A Developer’s Dilemma

— By Adebisi from Nigeria

This story was completed as part of a special course on electricity in Africa in collaboration with the Enel Foundation.

Seconds ran into minutes, and minutes ran into hours but neither did her consistency diminish nor the bonds of her strength fade. Carrying in the wake of her path, big bangs as with a sledge hammer, she never second guessed her desire to hit my head from the left, right and center. And for all the steam baths and herbs I drank, none had the might to hold her captive. Her simple name was fever and I hated her so badly.

It was my final year in secondary school, so I read every night using the bush lamp I made by my own hands. An empty bottle of cough syrup filled with kerosene, a piece of old cloth for a wick and voila! Enough power supply to read every night until she came visiting: the strange fever that contradicted all the herbs poverty had to offer. Much later in the day, while in physics class, I felt like my chest was exploding. With my eyes popping out I sneezed like my life depended on it, then I got a shocker: an ocean of wet dark substances running through my nostrils and coloring my white shirt all the way down, followed by streams of a pale, watery and translucent substance. All attempts to stop the flow of catarrh were frustrated by the harsh dust that filled the harmattan season. The soot from my little lamp had the day and while everyone was running helter-skelter to get first aid, I knew I might simply have died over the night from carbon congestion but God kept me.

Fast forward to my days as a student of computer science — our school was disconnected from the national grid for a few years and we had to depend absolutely on a power generator. That meant we had electricity two hours a day, three days a week. It was a terrible experience because courses as practical as computer graphics were taught on the chalkboard and we wrote codes and debugged them on paper without even knowing if they will run on a computer. You bet the end point; most students graduated with excellent grades but to date, are having a predictably hard time in the real world of computers.

These are typical cases of electricity supply or the lack thereof, and its implication on my health, my academics and career. I am a software developer and this is my dilemma. Last year I started a personal project with a few friends, SheLEAPS® (www.leaps.in), an Africa-led global community. The website was to include social media, an online radio station, an e-learning center, a blog and some petitions. Building the platform which should have required a month or two ended up taking almost 10 months for the lack of electricity. I eventually resorted to the use of android phones, tablets and lithium batteries (to store electricity from anywhere I found it, just to take home and work), since my personal computer can not use electricity from the lithium batteries. People find it really hilarious when I say that over 90 percent of that site was built on a mobile device. Even more interesting is that this essay you are reading is typed with my mobile phone. I coordinate a handful of volunteers from 4 continents and whenever they ask ‘why are you not always online?’ my answer is simple ‘you will never understand!’

Now, 700 million underserved people in Africa translates to over 700 million of these shocking stories. But beyond these stories, beyond the corrupt political leaders that have kept us in darkness and beyond the ignorant electorate who never hold them accountable, lies the solution to our electricity problems. If the ordinary citizen is the first custodian of electricity challenges, then the roots of its solutions also lies in the hands of the ordinary citizen.

A report by the International Renewable Energy Network (IRENE) states a proliferation in the use of small gasoline generators in Nigeria. We house over 20 million small gasoline generators that translate into at least 200 billion naira. And who are the users of these power generators? The ordinary man in the street.

The recent ban on the importation of small generators due to it’s harmful effect on the environment has created a new market for renewable energy. But what if the initial investment was in renewal energy as opposed to small, carbon-emitting, noise-making generators. It still comes back to the ordinary man and woman in the street.

The government is failing woefully in delivering its electricity supply promises. A 160-million-man population like Nigeria’s depends solely on hydro-electricity and having identified a weakness in its energy mix, the government has failed to take practical steps to finding a lasting solution. This is worsened by a constitution that allows only the federal government to provide electricity in commercial capacity, making financial institutions very reluctant to invest in this sector and global energy companies absolutely scared to build public-private partnerships in this sector due to institutional reluctance on the part of the government. Yet I insist that it boils down to the people.

What if we chose to hold our leaders accountable? What if we stage rallies and protests until we see a change? What if we write petitions and recall our legislators who do not properly represent our interests? What if we change our personal electricity sources to the renewable sources? What if our youths toe the line of scientific innovations? Building hand made solar lamps rather than the type that almost cost me my life back in the days.

We must never overwrite the need to feel angry deep within us. We are the generation that changes negative trends. That erases the so called ‘dark continent’ expression. That hands to our children an Africa that is bright as the sun and proudly says ‘our hands have done this’.

