Don’t mess with this woman

The newly appointed President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, is raising eyebrows for the drastic changes she is implementing in the southern African country. As the marginalized Vice President of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Banda was sworn into office in April 2012 following the unexpected death of President Bingu wa Mutharika.

A month after being sworn in, she announced that she was selling the president’s private jet and downsizing the fleet of limousines that made up the presidential motorcade. When she took office, Malawi was a poor country with millionaire government officials. She cleaned house by ridding the government of loyalists of the late Mutharika who indulged in opulence at the expense of the poor majority. Just last week, this no-nonsense President announced that she would cut her pay by 30% to show Malawians that she is willing to make personal sacrifices inorder to build the nation.

Mrs. Banda has downsized cabinet and security services and promised to lift the country’s ban on homosexuality. She has demonstrated her commitment to economic reform by endorsing the IMF’s advice to devalue  Malawi’s currency, the Kwacha. That notwithstanding, there are genuine concerns that adhering to the IMF’s plans could hamper growth and make Malawi aid dependent. Nonetheless, the steps that Joyce Banda has taken in these short months has earned international approval.

So who exactly is this woman who has been described as a fresh of breath air in African politics? She is a 62 year old mother of five who is a long time activist of women’s rights. A certified business woman who has run successful enterprises, Joyce Banda is a staunch advocate that women should be financially independent. As president, she has opened free press and brought Malawi from the brink of an economic crisis.

In a mark of fearlessness, when the African Union (AU) scheduled a conference in Malawi this past July, Banda threatened to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes if he enters her country. Recognizing that Banda is not a woman of empty words, the AU moved the meeting to Ethiopia. Do not mess with Joyce Banda!

Under her steady stewardship, predictions of a crisis after the death of the president Mutharika have not materialized. Banda has taken swift action to entrench power whilst simultaneously demonstrating to Malawians that hers is a government they can truly believe in.

Beware of smiling politicians

Omar al-bashir of Sudan and Salvo Kiir of South Sudan just concluded a meeting to resolve a bitter dispute about oil production. After four days of talks in Addis Ababa, the two leaders emerged to announce that an economic and security agreement had been reached. Flanked by their delegates, Kiir and Bashir hugged and smiled at the flashing cameras. Yet beneath their confident smiles lies a contentious issue that has riled both leaders for months.

Over a year ago, South Sudan seceded from Sudan and became an independent country. However it attained this status without reaching a categoric agreement on how the 1200 mile border it shares with the North should be demarcated. Under the terms of independence, South Sudan maintained ownership of two thirds of the crude oil whilst Sudan controlled the oil refineries. But in January 2012, a dispute over oil transit fees and the unresolved border issue almost thrust the two countries into war. South Sudan shut down oil production forcing Bashir to implement austerity measures which sparked uprisings in Khartoum. In South Sudan, the lack off oil production also weakened their economy. To avert a financial crisis, the two leaders met in Addis and brought an end to the economic and security stalemate.

The newly signed agreement resolved three core issues: The two countries agreed to reopen oil exports from the South to Northern Sudan. They also agreed to demilitarize the zone between the border and end all hostilities that almost led to war in April. Inspite of these significant achievements Bashir and Kiir were not able to reach a decision about how to mark their border or how to resolve the disputed border region of Ayebi. Without a clearly demarcated border which shows where Sudan ends and where  Sudan begins, dazzling smiles and firm handshakes are insincere and irrelevant. All it will take is another skirmish at Ayebi for the former foes to draw their guns again.

Waste of money Mac pencil

The Mac self-propelling, self-sharpening eyebrow pencil which retails for $18 CA  is a waste of money. It is neatly packaged and runs smoothly over the eyebrow without being too heavy – It has a fantastic finish. However…

If I am going to shell out $18 for an eyebrow pencil, it better come correct and unfortunately, the tip of this pencil breaks easily and often gets jammed inside its sleek holder so no matter how many times you rotate the stem, nothing comes out! Arghhh. I know people who love this pencil and I actually love the definition it provided to my eyebrows but because it is not durable, I  will not be replacing it anytime soon. I will rather go for a cheaper kind which may require manual sharpening but will not break  the bank or at the tip.

Young Parliamentarian

Here’s a name to remember: Proscovia Oromait – the youngest person to win a parliamentary seat in Uganda. Proscovia contested elections in Usuk located in eastern Uganda after her father died. Her win is a major boost to President Yoweri Museveni’s ruling party which has been plagued with accusations of human rights abuses and elections rigging.

Whilst some see this as a milestone for Uganda, many wonder if this college bound student has what it takes to represent a town where access to decent schools and health care is still limited. Proscovia confidently responds to this criticism by saying that ‘Its not about the age… its the brain.” Criticism not withstanding, Priscovia has her work cut out for her.

 

An attitude of gratitude: Maya Angelou

When the flash from the camera died, Maya Angelou was escorted backstage to make her grand appearance. The stage manager led me out of the green room and planted me in a seat so close to the stage that I was sure  her message  would bounce directly into my ears before it reached anyone else. I needed to hear her. 

