Thursday, June 8, 2017

INVENTIONS THAT CHANGED WOMEN




The debate between gender equity and gender equality has been raging since the times of our foremothers. We know for a fact that due to the historical and social disadvantages that women have suffered for so long, many a times, there is the real need to support women to come up to a level where they are able undertake, as per Caroline Moser, their reproductive, productive and community management roles in a manner that adds to society and to their worth as individuals. 

My favorite African heroines, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Madam Dlamini Zuma have proved that women’s contribution make a difference in our lives.

Whilst gender equity has been defined as equal treatment simpliciter, equality on the other hand, leans towards the notice of fairness and justice. The analogy is one of two children, one who is healthy and the other is malnourished. The malnourished child deserves to get extra nutritious food and care whilst the healthy child must be maintained to ensure she continues to be healthy. That is equality.
 
Similarly, gender equality and gender equity has clear distinction. Treating women on par with males when it comes to property rights, when it comes to job and promotion, when it comes to economic and social independence is gender equity.

While providing women with affirmative actions in a patriarchal society, providing them leave accompanied with salary when they are pregnant, providing with prenatal to neonatal to postnatal care, providing better health care as they are more prone to calcium deficiency in post menopause phase, etc. constitute gender equality.

I would like to celebrate some of the greatest inventions that have supported the gender equality paradigm to make women more able to compete in the public sphere.
 
In no particular order, here they are;

1.      THE WASHING MACHINE
The renowned economist and author, Ha Joon Chang, is of the opinion that the computer is not the greatest invention of the 20th Century. He postulates, and I wholeheartedly support his hypothesis, that this award should be given to …….drumroll…….the washing machine. This invention relieved women of the burdensome but necessary, time consuming but important chore of repetitiously washing clothes, wringing them, drying and ironing.
An informal study of almost 600 women done in the UK reveal that women now spend only about 18 hours a week on housework as compared to 44 hours a week in the 1960s. This reduction can be attributed to the introduction of technology such as the dishwasher!!
By freeing the woman of this burden, she is able to put her mind and body to use of other equally important areas such as studying to pass an exam, learning a trade or applying for a job.
More and more in Africa, the washing machine is becoming a staple in most homes, (provided you have stable electricity and can pay the exorbitant electricity bills). It is a fact that not all African cloths can be washed in the washing machine without some form of shrinkage, but the utility that that the washing machine provides goes a long way to reduce the drudgery of washing.   

2.      THE FOOD BLENDER
I remember learning how to grind pepper with two stones. One stone is large, smooth and flat and the second small stone is shaped in the form of a small cylinder the size of milk tin. Through a complicated process that most African women are aware of, pepper, tomatoes and all other vegetables are ground into a smooth paste for cooking. The downside of using your bare hands to grind, especially pepper was that for the rest of the day, the residual pepper burns your fingers. A most uncomfortable sensation! 
The Kitchen blender solves this problem in an efficient way.  Food can be chopped, ground, mixed, crushed, squeezed and sliced effectively without substantial damage to any body part. This invention also ensured that food is cooked timeously, hygienically and is aesthetically pleasing. The time that is saved from these arduous tasks can be applied to other equally important tasks such as reading a book or learning a trade or searching for a job. I look forward to when the fufu pounding machine and the palm oil dehusker will also become a staple in Ghanaian kitchens. Other inventions in the same category are rice cookers, the fridge and the microwave.

3.      THE DISPOSABLE DIAPER
Did you know the disposable diaper was invented by a woman? All hail Valerie Hunter Gordon, who invented the disposable diaper in the 1940s. This seemingly innocuous invention revolutionalised child care forever and saved mothers from a lifetime of soaking, disinfecting and then washing every single diaper used by a child. We love our children to bits, but not the tasks that accompany such a tiny bundle of joy! Kudos to Mama Val who died in 2016 at the ripe age of 94! Other inventions in this category include the pacifier, the baby rocker, the sanitary towel, and all other disposables such as spoons, plates, napkins and cups.

