Last night, the great African writer Chinua Achebe passed away in Boston, Massachusetts, aged 82 years old. Up until his death, he was the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University in the United States.
Chinua Achebe has a special place in Jamaicans’ hearts – largely because of his famous 1958 novel of colonialism, “Things Fall Apart,” which sold eight million copies globally and was translated into fifty languages. The book was prescribed reading in Jamaican high schools (I think it might still be on the book list) and so many are familiar with it.
A certain Jamaican radio talk show host, the late Wilmot “Mutty” Perkins, was also closely associated with this phrase. Mr. Perkins had a jaundiced view of Jamaican society and politics, and regularly indulged in gloomy and pessimistic monologues. He would often preface (or end) these by intoning the words, “Things fall apart…”
Some Jamaicans thought he was quoting Chinua Achebe. In fact, the great novelist took the line from a powerful poem by W.B. Yeats, written in 1919. World War I had just ended, leaving over nine million young men dead, and nations sunk into exhaustion and hopelessness at the futility of it all. Between the two world wars, there was a growing sense of foreboding, of dark clouds gathering. This feeling of dread permeates much of Europe’s literature during this period. JRR Tolkien, author of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” actually fought in World War I (in the bloody Battle of the Somme, which claimed the lives of over 1,300,000 men. Yes, 1.3 million). This poem was written in the shadow of the horror that had just ended.
If “Mutty” had the time and inclination during his radio show, he would recite the poem in its chilling entirety. As for me, I have a vivid mental picture of that “rough beast.”
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
I wrote about Chinua Achebe’s memoirs,There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, published in October of last year. The book reopened some old wounds in Nigeria – the wounds of the Biafran civil war (1967-70). Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote poignantly about Achebe in a fascinating article published in Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper; both her and Achebe are from Biafra, the home of the mostly Igbo people. Here is the link from my blog: http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/24/african-postman-we-remember-differently/ You can also read my review of one of Adichie’s novels on Biafra among my book reviews at the top of this page.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/23/world/africa/chinua-achebe-nigerian-writer-dies-at-82.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0 Chinua Achebe, African literary titan, dies at 82: New York Times
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/african-postman-fifty-years-of-the-african-writers-series/ African Postman: Fifty Years of the African Writers Series: petchary.wordpress.com
Following up on my recent post on the African Writers’ Series, I am still in literary vein. This very interesting article came up on in a tweet from Nigeria’s “Vanguard” newspaper, which I follow. There are several “African connections” for Jamaica here. The author of this article, Chimamanda Adichie, was born in Biafra (as it was called during the years of Nigeria’s tragic civil war). She was a special guest at Jamaica’s Calabash International Literary Festival in May of this year. And Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian writer from an older generation, is well known to Jamaicans; his novel “Things Fall Apart” was read in Jamaican schools for many years. Chinua Achebe turns 82 this week; in this article Chimamanda Adichie celebrates the renowned author (her “literary hero”) and adds her voice to the controversy in Nigeria over Achebe’s book, a memoir, ” There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra.” N.B. “Jisie ike,” which Mr. Achebe said to her before she went on stage, means “Be strong” in the dialect of Nigeria’s Anambra State.
I have met Chinua Achebe only three times. The first, at the National Arts Club in Manhattan, I joined the admiring circle around him. A gentle-faced man in a wheelchair.
“Good evening, sir. I’m Chimamanda Adichie,” I said, and he replied, mildly, “I thought you were running away from me.”
I mumbled, nervous, grateful for the crush of people around us. I had been running away from him. After my first novel was published, I received an email from his son. My dad has just read your novel and liked it very much. He wants you to call him at this number. I read it over and over, breathless with excitement. But I never called. A few years later, my editor sent Achebe a manuscript of my second novel. She did not tell me, because she wanted to shield me from the possibility of disappointment. One afternoon, she called. “Chimamanda, are you sitting down? I have wonderful news.” She read me the blurb Achebe had just sent her. We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers. Adichie knows what is at stake, and what to do about it. She is fearless or she would not have taken on the intimidating horror of Nigeria’s civil war. Adichie came almost fully made. Afterwards, I held on to the phone and wept. I have memorized those words. In my mind, they glimmer still, the validation of a writer whose work had validated me.
I grew up writing imitative stories. Of characters eating food I had never seen and having conversations I had never heard. They might have been good or bad, those stories, but they were emotionally false, they were not mine. Then came a glorious awakening: Chinua Achebe’s fiction. Here were familiar characters who felt true; here was language that captured my two worlds; here was a writer writing not what he felt he should write but what he wanted to write. His work was free of anxiety, wore its own skin effortlessly. It emboldened me, not to find my voice, but to speak in the voice I already had. And so, when that e-mail came from his son, I knew, overly-thrilled as I was, that I would not call. His work had done more than enough. In an odd way, I was so awed, so grateful, that I did not want to meet him. I wanted some distance between my literary hero and me.
Chinua Achebe and I have never had a proper conversation. The second time I saw him, at a luncheon in his honor hosted by the British House of Lords, I sat across from him and avoided his eye. (“Chinua Achebe is the only person I have seen you shy with,” a friend said). The third, at a New York event celebrating fifty years of THINGS FALL APART, we crowded around him backstage, Edwidge Danticat and I, Ha Jin and Toni Morrison, Colum McCann and Chris Abani. We seemed, magically, bound together in a warm web, all of us affected by his work. Achebe looked pleased, but also vaguely puzzled by all the attention. He spoke softly, the volume of his entire being turned to ‘low.’ I wanted to tell him how much I admired his integrity, his speaking out about the disastrous leadership in my home state of Anambra, but I did not. Before I went on stage, he told me, “Jisie ike.” I wondered if he fully grasped, if indeed it was possible to, how much his work meant to so many.
