Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Vampires of Kazomba - a poem by my friend Benedicto Wokomaatani Malunga

The vicous and vociferous vampires
Of Kazomba are pathetic desperadoes
Who can miserably no longer
Overrate their waning marketability
As they languish in bitterness
On the rubbish heap of neglect
Created for them by the harshness
Of changing times they never foresaw
Now lashing at their swollen egos
Deflected by decent men who dropped them
Like Pharaoh's hot bricks due to their
Despicable moral bankruptcy and rottenness
Springing from contemptible self-deceit
Emanating from naked malice
Of unscrupulous impatient gold-diggers
Stuck in debts carelessly incurred
With their delusion of grandeur
Only fools entertain when
In the company of showy braggarts
Pretending to be rich when they
Call the political shots only to become broke
When their time of temporary glory is over
The stinking vindictive vampires of Kazomba
Pray at St Michael's in the morning
And drink human blood in the evening
With cheering home boys hoodwinked
By tribal solidarity bordering on naivety
They function like typical ruthless whores
When they meet naive journalists
Willingly vulnerable to manipulation
When a bribe like a carrot
Is enticingly dangled before them
The slanderous vampires of Kazomba
Are shameless blood suckers indeed
Wanting to reap where
They never sowed
Desiring to milk a cow they never fed
They turn green with envy and red with fury
When they see those they blindly despised
Rise to the acme of society gently and majestically
With a cornucopia of carefully honed God-given talents
Meticulously nurtured with sweat and diligently cultivated
With patience, practice and wisdom accumulated
Over the years when others were loafing stupidly
The uncouthed vampires of Kazomba
Are empty attention-seekers glorified by fools
Overwhelmed by paper qualifications
That do not mean much beyond the rhetoric
And the ink with which they are written
The vampires of Kazomba are social misfits
Falsely occupying a stage meant for solid luminaries
Capable of enlightening a nation with erudite
Views enriching a country wishing to move
Forward steadily and constructively
They do not understand why art is created
They do not differentiate between fact and fiction
Like the animals they are the vampires
Of Kazomba comfortably ride on the backs of idiots
Masquerading as intellectuals in borrowed robes
Failing to see beyond their short african noses
As they get used and abused by bitches
Who have nothing to lose even when they
Think and behave like dogs on heat
When I meet the vampires of Kazomba again
I shall spit scorn befitting their harlotry with impunity
And hope that their protege scribes will go back to school
To learn how to be humane humans with a conscience.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

WHY MALAWIAN BUSINESSES RARELY SUCCEED

We Malawians, like any other nationality, have a hunger for business. When we get some money, we immediately begin to think of investing in some enterprise. However, few businesses succeed. Indians, Pakistanis, Nigerians and Chinese come here, do the same businesses we do but end up very successful. What is our problem?

Problem No. 1: We lack innovation. If my neighbour has a mini-bus and is making a lot of money with it, I, too, should buy a minibus. So does the next neighbour and the next and the next until there are too many mini-buses and too few passengers to board. Clearly we cannot succeed this way.

We need to be innovative. There are many things one gets to see in countries not so far away from here that could attract a lot of customers back home. We need to learn what the others do. Let us not be lazy and simply copy what the next person is doing. Let us come up with new ideas.

Problem No.2: Misuse of capital. The Malawian businessman, after making hardly enough, dips his hand into the capital to buy a big, expensive Mercedes Benz. He wants to shine in town. The Benz will keep consuming more and more money until the capital is dry. In the end, the business collapses.

Let us learn from the Chinese, the Lebanese, the Indians, the Pakistanis and the Nigerians. We should not be envious of them. We should copy from them and beat them at their game. Take an average Indian, for example. He comes here a poor man. He opens a shop, mostly using loans from friends and relatives. He chooses to sell nothing more complicated than paper bags. In no time, the business grows. He becomes the key supplier of paper bags in the whole city, then in the whole country. What is his secret? He separates personal expenditure from business expenditure. He will not use the capital to buy rice and chapatti for himself and his family. He can suffer in any way but the capital will remain intact. He will instead let it grow.