4.      THE GAS COOKER
This cooking appliance has saved thousands of lives, especially African lives. The statistics are startling. WHO  estimates that 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass and that over 4 million people (mostly women) die prematurely from illnesses attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels. Further, the report states that more than 50 % of premature deaths due to pneumonia among children under 5 are caused by particulate matter or soot inhaled as a result of household air pollution.
Clean fuels such as gas therefore provide a welcome alternative to extend the lives of women and children. The drudgery of spending time to light firewood and tend the fire to an appreciable heat level is also drastically reduced as just a spark can ignite the gas cooker (be careful!!). Other inventions in this category as the clean cook stoves, electric stoves and microwaves.

5.      THE CAESAREAN SECTION
The Caesarean section has been part of human culture for ages however, before modern times this relatively simple procedure almost always resulted in the death of the mother. The perfection of the C-Section technique by modern physicians has ensured that more mothers survive childbirth and continue to lead successful lives as mothers, caregivers and active citizens. The pain and apprehension of a pregnant woman who is scheduled to undergo a C-section has been greatly reduced by the introduction of modern medicine, hygienic environment, antiseptics and anesthesia. It is now normal for women to elect to have her babies by C-section and to have as many as four babies by this procedure. Other upgrades and inventions in this category are ultra sound scans, improvement in hygienic surgery methods, anesthesia and various pain medications to support women through pregnancy and child birth.

IN CONCLUSION
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, better known as the Maputo Protocol, guarantees comprehensive rights to women.  This protocol was adopted in 2003 and entered into force in 2005 after it had been signed and ratified by the required 15 member nations. It seeks to provide a holistic protection of the rights of women to enjoy fully a social, economic and political life devoid of fear and intimidation. More than 12 years the entry into force of this protocol, we still see great lapses in fully exploiting the potential of the African woman.
The dream of equality and equity is slowing shaping up. We have examples of female African Presidents and Parliamentarians to tell us this is possible. But the pyramid is still bottom heavy. The struggle must surely continue.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

#Citizens-not-subjects (Part 1)



Ok, so earlier this year (and we are just now entering the month of March), a newly inaugurated President’s speech was shot down because a few of the phrases seem to have been taken from another speech without the right academic recognition (aka plagiarism). One good thing that came out of this bruhaha is the now popular phrase #citizens-not-subjects. Without holding brief for this newly inaugurated President (by the way, congratulations, Mr. New President!), as I know he has the arduous task of re-engineering a broken economy, I would like to discuss the concept of citizenship within the context of the new Africa, Agenda 2063. This is more significant to me because Ghana, the first African country south of the Sahara to gain independence will be celebrating this milestone soon. Indeed, many other African countries will be celebrating their sixtieth independence anniversary in the next few years.

JJ Rousseau postulates that the social contract is the third and highest form of society. In fact, this social contract transports man from a state of nature where life is, as described by Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. The three stages described by Rousseau, are (a) the state of nature, where man is free and independent, (b) society, in which man is oppressed and dependent on others, and (c) the state under the Social Contract, in which, ironically, man becomes free through obligation; he is only independent through dependence on law.

Inherent in a society under social contract is the active role of man in ensuring that the State is transparent, responsive and accountable. Democracy becomes the tool that measures the socio-politico intercourse between man and the State. Citizen’s vigilance and their continuous fight for their rights and freedoms keep the State engaged whilst the State is also desirous to keep citizens tame. This conflict continues to this day. To balance this equation, citizens needs to continuously play an active role in ensuring that hard earned tax payers monies are used to provide social services that go to the core of the social contract. 

As Africa moves into sixty years of celebrating independence, I would like to share a few examples of persons who decided to take their citizenship very seriously and are remembered for this.

Nii Kwabena Bonnie III (Kwamla Theodore Taylor)

Nii Kwabena Bonnie III   (aka Boycotthene) was a Gold Coast (Ghanaian) radical nationalist and traditional ruler who in 1948 organised the single most successful massive boycott of all time in Ghana’s political history. This boycott ultimately led to Ghana’s independence nine years later in 1957.