History and civics, as school subjects, function not merely to teach facts but to transmit more subtle things, like pride and dignity. My Nigerian education taught me much, but left gaping holes. I had not been taught to imagine my pre-colonial past with any accuracy, or pride, or complexity. And so Achebe’s work, for me, transcended literature. It became personal. ARROW OF GOD, my favorite, was not just about the British government’s creation of warrant chiefs and the linked destinies of two men, it became the life my grandfather might have lived. THINGS FALL APART is the African novel most read – and arguably most loved – by Africans, a novel published when ‘African novel’ meant European accounts of ‘native’ life. Achebe was an unapologetic member of the generation of African writers who were ‘writing back,’ challenging the stock Western images of their homeland, but his work was not burdened by its intent. It is much-loved not because Achebe wrote back, but because he wrote back well. His work was wise, humorous, human. For many Africans, THINGS FALL APART remains a gesture of returned dignity, a literary and an emotional experience; Mandela called Achebe the writer in whose presence the prison walls came down.
Achebe’s latest work: There was a country
Achebe’s most recent book, his long-awaited memoir of the Nigerian-Biafra war, is both sad and angry, a book by a writer looking back and mourning Nigeria’s failures. I wish THERE WAS A COUNTRY had been better edited and more rigorously detailed in its account of the war. But these flaws do not make it any less seminal: an account of the most important event in Nigeria’s history by Nigeria’s most important storyteller.
An excerpt from the book has ignited great controversy among Nigerians. In it, Achebe, indignant about the millions of people who starved to death in Biafra, holds Obafemi Awolowo, Nigerian Finance Minister during the war, responsible for the policy of blockading Biafra. He quote’s Awolowo’s own words on the blockade – ‘all is fair in war and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder’ and then argues that Awolowo’s support of the blockade was ‘driven by an overriding ambition for power for himself in particular and for the advancement of his Yoruba people in general.’
I have been startled and saddened by the responses to this excerpt. Many are blindingly ethnic, lacking in empathy and, most disturbing of all, lacking in knowledge. We can argue about how we interpret the facts of our shared history, but we cannot, surely, argue about the facts themselves. Awolowo, as de facto ‘number two man’ on the Nigerian side, was a central architect of the blockade on Biafra. During and after the war, Awolowo publicly defended the blockade. Without the blockade, the massive starvation in Biafra would not have occurred. These are the facts.
Some Nigerians, in responding to Achebe, have argued that the blockade was fair, as all is fair in war. The blockade was, in my opinion, inhumane and immoral. And it was unnecessary – Nigeria would have won anyway, it was the much-better-armed side in a war that Wole Soyinka called a shabby unequal conflict. The policy of starving a civilian population into surrender does not merely go against the Geneva conventions, but in this case, a war between siblings, people who were formerly fellow country men and women now suddenly on opposite sides, it seems more chilling. All is not fair in war. Especially not in a fratricidal war. But I do not believe the blockade was a calculated power grab by Awolowo for himself and his ethnic group; I think of it, instead, as one of the many dehumanizing acts that war, by its nature, brings about.
Awolowo was undoubtedly a great political leader. He was also – rare for Nigerian leaders – a great intellectual. No Nigerian leader has, arguably, articulated a political vision as people-centered as Awolowo’s. For Nigerians from the west, he was the architect of free primary education, of progressive ideas. But for Nigerians from the east, he was a different man. I grew up hearing, from adults, versions of Achebe’s words about Awolowo. He was the man who prevented an Igbo man from leading the Western House of Assembly in the famous ‘carpet crossing’ incident of 1952. He was the man who betrayed Igbo people when he failed on his alleged promise to follow Biafra’s lead and pull the Western region out of Nigeria. He was the man who, in the words of my uncle, “made Igbo people poor because he never liked us.”
At the end of the war, every Igbo person who had a bank account in Nigeria was given twenty pounds, no matter how much they had in their accounts before the war. I have always thought this a livid injustice. I know a man who worked in a multinational company in 1965. He was, like Achebe, one of the many Igbo who just could not believe that their lives were in danger in Lagos and so he fled in a hurry, at the last minute, leaving thousands of pounds in his account. After the war, his account had twenty pounds. To many Igbo, this policy was uncommonly punitive, and went against the idea of ‘no victor, no vanquished.’ Then came the indigenization decree, which moved industrial and corporate power from foreign to Nigerian hands. It made many Nigerians wealthy; much of the great wealth in Nigeria today has its roots in this decree. But the Igbo could not participate; they were broke.
I do not agree, as Achebe writes, that one of the main reasons for Nigeria’s present backwardness is the failure to fully reintegrate the Igbo. I think Nigeria would be just as backward even if the Igbo had been fully integrated – institutional and leadership failures run across all ethnic lines. But the larger point Achebe makes is true, which is that the Igbo presence in Nigerian positions of power has been much reduced since the war. Before the war, many of Nigeria’s positions of power were occupied by Igbo people, in the military, politics, academia, business. Perhaps because the Igbo were very receptive to Western education, often at the expense of their own traditions, and had both a striving individualism and a communal ethic. This led to what, in history books, is often called a ‘fear of Igbo domination’ in the rest of Nigeria. The Igbo themselves were insensitive to this resentment, the bombast and brashness that is part of Igbo culture only exacerbated it. And so leading Igbo families entered the war as Nigeria’s privileged elite but emerged from it penniless, stripped and bitter.
