Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lesson of Love from my mothers

Painting by Peju Alatise (Owned by Adewale Ajadi)

Nothing in this world can match hearing you say ‘I love you’. These three words that seem to open up the deepest of dreams as well as fears, the insecurities and aspirations of the world around us. When we say them, we wonder whether we will hear those words back and if we do, will it be true or even will it last? In that same moment of the deepest connection our most fearsome demon is exposed, the multi headed hydra that is insecurity. Not true for us, our love is so pure it gathers no residue. I promised myself I would do anything to help keep it so. So here I am capturing for you the wisdom that preserves the greatest organising principle and fountain of a life without limitation, Love.

For many years the teachers of this wisdom have been women whose own initiation have been scars tissues of experience nurtured in the womb of time, seared in the burning heat of the Equator. They preserved the wisdom over generations, from mother to daughter ensuring not only survival in predictable difficulties but prosperity in spite of them. This wisdom no longer speak to their daughters these days. This great heritage is now lost to modern exposure and indoctrination. Love has become a PowerPoint presentation with the predictability of a Hollywood blockbuster. Every woman seems to have the same expectation and dream of Cinderella or more accurately Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Women of my generation now see love like a consumer choice designed in the west, marketed through Oprah and returned if it does not deliver gratification. Like the little black dress every woman should own one preferably with a premium brand name. They choice to distance themselves from them their mother’s life of submission and subservience is long overdue. For this generation of our brightest and most exposed women who will rescue Africa from much heralded decline. I sometimes wonder whether the loss of the wisdom about the complexity of love is a price worth paying?

I hope I honour you with my directness. It is the least I can offer for the many damages inflicted by men. That there are many grown males but there are a lot fewer men is very trite. Manhood is now a rare art and it now seems the women are going the same way. I hope it is not too late.

I learnt of love from the best and the truest. My Grandmother always said in Yoruba ‘ Eni a fe la mo a ko mo eni to feni’ a literal meaning is, ‘I know who I love but can never know who loves me’. Many have misunderstood that to be a statement of distrust when it is quite simply embraces the true vulnerability of Love. Love is what you give. A choice you make irrespective of what you get in return. When you say ‘I love you’ it is a declaration that you are ready to, live rather than exist, to prosper rather than survive. Love is life in full bloom with all its risks and challenges it captures the significance of all things. Majesty of the blowing wind, spectrum of the dazzling rainbow even the devastation of a raging Tsunami. I however feel as a man, i am unworthy of the responsibility I have to share with you.

My teachers extend back three generations, yes as far back as my great grandmother and in your case double great. Each one of them followed love fearlessly and relentlessly. In most cases they married at least five times with one exception my mother, your grandmother. I say this to expose the complexity of who they were and how they lived. In fact my maternal great grandmother had nine children from eight husbands. Therein lies their first wisdom that seems to be lost to many. No two people experience or travel love’s journey in the same way. Find your first and enduring love is yourself. This is the core of this wisdom. It is about insight, understanding as well as embracing of you and your complexity. To love yourself you will need to embrace all within, the princess, mother and dare I say the bitch and courtesan. Love is life, a gift from your creator; live it like there is no tomorrow. Let no one define it any less or suggest in any way you are not worthy. I know the circumstances of your birth and the social hierarchy maintained by wagging tongues but define for yourself your kind of love. Without it life is simply a travesty.

The second is insight about who, what and how you love. For too many, love has to have particular qualities to dignify its name. It has to be exclusive, joyful, affectionate, romantic, wealthy sometimes even belong to a profession or be articulate. Certainly love is not blind but the qualities that many seek are themselves another form of blindness. My mother always said to love you have to become the child of your intuition. With insight into your love you educate your intuition and with foresight you express it. Express your love authentically as a discernable energy that connects with others on your frequency and projects to some as charisma. It is a myth that it is only for one person because as the world becomes smaller it increases the likelihood that you will meet many people who share your connection. How you express that is entirely up to you. It is not about negative or positive but about evolving and growth. Love is the fuel that propels your life never be afraid of using it even when the consequences are painful it will always pay off in growth.