Come with me. #LetsChangeTheWorldTogether!

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The Effect of Illegal Mining in my Community

Emmanuel — By Emmanuel from Ghana

Mining is the process of using machines to extract natural resources such as gold, diamond and bauxite from the ground. In my community, Tarkwa, in the western part of Ghana, mining is the most common work. Everywhere that you pass you will see people with shovel and basket looking for gold illegally.

In my community, you have to obtain a permit according to the laws of Ghana that allows you to mine but people whether they are ignorant or selfish have taken the decision to do mining illegally.

Illegal mining is digging for gold without permit and is against the law in my community and country.

As a result of this activity, the people of the community are paying heavily for the consequences of illegal mining.

Our water bodies have been polluted and therefore access to potable water for drinking or cooking are difficult to come by.

The fishermen in my community have been rendered jobless due to this illegal mining.

Properties have been destroyed​ as a result of these illegal mining activities.

Lands have been destroyed and people are forced to leave their houses because of flooding when it rains. This has also caused the spread of malaria.

Farms have been destroyed to be used for mining and this has brought reduction​ in the production of crops and vegetables in the community and a shortage of food in the community. People even go to the extent of trying to kill themselves​ for​ a plot of land. Buildings​ have been destroyed, stores have been closed down. Robbery has become​ common. People are afraid to go out for fear of being robbed.

A community which was once peaceful has become disorganized and destroyed as a result of this mining activity.

Mining is not bad when it is done in the right way by the right and qualified people. Mining is the process of extracting metals and minerals from earth legally with the permission of the authorities in the country. It becomes illegal when people do it without the right mechanism in place to protect the water bodies and reclaim the land for future use. Manganese, tantalum, cassiterite, copper, tin, nickel, bauxite (aluminum ore), iron ore, gold, silver, and diamonds are just some examples of what is mined here in Ghana.

The environmental impact of illegal mining includes erosion, the formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity and contamination of soil ground water by the chemicals from the mining process.

The chemicals used in the mining process often escape the large scale pollution. There is no doubt that illegal mining activities have caused a great harm to my community. This is because most of the minerals are found in rivers. As a result, the mining companies often resort to blasting of rivers and their surroundings​ to enable them access to the minerals. This is done without caring about the effects and dangers this will have on the animals, farms, trees and the people in the community,

Sometimes the activities of these illegal miners release toxic substances into the rivers, causing a lot of diseases like cholera to the people in the community, especially those who drink and fish from it.

Deforestation is part of the damage caused by the mining activities which involves the clearing of farms and trees to enable miners to extract their minerals.

These illegal miners do not put measures in place that will safeguard them from getting infections, with the fact that they are unskilled and also use unprotected tools and equipment.

There are high level of drugs and alcoholism, prostitution, armed robbery and sexual abuse in the community as a result of this illegal mining activities.

Vulnerability and Strength

Toby (1) — By Tobenna from Nigeria

 

The streets of Lagos are notorious for one too many reasons. 
I got caught in a web of one, and this is my story.


A year ago on a sunny afternoon, I left for a nearby bank on an errand to make some deposits. As I was walking, still a few paces from my destination, a little boy caught my attention. I made mental guesses of what his age could be, then settled for 8. Eight years old. He looked ragged, and in the air around him was a stench. My conscience pricked me upon seeing him head my way, making gestures with his hands, asking for help. I had nothing more than my transportation fares and the exact amount to be deposited at the bank.
He looked weak. By his appearance it was clear he needed immediate attention and bouts of love. Going against the urge in my heart to run from this scenario that could get me into trouble, I made efforts to engage the little man in a discussion, in order to get information with which I could work. I made several attempts, but what became evident was he didn’t seem to understand the English I spoke. Making a few utterances in Yoruba, which is the language of the people of western Nigeria, it was obvious that I needed someone who could help translate what the boy tried to get across to me. I desperately wanted to help this boy. A day could hardly go by without a headline in a leading newspaper reporting cases of missing children who hadn’t returned home…one to two years later. 
“This could be an opportunity to save a mother’s heart from pain” I thought to myself. With this, I forged ahead with renewed diligence to do all I could to get this young man to safety. 
I then looked around for a passerby who ‘looked’ Yoruba, but seeing that this wasn’t working, I made for the kiosk of a food vendor [who I had heard seconds ago, speak over the phone] with the little man, introducing myself and the situation at hand. To this she obliged and even offered the boy a free plate of white rice and stew. 
As he ate, she initiated a conversation with him and it appeared that our man was a long way from home. Then it occurred to me that taking him to the nearest police station would be a good decision to take. 
And as we were walking to the police station, we were stopped by some mean looking street thugs who demanded to know where I was taking the little boy to. Surprised by their confrontation, I narrated the whole story to them, but to my greatest surprise, I was accused of kidnap, right before my very eyes.

