Friday, 31 August 2007

African Youths visit UK

You know what?
They came.
Brought by the British Council.
Youths on a study tour.
I met them at Ramsay Hall, University of London, Thursday 23rd August, 2007.
British Council has always been at the forefront of education across the world. While still a young reporter in the 1970’s I used to benefit a lot reading global newspapers, borrowing rare- to- find film documentaries and even audio cassettes from the British Council Library in Dar Es Salaam. BC has always been an invaluable source of information, free of charge, clean, decent, accessible.

You know what?
You hardly see this angle living in the UK, however, it is those overseas, those studying (and struggling) who benefit. Historically, this world wide knowledge house was began in 1934 to propagate British values in a neutral sense. Just to give you an idea. You find BC in 233 cities and towns through 109 countries. It was awarded the Communications and Humanity Prize in 2005.
So they came.
They visited London.

I received a phone call from the African Community Partnerships (in New Cross, South London) to entertain with live music and poetry. Usual expectations. Prepare a few songs pluck in my guitar, get my Djembe drumming ready. A gig to entertain young people between 16 to 24. I had a repertoire of World Music songs plus rap tunes which I would drum along with fellow musician Gwang, of Kitoto Band. But….
You know what?
I was in for a shock
It has become a worry.
Young people in hanging trousers, panties and bums peeping out; hoods, moods and attitudes. To entertain them is an uphill task, I am always doing it in schools and prisons. I have witnessed teachers being called the four letter word. I have seen teachers in tears. I have heard teachers wishing they had more powers…
My audience this evening was however, from Nigeria and Tanzania.
No sooner was I settled then these guys and girls were saying hello, shaking hands, asking to have a drum to accompany them, very communicative.

Hamis Kassim, (dancer-dramatist-singer), myself Blogger, Farida M. Ashu (stand-up comic), Michael Dalali(photographer),Sanyu the singer, dancer and poet (partly hidden) and footballer, Omary Wahabi.

They were so easy going; cheerful, so different from youths growing in the so called developed world. It was an eye opener. We spent hours singing, playing and dancing. Each of them had a specific talent. Here were dancers, dramatists, stand-up comics, poets. By the end of that Thursday evening in August, one thing slithered up my mind.
These might have been unusual, free spirited entertainers…but…
Young people are fun.
The news we consume of attitudes, guns, gangs, drugs, rebelliousness, knives and such negative stuff is only a small part of the equation. And something else. Youths from Africa can teach all of us, especially the youth here, in the Diaspora and Rich World, a thing or two. Fun, humility, respect, hope and what else? That being young is still the most beautiful thing… Not something we look at with exasperation, trepidation and fear each time we see hoods, sulky faces, hanging trousers, peeping knickers and smell whiffs of Ganja and skunk.

Felista Rugambwa or as she is known, Sanyu, from Tanzania recites her poem entitled "Africa"....

The two stand-up Nigerian comedians and storytellers, Stephen Oguntayinbo and Farida M. Ashu mesmerised everyone with their funny tales.

18 year old budding footballer, Omary Wahabi, told his audience how young people make their own balls out of recycled paper and rubbish. He has high hopes both for himself and Tanzania's Taifa Stars who are currently second to Senegal in Group 7 of the Africa Cup championships due to finalise in Ghana, January 2008.
London youths were represented through the creative and unassuming Jesse, who also presented a short play with his mates and benefited from the mutual educational exchange .

Plus some of the adults who had to see it all going according to plan.

Gerson Oloo (right) Director of African Community Partnership flanked by DJ and engineer, Eric Ochola, both from Kenya.

Musician and percussionist Gwang (Grenada) who accompanied me under the banner of Kitoto band.

Last but not least, to document the occassion through photos and video, Sam Jenkins from Kenya.

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Wednesday, 29 August 2007

First time I...

