Sunday, 29 April 2012

Half of a Yellow Sun: the film (pre-production)

Eeeeeeeeekkk!! it's here! Well... not officially and everyone who knows will know that it has been on the books for years now. But with the casting of Thandie Newton as Olanna, the Nigerian hype around this book risked dying out - afterall it's one of the most successful Nigerian-written books, it's about the darkest days in Nigeria's history and for once, it stars leading characters who are Nigerian and through whose perspective we experience the Biafran war - yet Thandie Newton is not Nigerian and will probably flop (much like Morgan Freeman's Mandela impersonation) trying to do a Nigerian accent - which is not your average African accent.

As a Brit, I have all faith in Thandie. As a Brit I agree with many that we must now start casting and filming movies with commercial viability in mind and the current line up: Thandie Newton (Olanna), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Odenigbo) and Dominic Cooper (Richard) have Hollywood written all over them. [And those of you who watched My Murder on BBC3 will love that John Boyega is playing Ugwu] At the end of the day, you will sooner find a million people spending £5 a head to see a film, in the USA than you will in Nigeria - this is a fact of life in the continent's present situation. And if £5 a head in the USA means that perhaps we can let Nigerian's watch their story for just a dollar, then I'm in support.

Of course as a Nigerian I am more than excited to see Genevieve Nnaji starring. I don't think the film would have gotten away with not having at least one Nollywood heavyweight in it. BUT, and feel free to correct me if I am wrong, we all know Genevieve's strengths, we've seen her in dozens of movies, we know the type of characters we like her to play. Those of you who have read the book can then tell me, do you think Genevieve is better suited to the role of Ms Adebayo or to Kainene, Olanna's twin sister? I don't want to type-cast Genevieve as a stern character, not looking for love but finding it anyway. Of course, if she were the part of Kainene, some may argue that she was being typecast. I don't know I think it would have done much more for her portfolio to be Kainene than Ms Adebayo, who I dislike just as much as Ugwu seems to in the book. And I am fearful of rumours that Thandie will play both sisters, it's seems highly unnecessary. Yes they are twins, but we are told they are nothing alike in appearance and personality.

Hmmmm. To be honest, none of this is about being a Brit or being Nigerian I'm so excited for this film to come out, I will make my entire family watch it and support African stories. I only write this post to say how I might do something different - the lads are spot on, I had them in mind too (when I was reading the book), if not Chiwetel then David Harewood he's got something Odenigbo-esque about him. Thandie is a good selection and to be honest I would rather her than Rita Dominic - this is a serious project. Kudos to everyone involved.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Africa's International Image

I have so many similar posts sitting in my drafts but I felt this topic needed its own quick and fresh response in light of the BBC Africa Debate that took place yesterday in Kampala, Uganda.

Is Africa's international image unjust? Yes.
Should Africa care about their international image? No.
Should Africa rebrand its international image? No.

Well, Africa has an unjust image because the image is not complete. For instance, HIV/AIDS is a terrible disease, it understandably therefore has alot of stigma around it. This stigma is caused by the perpetuation of the notion that HIV/AIDS is a death sentence. HIV/AIDS agencies are always campaigning to remind people that HIV/AIDS will not hinder a normal life.

So you see despite the negatives, positive messages are peddled too in order to allow sufferers of HIV to develop like every other person in the world. But when we apply Africa's international image, we find there's alot of stigma caused by the perpetuation of the notion that Africa is a death sentence either to war, famine or disease. And there are no agencies trying to convince anyone otherwise, in order to allow Africa to develop like every other continent. (by "like every other continent" I don't mean to imply that there is one path for us all to follow).

Should Africa care about their international image? Read Neo-Colonialism by Kwame Nkrumah, please and don't think you know what the argument will be, based on the title.

I was talking to a friend the other day about Africa and its future according to my eyes. I would say the International image doesn't matter because the domestic image is not yet mature. The only people who matter in terms of Africa's image are the African people, especially those still living on the continent but also to an extent those who left in post-independence and their children who are now part of a returning generation.

Remember, when we say Africa's image what is the narrative that we are conforming to? When we try to promote Ghana as a democratic country, what value do we hold for democracy. George Ayittey has always said that our form of accountable government, is governance of consensus - so I ask again what value do we hold for democracy? Is it not a narrative that we promote for the pleasure of others?