“…The streets of Lagos are notorious for one too many reasons.”
The group of four morphed into one who was over twenty, agitated, and fixing mean gazes at me -the type given to people accused of kidnap, guilty, or not. Each man threw questions at me. Questions that I failed to answer, because I had become numb from the situation and the feeling that I had been caught in the web of one of these notorious situations. 
I stood there with tears flowing down my reddened cheeks, not knowing what to say and watching people chant, “Ole! Kidnapper!!” 
This continued until an imam present amongst the crowd quieted them, then asked me to explain myself with regards to the accusations leveled against me, which I did with the last bit of strength left in my mind and body. 
After taking in my account and thinking for a moment, he concluded that I had done nothing wrong to deserve what I was being put through. He then asked that I be allowed away from the location to where I had to go to. 
It was dramatic as I walked through the crowd to board a commercial motorcycle, and as we rode, it dawned on me that I had been a victim of false accusation. 
The little man was planted to attack vulnerable ones such as me.

He wasn’t so little after all, when I saw him amidst familiar faces two weeks later.

Energy Poverty in Malawi

whatsapp-image-2017-01-16-at-13-59-11 — By James from Malawi

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity in Africa in collaboration with the Enel Foundation.

Malawi has the lowest rate of access to electricity in Africa; only 10 percent of the 18 million people have electricity and the average household electrification rate in rural areas is less than 2%. Biomass is the main source of energy for households in the country. This has contributed to serious deforestation which, in turn, has resulted in heavy river siltation. Heavy river siltation has created further problems in the generation of hydroelectric power, which accounts for almost 100% of the grid supply.
The main sources of light for the 90% non-electrified households are battery torches, elephant grass, candles and paraffin. For cooking, about 95% of households are depending on firewood and charcoal; just a fraction of society uses improved cook stoves, mostly inefficient 3-stone fire.
Energy poverty impacts all levels of daily life of Malawians; it has negative impacts on the Sustainable Development Goals in the following ways;

GOOD HEALTH AND WELL BEING
Good life-saving operations, examinations and procedures cannot be performed after dark without good lighting. Pregnant women in rural areas where there is no reliable electricity have been sent back from the delivery ward because they did not bring a candle and blood pressure patients are told to come with batteries if they want to check their BP.
Women and children die due to complications that cannot be treated properly in the dark. Many lives have been lost due to failure of oxygen machines during blackouts. Vaccines, blood supplies and medications cannot be stored in proper conditions without electricity.
Small health facilities cannot easily communicate with specialists or get patient transportation to other facilities in case of an emergency as they need electricity to power on their communication gadgets.
Communities that have poor electricity do not enjoy health care facilities and equipment such as ultrasound and X-ray machines as well as incubators, thereby having deteriorating health.
These areas have the problem of retaining qualified medical personnel in clinics; they use electricity as an excuse.
Food that is prepared from biomass i.e. firewood is unhealthy as it is smoked and the kitchen utensils are difficult to clean. Many women and children have severe strain to their eyes and lungs, which has respiratory implications due to assimilated smoke during food preparation and reading.

QUALITY EDUCATION
Household chores like the collection of firewood, charging family phones at far away electricity outlets etc. reduce the amount of time that children spend in school or playing. Insufficient or smoking indoor lighting limits working hours for students to study and complete assignments.
Teachers are discouraged to work in rural areas due to poor electricity. Electricity greatly enhances access to modern teaching resources and classroom materials e.g. through free electronic media, videos etc., of which learners in areas that have poor electricity do not access.

