Tuesday, October 27, 2009

South African movie, White Wedding: A review

I just watched the South African movie, White Wedding again. After going through Tsotsi, Yesterday, Catch a Fire, Jerusalema and District 9, it was nice to watch an Mzansi movie that didn't deal with crime, AIDS or apartheid. Not that all super South Africans are about those subjects but you get my point. Local is indeed lekker and am loving South African cinema. I've been looking forward to see White Wedding ever since my friend told me about it and I had to have a friend who was in South Africa over the summer get me a copy. I've not been disappointed. The movie is great, maybe not spectacular like I thought, but great. And as usual, I got a whole lot to say about it, which is an even greater thing. Sharp, sharp!

"Marriage is one of the things God got right". White wedding is a movie about Ayanda and Elvis' wedding, though it doesn't happen the same way as originally planned. The movie takes us through what goes wrong leading up to the wedding day, amidst laughs, worries, twists and turns. The movie is well-made, and shows different places in South Africa. It also touches on different issues which I'll discuss, and features many languages - Xhosa, English, Afrikaans, French, etc. And then you have the soundtrack, :-). I was so excited when they played 'Thatis'gbuhu'. The two friends parked their car in the middle of the road, got out and danced. Now, isn't that just awesome? I am so enamored with South African music and culture. The wedding party was singing and dancing in the streets was particularly intriguing. Woza 2010!

"You hate your wife!" "That doesn't mean that I don't love her". The movie delves into different relationships. We have Tumi the player, who never gets out of character. His cunning smiles; his whole body language spits game half of the time. Awesome. The issue of trust and truth in relationships is central to the plot, with different characters having different takes on it. No matter what it is, if two people learn to trust each other, nothing really can come between them. It wins in the end. So love is not a load of bullocks. You can love someone to the point where "You can just enjoy long silences".

"I've been planning your wedding since you were born". The times have changed the way weddings and marriages are done. These days, we have the court wedding, the church wedding, the house wedding, the engagement and wedding weekend, amongst others. The way our forefathers used to marry is not the same way our generation seems to do it. But that does it matter? In Africa, weddings are not just about two people, they are also about families. Families want to be involved in which partner gets chosen and how the wedding goes down. Sometimes, following family fanfare can lead to bad choices but those choices must resonate well with relatives because in the Africa that surrounds us, family will not go anywhere. "You're a man with a nice car, no problem, women will throw themselves at you". Maybe, maybe not.

"Darkies don't use maps. Well, darkies get lost". Black South Africans call themselves darkies? Why do I think that may be a derogatory word? It's probably not the same as nigga but that caught my attention. I guess African directions are the same everywhere. "Then you come to 3 big threes". There was even mention of some woman you'd meet on the way. Black people don't use maps and we probably never will, now that we have GPS and smart phones. Who gives a goat a name? White people :-). If you give a goat a name, you'll definitely be a vegetarian, that's why you have to stay away from such. South Africans love meat! "Why hasn't the animal been slaughtered? Take it away, we need more meat". Now that's what's up!

"This is Tumi, if you want to talk, talk". (now, that's a fantastic voicemail prompt message). Even the word Kaffir got a mention. If this movie is anything to go by, racism hasn't disappeared from the South African landscape. I like how Elvis resisted blatant racism by forcing the white guy to have a drink with him. That's what I'll do. It will take a while before we see out the inherent fears different races have for each other. The reaction of the white guys at the pub to their black visitors was appalling. Elvis singing the Boer song (Delarey, delarey) was sweet though. Then again, he was drunk and alcohol can make you do some wonders. There is a bit of ignorance too when it comes to racial issues. Is it ignorance or confidence when a white lady jumps into a black stranger's car to hitch a ride without his knowing? And yeah, white people don't have rhythm like black people do. See movie for exhibit A.

Wait, there's Greyhound in South Africa? That was a surprise. That's what you call franchising. Kai, I hope they perform better there. After the way Nigerians have been portrayed in recent South African films, I was looking out for mentions of foreigners. We had one, a Congolese guy, who wasn't a drug dealer, but a party planner and car dealer. He knew how to get the party started. Now that's a favorable portrayal, because we know the Congolese are Africa's party starters - soukous, rumba, lingala music, etc. And then the gay wedding planner? The movie had to have a gay man pleading a major role? Why? Mxm.

"Vul'indlela we mamgobhozi; Vul'indlela yekela umona". It's always great to see your loved ones get married. What an appropriate song to round off the movie! You could see how excited Ayanda's mother was for her. Side note: South African women are fine (ayayai). I recommend 'White wedding'. The movie features one of my favorite South African actors, Kenneth Nkosi, as well as Rapulana Seiphemo, Zandile Msutwana, Jodie Whitaker, Lulu Nxosi, Marcel Van Heerden, Sandy Mzolo and Sylvia Mngxekeza. Kenneth and Rapulana were two of the writers behind the movie and they did a great job. The movie features black and white South Africa in a happy ending. "It will only be a mess if we make it one, let's choose something different, like a happy ending".