When we say Africa is safe for multinationals to come and invest and mine and harvest, where in that narrative are we trying to create our own multinationals that go and invest elsewhere and bring capital back to the continent. Once again - pleasure for others.

I will always argue as I have in an earlier post that our leaders should adopt our culture in their leadership, that includes wearing our attire rather than "international business standard". When we say the African image, we must mean an AFRICAN image not Africa's best simulation of a foreign image. And there is no point trying to convince outsiders when we can't even convince ourselves who experience Africa first hand everyday. Another example - Ghana's oil (or Nigeria's or Angola's) - when the revenues go to the national coffers the IMF/World Bank/ someone says the country has earned/grown 10% from the year prior. But until the money is spent on the people, on domestic infrastructure etc, Ghanaians, Nigerians or Angolans will forever believe their country to be poor. Ghana, Nigeria or Angola could have the most impressive embassies abroad, but will that change the narrative that the people on the ground relay to BBC, CNN or AlJazeera.. no. So it's pointless.

And to end on the media - one man said in the debate yesterday, the international broadcasters will become irrelevant on the continent in 5-7 years. I totally agree, who best to tell our story than ourselves?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

the brand - you.

Nowadays it feels like I've gotta trade in 'Charlene Bello' harder than I had to trade in Pokemon cards! (and that was a difficult hustle at such a tender age).

I've spent every waking moment reading graduate programme descriptions, and job descriptions and post-grad course descriptions! anymore descriptions people want to throw at me put them in the comments I'm sure to read them! I mean all of that isn't really a problem, the act of reading has become second nature to me - I take a humanities course, there's no practical, just reading, and some more. The problem is that after all that reading takes place... just as I feel "yeh, that really spoke to me, this is want I want to do in life" I've gotta apply for it. Now I'm not saying I'm expecting them to find me, although, y'kno it wouldn't kill them to do a bit of the chasing now and again, I'm just saying the application process is so long and it doesn't begin or end with each individual application. You have to check your digital dirt, sweep it all up and febreze the place with as many martyr heroes and Churchill quotes you can think of. Suddenly you've begun trying to tone down the wild child image you've spent 21-odd years trying to create  because you think it offsets the I-like-to-read nerd in you beautifully. Or you've gone from being the laid-back-but-still-smart student whose idea of a good time is a chinwag with mates on a couch watching some dying reality TV show whilst sipping on Earl Grey to Captain America climbing mountains, playing more sports that the IOC recognise and speaking more languages than UNESCO are aware of. You're idea of fun is a theory based discussion on the morals and evils of the fundamental philosophies behind the OCCUPY movement, rather than to sum it up as you normally would.. "a Duke Of Edinburgh expedition that got a bit lost."

And there's a one degree lee-way. That's it.swing too far social or too far studious and you're bound to find yourself in the barren lands of youth unemployment [now at a record high, thank you to all those who voted Tory or Lib Dem]

You're CV has always looked good, star pupil from nursery to uni.
No one can fault you.
But then suddenly you spend an hour running through all the fonts Microsoft Office have to offer because Times New Roman just won't do.
It's not enough to set you apart from everyone else.
You now need something that says I'm as reliable and as serious as Times New Roman, but fun and creative enough to not BE Times New Roman, because Times New Roman is the Average Joe, and this Joe is far from average.

And then you have companies who ask you to describe yourself, but they ask it in the dumbest of ways. Remember at school, your teacher would say "pick 3 words to describe you and give your reason" simple enough, we'd all choose the same so that we'd all like each other and sneer at the person who dared to be different. They wouldn't say they were chatty, they would claim they prefered playing with the insects in their garden or something. But now, NOW they ask you "if you were a brand how would you describe that brand?" we've gone from elevator pitching new products to elevator pitching ourselves as if we were products. It's tiring work.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Can we do more to save our elephants?

Panorama showed this investigation yesterday. It actually made me very sad. I won't make this a post about China in Africa. I just hope that somehow someday we can save the elephants and put an end to poaching indefinitely.

Elephants are matriarchal, they hold memory and have feelings and they mourn the dead collectively and even after a long time has passed. I see those same traits in my culture.