I learnt that breathing in

nature the FIRST thing You do and the LAST
Thing you will ever do.

every other Thing Experience .................................................In the middle and centre

Is- a -long-sweet -sour-milky-murky-gorgeous journey…

a long up and down, left and right, safari…

between that
Beginning and…ever lasting

.... yet start of another deep, deep infinite ...cycle.... be reminded to be in nature, to breathe, to swim, to exercise, to jog, to walk, to whistle. Love thyself and respect these skins and barks and leaves and waves of our creation and health.

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Sunday, 26 August 2007


Nyerere in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, June 1991...
Mwalimu Nyerere flanked by assistants, officials and bodyguards asking Freddy Macha about  life in Brazil. Pic by Vantoen Perreira...

When we speak of great Africans and role models, an image of a smiling Nelson Mandela with those troubled but noble, yet kind shining eyes, comes to mind. Nelson Mandela is the chap that everyone wants to take a photo with. Twenty six years in jail for sticking his tongue at racial hatred, then stepping out of jail, waving a hand, smiling, saluting the world, forgiving…
Before Nelson Mandela there was Julius Kambarage Nyerere.
But who is Nyerere?
Many do not recognise the name. Known in his time as "Mwalimu", which means teacher in Swahili, Nyerere was born in 1922 and while still at Makerere University, Uganda, at the tender age of 21, started an association for the improvement of Africans. Those were colonial days. Two years passed. He wrote an essay: “The Freedom of Women.”
His father, a tribal chief, had 22 wives. It was part of the “idea of moving towards freedom theoretically,” he told Dr. Ikaweba Bunting of the Internationalist magazine in one of his last major interviews in 1999.
On July 7th, 1954, Mwalimu Nyerere formed TANU which led Tanzania to independence. Here the idea of using Swahili as a unifying language was hatched and fundamental in keeping the peace as there are more than hundred tribes and languages in Tanzania. “The only tribalism that exists in Tanzania is teasing each other.” Nyerere would say in one of his speeches, decades later. Between all this he found time to translate two works of William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar and Merchants of Venice) to Swahili.

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Thursday, 23 August 2007

Senegal Draw Ghana in London Friendly

Millwall Stadium, Tuesday 21 st August, 2007...
The African soccer friendly at the New Den, Millwall Stadium was an eye opener.

I have seen Ghana playing ( vs Nigeria last February where the Kwame Nkrumah grand-kids won 4-1). But Senegal was a different story. More than two thirds of the supporters were on Ghana's side so, green-red-yellow colours seemed to say "Black Stars rules." No wonder the first goal a minute before halftime was from the Black Stars, hosts of next year's Africa Cup. Everything was in Ghana's favour, the chants, the Kpanlogo drums, the fans, the aforesaid colours. A zealous supporter near me kept waving a huge flag, to the annoyance of a ten year old girl who complained but had to get used to football over-zealousness.
Stadiums are one of the few places where you can shout as loud as you can and express yourself.
"Our flags are almost similar. The only difference is the star in the middle for Ghana's," quipped another singing supporter.

By halftime it was drizzling...