Problem No. 3: Dependency Syndrome. If our uncle has a shop, all our eyes will turn to the uncle. If the uncle does not assist us, he is a very cruel man. We will go about town telling everyone how bad the man is. We will even create stories that the uncle is Satanic, knowing fully well we cannot even prove it, that it is all a lie. We will not work hard to reach the level of the uncle. All brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces will line up for help. Yes, it is good to help, but there should be a limit. Make sure you tell them the capital is out of bounds. You will not use your capital to help others.

Problem No. 4: Lack of desire to learn business theory. A good entrepreneur must learn. That is what Mike Chilewe of Mike’s Trading did. He went to Harvard University for a course one summer. Naturally, he paid a lot of money, but it was an investment well made. Look around, even within the country. The Malawi Institute of Management offers a lot of short courses that might help, as do the Malawi College of Accountancy and the Staff Development Institute at Mpemba. Try to learn the basics of running a business. Intuition works, of course. There are plenty of examples of individuals who have never been to anybody’s school but are hugely successful in their businesses. But the world is changing. Those that attend these courses are not being na├»ve. They learn quite a few things that might be very helpful to their businesses.

I know the list is not exhaustive, but these are what, I think, are the major reasons businesses run by indigenous Malawians mainly fail.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Julius Malema - Zuma's Frankenstein's Monster

Until yesterday, I had not yet watched President Jacob Zuma's video as he sings his favourite song, Umshini Wami, translated as "Bring Me My Machine Gun" -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lof6XJ8b1SU. He is a marvel to watch. He sings to entertain and to excite the crowd. He is an excellent stage performer. I love to watch the video over and over.

However, I decided to take time to watch Julius Malema sing "Kill the Boer" on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIsO78kkJP0. I watched it once and never want to watch it again. It is a song performed with anger, designed to frighten and not to entertain. It is a song that must not be sang by someone with good intentions.

For all intents and purposes, Julius Malema is a Frankeinstein's monster for the African National Congress. He will pull the party down and South Africa with it. He has the charateristics of a Chenjerai Hunzvi of Zimbabwe - the man who led Zimbabwe into the farm seizure controversy.

The party has all the machinery to discipline him. They let him do what he does for a reason. One day, when South Africa has become another Zimbabwe, someone will look back and wish they had done something before matters got out of hand.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Where We Differ With Our French-Speaking African Brothers

My French is what you might call "passable." I can order food in the restaurant, though, as I discovered one day in Geneva, I had forgotten all names of juices, except juis-de-pomme, so I ended up ordering a type of juice I least like for the sole reason that it was the only one whose name I could remember. I can also ask for directions, negotiate prices and introduce myself. In my current office, I get some memos in French but I respond to them in English. I do not need a translator to convert French memos into English for me.

But that is as far as it goes. As already said, it would be a big exaggeration to paint the portrait of myself as somebody who knows the French language well.

However, the behaviour of French-speaking West African brothers baffles me, to be honest. When they come to Anglophone Africa, they speak heavily mangled English. Nobody laughs at the atrocius mispronunciations, terrible grammar and the French intrusion into the English language. All we do is to take out the chaff and get to the sense of what the person wanted to say. As long as there is enough to sustain conversation, we ignore the rest and proceed.

Not with the Francophone brothers.

I was embarrassed in Addis Ababa last year. A Francophone friend whom I struggled to teach English once took me to meet his family and friends. They were all French speakers. His wife and children spoke no single word of English. We were treated to a lovely lunch of le poulet locale. I struggled to speak French continuosly for 3 hours, first thinking in my Chichewa and Chitumbuka languages, then English before getting down to French.

Then, once, I made a mistake.