Today, ‘marginalization’ is a popular word in Igboland. Many Igbo feel marginalized in Nigeria, a feeling based partly on experience and partly on the psychology of a defeated people. (Another consequence of this psychology, perhaps, is the loss of the communal ethic of the Igbo, much resented sixty years ago. It is almost non-existent today, or as my cousin eloquently put it: Igbo people don’t even send each other.)
Some responses to Achebe have had a ‘blame the victim’ undertone, suggesting that Biafrians started the war and therefore deserved what they got. But Biafrians did not ‘start the war.’ Nobody with a basic knowledge of the facts can make that case.
Biafran secession was inevitable, after the federal government’s failure to implement the agreements reached at Aburi, itself prompted by the massacre of Igbo in the North. The cause of the massacres was arguably the first coup of 1966. Many believed it to be an ‘Igbo’ coup, which was not an unreasonable belief, Nigeria was already mired in ethnic resentments, the premiers of the West and North were murdered while the Eastern premier was not, and the coup plotters were Igbo. Except for Adewale Ademoyega, a Yoruba, who has argued that it was not an ethnic coup. I don’t believe it was. It seems, from most accounts, to have been an idealistic and poorly-planned nationalist exercise aimed at ridding Nigeria of a corrupt government. It was, also, horrendously, inexcusably violent. I wish the coup had never happened. I wish the premiers and other casualties had been arrested and imprisoned, rather than murdered. But the truth that glares above all else is that the thousands of Igbo people murdered in their homes and in the streets had nothing to do with the coup.
Some have blamed the Biafran starvation on Ojukwu, Biafra’s leader, because he rejected an offer from the Nigerian government to bring in food through a land corridor. It was an ungenerous offer, one easy to refuse. A land corridor could also mean advancement of Nigerian troops. Ojukwu preferred airlifts, they were tactically safer, more strategic, and he could bring in much-needed arms as well. Ojukwu should have accepted the land offer, shabby as it was. Innocent lives would have been saved. I wish he had not insisted on a ceasefire, a condition which the Nigerian side would never have agreed to. But it is disingenuous to claim that Ojukwu’s rejection of this offer caused the starvation. Many Biafrians had already starved to death. And, more crucially, the Nigerian government had shown little regard for Biafra’s civilian population; it had, for a while, banned international relief agencies from importing food. Nigerian planes bombed markets and targeted hospitals in Biafra, and had even shot down an International Red Cross plane.
Ordinary Biafrians were steeped in distrust of the Nigerian side. They felt safe eating food flown in from Sao Tome, but many believed that food brought from Nigeria would be poisoned, just as they believed that, if the war ended in defeat, there would be mass killings of Igbo people. The Biafrian propaganda machine further drummed this in. But, before the propaganda, something else had sown the seed of hateful fear: the 1966 mass murders of Igbo in the North. The scars left were deep and abiding. Had the federal government not been unwilling or incapable of protecting their lives and property, Igbo people would not have so massively supported secession and intellectuals, like Achebe, would not have joined in the war effort.
I have always admired Ojukwu, especially for his early idealism, the choices he made as a young man to escape the shadow of his father’s great wealth, to serve his country. In Biafra, he was a flawed leader, his paranoia and inability to trust those close to him clouded his judgments about the execution of the war, but he was also a man of principle who spoke up forcefully about the preservation of the lives of Igbo people when the federal government seemed indifferent. He was, for many Igbo, a Churchillian figure, a hero who inspired them, whose oratory moved them to action and made them feel valued, especially in the early months of the war.
Other responses to Achebe have dismissed the war as something that happened ‘long ago.’ But some of the people who played major roles are alive today. We must confront our history, if only to begin to understand how we came to be where we are today. The Americans are still hashing out details of their civil war that ended in 1865; the Spanish have only just started, seventy years after theirs ended. Of course, discussing a history as contested and contentious as the Nigeria-Biafra war will not always be pleasant. But it is necessary. An Igbo saying goes: If a child does not ask what killed his father, that same thing will kill him.
What many of the responses to Achebe make clear, above all else, is that we remember differently. For some, Biafra is history, a series of events in a book, fodder for argument and analysis. For others, it is a loved one killed in a market bombing, it is hunger as a near-constant companion, it is the death of certainty. The war was fought on Biafrian soil. There are buildings in my hometown with bullet holes; as a child, playing outside, I would sometimes come across bits of rusty ammunition left behind from the war. My generation was born after 1970, but we know of property lost, of relatives who never ‘returned’ from the North, of shadows that hung heavily over family stories. We inherited memory. And we have the privilege of distance that Achebe does not have.
Achebe is a war survivor. He was a member of the generation of Nigerians who were supposed to lead a new nation, inchoate but full of optimism. It shocked him, how quickly Nigerian fell apart. In THERE WAS A COUNTRY he sounds unbelieving, still, about the federal government’s indifference while Igbo people were being massacred in Northern Nigeria in 1966. But shock-worthy events did not only happen in the North. Achebe himself was forced to leave Lagos, a place he had called home for many years, because his life was no longer safe. His crime was being Igbo. A Yoruba acquaintance once told me a story of how he was nearly lynched in Lagos at the height of the tensions before the war; he was light-skinned, and a small mob in a market assumed him to be ‘Igbo Yellow’ and attacked him. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos was forced to leave. So was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan. Because they were Igbo. For Achebe, all this was deeply personal, deeply painful. His house was bombed, his office was destroyed. He escaped death a few times. His best friend died in battle. To expect a dispassionate account from him is a remarkable failure of empathy. I wish more of the responses had acknowledged, a real acknowledgement and not merely a dismissive preface, the deep scars that experiences like Achebe’s must have left behind.
