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Friday, November 27, 2009

Salute Mama Africa!!

As the world marks the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women, nowhere else in the world does statistics point to a grim and terrible picture on the state of a woman than in Africa. Yes, tremendous and tangible progress has been made and more women and girls are increasingly becoming aware of their rights and place in the contemporary society. And yes, countries like Rwanda can boast of having the highest number of women representation in parliament across the globe.

And yes, the city woman who resides in a lavish neighbourhood within the confines of a nation's capital city continues to scale up the ladders of success, albeit with some challenges. 

But just what's happening to the poor suburb woman who just hears of women's rights organizations through the stereo radio or through a breeze of wind? What's happening to that woman who has grown to be the subject of physical torture from her belligerent husband?

Although reports would attest to improved gender sensitivity, the more destitute African woman and girl child continues to be sidelined in matters education, equal opportunities, development access to basic services and et cetera, while cases of rape, domestic violence and other forms of abuse are still commonplace.

Nowhere else is this more manifested and magnified than on the ever in the periphery and lawless Horn of African nation of Somalia. This is where women and children are ever in the crossfire. This is where sounds of bullets ripping through walls, and at times, bodies have become like an inhale-exhale kind of exercise. This is where the conscience of the world has not been touched, yet, innocent and helpless citizens continue to succumb, while many others, fleeing incessant conflict, have marched in earnest towards already flocked and chocked refugee camps sandwiched between dreadful diseases and degenerated healthcare systems.

The world has and continues to watch, with neither the so called Superpowers nor the branded third-world nations acting in a manner commensurate with the seriousness of the insurgency. 

Nevertheless, the Somali woman, barely with a Herculean build, continues to have heart and spirit to surge on, in a life marked by a back-breaking daily struggle to make ends meet. She wakes up at the crack of dawn and kicks the day off with the prime motive to put food on the table, feed her family. She sleeps during odd hours of the night, knowing that what she has provided for the day has just but only saved the day. But even in her sleep, at times barely peaceful, the intrigues of the following day sweeps across her mind. 

This is the life of that African woman some of us live with, while most of us only imagine her presence. The life of a woman who lives - the end justifies the means - life, where not water, not shelter, not food nor security is promise-able, let alone assured. 

In spite of all these, they show unprecedented valour and unparalleled resilience. That's why methinks that an African woman has the potency and knack to participate in all cycles of life. She is capable of improving her life and that of her family without having to break that extra sweat.

In this 21st Century, I have not only seen the emergence of a DIY (Do It Yourself) woman, but a whole different woman.

Today, I see a more and more modernizing African woman who has shown she has that insatiable appetite to invest in the stock market, has that mettle and drive to participate in infrastructure development, has the brain to initiate and execute holistic and innovative approach towards technological advancement, has the capability and eagerness to haul off and charter a family out of choppy waters of deprivation into an oasis of food security, and most of all, has all it takes to exorcise from stereotypical tagging and gender-based bombardment. 

If Liberia - the first and only African nation to have a female president so far - is not evidential enough, then Rwanda, where women are increasingly taking control should be some evidence.

Although we are making progress, albeit slowly, the rise and rise of an African woman deserves praise, salute and support from all cycles. Some men are and will be miffed that their impregnable status as the kings of the land are under threat, but who said leadership is men's territory and they should remain pegged there?

Oh Mama Africa, I salute you Mama Africa.

And that's the Steifmastertake!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Letter to The President

Okay Mr. President. I know you are the C.G.H., M.P. PRESIDENT AND COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE REPUBLIC OF KENYA. I also know that you are the most powerful individual in our sovereign nation, and is on top of the food chain in Kenyan politics. Or are you? I also know that you dwell in Kenya's most lavish Shangri-la, a palatial architectural masterpiece of work, in the name of State House. Yes, this is where every ambitious politician would want to set foot in. And most of those who have succeeded so far, including yourself, have done whatever is doable to be there, remain there, once they are there, until they can no longer be there.