Friday, October 23, 2009

Political satire by KSM (Kwaku Sintim-Misa)

I was at KSM's Nifty @ Fifty concert held in Accra in December 2006. I recorded a bunch of videos and the ones I am posting on the blog today are about politics. KSM is arguably Ghana's best stand-up comedian and if you haven't seen him perform live, you are missing out. Well, not exactly, because with friends like Youtube, we can all revel in KSM's talent and artistry. :-)

First, he prays for a funky president. Can you imagine Ghana having a leader making a speech and everyone is bumping their heads because they are enjoying the speech so much? I know I want a funky president for Ghana. No more old heads taking up these positions because they need something else to do after retiring. Let's get some youth in here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gx9JsFZpPXY


I think we had a funky president once, by the name of Jerry John Rawlings. KSM proves this by describing the scenes of a taxi driver overtaking the former president's motorcade.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHrLZOWJMGc


Next, he makes fun of former President John Agyekum Kufuor and his lax-lackadaisical ways. He's not funky at all, though Mr. Sexy Eyes has got some charm for the ladies. Remember the Gizelle Yajzi story? "JAK, you lie bad!"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bReb2Tak84


If you've lived in Ghana for awhile, you'll quickly learn almost everything is about politics. "We sleep politics, we eat politics, we drink politics"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wY2Sa9jEXVQ


As usual, I am the one laughing hysterically in the background.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ghana's Black Satellites - FIFA U-20 World Champions

Last Friday, the Black Satellites put in a finale to cap an impressive outing in the FIFA U-20 World Cup by beating mighty Brazil on penalties to emerge champions. I had watched every single Ghanaian game in the tournament, following the boys' men's progress. It was such an awesome feeling to finally win another World championship after the Black Starlets ruled the world at the U-17 level in 1991 and 1995. Congratulations to the whole squad, the technical team, and the fans who supported the Satellites with their prayers, and encouragement. This world triumph has not been without talking points and I'll seek to address some in this post. Being world champions at youth level is not the end, we have to build on this and become a world-class footballing nation at every level. The name Ghana should be on the lips of football fanatics all year round, forever.

This class has been magnificent from the get-go. Two years ago, they lit the FIFA U-17 World Cup and just fell short at the semi-final stage to Bojan Krkic's Spain. Fortunately, Nigeria's team emerged as world champions, interestingly, on penalties as well. The Flying Eagles were not able to repeat their run in this year's U-20 tourney in Egypt, bowing out disappointingly early on. The Black Satellites featured a good chunk of the Starlets' team from 2007, with the addition of some stellar youngsters. Consistency is key. Michael Essien and his Satellites mates made the final of the U-20 tourney in 2001 and now mostly make up the Black Stars. There is talk of drafting some of the present Satellites stars into the senior national team and eventually, they should make up the core of Ghana's shining golden stars.

I have a lot of admiration for Andre Ayew. He's had the pressure of being Abedi Pele's son on his shoulders, and was a magnificent captain for the Black Satellites. I believe he's gonna be world class as well if he keeps on working hard. He disappointed Ghanaians with his senior performances, especially at the African Cup of Nations last year held in Ghana, but we have a renewed faith in him. Samuel Inkoom has been capped by Ghana and he really helped his case with a fine tournament. David Nii Addy was also stellar and as a natural left-back, he has the chance to lock up that position in the Black Stars for years to come. Emmanuel Agyemang Badu had also gotten the chance to play for the national team and he's a gem too. He's a great defensive midfielder and eventually, would be in the reckoning for Ghana's midfield. Opoku Agyemang has played for the Black Stars but he was the one disappointment in the Egpyt tourney and has to show some more to challenge for a Black Stars' spot.

Dominic Adiyiah was the revelation of the competition, winning both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot. We've been here before, with Ishmael Addo, Owusu 'Bayie' Afriyie, and the countless Black Starlets strikers who lit the youth tourneys and didn't become world class. We have to do what we can to make sure Adiyiah and Ransford Osei (who I rate very highly) make the right decisions and improve so we can have some new Tony Yeboahs. They will get chances to play with the Black Stars. Ishmael Yartey and Saadik Adams were absent at this tournament but are very good as well. Together with Abeiku Quansah, Kelvin Bossman, the future attacking line looks bright,etc.

Daniel Agyei was the hero of the final, keeping us in the game and saving twice in the penalty shoot-out. He'll get a chance with the national team too and I believe he will be great. The centre-half duo, Daniel Addo and Jonathan Mensah are stalwarts too. Jonathan is already being dubbed the 'Junior Rock of Gibraltar' and I personally think he's ready to start for Ghana. Daniel Addo was the unlucky victim of a terrible refereeing decision in the final, with his red card making Ghana play a man down from the 37th minute till the end of extra-time. You have to admire the Satellites' resilience as they didn't get broken. A Brazilian friend complained Ghana played defence all game, but you don't have much of a choice when you are a man down and we still created some chances.

