Wednesday, November 30, 2011
They have been branded the bad boys of the cyber world for their cunning talent to unlock the skeleton in the closet. But call them what you may, bloggers have drastically altered the traffic in the information highway.
From the WikiLeaks cables that shook the diplomatic world to its core to the Muliro Gardens sex scandal photos that left many Kenyans speechless, the so-called internet blue-eyed boys have pulled down the pants off the secrets of many.
“With the advent of the internet and its accessibility I think more Kenyans are finding alternative forums in which they can express themselves,” observes Jackson Biko, a renowned columnist and an ardent blogger. “This not only goes to provide a much needed avenue for such creative processes it goes into providing alternative source of information and platforms for interactive discussions”.
But in their quest to speak their minds or disseminate information bloggers have attracted wrath and praise in equal measure. While being applauded for being the silver lining under the clouds of conservative journalism by unearthing scandals and creating uncensored interaction platform, they have also been accused of fueling conflicts and bringing down social and political systems through unregulated content and promoting “shoddy” journalism.
However, overall bloggers have earned a reputation for being the daredevils ready to deep their hands on issues from which the mainstream media shies away from.
The now popular WikiLeaks, a site hosted by millions of bloggers around the world, caused a diplomatic pandemonium in recent times when they released thousands of classified cable messages allegedly sent to Washington by American diplomats from all over the world.
Earlier on, the same site had released “Collateral Murder”, a video from the US military showing soldiers allegedly killing civilians in Baghdad.
In Kenya, bloggers were the first to release the US drug dossier, publishing the harmonized draft constitution two days before the mainstream and accurately predicting the names of the Ocampo Six days before they were officially unveiled at The Hague.
Izvipi.com, a popular entertainment blog, was the first to release videos of erotic dancing at the Swaggerrific Concert at the KICC and the nude photos of a local diva. Other examples of instances where the blogs have stepped in the gap when the mainstream has been hesitant includes the Muliro Gardens sex scandal photos released by walalahoi.com and a video allegedly showing Prime Minister Raila Odinga being barred by Ethiopian officials from addressing the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa early this year.
Blogging culture gained inroads in Kenya around five years ago but reached a fever pitch during the 2008 post electoral violence. Led by an army of mostly Diaspora-based commentators, the blogosphere was literary on fire at the height of the post electoral chaos as hundreds of bloggers spewed chains of highly opinionated articles. This vicious content in turn triggered thousands of venomous comments from partisan readers.
While regional leaders burnt the night oil trying to work out a peace-fostering power sharing formula a fierce battle of the blogs raged on.
The BBC Monitoring, a body that monitors and reports on mass media worldwide, noted that “some bloggers and online forums try to regulate their content, but others appear to have shunned moderation” in their quest for justice.
However, many bloggers strongly deny the claims that they incited people or played any role during the mayhem, pointing out that they just provided a platform on which Kenyans could debate and discuss the issues that were affecting the country at that time.
“Whereas a few blogs got it wrong on the extremity of insults, a majority of blogs actually helped stop the violence,” explains Dennis Itumbi, a journalist and a regular blogger through the social network Facebook. “You will remember abunuwasi.com (since gone offline) did a sentence of hope appeal where hundreds of Kenyans set text messages about what was happening which was then transmitted to police headquarters and international bodies real time”.
Mr. Itumbi also identifies another blog, Ushahidi.com, that he claims used Google Maps, a satellite linked online mapping software, to identify violence hotspots and places where victims were in urgent need. Many blogs adopted the software afterwards.
“All reports done to probe the chaos like the Kriegler, Waki and the Kenya National Human Rights indicted a few radio stations in the mainstream media,” the popular blogger points out. “None identify any blog as having fuelled the election dispute or the violence”.
He also says that while the last general elections was a “live television” election where every station dedicated all its airtime to monitoring the proceedings, next year’s polls in Kenya will be the bloggers’ election. The precursor to this was the 2010 referendum where blogs trail blazed the way in announcing the provincial elections.
