Posts Tagged ‘nigeria’
I originally got a second passport — my grass green Nigerian booklet that I hear is now invalid — to be my identity badge on really crazy trips, like to Iran and Cuba. I did go to Cuba but ended up using my American passport, anyway. Even before I got it, I knew about the problems of traveling as a Nigerian. I was already used to the suspicious double glances at my name on my American passport by African — African! — customs agents. I was familiar with the half-jokes by new Ugandan and Kenyan friends about whether I was cooking up any e-mail schemes. But I’ve got pride in my ancestral homeland — which is why it hurts to see the way internet fraud has swallowed both the talented youth and the reputation of a country that is filled with brilliant minds with no place to stretch, and that is constantly hustling and heaving as it sways like a drunkard, one step away from falling into madness.
Vice has just released a very short documentary on Sakawa, the mix of mysticism and internet scamming that has given rise to a popular subculture mainly made up of clever young Ghanian men. As usual, Vice is more interested in the shock appeal of Sakawa — those crazy Africans painting their faces and dancing to drums! — than exploring why a generation of young Africans are turning to fraud as a livelihood in the face of political corruption and an overwhelming lack of employment opportunities. What’s more interesting, as Louis Chude-Sokeias writes in Fanzine, is the insanely high levels of creativity, technological savvy, organization, research, and planning involved in these scams that, if redirected, could make the Nigerian megacity of Lagos suddenly thriving within a day. What’s more interesting is “this younger generation [that] rolls with a swagger disdainful of global pity and deeply suspicious of ‘big man’ politics.” I can link you to the fascinating article, but first I need you to send me your bank info please. Too soon?
For most of high school and early college, I struggled to find clothes that I liked and that really suited me. I had phases where I tried out different genres (prep, punk, all black), but didn’t really feel comfortable in any of them. Until I found the top shelves (so high I still couldn’t reach them even while standing on a chair) of my dad’s closet.
There I found stacks of gorgeous rumpled fabrics in a dazzling array of colors. Long men’s and boys’ shirts in kente and ankara cloths with swirling, intricate designs; feet-sweeping and embroidered tunics in soft blue materials; piles of funky-patterned scarves in every color combination you can imagine; printed dresses of all styles (scoop-neck, strapless, cap sleeves). These were the clothes of my parents’ past, the past of my brothers and I, all originating from Nigeria. How had I forgotten about this clothing?
So I took some, and then more, and then more. Shortened some pieces, hemmed others, cut into yet others to make them fit and work for me. I wear my brothers’ discarded clothes, along with my dad’s, too. Of course I still shop at stores like H&M, but these clothes are what make me feel like me.
There’s a new blog that I love, called Nairobi Style, that is modern and completely original. Why not photos of street style in East Africa, one of the most vibrant, fresh and colorful fashion scenes I’ve ever encountered? Whenever I go to Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania or Uganda, I try to get as many fabrics and accessories as I can. You can see why from these photos.
Photos via Nairobi Style
Certain things make up the memory of my childhood, usually weird, insignificant events and people — but one of the major things is the music my mother played on her shiny vinyl records in the living room. The music was often pulsing and often of Fela Kuti, or Jimmy Cliff, or maybe some funky Nigerian highlife. One man in particular, whom I heard at home, or at banquets or parties the African community in my Alabama hometown would hold, was the great King of Juju, King Sunny Ade.
He uses the talking drum, guitars, synthesizers and other random instruments in this melodious blend of poetic lyrics and kinetic rhythms. It’s funny now to see that trendy kid-friendly bands like Vampire Weekend claim inspiration from Ade, whose rousing but utterly traditional songs got everyone up dancing, or at least dancing in their chairs. He’s one of those living legends. Listen to “Samba” below:
In East Africa, it’s the Indians. In West Africa, it’s the Lebanese. Communities of long-time immigrants who have made Africa their home, but who have tenuous, strained relationships with their fellow residents. They often prosper, owning several businesses, homes, hotels, even corporations — and they employ Nigerians, Liberians, Ugandans, Kenyans and other native Africans to work for them while helping to fuel along fragile economies.
An OK agreement for all, it would seem, but things are never that easy. Black Africans complain of mistreatment and disrespect from these immigrants: in fact, when you ask a Liberian or Kenyan about a Lebanese or Indian, the reaction is usually mocking and full of distaste, and sometimes vitriolic. Many Lebanese and Indians, however, say that they genuinely harbor no ill will towards black Africans and even consider themselves Africans.