Sellas Tetteh did a great job coaching, though he was suspect at times. A Ghanaian coach has brought Ghana yet another honor and the case for a local coach for the Black Stars will only get stronger. I will argue Sellas had a great bunch of lads and he shouldn't get all the credit. Our Ghanaian coaches are not as technically gifted as some of their European counterparts and they need to get better there. We have to stop the favouritism in player selection, do more scouting of opponents and learn to use the squads better. I am all for a local coach but I am more a proponent of excellent coaching and team management. Sellas should be drafted onto the Black Stars bench to help Milovan Rajevac. We should nestle more Milo bicycle kicks in conjunction with some Borbor dances. It's a great recipe for success.

Many people have argued that the U-20 tourney has lost some of its glory. Surely, as many European teams don't really feature their star youngsters. England, Italy, Germany, Spain and even Brazil had some youth world-class players unavailable because they were warming benches for world-class teams. That shouldn't take the shine of the tournament, because those excuses cannot be made once the tournament starts rolling. Many Ghanaians would also argue and joke many of the Satellites players are 'older than 20'. This notion has bedevilled FIFA youth tourneys since time immemorial. I must admit Ghana has been doing a better job with controlling age-cheating with more stringent measures taken and the use of the Academicals system. The age-cheaters have seen their age catch up to them later in their careers, as their careers are cut short or the trajectory is unlike what its promise was. This problem starts at the colts level and with better Ghanaian institutions, we can get rid of this problem.

Ghana's triumph has been attributed in many circles to a Nigerian pastor called T.B. Joshua. Prophet Joshua apparently told Sellas 'what to do' and backed the Satellites with prayers, like Ghana's many fans around the world. We thank God for His favour but Prophet Joshua shouldn't be owning all adulation for a valiant effort by the Satellites team. We have to put ourselves in positions to succeed and as the saying goes, God helps those who help themselves. The attitude of waiting for God to do it isn't the way forward, we have to work hard also. This is the precedent we have to set. I am sure President Atta Mills understands this and would be able to use the example of the Black Satellites to spur on Ghanaians everywhere.

I also want to shout-out Egypt for organizing a successful tournament and especially getting behind the Ghanaian team after they were eliminated. Africa, this triumph is for you. This was the first African championship squad at the World Junior championships. This is a really good omen as the African game improves. The World Cup in South Africa is less than a year away and we have to believe an African team can win it. Ghana, remember the name. It was the most-searched item on the internet during the 2006 World Cup, still holding such a record and Ghana was a trending topic after the world-beating job was done in Egypt. We're not done. Go, Ghana, go. God bless our homeland Ghana ei, nkunimdie yɛ yɛn deɛ a!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Leti Games unveils iWarrior (iPhone App) & Kijiji (J2Me)

Earlier this year, I blogged about my friend, Eyram Tawia's work on Leti Games. Together with Wesley Kirinya, from Kenya, they've launched a couple of games produced in Africa. The major one is iWarrior which is receiving a lot of buzz and is an iPhone app (game). So if you have an iPhone, pick up the app today from the Apple appstore and support African-made. I haven't been able to play the game yet but from what I hear, it's a lot of fun. What else do you want in a game? And it's an African-made too :-)

I've already blogged about Eyram Tawia and his work on Leti Games. I am excited for both these guys. We had tried working on a computer game for the African Cup of Nations in Ghana in 2008. Through my working experience with them, I knew they would go on to do bigger and better things and are quite capable of competing worldwide. Eyram had already proven his mettle by winning GhanaThink's Programming Contest while a final-year student at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).

233Tech.com, primed to be Ghana's tech hub, also had an article about iWarrior. 233Tech.com's Nana Kwabena Owusu asked Eyram a couple of questions about it too. (Kwabena, Eyram and myself all grew up in the same neighbourhood). Gameli announced the entrance of Leti Games into the global games market in his blog post about Leti Games' iWarrior. The WhiteAfrican also shared some thoughts on his website. Read a full review of iWarrior from the AppStore.

What's special about iWarrior? Other than the cool name, the game is set in Africa. How many games can you say the same about? Your mission is to protect your village, farm, inhabitants, etc from marauding animals. Fun. It's a wholly African-made production with African art and sounds. Leti means star or moon in Ewe, a Ghanaian language, and Eyram and Wesley are quite Africa-conscious in their work.