“Bloggers under Kenya United announced the results long before IIEC,” Itumbi recalls. “This was because whereas the mainstream had a reporter in every district, bloggers had a blogger in every polling station”.
However, showdown between bloggers and authorities is not a phenomenon unique to Kenya alone. While the Egyptian newspapers, radio and television stations remained partisan or cowed by the dictatorial regime young bloggers risked life and limb to take the bull by the horns.
By creating a network of information exchange through the blogs and social media, Egyptian and Tunisian youth traded tips on how to organize demonstrations and outwit anti-riot police. Ardent bloggers Ahmed Maher, Asmaa Mahfouz and Israa Abdel Fattah together founded the April 6 Youth Movement, the Facebook group that spearheaded the mass protests that brought down Hosni Mubarak.
Other prominent Egyptian bloggers that have had a brush with the law are Kareem Amer, who was charged with insulting Islam and Mubarak and jailed for three years, and Abdel Monem Mahmoud.
But despite the purported state of competition between the blogs and mainstream media channels the two information mediums compliment each other in many ways. For this reason media houses and individual journalists have opened blogs where they follow up on their lead stories or express their personal views on various issues.
“I stumbled on by mistake, I was looking for a place to release my creative energy and it sort of got a life of its own,” explains Jackson Biko, a renowned columnist and a consistent blogger. “Both mainstream and blogs serve different purposes hence this perceived “war” between bloggers and mainstream is a useless storm in a teacup”.
While grateful for having a column in a leading daily that gives him a platform to advance his professional argument Biko says its his blog bikozulu.wordpress.com that he finds a platform to indulge and vent his “creative longings” unhindered.
There are millions of personal blogs established by individuals as online daily diaries or to discuss a topic they feel passionate about like art, science and religion. Although very few of these blogs, unless the author is a well known character, ever gain much popularity they provide an ideal platform for venting and interaction.
“The trick is getting a subject matter you are at home with or very passionate about,” Sitawa Wafula, a performing poet and a consistent blogger, tips on how to attract traffic in the fiercely competitive blogging world. “Know what others are saying about it, know what it should be and be your own person. Striking a code in all those three combined with consistency and resourcefulness is what makes you a master blogger”.
She also says that one should also seek to connect their blogs to networks dealing with the similar issue by engaging in debates on other platforms.
To many content developers the beauty of the blogs lies in the fact that there are no gatekeepers or policies to adhere to and they provide a platform on which to display their work to a global audience at no cost.
“Advantage over traditional media is you are about to dictate how you present your word,” Sitawa explains. “You have a wider audience depending on how you position yourself and it is easy to share your work through social media and RSS feeds”.
Itumbi concurs with this view and adds that a blog gives the blogger the opportunity to virtually own different forms of media on a single platform. One can literary “own” a TV station, a newspaper and a radio station by consistently posting video, audio and text on their blogs.
“Unlike in the mainstream where a journalist plays an outsiders role by objectively telling the story, blogging enables the writer to fuse opinion and fact as part of the story”.
Apart from being a way of connecting with like-minded people around the world and giving readers real time information, blogging is a new form of self-employment since bloggers can earn money from adverts linked to their blogs or being invited to give professional services. It’s also an important source for mainstream journalists since bloggers are usually at the source of many events.
“We have an average of 20 opinion pieces per week and a total of 28 newspapers across the board every week,” Itumbi says. “In Kenya alone, 240 blogs are created and close to 1.2 million tweets generated everyday”.
The popularity of blogs in Kenya today is attested by the fact that all major media houses have established blog review columns. Business organizations have also embraced this concept to market their goods and services to the millions of people that navigate through the virtual world on a daily basis
“With the advent of the internet and its accessibility I think more and more Kenyans are finding alternative forums in which they can express themselves,” Biko concludes. “This not only goes to provide a much needed avenue for such creative processes it goes into providing alternative source of information and platforms for interactive discussions”.
