U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela E. Bridgewater gave this lecture on June 6, 2013 at the University of the West Indies. I thought I would share it with you. You can also find it on the U.S. Embassy website at http://kingston.usembassy.gov/sp_06062013.html.
Good evening and my thanks to the organizers of this evening’s forum: The Mona School of Business & Management, the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, and the Women’s Leadership Initiative, Principal Gordon Shirley, my friend Minna Israel – thank you for inviting me. To my colleague ambassadors and members of the diplomatic and consular corps; the students of the University of the West Indies, staff of the U.S. Mission in Jamaica, friends all, good evening.
Challenges Facing Women Executives was the topic that the organizers proposed to focus on. And let me say from the onset that females execute at all levels – at home, in the community, in the office and in the board room. In fact, we execute this or that — household budgets, shopping, getting children to school, caring for ageing parents, hiring and firing in an office setting, — you get the picture.
As an introduction, you heard Denise Herbol, the Mission Director for USAID, share her observations about some of the cultural challenges women face in male-dominated societies, and the Embassy’s Public Affairs Officer Yolonda Kerney speak of her experiences in managing work-life balance and some of the issues working mothers face. I thank them for speaking so candidly and sharing these personal experiences and I know we’ll delve more into these challenges at the conclusion of my presentation.
Recently the New York Times published an article examining the percentages of female executives among Fortune 500 corporations in the United States. They found that women make up only 16 percent of directors at Fortune 500 companies, 4 percent of chief executives at Standard & Poor’s 500 companies, and fewer than 10 percent of chief financial officers at S&P 500 companies. On Wall Street a small but increasing number of traders and executives are women, but still only 3 percent of hedge fund assets are managed by women.
Although there are fewer hedge funds run by women, a recent Harvard University study found that those hedge funds headed by female executives outperformed funds run by men.
Another study of retail investors found that men traded 45 percent more than women in their own accounts, but earned 2.65 percent less. Outside the investing and trading sphere, there are also scores of studies about how women enhance the organizational environment. If, and I emphasize, IF, there really is such a thing as “a female style of leadership” evidently it can yield better performance — a recent review of the S&P 1500 index found that corporations led by women performed better, that is to say, they yielded higher profits. In academia, universities led by women had higher rates of matriculation than universities led by men.
Now my intent is not to have a battle of the sexes. We don’t need that fight as there’s enough to do simply as females, but note please that some scholars and advocates for women do not consider the study of differences between men and women to be legitimate. To them, such research is insulting because it sets up the idea that women perhaps require different treatment.
But for those who had any lingering doubts about women’s abilities to lead corporations and organizations and produce stellar results, those results are in and the survey says: there is nothing wrong with women’s innate abilities to lead. So why are there so few women executives?
Might there be issues in academic preparation? Men and women who aspire to executive leadership often choose business as their academic discipline, so let’s look at the statistics: According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, in 2012, 43 percent of people who took the business school admissions test were women. Last year more than 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees in the United States were awarded to women. In 2010, the number of Ph.Ds awarded to women in the United States was greater than the number of Ph.Ds awarded to men for the first time in our history. So when it comes to academic preparation, there is certainly a strong cadre of women preparing themselves to be executives. So what exactly is the problem, and why aren’t more women rising to the top of their fields? This is where the conflict lies in seeking a remedy to the problem of too few women executives – we can’t agree on the cause of the problem. Depending on which rationale you believe, the remedy differs.
The first explanation is plain ole sex discrimination. Women in some fields entering the work force are sometimes met with overt hostility and resistance. I have experienced the resistance, the wonder, and the “how did she get here ahead of me” syndrome.
And then, there’s the opposite approach of overly benevolent attitudes that are patronizing and can do as much harm as outright discrimination. But remember, hostility is not required for discrimination to exist. Stereotypes can create different or lower expectations for women even when no hostility exists. Some researchers tell us there’s not so much an issue of resentment or bias toward women, so much as a preference for men.
We must be aware that subtle forms of discrimination confront us daily. Various means of hampering and slowing down the process of women’s development have to be acknowledged and brought to the attention of managers or supervisors.
In her introduction, our USAID Director told us about cultural prejudices against women that made it difficult for her to do the job the USG sent her to do. In some cases, people just are more comfortable if a man is in charge, even when that man’s female deputy is clearly the brains of the operation.
Sometimes the issue is compounded by the added layer of racism. Too frequently people become uncomfortable in speaking about racism, but let’s be honest, we all know it exits –subtly or overtly, and if we all are honest with ourselves we would do well to engage in a bit of self introspection and seek to determine if we hold views, impressions, prejudices that are race tinged. Yes, all of us of every race or ethnicity should engage in such introspection from time to time.
I recall that when I arrived in South Africa on a diplomatic posting, I discovered that I was the only African American officer at our very large embassy in Pretoria when I accepted my assignment there in 1990. But as I prepared for the assignment, determining whether there were other African Americans or females did not enter into my equation. In fact I didn’t even think about it or consider it important.
I was one of only two females in the predominately male political reporting section which was a very large section owing to the nature of our engagement and dialogue — the other female officer an entry level officer, whom I developed a wonderful relationship with and shared mentoring tidbits. And as I developed a special relationship with Mr. Nelson Mandela as the officer assigned to cover the ANC, which was not at that time a political party but a liberation movement, our mission and our country would be the beneficiaries of the unprecedented access I gained to the ANC and to the dialogue and cooperation that our embassy developed and the positive working relationships we forged that helped with that historic transition. It takes time to diminish these notions of racism and/or male superiority, but I am living proof that we have and continue to make progress. And that’s a very good thing.
A second explanation of why there are so few female executives is more complex, and theorizes that male-driven culture does not allow women to succeed. Women’s values and approaches can be different, and when entering the work force women may find that the male culture is not to their taste or are driven off. Those women who do succeed adapt to the “male culture.” In other words, women need to become “like men” to become corporate executives, or so the theory goes. I have never subscribed to that notion or to the theory that there are necessarily male or female solutions to problems, but there are effective and ineffective solutions to problems that both men and women must utilize.
I have had outstanding male and female bosses — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaps to mind — and the thing they had in common was tremendous attention to detail, an insistence on being prepared, and a willingness to listen, energy, drive and hard, smart work not being afraid to stand up to a wrong and discipline individuals who could benefit from a positive intervention. Good leadership is not the exclusive domain of male or female.
Another issue at the forefront impacting female executives is having and caring for children. Although more men today are happily involved in child rearing more so than their parents or grandparents, it is still women who function as the primary caretakers of their children. This is the struggle for “work-life balance” that Yolonda spoke about in her introduction. Gone are the days when we tried to pretend that small children do not need their mothers, even when their mothers have returned to work after birth. It’s for this reason I am so proud to say that every U.S. Embassy and Consulate have clean, clearly identifiable lactation stations where our employees who are nursing mothers may pump breast milk.
The competing demands of work and childcare continue well beyond infancy, so we see the need to care for children is often greatest when women are in their 30s and 40s, a period that is the prime time of their careers. Some managers – men and women – fear that working mothers are on “the mommy track” and that just because they have children, they are less committed to their careers. This could not be farther from the truth for so many women who juggle the competing demands of motherhood and career, and thrive with both.
Some women choose to focus on their children either by not competing for promotions, or working part time, or leaving the workforce for a period of time. All of these approaches working mothers take are legitimate, and each woman has to make the decision that is best for herself and her family. But I caution executives and managers not to make assumptions about a working mother’s priorities, rather, let her performance and initiative inform you of her intentions and her potential to rise. Just think about it — doesn’t it make sense to think that a woman who has raised well adjusted, happy off spring under challenging circumstances might just bring something extra of value to the work environment?
Support for each of these theories can be found in the repeated studies. No matter which premise you believe, the end result is that men significantly outnumber women at the highest levels of commerce, and women in corporate America are paid less than men performing the same work. I must say that when I went to work at one of my university teaching positions, I entered with a salary higher than the males on the faculty (I was the first female to be hired on that faculty); but, I had negotiated my salary prior to accepting the position and the university had recruited ME based on my qualifications and the needs of the Department. We soon over came the male disgruntlement when word got out about my salary and became wonderful colleagues, and friends, to this day.
I must share that on my first day joining that faculty, I ventured from my office building on a new campus to find the student union, and the chairman asked me to bring him some coffee back. I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback because I had to first find my way to the student center building and then get his coffee and lug it back to our office building. I didn’t particularly like this because, right or wrong, I thought is he having me to fetch coffee because I am a female? So I tried to settle a bit and simply said, “Hey, why don’t YOU come along with me and show me around and we’ll share a coffee together.”