Download the game from iTunes

KIJIJI is a port of iWarrior for most j2me midp2.0 devices. It is code named the BIG FIVE. These big five beasts of the safari include the Rhino, Leopard, Buffalo, Lion and Elephant. The game is made up of five stages in which the bushman protects his village from these beasts. Kijiji means village/town in Kiswahili. Learn more about Kijiji from the Leti Games' website.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Africa they never show you - African cities

I've seen a couple of friends post this video on Facebook and I finally decided to watch it this week. I was impressed. I knew some African cities had some nice 'buildings' and all but this video was a little eye-opening. This is because it didn't show just Johannesburg, Nairobi and Abuja. It's the Africa they never show you in the media. It's the Africa Africans themselves never really see on their televisions as well. It's the Africa we don't talk enough about. It's not the real Africa, but it's a part of Africa.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13MFN0PqP3E



When I first came to the USA in 2001, the big things were the big things that impressed me. The big buildings, large roads, highways, interchanges, etc. There are many differences between the US and Ghana, but I must say the skyscrapers and infrastructure takes the cake. I had thought of doing some form of engineering for undergrad, but the awe of the infrastructure wowed me and I settled on the first type of engineering known to mankind - building. When I was in Ghana for the first time after being in the US, the first things that struck me were dust, dirt and 'development'. You probably won't see too much of that in this video above. We can strive for more of that.

Obviously, we'll want more of the video's images for our Africa, but we have to be careful. With more industrialization comes more pollution. We have to check for matching rising costs of living with adequate standards of living. We have to plan for the attendant traffic. We can't leave the infrastructure development in private hands when public policy doesn't put in place measures to make it sustainable and effective. The most fun class I am taking now is one about infrastructure. This stuff is exciting. We may be a 'developing' continent, but we must know that the so-called developed places have not stopped and will not stop developing. Our shoulders shouldn't drop though, because the video shows we are capable too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency: Issues, reviews and Botswana

Dumela Mma! Rra! Kea leboha! If something's nice, you do it twice. Completed the first season of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. It's highly recommended. Alexander McCall Smith is a great writer, maybe I should break my novel reading duck and get hooked onto his stuff. For real though, I'll rather find out the story on the big screen. Here's hoping for more of Africa's stories to be told through film or television. This story is set in Botswana. For people like me, who've never been to Botswana but heard about the nation, this was a chance to continue learning. At the start of every episode, we saw a map of Africa and then exactly the location of Botswana. And then we've have to sit through 55 minutes plus of life in Botswana. Or not. Or just whatever stories the writer/producer wanted to tell. Or maybe what I have to say today :-)

I already talked about the TV series on HBO, BBC, and DSTV in this blog entry. You can find out more info on HBO's website. We complain about the images of Africa shown in Western Media. No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency falls into the category of images we should want to see and broadcast. Sure, it's just Botswana, which only is a small African country with no record of civil war or military rule. Yes, it's possible in Africa. They speak Setswana, just like in South Africa. They listen to Kwaito as well. Why they are not part of South Africa is something for the history majors to tell us.

I had been wondering where most of the actors were from. I had believed most of them were Motswana but once I saw my favorite South African actor, Kenneth Nkosi, in one of the episodes, I began to doubt. Sure enough, most of the cast were South Africans. I began to recognise some of them from South African movies and series. I began to research the cast's background and gave up finding out who was Motswana. There are some excellent actors in Botswana, nnyaa? Ee. A friend of mine is not impressed with the fake African accents. I understand Jill Scott and other American actors getting parts, it' an American (foreign) production anyway. They didn't exactly do the wrong thing. For a second, I thought the scenes were set in South Africa too, but no, the production company has constructed Kgalewood to bring us the life of Kgale Hill on this series. Investment always pays. They did a great job.

Great drama always comes with great dialogue. I caught myself beginning to note some quotes here and there. "I am as single as Jesus Christ". "I will not be judging books by covers, I will read every chapter". "I know how men react to low marks and high hem lines". "I am despite superficial appearances, working extremely hard". LOL. I was a little disappointed with the lack of subtitles, but they spoke enough English to render the Setswana and other native lingua soundbites not confusing for the viewer. I learnt some more Setswana anyway and will probably never forget the little I had been taught by my Motswana friends before.

I think Jill Scott (Mma Ramotswe) did a good job but like many others, I loved Mma Makutsi's character played by Anika Noni Rose. Lucian Msamati (Ra Matekoni) did well too. I questioned the character of BK in my previous entry, but as I watched more episodes, I liked his presence too. We saw several characters - the gangster (played by female favorite Idris Elba), the womanizer who had a million pick-up lines (now that's someone interesting lol), the corrupt policemen, etc. We were even introduced to charismatic apostolic Africans. That was a scene. I didn't know what to think about the various animals shown - the 'intelligent' monkeys, the missing dog, the giraffes, the uninvited chickens, etc. I'd have loved to see a chicken being slaughtered though. If Americans can watch donkeys and chickens in close proximity to Africans in Africa, they can witness how we prepare dinner too. Yebo! Ee.