6 hours prior

The day started on the wrong foot and seemed to deteriorate with each passing hour.  I was nervously waiting for an important call from Dr. Angelou’s assistant to tell me if I was going to be granted access to to see Dr. Angelou or not… I felt like my life depended on this call so every 5 seconds, I glared expectantly at my phone. The seconds rolled into minutes. The minutes became hours. My spirits sank lower and lower. Oh God, I am not going to meet her. I am really not going to see her. How can I come so far and miss another opportunity to meet Maya Angelou… I was hypertensively nervous.


That is the nature of this dream I am pursuing. The highs are great. I land a great interview, I don’t sleep until I edit the work, post it and then bask in the glory of Facebook likes (sad but true). The lows are abysmally lonely. I deal with soulless web developers who take money without producing the work. I send tons of emails to managers and PR agents and I do not get a reply. On a decent day, I wait outside a hotel for hours for a ‘get’. On a bad day, people promise me an interview and at the last minute, the rag is pulled from underneath my feet. I often sit alone in my living room and lick my wounds and ask myself why I do this. I was mulling over this very question in my cousin’s  Springfield apartment, staring at a phone that won’t ring. Admittedly, I was a bag of nerves and as I braced myself for disappointment I began to relive every setback I have ever experienced. I did this until I felt so sorry for myself  that pelts of tears hit the pacquet floor like a torrential rainstorm. When the last shred of hope evaporated from my body, I decided to break up with God 

” Dear God, 

you can’t possibly love me because if you did things would not be this difficult. Why must everything be so hard. Really Why? Why can’t things just come easily to me for once. A few years ago, I asked you align my path with my passion, instead, you put me on this bumpy road where the potholes are steep with disappointments, heartbreak and setbacks. As for today, I have reached my breaking  point. I am tired so please take away this dream and the passion that comes with it  because when you give us the desires of our heart, you match it with the courage to pursue them. I can’t find my courage and I am tired of trying, so just take it back. I don’t want it anymore.”


In between the sniffles I heard my ringtone. A text had come through. it read. “Dr. Angelou will c u. Go 2 venue ASAP .” I immediately dried my snort stained face and wondered why I had ever doubted God. 

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By now, you have read of my  euphoric meeting with Maya Angelou in the green room. However, even after the meeting, I knew I needed to hear more words of wisdom because as a child of Faith, I realised that I had lost sight of everything that mattered. 

 

The curtains parted and Dr. Angelou stood up to a thunderous ovation. When she reclined into her chair she told us that she was going to talk to about  about how to have an attitude of gratitude. 

My pores dilated and I soaked in her sagesse. Here are a few of the memorable things she shared:


Someone else was there before you. Lonely before you, passed over before you. And yet miraculously, somehow they survived and did better than that, they thrived. These words are now etched in my psyche. Whenever I think I am having a bad day, I remember that someone has been here before and yet they thrived.  

Make thank you fall of your lips all the time. You are not lessened by it, you are increased by it. 

With courage you can live a life with distinction. That moved me.

How brilliant you are to dare to live your life. 

Have an attitude of gratitude

She took the time to tell us about difficulties she has experienced and shared with us how writing her blessings on a yellow piece of paper changed her perspective about life. Have an attitude of gratitude she repeated. Then, she reminded us of all the people who were really having a bad day. Those dealing with cancer, death and real misfortune yet they still remembered to count their blessings. Have an attitude of gratitude, she repeated. 

The message was sealed in my heart. 

 

Gratitude used to be an after thought – something I felt once I achieved a goal.  After hearing Dr. Angelou speak, I decided that instead of breaking up with God when I hit my threshold, I was going to have an attitude of gratitude, irrespective of the outcome. I decided to go back on that bumpy road. I went online and booked a multi city trip around the horn of Africa.  I did not know a soul in these countries, but I surrendered all my goals to God and thanked him for providing. It is with a grateful heart that I say that because He is a forgiving God, a faithful God, and a loving God, in the scorching deserts of Sudan my thirst was quenched with water from springs that never ran dry. I met film makers and visionaries who want to take their country to new heights. In the mountains of Ethiopia I never stumbled. I was greeted with grace and kindness and I interviewed volunteers and entrepreneurs redefining the course of their country.  In the Savannahs of South Sudan where I had no money, I was sustained by the generosity of strangers and I met phenomenal people who are transforming this new nation. In Djibouti , they enveloped me with love. At every step of this journey, in the peaks and the valleys, I remembered the words of Dr. Angelou and I gave thanks. Everyday was a GREAT Day and I can’t wait to share the details with you.


Thank you

Sudan Speaks

A few weeks ago, I visited what used to be the largest country in Africa – Sudan. Inspite of the travel advisories and the pleas from loved ones not to go to the country, I flew into the capital of Sudan, Khartoum. This trip was immensely important to me because the mere mention of the name Sudan conjured images of suffering and oppression. I entered the country and found a nation filled with people with kind hearts and resilient spirits.

About a week after I left, the Sudanese people who generally avoid confrontation with its repressive government took to the streets. On the surface it seemed as if they were demonstrating against newly released austerity measures, but their message was deeper than that… The video attached is the first of a three part series which features the candid views of young, patriotic Sudanese.http://youtu.be/N3dCzg3kTD0