Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Perspective | The marvel that is the BBC

Every month has its own unique memories and December, for me, is no exception.

This December marks twenty years since I rescued my old man's transistor radio from its misery because we (the radio and I) were kinda idle at the time and could certainly do with each other's company.

It was in the same month that I discovered, and fell in love with British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio. BBC became my principal source of my information because 1) I neither had access to nor knew how to use the internet and 2) I still required a visa to sneak out and watch the English Premier League.

Allan Green, Jonathan Overend, Alex Capstick, Tim Vickery, Nishat Adat, Julian Marshall and Russell Fuller became personal favorites.

I barely went a week without listening to one of Network Africa, Focus on Africa, Sports World, News Hour, From Our Own Correspondent, or Letter from America among a multitude of others the station had to offer.

It was partly because of my then infatuation with BBC that mzee tasked me with giving him highlights of the day's news. In 2004, there was a coup in Haiti that had then-president Jean Bertrand Aristide ousted by rebels under the command of a certain Guy Phillipe.

On the evening the news came through, I had wandered to Tanzania-based Radio Free Africa via Medium Wave transmission and gotten hooked because RFA played awesome Rumba in the evenings. I was still anganzi when mzee asked me about the coup.

You should have seen me sweating.

My explanation of the ousted president having a complicated name fell on deaf ears because I had done French in O-Level and therefore there was no way I could fail to grasp what should have been a simple name.

Rating BBC's programming as decent would be an understatement. They are excellent. The catalogue, the layout, the presentation and everything else in between is simply top-drawer.

But if there's one thing that has fascinated me most about BBC, it's the length of service for the average employee. Whereas some had their careers cut short by the cruel hand of death (Rest in peace, Raphael Tenthani, Komla Dumor) a good chunk of the presenters I first heard in 1997 are still active.

Julian Marshall (any relation to the long-serving staffer – Marion Marshall, anyone?) has done his thing for a whopping forty years, yet he still sounds as fresh as when I first heard his voice in 1997.

James Alexander Gordon did the Sports Report classified results in his trademark baritone for a cool 41 years before succumbing to cancer at 78, while Alistair Cooke did "Letter from America" (among others) until his very last breath, literally, before succumbing to lung cancer at 95 – a career spanning 58 years.

Twenty years since I first knew BBC, I have finished school, got employed, changed jobs no less than five different times and Paul Bakibinga's voice is still on radio.

What could be the magic behind this staff longevity at BBC?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Perspective | Superstition

One corporate guy was said to pass wind from the workplace elevator by 06:30 hrs every morning. It was meant to bring him good fortunes that included, among others, job stability. Maintain this, and his job was his for as long as he wanted it – or so he had been told.

Another, a married guy, had this not-so-eye-candy side chic he wouldn’t let go of because maintaining her on his “payroll” came with good fortunes. Every time he parted with some cash, he got several times more. His deals always came through. She was his godsend.

A number of (successful) men have said the same, of their partners. They are, in their own words, the kind of women that come with "natural blessings".

Some of these fortunes have been attributed to Aerva Lanata, a naturally occurring herb with a host of medicinal alleviations including but not limited to kidney stones, jaundice, cough, asthma, and headache as well as an antidote for rat poisoning, the herb locally known as Olweza in Luganda.

So lauded has it been, that its importance was extended to being used as a talisman against evil spirits, for good-luck as well as for the well-being of widows in the Ganda culture.

Olweza is one of the main components of the herbal concoction – Ekyogero – in which new-born babies are cleansed to protect them against the aforementioned misfortunes.

If one’s partner appears to bring good luck, the common perception, albeit sometimes used jocularly, is that they were showered with the herb. Thus the common phrase: "Yanaaba Olweza".

Every once in a while, you’ll meet this guy who won’t wear a certain color of shirts on a particular day of the week. You probably know of someone who will turn back at the sight of a startled black pussy-cat in the morning.

Others silently follow some rituals in certain spheres of their lives. People do car-showers (for lack of a better phrase) because the car needs that initiation ceremony.

