How a boutique Nigerian book publisher is breaking into the US market

The the first three books Cassava is publishing in the US. ((Cassava/Quartz))

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN
For eons, piracy in African book publishing has been something that booksellers lived with and factored in as part of the climate of doing business. But when Nigeria’s Joint Admissions & Matriculation Board, the body that sets the examination for students who seek to gain admission into universities selected the 2009 novel ‘In Dependence’ as required reading, the publisher declined.

Cassava Republic Press turned down what should be a goldmine because the publishing director was fed up with pirates cashing in leaving little for authors and publishers. But after some cajoling, came up with a compromise.

“Since the students have to pay for their registration, we said why don’t they pay for our book too. Let’s add it to the registration fee and they collect the book,” Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Cassava’s founder recounted. The book by Sarah Ladipo Manyika, already a strong seller, has since sold an additional 1.5 million original copies in the last two months.
In Nigeria, a country with millions of potential book buyers, publishing is a tough business. Many readers will happily pay for religious texts or textbooks but sometimes balk at paying for contemporary fiction or creative nonfiction. Yet local publishers like Parrésia, Ouida books, Farafina, and Cassava keep feeding Nigerians with high quality literary works, even with the ever looming piracy threat and unfavorable business environment.

Back in 2007 Cassava published the acclaimed writer, Teju Cole’s first book Every Day Is For The Thief unleashing his talent worldwide, and more recently nurtured Elnathan John’s Born on A Tuesday. The award-winning novel, Seasons of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, has also just been published worldwide by Cassava.

Bakare-Yusuf, 47, has always seen herself as a problem solver, and the coup with the examination board has paid off. “They’ve ordered 200,000 more so 1.7 million students have access to the book. When they have selected books like that in the past, publishers will sell 200,000 copies of that particular book when there are 1.8 million students who must read that book. Pirates go on to sell it,” Bakare-Yusuf, told Quartz.

Cassava Republic is now tackling the dearth of African writing among mainstream American readers by opening shop Stateside after successfully expanding to Europe last year. While British and American publishers have opened satellite operations in Africa for decades it is less common for an African publisher to launch in the West.

Four Cassava books will be available in bookstores across the US this spring in a distribution deal the Nigerian publisher brokered with partners. At the recent Pen World Voices literary festival in New York, Cassava writers, Manyika and Ibrahim joined authors the world over in showcasing new work.

Bakare-Yusuf: “The means of production must be owned by Africans.” (Edozien/Quartz)

The US and Britain are center of the Anglophone publishing world and even though she began Cassava Republic in 2003 in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, she knew right from the start that the new company would one day have to launch internationally. Bakare-Yusuf said she needed time to build up a viable African business. And then go global only after it became a publishing force to be reckoned with. So the New York expansion couldn’t happen until 2017, a year after London’s.

“[London and New York] give symbolic legitimization to African writing whether we like it or not and we are acutely aware if that. But we are always saying even if they are the centers for legitimization, the means of production must be owned by Africans.”

For the novelist Emmanuel Iduma, and a founder of the acclaimed Nigerian literary magazine, Saraba, Cassava was ideal for his follow up book to ‘The Sounds of Things to Come.’ His new work, ‘A Stranger’s Pose’ is part memoir, and part travelogue and even part flash fiction. It would be a hard sell to a traditional publisher, but Cassava instantly got it.

“I sensed that their recent model of distributing outside Nigeria, in the UK and US, would liberate writers like myself from the worry of selling books to publishers who weren’t interested in developing, at least in the immediate, a support structure for African literature,” Iduma said.

The art critic added that he then understood fully “they were not only interested in books that could do well in the market today, but books that contributed, in the long run, to an archive of storytelling and criticism by African writers.”

Cassava editors view themselves as discoverers, midwives, curators and archivists for African literature. But they want commercial success too.

Manyika, who first published with Cassava a decade ago, turned to them for her new work ‘Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun’ about a senior citizen in San Francisco exploring her sexuality. It’s a novel that has at its center an African immigrant. So the American strategy is simply, make the books available to African-American women, the Africans in diaspora many of who are in the middle class, and then the rest of America will follow.