Prominent leaders have also been sucked into this virtual vortex with a majority of them either having a blog or an account in popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Martha Karua and Rwandan President Paul Kagame are some of the most active politicians online around East Africa.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Kola Boof might not be as comely, adored or glorified as the young Nigerian literary sensation Chimamanda Adichie but the highly controversial Sudanese writer, poet and activist is a rebel with a course.
Or to use the words of one critic “the new black woman writer that many love to hate”.
Editors, critics, naysayers and admirers have used many adjectives in a bid to crack the Kola Boof enigma but none seem to get it right. Trying to explain her explosive personality within the confines of written words is like attempting to grasp the universe in a fist. From her controversial writings, political and religious views and carefree lifestyle, everything about this self declared “womanist” reads like a script straight from Hollywood.
Several publications claims that Kola Boof was so enigmatic that rumours started doing rounds that she was a hoax, which prompted her to grace several American television and radio talk shows to prove she is real.
Born Naima Bint Harith along the banks of the Blue Nile in Omdurman to an Egyptian Archeologist and an Oromo queen, Kola Boof witnessed the brutal murder of her parents at the tender age of seven. But instead of destroying her this horrendous childhood experience planted the seed of defiance and rebellion that gave birth to the controversial personality she is today.
“It started when my birth parents were murdered and I stayed outdoors all night with the bodies,” Kola explains to DN2 through an online interview from her home in the USA. “Years later in America, when I was around fourteen, my psychiatrist explained to me that staying with the bodies that night made me fearless. He said that it made me an emotional exhibitionist”.
She explains that her parents were killed for openly voicing their opposition to slavery and racial discriminations that are still rampant in some parts of Sudan. Although little Kola moved in with her Egyptian grandmother, the old lady decided the girl was too “dark-skinned” to be assimilated in a family that for so long has been fighting to get rid of “blood abeed” (black blood) in their heritage. For these reasons she was eventually placed for adoption where she was taken in by Marvin and Claudine Johnson, her foster parents who took her to America in 1979.
After her naturalization in 1993 the 40 something year-old mother of two returned to North Africa where she hopped across Libya, Egypt and Morrocco doing various jobs which included playing paid party girl in state functions and starring in low budget Arabic movies. During this time Kola was already putting her thoughts on paper having developed a passion for writing while growing up in America.
“As for developing a writing style I would say that I tried to copy the pacing of the old movies I loved as a kid. When I couldn’t speak English, I loved silent films circa 1914-1929, Abel Gance being my favourite director,” she explained during an interview with Kam Williams of aalbc.com, a website exclusively dedicated to African American Literature. “So, I fashioned a style out of that. The integrity and ethos of what I would write, however, came from the films of Ousmane Sembene and from reading Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Sylvia Plath and Alice Walker”.
Kola Boof also explains that other “mothers” of black literature like Maya Angelou, Ntozake Shange, Grace Jones, Diana Ross and Gloria Steinem have greatly shaped the path of her writing career. Hence it comes as no surprise that even though the fiery scribe has penned numerous books that have sold in more than 12 countries, her titles always stirs bittersweet emotional reactions from the reading public. In recognition of her achievements as an author amazon.com, a popular online book store, have a page exclusively dedicated to her.
According to wikipedia.com an online resource base, Kola’s vivid prose and poetry first rubbed authorities and mainstream society the wrong way in 1997 when she was expelled from Morocco for reciting verses from her anthology Nile River Woman, branded inflammatory and blasphemous.
Her autobiography Diary of a Lost Girl was delayed for several months after publishers turned down the manuscript because Kola couldn’t allow editors to sanitize it, all in a bid to bring out a “version of the book that is true to my character and vision as an artist”.
Years later, her acclaimed bestselling collection of short stories Long Train to the Redeeming Sin was forced out of print in 2003 after her publisher’s premises were firebombed by extremists in Morocco. Besides writing Kola Boof’s other talents cuts across the movie industry, cooking, public speaking, military espionage and politics.