Ethnicity has become, in Nigeria, more political than cultural, less about philosophy and customs and values and more about which bank is a Yoruba or Hausa or Igbo bank, which political office is held by which ethnicity, which revered leader must be turned into a flawless saint. We cannot deny ethnicity. It matters. But our ethnic and national identities should not be spoken of as though they were mutually exclusive; I am as much Igbo as I am Nigerian. I have hope in the future of Nigeria, mostly because we have not yet made a real, conscious effort to begin creating a nation (We could start, for example, by not merely teaching Maths and English in primary schools, but also teaching idealism and citizenship.)
For some non-Igbo, confronting facts of the war is uncomfortable, even inconvenient. But we must hear one another’s stories. It is even more imperative for a subject like Biafra which, because of our different experiences, we remember differently. Biafrian minorities were distrusted by the Igbo majority, and some were unfairly attacked, blamed for being saboteurs. Nigerian minorities, particularly in the midwest, suffered at the hands of both Biafrian and Nigerian soldiers. ‘Abandoned property’ cases remain unresolved today in Port Harcourt, a city whose Igbo names were changed after the war, creating “Rumu” from “Umu.” Nigerian soldiers carried out a horrendous massacre in Asaba, murdering the males in a town which is today still alive with painful memories. Some Igbo families are still waiting, half-hoping, that a lost son, a lost daughter, will come home. All of these stories can sit alongside one another. The Nigerian stage is big enough. Chinua Achebe has told his story. This week, he turns 82. Long may he live.”
Related articles and websites:
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/3537/ (Inspirational Woman of the Day: Chimamanda Adichie/re-blogged)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/african-postman-fifty-years-of-the-african-writers-series/ (African Postman: Fifty Years of the African Writers Series: petchary.wordpress.com)
http://brown.edu/Departments/Africana_Studies/people/achebe_chinua.html (Chinua Achebe’s website: Brown University)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/oct/05/chinua-achebe-there-was-a-country-review (There Was a Country: Review/Guardian UK)
The trouble with Achebe (vanguardngr.com)
Chinua Achebe reflects on Biafra, but for whom? (africasacountry.com)
Chinua Achebe’s Memoir ‘There Was a Country’ Bookends His Long Literary Career (atlantablackstar.com)
The Defeated Write History: Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country (themillions.com)
Remembering Biafra (nytimes.com)
Achebe Administers a Sacrament For Biafra (A Review of There Was A Country) By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo (igbokwenuradio.wordpress.com)
Achebe publishes Biafran memoir (bbc.co.uk)
Today, Jamaica is half a century old. Music throbs from the National Stadium as the evening grey grows deeper. The remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto rustle in the trees, and the White-Chinned Thrush in our yard starts his persistent, piercing whistle. On television, the military bands in scarlet, white and black march at the Grand Gala. Choirs will sing, dancers will dance, flags will be waved, drummers will drum. The announcer will speak in her best Queen’s English Jamaican voice. There has been Indian Bollywood dancing, Chinese dragons and of course African drums, illustrating the Jamaican motto “Out of Many One People” – and then, time to wheel out the church people. The obligatory prayers (yes, we are a Christian country. Out of many one people, but let’s not worry too much about the Jews, Hindus, Muslims, atheists and others tonight) – followed by gospel music. As one Twitter friend just commented, “Forgive my naïveté but I interpret ‘Out of many, one people’ to include many races, many cultures AND many religions.”
Sigh. Well as you can see my weekly review is well overdue. It has been overwhelmed with Olympic runners and swimmers and shooters and fencers and rowers and fighters, and now the celebrations of Jamaica’s fiftieth year of Independence. Putting all of that aside (which is a lot), what is left?
Talking about the preservation of our culture (last Monday, August 1, was our Emancipation Day and we are greatly focused on this topic at present), Professor Emeritus of English at the University of the West Indies Edward Baugh (who’s also a marvelous poet) spoke out recently on Jamaica’s lack of interest in actually preserving the physical aspects of our heritage. As we know, some of our finest examples of colonial architecture are now in ruins – except for a few that have been miraculously revived in the name of tourism. And there are many examples of our oral and written history that just can’t be found. How careless we are.
All the more reason to congratulate the venerable Gleaner Company - the oldest company in Jamaica by far – for its new website, diG Jamaica (www.digjamaica.com) – an ambitious project that seeks to pull together a great deal of information on Jamaica, including historical data and up-to-date vital statistics. This is a fiftieth birthday gift to Jamaica from the Gleaner, and it’s looking good. We need this kind of serious and detailed record. Kudos to Gleaner Managing Director Christopher Barnes and consultant Deika Morrison. This is the way to go!
Well, there were at least a couple of interesting developments last week. Firstly, the Supreme Court ruled that the license issued by the then minister of mining and energy in 2001 to the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo) was invalid and not, in fact, an exclusive monopoly. The legal details are too complex to get into, but this is a remarkable development, following a rare class action suit filed by a group of Jamaican citizens calling themselves Citizens United to Reduce Electricity (CURE) and represented by a high-profile and somewhat controversial lawyer. Well, it’s not quite a “cure” yet, but this paves the way for more competition. What next? JPSCo will appeal the ruling. There’s a long way to go before we manage to reduce the insanely high cost of electricity. Jamaica’s rates are the highest in the Caribbean and among the highest globally – a huge deterrent to business and investment, large and small, domestic and overseas. My favorite government minister, Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell, seems quietly pleased with the ruling.
Secondly, the British policeman who has been heading the Jamaica Constabulary Force‘s anti-corruption unit – with considerable success – for the past few years, has been appointed head of the Financial Investigations Division, which operates from the Ministry of Finance. Mr. Justin Felice says he will tackle corruption, financial crimes and money laundering “very, very robustly” (note emphasis) and more power to him! We would like to see some of the “big boys” under manners (a Jamaican expression meaning “on their best behavior,” for my non-Jamaican readers!)