As the first and only female on the faculty, I was more than a little novelty, and there was a bit of green eye as both male and female students signed up for my classes in numbers as they had heard about my work and activities about the THEN young prof from another university where I had taught. Well they flocked in and many flunked out. Performance pays and that’s what won the colleagues over and the students’ respect, which I am really proud to say, continues to this day as they stay in touch wherever I am over the world. I don’t like to dwell on problems without considering solutions, so I want to here offer some suggestions and tools that have helped me on my journey.
We’ve talked about various data relative to executive level work in the traditional business environment, but but let me give a few personal reflections about the United States Foreign Service which is under the personnel management of the U.S. Department of State. Change in recruiting and hiring practices for our diplomatic corps came as a directive from the Office of Equal Opportunity. This office had been mandated to do so by the Secretary of State who recognized the need to make opportunities for employment available to females and minorities and that our diplomatic efforts around the world should reflect better the makeup of our increasingly diverse society. Such a policy has enriched our Foreign Service and strengthened our country’s ability to engage with people around the globe.
In 1982, only seven of the 134 United States ambassadors were women, compared to 43 today. In 1985, just 3 percent of senior Foreign Service officers were women, but in 2010 more than half the new recruits for the Foreign Service were women, and we expect that they will rise to the highest ranks of our diplomatic corps. We see repeatedly that when women are allowed to compete, they succeed.
Now to continue with solutions. First, find and be a mentor. I was fortunate in that I had several individuals along the way who mentored me, and most of them were men primarily because there are so many more men in our Foreign Service. But the females that I encountered along the way were positive role models to whom I could turn for advice and guidance. Further, it was actually a male senior officer and later Ambassador at the Department of State who approached me about the Foreign Service when I was a university professor. He worked in the Office of Equal Opportunity I mentioned earlier, and every time he saw me he told me how few people of color were in the U.S. diplomatic corps, and how even fewer women there were. He just stayed on topic and kept reaching out to me. I finally was convinced. And I take mentoring seriously, continuing to reach out. Outreach must be more than a word — it must be a deed.
Mentoring is an extremely effective management tool and he benefits can be immeasurable. We have implemented in the Foreign Service a formal mentoring program, pairing seasoned staff members with aspiring officers. This is not just diversifying your workplace, but it is a good and effective managerial tactic. I am so proud to have several people I am proud to call “mentee.” We should not be afraid to give a chance to our colleagues when we are in positions to do so.
During my tenure as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs I subsequently was moved up to Principal Deputy and often served as Acting Assistant Secretary. I had responsibility for personnel issues and identifying persons for key positions. I saw the list of ambassadorships opening and thought of a superb officer who had the requisite language skills, and other management and leadership experience. The individual happened to be a woman, and I reached out to her as I considered her ideal as a possible candidate.
She couldn’t believe I would think of her and was shocked and surprised, happily and when I told her I needed her response quickly, like in over 24 hours as the White House needed candidates to consider, she phoned me back the next day and say, well if you think I can do it, I’ll go for it. And the rest as they say, is history. She was nominated, confirmed and served in an outstanding manner in her first ambassadorial post. She said so often, she wanted to be like me and could not express her gratitude in my belief that she could do this job.
Affirmative action is often a testy subject, but I want to be clear that it does not mean taking jobs away from males or other females. It gives the opportunity for jobs to categories of employees who have not historically had a chance to compete for those jobs. Competition is the key. Additionally, executive and professional women must network, network, network. We must network not only with other women’s groups, but with our male partners. We cannot and should not further our positions of equality in isolation from men. Professional women must network across class and socio economic lines – this is key to learning and benefiting from the experiences of others. We needn’t spend precious time inventing a wheel that is already operational. Please always remember that we can learn something from everyone, even if it is something we ought NOT do. Value and respect everyone and remember that it never hurts to say a kind word or share a smile. All of these actions are elements of mentorship.
Secondly, right at the beginning of your career, examine the courage of your convictions. We all have to be willing to take some risks, and it may be that you have to take an unpopular position because you really believe it’s the right thing to do. My accepting an assignment in South Africa as an African American who grew up in a segregated community and attended segregated schools, was a risk — was I ready to experience this kind of treatment all over again? I have a reputation as being willing to have open, frank conversations that some other people just aren’t willing to have.
And that’s what I did in South Africa, and that’s one of the many reasons I had a successful and very productive tour, including two promotions during a six-year tour. Being open and frank might be a bit unusual for a diplomat! But it’s a core conviction I hold, and I have taken that with me during my career as a professor and a diplomat. Remember it is not what you say, but how you say it. Figure out what is core for you, and hold on to that – it has served me very well.
Finally, realize that transformation and growth are a natural part of any career. Very little in our lives stays static, so we have to decide how we will embrace and guide change. I was sent to South Africa during that country’s period of transformation to help forge a new relationship between its post-racial government and the United States. I am proud of that work, but the things of which I am most proud in my career are the comments from girls and women where I have served who tell me I inspire them.
It’s why the U.S. Embassy brings Dr. Mae Jemison, the first woman of color in space, to Jamaica to tell little girls it’s ok to love science and when a young girl says she believes she can become an ambassador for her country because she’s met me and has proof it can be done, that is the most beautiful transformation ever – transformation of belief in what is possible. Everyone won’t like what you do or how you do it, or maybe they won’t like you; but you will know what’s right, and in their hearts, they will know also.
The process of work place and self transformation must be ongoing and represent a decisive and steady break from the past. Breaking from poor past practices is more than a break, it is reforming to travel the same paths more efficiently and developing new paths. Corporations hoping to be competitive and successful have to look at their employees in a new way. Transformation, my sisters (and my brothers), requires a few things I consider important:
Everyone within the company, firm, corporation or organization must share complementary core values; the organization should balance legitimate and essential needs for profit and growth with concern for the environment, for human welfare and fulfillment and for the health and well being of all is stakeholders. I mention here the importance of health, and this is where executives and senior staff have a responsibility again, to set an extremely important example about how we care for ourselves. We must not be shy about condemning and ending domestic violence against us – it is a violation of our human rights.
Women must fight to ensure that health research and environmental standards address the health of women. We must ensure that when national decisions are made, economic decision and political decisions that affect our future, that women are at the table. And around the table, we must be armed with facts about our petitions and positions and be ready to lobby to get them accepted. We know that physical fitness is equally important to substantive training and mental prowess. Support your staff in setting and meeting health goals.
If we are to transform, we must be able to be flexible and to accommodate rapid change, and generate continuous innovation and creativity; there is no one right way of doing a thing; and we must make every attempt to encourage all members of the organization to be partners rather than individuals who happen to work together. And while it is important to always respect authority relationships, we know that those in authority now — those executives, those managers, those leaders we look up to and report to — were somewhere else before getting there and that you may well be that person one day sooner or later. So don’t let statistics, organizational theory or someone’s doubts about you weigh you down or diminish your aspirations. Many women have come before us, we have and will continue to make strides.
I leave you with these thoughts in a poem, “Be Good To You”
Be yourself – Truthfully
Accept yourself – Gratefully
Value yourself – Joyfully
Forgive yourself – Completely
Treat yourself – Generously
Balance Yourself – Harmoniously
Bless yourself – Abundantly
Treat yourself – Confidently
Love yourself – Wholeheartedly
Empower yourself – Prayerfully
Give of yourself – Enthusiastically
Express yourself – Radiantly
Ladies, always keep in mind that when you find ways to transform yourself or your workplace, you then are able to transform community and our world. I look forward now to taking your questions.
- Angela Ahrendts, Burberry CEO, Is First Woman To Become The Highest-Paid Executive In Britain (huffingtonpost.com)
- The Golden Skirt (c-suitexx.com)
- Untapped Potential for Expanding Women’s Entrepreneurship Holds Promise to Grow the U.S. Economy, According to Kauffman Report (kauffman.org)
- ION Expands East Coast Presence, Adds Executive Women of New Jersey as Seventeenth Member Supporting Gender Diverse Corporate Board Leadership (prweb.com)
- Here are the top ten cities for women entrepreneurs (venturebeat.com)
- Women Entrepreneurs-The Time is Now (theformationscompany.com)
- Kathleen Rogers: Fixing the Green Economy Gender Gap (huffingtonpost.com)
- Girls Innovate! Holds Second Leadership Forum for Women & Girls (prweb.com)
This month has started with a kind of numbing heat. Kingston nights are hot and dark; the days are hot and bright. Those annoying birds, the grackles have brought some screeching offspring into our yard. I chase them away, and it seems to make me feel better.