I also know you have amassed enough wealth, and will continue to do so in the next three-years - and beyond - should you opt, try and succeed to change a constitution that would otherwise not give you the opportunity. But even if you don't stab at the presidency again, all you need is work with the right kind of people, and that wealth would be protected. The right kind of people are those ones we both know. 
Oh yes, oh yes you can.

Mr. President, I also know that you have the passion, zeal and exuberance to ascend this nation to some level, both economically, socially and... politically? Well, in case you have forgotten, economically and socially means the way you did it from 2002 till we went to that election. Politically, well we both know why that remains a cagey topic. But I have some rough ideas on how you are trying to execute all these, but I would prefer rather not to mention them in this space, at least not today.

Mr. President. In order to harvest the seeds for your plans, and my rough ideas, you would need an array of things. Some obligatory, some, because you are the president, some, just for the sake of it.

Security is obligatory and inescepable. I mean you need some protection Sir. Protection against those thugs who wouldn't mind who they rob, protection against avaricious and ill-motivated political arch-enemies who would sniff, jump and grasp at any opportunity to start making themselves relevant within the political sphere, protection against your own citizens as well Mr. President.

You would need a drop of protection from God, a pinch from your family, and frustratingly, the we-give-no-damn protection from presidential guards and escorts. Why refer to the latter as frustrating. Well, because it is. I had always heard of it, but came to encounter it just a few days ago.

Apparently, you and your motorcade were still some massive twenty-minutes away from us. Wherever you were coming from matters less in this piece, but you were going back to the house on the hill to perhaps, take a warm shower, imbibe some fresh juice and hang your feet on top of something as you watch yourself on some flat-screen plasma telly.

But why did we all have to wait for that long as our nerves only sniffed your motorcade of top-of-the-class automobiles worth a fortune made their way towards State House? Yes, we, the citizens who commute in public service vehicles because we can't, NO, we have not yet been "blessed" to own a tuk-tuk had to wait for close to a half an hour for you to have your way.

Am not being utterly suggestive in a negative way. But imagine if that vehicle we were in, or the one that was right behind us was heading to a hospital with a woman deeply in labour pains. A future Obama inside her. Or that man who needed an immediate eye operation, failure to which he would join the beggars' league and establish a breeding ground along a street that you would rarely pass. Or even that young child who, out of hunger, had fallen from a tree while trying to reach that yummy wild fruit and needed to.... are you imagining El Presidente?

In a nutshell Mr. President, and those who enjoy such "treatment"on behalf of the public, keep it short. No human marvels at being delayed in a traffic jam. And you would probably feel the same if you were to travel to a wherewithal nation like the US. Just imagine if you would be stopped for more than ten-minutes to give way to Mrs. Hillary Clinton and her entourage. 
Enjoy your presidency and what comes with it. But don't you think we all need to be safe at any time?

You don't need to reply to this letter, but it would be some pleasure if you did so. 
Have a traffic-less time, at any time. Won't you?

And that's the Steifmastertake!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Les Bleus Handed World Cup Qualification: Literally

Why the hooha and the brouhaha about Thiery Henry "handballing" France to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa? France had to qualify for the World Cup, whether it meant through a dubious penalty decision or a beachball deflection incident. And they did. Through the third feet of course (if you know what I mean).

Who wouldn't have done the same, if it meant participating for the 18carat (75%) solid gold trophy, in the biggest sporting gala in planet earth, bringing 32 countries under the horizon of the blue African sky?

May be, and just may be, the Irish should have expected what they got, or something close to that, to happen. When a "Big" team plays against a small one - and I don't mean Ireland is a small team, but it is - all the wrong decisions made right, illegal tackles legalized, wrong penalties awarded, and of course handballs not given seem to swing on the big team's side. It even becomes much tougher if the big team is on their home turf and in front of nervous but rapturous aficionados. Wasn't that not the precise case of the France versus Ireland match played at Stade de France, in Saint Denis, north outskirts of Paris?

Yes, the result was unfair to the Irish. But neither Giovanni Trapattoni's vest, nor the tears of the entire Republic of Ireland's squad can change the results, or reverse the gusto of the French nation swimming in the thoughts of featuring in the world cup, again.