It's interesting how the American guy who was the subject of one of the mysteries had attended Stanford. Whoop whoop! Stanford people doing it big! Going around the world doing great charity work and wooing the ladies. Now that's what's up! Xenophobia wasn't shown only in our Nigerian dentist's case, a Zimbabwean doctor who was the natural person to blame when there were 'supernatural' deaths at the hospital. It's sad how Africans treat other Africans who are immigrants in their country sometimes. I hope we can get past these xenophobic tendencies and welcome more co-operation, trade and community. We practice this when we find ourselves in foreign lands with little numbers as minorities. We can do the same back home. I thought it was interesting how the Indian salesman had a huge house compared to the other characters in the movie. Are there not that many white people in Botswana? Don't remember seeing any white characters in the series.

Okay, so, I vividly recollect someone using a GPS in Gaborone, but do I remember someone using a cell phone? No. What was up with that? Isn't this set in pretty much present day Botswana? That did not make sense to me. So did the typewriter. "Is this the 21st century or did I sleep without realising into a time warp?" "At secretarial college in history class, we were told of a former time before computers, when typing was done on machines and our country was called Batswanaland and dinosaurs roamed the earth!" We didn't see much of the 'developed' parts of Botswana but the little I saw was good. For the most part, Botswana wasn't too different from Ghana. Life on the university campus seemed the same, and had its own 'bad' lecturers. People gave pulas (money) freely when they had favors done for them. Contrary to what you may hear, Africa rewards good deeds.

I love the way Mma Ramotswe solved cases and what came out of them. The African heart is forgiving. I like that. The point of the investigation was not exactly to imprison the perpetrators but to reconcile and make the parties involved 'happy'. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency DVD cover mentions "Never underestimate a woman's intuition. We learn women can tell and see things men gloss over and don't see. It may very well be true. Hey, when Mma Ramotswe finds competition in her line of work, it's a man, who in the end, never really proves to be better. It's really about how we go about unravelling the mysteries that surround us and solving the problems that burden us. A little more talking, listening, investigating will go a long way to breaking down our social vices and menaces and as a result correct the wrongs that are being done. We don't always have a take a hard line like the series shows. It's the African heart at work. Anyway, I have to go return the DVD. Oyee Botswana!

Monday, October 12, 2009

No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency: selling Africa through feel-good television

I have only watched a couple episodes of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency but I am so excited I had to write about it already. This series is adapted for television from a bestselling novel. It features Jill Scott as the major actor and is set in Botswana. It's not exactly produced by Motswana or Africans but it is pretty 'African'. I have only seen two episodes but it didn't mention one thing synonymous with Botswana - HIV-AIDS. We also know Botswana has one of the best performing African economies and is one African country with no record of military rule. The series doesn't broadcast these, but celebrates Africa. You have to watch to understand. I had heard about this series before but while I was populating a list of African-themed films I wanted the Stanford libraries to have, someone suggested this addition.

From Wikipedia, we learn about the novels. "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is a series of ten novels by British author Alexander McCall Smith. The agency is located in Gaborone, capital of Botswana. It's founder is a Motswana woman, Mma Precious Ramotswe, who features as the stories' protagonist and main detective. The episodic novels are as much about the adventures and foibles of different characters as they are about solving mysteries. Each book in the series follows on from the previous book. They have been adapted for radio and television."

The first episode, Pilot, is a film by Anthony Minghella, and presumably longer than all the other episodes. Minghella looked like a Tswana name when I saw it, but dude's from Britain. Yeah, there's a huge British influence on this series. I didn't know Botswana drove on the left like the Brits (and South Africans) do until I watched this. Alexander McCall Smith is a white Zimbabwean-born professor based in Scotland. Too bad he probably would not be contributing to a similar spectacular production out of Zimbabwe thanks to Uncle Bob. This episode was great, witty conversation, a nice soundtrack, great picture and video quality (something you'll expect from a BBC-HBO production) and some good acting.

Here's a promo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vdee9507YVM


Like their neighbours in South Africa, Botswana must be a nation that loves to sing. Jill Scott was clicking away leading the chorus in the first episode. We know Jill Scott is a professional singer, but it's another thing to be battling with x's, q's and clicks in Southern African languages. That was a beautiful scene. We heard some Kwaito too, though I am not too well-versed in Kwaito to tell if it was from South Africa or Botswana. I hope it was from the latter.

Most of the series is set in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. I expected to see some skyscrapers, great infrastructure and flashy cars. Don't quiz me, haven't you heard about Botswana? I like how Mma Ramotswe decided to settle on an office in a place that wasn't downtown Gaborone or a place that looked really nice. She probably wanted to work near the people whose problems she'd end up solving hanged out. And it worked. Some have complained about having AMerican actors, etc. We must understand this series has the backing of an American company so we can't fault that. The cast includes Anika Noni Rose and the ladies' favorite, Idris Elba. I love how it features many Southern African actors too. Didn't take the time to find out if they were all from Botswana, or South Africa, or not. Botswana and Africa is winning here.