When the resentment towards these immigrants builds, it can turn deadly very quickly, as it did the day I witnessed a bloody protest in Uganda. The day echoed former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s expelling of Indian-Ugandans a few decades ago. I wonder what’s next for these tension-filled relationships.
Activists, aid workers, development experts and everyday folks have raved over microfinance in the past couple of years, specifically its ability to help impoverished entrepreneurs and small businesses like hair salons and grocery shops thrive in Africa, Latin America and other developing parts of the world.
But the beloved world of micro-lending has its ugly side. As The New York Times reported recently, large banks and financial institutions now dominate the lending field, charging up to 100% for very small loans (often under $1,000). These lenders are the new loan sharks, turning a trend of empowering disadvantaged businesspeople into a way to get rich quick.
Countries like Mexico and Nigeria, where demand for micro-loans surpasses the number of lenders, are hit the hardest. The average interest rate in Mexico is about 70% and in Nigeria, for those who borrow from the nation’s largest lender, 74%, compared to a 37% world average.
As the Times story quotes Chuck Waterfield, a proponent of microfinance accountability: “You can make money from the poorest people in the world — is that a bad thing, or is that just a business?” asked Mr. Waterfield of mftransparency.org. “At what point do we say we have gone too far?”
Photos of struggling entrepreneurs in Nigeria and Mexico via The New York Times
Is Mexico following China’s suit and trying to make inroads into Africa’s natural resources? With its new position as permanent observer of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), Mexico has direct relations with the officials of each West African member state in the economic union. Such member states include oil giants like Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, and budding oil producers like Ghana.
From the Nigerian newspaper This Day: “With the reopening of the Embassy of Mexico to Nigeria in October 2008, Mexico is pushing forward its relations with the country and all the other countries of the Sub-Saharan region, exploring all the possibilities in order to boost the bilateral relations with each one of them, especially on the economic-commercial sector.”
Ideally, it will be a mutually beneficial relationship. Though China’s own involvement in Africa is murky, at best.
Photo via Farafina
I’ve become a big fan of Indian-Kenyan photographer Priya Ramrakha. Killed at the age of 33 during the Nigerian Civil War in 1968, Ramrakha roved the continent, documenting under-reported stories and capturing effortless scenes of daily life across Africa. I feel a certain kinship to this photographer, who made covering Africa his life and even took photos during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
Photos via the Priya Foundation and The New York Times
On one side of the jungle: Mexico’s Zapatistas, burrowed in the flora of Chiapas, one of the country’s poorest states. For 15 years, the rebels have declared themselves in war against the Mexican government.
On the other side of the jungle: Nigeria’s MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta), nestled in the Niger Delta, one of Nigeria’s poorest — but most oil-rich — regions. For at least three years, the rebel group has staged attacks on foreign oil pipelines and soldiers in open battle against the Nigerian government.
Leading the Zapatistas is Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, a political writer, poet and activist who opposes globalization and capitalism and who has achieved rock star infamy in Mexico but is equally shrouded in mystery. Defending the land and resource rights of his indigenous compatriots, Marcos himself is likely of Spanish ancestry, hence his lighter skin. Often through violent struggle, the Zapatistas have fought against development on the Mayan land and argued for more inclusive politics, with Marcos as spokesman. But with his ever-present mask, it’s hard to tell exactly who he is.
Henry Okah aka Jomo Gbomo, a wealthy engineer by training, is one of Africa’s most famous guerilla leaders — and a pain in the ass to oil multinationals. Heading MEND on behalf of the people of Niger Delta who live on top of billion-dollar oil reserves yet are impoverished without basic services, Okah led his group to attacks that have cut a significant percentage of Nigeria’s oil production, up to 25 percent. Okah, who also never showed his face and operated under the name Jomo Gbomo while representing MEND to the press and the public, is currently in secret government custody.
Both groups have taken hits lately: low current interest in their causes hasn’t been kind. But both outfits, complete with charismatic leaders, say they continue to fight for the neglected peoples of their country, amid rampant corruption.
And again, different worlds (rebel worlds, this time) collide.
Two of my favorite genres to write in are style and travel, and Andrew Dosunmu’s photography straddles both fields impressively. From India to Europe, Southeast Asia to Africa, his stunning portraits and editorials go right into the world’s biggest and most chaotic capitals and pluck out the edgiest, most interesting people and scenes.
I saw an exhibit of his a few years ago in New York, and the global conglomeration of his work is enthralling. Dosunmu is Nigerian, and began his career as a design assistant at the couture house of Yves Saint Laurent. Since then, he’s captured the glamour and regality in the Third World, grit and all. Check out more here.