The third and final wisdom of is around decision-making. Your choices shape your life. There is a quote attributed to Dr Mae Jemison first black woman in space, she says successful life is captured in the word lifestyle, Life is the gift from your creator and style is what you make of it. This style is dependent on the depth of insight, the length of foresight and finally the quality of decision-making. Please life is not a Teddy Pendergrass love song and it is never 50/50 balance for long. You will not be half of someone else nor can you own or be owned by another. Love just is. This is the basis of making effective love decisions. For example it is quite important to draw a distinction between intimacy which is a battery that recharges the connection of love and sex which is one of many acts that expends its energy. It is nurturing to find the intimacy of love with those you share the connection with but quite unwise to have sex with everyone of them.

In the person who you choose as your sustainable partner in this journey always look for your worthy adversary. Someone versed in the ancient battle that is timeless as well as complex. You both must win. If he/ she wins and you lose then you both lose as he/she will lose interest in an opponent that has no more to offer. If you win and he/she loses then you lose for he/she no longer is an adversary who brings out your deepest resolve. As you evolve and the butterfly in the stomach starts to fade make decisions that transmit the authentic energy without fear. Your adversary if evolved will still connect with the frequency eventually even if sometimes the signal seems lost.

I put my pen down to reconnect with our signal. I welcome you into the family, such a rarity it is to be a girl in the Ajadi family. I cannot wait till we can talk but for now I write down my thoughts so that whatever happens you retain the wisdom of our mothers to pass onto those who come after you.

A Letter to my niece whose first words to me is 'I Love you' and written for magazine publication in June.

The Coming of a Zuma Presidency?

It looks like the ANC is going to vote in Jacob Zuma as its President. It is a predictable triumph of populism over intellectual and reflective choices. It might seem to many in the West and majority of Mzansi an improvement on the incumbent Thabo Mbeki but I suspect it is a backward step. The Zeitgeist in South Africa amongst the majority black population and co-opted by the cynical media elite, is the worship of the activist. I will not dwell too much on the activocracy as I call them (read earlier posting on Mzansi) but suffice it to say that it is the foundation and catalyst for what appears to be a very poor choice. It also seems that it is part of the enduring view amongst many other ethnic groups in Mzansi that there is something called the 'Xhosa Nostra'. That is most of their black elite are Xhosa hence for the some time to give the Zulu the chance to rule. There are however too many challenges ahead for this beautiful country to fall into the trap of the laziness of Conventional wisdom. Mr Zuma might be the most personable and approachable salt of the earth but nothing he has done or said suggest that he is intellectually, emotionally or practically capable of leading the most successful African Economy. I do not think Mzansi can afford to make a petulant choice for its sake and for the possibility of an Africa that will be competitive in this new century. Some of the challenges that Zuma can worsen are:

1. The landless millions who have the potential to ride the wave of populism towards a hasty 'Zimbabwean' style land grab.

2. The effect of the increasing population and Urbanisation on the infrastructure already showing in the worsening power failure and rationing.

3. Increasing Xenophobia towards immigrants and intolerance of the other, even ethnic discrimination especially towards the much envied Xhosa

4. The abuse of women especially the rape which is already at a phenomenal level.

5. Breaking the stranglehold on the economy by a few conglomerates mostly white owned in a sustainable and productive manner.

6. Moving beyond the simplistic rhetoric of so called 'Black diamonds' towards a truly integrated market place that opens up for upward mobility rather than a poorly engineered Government quota system.

All these things need a sophisticated and nuanced decision as well as policy line that educates the people, sets standards and engages them towards possibilities rather than fears.