The significance of Nii Bonnie’s action is the process of inclusiveness and the advocacy he employed to make independence a reality. Nii Bonnie travelled the entire country explaining the reason for the proposed boycott. He further engaged the colonial government to reduce the cost of European goods on the market.  The state’s lack of response led to two key events in Ghana’s history. The 28th February road incident and the Accra riots. For going beyond what was required of him as an individual, I elevate Nii Kwabena Bonnie to the status Citizen Extraordinaire. 



Dedan Kimathi

Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi, as he called himself, is the ultimate independent struggle nonconformist. A leading figure in the Mau Mau revolution, he was viewed with disdain by his fellow Kikuyu, Jomo Kenyatta. Kimathi is known for taking a more militant approach to the deprivation of Kikuyu lands by British colonialists in the 1950s. Kimathi rallied his tribesmen to the cause of independence and freedom and was a thorn in the flesh of the British colonialists. It is believed that the MauMau movement was a key contributor to the hastening of independence for Kenya.

Amilcar Cabral

Amilcar Cabral was an agronomist and freedom fighter in Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau. Cabral led the PAIGC's guerrilla movement against the Portuguese government, which evolved into one of the most successful wars of independence in modern African history. The goal of the conflict was to attain independence for both Portuguese Guinea and Cape Verde. Over the course of the conflict, as the movement captured territory from the Portuguese, Cabral became the de facto leader of a large portion of what became Guinea-Bissau. Cabral had a unique system of guerilla warfare in which his fighters, also tilled the fields and operated a barter system where goods were sold at a lower price than European goods and a mobile hospital that took care of soldiers and the elderly in the Cape Verdian and Guinea countryside. Interestingly, the assassination of Cabral did not demoralize the PIAGC as the Portuguese had expected. Cabral’s death rather energized the revolutionary movement and once again, hastened the path to independence of both Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau.
The call for Africans to be citizens and not subjects is therefore inherent and has been played out in many instances in Africa’s call for independence. 

The future of citizenship

As we move into the future of Africa, we must embrace a new Social Contract. In the words of Carlos Lopes, ‘just as Rousseau’s Social Contract did, we need to create a new Social Contract that is based on the original principles but goes beyond them. It needs to address current challenges, such as creating a redistributive system that is “solidaristic” and helps to enhance both intra-generational and inter-generational equity as well as create new institutions that can lift people out of poverty’[1].

One of my favourite quotes is from the American Anthropologist Margaret Mead. She states that ‘never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has’. This quote is deeply significant as Africa moves to achieving Agenda 2063. Everyone matters, and anyone who is willing to, can become a #citizen-not-a-subject. We all have what it takes. Accountability to the masses should be deeply ingrained in the state machinery, it is our right, not a request.

Agenda 2063 speaks to the indomitable spirit of the African as a person whose rights will not be trampled upon easily. Aspiration 2 speaks to the ideals of pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s renaissance. 

As we celebrate the sixth decade of Africa’s independence, I repeat the words of President Nana Akufo Addo/Woodrow Wilson/George W. Bush/Bill Clinton
"I ask you to be citizens: citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens building your communities and our nation. Let us work until the work is done,"

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Pan Africanism personified - a personal story on Ebola




 A few months ago I caught a cold, the normal flu. But this came with a splitting headache that made it impossible for me to do virtually anything. So I spent the next few days in bed. The interesting thing was that I caught this particular flu strain from my young toddler daughter, who had also caught it from one of her siblings. As flu goes, within about a week, my entire family had wet noses and was sniffling and sneezing all over the house.
In the throes of my pain and discomfort, I started to thank God for giving us the flu and not something more serious. I reflected on the Ebola virus that had ravaged through countries close to mine and devastated homes and families in one fell swipe. I gave thanks to God for the flu and reflected on how Ebola had come close to my home and literally ‘passed over’ us. 

