AFCON 2017: The Dying Minutes

The temperature is humid and the atmosphere is tense. This is not an
ordinary night in Gabon’s capital Libreville. Tempers are high and the
tempo of the game is temporarily calm, but otherwise, burst of speed,
flurry of tackles and sinew mostly ensues.
Supporters are making as much noise as they can; drums made of antelope
skins are taking a well-deserved beating. Patriotic fans are lungs out
blowing their own trumpet, sounds of battle cry, which compliments a
tussling mood in the arena.
Radiant faces painted with colours of red, green, yellow and many
other shades are reacting to every effort being made on the pitch with
thunderous eruptions of cheers and sometimes jeers. Stade de L’Amitie
is on fire.
For all to see, the huge screen in the stadium is projecting images of
nervous of substitute players with their officials sitting on the edge
the benches. Coaches, of either side, cautiously pacing here and there
inside their demarcated lines shouting instructions.
The fight for the prestigious continental title is on. The Indomitable
Lions of Cameroon and The Pharaohs of Egypt are neck-on-neck, a goal a
piece with only 3 minutes of regulation time remaining.
Millions across the globe are riveted to their screens to witness with
their own eyes the crowning of the new Kings of African football.
Meanwhile, in the outskirts of Chinamwali, a boy is watching the game
in a fully packed dark video showroom, made of thinly sliced wooden
planks with a roof that hardly supports the satellite dish. “The
Emirates”, this shack of hall is fondly known.
He holds on to his urine, he doesn’t want to miss any piece of action.
He places one leg on top of the other, fidgeting steadily as he watch
youthful Cameroonian side piling waves of pressure on the
well-decorated Egyptians.
Coming into this final as 7 times champions The Pharaohs are on top of
the pyramid as the favorites to win this part 2 of 2008 final, but not
until recently!
Its 88th minute; the indomitable Lions are roaring. Central midfielder
Siani let loose a flying ball towards substitute Vincent Aboubakar who
is surrounded with three defenders, this is right on the edge of
the box. There, the moment of brilliance, that will forever shine in
the annals of African soccer has begun.
The stadium is silent, Aboubakar kills it with his shoulder, flip it
over the head Egypt’s Gabir, he twists his frame to hit a bouncing
volley into the left corner of net while the 44 year old goalie El
Hadary looks emotionless
Oooooooooooh it’s a gooooaaaal!! Its 2-1 to Cameroon! The crowd is euphoric. The entire bench runs into
the pitch, supporters can’t believe it, ladies are jumping into hands
of the unknown men. Aboubakar is running towards the dressing room,
his teammates are after him.

The Dying Minutes was written by Paulstolic, a Storyteller based in Malawi. You can find him in Zomba (Mataware) telling stories to his family and friends

Eyes of Age

Youth waxed us with ideals

But age has shown us the real

 

Love is a maiden’s song

Of an eagle beyond the clouds

 

Beauty is a boy’s dream

Of a dove beyond mountains

 

Generosity burns to stumps

Fingers trying to stretch out

 

Charity is the arrogance driving

Those who keep others indebted

 

Unity is a shadowy pool where

Minorities are silently drowned

 

Truth is what lions posit

And that which guns guard

 

Lies are the bulwark of power

Crowned with a veneer of gold

 

Equanimity is the diamond tip

Tapering arrows of suffering

 

It draws out poetry from anger

Coiling out of incinerated hopes

Bruce Zondiwe Mbano (Mzuzu, 1984) is a lecturer in the Department of Language and Communication Skills at Chancellor College. He has authored short-stories, plays and poems, some of which have been published in The Fate of Vultures (BBC prize-winning poetry), Heinneman and The Haunting Winds (published by Dzuka). His poem The Viphya won second prize in the 2000 Peer Gynt Literally Award.