There are too many South Africans who view Mbeki with suspicion and too many in the West that will never forgive him for his position on Zimbabwe. I hope for their sake this choice proves right because if it is not they will look back on President Mbeki with Nostalgia but by that time the damage would be done.. I am sure in my instincts that this is what will happen but only time will be the judge.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I cried when Hector Williams Died

It must be time of life or just being low with the British economy but i shed a tear from watching the death of Hector Williams MD in The Unit CBS TV series about US Special Forces. Strange but I love the Unit just like as a child I bought into Tarzan. This is even though I know the deal here. One thing US producers do very effectively is to create heroic myths about their institutions especially when they are at risk of disgrace. Follow this:

CSI is response to the disgrace of crime labs exposed in the OJ Simpson's murder Trial
NYPD Blue responded to the shot on Amhadu Diallo and Beatdown of Mr Louima
West Wing dealt with the scandal of Monica Lewinsky
24 is a platform for justification of War on Terror and Homeland Security

These are some illustration of how the nation renews its institutions and creates an heroic narrative that it not only feeds to its people but also sold to the world. Helped always by high production values, engaging stories and fun escapism. So even though The Unit shot and killed an unarmed Lebanese kid, i sympathised with Hector Williams shot in the neck after saving the life of his comrade. In retrospect I think of the Nigerian soldiers that died in Darfur recently or the hundreds that gave their lives for Sierra Leone and Liberia. I am sure there were no pictures in the newspapers, no heroic headlines, not even Nollywood footnotes. Their names barely uttered in public and known only to grieving family and friends. This the much maligned Nigerian Army, school of Coup Plotters and pillaging despots. What is more heroic than fighting to protect another nation from falling apart?

On a similar point this week the Nigerian government put forward to the House of Assembly a request to write off $14 million of Liberia's debt to Nigeria. It is proposed as our contribution towards helping the country get back on its feet. Is that is heroic or what!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fight the scam

You should read this article first if you can access it from the Washington Post.

There is no group that pisses me off than the westernised African. Here it is at last the statistics on Aids is highly exaggerated. It has been based on extrapolation of test on pregnant women and it is rarely admitted that the tests for this most destructive of diseases actually is not perfect. There has always been a unhealthy bandwagon around the whole HIV - AIDS thing. Anytime i have challenged those who are always in the mainstream of western thinking hey turn it personal either calling me irresponsible or suggesting I am ignorant. This figures is vindication of sorts. There is a lot more revelation to come out of the bag on this one. Africa has been reduced to AIDS central promoted by the United Nations, protected by the simplistic do-gooders and exploited by so called African NGOs awarded grants from all over to benefit their alarmist positions.

All the attacks on President Mbeki from those who claim to be scientists. They lack any curiosity neither do they truly have any interest in anything other than the laziness of orthodoxy. Now the estimates gets redressed down by 40% but the truth is apparently not fully out. In West Africa they say the AIDS figures are far less than projected and not nearly at the level of any region in sub-Sahara Africa. Honestly I wish those who just look for any stick from the west to just bash Africa on the head would just shut up. Yes there is Aids but there are many things that are still unknown about its dynamic, we need honest and open dialogue not brainwashing or propaganda. I have always thought that Conventional Wisdom is a facade for intellectual laziness.

Vocational Imperative

Vocational Imperative

For nearly one year in my Lekki, Lagos home, I have enjoyed the culinary delights of a great chef and extraordinary professional. A man whose pride, passion and confidence in his work is both high art and manifest competence. Mr Joseph, the man I speak of, is from the Republic of Benin, which probably explains both the vocational competence and the parity of esteem he shares with any other professional, be it a lawyer, doctor or engineer. In Nigeria, our obsession with paper qualification is legendary. Our resources to accommodate this are at best insignificant. The fact that most of the highly educated citizens that we produce suffer from practical incompetence and are notoriously , inefficient and ineffective in real world situations does not seem to encourage us to pause for thought.

We were at the threshold of a revolution the handmaidens of which were the recently replaced leadership of the Federal Ministry of Education in Abuja. For many years, I have wondered about the consequences of academic obsession and rejection of real world competences has been for Nigeria. The Federal Ministry of Education finally put some context and content to my concerns; for example, there are about 51.6 million Nigerians under 30 not accounted for in the school system post SS3. Only 1.5 million in tertiary education, which is about 1% of Nigerian population. From that 1.5 million, 60% come out unskilled and untrained in commercial or management competencies. Our universities can only accommodate less than 500,000 students at any given time.