At the beginning of the Ebola crisis in Liberia, my elder brother was the Deputy Commanding Officer of a 900 man United Nations Force in Liberia. They were based on the border area between Liberia and Sierra Leone (Bong, Lofa and Nimba Counties). Incidentally, this was the area through which Ebola spread from Sierra Leone to Liberia.  He had been assigned there in December the previous year for a six month tour of duty which was to have ended in August 2014.

 Getting to the end of his tour of duty, then Ebola struck!  We were all waiting for him to return in time for the birth of his daughter, scheduled two weeks after his arrival in September. Then Ebola struck Liberia! Big Brother’s contingent of 900 soldiers return to Ghana was delayed week after week as the United Nations and the Heads of State of Ghana and Liberia battled with whether to permit Big Brother’s contingent to return to Ghana and be replaced by a fresh contingent or keep them there in Liberia for another six months or more, after all, they were already exposed to the risk!! The challenge for Big Bro as Deputy Commander of the force was how to keep 900 strong and virile Ghanaian soldiers confined to the barracks for weeks on end with absolutely no contact with the local Liberians who might be carriers of the deadly strain.

Back home in Ghana, we, his family were in serious prayers, first for his and his entire contingent to come home safely, because, knowing the historical relationship between Ghanaian soldiers and Liberian women, it was near impossible that none of the soldiers would defy the orders to remain in camp and steal out into town to bid farewell to a cherished lady friend, and by doing that, inadvertently bring the Ebola virus into the UN camp.  We fasted, we prayed and waited upon the Lord as their return was delayed day in and day out. Secondly, we prayed that he will come back home in time to share in the birth of his daughter.

After several weeks of uncertainty and diplomatic back and forth, the green light was given for the entire contingent to return to Ghana. All the soldiers and their property returned to Ghana safe and Ebola free!!  Less than one week after his arrival, we witnessed the birth of a bouncy baby girl who weighed 4.0kg.

Gratitude!!
One of my sisters also lived with her family of four and worked in Conakry, the capital of Guinea. Guinea was the epicentre of Ebola and the start point. In June 2014, my sister and her young son left her husband in Conakry to visit relatives in Europe. She was six months pregnant at the time she left. Due to the uncertainty of the health systems in Conakry she delayed her return until the birth of her daughter, hoping that the Ebola Crisis will be over by the time her baby was old enough to travel. Six months later in December, 2014, the crisis was still raging and had spread from Guinea to Liberia, Sierra Leone with isolated cases in Mali and Nigeria.  She was faced with a dilemma. Continue to stay in Europe, leaving her job and her husband in Conakry for as long as possible or return to Guinea with her toddler son and new born baby and take the risk of Ebola. After weighing the odds, she chose to return to Guinea where she had a life, family and a good job.

First, it was difficult to get any flights that would connect her to Conakry as most airlines had cancelled their flights to all of West Africa, not only Guinea. When she finally got an airline which had a stop in Conakry, she recounts that airline staff were shocked that she would choose to take her young children back into the uncertainty and stories of death that the Western media had spun around the Ebola Crisis!

Prevail she did, and thankfully, the virus passed over her, her family members and their friends in Conakry, her fellow colleagues at work, the pupils in her son’s school and even her household staff.

Gratitude!!
Other stories about family members and Ebola in Mali as well as an aborted peace keeping mission to Liberia in early 2015 for another family member shows how connected we all became to this continental crisis and how through it all, we became stronger and more united.

In the Old Testament book of Numbers, Moses and the Israelites go to battle against the Midianites with twelve thousand men, a thousand from each tribe. The Israelites won the battle. The most striking thing about this story is in the verse 49 where the army commanders came to Moses and reported that they have counted the men under their command and ‘not one is missing!!’. Twelve thousand men go to war against the Midianites and not one single soldier dies. Our God is indeed still in the miracle making business.