One interesting thing about this series is the BK character, the male hairdresser. Now, I don't know how much homophobia there is in Botswana but was there a need for this character? I couldn't help thinking, "oh, let's do some groundbreaking theater, let's put in a 'gay' acts like a woman-man character in this series". It's happening all over, in many productions these days. It's almost like, you can't validate a new movie or television series these days until you have a gay character in there. Is this necessary? Is this idea being driven by diversity or the gay producers/directors/actors out there? I don't think the way to get people to understand/appreciate/not kill/not chastise gay people is putting them on the big screen. Maybe it's just me thinking this way.

In the second episode, we get introduced to our first foreigner/immigrant in Botswana. Take a good educated guess. Of course, he's Nigerian. Only this time, he's a dentist. That was pretty exciting, considering the Nigerians we saw in South African movies were portrayed very badly. Maybe Nigerians in Botswana are a little different? Maybe, the American influences on the drama caused the Nigerian to be something other than a societal menace? Not so fast though, our Nigerian dentist was a player in one investigative case. So even those seen to be doing good deeds could not be exempt from crime. But this whole scenario begs the question, if there is a foreigner who is a bad nut in some African drama, does he/she have to be Nigerian? Why is it so easy to pick on Nigerians? Can't we stop this already? Anyway, turns out this Nigerian dentist is a bad man. Won't tell his crime, that's something you'll have to find out. In the context of the episode, it made for good television but in the big picture, I am disappointed another screen production had to demonise Naija. Let's stop this already.

I still have a few episodes to watch. I am loving this series very much and think it's a must-watch for people everywhere, especially Africans. We can't miss the little things. I'll speak the truth. For many Africans and lovers of Africa, we love African films that bring back nice memories. That is how movies of bad quality and bad acting can do well anyway. Seeing kids play soccer with bare feet and wooden goal posts, dirt roads, singing at funerals of people who lived full lives (108 years), seeing car mechanics dance to Kwaito instead of working, seeing that people appreciated full-bodied thick women, the smile of an African queen, can sell. It's these little things that make us smile and appreciate what we are watching. It's really not that difficult to sell Africa. Go find this series and watch it. Oyee Botswana!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Leading into leadership – the MIT years

I've been meaning to write this entry for about a month. After the facebook campaign for presidency got its 233rd member, I decided it was time. If you didn't know, 233 is Ghana's country code (phone). It's of major significance to me. I've been honoured to see people speak highly of my leadership skills, etc and it's been making me wonder if I am up for such things. This is the 4th in my leading to leadership series, if you missed earlier entries, here they are: Tech/KNUST Primary & JSS (pre-high school), Presec (high school), and Syracuse (pre-college). In this entry, I will talk about the MIghTy years. A dream to attend the best engineering school had come alive. A prayer to be in a world-class institution had been answered. How did I deal with leading? Let's find out.

Before we get into the stories surrounding 77 Massachusetts Avenue, we must understand how we got there. One joyous day in March 2002, I received a phone call. It was from MIT. I had been admitted. I told the dude on the other line to hold on, left the phone, jumped and shouted for 10 seconds to the bewilderment of my father and his visitor as I celebrated maybe the best thing that could have happened to me yet. Such memories serve as personal encouragement in times when I am struggling. That's why I decided to tell y'all anyway. I knew of Arthur Musah at MIT, and surely I was going to get to know the other Ghanaian students there as well. I attended Campus Preview Weekend where I made some friends with whom I am in touch till today. I quickly discovered I would want to stay in a dorm with no dining halls but with kitchens, since the 'chiselled' miser in me was not gonna spend plenty to buy food and would rather eat the rice and stew he'd been fed all his life. I also discovered my friends would be those who most identified with me culturally - Ghanaians Africans.

As a freshman in college, you have more chances to lead than being a 'nino'/1st year student in a Ghanaian secondary school. You could start your own organization sef. Not exactly the 'Jollof lovers' group types on Facebook, but something like 'Bridging the Digital Divide by sending unwanted MIT lab computers to primary schools in Ghana'. I was in a liberal school, but I don't do PC. I do Linux. Yes, our clusters had computers with Linux installed, not Windows, Doors DOS or Macs. Geeky eh? I would have none of that. So, I had to learn the ropes, joined a couple of organizations; the campus newspaper - Tech, EASE, AITI, the African Students Association, NSBE, and a campus ministry. I didn't survive two weeks at the newspaper (I give up sometimes). Sure, I had wanted to continue my Presec editorial board exploits but the work I had to do to write one story made me think twice. I give up sometimes. Maybe leaders do. Maybe not.