We are in the time when, our economy will need double the nearly 3% population growth rate to create real expansion needed to reduce poverty. This will mean an average of 6% GDP growth in real terms for the near future. We will need to double individuals productivity and generate millions of jobs to be truly competitive not only in Africa but across the world.

The engine for our economic prosperity is not in Government, neither is it in the diminishing returns from extractive industries like oil. The truth be said, it is the creation of many Mr Josephs or Ms Josephines. It is our ability to arm the multitudes of our young people with the grease for their talent and empower them with a rainbow of possibilities. This will not come from elitist academic pretentions but giving esteem to productive activity. We need to certify what it takes to run a Bukka or mechanic shop so it becomes an engine room for expansion. We need to have skilled carpenters, bricklayers and farmers who are celebrated and certified with the same aplomb as any lawyer or PhD. We need vocational education regime that prepares capable Nigerians to apply their capacities through apprentice programmes and practical competence development. Where does one learn to be a plumber, electrician or mechanic and be able to guarantee that they meet world-class standards in their work? Many of the death traps that pass as public transport have been handled by dubious mechanics. I often wonder who services or maintains the aircrafts we fly on in that country and what level of certifiable competence do they have. Think of the many accidents caused by incompetent HGV drivers.

We need to be able to give the same level of esteem for practical capacity as well as intellectual competence. We need to set standards for all of the areas and educate to those standards. It will give competence and productivity for many who now live by their wits and occasionally by violence.

For me, high quality vocational education will lead us to a society that celebrates merit and hard work. A society in which the sweat of your brows is the seedlings for your status. A society in which there is equality of opportunity, where you will be respected for what you produce and not who you know. Vocational education is not a choice; it is an imperative if Nigeria will truly become the heart of Africa. We need the wisdom of the multitudes, not just the intelligence of the few.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Glasgow over Abuja, ponder this

How does one choose gritty Glasgow with its grimy cold veneer over pristine Abuja? How does a country which has hosted the Commonwealth Games about 3 times, win over one that has never done it before? How does 77 countries, mostly Africans and Caribbean countries vote 47 Glasgow 24 Abuja (something like that)? It is a result of the constant Public Relations fiasco that Nigerians generate by actions, words and in fact with ideas (or lack of). This is further compounded by Governments that are so incompetent at intangibles that their use of the media is worse than that of my local dramatic society. The failure to know how to act, speak and engage in a world where buzz is everything and substance an afterthought is going to continue to cost the country dearly. Check this figures from Pew Research Global Attitude Survey 2002-2007 comparing favourable view levels of Africans for two countries Nigeria and South Africa.

These are very telling figures and before you attack the other countries in their views, the most disturbing is that only 48% of Nigerians have a favourable view of their nationality.

These are the bountiful fruit of the Nigerian elite as we say in Ibadan ' Omo ale ti on fi owo osi juwo ile baba e’ it is only a bastard that chooses to describe his/her father’s house casually with his/her left hand. The left hand thing is a discussion for another time. Past government incompetence or share indifference perhaps even cynicism has contributed to South Africans amnesia and ignorance of the critical role Nigeria played against Apartheid (Chapter and verse later). Today’s Namibians are even less likely to remember that their independence owes a lot to Nigerian support for Nujoma and SWAPO. There is Zimbabwe who had millions in grants handed to them to make Rhodesia capitulate. How can anyone forget the intervention with Angola whose recognition depended entirely on the chutzpah of late General Murtala Rabat Mohammed who told President Gerald Ford of USA where to get off . He cast the tie breaking vote that lead to recognition by the OAU of the MPLA government.