No wonder players are paid large sums of money. We sat watching a wet El Hadji Diouf captaining his minority side (South London is second home to Ghanians and we all know the Senegalese are more at home in France); the Bolton Wanderers star's efforts were rewarded with a goal. It was around 72 minutes.
By that time Senegal was proving the tougher team not just by brilliant football, passing and tactical playing, by fouling, too. Michael Essien (Chelsea's top mifielder) was kicked in so many instances, he had to wobble out four minutes later. He was in my opinion, the man of the match, an intelligent player who like Diouf was both star and captain.
This was a beautiful and entertaining game and the Gods were on the side of it's theme which was friendship. Sometimes the goodnatured Ghanian fans cheered lovely playing of the Senegalese. No wonder it ended in a terse but deserved, 1-1 draw.
Walking home I reflected on the stakes. Senegal leading Group 7 of the Africa heats, followed by Tanzania, which they drew (1-1) last June and beat the East African Taifa Stars, 4-0, in March.
Taifa Stars are upcoming what with the positive guidance of Brazilian coach Marcio Maximo...but watching the Lions of Teranga giving Ghana a hard time ( a Ghana that saw the World Cup a year ago) made me think : Taifa Stars, look- out!
I meditated on the high fee of 28 pounds, plus two more pounds service charge, by Ticketmaster, the company that sells tickets. I dwelt on the fact that one could not buy these entrance papers in London's African shops, like during the Nigeria match in February. It is always about money...
I sipped beers with two German agents; they said they were from Hamburg, looking for new boys. African players are at the moment part of "a fair catch", both for rich clubs and their own destinies. Gone are the days when African football was something you equated with nonchalant animals at tourist game parks ...something in the bush... This is the era of millionaire Drogbas and Samuel Eto'os... globalisation global globalisation.
Was thirty pounds a head worth it?
It wasn't a bad night counting that we matched through the riveting, spooky, dark industrial Millwall streets thinking, this area has a history of racism and such stuff. The sight of police and security everywhere was assuring. People of all ages with families were here : old, young, male, female...
Of course the colurful spectacle wasn't shown on mainstream television. Not many people let alone Africans in London knew about it.
But for those present, one word, shone. Pleasure. Entertainment.
Fun and sports maketh the day...

African Soccer Magazine journalist, Ebenezer, who was at the match publicising the new paper which focuses solely on African soccer. Check out

With Senegalese fans. This was a few minutes before the friendly game. Culture and sports always brings people together.

Ghanian fans chant "Essien!" "Essien!" for TV pundits prior to the competition.

Publicist and photo-journalist, CNN (Charles Nimmo N-Mensah) of Was there too. A man proud and comfortable with his job.

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Monday, 20 August 2007

Yoruba's Talking Drums

Father and Son,
Busy on stage.
Father and Son playing the Doum Doum... Most of us know it as the West African “talking drum.”
Father and Son are Yoruba speaking.
Yoruba the language of Nigeria.
The language of the music called Afro Beat which the flamboyant musician Fela Kuti made so famous.
Father starts to teach the crowd a song...the song is easy. The Yoruba section of the audience, jubilantly, joins in. It is a count. I am told later it is a numbers songs called Iyeyewa. One to ten . Eni! Eji! Eta! Enrii! Anrun! Efaa! Ejee! Ejo! Eson! Ewaa!
As we chant the numbers Father and Son rumble on with their talking drums. The crowd loves it. After a while Father says his 9 year old Son will teach us a Yoruba song. The crowd is really grooving...
Now Father says Son will sing. Son says hello to the crowd. Crowd loves it. Son plays the Doum Doum.
Tell me.
What is a “Doum Doum”?
Before the mobile phone came, Africans had talking drums. They were means of communication. This is, seriously speaking, classical music...
A while passes and I am talking to the Son. His name is proud of his drum and the guidance of dad, Mr. Ayan Ayandosu.

…and it got me thinking.

Where do you see Fathers and Sons celebrating life together these days? What with the current trend of our un-guided (and mis-guided) young males, not so pretty, large, menacing hoods, scowling (but innocent) faces, trousers hanging down thighs as if ready to do a pooh, (a big s...), any second...thinking it is heroic!
So far as we speak Nineteen young people killed by other young people in the UK, this year.
Sons need Fathers. To be a good man, a son needs his dad.
And there is nothing better than what i saw.
Where was this?
Barking. At the market by the railway station. East London.
Friday 17th August, 2007. You might have missed them but here they are.
If you want to hear good talking drums and are thinking of where to get one. You could hire Mr. Ayan Ayandosu and his son Ayanlakin. Phone (+44) 7956-482148.
Or (+44) 7960-877447.

I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

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Sunday, 19 August 2007

This Weekend's Profile

Some people are not aware they have good things.
They have to be reminded.