First things first…The PM is anxious about our athletes’ health: Remember now, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is Minister of Sport. She must also be Minister of Defence, but national security is of lesser importance, I guess. Before taking a few days’ vacation, the PM met with a large group of people (you can see some of them sitting round the table in the photo below, which doesn’t even show all of them) to discuss the burning issue of a wellness center for our athletes. Top priority – not child abuse, children in lock-ups, crime and violence, the crisis in education, our failing health system, our failing justice system, the economy…
But the Reggae Boyz… Our national football team is now sadly on life support after its third consecutive defeat in Honduras last night. Moreover, our coach, former player Theodore Whitmore, has resigned. The “Road to Rio” - our World Cup campaign – seems to have faded beneath our feet. Several rather unkind memes have circulated online. I will not rub salt in the wounds by reproducing them here. Fact is, we cannot just throw together a team made up of mostly second- or third-tier overseas-based players. We need a serious national football training program.
Those trips again: I am glad that Opposition Senator Robert Montague stood up and asked a number of questions about yet another trip that I may not even have mentioned: the journey of Mayor of Kingston Angela Brown Burke and her entourage, including Local Government Minister Noel Arscott and various assistants, down to the good old continent of Africa. This is quite separate from the Prime Minister’s excursion (no report card yet, Madam Prime Minister? And yes, we know about the “teachers to Tanzania” concept. Apart from that). Since the good Senator has formally tabled questions, I hope he will get proper answers. The Mayor et al went first to Uganda and then down to South Africa, I understand.
Dollars nah run: My favorite minister Phillip Paulwell wants more people to apply for the (barely) “single-digit” interest rate energy loans. Amazing that 9.5% is considered a really low interest rate in Jamaica, isn’t it? I think that everyone’s running away from getting themselves into more debt at the moment. What does my economic guru Ralston Hyman have to say about this? I will have to listen in to his morning radio program to find out. Confidence in markets is everything. I learnt that during my years in the financial sector. Once it is gone…dawg nyam yuh supper.
And time a-wasting: A great report in today’s Gleaner notes the irritation of employers with the huge chunks taken out of their employees’ working days while they wait in line at banks and government agencies (the two prime culprits, but there are others). Yes indeed folks, in Jamaica you can wait up to two hours for service in a bank, in the middle of the day when you should be back at your workplace. It is utterly ridiculous. I know of one financial institution that my husband and I jokingly call the “sleepy place.” There is a large waiting area – rows of chairs, where customers regularly doze off while waiting. And no matter how many customers they have, there is almost always only one person to serve them. It’s an insult and it is a serious deterrent to productivity.
Oh, and no money for disasters? About two months or more ago (I will have to look it up) I mentioned in a blog post that there was absolutely no mention of budgeting for disaster preparedness. When I raised the issue, someone muttered something about help from overseas. So if we do get hit by a hurricane this year then we can always turn to these kind donors and say “help”? Now the Local Government Minister tells us that “it is apparent that the (National Disaster Fund) is not adequate…” God help us if a disaster hits. I don’t know who else will.
So now gays are “uncontrollable”: You’ve heard about the “uncontrollable” girls, such as those at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre (and elsewhere) who are locked up because their parents (mothers) can’t cope with them. Well, the Jamaica Observer is now describing a small group of homeless young men who have occupied an abandoned house in an upscale area of Kingston as “uncontrollable.” Is it that any group of Jamaicans (young ones) who don’t behave “normally” is uncontrollable? These two groups have something in common: seriously marginalized. At least the newspaper tried to get a more balanced picture this time – actually speaking to J-FLAG and to the police – plus a so-called caretaker at the house.
I’m not very impressed… by radio journalist George Davis’ column in today’s Gleaner. He is trying to be too clever. But I do not think it particularly clever to refer to “a man who presents the major evening newscasts for one of our two major television stations” as homosexual. Why do that to a fellow journalist? Of course, no names mentioned but please!! It’s just tacky.
The meaning of service: The image many of us have of U.S. college fraternities is one of heavy-drinking, partying, crazy students. However, there is another side to fraternities: a tradition of service to others. The photograph below and the blog it comes from epitomizes the “giving back” that these fraternity brothers (Delta Upsilon) from several different colleges and universities are engaged in during a recent trip to Jamaica. The students are refurbishing a school in Westmoreland; I must find out which one. The contribution of these “farriners” - like the ongoing medical missions from overseas – is often greatly under-estimated. OK, I am sure these boys had fun in Negril too – but they also gave their time and energy, freely, to the children of Jamaica. They could have been sitting on their couches at home watching TV. I wish more young Jamaicans would catch on to the power of volunteerism. It is better to give than receive…
Word of the week: “Committed.” I think we (especially any government agency) should give this word a rest. It means “we’re going to do something but we haven’t done it yet. But yes, we think it’s a really good thing and a great idea. But…Not just yet.” Just read a Jamaica Information Service report: “Government committed to the elimination of child labor.” How? When?
And big ups to:
The U.S. Peace Corps volunteers: Since we are talking about service… Below you will find a link to the blog of one volunteer in Jamaica, who is living and working in rural St. Thomas, up in the mountains. The U.S. Peace Corps has been doing great work in Jamaica since Independence.
Ms. Virtue…: I met Ms. Erica Virtue quite a few years ago. I remember bumping into her in the Gleaner newsroom when visiting that worthy media house; and many rambling telephone chats. I have always had a healthy respect for her feisty, often provocative style. Now Erica is doing a weekly video commentary piece on the newspaper’s website, called “Erica’s Edge.“ I love it, and Erica’s biting and sometimes brutal humor. She may rub people up the wrong way sometimes – but she’s a journalist, not a shrinking violet…
…and Mr. Henry: When I first spoke to Darien Henry many years ago, he was an enthusiastic community-based reporter for Irie FM in Ocho Rios. I told him what a splendid radio voice he has. Now, it seems, he is putting pen to paper – or rather, fingers to keyboard. He has written a sensible column on education reform in the Gleaner. I look forward to more from the affable Mr. Henry.
Isle Chixx: Jamaicans eat chicken like there’s no tomorrow, and a relatively new local firm is doing well. They do Cornish hens. Managing Director Alex Antaeus will be opening a Greek restaurant in Kingston soon – so we can start eating healthier!
The Ministry of Justice: For posting the draft terms of reference for the upcoming Commission of Enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre online for all to see. This kind of transparency and public consultation is laudable and I don’t believe this has been done with previous enquiries. You can find the discussion draft at http://www.moj.gov.jm/sites/default/files/pdf/Discussion%20Draft.pdf And you should submit your comments in writing to the Ministry not later than Friday, June 21.
And talking of consultations, I just returned from a complex, lengthy public consultation on the boundaries to the precious Cockpit Country in western Jamaica. More on that in a later blog.
The following Jamaicans have lost their lives violently in the past three days. I extend my condolences, as always, to the grieving families and friends who are left behind:
Errol Irwin, 57, Bog Walk, St. Catherine
Millar Bowen, 43, Bodles Research Station, St. Catherine
Rohan Clarke, 28, Cambridge, St. James
O’Neil Clarke, 34, Stettin, Trelawny
Unnamed infant, Stettin, Trelawny
Killed by police:
Davion Gordon, downtown Kingston
Okeen Edwards, 19, Greendale/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Related links and articles:
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-117/34209 PM wants swift action on wellness center for athletes: Jamaica Information Service
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/latestnews/Montague-questions-Local-Govt-trip-to-Africa-in-May Montague questions local government trip to Africa in May: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Security-costing-taxpayers-million–for-ruined-Goodyear-factory_14447506 Security costing taxpayers millions for ruined Goodyear factory: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Ruined-Sligoville-Stadium-to-be-rescued–says-Neita-Headley_14435373 Ruined Sligoville Stadium to be rescued, says Neita-Headley: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130612/lead/lead1.html Bosses seeing red! Long wait in lines keeping their workers off the job: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130612/lead/lead3.html Tick, tick, tick: Jamaicans lose valuable production hours standing in line: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130612/lead/lead5.html Not enough money in the country’s hurricane coffers: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130610/lead/lead9.html ”I love UTech, but no”: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130611/cleisure/cleisure1.html Dr. Phillips must hold his nerve: Gleaner editorial
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/100-to-1–makes-sense-_14465183 100 to 1, makes sense? Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/More-takers-needed-for-energy-loans_14471505 More takers needed for energy loans: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130610/lead/lead1.html AJ, know your role: private sector fires back at Nicholson after “trade bickering” comments: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130610/news/news1.html Jamaica, China dreaming together: op-ed by Chinese Ambassador to Jamaica Zheng Qingdian: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130610/letters/letters2.html CARICOM an old boys’ club: Letter to the Editor from Joan Williams/Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Why-we-are-glad—-and-mad-_14451547 Why we are glad – and mad! Jean Lowrie-Chin column/Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130610/news/news5.html Mass exodus! Senator warns teachers may leave in droves: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130611/cleisure/cleisure3.html Pay teachers better, then hold bar higher: Darien Henry column/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130611/lead/lead5.html More teachers than vacancies: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130610/cleisure/cleisure1.html Look at New York, Mr. Thwaites: Gleaner editorial
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130611/lead/lead1.html Free health fallout: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Don-t-touch-it-_14451904 Don’t touch it! say Negril residents: Jamaica Observer
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/commissioner-of-police-knew-of-plans-to-settle-bribery-case-says-witness Commissioner of Police knew of plans to settle bribery case, says witness: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130610/cleisure/cleisure3.html Use human rights to save us: Garth Rattray column/Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/J-FLAG-denies-abandoning-homeless-gay-men_14447331 J-FLAG denies abandoning homeless gay men: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130612/cleisure/cleisure4.html Those slow to accept gays are not evil: George Davis column/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=45647 Government invites comments on draft terms of reference for Tivoli enquiry: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130610/cleisure/cleisure2.html Judges can’t bail out cops: Peter Champagnie op-ed/Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/High-hopes-for-Diaspora-conference_14464778 High hopes for diaspora conference: Jamaica Observer
http://wellreadrobin.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/the-sheltered-ones-are-not-yet-born/ The sheltered ones are not yet born: wellreadrobin.wordpress.com
http://aprilspeacecorpsblog.com/2013/06/10/life-in-the-valley/ Life in the Valley: April’s Peace Corps blog.com
http://deltaupsilon.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/gsi-jamaica-why-i-am-a-du/ GSI Jamaica: Why I am a DU: deltaupsilon.wordpress.com
And I am not talking about the American state!