Gratitude!!
While I tell stories of gratitude, I also painfully recognise that a lot of families suffered as result of Ebola and many lost loved ones. We also remember the healthcare professionals who took their oath seriously in the care of Ebola patients and paid the highest price. These include Dr. Willoughby of Sierra Leone, Dr. Micheal Kargbo and Dr. Stella Adadevor of Nigeria. We remember your sacrifice and bless your families and their generations for your works. As Wole Soyinka will say, ‘may their shadows never shrink’. I also recognise that there are many untold stories of bravery, survival, compassion and hope that will stand the test of time and be told within families and communities. These stories must continue to be told. We must never forget so that we never repeat the mistakes of the past.

The Africa Union’s Agenda 2063 speaks of a vision of a peaceful, prosperous and integrated Africa and the seven aspirations are drafted to reflect Africa’s desire for shared prosperity and well-being, for unity and integration, for a continent of free citizens and expanded horizons, where the full potential of women and youth, boys and girls are realized, and with freedom from fear, disease and want. Ebola gave us a reason as a continent to put Agenda 2063 into practice in a way that connected all levels of Africans- the pan African institutions, individual nations and at the lowest levels, continental citizens and families such as mine.

Ebola became a by-word for West Africa. In the rhetoric of rallying support to help stop Ebola was the tacit international quarantine that all West Africans suffered. Flights stopped flying to ‘West Africa’. Anyone from ‘West Africa’ on a flight had to be monitored. Indeed, even my Ghanaian friends in the diaspora cancelled their visits back home because there were travel bans to ‘West Africa’.  West Africa therefore had to look inwards and support ourselves. I salute the Ghanaian government for making Accra for hosting the UN emergency Ebola Response Centre.

Gratitude!!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

IN HONOUR OF DR. CARLOS LOPES AS HE BIDS FAREWELL TO THE UNITED NATIONS ECONOMIC COMMISSION FOR AFRICA (UNECA)



In October 2016, Dr. Carlos Lopes, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) bid farewell to the organisation he had been heading since 2012. Dr. Lopes has previously served in many academic and political positions in his native Guinea Bissau and in addition worked in diverse offices within the UN before he was appointed as Executive Secretary of UNECA. 

I met Carlos Lopes when I applied to be a Mo Ibrahim African Leadership Fellow in 2012 and was privileged to work with him in 2013 during his first full year as the Executive Secretary of UNECA, based in Addis Ababa. My time working with Carlos or  ‘Sir’ as we used to call him, was a time of deep learning and understanding of the African continent.  I also learnt a lot about myself as an African and a potential change agent. During my time working with Carlos, He had four assistants, all female and we branded ourselves as ‘Carlos’ Angels’. Although we came from different backgrounds- one was Kenyan Indian, another was Angolan Portuguese, a third was French Guinea Bissauan and I was Ghanaian- we bonded well and worked to support Carlos implement his vision for UNECA.
 As he bids farewell to the role in which I get acquainted with him, I would like to share some of the memories I hold dear about the man who has influenced not only me, but greater men in Africa and beyond.

CARLOS THE PAN AFRICAN.
Carlos is an example of a true pan African. As an academic, his writings embodied his love for the continent and the everlasting hope he has for Africa’s economic transformation. I remember a meeting Carlos once had with the Ambassador of a European country who had funds to support UNECA. In the meeting, Carlos spoke of the exciting work that UNECA was involved in- building a credible database for statistics, the campaign on industrialisation and collaborative works with the other continental pan African institutions. Carlos spoke glowingly of his vision for UNECA and the new policy direction. Not once did he make a request for funding support. The Ambassador was visibly impressed. After the meeting, I asked Carlos why he hadn’t directly asked for funding support and that in my mind, he had painted a picture that all was well, we therefore risk losing the funds that may have come to us. He responded that there was no need to speak about the problems and challenges and that Africa does not need to beg for money. The money will follow good deeds and by this, we have more power and say as to how to use the funds. Rightly so, in a few months’ time, the Ambassador of the country in question brought a proposal to support the UNECA in more ways than we had previously envisaged and for a longer period of time than we had thought.
This was a key trend and something I learnt working with Carlos. Africa has a positive future, so many indicators are speaking to a rising Africa, and we should celebrate this more. We must tell our own story of change in a positive manner.