There are more recent and blatant failures to get proper credit for foreign policy actions, for example, who gets celebrated for stopping Sierra Leone from collapse? It is Britain but guess who did all the donkey work throughout the war? Yes! Yours truly, Nigerians dying in hundreds to save Freetown yet did not even get a mention in the movies Blood diamonds or any serious analysis afterwards in the International Media. In fact 5,000 of the 7,000 ECOMOG troops were Nigerians. Then there is Liberia whose entire existence depended on this same much maligned Nigeria to fight and negotiate not once but many times to give the country a chance at a future. Their cousins in the United States wanted nothing to do with them after they had been used Liberians for generations as beach head of American arrogance and superiority in Africa. Guess who gets blamed for offering Charles Taylor refuge? The same Charles Taylor that sought and oversaw the killings of many Nigerians for no other reason but we stood tall when no one cared. Now the world celebrates rightly the new President but her feet was washed in our blood.

This is all about the brand building. Italian small businesses raised the fact that the Mafia generates 7 % of GDP becoming the largest single source of economic activity in the country. No one however associates Italy exclusively with organised crime or treats it like it is the threat that Nigerian crime can be. It is romanticised, its style celebrated, its cuisine sought after, history captures imagination and its aggressiveness turned into the stuff of films. Italy never ceases to tell its many stories, its elite clear that even though there are many things that are bad however there is also much to teach the world. It is how you treat you calabash others treat it. Who will buy a lifestyle or even a sporting event from a people who spend most of their time discussing their failings, propagating their worst problems and dwelling on that which they dislike most in their people? Our heroes’ herald their nation a failure at every opportunity and the dialogue of our elite vilify everyone and everything that stands in the public space. Nigeria is a country where very few are celebrated and most are criticised. Cynicism has become our Grundnorm. No matter how much Government adverts are put out there they will all be seen as contrived. It is what we say, do and live that is the advert for Nigeria. As the survey shows we ourselves would not buy Nigeria so why should others?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The genius of Ali, passion of Cosby and pain of Watson

Mwalimu Nyerere said something like there should be global principles but local standards. This is a blinding glimpse of the obvious because the modern world has bought into western standards and treated them as universal ones. We have quite lazily all bought into Romantic Love an exaggerated expression that is a child of French poets and nurtured by British Victorian prudes. The same is true about the concept of Childhood or the treatment of the suit and tie as formal business attire. It sometimes comedic and dangerous consequences in equal measure. Sometimes it gets more dangerous especially when you review the assumption that democracy is the only worthwhile form of Governance. We keep using it as a short hand for participation,accountability, representation and transparency. The latter are principles that are universally effective but the former is a western standard as well as process which might or sometimes does not deliver the principles.

It is with this in mind I link a few disparate issues and create my own Jambalaya of thoughts out of it. For many years the only hero I had was Mohammed Ali that is until I discovered Malcolm X , then Freud and after it all became quite tiresome to think in those terms. The genius of Ali I was later to realise was that this man who lived through his fist had a remarkable understanding of human psychology especially as to how to effectively compete. When he fought Sonny Liston as well as many subsequent opponents he always on one hand used his poetry or rap to frame his superiority and also predict what he would do and when. There are two dramatic things behind this seeming arrogance, the first was the power of attraction i.e. a manifest expression of his expectation to the universe and the second the is the power of suggestion i.e. his ability to frame his opponents expectation in a manner that if they are ambiguous in their own expectation his projection becomes their choice/ fear. This he did to devastating effect on Liston as well as many more opponents to follow. Of course this was not just a whimsical thing, he believed and executed accordingly.

Professor Watson who is a Nobel prize winner suggested that Africans in being different might be somehow inferior even though he later claims he was misrepresented. There was a beautiful piece on Naija blog which is quite an effective riposte to this view however those who responded might have missed a point. The power of suggestion has been the most effective way in which Africans have under-utilised their heritage, talent and capability . For most part the psychology of all our formal education and the epistemology it promotes is that Western standards are universal ones. So when professor Watson talks of intelligence his standard is IQ test (read western). It is always amusing that Africans seem to accept that these standards are value or culturally neutral. Even if they are not they are desirable to pursue hence he or she cannot spot the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of a suit and tie in a tropical weather whilst compensating with expensive air condition equipment all the time. Those who will defend Watson and see a political correct censorship are either ignorant about or avoiding the history of the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory where he was Chairman. It was founded by C.B Davenport who is described in the book The Great Human Diasporas by Luigi Luca and Francesco Cavalli-Sforza as the eugenicists scientific leader. It is a measure of the power of Western standards that we still use the concept of Race in the dialogue of differences when it is quite established that it has no scientific validity, no descriptive value nor social redemption. It is a simplification and reduction like most Western standards. Guess what? When someone like Watson suggests inferiority of Africans whether unconscious or consciously it is part of a pattern of rendering us non-competitive through the power of suggestion since we are already indoctrinated into being ambivalent and incompetent about asking the universe for our dreams.