IDAHO is the acronym for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. This afternoon in Jamaica, J-FLAG will host a discussion in Kingston on the issue of homelessness among the gay community – forced out of their homes, living on the street, harassed, abused, assaulted, despised, often in fear of their lives. The local media have made much drama out of the situation; and always the fact of their homelessness and subsequent (often defensive) “bad behavior” is linked to their being homosexual or transgendered.
If you are in Kingston, do try to join us for this discussion; we should also be streaming it live and I will share that link when I have it on Twitter (@petchary).
J-FLAG is seeking solutions. Not finger-pointing. Not hatred and intolerance. There is too much of that in the world already, isn’t there?
http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdPmbLflqNtiAzOd-Cxtffg ”We Are Jamaicans”: series of videos produced by J-FLAG in which Jamaican members of the LGBT community and their allies (including myself) speak about their experience and their views. Please do watch! These are powerful.
http://www.jflag.org J-FLAG website includes news, videos, much more…
http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/activists-worldwide-target-homophobia-jamaica-ukraine-and-south-africa-2013-05-16 Activists target worldwide homophobia in Jamaica, Ukraine and South Africa: Amnesty International
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/freedom-house/international-day-against_b_3287305.html International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia: Article by Freedom House
http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2013/05/17/william-hague-marks-international-day-against-homophobia-and-transphobia/ UK Foreign Secretary William Hague marks International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia: pinknews.co.uk
http://www.euronews.com/2013/05/17/georgia-clashes-on-international-day-against-homophobia/ Georgia: Clashes on International Day Against Homophobia:euronews.com
http://www.rferl.org/content/georgia-lgbt-equal-rights/24986492.html Georgian Prime Minister says sexual minorities have equal rights: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/jamaican-press-ignores-ground-breaking-gay-rights-video-campaign/ Jamaican press ignores ground-breaking gay rights video campaign: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/i-admire-this-young-man/ I admire this young man: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/op-ed-fighting-injustice-in-jamaica/ Op-ed: Fighting injustice in Jamaica: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/lay-down-that-burden/ Lay down that burden: petchary.wordpress.com
http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-lgbt-gay-homophobia-petersburg-moscow/24988036.html St. Petersburg LGBT activists test “propaganda law” with tolerance event: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
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)
My dear friends and followers:
You will have to excuse me this week. I had planned on writing a full-blooded review of Jamaica’s ups, downs, insides and outs, as usual. But alas, the Petchary is spreading her wings and flying away for a few weeks. So, although I plan to slip in a couple of quick ones beforehand (time permitting) I am not able to devote enough time to my weekly exercise of news and views and other trivia.
However, I have picked out a number of articles from the local news media that you may find of significance. Please see the links below. And, as usual, I have listed the names of those who have passed away, named and unnamed, at the hands of murderers in the past week. My deepest sympathies are with all the family and friends of those who lost their lives so tragically – whether uptown or downtown, country or town. While I am away, you will all have to keep track of them for me. Don’t forget those who mourn. Never forget.
Thank you. My next weekly blog will appear, all being well, on Sunday, October 7, 2012. Meanwhile, please feel free to browse through my archives: I have written over 300 blog posts now – there is something for everyone.
Killed by police:
Kayan Lamont, 25, Yallahs, St. Thomas
Michael Rochester, 26, Spur Tree Hill, Manchester
Errol Gentle, 52, Newhaven, St. Andrew
Trevoskey Baugh, 23, Waterhouse, Kingston
Delroy Raymond, 17, Waterhouse, Kingston
Daniel, Central Village, St. Catherine
Craig Cayman, 28, Central Village, St. Catherine
Shane Cayman, 23, Central Village, St. Catherine
Dr. Barrington Dixon, 66, Unity Hall, St. James
Delon James, 31, Wait-a-Bit, Trelawny
Yoshihide Sato, 62, Scotts Pass, Clarendon
Dalton Smith, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Delissa Thomas, 29, Papine, St. Andrew
Ricardo Champentier, 21, Papine, St. Andrew
Unidentified man, Orange Street, Kingston
Unidentified man, Half Way Tree, Kingston
Philbert McDonald, 44, Norwich, Portland
Gary Williams, 33, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Articles of interest:
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/jamaican-inspiration/ (Jamaican Inspiration – petchary.wordpress.com)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/in-memoriam/ (In Memoriam – petchary.wordpress.com)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Sewage-reeks-on-Princess-Street (Sewage reeks on Princess Street – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120902/cleisure/cleisure2.html (It’s not now or later, it’s now or never – Delano Seiveright op-ed – Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120903/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Electricity free-for-all – Gleaner editorial)
http://go-jamaica.com/news/read_article.php?id=39653 (Human rights group: Enforce use of force policy – Gleaner Power 106 FM)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Another-doctor-murdered-OB-GYN-may-have-delivered-his-murderer_12414377 (Another doctor murdered – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/OCG-probes-Jamaica-50-expenditure (OCG probes Jamaica 50 expenditure – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120903/business/business5.html (Campari to acquire Lascelles – Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Canadian-recycling-company-seeks-200-workers-in-western-Jamaica (Canadian recycling company seeks 200 workers in Jamaica – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120902/letters/letters1.html (When will the mendicancy end? Gleaner Letter of the Day)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Local-toon-company-gets-animated_12393200 (Local toon company gets animated – Business Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Math-rescue-plan_12338111 (Math rescue plan – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/The-high-cost-of-crime_12370259 (The high cost of crime – Business Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/When-the-intention-is-to-calm-the-financial-markets—_12371016 (When the intention is to calm the financial markets – Jamaica Observer editorial)
http://news.cvmtv.com/index.php?id=1364&news=watch (Acid burn victim dies – CVM Television)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=39652 (Audio: Standoff between police, residents in Yallahs – Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Patois–things-Jamaican-and-the-big-picture_12296432 (Patois, things Jamaican and the big picture – Grace Virtue column, Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120902/news/news1.html (Dudus leaves solitary confinement – Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Comments–threats–allegations-and-innuendos_12406497 (Comments, threats, allegations and inuendos – James Moss- Solomon column, Sunday Observer)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/31642 (Disasters costing Jamaica hundreds of billions – JIS News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Do-Jamaicans-here-and-abroad-trust-this-government_12381221 (Do Jamaicans here and abroad trust this government? – Mark Wignall column, Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/31660 (Jamaicans warned about putting personal information on the Internet – JIS News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-folly-of-working-behind-the-scenes_12343747 (The folly of working behind the scenes – Chris Burns column, Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/31655 (Beaches to be cleaned on September 15 – JIS News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-Worst-discrimination-in-any-society-_12382813 (“Worst discrimination in any society” – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/allwoman/Gov-t-won-t-meet-MDG-on-maternal-mortality_12331480 (Government won’t meet Millennium Development Goals on maternal mortality – Observer/All Woman)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120827/cleisure/cleisure2.html (Bloodshed in South Africa – John Rapley article)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/JPS-files-appeal_12383709 (JPS files appeal – Jamaica Observer)
Sunday Squalls: August 26, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Back-to-reality_12406136#poll (Back to reality – Business Observer)
As Jamaica continues to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of our Independence, I was pondering the nature of our heroes, role models and so on. It is wonderful to praise the successes of our Olympians, and the legacy of our National Heroes (although I am not so keen on the political ones, myself). But there are many other amazingly successful Jamaicans, at home and abroad, in many other fields. Sprinting and politicizing aren’t the only things we are good at. There are Jamaicans who are astonishingly good at what they do, all over the place. And by “success” I don’t necessarily mean winning something, or getting a National Honor. This kind of success is simply being very good at whatever you do. It’s a path you take, a journey you make – and it’s no flash in the pan.