I was trying to explain that my grippe, which means flu, was reaching serious levels that needed a doctor's attention. I said, La grippe est tres grave. My friend roared with laughter. He went to his Francophone friends and said, in French of course, "Stanley says La grippe est tres grave." They joined in and the laughter turned into a choral boom of discordant voices, tickled, as it were, by my mistake.

I never got corrected. I still do not know how to say "My flu is becoming a serious case."

Later, I was to be told by a friend that while they do not care how much English they mangle, our Francophone brothers flinch each time an Anglophone makes a mistake when speaking French. I find this behaviour insufferable. These languages are not ours. I would complain if I saw a Chichewa speaker make serious language & grammatical blunders in the Chichewa language, but why should I take offence when a fellow African struggles to speak English or French?

Quel dommage!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Where is Africa?











I spent this time last year visiting the beautiful obelisk at Axum in northern Ethiopia. I was genuinely surprised to learn that the oblisks are, in fact, tombs of ancient Ethiopian kings. Later, I flew to Lalibela to see the churches hewn out of rocks. It was at Lalibela that a young Ethiopian lady in the restaurant owned by Emperor Haile Selasie's grand-daughter, asked me: "You come from Africa?" I said, "Yes."

By now I was tired of wondering who, really, is an African. In South Africa in 2005, a young man in an Exclusive bookshop at OR Tambo International Airport told me, with a South African - probably Zulu - accent, that he had never been to Africa. I had just disembarked from an Emirates flight from Tripoli via Dubai. In Tripoli, I was treated as the guest from Africa. I was in Mauritius last month, where a young man, studying for an ACCA qualification confessed that he had never been to Africa his entire life (I forgave this one because, at least, Mauritius is an island full of Indians).

Where, exactly, is Africa?

A friend who studied with our north African brothers at a university in the United States told me that Arab north Africans at their campus chose when to be African and when not to. Whenever there was a cause for which they needed to rally greater support, they would instantly become African. During the good times, they would swear in the name of the moon and the stars that they had never been to Africa.

Colonialised thinking has made many from our continent fear to be called Africans. An African is, to many of these, a sub-human semi-primate half-gorrilla half-man. They want to associate themselves with Britain, America, France, Germany and such countries. They do not want to have their passports singled out for scrutiny at Charles de Gaulle International Airport, where they wait for you, if you are African, right at the entrance to the plane, to glean at your passport. Only Africans can be treated like that, like filth. The others do not show passports. They show the colour of their skins and pass. With such kind of treatment, many do not want to ever be called "African."

That goes even for very poor Ethiopia where, as it turns out, the headquarters of Africa is. South Africa, for which some Africans (from real Africa) gave their lives to free them from apartheid, where the headquarters for the New partnership for African Development is, says the country is not African, even when the word "Africa" is right their in the name of their nation.

I have never heard folks at the Art Centre in Accra claim they are not African. I have never heard people in Julius Nyerere Street in Zimbabwe say they are not from Africa. I have never been told in Maphatshwa Street, Francistown, by Batswana that they are not of this continent. The people of Cairo Road in Lusaka are proud to be African. The men and women of Githunguri Road, Kileleshwa, Nairobi, Kenya, happily sing songs glorifying their Africanness. In Speke Street, Kampala, Uganda, they are very glad to be African.

Where, for God's sake, is Africa?








Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Malawi's over-excitement over Bingu's wedding

Ten wedding songs composed and still counting! Even comedian Winiko, whose real name is Bon Kalindo, has thrown away the comedian mantle to become musician. Reason? 78-year old Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika is getting married again and the excitement is reaching fever-pitch.