Talking of law enforcement, the head of the Lottery Scam Task Force has been transferred to the newly-formed Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force (MOCA – another nice acronym), and the Deputy Mayor of Montego Bay was released from prison. You may recall the high drama at the orange house on the hill, the DM’s residence, with an early morning raid involving the seizure of large quantities of cash and “high-end vehicles,” etc. Well, gun and ammunition charges brought against the DM were dismissed in court last week. His son pleaded guilty. So the matter was swiftly dealt with; the DM was hauled on the shoulders of jubilant supporters – quite well-built ladies – on exiting the court; and he will no doubt return to taking up his duties in the St. James Parish Council. There are no charges remaining against him, including no charges connected with the hateful scam, either. That’s that.
Apart from these events, there was a huge wave of reflections and all kinds of analysis from columnists and anyone with an opinion on the state of Island Jamaica at fifty. We were regaled with the views of our former prime minister, P.J. Patterson, who believes that “we have achieved” much in the last fifty years. A strong advocate of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Mr. Patterson (sorry, the Most Honorable P.J. Patterson etc) thinks politicians should come together in the Jamaica 50 “spirit of unity” and “do what is necessary” - that is, pass legislation to make the Court Jamaica’s final court of appeal, without of course consulting the Jamaican people on the matter. A battle is to follow… I don’t need a crystal ball to foresee politicians on both sides showing a remarkable lack of Jamaica 50 unity on the matter – perhaps involving much braying, shouting and walking out of the chamber.
And talking of unity – it has become a real buzzword, lately – the Gleaner continued to air the views of the privileged and successful on the topic on its front page. Even business leaders – the head of our local cigarette company included – are pontificating on the matter. I would like them to go down and talk to the men, women and young people of this country and ask them what they think about unity; especially perhaps in the “garrison” communities of our inner-cities (funny there has been very little talk about them, lately) where one side of a street is feuding with the other side, and small communities have names like “Vietnam” and “Dunkirk.” Even the Prime Minister’s garrison constituency. I wonder what they would have to say.
There were, of course, endless speeches in Parliament, and numerous recorded messages from the Prime Minister, Governor General and Leader of the Opposition, on Emancipation Day and again for Jamaica 50. If you are really interested in reading them, the links are below. Our Prime Minister also gave an interview to Time magazine, talking about everything from homophobia (no, Jamaica, we are not really homophobic, and no, I am not going to do anything about changing the laws on buggery); to Usain Bolt, etc. The full interview is in the magazine and excerpts are in a link below.
There was an additional speech in Parliament late last week, by President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan. The hardly-ever-smiling President was warmly received, wore his usual felt hat both indoors and outdoors, and urged Jamaica to join his country in fighting poverty. Again, that old buzzword “Unity” or variations thereof continually punctuated his speech. In fact, he asked a very pertinent question: “Is the Black man really free today?” and continued, “Today the destiny of the Black person is in the hands of the Black people.” Well, Marcus Garvey told us that years ago.
President Jonathan had very little to smile about, on his own account. An Associated Press report printed in the Sunday Observer, a day or two after his visit, was headlined “Nigeria in turmoil.” Gloom and doom.
Others shared their views on Jamaica 50. A letter writer observed, “Isn’t it interesting that with all the festivities surrounding our Emancipation and Independence the only things that we can boast about are our music and our athletes? Are you telling me that almost 180 years after Emancipation and 50 years since Independence the only thing that we can brag about is entertainment?” Oh dear me. Financial analyst Dennis Chung, in his usual clear-headed manner, asked another question: “After the party, what?” Read his sensible and balanced article in the Observer’s Caribbean Business Report below.
And you may well have missed some interesting comments by economist Dr. Damien King of the University of the West Indies. “We are poor because we have not had the courage to expand opportunity. It is now time to choose inspired leadership that can create equality of opportunities instead of pandering to the poor,” Dr. King said recently. I could not agree more. But are our leaders listening? Well, for the past fifty years they have not been. And as we all know, our current Prime Minister loves the poor.
OK, now the good and bad (and we are all beautiful, not ugly):
Bad first: A letter to the Editor from a pastor last week declared, “Flexi-work is slavery.” Oh, come on. Can the church please get worked up about some actually relevant issues? The debate about flexi-time has actually been going on for eighteen years, now, with the church vehemently opposed. Eighteen years. That’s progress for you.
The University Hospital of the West Indies and the Kingston Public Hospital have malfunctioning or non-functioning CT scan machines. These are two crucial, large and busy Kingston hospitals. They, and their patients, often have to resort to seeking assistance from private institutions – and the patients have to pay.
As radio talk show host Barbara Gloudon has regularly remarked, with Jamaica at fifty years old, the historic Ward Theatre in downtown Kingston is literally crumbling. Chunks of it will soon start falling on people’s heads.
The good stuff, finally:
I don’t usually gush over beauty queens – and Jamaicans do love their beauty queens – but have to congratulate the Miss Jamaica Festival Queen 2012, Ms. Kemesha Kelly. She is not just a pretty face (although her smile is dazzling). She is a youth advocate – intelligent and articulate, with a strong vision for Jamaica. One of those many young people we should be proud of. Big ups to Kemesha! You will go far.
And now, congratulations to a Jamaican overseas, and a former work colleague of mine in Jamaica, Luke Williams. The lanky Luke has lived in London for ten years now and he is a tremendous teacher, a writer, a great actor. He is also a correspondent for Radio Jamaica, so I hear his warm voice reporting from London on a regular basis. And Luke recently carried the Olympic torch! From Ilford High Road to Redbridge Town Hall. His school nominated him for the honor. Marvelous stuff. And a lovely article by Jamaica Observer writer Janice Budd, by the way.