…They are too busy living…
Too unassuming to be bothered with tags and personal glory.
That is what comes to mind when I think of Rahmon Olugunna. A guy with no visiting cards, no brochures...a guy who makes no noise about himself.
On this sunny Friday, where music reigned and shoppers shopped, he was selling his paintings, at this Festival in Barking, East London. Amazing pieces of art.
Pictures can speak louder than sound or words. Images are like feelings. They are deep.
Rahmon Olugunna told me he was born in South West Nigeria and studied under the “late Rufus…”
Who is Rufus? I wondered.
“He was a great painter. He was called the African Picasso.”
True. I soon learnt that Rufus Ogundele (1946-1996) was a very colourful painter and one can see the influence but that is another story.
Rahmon said he has exhibited in Chicago in the USA. He has been doing this for fifteen years…
I could see he was not in the mood to talk too much. People were milling around his wonderful pictures. You know what?
Good stuff attracts…
Rahmon Olugunna gave us his number (+44) 7940-118938 and said if you like to buy his paintings email him at :

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Tuesday, 14 August 2007

First time I...

rode a horse

was on this beach in B├║zios, near Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, 1990.
We had been swimming and enjoying the waves of the Atlantic ocean. Days and hours gone. Then it got monotonous. Out of the blue appeared this little boy with a horse. You paid him a small sum for a couple of lessons. Things like that always happen in Brazil.
They also unfold more details...
The boy was accompanied by his parents; they had more horses and were hiring them to other people on the "praia" (beach in Portuguese). I always thought riding would be scary but all what that cool smart boy did was to show me the ropes, and let me carry on with it. A good teacher, they say, makes a good student.
Sometime later, I met the boy's family and rode much more...
They were "ciganos" or gypsies.
All they did was hire horses; thats how they made their living. I found out that this very beach had become well known back in the 1960's due to none other than the famous French actress, Brigitte Bardot. She was filmed on the same spot that the horses galloped. On the same fresh air we breathed and that wonderful calm boy, not more than eight years old, yelling: Vai! Vai! ................go on! go on! ....great little teacher.
He must be a grown up man by now.
And that horse?
And the photographer?
Regina Celia Sampaio...

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Monday, 13 August 2007


London, Thursday, 21st, June 2007.
The hall is quiet.
The only sound is music. Music is food. Except?
Apart from the ongoing music we are being confronted with gloomy slides. Wailing women. Dead children. Dead camels and cows. Burnt houses. Withered men. Displacement. Corpses. Non-fictitious horror.
The morbid and inhuman face of Darfur.
You can hear him playing different instruments, saying nothing; the photographs speak loud and clear. This is the work of Ahmed Rahman a gifted musician from Sudan. See him in action, above, photo taken by Anne Marie Biscombe.Rahman was part of a whole array of writers and artists invited to perform at the Human Rights Centre in East London on this special Thursday in June put together by Jennifer Langer of Exiled Writers Ink! An organisation of refugee and immigrant writers. Her own family was expunged by the Nazis during the Second World War.

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Sunday, 12 August 2007

A photo from the past

Everyone was a teenager once…
Ilboru Secondary School, Arusha, north Tanzania, Autumn 1972.
We are all studying hard.
Main O levels exams are around the corner. We have just done sports, showered, now we are breezing in the late evening sun with tea mugs; waiting for dinner, then prep.
Prep meant more reading, more digging, more books.
Everyone wanted to do well and pass.
Ilboru was highly regarded those days with teachers from all over the world. You couldn’t be a lazy pupil and be at this school…You had to have very excellent grades to come here.
Boarding schools are intense places. We would be there for almost five months, away from home. The bondage amongst the young is incredible.
If you look closely you will notice we are all wearing jeans the new “bad boy” trouser of the early 1970’s. We would swap into bell-bottoms when going out to dance and meet the girls…
I was in a gang. The gringos. But the word gang didn’t mean guns and knives. It meant sharing similar tastes. Music, dancing, sports, arts, hanging out. Four years of sweet youth. A few months after this photo was taken by a boy named Emmanuel, I never met these guys again. In fact almost all of them have vanished from my life. Meciri, with glasses on the right, I heard, died. Bandido the second, was shot in 1981 in very mysterious circumstances. Actually, I was with him earlier that day before his demise. I had not seen him for nine years. He was a charismatic guy and you can tell by the way he is standing; like a model. He had been abroad studying and he was doing well.
Tony, on my left, passed away, last year.
I am the shy guy peering into the tea mug. What the hell is inside that cup? A fly? I was very broody. Really into myself, my music and my writing.
I don’t know what happened to Miro (from Zanzibar) staring into the distance, standing on my right. Although the soft spoken Miro was older and a class ahead, he loved hanging out with us, juniors.
Youth is a strange time and hanging out, the ultimate good time.
And what about Emmanuel the photographer? He was the unofficial multi-talented snapper of the school. Rarely spoke, always chuckled, patient, a budding bio-chemist. Never heard of him, never saw him ever since.
And those trees, behind us. Under them was a lovely stream. I can still hear the water dripping and chirping birds, wow...singing. Arusha has one of the most lovely scenes and retains wonderful landscapes, wild game tourist reserves, lakes and mountains. Serengeti where the famous "Lion King" Hollywood film story is based is not so far away from here. Beautiful Arusha is today the most expensive region of Tanzania.