I have interacted with Calista, the First Lady designate, several times. She is a great lady. Once - five years ago to be precise - we were bound to travel to Libya togther. (Muammar Gaddafi used to invite me a lot then. You see, Gaddafi is a writer. I have a collection of short stories written by him.He likes writers in his company. He can move mountains to accommodate writers. Once I squeezed the name of my friend, Idriss Ali Nassah, to join us on a visit to Libya. We were even sponsored to see the Egyptian pyramids at Giza, an hour's drive from Cairo on the Ramses Road. Idriss still wonders to this day what, exactly, did the Libyan government invite us for, but I am digressing too much. That is a story for another day.) Owing to an article I wrote in the Daily Times in 2005 after meeting Gaddafi at his tent in the desert in his home town of Sirte, I did not know that the embassy in Malawi had declared me persona-non-grata without the knowledge of their top officials in Libya. For this reason, I failed to join Calista on the trip to Libya. I met her at Ryalls when she came back. She told me how scary the Libyan drivers sped from Tripoli to Sirte, a distance of 400km. You see,when you arrive in Libya, you find a Benz waiting for you, complete with a chauffeur. Naturally, the chauffeur speaks no English. He shoots off like a stone from a catapult on their beautiful roads. Calista told me about her dilemma: "How do I tell this driver to slow down?" We laughed when she mentioned about her attempts to express herself through pantomime.

I last met Calista when we flew together from OR Tambo International Airpot in Johannesburg to Lilongwe (was that 2007? Yes, I think it was). She was minister then. She is humble, charming and motherly. She is great company. Not many ministers would have mixed easily with the crowd of my kind (I mean loud-mouthed using the pen). Ministers in Malawi behave like small little gods, until, like Nebuchadnezzar, God later on reminds them that they are human.

While I certainly wish Calista well in the wedding, I will not sit down to compose a poem. I would regard that an abuse of the art. In Malawi, there are some so-called writers who will write nothing until there is a John Chilembwe Day, or until a famous man has died, or when the Mother's Day is approaching. They hastily assemble some lines which they believe can pass for "poems" and pass on these to the papers. Considering the ever-lowering standards for acceptance of literary articles at our newspapers, the editors still pass these for poetry and publish them.

The same is happening with our musicians and non-musicians of the Winiko type. Perhaps in an attempt to jockey for attention before the President, they are throwing their artistic discipline to hastily compose songs of praise. After the wedding this weekend, their songs shall have become obsolete. I wish these artists well. We cannot all share the same principles.

It is not only the musicians whose excitement has reached orgasmic levels . . . [Sorry, my friend has kindly requested me to remove this bit of the earlier post. Thanks].

And now it is Prince Shonga's Turn to say Goodbye

In my final year in college, I took part in a national short story competition organized by the Malawi Writer's Union (MAWU). I sent my entry - titled The Mistake - and forgot all about it.

I was surprised, months later, to hear that I was being invited to a prize-giving ceremony. The then President of MAWU personally insisted that I must attend without fail.

I went to the Alendo Hotel, owned by the Malawi Institute of Tourism, off Hannover Street in Blantyre. After speeches from Manganya (whose real name is Michael Usi, then Director of the Adventist Relief Agency, sponsors of the competition) and Dr Ken Lipenga, then Minister of Education, the announcement of the winners began. They started with number three, who went to read an excerpt. Then number two, at which juncture I thought everybody had wasted my time. Finally, they announced number one: and it was me.

The judge then was Prince Shonga. Now he has passed away.

I was no stranger to winning first prize at national level then. When I was in Form 3, my essay, Problems of the Malawian Youth Today, won first prize in a UNESCO-sponsored national essay writing competition. The Prize - a scholarship for my last two years in secondary school - was personally handed to me by Mrs Catherine Chipembere, then Deputy Minister of Education, wife to Malawi's renegade hero, Henry Masauko Chipembere (deceased), after whom the most famous highway in Malawi is named.

It was at the Alendo Hotel event I got to know Prince Shonga. He was charismatic. His remarks encouraged me tremendously. He sang a song in praise of what he termed my writing 'prowess,' though at that time, I knew very little about writing. He was a wonderful man, was Prince Shonga.