For one reason or the other, my 'shyness' shed itself when I was in Boston and I became a 'social animal'. I wanted to go to every African-themed event. Far or wide. Party or presentation. Ghanaian or 'can't you see you are the only Ghanaian over here, what brought you here' event. I can't even tell you why I was doing this. Maybe making up for lost time perhaps. Quickly, I was the one who knew plenty people and the default assemblyman. :-) Hence, the favorite position for me to take was Recruiting co-ordinator. Go use your charm, friendship links, influence, juju, tallness, %#!@%$%# to get us some members. Some of these may be elements of leadership actually. But then again, it's a position someone other than the leader holds. I can't confirm I performed my duties excellently but it became my default position in EASE and I never really took any steps up. I tried to start sister EASE organizations in other US colleges. Yes, there's still only one, that dream whispered and got shut up eventually. I tried but couldn't use my networks to do jack. At least not as much as I jacked up the aspirations to be.

I had also joined AITI, which ended up giving me one of the best times of my life - sending me with a group of MIT students to Ghana to teach university students JAVA programming and entrepreneurship. I ended up spending the whole 2004 summer in Ghana, on AITI business, planting seeds for what is today Museke.com, working on GhanaThink (more on this in another entry), amongst other things. Being the only Ghanaian in the group, I was handed some leadership responsibility - logistics. I did good, related well to our students and forged a bond that still exists between our MIT group and our students. Teaching was so empowering, made me feel I was contributing to my country. That period also made me very confident in the ability of Ghanaian youth and students, part of which drives me till today. It was during a time, many Ghanaians were not too giddy about Ghana's future, but experiencing the ingenuity and talent of the Ghanaian youth I communed with for weeks gave a great outlook. It made me believe we can do it, long before Barack Obama delivered 'tough love' to Africans in Ghana earlier this July. After that Ghana trip, I hanged around AITI for a while, but never took up any serious positions. Is that what Obama would have done? Of course, I supported it in many ways, especially the one-way I know best - recruiting and marketing. Dawuro bɔ. You have an awesome project with an African slice? Count on the MIghTy African. Promoting African excellence everywhere.

The African Students Association was the ish though if you asked me. Our semi-formal was grand and the party that followed was unmatched in terms of African spirit. Right from the get-go, I was getting involved, acting, performing poems, helping out, etc. There were times, we'd have the semi-formal and I'd be the sole performer from our group. Of course, that's not leadership, it's called hogging the spotlight. Just kidding, it's called wanting to share talents. Mxm. The president of the association was normally a junior. When I was a junior, I was nominated to run for the highest office in the land ASA but I backed out. By this time, I had decided, I was at my best following and not leading. In fact, I never had a single position in the ASA in my 4 years. The one-time I run for anything, it was for sports chair and I lost. Pɔtɔɔɔ. You think I didn't advise myself? I chickened out but to be truthful, I just didn't think I was cut for such. I enjoyed being a common floor member who contributed wherever and whenever he could and put his all into fulfilling the goals of the organization. And that I did.

I was a common-floor member on the religious scene in Presec but at 'don't mention God' MIT, I was the spirito/pastor/chrife/ person. And here, I was, a million times less religious than I was in Presec, but in MIT, I was at the forefront of a campus ministry. When I somehow became president because I was a senior, I was the face. Victory Campus Ministries. Impact. Tall task. I could recruit some new members, but not much. I just don't remember doing a great job in that position. That's the way the cookie crumbled. Being in VCM was great because the church I attended was very diverse and youthful. I met a good number of my good non-African friends through this ministry. God is good. When it comes to matters of Christ, differences are submerged in our diversity. I know this, because the same things didn't work too well for me in my classes when I had to join teams to do projects. I was almost never a group leader and just didn't seem to be a great member otherwise. Maybe they didn't know how to use me or understand me, but would we blame them? No. I plead the Akonth (fifth) here.


So as we can see, I didn't improve my leadership skills in four defining years of my life. Sure, there are things we can point to; the community service through EASE & AITI, the impression I made on the people I met, the initiative I took to do various things, the announcing of excellence that defined me, the I-love-all-things-Ghana stand I took, the lets-support-Africa-to-be-better campaign I waged, amongst others. Someone will call these elements of leadership which offers some juice to the subject. These memoirs are for me to judge and for you to learn. It may look like I'm putting my business out there, but I believe it serves as a case-study for us all. I was focused on a bunch of non-MIT initiatives while I was there so I couldn't have taken too much responsibility on campus. You don't want to know what all these initiatives are, but I could have leveraged MIT resources for them. I didn't do much there. I didn't form any groups either though I had a few ideas. Didn't send any computers to a village school in Ghana either. Tscheeew. Disappearing into some hole somewhere.

But on our turns backward, we must face forward with even greater focus. The tree branches into various ideas, we can hop onto another one if one is getting cut. I talked about the facebook presidency campaign eh? That's a whole other blog entry. Subconsciously, my MIT experience shaped my capability to lead and offered lessons and decision-making. I did improve my time management skills, maybe not my priorities though I found out what was important to me - doing the little things to support my cultural home, and great multi-tasking. There were the decisions I didn't make, and those that I made to not be the decision-maker. I managed to not lead into leadership as much as I could, but still got the odd leadership thrust and blessing. Do we understand leadership like we should? Or is it just me? We'll see in the next entry.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ghanaian films - A Sting in a tale, I sing of a well, Heart of men

My current favorite movie house, Sparrow Productions, is back with another movie called 'A Sting in a Tale'. A few other new Ghanaian movies are making the rounds. Haven't seen any of these films but wanted to keep y'all posted. We still haven't settled on a name for the Ghanaian film industry, don't give me any Gollywood (already taken by Johannesburg anyway), or Ghallywood, etc.