The outspoken scribe says that her brand of feminism focuses less on ideologies and more on the daily struggles of black women whom she says are down-trodden, oppressed and silenced by racial supremacists and abandoned by the only partners who are supposed to stand up for them; black men.
“I embrace the ancient ritual of baring the breasts to show respect for the circle of life and to celebrate the eternal power of womankind and the African woman’s legacy. The true African creed, the true African religion,” Kola explained her animistic beliefs during the aalbc.com interview.
She regularly poses topless on the cover of her books and other forums which she justifies by arguing that culturally, African women bared breasts for thousands of years before colonization sexualized them. The culture of women walking around with bared breasts is still practiced in some rural African communities. Kola also takes world main religions head on, arguing that they are institutions devised by men to enslave and colonize women.
“We need to abolish the man-made religions…everything by men should be phased out. It’s time for us women to legislate the way in which we worship God and the way in which our children are taught about women,” she proposes.
To push home her controversial position on matters faith her new book, to be launched in New York in June this year, is entitled The Sexy Part of The Bible. Set in modern West Africa, Europe and the United States the novel features a diabolical young African hellcat called Eternity who miraculously survives several rebellions to unmask a powerful secret. Written with the signature Kola Boof musicality and erotic undertones, reviewers of this yet-to-be released book claims that its “guaranteed to stay on your mind long after you’ve put it down”.
“The Sexy Part of the Bible is a racist name that white explorers in the 1600s called West African women,” she explains. “The missionaries taught their sons to see the white woman as “the virtue” of the bible and to consider the black woman as “the sex” in the bible”.
This apparently skewed opinion on religious matters has landed this firebrand “womanist” in trouble more than once. Besides numerous death threats from extremists around the world, her website www.kolaboof.com writes that on April 9th, 2003 an investigative UN human rights report released in Switzerland identified her as one of the several Sudanese personalities tried in absentia by a court in Khartoum and sentenced to death (fatwa) by beheading. But Kola Boof is no stranger to life on the run. She claims to have been a high-ranking SPLM espionage officer travelling the world soliciting funds for the former rebel movement.
“In 2004, I went to Israel and gave a speech that resulted in guns and ammunition being given to the South Sudanese rebels,” she says. “I have never received full credit from the SPLA, because the men are very sexists and feel I am acting out of place….but for the funeral of our leader John Garang, they had me write the poem Chol Apieth to eulogize him, and that was their way of acknowledging my contributions”.
However, SPLM representatives in Nairobi claim that there are no records to prove that Kola Boof ever worked for the movement as she says.
“I have been in the movement since the beginning and I have never heard of such a name,” explains Jeff Okot, Coordinator of Information and Media Campaigns countdown to Southern Sudan independence. “ I have even tried to consult with our contacts both in Sudan and abroad but all of them says they have never come across or heard of a Naima bint Harith or Kola Boof”.
Mr. Okot goes on to say that many Africans living abroad have evoked the name of the SPLM in the past to gain asylum and other favours and “this could be one of the cases”.
But in her response to questions posed to her by DN2 via email Miss Boof reiterates that his work with the movement in Juba and Rumbek is well documented.
“I wrote a very detailed account of my work for the SPLA,” she insists. “I am very hurt by the men of SPLM and very hurt that they would trash all I have done for the cause of South Sudan, despite the fact that I am Northern Sudanese”.
The controversial author’s popularity is confirmed by the fact that some of her books like Diary of A Lost Girl and Long Train to the Redeeming Sin are very popular at the Amazon.com.
While being grateful for the people of Southern Sudan for overwhelmingly voting for secession, Kola says she is very disappointed with renegade General Arthor Deng Dut whose rebellion in the state of Jonglei since April last year have claimed thousands of lives.
“I am terribly disappointed in the actions of General Athor, who was at one time my commander,” she says. “This is not the time for men’s egos and tribalism but a time for unity and supreme intelligence”.