I have been thinking about information technology and the amazing embrace of the digital universe that we now live in. Everything is a click or a swipe or a touch away. It’s beautiful, and for a small island nation like Jamaica, it is empowering. All we need to do now is bridge that tricky old “digital divide;” I see that the One Laptop Per Child program and other initiatives are helping to throw some ropes across that divide globally. We have pioneering men and women in technology in Jamaica, too. Ingrid Riley of SiliconCaribe is one of those who is pushing us along, and there are others.
Now, my husband recently discovered someone, online, and I really want to introduce you to him, dear readers – a Jamaican, an inspiration, an entrepreneurial master of his craft. His name is Lloyd Carney. And he is the same age as Jamaica this year – fifty years old, and indeed a high achiever. “Forbes“ magazine, in an article linked below, says Mr. Carney is “walking the talk” in Silicon Valley as a venture capitalist and IT entrepreneur. Initially, he made use of an interesting concept called the Start-up Common in Silicon Valley. I will have to learn more about the Common. Mr. Carney – currently the CEO of Xsigo (“See-go”), which was recently acquired by Oracle – is good at grabbing firms by the scruff of the neck and infusing them with success. Xsigo’s achievements are connected to Data Center Fabrics and virtualization. I am not a technical person, but I do know that although it is a small firm, it has a product that is greatly in demand. Xsigo is only eight years old.
What have I learned about Lloyd Carney? Mr. Carney was born and grew up in Jamaica – he attended Wolmer’s High School in Kingston – and in 1979 he stepped off the plane in Boston to continue his studies. He started off with medical studies – everyone doing science in those days was supposed to become a doctor, it seems – but medicine was not for him. He ended up obtaining a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from Wentworth Institute and a Masters in Business from Lesley College. He then went to work for various computer firms, moved to the West, created Bay Networks and ten years ago began to make great strides, working in top positions at Nortel, Juniper Networks, Micromuse and IBM Netcool, among other IT firms. Fast-paced and flying high.
But Mr. Carney is not just a faceless businessman obsessed with money. He “gives back” to his native country, to Haiti, Africa and to marginalized communities in California, where he lives. He and his wife Carole set up a charitable foundation in 1999, which focuses on healthcare and children. The Lloyd and Carole Carney Foundation supports a house for orphans in South Africa; has donated medical equipment to the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston and Black River Hospital; and donated a computer lab to Vaz Preparatory School in Kingston. Mr. Carney also serves on the board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula in California.
The glitz and the glamor of Usain Bolt is enormous fun (although I am afraid he has now become the target of the sleazy UK tabloids, which was bound to happen). It’s exciting and glittery and golden, and it’s Jamaica 50. But my point is: There are many other ways in which young Jamaicans can achieve, with ambition, determination, hard work… and yes, a touch of Jamaican flair and imagination.
Be inspired! Be very inspired!
http://carneyglobalventures.com (Carney Global Ventures website)
http://www.vazprep.edu.jm (Vaz Preparatory School)
http://wolmers.org (Wolmer’s Schools website)
http://www.bgcp.org (Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula)
http://www.forbes.com/sites/petercohan/2012/08/22/lloyd-carneys-profitable-journey-from-jamaica-to-palo-alto/ (Forbes.com: Lloyd Carney’s profitable journey from Jamaica to Palo Alto)
http://www.forbes.com/sites/petercohan/2012/02/15/xsigo-aims-a-dagger-at-ciscos-heart/ (Forbes.com: Xsigo aims a dagger at Cisco’s heart)
http://www.xsigo.com/blog/2012/02/data-center-fabric-xsigo-ceo/ (Xsigo CEO Lloyd Carney explains Data Center Fabric – video)
http://www.siliconcaribe.com (Siliconecaribe.com – Jamaican blog)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20071007/business/business4.html (Jamaican venture capitalist offers business tips on China – Jamaica Gleaner)
Oracle to acquire network virtualisation technology provider Xsigo Systems (siliconrepublic.com)
Oracle Acquires Virtual Networking Concern Xsigo Systems (allthingsd.com)
Youth Using Technology to Combat Child Abuse (petchary.wordpress.com)
Recently in Jamaica, the youth-led advocacy group Help JA Children launched a locally-designed application for BlackBerry. The app, named CARS (Child Abuse Reporting System) is the first in the Caribbean and the second such application in the world to be approved by Research in Motion for listing in its Blackberry App World. More on this in a later post.
We know that young people love their mobile technology… Here’s another great social use for teens from South Africa. You can read the article by Tania Page, and watch a couple of videos on Al Jazeera English here: http://blogs.aljazeera.com/blog/africa/south-africa-youth-tap-gender-app?utm_content=blogs&utm_campaign=Trial4&utm_source=twitter&utm_term=socialflow&utm_medium=tweet
A gender violence game doesn’t exactly scream fun, but it’s proving a hit with thousands of South African teenagers.
It’s a generation hungry for new knowledge – knowledge many in the western world simply take for granted.
It’s revealing that despite 25 years at the United Nations Development Programme it wasn’t until Anne Shongwe, the app’s developer, actually started asking young Africans about their perceptions of the opposite sex and how they coped in a sexual relationship that she realized education was the key.
Shongwe left the UNDP determined to break free of its bureaucracy and forge her own path by addressing gender based violence among young people.
But it was a big challenge to go from a good salary, with lots of support, to a start-up. Especially, as she freely admits, as she’s not that technically minded.
But she hired people with the right skills and a few years later she’s an award winner.
After winning the AppCircus 2011 competition in South Africa with Moraba, Shongwe was selected as one of the top 20 finalists to pitch her app to a live audience at the Mobile Premier Awards in Barcelona, Spain.
She did so alongside Ghanaian app developer Robert Lamptey of Saya and Ugandan app developer Christine Ampaire of Mafuta Go!
They were the first African app developers to pitch at the awards. Ampaire’s Mafuta Go! won the Ringmaster’s Award. Her app, inspired by Uganda’s petrol crisis, lets users find the nearest petrol station with the cheapest prices.
Shongwe and her team at Afroes have a major challenge looming. She’s returning to her native Kenya to develop an app to prevent young people from being manipulated into causing trouble at next year’s elections.
The last ballot was marred by violence and she says it’s believed a lot of the trouble makers were youths who’d been paid off or talked into taking to the streets.
So, the app is meant to educate them so they can identify when someone’s trying to use them for their own gain.
And this story from Zambia from the great organization Room to Read gives us a lesson on the importance of literacy… We should go to all lengths possible to ensure our children can read – and enjoy reading, too. Lack of resources is no excuse. Here is a great quote on the website from former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan:
“Literacy unlocks the door to learning throughout life, is essential to development and health, and opens the way to democratic participation and active citizenship.”
Chimbundire Basic School in Katete never had a library, but its teachers and administrators didn’t let the lack of resources get in the way of ensuring the highest possible quality education for their young students. With only a few books, the school implemented a reading program once per week, and held story sessions under a tree on the school grounds.
When our team in Zambia first visited the school and saw the enthusiasm for reading of the school’s 1,000 students, we knew we wanted to partner with Chimbundire Basic to build a library. With more books and trained librarians, we thought, imagine what they could do!
For this project we would have to start from scratch. An average class size of 114 meant that there was no existing space to spare for bookshelves, so we prepared to build a brand new structure that would both house a library and provide additional storage for the school.
While our team got to work on the building design, the community leaders in Katete met to discuss how they could commit a significant portion of the project costs (as is required by Room to Read), knowing that their extremely rural setting did not provide many resources.
In the end it was decided that each village served by the school would take an entire day molding bricks for the new library. The next day, the neighboring village would do the same, and the rotation would continue until enough bricks were made to finish the project.
After the building was complete, Room to Read provided brightly-colored children’s books to stock the shelves along with chairs and desks for library activities. Then we conducted training (the first of several to take place over the next three years) for three teachers, a school administrator and one member of the community on library management skills like book leveling and community engagement.
In the months since Chimbundire Basic got its first-ever library, things have started to change. More committed than ever to ensuring all children in their community gain a solid foundation in reading, the school’s teachers have begun to take time out of classroom instruction to conduct reading activities in the library. “It is so lovely to have our reading program conducted there,” says the school’s head teacher.
A weekly library period for each class to read and check out books has been implemented school-wide, and the facility remains open before and after school so that students can enjoy the new books in their free time as well. Some of the students still like to take books out to read under the old “library tree,” but they no longer have to.