CARLOS AND CABRAL
 The first thing one notices when one walks into Carlos’ office is a small black and white portrait picture of Amilcar Cabral. Carlos has written extensively on Cabral’s legacy and it implications to contemporary Africa. These writings are in Portuguese, French and English and widely published and highly acclaimed. Cabral was Carlos’ ‘utmost hero’ and as his Assistant, I also came to love and revere the works of Cabral.
Another favourite of Carlos was Mario de Andrade, the Angolan revolutionary who became Guinea Bissau’s Minister for Information and Culture. Mario shaped Carlos in many ways and although Mario is not well known outside the African Portuguese community, he is one of the key players and influencers of his time. Carlos speaks lovingly of Mario de Andrade and how when he (Carlos) had finished high school, he served as an assistant to Mario and learnt about Pan Africanism at the feet of the Master. I was privileged to get to know these great men of African history and others like them (my personal favourite was Franz Fanon) through their own writings and through reading the writings of Carlos himself. Infact, the title of my blog is a quote from Amilcar Cabral, ‘Claim no easy victories’, but that is another story for another day. 

CARLOS AND AGENDA 2063
Addis Ababa in May 2013 was the one place in the world I would have loved to be in. and I was there. Africa was celebrating 50 years of pan African institutionalism- the creation of the OAU, now the African Union. Addis, the capital of pan Africanism, was abuzz with activity and I had front row seats to the event of a lifetime. The Pan African Congress, The Youth Forum, the Women’s Forum, the African Union Executive Committee Meeting, NEPAD, the Actual AU Forum, several side meetings, bi-laterals, multi-laterals, concerts, exhibitions, and many more. Carlos made time to share this space with Africa and his message of a prosperous Africa resonated on all the platforms he spoke on. I remember the warmth he received when he attended the PAWA event and during the Youth Conference, the fact that he listens to the Kenyan rap group Sauti Sol drew lots of tweets from young Africans! On a more serious note, Carlos, through the UNECA, played a pivotal and leading role in developing Agenda 2063. At all stages of the development of this great document which captures the aspiration of Africans for the next 100 years, Carlos and his able lieutenants in the UNECA ensured that all the statistical, analytical support that was required to strengthen the document was available. This was a ground breaking event and agenda 2063 continues to stand as a key monument to the spirit of unity and pan Africanism that existed during those heady days in May 2013. 

CARLOS OF MANY COLORS
Carlos also had an artistic and fun loving side. He was a photographer, a lover of art, painting, books and music. His house was filled with art works from all over the world and his music collection had songs from South Africa, Capo Verde, Ivory Coast and Angola, among many others.
Carlos was not only a mentor but also a friend who supported my dream to continue formal education, to better understand pan Africanism whilst being a mother and a wife. He understood the many aspects of my changing circumstances and made room for that while not compromising on quality and timeliness of work. I learnt to love my work and in loving my work, I excelled. I grew and blossomed. Indeed the year 2013 is my overall best year and this was so because I met Dr. Carlos Lopes and of course, became a Carlos Angel.
I have no qualms that Carlos’ exit from the UNECA will be just another step in the illustrious career that he had woven even before I met him and which I will continue to follow and celebrate. Each stage of your life has not been easy, but you have claimed the victory, you have told no lies and have hidden nothing from the masses.
It will be apt therefore to end with a quote from Cabral taken from a speech he delivered at the 3rd Conference of the African People held in Cairo where he stated that “We are for African unity, on a regional or continental scale, inasfar as it is necessary for the progress of the African peoples, and in order to guarantee their security and the continuity of this progress”
I wish you and Mrs. Mara well in your future endeavors. Looking forward to meeting with you soon.