Thursday, 24 September 2009

Altered States, Ordinary Miracles

Book Review

Title: Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles
Author: Richard Dowden
Pages: 576
Publisher: Portbello Books
Reviewer: Mwesigye Gumisiriza

It is a growing trend for Western journalists to write a book about Africa. These have ranged from biographies of prominent personalities, reflections on the period spent on the continent, to extensive coverage of significant incidents or issues such as genocide, civil war, famine or epidemic. While Richard Dowden fits in this mould, he tries to add another dimension in this book.

He writes from the perspective of an outsider trying to understand Africa and what it is that gives its people the vibrancy despite the enormous challenges and adversity. From the outset, Dowden sets himself apart from the biases that he encountered before he came to Africa. The first images were formed in various ways: In the 1950s, his grandfather went to Ghana (then Gold Coast) to help carry out a census, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, from reports on BBC on the Mau Mau in Kenya and “mayhem and massacre in the Congo”, thereafter through accounts of returnees to UK who were in the colonies or worked in the colonial service.

Now as Director of the Royal African Society, Dowden has more than three decades of knowledge and experience. He was a journalist and editor in the 1980s for British newspapers, The Times and Independent and in the 1990s, Africa Editor for The Economist in addition to making three television documentaries. But he came to Africa as volunteer teacher in “Kabuwoko in south-west Uganda” and later on travelled to many other countries.

The book opens with a foreword by celebrated literary icon Chinua Achebe who credits the author: “Africa....a continent of people, and not a place of exotica, or a destination for is clear Richard Dowden understands this...he tackles Africa’s problems without fear, sentimentality or condescension”. Indeed, the author fits this billing covering many of the flash points, hot spots as well as the tranquil islands amidst the chaos.

Somalia, though unified by one religion and language, is divided by clan system and continued interference of Ethiopia, Eritrea and US. In Zimbabwe, he traces the independence struggle and stand-off between Robert and Mugabe and Ian Smith and how this contributed to the current situation. On Burundi and Rwanda, he blames the artificial separation of Tutsi and Hutu on Belgian colonialism basing on the relative harmony between the two prior to this. Sudan’s long civil war shown the downside of humanitarian aid and there are no kind words for the greedy corrupt elites in control of Angola, Nigeria and Kenya. For D. R. Congo, he concludes all its leaders from Mobutu to Kabila and various factions have followed in the brutal footsteps of King Leopold. Of particular mention, he holds Museveni and Kagame answerable at Hague for atrocities committed by both their armies in Congo.

The theme of interaction with the ordinary people on the ground continues in coverage of Sierra Leone during its civil war, the unique Mouride brotherhood in Senegal and South Africa in the face of the HIV/AIDS scourge. On the latter, Dowden also examines the legacy of apartheid and the hope of democracy against unfulfilled promises. But he doesn’t ignore the Chinese influx and increasing influence in Africa and neither the emergence of young African professionals whom he is almost certain will transform and change their countries.

The author ends with an epilogue in which tells of the funeral rites of Mr. Lule, his host while in Uganda and a list of publications on Africa for further reading.

Submitted to The Daily Monitor for publication

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Are We Pre-Occupied with Obama and America

There has a lot of Obama and America topics on the BBC show "World Have Your Say", or WHYS in short, that brodcasts in my part of the world, 9-10pm every weekday. As an regular listener, I was pushed to sound off to the host, Ros Atkins, in an e-mail below:

‘Hi Ros,

I think there has been a lot of America on WHYS lately. I thought it covers the world issues…it’s becoming boring, Obama this, Obama that, America this, America that, even the most mundane topics are given prominence on this programme. For instance, yesterday was Founder’s Day in Ghana marking waht would have been 100th birthday of Kwame Nkrumah, there could have been a discussion on Pan Africanism and whether it is viable and achievable the way Pan Europeanism is apparently working in EU or whether this concept can work for Asia.

Apart from that we can reflect on feeding the world and the status of food security in different parts of the world in light of the passing of Norman Borlaug [Father of the Green Revolution] as a tribute.

Won’t be tuning in tonight


So, he has posted this on the WHYS blog for discussion, you can follow it here

Friday, 18 September 2009

Lessons for Success in Business and in Life

Lessons to learn from my favourite hip hop artist. Read on....

From Times Online September 16, 2009

50 Cent's 10 lessons for success in business - and in life

Success comes from seeking an advantage in each and every encounter, here the US rapper offers indispensable advice on how to win

‘The greatest fear people have is that of being themselves. They want to be 50 Cent or someone else. They do what everyone else does even if it doesn’t fit where and who they are. But you get nowhere that way; your energy is weak and no one pays attention to you. You’re running away from the one thing that you own—what makes you different. I lost that fear. And once I felt the power that I had by showing the world I didn’t care about being like other people, I could never go back.’ 50 Cent

1. See Things for What They Are - Intense Realism

Reality can be rather harsh. Your days are numbered. It takes constant effort to carve a place for yourself in this ruthlessly competitive world and hold on to it. People can be treacherous. They bring endless battles into your life. Your task is to resist the temptation to wish it were all different; instead you must fearlessly accept these circumstances, even embrace them. By focusing your attention on what is going on around you, you will gain a sharp appreciation for what makes some people advance and others fall behind. By seeing through people’s manipulations, you can turn them around. The firmer your grasp on reality, the more power you will have to alter it for your purposes.