So when Les Blues coach Raymond Domenech says there's no need for an apology to the Irish, he has a point and my backing, and so does many football followers and pundits. An apology will not reverse the referee's decision, or much less, convince Sepp Blatter and his troops at the 99 million pound Zurich house to embrace and adopt video technology in the game we all love, at least for now.

Is this case so much different from the Kenya versus Nigeria game played in Nairobi?

Okay, this was a more different match, considering that Kenya - hereby the smaller team- were playing home. But didn't the referee fail to award Kenyans a clear penalty when their dangerman, Dennis Oliech, who had been causing Joseph Yobo defensive nightmares was literally pushed off balance? And how about Obafemi Martin's second goal? Do offside goals come any clearer than that?And wasn't that the same scenario of the big fish always being "helped" to feed, while the food should be for the small fish?

International football is not any different from domestic league football, where a big team, measured first by financial width and breadth, always seem to have their way.

The Republic of Ireland maybe an economically-endowed nation. But France is equally endowed but has more besides. So that makes Ireland a small team. And since few people could have imagined a World Cup without France, perhaps even the Irish, the Les Bleus had to qualify. And they did. Being bundled out before the World Cup group stages was simply unimaginable, whether they got bundled out by Ireland or Papua New Guinea.

So all Mr. Trapattoni and his charges have to do is wait. Wait for the next qualifier and hope that they wont be trapped with the French at the playoff level again, or better yet, avoid, if they can, a Big team. Don't we all know the nations that acclaim to that tagging?

And that's the Steifmastertake!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Husbands Becoming their Wives’ Punching Bags?

In the shadowy world of domestic violence, there is a blatant but apparently hidden secret that has remained cocooned in most men’s hearts and bodies; husband beating. Going and going are the days when men would predetermine what to do and when to do it for their spouses, draft the plan and supervise the execution.

But times have changed, really changed. Domestic violence against men by women is steadily pointing north. And even though it is widely held that women are always the victims, today’s women are becoming perpetrators of domestic abuse and violence. A violence that has not only afflicted and inflicted the frail and deprived men, but prominent faces like politicians are also reportedly getting their unfair share of whips and fists from their stronger women, who barely have the built of a gymnast or a WWE diva.

The indelible and beyond-negotiable right, held by men as the head of the house, is not only facing a challenge but is being reversed. Call it an abomination, a curse, offending the gods and et cetera, the husband-battering woman seem to be hardly listening. The transformation has perhaps witnessed an increase over the years as the call and incessant campaign for gender equality and affirmative action by women has led to the sprouting of a DIY (Do it Yourself) kind of woman. This is a woman who is a go-getter, strong, hands-on, ambitious, independent, supportive - to her children- and can do what a man would dare do and more besides. While this is a strike in the right direction for the Eve group, it has brought problems to the Adam group in many family circles. With men upholding a hard stance on their right to be head of the house, most women are increasingly trying to change this scenario. This is bearing fruit, especially for the women who are more affluent and stronger than their husbands.

It is really a serious thing, especially in an Africa that believes that the man should and must always reign supreme and have his way, whether he is being housed by the wife or whether she earns more. The man should have his preferred meal ready when he wants it, even if he comes home late at night after a booze with his bar-mates.

And while Africa has traditions, many traditions, most of which hinder women from engaging in any physicality, African women are rising above the physical stereotypes and beginning to show their men how things are done - including how to beat, or is it, be beaten. Though some men have tried hard to hide behind their misery and suffering, some of them, who wouldn’t just take it anymore have come out of their cocoons and sought for help. May be it’s just about time for the suffering of these men to end – it’s gone on for too long.

But who will protect the men?

While quite vociferous and supportive organizations exist to protect women from domestic violence, helpless men have been left to rise above their female superiors unaided, something that most of them have found not only intricate, but punishing at times. Why would they even try anyway? After all, it is a large figure of men who endorsed, and are still endorsing laws that protect women from domestic violence, without including a clause for men facing such dominance from their female counterparts.