Learn more about our work in Zambia.
http://www.roomtoread.org (Room to Read website)
http://www.theelders.org (The Elders – independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights, including Kofi Annan)
http://www.google.com/literacy/ (The Literacy Project: Google)
Well, it’s now five days into the Olympic Games 2012, and I am hooked, line and sinker. This despite my declarations that I was already weary of the excitement and “hype” surrounding the Jamaican track team. The football World Cup was, I asserted, a much bigger item on my personal sports calendar than the Olympics. But there it is. If I was one of the twelve Greek gods sitting on Mount Olympus right now, I would be grinning, shouting “woot woot,” waving flags, painting my face and fingernails in my colors, and generally behaving rather foolishly. (Which of the twelve would I be? Well, due to my birth sign I should be Ares, but he gets such a bad rap. Apollo, I think. He’s rather New Age and likely an old hippie by now).
By the way, did you know there is a Mount Olympus near Salt Lake City, Utah? In Mormonland, no less. It seems a little incongruous, somehow.
OK, well back to the beloved athletes. And yes, they are beloved. I love each and every one of them (unlike some Jamaicans, who love only the Jamaican competitors, apparently). I have taken them all into my heart, until it is almost bursting. My frequent exclamations of, “Oh, isn’t she sweet!” or “Isn’t that lovely!” may have started to irritate my husband, who has not been watching with my level of enthusiasm.
Perhaps it’s because they all look so young. They are young, and hopeful, and mostly very dedicated. Their mums and dads and girlfriends and boyfriends and kid brothers and sisters are often sitting in the stands. It kind of tugs on the old heart strings, quite a bit.
Take, for example, the South African swimmer Chad Le Clos. To his utter amazement, the twenty-year-old from Durban beat his idol, the awesome American Michael Phelps, to win gold in the 200 meters butterfly by the tiniest fraction of a second. Phelps had made an error right in that last little fraction. Young Chad could not believe it (perhaps he still cannot). What moved me was his complete meltdown during the medal ceremony. Unable to hold back the tears but valiantly battling with his emotions, his lower lip trembled uncontrollably as he tried to mouth the words of the national anthem. He was a quivering wreck. Up in the stands, his father Bert, who had been waving his country’s flag, simply threw the flag over his own head in a gesture of astonishment and joy. Do watch the hilarious BBC interview with the insanely proud Bert – link below.
And how cool do the swimmers look, striding out in their team gear from a little tunnel. Some wave cheerily, others seemed introverted and serious, others nonchalant, with wires dangling from their ears as they listened to their favorite i-Tune. A Japanese swimmer bows politely to the audience as he emerges. Then there is the ritual of adjusting the tight swim caps (like a second skin) and pressing the goggles into the eye sockets. Everything tight. When I used to swim, my cap was a hideous contraption with a chin strap that always came undone; it smelled of rubber and chlorine. Nowadays, they look so neat and slick.
I have been hypnotized by the acid blue of the swimming pool water, the lines and the ropes and the whistles. I am absorbed by the images of the huge, glistening shoulders of the male swimmers lifting out of the water in slo-mo; the acrobatic flips of the girl swimmers underwater as they touch the end of the pool; the competitors’ watery embraces as they congratulate each other, unwilling to come out of the pool immediately.
Our Jamaican swimmer, Alia Atkinson, did remarkably well, just missing a medal in the finals of the 100 meters breaststroke. Unflappable and full of an energetic spirit, she seems to be enjoying herself. She set two national records when she won a qualifying swim-off against a Canadian girl and in her heats of the 200 meters breaststroke. She will be back in the pool on Friday, folks! We are all, of course, incredibly proud of her, and I would say she may have passed expectations: her own, and ours.
Oh my goodness. And then there was the little Lithuanian girl, just fifteen years old, who won the race that Alia came fourth in. She raised her dripping arms in joy. Her pink and white face crumpled in tears and became a darker shade of pink on the podium as she collected her medal. Just a girl.
And then…the divers, their elegant strength. The synchronized divers absolutely captivated me, their toes balanced in unison on the end of their springboards, utterly motionless, then at an unspoken signal soaring. Spins and somersaults. A little pool that they sit in at the end, anxiously hovering, waiting for the next dive, hardly looking at each other or their competitors. The men and women divers are so slender and strong. An Italian woman murmurs “one, two…” and then they go, with supreme elegance.
Away from the water, shaking the drops off, I watched the gymnasts with equal enthusiasm. There were the girls, all sequin and glitter – on their eyelids, their pre-teen costumes. They sit on the ground and pull at the bandages that support their limbs, their fingers – so fragile and so strong. Again, the little glimpses of humanity touched me. When a member of the Japanese team – so stylish – realized that they had missed out on a medal, his eyes clouded with tears of disappointment as he looked up at the scoreboard (a few minutes later, the results were revised and the Japanese actually won a silver). The proud parents of a Chinese gymnast stood clutching the bouquet that she had just thrown to them, and no one could wipe the smiles off their faces.
Two other gymnasts delighted me: Sixteen-year-old Gabrielle Douglas, a member of the U.S. women’s team which won gold, was the energy that held them together. Gabrielle left her family in Virginia behind two years ago to train with a Chinese coach in Iowa. I tried to post another photo of Ms. Gabby at age six but it wouldn’t post for some reason. She looks like a girl “on a mission” – to quote a current Jamaican song…
The other was another gold medal winner, the marvelous Kohei Uchimura – he of the spiky shock of hair and impish smile. Only 23 (so he might do another Olympics) he flew effortlessly through his routine. A competitor, Cuban American Danell Leyva, said, “If I spoke Japanese, I would tell him that he is the best gymnast that ever lived — so far.”
Another African American gymnast, John Orozco, made me want to jump up and give him a big hug, after he failed on the pommel horse (a horrible contraption that I developed a real hatred for in my schooldays). He sat down and pressed his knuckles, his palms whitened with dust, onto his brow. He must have felt like screaming. “I couldn’t feel my arms,” Orozco said.
And yes, you’re right, I loved him too, like all those who won…and lost, and did their best.
Some other amusing little vignettes: Firstly, the South Korean women’s archery team, like middle-class housewives on a day trip, wearing those odd little hats. They fired their arrows with a light touch, and after a successful shot gave each other ladylike high fives. But there was a steely glint in their eyes. They won, very politely but firmly. A Chinese gymnast exhaled gently before each portion of his floor routine. An Italian fencer shouted and strode around the stage, arms high in victory, while his defeated Romanian opponent sulked darkly, glaring into the helmet he had pulled off his head. I don’t know if you saw any of the fencing – it was remarkably aggressive and macho. I had thought it was a very well-behaved kind of sword fight with fancy technology and helmets that light up red and super-sensitive swords, but no. There was considerable real-life drama, tears and stamping of feet and temper tantrums in some of the contests, both men’s and women’s. Perhaps they just have too many rules, and they’re all rebels at heart. They want to tear off the protective gear, pull out those wires, and just fight - like in an old Errol Flynn movie. So it’s permanent frustration for them.
Meanwhile, the all-American boy Michael Phelps surged on through the bright blue waves of the pool to break the record for the most medals won by any individual athlete in any sport at the Olympics – a total of nineteen, but I believe he has a couple more races to go. With his big, disarming smile, he has the air of a college student (possibly a fraternity member) who loves to have a good time with his buddies and is not quite sure how he managed to be so famous. But he’s a fierce competitor, like all the others. As an aside, the remarks of our Jamaican sports journalists on Phelps’ achievement left a sour taste in my mouth. They concluded that no, this did not make Phelps the ”greatest” athlete – just the ”winningest” - where did that word come from, by the way? If Phelps had been a Jamaican, I am sure he would have been the greatest, in their eyes. But they can’t seem to see how biased they are, although they accuse other countries of bias. It’s sad to see that kind of blind nationalism. But that is the not-so-nice side of the Olympics.
And then, ladies and gentlemen, there was the eye candy. As one might expect, the parade of stunningly super-fit athletes is quite dazzling. I’ve never seen so many six-packs in my life. I have posted a few examples below and will make no further comment – except to say that the sight of the male divers, their speedos barely clinging to their hips, was really a bit too much for me at my age. Bring the smelling salts, please, quick! (The girls seem to like posing on magazine covers and in ads, so I have included a few of those for you male readers!)
But wait…who do I see on the horizon? Here come the Jamaicans!
wait…Bring on the Jamaicans!