It is with this lens I look at the Jena 6 case. There is no doubt there is a systemic targeting of males of African descent or heritage in the criminal justice system not just in the United States also across the Western world . There is ample proof in the recent report by the American Bar Association also in my own recent work reviewing the performance of different Police forces in the UK on Diversity. It is perhaps most eloquently put in the recent book by Bill Cosby which has a beautiful title (but I cannot remember). So the Jena 6 are in a long tradition of prosecutorial excess like the young lad who was sent to Jail and served two years before being released on appeal for receiving a blow job from his 15 year old girl friend, he was only 17. I leave you to work out the so called 'races' of the boy and girlfriend. However no matter what the context is these boys exercised poor judgement by cowardly ganging up to beat one guy. Nevertheless the adults were even more cowardly by charging them for attempted murder. More depressing it led to a civil rights march. There is no doubt something had to be done to rescue these young men from the extreme threat to their young lives but is a civil rights march the only tactic there is? Everyone can see that coming from miles away and you imagine the establishment rolling their eyes, here we go again. Somehow A great people, African Americans who have risen above the greatest adversity known to humans with style and class have allowed others to narrow their identity to a few stereotypes. These are descendants of Frederick Douglas who risked his life for education who are now reduced in their identity towards some urban sketches of pimps, thugs and hoes. Those inheritors of the extraordinary creativity of Malcolm and MLK for facilitating social justice have now turned their innovations into predictable routine. These descendants of the brave multitude who fought of the yoke of victimhood have now institutionalised the expectation of discrimination. This is the power of suggestion embedded and turned into a standard operating procedure.

This is what Mr Cosby seeks to fight but unfortunately he has only one standard to judge progress that is a western tradition. While his passion is inspirational he misunderstands that some of the seemingly nihilistic tendencies he observes especially amongst the young is a yearning for new or different standards that are not so culturally stacked or loaded against their identity. They intuitively understand that they will need to either subvert these standards hence the choice of street standards or invent new ones. The same is true of the African continent and there is no better chance than now to start to evolve alternatives. It only then that comments like Professor Watson's truly become stick and stones until then we are at least guilty of serious underachievement.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A True African venture

A true African is a very rare thing these day. Many think it is down to skin pigmentation others simply claim it as a result of geography but very few ever truly capture the authenticity with which love, respect and a passion for what the continent represents and live to give their best to honour it. There are too many who lazily project their stereotypes and failures hiding their miserable existence in the regular excuse that anything goes in Africa. It is even rarer when this African eloquently and engagingly captures their efforts in an extraordinary story towards creating a trans-African enterprise. Mr Sardanis is that rare thing a true African , an eloquent son at that.

His book should be a compulsory reading. It is a compelling read and quite easy to follow. It captures his efforts across the continent to build a truly authentic multinational African business with such clarity and incisive prose. Each page is a tour de force combination of socio-economic analysis both educational and enjoyable. To my delight he is neither an Afro pessimist nor is he a romantic but a authentic observer who approached the continent with an openness and curiosity that she not only deserves but rarely ever experiences. His views on Nigerians, Americo Liberians, Rhodesians amongst many others are one of the most enlightening that i have read in my life. The most beautiful thing is that he is not a passive observer he has lived Africa and engaged her through good times and bad.

I am still in the middle of the book but i truly do not want it to end it. It is written in an effortless narrative packed with more information that a Harvard Business School Case study. This is a book that should be a bestseller if there is justice in this world.