During her days as a party girl-cum-spy in North Africa the outspoken writer claims to have met and mingled with the high and mighty of the Maghreb which included Muammar Gadaffi, deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and former powerful Sudanese spiritual leader-turned opposition activist Hassan al-Turabi. Depending on the importance of the information she was seeking, Kola admits in her biography, sometimes she used her feminine assets to open up the hearts of men.
However, all the events and incidences in Kola Boof’s wild career seem to have been eclipsed by her alleged intimate escapades with the late Osama bin Laden, one of America’s most wanted terror suspects, in 1996. These allegations, though dismissed by many as a publicity stunt, not only landed the outspoken scribe in the American list of world’s most wanted terrorists but also made her the American media’s most preferred punching bag.
“I originally denied being involved with the Osama until when the London Guardian threatened to out me. I was terrified to be branded “Hitler’s Girlfriend”. But once the United States became aware of it and placed me on a suspected terrorist list I really didn’t have any choice but to admit to it and to tell my side of what happened”.
In the Diary of a Lost Girl Kola Boof claims that although they became lovers by chance bin Laden housed her in a mansion in Morocco against her will for six months where he regularly visited and took her for fishing and hunting excursions.
“He is a gifted poet, he was very soft spoken and sensitive but also very violent…he beat me, and he was tyrannical towards his men and embarrassed about sex…but addicted to it,” Kola Boof told an interviewer. “Because I’m black and wasn’t of his faith, he considered me a ‘non-woman’”.
Many of Americans including the so-called “terror experts” rubbished her damning revelations, dismissing her as an attention seeker. Brushing off these accusations by saying such kind of ignorance is the reason why America took so long to apprehend bin Laden, Kola Boof regrets the day this issue spilled out.
“I never wanted anyone to know about me and him. I wanted that to be a secret that I carried to my grave, and since I wasn’t the one who revealed it it’s definitely something that I wish was in the closet. It’s destroyed my career,” she admitted later.
This issue multiplied the number of death threats coming her way many folds with an attempt being made on her life in 2002. Although she lives somewhere in the United States, Kola no longer reveals her whereabouts or identity for security reasons.
“My sons and I move around a lot but we are happy and we have a good comfortable life,” she says. “Our home is like a fortress and we are all armed. Both my sons are younger than 12, but they are expert gunmen. I had to teach them this way”.
But despite being pushed into a perpetual life on the run this phenomenal woman remains defiant and un-cowed.
“You have done quite enough evil…and you can kill me, one skinny little woman, but you will never kill the truth. I will not shut up!” Kola Boof screams at her would be assassins.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
There was an outcry from the Communist Party headquarters in Beijing last year after the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the imprisoned Chinese dissident and political activist Liu Xiaobo, who immediately dedicated it to the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. The communist government’s bone of contention is that by awarding the prize to Mr. Xiabo the Nobel Committee was indirectly discrediting the Chinese judicial system which has found the political activist guilty of “incitement to subversion of state power”.
This year the declaration of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf among the three joint winners evoked bitter response from her political opponents and critics, with many claiming it was a conspiracy by the west to boost her re-election chances.
“She does not deserve it. She is a warmonger. She brought war on our country and spoiled the country,” Opposition leader Winston Tubman retorted during a campaign rally in the Monrovia. “Now she has said she will run again and on the eve of the election the Nobel Peace Prize committee gives her this prize, which we think is a provocative intervention within our politics”.
The Liberian chief executive has admitted that she provide supplies and to former rebel leader and indicted war criminal Charles Taylor. Apparently, Madame Sirleaf’s popularity among former warlords is apparently still high. Prince Johnson, a former rebel and presidential candidate in the just concluded elections with strong ties to Charles Taylor, backed Ellen-Sirleaf in the runoff which greatly bolstered her re-election bid.