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This Weekend's Profile

Meet Musician Kawele “Fingerprinter” Mutimanwa

Bad leadership and corruption in Africa has created unrest, poverty and refugees.
Take Congo.
In early 1961, one of the most dynamic leaders that have ever come from this beleaguered continent, Patrice Lumumba, was killed at a prime age of 36. Congo had become independent the year before and Lumumba was democratically elected Prime Minister. But no sooner was Congo free from the Belgians than Lumumba started speaking a language of a new born baby, a free person. Those were the days of the Cold War and soon the young chief was branded a “communist.” CIA used a soldier called Joseph Mobutu to get rid of his own country man to preserve business interests.span class="fullpost">.
Lumumba and a few of his cabinet members were beaten up, bundled inside sinister lorries like frightened cows, frog-matched to the bushes and shot. After murdering them the culprits erased the bodies with sulphuric acid. In a 2002 interview, London’s New African magazine, one of the Belgian soldiers who took part confessed to have kept Lumumba’s wedding ring as memento. A review of the 2001 Lumumba murder film described it as “unsettling and horrific.”
Lumumba is one. But it all began when King Leopold of Belgium used the country for his own source of personal wealth after the scramble for Africa began in 1884. Since those times, Congolese people, under the corrupt govern ship of Colonel Mobutu (1965 onwards) have become displaced and homeless Zairians. The rich country has been turned into a battle ground for more than five countries. Congo-Zaire is one of the most wealthy nations in the world with minerals and the huge fertile Congo forest. To give you an example take your mobile phone. The micro chip inside the phone is a resistant mineral originating from Coltan (columbium and tantalite); 80% of this resource comes from Africa and according to the World Rainforest Movement in Uruguay, 80% of that comes from Congo Zaire. Best this richness has done is to buy guns and create bloodshed. The African American musician and writer, Gil Scott Heron told me an interview, in April 1999: “The reason that we can’t have peace is because you cannot make money with peace.”
Even though Mobutu died of prostate cancer in 1997, Zairians have tumbled into despair and globe trotting. I was chatting to one Zairean national the other day and he confessed he has taken a European passport for himself and his family because “I see no hope of ever returning home.”
One of the only consolation for these forsaken people has become music. Zairean music, Congolese dance music, Soukous, Ndombolo is amongst the highly dominant of African popular dance forms. It sits high alongside “Mbaqanga” (South Africa), “High Life” and “Afro-beat” (West Africa).
And that’s where he comes in.
The diminutive derives from his skill on the electric guitar. He has been on the move for two thirds of his life.
Having settled in London since mid 1990’s as a refugee, Kawele Mutimanwa was born in Bukavu in 1957. He belongs to the Warega tribe of East Congo. The music bug caught him early; he did not even finish secondary school in 1972. From then, he was married to the guitar. “All I did,” Kawele recalls sipping his Stella beer, “is going to places where music was, watching and listening to the guitar players.”
Kawele has played with almost every single name on the Congolese Soukous music scene, plus a host of African and non-African musicians.
As a result of the said displaced background, music has taken him far. He has lived and gigged in Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, many parts of Europe, USA and Australia.
I have personally worked with Kawele and still share the stage with him from time to time. It is always a pleasure working with this humble, down to earth guy. He is unselfish in the true sense of the word. Despite being a highly competent musician (besides guitar he is competent saxophonist, sings and arranges) he allows everyone else to share in the playing and never takes over like some egoistic artists of his magnificent stature, would. His house in East London is always packed with men, women, children. Everyone who has been around Kawele will tell you he is one of those rare individuals whose vocabulary excludes the word, no. He is always helping somebody. A man with a heart of the Congolese gold.
Check a list of some of the stars the skilled guitarist has worked with...
Kanda Bongo Man, Sam Mangwana, Remmy Ongala, King Kiki, Ndala Kasheba, Mzee Makassy, Samba Mapangala.
And bands.
Arusha International, Tankat Almasi, Safari Sound, Kurugenzi Arusha (Tanzania) Banangenge, Bana Lienza, Mule Mover (Zambia), Kyauri Voice, Toma Toma, Kitoto Band…
Lady JD, Ray C (Tanzanian hip-hop singers) King Masco(Sierra Leone) Abdul T Jay (Sierra Leone) Koko Kanyinda (Congo) Kaz Kasozi (Uganda), Jennifer Lawala (Uganda)….
Surprisingly despite all this thirty year plus musical experience, when I tapped Kawele on Google the other day nothing came up. The long, unending but unsuccessful career of such a talented soul has much to say about African music. Kawele himself explains.
“English is the language of pop music. We sing in African languages and that is difficult with this powerful industry.”
Throughout this tough odyssey he has led his own groups as well. In London was first No Tchuna Cha (1995-1999) while today is Afrika Jambo. It was with No Tchuna Cha where his nickname Finger Printer arose. They recorded, Alama za Vidole, in 1999.