A Sting in a Tale is Shirley Frimpong-Manso's fourth film after Life & Living It, Scorned & the Perfect Picture. I have been crying for her to feature Agya Koo in a movie but this time she chose Majid Michel. Most Ghanaian movie enthusiasts would tell you Majid's a better actor than the big celebrities like Van Vicker, Nadia Buari and Jackie Appiah. I agree. We'll see how he does in this production. The movie also features probably the best female actor in Ghana now - Lydia Forson, arguably Ghana's best in Adjetey Annan (Pusher), as well as Doris Sackitey, who we haven't seen on the big screen in a while. There are a few new faces, which is always good for the 'industry'. The Grand Premiere is on Friday, Nov 6 @ The Conference Center, Accra, Ghana. Watch the Trailer below
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q05AolXrAJw


Synopsis - A twisted tale of two unemployed graduates who embark on a journey to make it in a world where you need more than what you have to get what you want. Kuuku is overwhelmed with the urgency to succeed and frantically searches for a reward to his several years of school. Frustrated and constantly reminded of his failure by the presence of his girlfriend, (Frema) ; Kuuku will do anything to make the odds work in his favor. Nii Aryee, Kuukus abstemious looking friend is more positive about the future until the rejection letters begin to mount and his landlord comes to town. Driven by the fear of poverty, these two friends go in search of a destiny that takes them to the most obscure places. In a tale where the unexpected is always lurking in the shadows, from the natural to the supernatural, among all ploys, grief and struggles, nothing prepares you for the sting, in a rather bizarre ending.

Majid Michel recently stated that his best movie ever was "Heart of men". This movie has become a real talking point because of its trailer. The trailer is said to be advertising a soft porn Ghanaian movie. Yeah, I just went there. It features Majid, Jackie Appiah, Nadia Buari, Yvonne Nelson, John Dumelo - serious star power. I am not expecting much from the movie, though we've been advised not to judge the movie based on the trailer. And if what Majid said is anything to go by, it probably is a must-watch movie. This movie is from Heroes Productions.
Trailer below
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBh6b_Olb6Q


Last but not the least, is my friend Leila Djansi's work, I sing of a Well. Now this movie looks quite promising and is a little different from what we've seen lately. It's about slavery though, a touchy topic. The movie welcomes back Akofa Edjeani Asiedu, who doubles as the producer. The cast includes JOT Agyeman, Godwin Kotey, Mary Yirenkyi, Kofi Middleton Mends and Luckie Lawson as Oleka. The movie is tipped to be Ghana's best ever and was shot on a $100,000 budget. It's on IMDB. Watch the trailer here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67eVQijlbx4


That's all folks. More on African movies coming soon. Watching a few that I would blog about later

Thursday, October 8, 2009

William Kamkwamba (The Boy who harnessed the wind) on the Daily Show

This is a quickie. William Kamkwamba is a Malawian who at age 14, built a windmill to provide power/electricity for his household in his Malawian village. Since then, he's built a couple more and gained a lot of publicity for his courage and ingenuity. He was on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart yesterday and I wanted to post the video of that segment. This is one of Africa's shining stars and it's nice to see him go places.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
William Kamkwamba
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview


He's also spoken at a couple of TED conferences. At TEDGlobal 2007 in Arusha, he told his story. A couple of my friends who attended the conference in Tanzania met him too. I was actually put in touch with him so he could help provide and get Malawian content for Museke.com. The move never materialized though. Here are a couple of his TED talks.

He's now at the African Leadership Academy (ALA) in Johannesburg. The ALA was founded by Fred Swaniker, who I finally met last weekend at TANCON USA 2009, held right here at Stanford. Fred Swaniker is an inspiration and his work on ALA must receive more press. He's a Ghanaian as well and a Stanford MBA graduate. ALA seeks to educate the next generation of leaders for Africa and they have students from all over the continent. Two of my friends are teaching fellows there as well. Back to William, he's in his final year at ALA (two year program) and is writing his SATs, hoping to get into an American university. The library through which he learnt to build the windmill, was funded by the US government.

Here are the TEDtalks
http://www.ted.com/talks/william_kamkwamba_on_building_a_windmill.html


http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/william_kamkwamba_how_i_harnessed_the_wind.html


He's also co-written a book - The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind - which is also doing well. Like Jon Stewart said, if all goes according to plan, he'll be part of the first result for a Google Search about windmills soon. Go William, go!

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