So they eat, drink and make merry while some guy is busy concealing dry herbs in the glove compartment.

Others do animal sacrifices at every significant milestone of their construction projects. Someone gets to the wall-plate level and some innocent goat, somewhere, has to give up its life because the house is being "immunized" against misfortune.

Some give to charity not because they have big hearts but because they believe giving comes with good fortunes.

Superstition. Do these things really work?

Friday, December 1, 2017

Perspective | Five things we've learnt from Zimbabwe

Unless you've been living in some extraterrestrial black hole, by now you should be knowing about the new guy at the helm in Zimbabwe.

Gone with the Wind is the mercurial Robert Gabriel Mugabe, and in his place is Emerson Mnangagwa, the man who also goes by the nickname "the crocodile".

Is this all we ought to know about the country that was once known as Southern Rhodesia?

#1 Not every Zimbabwean speaks good English

Their literacy levels have been praised ad infinitum. Critics and social media "experts" waxed lyrical about how organized they were, in their celebration of Mugabe's departure.

Many hyped the populace's composure and articulation and the apparent absence of violence as many chose to quietly wish for change. Which is fine; but they didn't have to exaggerate this – or did they?

We still have Zimbabweans with their indigenous accents. Zimbabweans who still speak like part of their tongue is glued to the floor of their buccal cavity. Zimbabweans who were "heppy" to "hev" a new president.

#2 Ammara Brown

You've probably never heard of her. I hadn't, until Mugabe happened. This sultry songstress was among the hordes of people interviewed by the BBC in their quest to make the most out of the then ensuing drama in the country.

The 29-year old's style borders on Afro-pop, and calling her the Di'ja of Zimbabwe wouldn't exactly be far-fetched. If you like Di'ja, you'll love Ammara.

My pick of her collection is Akiliz, a song inspired by the legendary Greek fable about Achilles. Born destined to die in infancy, Achilles' mom – Thetis – was to cleanse him in the magical river Styx in order to avert his looming demise.

Thetis did, but did so while clutching her young son's heel – meaning the heel was never protected.

It would become the vulnerable point that eventually led to his death after he succumbed to a poisonous arrow, giving birth to the famous noun: "Achilles heel".

One's Achilles' heel symbolizes their weakness, and Zimbabwe certainly wasn't short of these.

Maybe, just maybe, Mugabe's touted eloquence and past (independence heroics) could have been Zimbabweans' Achilles' heel, blinding them into according excessive respect to their geriatric ex-president.

Ammara Brown cryptically says the song was inspired by a personal experience she won't disclose. It's a song many a Zimbabwean just may relate to.

#3 Southern Africa is still one big (Bantu) family. Largely.

It may not be the only linguistic similarity, but this is what caught my attention – Mnangagwa's nickname. Zimbabwe's new president is also known as "Ngweenya", Karanga for crocodile.

The Bemba in Zambia call it Ngw'ena, while their neighbors to the north – the Nyanja – call it Ng'ona. Peering further North, "Goonya", the reptile's native name amongst the Ganda/Nkore in Central and Western Uganda almost makes the entire stretch from South Africa to Uganda look like one big, extended family.

#4. It’s safety first, for the average Zimbabwean

They had been invited to take part in the CECAFA football tournament slated for 03/12/2017 in Machakos, Kenya, and had confirmed participation.

On the dawn of President Uhuru Kenyatta's inauguration, a stray bullet struck a 7-year old boy during opposition protests in Nairobi (63 Kilometers from Machakos), killing him instantly.

The Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) immediately declared the situation in Kenya "volatile" and withdrew its participation.

#5 Was Mugabe's resignation a case of religion being mightier than the gun?

He had been held hostage for a couple of days, and Gucci Grace initially said to be enjoying sizzling sausages in Neighboring Namibia (she was later reported to have been present, eventually, moments before Mugabe's resignation was couriered to Parliament).

The 93-year old held onto his position, refusing to give in to General Chiwenga and his collection of power-hungry schemers until he was talked into it by a Jesuit priest, a one Father Fidelis Mukonori.