Our Jamaican Fulbright Scholars always do us proud, and six post-graduates were recently selected for courses in the United States ranging from public policy to tourism and the environment to finance and pest management. Congratulations to them all.
And once again, the American Friends of Jamaica came up trumps. They donated a forty-foot container full of very important equipment and supplies to the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, which serves a wide area with a population of almost a million people. I have no idea why this news was tucked away in the Gleaner’s social pages…
Last but not least, an organization called Halls of Learning has done a great job with a special summer camp for young people in the often-volatile Mountain View area of Kingston. Its young and enterprising founder, Marvin Hall, has a unique approach to learning which includes technology (robotics) and stimulating the child’s natural creativity. Great stuff.
To end, sadly blood was still shed on our island during its weeklong celebrations. My sincere condolences to the families, friends and all those affected by the sad deaths of the following Jamaicans.
And so we march on, into our next fifty years! Have a great remainder of the week.
Killed by police:
Joseph Williams, 29. Llandilo, Westmoreland
Randy Allwood, 21, Alma, Westmoreland
Kadena Jarrett, 24, Frome, Westmoreland
Robert Williams, 24, Dover, St. Mary
Dudley Gordon, Rose End, St. Mary
Sasheka McBean, 25, Spring Mount, St. James
Oneil Lee, Spring Mount, St. James
Jerome Allen, Spring Mount, St. James
Therese Marie Cole, 26, St. James
Davian Robinson, Port Antonio, Portland
Oneil Brown, 30, Cassava Piece, St. Andrew
Uleces Johns, 51, Slipe, St. Elizabeth
Stacy-Ann Smith, 17, Wynters Pen, St. Catherine
http://www.jis.gov.jm/special_sections/Independence/symbols.html (Independence symbols)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120731/lead/lead6.html (JPS licence invalid, rules Supreme Court)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/UWI-professor-bemoans-Ja-s-poor-record-keeping-practices_12086060 (UWI professor bemoans Jamaica’s poor record-keeping practices)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120730/lead/lead8.html (Can you diG it? Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120803/lead/lead8.html (Felice to tighten noose on financial crimes)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/New-FID-boss-Justin-Felice-vows-to-tackle-corruption_12152121 (New FID boss Justin Felice vows to tackle corruption)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120608/news/news6.htmlRelated articles (Anti-corruption body to work with new task force)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120801/lead/lead1.html (Troupe set free)
Jamaica 50 – The Celebration Continues (prweb.com)
50-50 Reflections (petchary.wordpress.com)
Who Is Jamaica? (nytimes.com)
Jamaica celebrates 50th anniversary to mixed reviews (lfpress.com)
VIDEO: Memories of Jamaican independence (bbc.co.uk)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Raw-sewage-flowing-in-Majesty-Gardens-streets (Raw sewage flowing in Majesty Gardens streets)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/PJ-wants-politicians-to-show-maturity_12098630 (PJ wants politicians to show maturity)
http://repeatingislands.com/2012/08/05/jamaica-at-50-island-nations-p-m-talks-about-the-queen-the-caribbean-and-usain-bolt/ (Jamaica at 50: Island Nation’s PM talks – Time Magazine)
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1834406,00.html (Can Jamaica’s sprinters fight crime? – Time Magazine)
http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/newsflash/president-jonathan-speech-at-jamaicas-50th-annivesary-celebrations.html (President Jonathan Speech at Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/What-are-we-celebrating-_12142507 (What are we celebrating?)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Jamaica-2012–A-time-for-reflection (A Time for Reflection: Dennis Chung column)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Redistributive-policies-have-not-helped-the-poor–says-Damien-King_12098736 (Redistributive policies have not helped the poor, says Damien King)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120802/news/news3.html (Hospital emergency)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/career/Fulbright-scholars-feted_11990181 (Fulbright scholars feted)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Luke-Williams–moment-to-shine_12035947 (Luke Williams’ moment to shine)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120802/lead/lead5.html (Huge support for Mountain View special summer camp)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120803/social/social4.html (American Friends of Jamaica gives Cornwall Regional medical supplies)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20061127/flair/flair1.html (Marvin Hall’s Robotics Stimul-i)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (born 15 September 1977) is a Nigerian writer.
She is Igbo. She has been called "the most prominent" of a "procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature".
- chimamanda ngozi adichie (v) (blkcowrie.wordpress.com)
- Nigeria, 1966/World Refugee Day, 20 June 2012 (cathannabel.wordpress.com)
- Hay Festival 2012: What they dream about in Africa (telegraph.co.uk)
- Half of a Yellow Sun (shelflove.wordpress.com)
- Book Review: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "Purple Hibiscus" (theycallmekeeks.com)
Water is a crucial issue in developing and developed countries. World Water Day becomes, every year, a more important day on our calendars. In this article from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the important message for Niger, for Africa and for the world is: “We have to change our behavior, and use and manage water responsibly.”
Let us think about ways in which we, in Jamaica, can conserve water and use it more carefully. Newsrooms like to call it “the precious commodity,” and we like to repeat the mantra, “Water is Life.” But we’d better believe it’s true.
JOHANNESBURG, 30 May 2012 (IRIN) – Right now, people in Niger, Mali and Nigeria could be sipping 50,000-year-old water from a two-aquifer system buried below their feet. But some of it may be contaminated.
A combination of soaring temperatures, declining rainfall and a booming population is putting a squeeze on the amount of surface water available for people living in one of the hottest parts of the world, so more and more boreholes are being drilled to tap the precious groundwater beneath the three countries.