See their photo taken during the early days.

London Folk Roots magazine said the CD “Has class. Authentic sweet harmonies, chiming guitars…”
You may catch Kawele and his Afrika Jambo band at Club Afrique every Sunday. More info about the club log on:

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Friday, 10 August 2007

HUKWE ZAWOSE- A photo from the past- London 1996

Gogo traditional musician, Hukwe Zawose, was simply, a one off.
Gabriel Prokofiev the London musician who stage managed him sometimes, called his work Tanzania's classical music. That is something.
Zawose had his own unique style.
He made everything musical. His voice had a multitude of pitches, melodies and sounds. He played what is known around the world as Mbira. In Tanzania we call it Ilimba or Marimba. His nephew, Charles Zawose toured with him world wide in his last days. They are both dead. But recently the Zawose family band which includes Hukwe's beautiful children has been touring the UK.

I saw master Zawose many times.
I cannot forget a concert at London's Barbican, 1996. A cold night. Audience dressed in coats and gloves. Later we posed.
Les Rickford the Sierra Leone photographer did not do a bad job capturing that special moment. Me, on the left, happy to be with the outstanding man (then in his 50's);  with that famous gap on his teeth, just, happy.
Earlier the legendary musician had shared the stage with Mali's Salif Kaita and other great singers. Hukwe Zawose danced, sang, growled, crooned, bellowed, chanted, screamed, all mellow, all gleeful, aided by his crafty fingers on the Ilimba. His death seven years later was as shocking as it was saddening.
But you know what? Such people, says this photo, never ever die.

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Wednesday, 1 August 2007

He was driving while Texting!

let us talk about cell phones and mobile phones and driving...