I used to read about how our ancestors used nature and wildlife as a guide to their own existence, if our  traditional societal structures are built like that then surely the extinction of the elephant would have a tremendous effect on us, our identity and our connection with the land. 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

the African Renaissance Monument, Dakar

Many of us would have heard about the African Renaissance monument in Dakar, Senegal. The brainchild of former President Abdoulaye Wade, it has been criticised by many for being a waste of money. He spent £16.6m on it. I for one wasn't particularly offended by the President's decision to create the monument, mainly because the arguments for it were sort of convincing - at the end of the day many people go to New York to see a woman holding a torch and a bible, why shouldn't they go to Dakar to see a man holding a child and a woman (which apparently embodies the Senegalese spirit) I had no objections until I saw this CNN video of the African Renaissance statue.

The architect explained the whole thinking behind it and then it just seemed confused, self-defeating and contradictory. I won't say that has made me completely against the monument, just the story behind it, and perhaps the Senegal should think up a more appropriate explanation for what it represents.

It just all has me thinking from the Dakar monument in the West and the AU building in the East it seems the narrative of Africa's leaders is "we want to prove that we can do everything we want to do if we emulate you and ask you to do it for us" still little child mentality, that isn't development.

Monday, 9 April 2012

A response to Imani Ghana.

Imani is a think-tank in Ghana.

I support think-tanks because usually they offer an independent analysis of policies and political behaviour to enable media houses and scholars to best weigh up and present the advantages and disadvantages of any given policy.

Now on Imani's table is the debate over free Secondary Education in Ghana. This would sponsor all young people who make it into the Secondary tier of education in Ghana, to attend for free and is a promise made first by NPP but now also CPP (Kwame Nkrumah's party) and PPP.

According to an article I found on Ghanaweb Imani rejects the idea of free Secondary education claiming there is no constitutional requirement to make that part of education free for anyone. They also question the feasibility  of such a policy and I personally have watched videos on YouTube from Ghanaian broadcasters where they argue the NPP have not considered the costs of this commitment - they've even gone as far as to say it is unattainable.

Trust me, I'm extremely sceptical of election promises. To be honest, evidence from Africa would show that election promises are more than just overly ambitious; they are most often pure lies. BUT! (and yes it's a big 'but')... politicians make major election promises because they know the people will vote for those promises and the people vote for those promises because on the off-chance that this year is a year of honesty, next year and the years following could be a year of unprecedented progression.

So what I expect from a think-tank like Imani is a more mature analysis of these promises. I totally accept them questioning the figures (although official estimates have not yet been released) after all, if you ask no questions before the voting, being frustrated after the fact, serves no end. However, my objection is to the assertion that the policy of free secondary education possesses no constitutional backing. Firstly, and I hate to begin with partisan objection, the constitution was written by the NDC party (or at least largely their sympathisers which is why there are a number of unjust actions protected by the constitution), and coincidentally the idea of free secondary education is not the brainchild of the NDC. This is probably my weakest argument which is why it comes first. I just wonder if we would be looking to constitutional backing had the idea orginated within the current government and not within its three largest opposers.

Secondly, Bright Simons in the poster-boy for Imani right now and he has led the criticisms. He has got there undoubtedly because he has obtained secondary and I'm guessing tertiary education either in Ghana or elsewhere. Supporting the commercialisation of education to the extent that students have to pay to be there is  to support the narrowing of the secondary education population by way of finances. Now not every one will be lucky enough to secure a bursary or scholarship, there will not be enough scholarships to support putting every poor but intelligent child through school. That is a fact that we must live with. The biggest sponsor one will find, though, is the government and a substantial allocation of the national budget to secondary education could cover those intelligent kids. Understand that any other system would ensure that the offspring of the rich progress through school and better their career prospects regardless of their comparative intellectual abilities and that is not right.

Thirdly, discussing constitutional backing. Bright Simons' ingenious brainchild is mPedigree. Those of you who keep an eye on Africa may have heard of it already. I do not think that mPedigree had any of its foundations in the constitution. The fact remains it is a good idea. A needed idea. And one that I hope will grow from strength to strength. But if anything, Bright Simons' story tells us that some things may never be required by the constitution but morally - that we have a moral duty not to allow someone to die or a moral duty not to stall their progress in life - we are called to act. The promise of Free SHS is just that. A act of goodwill by those with the power to make it happen.