But few realize that the water in the Iullemeden Aquifer System, which they see as their salvation, is connected to the surface water and under just as much pressure.
“Countries and people do not realize that groundwater and the surface water are all interconnected, and that there is a precarious balance between the two and we have to look at both in relation to each other,” said Abdel Kader Dodo, the manager of a project by Sahara and Sahel Observatory (OSS), a regional intergovernmental body, to help Niger, Mali and Nigeria share the Iullemeden water carefully.
The Niger River and its tributary, the Rima, feed as well as draw water from Iullemeden, which comprises two major aquifers – the Intercalary Continental (IC) at the bottom, and the Terminal Continental (TC) at the top. Part of the TC is recharged by surface water, while the deep waters of the IC are not easily recharged, and are also being threatened by pollution caused by extensive mining in the region.
The OSS discovered that the Niger River receives 125 million cubic metres of water from the aquifer system every year, while the Rima provides it with 20 million cubic metres of water annually, and draws 12 million cubic metres from it.
The amount of water drawn from the Iullemeden has more than doubled over three decades, from 50 million cubic metres in 1970 to 180 million cubic metres in 2004, while the population that depends on water from the aquifer has shot up from six million in 1970 to 15 million in 2000. This might double by 2025, says the research team at OSS. The number of boreholes and wells drawing water has increased from a few hundred points in the 1940s to more than 17,000 in 2007.
Dodo of the OSS said the impression that the aquifer is under-exploited is not accurate. The government of Niger has said that just 20 percent of the country’s renewable water resources are being tapped, and almost none of the non-renewable sources.
The warning has serious implications. In 1995, during a period when temperatures soared in Niger, the withdrawal of water exceeded the Iullemeden system’s recharge rate. The OSS research team projects that there could be a drawdown of 10 metres of the deep waters of the IC by 2025.
But the moment people dip into these deep waters, the risk of being exposed to water with a high concentration of minerals increases. “There has been a surge in the number of children crippled by skeletal and dental fluorosis [a bone disease caused by too-high fluoride content in water, which often affects people in areas with deep boreholes],” said Dodo.
One of the best-known high fluoride belts extends along the East African Rift from Eritrea to Malawi, according tothe World Health Organization (WHO). Studies in early 2000 discovered high prevalence rates of the disease in parts of Niger and Nigeria. WHO reported that since then people in some of these areas have been provided with alternative water.
Mining and the use of chemicals is another common cause of water pollution in these areas.
What can be done?
“Mitigation measures and alternative sources of water can only work to a certain extent – we have to change our behaviour, and use and manage water responsibly,” Dodo said. “The Iullemeden Aquifer System is located in one of the earth’s regions most vulnerable to climate change, desertification and drought – two phenomena that threaten, among other things, the recharge of aquifers.”
In 2008 the OSS project helped map the aquifer and develop an information base on it, such as the flow, discharge and recharge rates. These tools can help the countries concerned to set up a transboundary mechanism to manage Iullemeden, but not much has been done. “In 2009, Mali, Niger and Nigeria adopted an Agreement with road map (not yet signed) in order to establish this consultation mechanism for managing transboundary groundwater resources,” said Dodo.
Until the government develops and implements a plan to manage the surface water, a lot of money and effort is being wasted on providing water in Niger, where people are dealing with yet another drought. Aquadev, a small Belgian NGO, has struck water four in out of 15 attempts in six years. Each attempt cost at least US$20,000. “There is a lack of knowledge and skills to this kind of work at the local level,” said Stephanie van Steenberghe of Aquadev.
Dodo said the local authorities need good maps that show the aquifer at the village level. “The maps we have now produced should be downscaled, and the people involved in this job need a good understanding of the hydrology and the geology of the area.”
Help could be at hand. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) uses isotopes (variants of a chemical element) for water analysis and has helped Chad, Egypt, Libya and Sudan tap into the Nubian aquifer.
The IAEA has used isotopes to test the quality of water for decades. It is a cheaper method, as it only takes a few samples to show what the quality of water is for hundreds of kilometres.
First, the age of the aquifer is determined by using the naturally occurring radioactive isotope, carbon-14, in the same way it is used to test ancient artefacts. The water in the Iullemeden’s IC aquifer is more than 50,000 years old. The IAEA can also determine how much water remains the aquifer, and how long it could last. The IAEA in a collaborative project with other UN agencies discovered that the water in the Nubian aquifer would last several centuries, putting any concerns about possible conflicts in the future at rest.
Dodo said that if countries know how much water is available, and until when, the potential risk for conflict over water can be deflated. “When it is all transparent and out in the open, they should be able to manage it properly.”
Related articles and links:
The Libyan aftermath: Mali and Niger in crisis (cafod.org.uk)
Scientists Say Africa Sits on Huge Reservoir of Water (voanews.com)
Groundwater in Africa (earth-pages.co.uk)
Oxfam: Hunger Crisis in Niger Turning into a Catastrophe (voanews.com)
Niger is new MIGA member (ghanabusinessnews.com)
Today (or tomorrow, depending on where you are) is Blog Action Day 2011. As it is World Food Day, the theme is, inevitably, Food. And the Petchary is participating, along with (hopefully) thousands of other bloggers across the globe.
I was thinking that like Water, Food never used to be a “hot” issue. But that’s not really true. As a child, I remember growing up with the image of Biafran children (Biafra was a break-away state in Nigeria, which lasted on its own for just about three years until it was re-absorbed in 1970). The haunting images of children with swollen heads, distended bellies and hopeless eyes have been commonplace on our television screens ever since. The bitter Nigerian civil war brought famine, and many thousands of Igbo men, women and children died.
