' consists of approximately 450,000 ha in the Fouta Djallon Highlands, a region that holds a significant proportion of West Africa's vultures and which is Guinea's main tourist attraction.
Kenya: Farmers Fear RVF May Spread
There are fears that the killer Rift Valley Fever could spread, with scores of goats reportedly dying from an unidentified disease. Veterinary officers in Meru Central, Taita Taveta and Laikipia districts have raised the alarm over the fever.
Nigeria: Fears over oil fires
The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) has warned that the continuing denial of access to the site of the Bomu wells 41 and 51 fires in Ogoni land, where it has not operated since 1993 could cause a blow-out which will result in serious environmental damage and risk of injury or death to people within the area.
Uganda: Lake Vic Water Levels Are Dropping
Lake Victoria water levels have dropped over the past five years largely due to excessive releases of water through the second dam. The report, compiled by the Water Resources Management Department (WRMD) in the Ministry of Water, reports that since 2004, Lake Victoria is the only big Ugandan lake that has had its water level patterns fluctuate compared to Lakes Albert and Kyoga.
Malawi: Small scale farmers yet to benefit from subsidised fertiliser
As the planting season draws to a close, the Malawian government has pronounced its subsidised fertiliser programme a success, but some small-scale farmers claim they have yet to benefit.
Africa: Press Freedom in Central Africa
Press freedom has deteriorated in Central Africa over the past year due to armed conflict, divisive electoral processes and the lack of democratic structures to protect freedom of expression, a new report by Journaliste en Danger (JED) has found.
Africa: What you didn't see on television ...
Tuberculosis (TB), malnutrition and African wars were among the top ten most underreported humanitarian stories of 2006, the international aid organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said on Tuesday (9 January 2006). "We know that media coverage does not generate improvements on its own," said United States MSF executive director Nicolas de Torrente.
Morocco: Moroccan journalists in court
The Moroccan authorities have called for the jailing of two journalists who published popular jokes about religion, sex and politics. The authorities removed the magazine, Nichane, which means "as it is", from sale last month after Casablanca's state prosecutor took legal action, saying the jokes were an attack on Islam.
Zimbabwe: Last free newspapers under fire
The two last independent newspapers of Zimbabwe, both weeklies, are heading towards an uncertain future. The South Africa-based publisher of the 'Zimbabwe Independent' and 'Zimbabwe Standard' newspapers has been stripped of his Zimbabwean citizenship, and is thus according to national laws not allowed to own local media outlets.
Global: Disasters in Iraq, Haiti and Jamaica
"As some of us predicted several years ago, Mr. George W. Bush’s policies have now hit the fan. It may be instructive to go back and read what Wayne Brown and I were saying four years, three years and two years ago. You may not have to do that, because what we said then is now being echoed in some sections of the American press."
Burkina Faso: Rising border tensions
With tensions rising between Niger and Burkina Faso as they accuse each other's security forces of crossing the border to rob and harass villagers, local officials in the area met recently to renew a call for a buffer zone. "The situation is very difficult as the exact location of the border has not been agreed on," the governor of the Sahel Region of Burkina Faso, Bila Dipama, told IRIN on Thursday (4 January 2007), a week after the meeting in Burkina Faso's eastern town of Fada.
Somalia: Somali forces capture jungle base
Government and Ethiopian forces have captured what they say was a jungle base used by Islamic courts fighters in southern Somalia. A government military commander said on Monday (8 January 2007) that Ras Kamboni was taken after a two-day campaign using ground forces and air support.
Somalia: US launches air raids in Somalia
The US military has launched air raids against fighters in Somalia, saying they are suspected members of al-Qaeda. Abdirahman Dinari, a Somalia government spokesman, confirmed the offensive on Tuesday (9 January 2007).
Sudan: Aid agencies caution fragile peace in Sudan
It has been two years since a landmark peace agreement to end Sudan's 21-year-old civil war between the north and the south, but aid agencies cautioned the international community to ensure the peace process does not stall.
Uganda: Suspected rebels kill 13 in southern Sudan
Thirteen people have been killed in two ambushes in southern Sudan by suspected fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group currently engaged in peace talks with the government, military officials said on Thursday (4 January 2007).