The “beaten man” has been left to scroll and fabricate for excuses in front of their men folk, lest they become a laughing stock. Falling as a result of drunkenness, slipping on a muddy surface, an accident and a bar brawl have become common scapegoats for men who have scars and stitches on their faces. While this might be true for some, others have had themselves stitched as a result of husband battering.

Organizations to protect men from domestic violence and abuse have been and are still coming out. But some of these men’s-right organizations have become like a false dawn, which has been whisked away, sometimes, by public ridicule, while some of the cases have been dismissed as some storm in a teacup.

But is it a shame or “un-African” for a man to beaten by his wife? May be it is. May be it’s not. But the storm clouds are gathering and the future does look bleaker and bleaker for the man as many of them still shy away.

The bleak future may catch up with many. So for the many men-cum-punching bags out there who are getting whipped and punch-drunk, it is time to stand up and be counted. Failure to which, your predicaments will not find a clause in the law books and you will continue to stagger on the canvas.

And that's the Steifmastertake!

Michael Jackson: A Voice that Moved the World

Mohammed Amin shot the pictures and shown them to the world, Bob Geldof saw them, Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie wrote and sang the song; the world reacted like never-seen before; Ethiopia was hauled off the canvas of famine. This is the shibboleth of the “We are the World” song produced in 1985 to help remove millions of starving Ethiopians hard-hit by famine.

Mohamed Amin’s images of famine victims in Ethiopia stirred world reaction. The excruciatingly wrenching images of hungry children, men and women alike almost reduced to skeleton bones invaded the living room comfort of millions of people around the globe among them Bob Geldof and Midge Ure who eventually organized a Live Aid concert in 1985 to help remove the starving millions out of the horrendous situation.

“We are the World”, co-written by Michael Jackson, prevalently known as MJ, and Lionel Richie was the signature song for the multi-nation event. MJ was among a group of 45 popular singers who collaborated to record the charity single. They included Harry Belafonte, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, The Pointer Sisters, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Paul Simon, Tina Turner and many more world famous artists in the 80s.

So selfless was MJ that he decided to skip the American Music Awards ceremony during that night to record the chorus of the song as a guide to the other artists, who he helped persuade to participate in the charity concert. The song was recorded under the group name “U.S.A for Africa”, standing for United Support of Artists for Africa”. Michael Jackson, who died of cardiac arrest in Los Angeles in the morning of June 26, 2009, was key to the success of the song and the subsequent fund raising, said to be the greatest-ever people-people humanitarian response. Throughout his life and music, MJ wrote the songs reminding his fans that they can “Heal the World”; after all, “We are the World”.

His was a gentle heart to help starving millions, and a talent to rock the world with eclectic music for years. Rest in Peace MJ. That is IT!

And that's the Steifmastertake!

A Struggle the Size of Africa

In 1991, two million Somali citizens faced the struggle for survival. Not only was the government falling apart, but civil war and a severe drought left the land barren and people struggling to grow the food necessary for their survival. Just bordering Somalia, Ethiopia also underwent the worst manifestation of a hungry nation.

Between 1972-74, forty to eighty thousand Ethiopians, mostly in Wollo, are estimated to have died as a result of the famine. The situation was even worse in 1984-85.

Famine is a reoccurring problem across Africa. Today, in Eastern Africa, people are still struggling with hunger and preventable diseases. Drought and famine has become commonplace as a result of corrupt institutions, politically aligned deforestation, environmental degradation, and global warming. Political involvement has taken its toll on the land. From Zimbabwe to Somalia, governments are on the brink of failure, as they can’t provide basic amenities like water, sanitation, and security for their citizens.

In South Africa, violence is spreading in major townships with residents protesting over lack of basic services like water and housing, never mind the Rainbow nation will be hosting millions of tourists in less than a year. The effects of the aforementioned problems can be noted especially in small, rural villages. In the bigger cities, like Nairobi, Kenya, it is now normal to see women, who have walked for miles to collect water at local boreholes, turned away with no water – an essential part of human life.