But this is not the first time that a “rebel” is being awarded the coveted prize. For the last eleven decades the highly coveted Nobel Peace Prize has been bestowed upon social dissidents, deviants, maniacs, non-conformists and the so called “enemies of the state”. The winners are usually men and women who sacrificed their personal safety, dignity, career and lives at the altar of public service.
So unpopular were the beliefs and ideologies of some of the past winners that four were assassinated, among them a president and an executive prime minister. Both the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin were murdered for taking a bold step towards the realization of a lasting peace between Israeli and Arabs.
Apart from Sadat paying with his own life, the other eight incumbent presidents that have won the Nobel were deviants in their own rights since they supported policies that drastically whittled down their popularity among the electorate. Several years after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev brought end to decades of Cold War Fredrick de Klerk followed suit by bringing down the curtain on apartheid by releasing Nelson Mandela.
Long before she was named the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2006, Professor Wangari Mathaai was already famous for her passionate activism against the destruction of the environment. The most famous incidence was way back in 1992 when, in a company of fellow women activists, she stripped naked in protest against the planned sale of Uhuru Park to private developers. Retired President Moi termed her a “mad woman” who was “a threat to the order and security of the country.”
Many are the times when Prof Mathai and members of her Green Belt Movement were clobbered by police for holding demonstrations against the grabbing of public land. Although she served as a member of parliament for Tetu, a constituency in her home district, she lost the seat in the 1997 General Election due to what pundits term as ideological differences with President Mwai Kibaki.
The fiery Wangare Mathaai finds a comrade in Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition doyen who was crowned with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Suu Kyi was honoured for her tireless efforts to bring justice and democracy in the tiny Southeast Asian country that have since been renamed Union of Myanmar. Placed under house arrest by the Burmese military junta for many years, Su Kyi is referred to by admirers as the “Nelson Mandela of Asia”.
But the efforts of these two powerful women are somehow dwarfed by the humbling achievements of Mother Teresa, the founder of the now famous Missionaries of Charity based in Calcutta, India. Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in the Republic of Macedonia in 1910, Mother Teresa captivated the world by living among the impoverished people of this urban centre of Indian state of West Bengal despite the millions of dollars that were flooding into her charity organization. She won the Nobel Prize in 1979.
Carl von Ossietzky was among the very few members of the German civil society who dared to raise a voice against Adolf Hitler and his NAZI party in the 1930s. Being a pacifist, he was strongly opposed to the huge militarization that was going on in Germany during the time. He paid dearly for speaking his mind on the Hitler regime by being condemned into a NAZI concentration camp where he contracted a fatal bout
Ossietzky was declared the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1936 while still bedridden with untreated TB that eventually claimed his life. But just like Liu Xiaobo of China, the NAZI government denied him the opportunity to collect the award in Oslo, warning him that doing so meant being stripped of his German statehood.
Although the dropout student-turned journalist never picked the award personally he was blazing defiance even from the anguish of his deathbed.
“After much consideration, I have made the decision to accept the Nobel Peace Prize which has fallen to me. I cannot share the view put forward to me by the representatives of the Secret State Police that in doing so I exclude myself from German society,” he declared. “The Nobel Peace Prize is not a sign of an internal political struggle, but of understanding between peoples.”
Alfred Luthuli and Desmond Tutu, the first and second African to be bequeathed with the coveted prize, were honoured for their relentless yet peaceful campaign against apartheid rule in South Africa.
Being the ANC president Mr. Luthuli differed with the militant section of the party who were advocating for an armed struggle. In 1967, seven years after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the charismatic leader died after being hit by a speeding train while taking a walk near his home in Kwazulu-Natal. However Luthuli’s supporters saw the hand of the apartheid government in his death.
A year after the mysterious death of the South African freedom fighter Martin Luther King Junior, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was shot dead as he addressed a crowd from a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.
Other notable dissidents who have graced the red carpet in Oslo to collect Alfred Nobel’s Holy Grail are Dalai Lama, Yasser Arafat, Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to win the award, and Mohammed ElBaradei.