- Mount Olympus: Origin of the Olympic Ideal (thevibes.me)
- Mother Nature’s Olympians crowned (cosmiclog.nbcnews.com)
- The Olympic Games, the Greeks, and God (reflectionandchoice.wordpress.com)
- Moonday’s Heroic Hunk in History: Zeus on Olympus (southernsizzleromance.wordpress.com)
- Father, daughter rescued from Mount Olympus (abc4.com)
- http://go-jamaica.com/news/read_article.php?id=38958 (Alia at it again Friday morning)
- Jamaica and The London 2012 Olympics: Profile on and Olympic Schedule for Alia Atkinson, Swimmer (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- Come on Gov’t! It’s Not Just Alia Atkinson Who Needs Help! (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)
- Olympics 2012: Michael Phelps owns medals record, but is he the best ever? (pennlive.com)
- Jamaica and The London 2012 Olympics: Video of Jamaican Swimmer Alia Atkinson, fourth in 100m breaststroke final (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- Le Clos elated after beating his hero (iol.co.za)
- http://gabrielledouglas.com (Gabrielle Douglas website)
- http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/sexy-olympic-athletes-storm-london-games-2012-16903555 (Secrets of the sexiest athletes)
- http://www.vancouversun.com/sports/Photos+talented+beautiful+women+London+2012+Olympics/6814079/story.html (Twenty talented, beautiful women of the London 2012 Olympics)
- http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/tom-daley-gets-unnecessarily-censored (Tom Daley gets unnecessarily censored)
Good things happened around the world last week in the name of Mr. Nelson Mandela, former President of the Republic of South Africa, who reached his 94th birthday on July 18, 2012. Born in Mvezo in the Transkei region, his Xhosa given name was Rolihlahla, meaning “stirring up trouble.” Very appropriate. His English teacher named him Nelson (I wonder why), and he was afterwards known by several names: Madiba, his clan name, which is quite an honorific one; Tata, meaning “father,” an affectionate name used by many South Africans; Khulu, or “Great One,” which is also a shortened version of the Xhosa word for “grandfather”; and Dalibhunga, a name given to Xhosa youth after their initiation into manhood at age sixteen,which actually means “creator or founder of the council” or “convenor of the dialogue.” Some mighty names, befitting his stature. But his grandchildren probably just call him “Grandpa.”
There are a couple of reasons why Mr. Mandela really moves my heart and mind in a personal way. When I was a student at Oxford University, the apartheid system in South Africa was in full sway. Mr. Mandela had already been in prison for more than ten years on Robben Island, and was to serve many more years. The anti-apartheid movement in the UK, the United States and many other countries was getting up some steam; in the U.S., Congressman Charles C. Diggs, Jr. formed the National African Liberation Support Committee, a coalition between the Congressional Black Caucus and community-based black activist groups. There were regular anti-apartheid marches in London and other towns in the UK, and in Oxford we were also quite militant, staging many protests. In London, I was influenced by Mr. Peter Hain, a white South African whose family were living in self-imposed exile. As head of the Young Liberals, Mr. Hain was an enthusiastic and outspoken opponent of the apartheid system, and I recall intense meetings in his parents’ sprawling living room. Mr. Hain is now Member of Parliament for Neath in South Wales, and I guess maybe he has lost his accent. According to his website, he is an avid fan of Chelsea Football Club; which is most disappointing to me (a die-hard Arsenal fan, in case you didn’t know). And Mr. Hain describes himself on his website as a “libertarian socialist.”
So, when Mr. Mandela was released from prison on February 11, 1990, I thought of Peter and his family. In a birthday message last week, he said, “Nelson Mandela seems to encompass all that is best about us on our best day. He represents democracy, tolerance, humanity, courage, leadership. We would all like to live up to those standards in our everyday life. Very few of us manage to.” Very well put.
Secondly, I recall, with mixed emotions, Mr. Mandela’s visit to Jamaica with his then wife Winnie, just one year after his release. This was a time when he was negotiating with then President F.W. de Klerk for South Africa’s very first inclusive and multi-racial elections (which eventually took place four years later). We all went down to the National Stadium for a rally in the Mandelas’ honor, waiting for many hours for their arrival. This was exactly twenty-one years ago – the visit was July 24-25, 1991. I remember the atmosphere of barely-controlled, chaotic celebration, with members of the crowd continually jumping over the barriers to reach the open-topped car which slowly circulated the stadium. I remember feeling nervous for the Mandelas – and then for the crowd. The hot, still evening – just like this evening – was full of drama and pathos, but also an extraordinary, almost theatrical kind of joy. It was a historic moment, and the weight of it nearly crushed us all. I wish I had photos, but cannot find any.
So, last Wednesday, Jamaica celebrated Nelson Mandela Day, which was inaugurated a few years ago on his birthday. The aim of the day is “to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better, and in doing so build a global movement for good. Ultimately it seeks to empower communities everywhere.” The emphasis is on service to our fellow human beings – one way to create the more just society that Mr. Mandela fought for all his life.
The Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) Foundation partnered on the day with the YMCA in Kingston and the non-governmental organization Children First in Spanish Town to provide a health and culture day for at-risk youth. At the YMCA, it was hectic, hot and the children were energetic and engaged. YMCA director Sarah Newland Martin had to be very stern with them, but eventually got them together for devotions, to start the day on the right note. We all got busy after that… Please see a few photos I took with my android phone (the glorious Samsung Galaxy, no less!) – my first real effort to take photos via this medium, and they didn’t come out too badly – though I say so myself.
In the afternoon, I visited the Trench Town Reading Centre, where the summer school was still in full swing. I told the children about Mr. Mandela; he was already President by the time they were born, and unfortunately most had not heard of him. We looked at two or three books about Nelson Mandela in the Centre’s excellent library, and we perused several of these. The children liked the photo above best – of Madiba, in tribal dress.
In the evening, the human rights group Jamaicans for Justice celebrated Nelson Mandela Day in a remarkable and unique way. Again, the focus was on children, and children’s rights – a topic I have addressed several times before in this blog. This was a unique, awareness-raising event. JFJ described its vision for the evening thus: “On Nelson Mandela Day, July 18, you are invited to a 67 minute call to action forum at St. Margaret’s Church Hall commencing at 6pm. Jamaicans for Justice will honour this day by raising awareness about challenges our children in state care face. It is a call for Jamaicans to unite, as we did for Nelson Mandela, and insist that our children be removed from adult prisons and police lockups. In 2009, Nelson Mandela’s birthday was declared by the United Nations as an international day devoted to Nelson Mandela’s life work. On this day, individuals are asked to donate 67 minutes of their time, one minute for every year of Mandela’s service to humanity. The day is a global call to action to inspire individuals to change the world for the better. Mandela Day provides us with the opportunity to allow Jamaicans to do something for our country, in line with Mandela’s vision for a just society. In this the 50th year of our independence, it seems appropriate to use this day to reflect on our children, the future of Jamaica as, in the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children’.” It is very hard to pick two or three photographs from their extraordinary exhibition of photographs of Jamaicans of all ages holding up messages reflecting this theme…but you can find them all on the Jamaicans for Justice Facebook page – “Free our Children” – Nelson Mandela Day photo collection in their photo albums. Support JFJ in their fight for the rights of ALL Jamaicans, in the spirit of Mr. Mandela…!
I am going to close with a quote from Mr. Mandela which so closely relates to the lives of too many of our precious Jamaican children: “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
Jamaican leaders, Jamaican citizens all, are you listening?
http://www.nelsonmandela.org/ The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
http://www.peterhain.org/default.asp Peter Hain, M.P.
http://jnbsfoundation.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/nelson-mandela-turns-94-take-action-inspire-change-and-make-every-day-a-mandela-day/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+JnbsFoundation+%28JNBS+Foundation%29 (JNBS Foundation: Nelson Mandela Day)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/resolutionproject/ (JNBS Foundation Flickr photostream: Resolution Project)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/opm-news/31198-jamaica-to-commemorate-nelson-mandela-international-day-july-18-by-giving-to-children (Jamaica to commemorate Nelson Mandela Day by giving to children – Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/120-ministers-speeches/31257-message-from-minister-of-foreign-affairs-a-foreign-trade-to-commemorate-nelson-mandela-day (Message from Jamaican Minister of Foreign Affairs to commemorate Nelson Mandela Day – Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/105-foreign-affairs-trade/28326-dr-baugh-message-to-commemorate-nelson-mandela-day (Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister’s message on Nelson Mandela Day – Jamaica Information Service)
Former president of South Africa Thabo Mbeki said at the funeral of Professor Phillip Tobias that his legacy was “too important and too durable to be forgotten.” Professor Emeritus at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Tobias died on June 7 at the age of 86. Many dignitaries, including President Jacob Zuma, attended his funeral at Johannesburg‘s Jewish cemetery. Why was he so revered? He was so much more than an academic, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize three times. Yes, he was a paleoanthropologist; he unearthed the mysteries of man’s origins in ground-breaking and remarkable ways. In 2008, a colleague (his protege, Lee Berger) discovered Australopithecus sediba in the Malapa cave, in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site; these fossil remains date back two million years and appear to be the closest to our homo ancestors yet discovered. Professor Tobias reportedly became very emotional at the thought that these earliest ancestors of man were found in his beloved country of South Africa.