I am in a bus.
A few minutes ago I boarded this huge monster in Dar es Salaam. Dar Es Salaam, the commercial capital of Tanzania means “harbour of peace” in Arabic.
I remember how touts invaded us as we rolled towards the bus station with suitcases and bags. It was something resembling safari ants attacking a fresh carcass of meat. These guys get a cut (“baksheesh”) as long as they get more riders. There are so many buses to choose and so the touts help sorting out the traveller’s mind.
And it is not just touts. Numerous guys sell you ice cream, sweets, cashew nuts, magazines even novels by the famous British author, James Hadley Chase. Now these Chase books are another interesting “globalisation” wonder. Today you don’t find Chase novels in Europe anymore. But a company based in India is publishing and shipping them to Africa. Once in London I was fishing around a second hand bookshop and the owner quipped:
“Used James Hadley Chase books? As soon as they come they are gone. They never last. It is mostly Africans who buy them…”
“Why don’t they print them anymore?”
“I don’t know.”
James Hadley Chase novels were popular back in the 1970’s. Chase (real name Rene Brabazon Raymond) who died in 1985 is a gripping writer who holds you through brilliantly plotted fast moving heart churning crime stories.
His books are plenty at these bus stations…
Cut to a few hours later.
The bus is speeding. Not only speeding, the driver is overtaking anywhere, be it a corner or a dangerous hill. I am thinking this might be my last day. In rich countries it is recommended that drivers rest after every two hours. Ours has gone non-stop for at least five.
The longest resting time is hardly more than three minutes.
I am especially sympathetic to the women who have it worse. We halt at some village. Men stroll out and piss by the road. The few ladies who manage a quick pee have to physically run to whatever available acacia bushes. But the shrubs are hardly large enough to give them any privacy. That is not the problem, however.
The impatient driver is already blowing the horn his itching foot on the accelerator pedal.
Meaning, the rumbling vehicle is never switched off. Smell of diesel and engine oil becomes part of our travelling oxygen. And then comes the theme of this story.
Somewhere along the route going at eighty kilometres per hour, the driver decides to send a text message.
His eyes dart between the road and his deftly held cell phone. I am thinking, here I am, in a sprinting bus wearing no seat belt my life in the hands of a lunatic who doesn’t care whether we will crash or not. Funny how, despite the lack of crucial safety seat belts nobody in the bus seems worried at all. It is as though, were death to occur, it would be acceptable and expected. And that is what I found to be appalling and sad about our contemporary African psyche. People have come to accept the saga of death. The macabre, sombre, morbid , grim nature of this saga is shocking. It reminded me of the expression you hear in Kiswahili all the time in Tanzania:
Watu wanamalizika kama nzi siku hizi!
(people are dying like flies nowadays)
That people are dying and death is common in a peaceful country (not Afghanistan or Iraq) is extraordinary. This is supposed to be a land re-known for never having fought any major war since the Maji Maji rebellion of 1905-1907!
A hundred years of peace…in a continent filled regular civil strife.
On a journey from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam I luckily find “Royal Buses” the only bus company with safety seat belts. It costs double the price. Not only is Royal comfortable (with air-condition, self contained toilets and music), it’s driver observes speed limits, the attendants are friendly and free drinks, offered. Despite complaints of regular users that Royal’s toilets are not as clean as they used to be (stank of urine) and that drinks are few; “Royal” is the only bus with foreign passengers and tourists. Around the country low income folk moan this particular fleet travels too slow; their “fees are too high.”
Meaning to be safe in Africa you must have money!
Grave yards have become part of the Tanzanian landscape and within that scenario the accepted outlook on life. Recently East African statistics tell us life expectancy (including that of Kenya) has dropped to 44 years for males and 46 for females while Ugandans have risen to 52 years. In an era of progress, where people communicate faster and eat better, life should also be better. In the old days our ancestors, who walked and drank sugar cane juice instead of Fanta and bottled beer lived longer. My great grand father Abraham Macha died aged 95 years old in 1935. He had 52 children. Those were the days with no speeding buses, petrol stations, chicken and chips with chemical filled tomato ketch-up.
Those were the days of our ancestors …they had certain fundamental secrets, that we need digging and exhuming.

-Abridged from the Tanzanian Guardian March, 2007.

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