A little about Prince Shonga: he was one of Malawi's prominent veteran journalists. He worked for Moni magazine for many years. Those that grew up in Malawi during the draconian Hastings Kamuzu Banda rule, Moni was the only magazine that one could read for something different. In the Daily Times and the Malawi News, everything started with Banda and ended with Banda. As my friend, exceptionally gifted US-based Malawian journalist Idriss Ali Nassah would say, "During those years, on the basis of personal pique, those in power—so the story goes—wanted the newspaper to write and print what they wanted written and printed: President goes. President comes. President is at a funeral. President is at a wedding. President is smiling. Minister opens Mangochi workshop. Minister closes Mangochi workshop. Malawians are happy and thank God [for the Ngwazi, the President-for-life]. Rain is falling. Vegetation is green. The weather is good. The opposition is [not welcome in Malawi, not now, not ever, because the President is for life and the Malawi Congress Party will rule forever]." (All the parts in brackets are my own addition).

It was in Moni we read something different. We read about Chatsalira and other cartoons. We read some news analyses that did not end with praise for the Ngwazi. It was for this magazine Prince Shonga worked. He made it even more interesting, upholding the legacy of a publication that redeemed many of us who were fed up with endless government propaganda.

Later, Prince Shonga moved to The Nation. He has worked there for many years. Our paths kept crossing. When The Nation embarked on the now doomed project to start publishing a magazine called Inspiration that saw no more than a single edition's publication before folding up, Prince Shonga contacted me to contribute an article. At the time of his death, he was editor of Fuko which, as we all know, means "nation." His work still mirrored what he was doing at Moni. Fuko is published in Chichewa, targetting the millions that live in rural areas, those to whom the President congratulating the national football team is not front page news. Rather the victory of the national football team is the front page news, with the congratulations as a "by the way."

Let me conclude the write up with a slightly altered last stanza of the poem of WH Auden, In Memory of WB Yeats:

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
[Prince Shonga] is laid to rest.
Let the [Malawian] vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.
In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of [Africa] bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;
Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.
Follow, [scribe], follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;
With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Congratulations, Tapiwa Gwaza, Shemu Joyah & Seasons of a Life

The movie, Seasons of a Life, written, shot, edited and directed by Shemu Joyah, continues to soar. Tapiwa Gwaza has just won Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in this year's Africa Movie Academy Awards (AAMA) at an event held in Bayelsa, Nigeria, on the 10th of April, 2010.

Seasons of a Life is Shemu Joyah's first movie. It got nominations in 8 categories. Flora Suya, the lead actress, was up for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. She lost to a worthy contender, Jackie Appiah of Ghana.

In moments like these, I feel proud to see compatriots do well at the continental level. Keep it up Shemu Joyah and the entire team at FirstDawn Arts!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fare thee well, Aleke

When I was 21, while reading accountancy at the University of Malawi's The Polytechnic downtown Blantyre, I was alarmed to read in the newspapers that Malawi had ratified a campaign that banned smoking in public areas. Though I have never smoked in my life, I was enraged. The reason was tobacco was then as it is now Malawi's largest forex earner. I felt that somebody sitting high on the pedestal of influence was handing over to our country a rope to hang ourselves with. So concerned was I that I wrote to the Minister of Agriculture, protesting the decision. I reasoned that the best we should have done as a country was to remain non-commital. America and Israel had chosen this option on many decisions that might affect their countries. Israel, for instance, had refused to ratify such sort of campaigns that involved stopping to use cluster bombs, though the whole world had agreed to do so. Aleke Banda was minister then. Amazingly, he responded to me not once but three times, responding to each of my responses, thereby engaging me in a debate. Later, I was to write to other ministries to raise concerns on various issues that affected my country. No minister responded even once.

Now Aleke Banda is dead. I remember this brief interaction we had. I never met him in person even when, later, a few positions I held in society might have given me an opportunity to. I, however, like millions of other Malawians, always held Aleke in the highest regard.