Famine is a subject that is acknowledged by the masses, but hardly addressed until it becomes a shock. International aid is then relied on to rectify a situation that spiraled out of control as a result of sheer neglect. Obama is right when he says that "Africa does not need strong men, it needs strong institutions".

In a world that has both excess and a severe lack of everything, how is it that we do not know how to proactively address a situation, like famine, before it becomes critical?

And that's the Steifmastertake!

Africa’s Pages of Radiance and Gloom

If one were to take paper and ink and start jotting down the failures and successes of Africa since the beginning of this year, it would probably run to thousands of pages, require dozens of pens, and demand for hours of sleepless nights. Or may be, one would run out of ink before the last pages are written. And the stories would come from far and wide covering the breadth and length of Africa, what is happening to its picturesque landscape, beautiful people and dazzling wildlife. Chapter one would be devoted to a new invention that is taking Africa’s affluent and avaricious leaders by storm; power-sharing. Here, one would feature the likes of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and his left-hand, or is it equal hand, Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The two, supposed to be like the economic yin-yang to Kenyans have literally failed the test of improving the lives of the assiduous citizenry. The branches of their power-hungry tree would entail narrating on how the egotism of the two men on the plinth and who have contrived Kenyan politics and resources for a better part of their lives and still do, finally locked horns in a fierce battle where the grass, hereby Kenyans, were crushed and gnashed in the name of setting foot in the country’s Shangri-la, State House, or in the case of the president, remaining there. As you continue with this narration, you would suddenly realize you are turning into a scribbler out of anger and angst and dot a fullstop on the Kenyan affair. Before you open a new chapter though, you would go down south to Zimbabwe. Not so much thought would be spared on what to write about a country dotted with malls filled with goods, but no customers. And here, you would find another power-sharing deal signed by the man who competed against himself in an election, the head of state, head of the cabinet and head of the armed forces, President Robert Mugabe and his partner, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. But a battered currency and inflationary levels of an astronomically 231 million per cent (October 2008) would drive you out of Harare without writing too much on how life has been hell for people of Zimbabwe. It is Zimbabwe, the land of Mugabe. The second last page of the power-sharing chapter would be dedicated to Madagascar, its people, dethroned President Marc Ravalomanana and the new man in the presidential palace, Andry Rajoelina. Of power-sharing, you would leave that blank, at least for the next few weeks or months. The second chapter would be solely dedicated to the Horn of African nation of Somalia. Here, al-Shabaab’s ferocious battle with Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s government, and the beauty of sea banditry for pirates off the Coast of Somali waters would form the intro and the finale. But then again, one would rather get the news from around the Internet than start the rigorous and onerous task of noting things down of a nation that is always on the periphery and in world headlines for all the wrong reasons. The third chapter will be filled with obituaries. The passing on of the longest-serving president in African History, Omar Bongo of Gabon in June this year, the assassination of Guinea-Bissau President Joao Bernardo Vieira in March, and the killing of Somalia’s National Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden and 24 other people also in June. The penultimate chapter would be filled with more belligerency and insurgency, not in Somalia, but in the Niger Delta, Congo and Sudan. Other mafias like Kenya’s dreaded Mungiki sect would also feature, not to mention the return of Joseph Kony in Uganda. The ultimate chapter would then contain the great strides Africa has made since the turn of the new year. The successful hosting of the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, the continued dominance of middle and long distance races by Kenya and Ethiopia in Athletics, the triumph of Caster Semenya in the women’s 800m race at the World Athletics Championships --that’s just enough said-- the “end of war” in Sudan, the rise and rise of Africa’s footballers in European countries, the largely peaceful and credible presidential elections in Ghana and South Africa, et cetera. But since not many people are ever interested in reading about, or writing on Africa’s success story, the ink would more likely than not run out at this very last chapter, meaning no more writing, but if it does not, one would probably down his/her tools because Africa’s radiant side never sells anyway, but gloom does.
And that's the Steifmastertake!