DECENT WORK AND ECONOMIC GROWTH
Poor households spend up to 30% of their little income on inefficient energy fuels, e.g. buying candles, one-way batteries, paraffin, firewood and/or charcoal, which largely decreases their available income spent on other consumer goods.
Because of a few production companies, less qualified labour and work places are available in the industry thereby many Malawians have no decent work.
The Government needs to spend much money on importing non-renewable fuel on which the economy greatly depends, which depreciates our currency. A lack of reliable power supply leads to many companies not operating at their full potential. It also leads to investors shunning away from setting up production businesses which could expand the much needed export base and hence create surplus and partly reduce the needs of importation of goods. I.e. in 2012, Malawi experienced an energy crisis which forced local and international companies to close or reduce production, around 30% of workers in private sector lost their jobs.

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CLIMATE ACTION AND ENVIRONMENT
Deforestation is increasing as 95% of households depend on biomass fuels for cooking or heating due to the lack of alternatives energy sources. Malawi’s deforestation is the highest in the world with an annual deforestation rate of 2.8% and only a few natural forests are left which are now also being encroached. There are no working mechanisms and clear strategies to protect remaining reserves. Greenhouse gas emissions contribute to high levels of open combustion (burning).
Soil and groundwater are polluted through unclean sources of electricity, e.g. random throwing away of one-way battery cells (toxic, corrosive, acidic!!), hence environmental hazard.

GENDER EQUALITY
Women are over-proportionally affected by energy poverty as they carry the main burden to organize and carry fuels and cook in an extremely unhealthy environment – without having a choice.
They are the most affected by indoor air pollution through badly ventilated open-fire kitchens and other unclean energy sources, mostly without being aware of the consequences to their bodies and well-being later in life.
Collecting firewood and other energy sources over long distances deprives people of time to do other productive activities which may help them improve their life standards and exposes them to risks they may be afraid of but have no choice to evade from. For example, we have many cases where women appear in forest areas when collecting firewood or involuntarily have sex in exchange for firewood with the forest workers, which exposes them to sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS.

ELECTRICITY SOLUTIONS IN MALAWI
The national grid is the network of power lines coming from the government’s controlled power generation plants that connect to the ESCOM-connected buildings, only 10 per 100 households have access to this. Expansion of the grid and addition of generation capacity are ongoing initiatives, however with the high cost of expanding and maintaining power lines and transformers and the high rate of population growth, it is not expected that the on-grid electrification rate will include a majority of the people in any foreseeable future. This put a call to other sustainable solutions:

  • A mini-grid mix form whereby in areas without (sufficient) national grid access, individual households, communities and/or businesses come together to create their own independent power generation and distribution system with limited local outreach. In the Mulanje district, Lujeri Tea Estate and Eastern Produce have their hydroelectricity mini-grids from local river falls.
  • Off-grid energy or centralized community energy systems has a common source of electricity generation: mini power plant or heat energy generation from which energy is distributed among households or several communities. Solar-wind hybrid or mini-hydro villages with central village power stations and 150 households connected through wires and meters; Mulanje MEGA is such an example.
  • Non-wired / mobile electricity mini-grids, for example, Solar Energy Kiosks/Hubs in remote villages with basic energy services. These services include rentals of battery boxes and appliances or lamps, phone charging, battery charging, or even extended power-dependent services like barber shops, video show, cold drink sales, printing and computer services, such as in Mchinji by Renew and Able Malawi (RENAMA)
  • Individual household energy systems is also very common in Malawi: household purchases, for example, their own pico-solar devices or install household solar PV systems at their houses which generate energy for own household needs only. These needs include lighting, communication, entertainment. These purchases include solar (thermal) water geysers or improved cook stoves. Government and organizations are also installing this Solar PV in clinics and schools i.e. Maera Health Center in Zomba has Solar PV that pumps water into reserve tanks and powers refrigerators.

The Evolution of “Life Presidents” in Uganda

Sam — By Sam from Uganda

Samuel Nakwagala was 25 years old when Uganda attained her independence from Great Britain in 1962. A year earlier, he had joined the Uganda Post and Telecommunications Company as a Postmaster in Busembatia Town in eastern Uganda.

With a lucrative job and happy family, an independent Uganda meant limitless horizons for the Nakwagalas since they would now be directly in charge of their destiny. The 1962 elections were held and the Uganda People’s Congress Party won. Nakwagala’s highschool contemporary Milton Obote was appointed as the executive Prime Minister while Edward Mutesa was appointed as the ceremonial Head of State.