Aleke was a minister that worked hard. Each ministry he went to began to perform wonders. He took Malawi's ministry of Finance in 1994, at the turn of the new political dispensation, when the national coffers were literally empty, looted, as it were, by the ousted Malawi Congress Party. Aleke spent a month visiting the USA, Germany, Great Britain, France and the European Union, among others, persuading them to unlock aid to Malawi. Back home, he worked tirelessly with a team of prominent economists, trying to reshape our country's economic policy.

Legend has it that one such economist has a story to tell. A few days after Aleke had been appointed Minister of Finance, he assembled the government economists and asked them to formulate sound economic policies that our country should adopt to improve the economy. The doctors and professors went home without taking the minister's plea seriously. What did Aleke, a man who went no further than high school, know about economics? They joked about it as they drank at Bwandilo and also in Capital Hotel's Kachere Bar, which is within earshot of the Capital Hill, the seat of Government.

The day came when each economist was to report to the minister what their proposals were. One economist went straight to parrot the Haris-Todaro model, without identifying it by name. Aleke cut him short. "Look," Aleke said, "I expected you to do a little more than that. The Haris-Todaro Model has severe limitations that cannot work for the country. One limitation of this model is that it assumes potential migrants are risk neutral, as in they are indifferent between a certain expected rural income and an uncertain expected urban income of the same magnitude. This assumption's reflection of economic realities is questionable; poor migrants will likely be risk averse and require a significantly greater expected urban income to migrate . . ."

The rest of the economists were baffled. Presentations were discontinued. Aleke chastised them to take his request seriously. If they returned to present outdated theories, he'd be inclined to release all of them and hire expatriates.

That was Aleke.

Later, he was to to be transfered to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health. Wherever he went, there were results. He was said to work late into the night. His teams always felt pushed to the limit.

Popular opinion has always been that if Malawi had five cabinet ministers of Aleke's calibre, the country might change for the better. Some of us feel sorry for the nation when cabinet ministers speak freely to the national media about employing each other's sons or brothers for personal assistants. Such ministers are known for little else. To them, an appointment into the cabinet is an opportunity to employ themselves and their families. Aleke had no time for that. He always wished the best for this country.

Now, Time has written its ruthless signature on his fate. He is gone. Malawi may have a lot of politicians on the field, but, certainly, it shall never have another Aleke Kadonaphani Banda. There are many who might not agree with this, but millions of us common folks out there are now nodding their heads sadly, wishing Time could reverse its hands and let Aleke live only a little more.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

CELIBACY OR NO CELIBACY: CATHOLIC PRIESTS MUST CHOOSE

What one Malawian Catholic Priest said recently in defence of the debauchery and wantonness of some priests cannot go without comment. To recap, a bishop argued that all men sleep around, therefore it follows that it is pardonable for some Catholic Priests to sleep around, because they too are human and that therefore the media should not make much of the brouhaha.

This argument lacks logic.

Catholic Priests take a vow of celibacy. At the time they take this vow, they do so with full awareness of the fact that they too are human, complete with sexual needs and all that. To deliberately indulge with the hope of using their fallibility as an excuse does not make sense at all.

Why, if I may ask, does the Roman Catholic Church still stick to the vow of celibacy for their priests when we all know this does not work? Allowing, for instance, for the fallibility of the priests, why doesn’t the church change policy and permit the priests to marry? Or, better still, why not make celibacy a matter of an individual priest, so that there could be celibate priests and married priests?

And it is not in Malawi alone where sexual scandal after scandal rocks the Catholic Church. All over the world, Catholic priests have been known to sleep with little boys or with women, both married and single, for decades. The Vatican itself celebrated this year’s Easter amid a scandal of similar proportions.

The media cannot simply stand aside and pay a blind eye to the shenanigans of the catholic priests based on the fallacious argument that priests too are human. Priests are human, yes, but they have made a personal decision to be the vessels of the Christ, to represent the purity of Jesus Christ. They are not common men like some of us. They represent a holiness that cannot simply be ignored using such shallow excuses as fallibility. The Catholic Priests would be doing themselves a great favour if they stopped living a lie.

