Archive for the ‘Nigeria’Category

Transatlantic

Gumbo, a favorite food in the southern United States, particularly in the Louisiana area, is a variation of popular west African (including Yoruba) stews in which similar ingredients, such as okra and spicy peppers, are served over a starchy substance. In west African stews the starch is usually yam or cassava; in gumbo it is usually rice. West African language patterns have also merged with the English language over time. For example, the Yoruba language does not conjugate verbs. Therefore, the English “I am,” you are,” he/she/it is,” translates into Yoruba simply as “emi ni,” iwo ni,” and “oun ni” respectively. Scholars equate this lack of conjugation with colloquial African-American speech patterns that would conjugate the same phrase in English as “I be,” “you be,” he/she/it be,” representing the retention of African language patterns over time and space….

From A History of Nigeria by Falola and Heaton.

10

07 2013

Americanah

Americanah, the new novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is very good. I have a long list of Nigerian fiction on my to-read list, but Americanah got bumped to the top because it seemed like the perfect transition from Princeton to Nigeria: I heard Chimamanda speak in Princeton – where she, like Ifemelu, the main character, lived for a year on a fellowship – a month or so ago.

Americanah starts with Ifemelu taking NJ Transit from Princeton to Trenton to get her hair braided, because Princeton is the sort of place with an “ice cream shop that had fifty different flavors including red pepper” but no one to braid black hair. Following her TED Talk advice, Americanah crams in many narratives. It’s set in Lagos and London, Brooklyn and Baltimore, New Haven and Philly, and it’s about migration from Lagos to America, from Lagos to London, and from everywhere back to Nigeria. One character, in London:

His eyes would follow them, with a lost longing, and he would think: You can work, you are legal, you are visible, and you don’t even know how fortunate you are.

It’s about dating across race, wealth, and cultures; academics and intellectuals and the many people who are only one or the other, not both; the London black market of arranged sham marriages and faked ID documents; accents real and faked; sex work; the constant burdens and exploitation and desperation of the undocumented; Barack Obama; the hope and opportunity that can come with an approved visa application; and hair. Lots of hair.

There are Americans who deny that racism is still a problem. Wealthy folks who, learning Ifemelu is from Nigeria, try to connect by mentioning their latest trip to Tanzania, their opinion of Ethiopian beauty, the charity they support in Malawi. Ifemelu thinks:

There was a certain luxury to charity that she could not identify with and did not have…. Ifemelu wanted, suddenly and desperately, to be from the country of people who gave and not those who received, to be one of those who had and could therefore bask in the grace of having given, to be among those who could afford copious pithy and empathy.

Another character is at a London dinner party, thinking:

Alexa, and the other guests, and perhaps even Georgina, all understood the fleeing from war, form the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape form the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.

Ifemelu is, for a while, a blogger who writes “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black” which gives Adichie a venue to make observations, often hilarious and/or impolite. One post starts:

Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care. So what if you weren’t “black” in your country? You’re in America now….

Americanah never dwells on a single theme until it becomes tiresome The major characters are sympathetic but flawed, and the observations are constantly insightful – I wanted to quote much more here. So, highly recommended.

03

07 2013

Comparisons

It’s hard for me to experience Nigeria without comparing it – mentally, and probably too often, verbally, with Ethiopia. Or rather, comparing Abuja to Addis, since my experience in each country has been centered on the capital. A few thoughts with a broad brush stroke: compared to Addis, Abuja is hotter (lower altitude), the roads are much better (oil wealth? planned city?), the taxis and most cars are newer (less massive import taxes?), the driving is much more aggressive (cars that can actually go fast + fast roads), the upscale grocery stores have amazing selection (more Nigerian buying power?), and security and crime are much greater, ever-present concerns. The music is better (sorry, Teddy Afro) and the conversation louder. The international scene here is more British, more male, and – especially outside of Abuja – more ensconced in all-encompassing compounds called “life camps” run by big foreign oil and construction companies that, like NGOs, often have 3-letter acronym names that have long outlived their original meaning.

02

07 2013

Future poverty

I’m not usually a fan of institutional blogs. When a big NGO creates a blog it’s often for solely promotional purposes, and much of what I find interesting is criticism. Also, blogs are often written by younger, lower-level staff who don’t necessarily have the same freedom to innovate and must have their posts approved by higher-ups.

One of the few blogs associated with an NGO that does make it into my Google Reader is From Poverty to Power by Duncan Green at Oxfam. This post at the end of July caught my eye: “By 2015 Nigeria will have more poor people than India or China.”

This post highlights two ideas that I’ve come across again and again in the last year, which make me most optimistic and hesitant about the near future:

  1. A much, much smaller percentage of the world lives in extreme poverty today than 30-40 years ago.
  2. Most of that decline has been driven by reductions in India and especially in China. Thus, as those nations continue to see reductions and many countries in Africa lag behind, the largest countries in Africa with the youngest populations (ie, Nigeria) will soon outpace India and China in terms of absolute numbers living in the worst poverty. While some African countries — I’m thinking of Nigeria and South Africa in particular — have considerable resources to devote to poverty alleviation, when they choose to, those resources pale in comparison to those available to say, the Chinese state.

The commenters on the original post also highlight some important methodological limitations in the Brookings study that Green cited. Read it all here.

09

08 2011

Avoid immunization, go to jail. Eek.

Via Foreign Policy:

In Nigeria, avoiding a shot could mean going to jail

As Bill Gates unveiled his plan this week to rid the world of polio, health officials in the northern Nigerian state of Kano announced their own assault on the disease. “The government will henceforth arrest and prosecute any parent that refuses to allow health workers to vaccinate his child against child-killer diseases, particularly polio,” said a health ministry official.

This news, which was announced at the outset of the government’s four-day vaccination campaign targeting six million children, marks a shift in government policy toward immunization programs in the north of the country. Nigeria’s polio vaccination program stalled for more than a year after Muslim leaders raised doubts over the inoculations’ safety in the summer of 2003 — resulting in bans issued by some northern state governments….

I’m not familiar with every vaccination law in the world, but this seems like a first to me. If not a first, at least an exception to the norm. I don’t like this more coercive approach. If you have enough resistance to a policy that you feel you need to threaten jail time, then actually making that threat — and following through on it — seems likely to breed more resistance.

I think governments can and should both incentivize vaccination and make it difficult to avoid without a really good reason. Any government policy should make it easier to get vaccinated against childhood diseases than avoid vaccination, because having a fully-vaccinated population is a classic public good. I like the fact that most states in the US have opt-out provisions for religious objections to vaccination, but I also think that states should not design a policy such that getting that exemption is simpler — in terms of time and money — than getting a child vaccinated, as is the case in many states.

But threatening to throw parents in jail? Way too heavy-handed to me, and too likely to backfire.

30

07 2011