And, at the same time, I was hearing about a “wine lake” and a “butter mountain” in Europe, which was producing more food than it could possibly consume. I believe all the surplus wine from grapes grown mainly in France is still turned into industrial alcohol. And that big old butter mountain, created by Europe’s agricultural subsidies, once again reared up on the horizon just a couple of years ago. 30,000 tons of butter were bought up, at taxpayers’ expense, in 2009. The global economic slowdown has made matters worse – demand has dropped, prices for such commodities as butter and milk dropped. And then there is still a small range of grain mountains, too.
I used to naively wonder why all this excess couldn’t be simply transferred where it is needed, to the starving in Africa, Asia, and anywhere else where there was real need. Just kind of “spread the love.” But of course, we all know it isn’t as simple as that.
Where does that leave Jamaica, an island of close to three million – struggling as it is in a monstrous web of enormous debt, high unemployment, low productivity and environmental stress? No, we are not a happy little island where the natives sit underneath coconut trees all day – we have to “get a food” like everyone else (money/employment means, simply, food on the table). We have an amazing culinary tradition, going right back to the Tainos who created the extraordinarily wonderful jerk barbecue (chicken, pork etc). Then there’s ackee and saltfish; curry goat; mannish water (soup made of unmentionable parts of the goat) and a range of other soups that put hair on your chest; steamed callaloo; escoveitch fish and festival; and so many other spicy, heart-warming delights.
I think the problem for many Jamaicans on the lower end of the social scale is under-nourishment and very poor nutrition. Teachers in schools across the island, especially in inner-city and rural areas, will tell you that children come to school simply hungry. They may only have had a cup of tea for breakfast. There is a school feeding program, but is it enough and is the food nourishing? Jamaicans on the poverty line eat chicken back (the boniest part of the bird) which many of their wealthier fellow-countrymen and women feed to their dogs. Children on the street suck “bag juice” (basically sugar and water). With food prices soaring, it is a mystery to the Petchary how some poor Jamaicans manage to buy any food at all. For a developing country, the cost of food is extremely high.
What is the answer for Jamaica? The Agriculture Minister is urging us to grow food in our backyard, and more of this could be done. And yet there remain major deficiencies in our diet; and despite the plenty of the land and the supermarket shelves groaning with a tremendous range of imported foods and local produce, people still knock on our gate almost daily with the refrain, “Mi hungry.” We regularly find ourselves in the kitchen making a sandwich for some poor soul.
When people beg money, it’s one thing; when a young woman tells you she is hungry and you see her sit down on the sidewalk and devour the sandwich you just made, it is a very disturbing matter.
Yes, food is an issue here in Jamaica. Although some may not wish to believe so.
- World Food Day is October 16: How will you participate? (wagnerfpa.wordpress.com)
- World Food Day: Feeding Bangladesh – Caritas Internationalis (cafod.org.uk)
- EU’s butter mountain is back (New York Times)
- The Learning Network Blog: World Food Day: Addressing Hunger Around the Globe (learning.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Do You Really Know All About Jamaican FOOD??? (caribbeanrecipekits.wordpress.com)
- The Nigerian Civil War Photography of Hakan Gottberg (africaunchained.blogspot.com)
I have updated my Book Reviews pages. There are eight titles (seven novels, one non-fiction) that the Petchary would highly recommend — from Australia, Libya, Nigeria, Wyoming, Bangla Desh, Appalachia, Dominican Republic and Uruguay. You might find something here for summer reading. More reviews to follow in the next few weeks (and the Petchary would welcome your feedback, of course).
It was time to say goodbye, again, in Bloemfontein and Durban and Polokwane.
Firstly, to the Super Eagles of Nigeria. I thought their wings were stronger, and would have carried them further. Kalu Uche scored his second goal of the competition. Young Uche was born in Aba, a bustling sea port in the south, surrounded by oil wells; and his acrobatic celebrations are legendary. Here’s one.
Secondly, to the unhappy French. Their stay in South Africa has been a men-only soap opera. Tantrums, threats and insults flew. The French sports minister reportedly gave them a ”dressing down” in their dressing room before their South Africa match (and hopefully they were dressed, the minister being a woman). She used phrases like “moral disaster” and reduced the grown men to tears. The sulky and unsmiling Anelka seems to have started it.
Some might say it was restitution for the horrible handball by the (still lithe and wonderful) Thierry Henry in the game against Ireland that qualified France for the World Cup. Anyway, home they all go, with their tails between their legs. The Petchary would not like to be in their shoes/boots.
And then the home team…well, stayed at home. But they did not go out with a whimper, but with a roar of trumpets and two nice goals over the hapless French. The tall defender Bongani Khumalo soared above a French defender to put in a header; and Katlego Mphela, FIFA’s Man of the Match, was a delight with the second goal. Mphela plays for a team with the wonderful name, Mamelodi Sundowns. And although the sun set on South Africa’s hopes, its pride and dignity was restored. This only seemed just and fitting.
And finally, the Greeks. They perhaps unwisely decided to put up a barrier of defensive players against the darting, lively and positive Argentines. It worked for most of the game, but in the end gaps opened up, the once sturdy defenders slowed, and Messi’s scampering runs began to tire them. Meanwhile, their lone striker, the doe-eyed Georgios Samaras, tried valiantly to play his lonely game. The commentator called Samaras “The Greek island.”
So tomorrow, more separating of the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys. All the Petchary knows is that the Argentines’ wheat field is bright and waving in the summer breeze – tended carefully by the ever-hugging, ever-kissing Diego Maradona.
Love and peace, man.