Several popes have been married in history. Pope Siricius, selected Pope on 17 December, 384 AD was married, so was St Felix, the 48th Pope. St Hormisdas, St Silverius, St Agatho were all married popes. Pope Hadrian II, also known as Adrian II, was married, had a daughter and the family lived with him at the Lateran Place . Pope Boniface the IX, selected on November 2, 1389, had a wife. It is said he dispensed himself from celibacy to marry. Clement IV too was married.

Clearly it is a choice for the Catholic Church to simply do away with the celibacy vows and allow the priests to marry. They will stop living a lie. The Anglican Priests marry which, I think, they decided to do after realising they were human.

Unless the Church wants another Martin Luther to come up and nail 95 theses against the mask of celibacy, the most logical thing is for the church to take an official stand and make celibacy optional. Otherwise, these masks aren’t working at all. Either you choose to be celibate and stick by it, or you disavow the celibacy and marry. But you cannot be both and shamelessly stand up to tell the world at large that you are human after all, as if you realised that fact all of a sudden.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Random House Struik Course is an eye opener

For those like me - I am talking about writers who have never done the theory of creative writing - a course like the Random House Struik Course run by the online training firm, Getsmarter, in which Ron Irwin, creative writing lecturer, agent and editor, former student of Prof. JM Coetzee delivers the lecturers, comes up with assignments and reviews them with keen interest - is a big eye-opener.

My stories had been successful up to this point, winning a competition here, getting published in an anthology there, - one of which is in an anthology for Kenyan Secondary Schools' English curriculum - and even being shortlisted for the Caine Prize, I realised upon embarking on the course of 10 modules that mere instinct carried me through. Nobody had hitherto told me about basic things like Point of View, Dialogue, characterisation and conflict - among others. It helps to know these, as I have just found out. There are some tricky moments when, for instance, POV might have shifted without the author realising it, thereby confusing the eventual reader.

Keep up the good work Ron and Getsmarter!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Malawian Vice-President's Harrassment Worries Me

Joyce Banda, Malawi's Vice President, is being harrassed by her boss. Reports indicate she has been made to vacate her official Mudi Residence. She has been stripped of her role as AU Goodwill Ambassador for Safe Motherhood. Her fleet of motor vehicles has not been given back to her.

Why is the President harrassing his Deputy?

Well, we all know why. Bingu wants his younger brother, Peter, to take over in 2014. He, therefore, wants to keep JB as obscure as possible. When choosing her, he must have thought she would be a lame duck VP whom he could control at will, the way we remote-control the TV. When JB refused to play by the rules, Bingu decided to sideline her.

Remember the former VP, Cassim Chilumpha? They came up with trumped-up charges that CC wanted to assassinate Bingu. To this day we have heard very little progress in the case.

But isn't it a monumental shame and a colossal disgrace that the only woman to hold the highest position in Malawi is being frustrated by the very man who claims to champion the advancement of women in leadership? It's a paradox, really.

Personally, I think this whole idea of moving mountains for Peter to take over is much ado about nothing. Let's wait and see.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Word's Most Expensive Short Story

I have just read "Last Season's Man," a short story by New Zealand's CK Stead. It is a very beautiful short story. It combines the best in Anton Chekhov (The Lady With a Dog) and JM Coetzee (Disgrace) while still shaping out something unique that makes CK Stead CK Stead, a writer distinct from Chekhov and Coetzee, a master of the art, a creative genius who is great at both fiction and poetry.

I must confess I was, at first, a little confused by the Point of View in the story. I also thought the fact that Mario Ivanda actually marries Vesna in the end takes out a bit of the sting in the story, but further re-reading shows that this, in fact, completes the beauty. It is an admirable work of art, very, very admirable.