The Nakwagalas were now in full charge of their country. Uganda’s economy was booming with exports of copper, coffee, cotton and hydroelectricity. Uganda’s agricultural sector was feeding the East and Central African region and Uganda’s GDP growth rate was almost the same as that of India and South Korea. A constitution was drafted which stipulated that there would be presidential elections every five years. Ugandans were happy with the federal system of governance because it granted them more control of their affairs and brought services closer to them.

Four years after independence, Milton Obote fell out with Edward Mutesa. Soldiers loyal to Obote attacked Mutesa’s palace and forced him into exile. This marked the beginning of bloodshed in Uganda. A state of emergency was declared; Obote abrogated the 1962 constitution and declared himself president. He went ahead and abolished kingdoms and declared Uganda as a one party state. Corruption, nepotism and assassinations became the order of the day as Obote attempted to do all he could to consolidate his grip on power.

Obote was overthrown by Idi Amin Dada in 1971 and Ugandans welcomed the coup with open hearts. “We were strong believers in kingdoms that Obote had abolished and we had hopes in Amin restoring them. Obote had lost track and denied us the right to elect leaders of our choice but with Amin, we knew we were going to restore the rule of law in Uganda,” says Nakwagala.

Idi Amin started off with economic reforms of Africanizing the Ugandan economy. He expelled immigrants from Uganda in order to create jobs for Ugandans. “We were happy when Amin chased away the immigrants,” adds Nakwagala.

Idi Amin’s honeymoon did not last long. He abolished the constitution, declared himself life president and started ruling by decree. Any opposition to Amin meant death and many Ugandans fled to exile. The economy collapsed because the Ugandans who replaced the expelled immigrants did not have the skills to manage it. Ugandans who had fled to exile mobilized and waged war against Idi Amin with support from the Tanzanian Government and in 1979, Uganda was liberated from Amin’s life presidency.

Ugandans organized the December 1980 elections which were won by former President Milton Obote. One of the contestants, Yoweri Museveni, rejected the outcome and waged war against Obote in February 1981. This war had devastating effects on the economy: lives were lost and out of frustration, Milton Obote was overthrown by his own army in July 1985 and General Tito Okello became the President of Uganda.

Nakwagala’s home was ransacked, his property was destroyed and he was tortured with his children as a punishment for supporting the dethroned Government. General Tito Okello’s reign was short lived as he was overthrown by the guerrilla rebels of Yoweri Museveni in January 1986. Nakwagala chose not to take revenge when his tormentors were defeated by Yoweri Museveni. He instead started a reconciliation initiative in Nasuti Village to promote tolerance in communities in 1986. Community dialogues would be held in his compound, and he would preach peace and sensitize his village mates about the political mistakes of Uganda.

Hope for any peaceful transition of power is a dream that is far from near for Samuel Nakwagala and all Ugandans. General Yoweri Museveni has been President since 1986. He amended the constitution in 2005 to remove term limits and he went ahead to contest for his third term in 2006, fourth term in 2011 and fifth term in 2016. Museveni is now 73 years and ineligible to contest for his sixth term in 2021 due to a constitutional age limit of 75. However, he has tabled a bill seeking to remove the age limit and with his ruling party commanding 80% of the Parliament, that bill will be passed and he will be eligible for his sixth term. With the life presidency syndrome in Uganda, only peace and tolerance as preached by Samuel Nakwagala can enhance harmony after regime change.

Tragedy at Zomba Mountain

21175954_1498788570209917_871295268_n— By Harvey from Malawi

How much do you know about Malawi as a country? Probably very little. Experience everything about the country through Harvey’s eyes, a local who is traveling across the country, reporting for YaLa Africa Press. You just might like it!

It was during my third year of college that I experienced feeling so close to death. It was one of those sunny Saturday mornings in the middle of the rainy season that Wongani and I decided to go hiking to the top of Zomba mountain. Wongani was my closest, nerdiest, and the weirdest of friends back then. This being our second trip within a period of 12 months, we had agreed to hike up to the highest point on the mountain, if this was to be a challenge worth taking. We did this because we felt the previous hiking trip we took was less of a thrill due to poor preparations, and we were motivated to make this one an adventure of epic proportions.