“They want to see to see themselves reflected in what they are reading. They want to see different worlds and that gives them a sense of cultural confidence. Toni Morrison, Chimamanda Adichie, these authors were built by African-Americans and other black people and it’s after the fact (other) Americans picked them up,” Bakare-Yusuf added.

She believes that people of color constitute 85% of the world’s population and from a business perspective it is making Cassava sit up “and recast our gaze. From a business perspective Africa is the future.”

As Cassava Republic builds its market share in the US, plans are in the works to expand to Paris with a focus on selling translated works on her current writers.

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Every Like Counts: Social media was the other big winner at Nigeria’s historic elections

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

While Nigeria’s 2015 presidential elections have largely been acknowledged as a victory for democracy — with the first ever victory of an opposition candidate –it was also a model in how social media brings transparency to the electoral process.

President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressive Congress party lead in the vote last month quickly became apparent a few hours after polling units closed thanks to technologically savvy Nigerian voters using social media to share each step of the process.

Locally developed voter monitoring applications, Revoda and Nigeria Elections were in robust use during the entire weekend. Long before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shared any official polling numbers, Nigerians who had volunteered among the 700,000 electoral officers shared the voter numbers from their units. While nearly every tweet and Facebook post came with the ‘unofficial’ caveat it was a good indicator of the trend. By Sunday evening Nigerian social media had turned into a land of ‘Nate Silvers’,

In some senses it’s not a complete surprise that social media was accurately reflecting a trend. Nigeria has one of the fastest growing Internet penetration rates. Last year alone it added 10 million new internet users to have around 75 million Internet users now. Nigerians who voted last month were about 30 million.


People displace by Islamist militants display their voters card.

Ever since the #OccupyNigeria nationwide anger strike in 2011, when the Jonathan administration suddenly removed fuel subsidies and set off inflation, social media has played role in the national discourse.

Its national prominence rose a year ago when the over 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Chibok by the ultra violent separatists group, Boko Haram. The #BringBackOurGirls campaign reverberated around the world and even found its way to the White House. Before the vote, through Facebook posts, Twitter usage, and even sharing video through the messaging the application ‘WhatsApp,’ it often seemed that the campaign of President Goodluck Jonathan was playing catch-up in the lead up to the vote.
Flat-footed Jonathan

A senior person inside the Jonathan camp, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Quartz the president’s re-election campaign had been caught flat-footed on social media. “The APC campaign was consistent with their message on social media, they completely shaped the narrative there,” said the Abuja-based source. “By the time people here started to throw money at the social problem it was already too late.Then there was multiple messaging which was confusing for voters.”

And it was the same in this #NigeriaDecides campaign influencing both leading parties respective campaigns. As Techcabal noted, every trick in the book was in play even online polls with surprising results. On Election Day, everyone with a social media account played a role in disseminating results. #NigeriaDecides was the top trending hashtag on Facebook and Twitter on March 3oth as Nigeria and the rest of the world eagerly anticipated the results.

“Many people who stationed themselves at the polling centers until the close of election were able to know the results of those centers, record events and also photographed copies of results pasted,” Tony Okeregbe, a professor at the University of Lagos told Quartz.

“Then, they connected, via social media, with friends at other centers who did the same thing with other friends. At the end of the day, a rough estimate of what the results would look like was known before hand.”

 

 

 

The consensus from all sides is that while social media didn’t decide the vote it had a significant influence on perception, expectations and a demand for transparency. All in all it seemed that social media was a winner with the #NigeriaDecides hashtag resulting in citizens proclaiming that Democracy is alive and well in Africa’s most populous nation.

 

And as Nigerians tweeted, the victor isn’t always the winner.

 

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No getting carded: How traffic jams, elusive voter cards and apathy could give Goodluck Jonathan the Lagos prize

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

On the surface, Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, seems to be an opposition stronghold for those seeking to oust President Goodluck Jonathan from office in two weeks.

After all, state governors here for the last 16 years have been members of the All Progressive Congress (APC), the political party that has fielded former dictator Muhammadu Buhari for president.

The party leader and power broker, Bola Tinubu, was the governor of Lagos between 1999 and 2007 and is often referred to as the political godfather of his successor, Babatunde Fashola, who is himself coming to the end of his second term.