When Dying Becomes a Metaphor

Every morning, Ma Akudinamma checks her countdown

It is ten days to her death today

Not as if a doctor had numbered her days

She believes death is not unexpected for a woman her age

 

Six days ago, her late cousin walked into her dream

Ma Aku knew she would answer the call in sixteen days

It was her dead relatives checking up on her

 

But this morning, she feels the street below her balcony differently

It always offers its noise right through her window

A wake-up call for each morning

Today, it seems it will show her something off the routine

 

She stands right where the street wants her to, at her window

The kiosk comes first, directly opposite, and she knows the drill

A regular stream of sinewy figures, stale breath, and stained teeth

Each person receives the gin in meekness, then pours libation

A drop or two to a god who is always absent

 

They don’t care about going places, about seeing the world

What does it matter to these folks? Life is a waste for them

And they love to have it so. Yet they know much laughter

The people of this local gin kiosk

 

She could have missed the kids at the borehole

But then one raises his voice high enough to lap at her window

Three kids, two wondering about the gender of the third

And then one reaches down to where the proof should be

His fingers do not linger, just a brush and he turns to the other:

O nwoke!” The genitalia is like what they have

 

The clergyman’s little girl comes around, the one next door

And the other kids reserve a place for her, then she speaks

Tiny words she says her mother told her:

“I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star”

The third kid joins the others and they laugh at her:

“Stars don’t shine in the morning,” they tell her

 

They are only kids and understand neither metaphor nor scripture

They cannot believe, cannot reach out to the sky to feel the cloud for stars

 

It is the street right there with a tribute to her death

And she knows the play of the kids is about life and death

Because she is old and understands allegory

And the metaphor of the star, which is that need to feel before believing

 

Ebenezer Agu lives in Nigeria. He is in his early twenties and has a degree in English and Literary Studies, from University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves listening to music and reading novels and poetry; Rilke is among his favorite poets. He is presently working on compiling an anthology of contemporary African poetry.

The Riddle of Modern African Masculinities

Prologue

African men are presented as a riddle at best and a problem at worst.  Whether in the crude stereotypes in the media, where African men are portrayed as angry rebels obsessed with machine guns and rape, or in the more refined scholarly debates, that see modern expressions of African Masculinities as either logical conclusions to a patriarchal culture or a deviation from what used to be a more equal culture.  In all of these presentations, evaluations and reevaluations, one thing remains clear; African Masculinity has become a riddle, similar to that of the chicken or the egg.   The only difference is that in recent years the egg, which is African Masculinity, has had a big fall  and has shattered into a mess of civil wars,  a feminized epidemic and gender based violence.   And all the gender theorist and African leaders seem not to be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  Key to solving riddles ( African riddles particularly) is the retelling of the story that leads to the riddle and then asking the not so obvious question.  In our case, with the riddle of African masculinities, it would be wise to take this approach and hear two stories that are critical in understanding the riddle; the story of colonialism and the story of African independence.  Because there is no identical experiences with colonialism and African independence between nations, I will tell a particular story of a particular nation

1st Story: The “Discovered” land
Once upon a time, long ago in a time when racism was scientifically justified and colonialism was a “civilizing” mission, a young European explorer, by the name David Livingstone, ‘discovered’ a land beside a beautiful lake.   David fell in love with this land and upon returning to Europe he persuaded entrepreneurs, Church leaders and Administrators that the land he had ‘discovered’ had potential for Christianity and commerce.   Following this appeal, entrepreneurs, missionaries and administrators flocked to this ‘discovered’ land quickly and set up shop.  The entrepreneurs set up farms and plantations, the missionaries set up churches and schools and the administrators set up a government and laws.  All of this was carried out with the enthusiasm of a “civilizing” mission and in no time the ‘discovered’ land resembled a civilized society in its emphasis on a wage economy that could be taxed.   Key to this transformation was Sir Harry Johnston, the Dutch Reformed Church and of course the entrepreneurs that made a wage economy possible.

Sir Harry Johnston was a typical renaissance man, commanding several skills and talents.  Apart from being an Administrator, he was a painter, a soldier and an anthropologist (yes! that curious group of colonial government anthropologist that Kwame Anthony Appiah warns us to be wary of). When he was not governing the ‘discovered’ land, Sir Harry took time out to document the people and culture of the ‘discovered’ land.  In his documentation, Sir Harry was preoccupied with the classification and sub-classification of people; attributing braveness to this tribe of people and duplicity to that tribe of people.  Johnston, in keeping with physical anthropology of his time, displayed a particular fixation with the African man as a sexual animal and even went to length of providing measurements of African male genetalia in his publications.  This was not so different from the missionary position.  Missionaries were obsessed with reordering each and every aspect of the life of the people of the ‘discovered’ land; from how they order their society to how they have sex.

The Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) particularly illustrates this well.  The DRC missionaries established their mission station in the central region of the ‘discovered’ land; a region known for its matrilineal culture.  The matrilineal culture of the people of the central region, prior to the coming of the DRC missionaries, gave relatively more power to women (lineages were traced through the mother, women controlled the shrines of their religious system and upon marriage it was the husband that relocated to the wife’s homeland).  However after the arrival of the DRC missionary there was a power shift; marriages had to be ‘christened’ with the man’s name (with the title Mr and Mrs before the his surname ), only men could presume religious leadership (according to their interpretation of 1 Timothy 2: 8 -15) and boys were prioritized over girls in the missionary schools.

Now riddle me this.  What is being ‘discovered’ in this story; is it the land next to a beautiful lake that has potential for Christianity and commerce, a new people that have to be classified and sub-classified for the anthropology enterprise or  rather the reshaping of masculinities under the forces of certain expressions of Christianity, capitalism and anthropology?

2nd Story: The Return

Once upon a time, not so long ago, when independence was the war cry of African people and the wind of nationalism was sweeping across the continent, an old African doctor, by the name of Hastings Kamuzu Banda, returned to his homeland.  Banda had been trained in the United States of America and was practicing medicine in England when his countrymen invited him to return home and serve as a symbol and leader of independence.  He accepted the invitation and became the first prime minister of this independent state.  Kamuzu Banda castigated the colonial administration and called for the ‘return’ to the people’s traditional culture.  In his speeches he emphasized the respect of the elderly and the celebration of traditional dances.   In his administration this translated into the consolidation of power around himself and the reducing of women’s political participation to mere dancers at political functions. 

Banda’s economy mainly depended onhim providing the then South African Apartheid government with cheap labor.  Young men were encouraged to leave their homeland and travel to South Africa to work in mines without returning home for long periods of time.   Meanwhile older men were given positions of power and influence, regardless of their lack of education and experience.  Women were encouraged to follow Banda around, dancing for him at his political rallies and representing a ‘return’ to traditional culture.   The arrangement between Kamuzu Banda and the South African government didn’t last long and soon the young migrant labors returned home only to gerontocracy.

Now riddle me this.  What is being ‘returned’ to is in this story; is it Banda’s homeland, the young migrant labors homeland, the traditional culture or rather the same type of system that saw only a few privileged men ruling and benefiting from a large number of men and women in the colonial era?

 

 

Epilogue

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass a high-minded and arrogant Humpty Dumpty is engaged in an argument with Alice.  When Alice questions Humpty Dumpty’s usage of a particular word, he is quick to point out that whenever he uses a word it means whatever he chooses it to mean and that he can load so much meaning into one word.  I think Humpty Dumpty shares this attitude and approach with the colonialist administrators who believed they had “discovered” new lands and the African fathers of the nations who preached a ‘return’ to the traditional culture.  Sir Harry Johnston (and other anthropologist like him) in his scholarly enthusiasm was not just classifying African men but rather he was giving them an identity in the new imperial order.   And Kamuzu Banda (and other Post-colonial dictators like him), in his romanticizing the past, was not calling for a return but rather reshaping notions of being a man.

So what of African Masculinities now? Are they like the grass after elephants fight, victims of forces way bigger than them?  I can’t say for sure, but I think the answer is similar to the Hausa riddle: Me ya sa mutum na kamar borkonu? (Why is a man like pepper?) Answer:  Idan ba ka gwada shi ba, ba za ka iya gaya yadda karfin sa yake ba (Until you have tested him, you can’t tell how strong he is).  I believe the strength of African men is in their willingness to move away from being victims of forces and agendas and becoming agents in reshaping African masculinities positively

The author, Wamisala Waku Mbazo, is a street philosopher, you can find him at Zumba local market arguing and debating with traders.