Zomba mountain is 2000 metres at its highest point, and occupies an area of 130 square kilometres. For novice hikers, it’s not that much greater of a challenge, and we had heard of many people going up the mountain like child’s play. More importantly, we had done this before, but had turned back only after covering half the distance. The plan was that we choose a section of the mountain with the highest point, hike upwards and then back, following the same route. We had calculated that if we left at 5am, we ought to be back where we started by 5pm. As luck would have it, we were already on the road at 5am, carrying a backpack with four litres of water and some glucose. To make things even better, we had met a guy in the bushes at the base of the mountain who volunteered to walk with us a few kilometres up the mountain. It was ironic since he was a charcoal maker, people who are actually destroying natural habitats in Malawi. But here we were, us, the admirers of nature, and a man who makes a living by destroying nature.

Picture3
Myself and the charcoal maker.

He did leave us on a good track and we parted ways. From this point, Wongani and I marched upward, exchanging the role of carrying the back pack which by now (about 4 hours into the hike) was getting heavier every passing minute. Hell broke loose when our trail began disappearing, the surroundings getting trickier with vegetation, and the upward slope became steeper. Before long, it was no longer mountain hiking, and the whole thing began to look like one of those rock climbing documentaries you see on National Geographic Channel. We did not bring any ropes, as we had not anticipated slopes that steep. I am a very cautious person, so I was first to suggest we turn back, but adventurous Wongani would not have it. He kept pressing on, rock after rock, with me following him behind and cautioning, “Be careful bro, it’s a long way down.” Wongani would only say something like, “Calm down dude,” as he went upwards. Occasionally he’d miss a step, which would send my heart racing at supersonic speed.

He had gone up, 3 big rocks above me. All the while he would be calling for me to follow, excited that he can see a walkable flat mass of land on top. I tried to climb up but I could not. It was after I was tired of trying that the bitter reality became known. Wongani was a much taller person than I was, and he could reach places I could not. All the while Wongani kept climbing, I called out his name, but his responses by now were becoming very distant. I told him I could not climb up and asked him to come back down so that we may abort this seemingly life threatening mission. Alas! Wongani could not climb back down the same way I could not climb upwards. The slope had become so steep where he was, that coming back down would be like trying to climb down a wall built at an angle of ninety degrees. At about 1700 metres above sea level, I tried not to imagine what my friend would look like after falling from such height.  I yelled, “I am going back!” and he yelled back that he will find a new path down and that we will probably converge somewhere.

Picture2
Wongani trying out a cave.

I looked back down, and at that moment I knew it was going to be a long and painful way down. Because the rocks were steep, moving was very difficult – to the point that I was only circling the same place I was sitting. When the wind blew, coupled by the heavy backpack with the four litres of water in it, my body almost fell over the edge. I had to lose the bag… no I have to lose all of the water… no, maybe lose just some of the water… where are our mobile gadgets? Maybe I should call for help, and say something like I am stuck up in the mountains. Through this confusion, I had to sit down and clear my mind. I yelled, “Wongani!” But the man was long gone to find his own way down. I had to get going too, as the time on my phone was displaying 12:20 and I was long way up. I opened the bag and threw the bottles of water over. I watched them smash as they went down the mountain. Since I could not lose the backpack, I took some bandages Wongani had in his bag and tied the bag to the bandages forming a rope. I would then let the bag down onto a different rock using the bandage as a rope, then I’d follow and so on. I could not lose this bag, because it had sentimental value to Wongani, and knowing the man who from time to time named and still names his inanimate possessions, losing the bag was not an option.

Wisdom came over me, I had to follow the gorge that ran from up the mountains going down. Gorges on mountains have running rivers and are mostly covered with vegetation. I figured that moving this way, the chances of me falling over the edge would be minimal. Vegetation would act as support and keep my speed in check, and when I slip I would get caught in the bushes before long. More importantly, the gorge will be my GPS so I do not get lost. It was working, but I was worried about my friend…what if he fell? Wongani was a bit clumsy at times. I had to call him but all the mobile phones were with me after we had previously agreed to do so to void losing or breaking them during the climb upwards. I had to put such thoughts away and focus on covering the distance down. I had worn shorts on this day and by now my legs were full of cuts and bruises…the wounds stinging with the dumpy heat under vegetative cover. I had walked for over four and half hours going down, calling out for anyone who could hear, but no one was up here. The place was quite scary, with nothing but the sounds of nature in the background.