2. Make Everything Your Own - Self-Reliance

When you work for others, you are at their mercy. They own your work; they own you. Your creative spirit is squashed. What keeps you in such positions is a fear of having to sink or swim on your own. Instead you should have a greater fear of what will happen to you if you remain dependent on others for power. Your goal in every manoeuvre in life must be ownership, working the corner for yourself. When it is yours, it is yours to lose - you are more motivated, more creative, more alive. The ultimate power in life is to be completely self-reliant, completely yourself.

3. Turn Shit into Sugar - Opportunism

Every negative situation contains the possibility for something positive, an opportunity. It is how you look at it that matters. Your lack of resources can be an advantage, forcing you to be more inventive with the little that you have. Losing a battle can allow you to frame yourself as the sympathetic underdog. Do not let fears make you wait for a better moment or become conservative. If there are circumstances you cannot control, make the best of them. It is the ultimate alchemy to transform all such negatives into advantages and power.

4. Keep Moving - Calculated Momentum

In the present there is constant change and so much we cannot control. If you try to micromanage it all, you lose even greater control in the long run. The answer is to let go and move with the chaos that presents itself to you - from within it, you will find endless opportunities that elude most people. don’t give others the chance to pin you down; keep moving and changing your appearances to fit the environment. if you encounter walls or boundaries, slip around them. do not let anything disrupt your flow.

5. Know When to Be Bad - Aggression

You will always find yourself among the aggressive and the passive aggressive who seek to harm you in some way. You must get over any general fears you have of confronting people or you will find it extremely difficult to assert yourself in the face of those who are more cunning and ruthless. Before it is too late you must master the art of knowing when and how to be bad - using deception, manipulation, and outright force at the appropriate moments. Everyone operates with a flexible morality when it comes to their self-interest—you are simply making this more conscious and effective.

6. Lead from the Front - Authority

In any group, the person on top consciously or unconsciously sets the tone. If leaders are fearful, hesitant to take any risks, or overly concerned for their ego and reputation, then this invariably filters its way through the entire group and makes effective action impossible. Complaining and haranguing people to work harder has a counterproductive effect. You must adopt the opposite style: imbue your troops with the proper spirit through your actions, not words. They see you working harder than anyone, holding yourself to the highest standards, taking risks with confidence, and making tough decisions. This inspires and binds the group together. In these democratic times, you must practice what you preach.

7. Know Your Environment from the Inside Out - Connection

Most people think first of what they want to express or make, then find the audience for their idea. You must work the opposite angle, thinking first of the public. You need to keep your focus on their changing needs, the trends that are washing through them. Beginning with their demand, you create the appropriate supply. Do not be afraid of people’s criticisms - without such feedback your work will be too personal and delusional. You must maintain as close a relationship to your environment as possible, getting an inside “feel” for what is happening around you. Never lose touch with your base.

8. Respect the Process - Mastery

The fools in life want things fast and easy — money, success, attention. Boredom is their great enemy and fear. Whatever they manage to get slips through their hands as fast as it comes in. You, on the other hand, want to outlast your rivals. You are building the foundation for something that can continue to expand. To make this happen, you will have to serve an apprenticeship. You must learn early on to endure the hours of practice and drudgery, knowing that in the end all of that time will translate into a higher pleasure—mastery of a craft and of yourself. Your goal is to reach the ultimate skill level—an intuitive feel for what must come next.

9. Push Beyond Your Limits - Self-Belief

Your sense of who you are will determine your actions and what you end up getting in life. If you see your reach as limited, that you are mostly helpless in the face of so many difficulties, that it is best to keep your ambitions low, then you will receive the little that you expect. Knowing this dynamic, you must train yourself for the opposite—ask for more, aim high, and believe that you are destined for something great. Your sense of self-worth comes from you alone—never the opinion of others. With a rising confidence in your abilities, you will take risks that will increase your chances of success. People follow those who know where they are going, so cultivate an air of certainty and boldness.

10. Confront Your Mortality - The Sublime

In the face of our inevitable mortality we can do one of two things. We can attempt to avoid the thought at all costs, clinging to the illusion that we have all the time in the world. Or we can confront this reality, accept and even embrace it, converting our consciousness of death into something positive and active. In adopting such a fearless philosophy, we gain a sense of proportion, become able to separate what is petty from what is truly important. Knowing our days to be numbered, we have a sense of urgency and mission. We can appreciate life all the more for its impermanence. If we can overcome the fear of death, then there is nothing left to fear.

Extracted from Robert Greene and 50 Cent’s new book The 50th Law, published by Profile Books