Finally, because I could go on forever. The argument that secondary education is not realistic is disgustingly false. Any Ghanaian who knows that there's more to life than Osu, will cite Europe, America, Latin America, South, South East and East Asia, Oceania and many parts of Africa as examples of free secondary education. I need not say more than that on this objection. So whilst Imani is contributing to becoming an obstacle to this election promise (be it ambitious, well thought  out or just lies) they should remember when they speak at TED Talks or at governance conferences or mHealth summits that Bright Simons will be more than familiar with, that the people they interact with from outside Ghana mostly benefitted from free secondary education, regardless of their constitution - it is MORE than feasible.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Africa gave up Facebook, Groupon and Zynga before they knew it could happen.

I read this article by Forbes.

It says what so many have said already. Africa is not deficient of ideas, but rather of support, of funds, of faith.

It's hard for me to accept at times. It's hard for me to be comfortable with African innovations stagnating until an American comes about with a wad of cash - simply because I believe everyone comes with their own ethos, their own way of doing things and when their money is on the line, they'll definitely be giving their two cents and moulding their projects to serve their needs. That's a fact of life wherever you go. I won't pretend as if its just the USA. China make it quite clear on the continent too, and others follow.

Mainly the hardest part of reading this article, was coupling it with my understanding of Africa's post-independence history. For many, these years in this century is Africa's calling. For many, pre-Y2K was coloured with war and famine and war and famine and coup after coup after coup. They don't know, or have never bothered to see that there were some, like my Grandfather, who were there willing to invest in their area, in their peers, in young talent. I've seen evidence of that - if anyone would like to dispute my claims. My Grandfather himself was a big thinker, one who had the ideas and requested the supported as everyone must, but then once he had made it he was there looking for the next big thing to support. His country cut the legs from underneath him and they thought they were doing just him a disservice, but they didn't see that 25 years down the line, Forbes would be asking "where are these people?".

That they can write to say we have none, as if we never did, as if we have not yet reached a level of understanding needed for development, frustrates me.  Ghana for one example had these people and then 1979 happened. They should now ask themselves, how to we get these types of people back. How do we grow IN THIS LAND, the type of people who can sponsor an African Facebook, Groupon or Zynga - I'm happy for Google to be unrivaled because I just love them that much ;-) - the way we did before.

The World needs Ngozi.

I thought I would just put on record that I am a huge Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala fan. A World Bank led by anyone but her at this moment (especially if it is an American candidate simply in the running because of his nationality) is a joke. 

America and Europe should come to understand that Number 1 they no longer own empires. Number 2 they are no longer the beacons of prosperous economies. and Number 3 it's best to co-operate with the nations who will before long, be running the global system.

It makes no sense in my opinion that a 21st Century world should continue to be run by mid-20th Century statistics and rankings. 

Read more opinions on the World Bank leadership race: 

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Why are the disabled forgotten in Ghana?

The above video makes me sad and disappointed. It sums up, though, in my opinion Ghana's development process - something to be proud of, but yet something missing vital features. Ghana on the surface looks to be firmly on the path to becoming a stronger country, yet there are oversights that are only honoured by lip-service rather than tangible action.

How can a mayor, who brought his children up ion the USA and would have seen numerous examples of accessibility sanction the building of pavements that cannot be easily accessible by wheelchair users and subsequently blind people and many others. 

This isn't a new concern of mine. I realised this to be a problem on my last visit to Ghana in September 2010. I saw the building of the Accra-Nsawam road through Ofankor (barrier) and just thought every day that I drove down it "that pavement is just too high". At the time I was thinking mainly about my grandmother as she gets older, stairs and steps are decreasingly a feat I would want her to suffer. I've designed my new house (which we will hopefully begin building by the end of the year) so that my grandmother would have step free access from her room to her shower to the kitchen and the garage. It's not difficult to do so and I'm not even a trained architect. Surely the Accra Metropolitan Authority with all the 'experts' I expect they are paying, could consider, the old and disabled in town planning.