After getting lost more times than I could count, and almost going insane in the process, I was at the base of the mountain. Wongani was nowhere in sight, and I told myself I should walk straight to the hostels and wait for him there. It is a 1 hour walk from Chancellor College hostels to the base of the mountain. Heading home, I contemplated on what I would tell people if Wongani disappeared. What would I tell his parents? I would look like the evil one for leaving a friend behind. Halfway to the hostels I met a group of men whom we had passed at that same place 11 hours earlier, moulding bricks. I was so relieved when I heard them say a guy I went up the mountains was asking them if I had passed by before him. Wongani was about 25 minutes ahead of me all the while getting worried sick of what had happened to me.

The rest of the journey home was an embarrassing and a humbling experience. Crossing through the city, people looked at me with interest. I assumed I looked like some nightmarish creature with bits of bushes in my head, dirty clothes, and red eyes – I was a severely exhausted human being at most. I found Wongani waiting at my door looking worse than I felt. We both went to have our separate hot baths… this was one of the most painful hot baths I have ever had. Later, we convened at my room, ate the food we were supposed to eat when we reached the mountain top, and told each other about our separate horrors we had to encounter coming down the mountain. We laughed and contemplated how close we had come to seeing the worst.

We are looking forward to going back soon. Any partakers?

Picture1
The trek up the mountain.

Togo Women Anguish for Democracy

farida (1) — By Farida from Togo

In a country of 6 million people, the over half who live in poverty are the backbones of the society: the most abused, the most neglected, the most discriminated against, yet, the hardest workers. 


These women bear the cost of bad governance at all levels. From the difficult conditions in which they deliver their babies on the floor in public hospitals that lack the bare minimum including beds, to working long hours at farms or in the markets just to make enough money so they can school their children that the government has abandoned, to supporting their jobless husbands who officially are the bread winners but are still awaiting a call for an office job at one of the zillion companies they have applied to, these strong, resilient and powerful ladies are the women of Togo. 


In August 2012, they made history and received the long-sought attention on the abuse they have been going through with a 5 decades old regime that only operates through brutality. After protesting every week for 2 consecutive years without having an iota of attention from international medias and institutions to look into the severe human rights abuses that they and their families had been facing, these ladies decided to take action. “A sex strike! Who does that?” – a question I heard a political commentator in the United States ask when the news blew out. Togolese women called for a sex strike on the 25th of August 2012 and it was the very first time in the history of my country that an article reporting an event happening in Togo was published on over 400 news sites in over 80 countries from Australia to Japan, from the United States to Ecuador. Yes! It took a while but I did count every single one of them on Google News.


For the first time, the world paid attention to us. The world listened and questioned the motive behind such an uncommon political action. For the first time, major international medias brought Togo from the “Who Cares Planet” and acknowledged the suffering of its people. As a young 22 years old activist who has been involved in the struggle for democracy in my country from a very tender age, for me that was a victory. None of the hundreds of letters we sent to foreign countries and international institutions ever worked. None of the hundreds of protests we organized in every corner of the world as Togolese in the diaspora ever worked. None of the massive killings and incarcerations our people have been going through were shocking enough for the world to share our pain. It took the self-dignity of our mothers, our sisters and our aunties who had to organize naked protests and call for a sex strike for the world to pause for a second and say, “Oh, this is serious!” And that is the reality we are living in. 


We are living in a world in which women have no voice unless sex is involved and this applies to politics even more. The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo that had 7 million people killed (the deadliest war since World War II) only gained attention in recent years when cases of massive rapes were reported. In Congo, rape is used as a weapon of war not because the warlords and rapists are in dire need of sex but because they want attention from the world and they know that violating women is the best and fastest way to get noticed and make a statement. 


The events in Togo left a trail that followed me wherever I went to raise awareness on torture and abuses in my country. People ask me if that’s not the country whose women called for a sex strike. We used to be invisible and would still have been if the women of Togo at some point in their life didn’t feel so powerless that they had to put their cultural values aside and step out naked in front of cameras and discuss the most tabooed topic within their society: sex. At first, I was proud of them. I still am and am grateful for their courage and their sense of selflessness as I know they took such steps for us, the youths, their kids who they so wish to save from the misery and the abuses they have faced their whole life. But after the buzz, I reflected on the whole thing and my heart started aching. It devastates me to live in society that only gives value to what’s between women’s legs. And I hope that someday, the daughter I might have or never have will not need to go that far for her voice to be heard.