Global: Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality
Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality (JMMS) is a new online, scholarly, peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journal. The first issue is now available on an open access basis. JMMS is currently seeking papers and reviews for its second issue with a deadline of 10 March 2007.
Africa: Call for Writers - Women & ICT's
Agenda Journal - Call for Writers - Women & ICT's
Agenda will publish a journal focussing on the topic of Women and ICTs in May 2007. This Agenda Journal will explore how women can take advantage of the ICT revolution and what women’s obstacles are to using ICTs.
Agenda Journal - Call for Writers - Women & ICT's
To send contributions for the upcoming Agenda Journal on Women and ICTs
Agenda will publish a journal focussing on the topic of Women and ICTs in May 2007. This Agenda Journal will explore how women can take advantage of the ICT revolution and what women’s obstacles are to using ICTs. Proposed contributions should cover one or more of the following key areas from a women’s rights or feminism perspective:
What opportunities will ICTs offer women in achieving the Millennium Development Goals? What are the obstacles to using ICTs to economically empower women? How can ICTs empower women in the informal economy? How can ICT policies be engendered? What are the dangers of creating a digital divide, a disparity between those who make use of ICTs efficiently and effectively, and those who do not? Do women in Africa have the capacity and skills to make effective use of ICTs? The ICT revolution has only really impacted the major cities so far - how can we deploy a sustainable ICT infrastructure that empowers marginalised people living in rural areas, particularly women?
Contributions need to be written in English language and in a style accessible to a wide audience. Please submit abstracts to email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> All submissions must contain the following:
Specify the specific key area you would like to write on Provide a 200-300 word overview/abstract Provide full contact details: your name, institution/organisation, telephone, email and the country in which you reside/country of origin Deadline: Please submit no later than 28 January 2007.
Global: African Film Conference 2007
The African film conference in Urbana-Champaign will explore how an appreciation of films as mode of expression and form can be combined with an understanding of their content.
Global: Muslim World in Transition
The so-called “Muslim World” is undergoing change and transition both politically and sociologically. This conference aims to explore the Gulen movement’s past, present and potential-future influence on this transition.
Global: Technology, knowledge and Environment in Africa
The Global Africa Foundation in collaboration with the Department of History, Nasarawa State University, Keffi has announced its 3rd Keffi International Conference and call For Papers.
Africa: Movement Building in the 21st Century
At the Seventh World Social Forum in Nairobi, Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP) will present an interactive panel and dialogue with women’s rights activists from Africa and the Middle East who will discuss strategies to strengthen social movements, particularly the women’s movement, in an era of crisis for civic organizing.
Africa: World Social Forum gains momentum
As the countdown to the 2007 World Social Forum gains momentum, anti-globalisation activists from around the world are no doubt rolling up their sleeves for spirited debates on the flaws in the current economic order. In Cameroon, however, such debates are already under way.
Africa: World Social Forum uniquely organized
The 7th World Social Forum (WSF) will be held from 20 until 25 January 2007 at the Moi International Sports Center Kasarani, Nairobi and is expected to host up to 150,000 delegates from all over the world. Over 1,000 activities will take place in the 106 spaces provided at the venue.
Kenya: 100,000 Guests Expected At World Social Conference
More than 100,000 delegates are expected to attend the World Social Forum conference to be held in Nairobi in a fortnight. Organisers said yesterday (9January 2007) the preparations for the conference were almost complete.
The writer/Editor will be responsible for ensuring that all publications, studies and materials intended for internal or external communications are of the highest professional, editorial standards. He/she will be engaged in the writing, preparation and editorial review of documents produced by Forum staff or commissioned to external experts.
Global: IRIN Internship - Assistant Photo Editor
IRIN’s principal role is to provide news and analysis about sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia for the humanitarian community. We are looking for an internship candidate to work for a period of three to six months as assistant Photo Editor in the newly established photo department (IRINPhoto).
Kenya: Volunteer Opportunity
Experience in marketing and sales and background in business administration. Prior experience with artisan-focused fair trade programs is a plus. Excellent English writing communication skills.
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