His dedication to science (he also studied genetics and medicine) is just one aspect of the professor’s life and achievements. He was also greatly admired for his stance against apartheid in the early days. He did not come from a privileged background; his family was almost destitute after his father’s business failed. He had many challenges in his early years – and later in his academic year, when he had some detractors. But he overcame. He never married or had children, but was devoted to his students at Wits Medical School in Durban, where he became head of Anatomy in 1951 – and to all his thousands of students throughout his life.
And it was at Wits that Phillip Tobias took a strong and furious stance against apartheid, during the six and a half years when Daniel Francois Malan put in place legislation that laid the foundations of the apartheid regime. Below is a marvelous article from South Africa’s first daily tablet newspaper, iMaverick, which you might like to subscribe to. I highlighted Professor Tobias’ views on race from the viewpoint of a scientist and social activist. I was also struck by his love of the newness of science and learning (“We have to swallow hard and open our minds”) and his eloquent defense of the university as the oppressive forces of apartheid literally hovered overhead. You can read it at http://allafrica.com/stories/201206081399.html.
Johannesburg — A man with a twinkle in his eye, who lived for his science and his students, the man who bravely fought the apartheid machine, has died. What lives on is his remarkable legacy in the fields of palaeoanthropology, genetics, medicine and humanitarianism.
It is hard to think of Emeritus Professor Phillip Valentine Tobias as dead. He was a man who was so brilliantly alive. Two years ago, when he was 85, Tobias spoke to Sunday Times about death: “Retirement is the kiss of death. I still come to the office most days, but as you can see there’s no computer on my desk. I officially retired from my chair of anatomy after 30 years at the end of 1990, then immediately took up another three years – and then retired in the sense that they no longer paid me.”
But during the last few months of his life, Tobias battled with ill health and finally succumbed in hospital at midday on Thursday. He was revered around the world. Tobias completed a medical BSc and lectured at Wits Medical School before getting his doctorates in medicine, palaeoanthropology and genetics. An honorary doctorate at Cambridge University followed, and in 1959 he became head of anatomy at the Wits medical school. He succeeded his friend, mentor and teacher Raymond Dart, who earned fame for discovering the “Taung” skull, a species he claimed to be an evolutionary “bridge” between apes and humans. Tobias studied genetics with Dart, who cultivated in his student a great love of palaeoanthropology. But the man, who was to become one the world’s most respected experts on human evolution, first started thinking about humans’ ancestors as a child who loved to read comic books.
The Chicago Tribune tells of how Tobias was engrossed by cave-man comics that portrayed Neanderthals as stooped brutes. “They had the spark divine in their heads, but they were bent over in appallingly bad posture,” Tobias told the Tribune. “That was the view then, that we became human in our brains before we became human in our posture and our teeth,” said the octogenarian who saw many paradigms in the study of ancient humans overturned during his time. “We have to swallow hard and open our minds – I’ve always loved changes of paradigm, and we are living on the brink of big ones at this moment. I’m very excited. I don’t think we’re 50% of the way toward resolving the outstanding questions of human origins,” said Tobias before warning that not being open to new ideas in his field could lead to rapid “cerebral fossilisation”.
Though Tobias is legendary for unearthing man’s ancient ancestry, back home it was his huge regard for humanity and his active struggle against Apartheid that made him a true son of the South African soil. Born in Durban on 14 October 1925, Tobias moved to Johannesburg to study science and medicine at Wits University a few years before the dark shroud of apartheid started to become a legislated evil. “Only a few years after I arrived here, the Apartheid regime came to power under DF Malan and they won that fateful election on an Apartheid platform. Every branch of society was to be segregated. Discrimination was to be enforced between the haves and the have-nots, between black and white South Africans,” Tobias said when he received the Walter Sisulu Special Contribution Award in 2007.
At the time, Tobias described how universities like Wits faced the threat of government-enforced segregation.
“Immediately, I took action. NUSAS, the National Union of South African Students, which had been non-racial – or ‘multiracial’ as the Americans preferred to call it – elected me president in July 1948, only a few months after the apartheid regime had assumed office.” In 1949, Tobias and his colleagues would launch what he called SA’s first anti-apartheid campaign. “In the beginning, it was a campaign to fight against the threat that apartheid be imposed on the universities. Over the years, it expanded its remit so as to oppose all other moves to impose segregation and grand apartheid on every sector of society.”
Tobias told of how Special Branch police would invade Wits repeatedly to fire teargas at students and staff. Helicopters whirred overhead to spy on students, but served another purpose as their noisy engines drowned out dissenting speeches.The three-time Nobel Prize nominee would rage against the apartheid machine throughout its existence, and in 1987 this would see him face off against then minister of education, FW de Klerk.
The New York Times reported that thousands of university students rallied against political conditions that the government of the time was trying to install, in order to get these institutions of higher learning to toe the party line.
Universities were supposed to report on misconduct by anti-apartheid activists in a “spy for subsidies” blackmail type scheme that was cooked up by the PW Botha regime. Universities were to agree to hand over information to De Klerk within weeks in return for subsidies. “‘We shall not subjugate ourselves to these savage conditions,” Tobias told cheering students and academics. “We shall not prostitute our calling as academics to become a spying and policing agency. This university will not become a tool of repression.”
The New York Times wrote: “At Witwatersrand University, lecturers wearing academic gowns formed a human chain to protect militant black students from police action, and white professors held hands with black university workers wearing overalls.”
Tobias once explained why he raged against Apartheid. “You may perhaps wonder: why should I have all this scientific mumbo-jumbo thrust on to me? It is of nobody’s concern what I believe about the expanding universe or the atomic theory. Why therefore should I concern myself with the scientific theory of race?
“The answer is that these other terms and concepts are emotionally and politically neutral; the term ‘race’, on the other hand, is heavily charged emotionally and politically and full of unsound and even dangerous meanings. It is in the name of ‘race’ that millions of people have been murdered and millions of others are being held in degradation.
That is why you cannot afford to remain ignorant about ‘race’.
“In a society in which the question of race has come to loom as largely as it does in South Africa, there is, I believe, a positive duty on a scientist who has made a special study of race to make known the facts and the most highly confirmed hypotheses about race, whenever a suitable opportunity presents itself. I should be failing, therefore, in my academic duty, if I were to hold my peace and say nothing about race, simply because the scientific truth about race runs counter to some or all of the assumptions underlying or influencing the race policies of this country. In no field is the need of guidance from qualified scientists more imperative than in this very subject of race,” Tobias said, then in his 70s.
A gentleman, great academic, revered teacher, prolific publisher and much-loved human being, Tobias still speaks to us. “Even when things appear to be at their worst, always look for the positive. I felt very strongly about Apartheid and fought strongly against it, starting the first anti-Apartheid movement at Wits. I always felt it would change, it was inevitable. I don’t feel any particular grievance or grumpiness about the state of things. I’m an eternal optimist and have every hope that things are going to come right.”
And his advice to those of us still studying or learning about life?
“‘Never lose your sense of wonderment,’ I have repeatedly said. On the other side of the coin, how sad I have felt, and how sympathetic, when I have been confronted, happily not often, with a student who is blasé, uninterested, beset with a closed mind. Such people are a challenge to the teacher and to the idealist, and when both are combined, as in myself, when the mentor is brimming with an overwhelming sense of wonder, it is doubly challenging…The retention of my personal sense of wonderment and of enthusiasm has, I feel sure, played a big part throughout my life.”
Tobias the man is no longer with us, but his massive intellect, work and wisdom remain with us forever.
iMaverick is South Africa’s first daily tablet newspaper and includes coverage from the Daily Maverick and Free African Media. To subscribe, go to: www.imaverick.co.za.
- Why Australopithecus sediba could rewrite our evolutionary history [Human Evolution] (io9.com)
- Phillip Tobias (telegraph.co.uk)
- Field Notes: A Visit to an Early Human Death Trap [Videos and Slide Show] (scientificamerican.com)
- Renowned South African scientist Phillip Tobias dies at 86 (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
- Zuma Saddened By Prof Tobias’s Death
- Phillip Tobias Dies
- ANC Statement On Passing of Phillip Tobias
- DA Grieves With All the Locals At the Passing of Our Most Famous Scientist, Philip Tobias
- http://www.iol.co.za/dailynews/news/tobias-too-important-to-be-forgotten-mbeki-1.1316008#.T9as0Y55m5Q: Daily News report
- http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/2012/06/11/tobias-placed-south-africa-as-the-cradle-of-life: Tobias Placed South Africa as the Cradle of Life: The Sowetan
- http://witsvuvuzela.com/2012/06/08/professor-emeritus-phillip-tobias-honouring-an-inspirational-witsie/: Tribute in the University of the Witwatersrand Student Newspaper, Wits Vuvuzela
- http://www.macroevolution.net/australopithecus-sediba.html#.T9axBI55m5Q: Australopithecus sediba
- http://africanhistory.about.com/od/apartheideraleaders/a/bio-Malan.htm: Biography of DF Malan