Across this African mega-city of 20 million residents, there seem to be more APC flags flying, but Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are by no means ceding Lagos to Buhari and co—even though APC’s predecessor party, ACN, won Lagos with 81% of the vote.

The president visits often from the federal capital, Abuja, and sometimes that includes campaigning with Lagos-based voting blocs. It’s easy to know when he’s in town: Air and road traffic jams snarl up the city, even worse than the legendary daily Lagos traffic gridlocks. It’s also easy to understand why he’s been here so often. Lagos state is the most populated state and will likely be decisive in who wins the presidency.

As the Washington Post put it:

Not only does Lagos state have more people than many African countries, its gross domestic product (estimated at $91 billion by the current administration) dwarfs even Kenya’s ($55 billion)

While Lagos is dominated by Yorubas from the southwest, it is a melting pot of people from all over the country. Buhari is a Muslim Hausa/Fulani man from the north of the country. Many here have told me that APC could win the state in parliamentary and governorship elections but Jonathan could carry Lagos for the presidency as he did the last time he ran.
“My man Goodluck”

“I will vote for my man Goodluck,” Lawrence Oshiobe, 45, a chauffeur, told me. Buhari, he says, is out of the question. “I don’t want the Hausa man to go in. I look at him as Boko Haram, so let me cast my vote against Boko Haram.”

It’s not an easy process to vote. First you have to register. Then you go back to collect the permanent voter cards (PVCs) so you can vote on March 28 and April 14. Lines to pick up the PVCs in Lagos have been long and Oshiobe waited on his weekends off to ensure he could cast a vote.

Others told me that APC’s media savvy and social-media presence could make one assume they had this locked up. But many young people are apathetic here. Enough to eat away at Buhari’s support considerably.

For instance, Sadik Anifowoshe, 27, a clerk/delivery man, immediately mentions APC as his party; he says his uncle is a politician and predicts victory. But then he admits he’s not voting in two weeks.

He didn’t even bother to register.

“No I didn’t. I don’t like to vote. I’m not interested,” he said. “If I had time I would have [but] and I’m not interested. I don’t like it.”

Kate Okporuanefe, 28, also isn’t voting, but not because she isn’t interested.

“There was one time I went to register the queue was much, so long so I couldn’t wait. I tried somewhere else if I could register but there was a queue also,” the receptionist said.

She works all week and her time on the weekends is precious. “The only time I could register, I’m at church or doing one thing or the other.”
No fresh faces

Raymond Bernand, 33, didn’t register because none of the candidates appeal to him, so he’s consciously and proudly sitting it out.

“I’m tired of seeing the same old faces wanting to rule the people. We should elect new people. I think we should do something different, something fresh,” the office manager said.

These sentiments, plus the fact close to 2 million Lagos residents—40% of eligible voters, who queued to register have not yet gone to queue again to pick up the voter cards—emboldens Jonathan’s PDP supporters that Lagos is in play for the presidency and possibly the governorship. Some of them went on an unruly rampage on the streets this week.

Even though PDP party officials said they had no role in what those supporters did, APC bigwigs warned this was a harbinger of violence in less than two weeks. They have threatened to go to the International Criminal Court.

Bernard said APC would have gotten him to go register if they had recruited a new candidate not tainted by a history in politics. Plus he believes in one term per candidate, so Jonathan wasn’t going to get his vote anyway.

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Loyalty Points: Nigeria’s Jonathan doesn’t need good luck for votes in his Delta region stronghold

 

BY FRANKIE EDOZIEN

For all the whispers of ‘change’ from the ‘everyman’ in Abuja who would like to see Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, sent packing on election day on March 28, there are loads more vociferous supporters who want him reelected.

Miles away from the arid sun-scorched Abuja federal capital territory, here on the banks of the River Niger and the entry way to the delta riverine area it would be wrong to say Jonathan’s opponent, the former military dictator, Muhammadu Buhari has no support.

But it feels negligible. Barely detectable.

Few here believe Buhari, and his party, All Progressive Congress (APC), are actually agents of change. Here, and across the other five states that make up the so-called South-South, geopolitical zone, Jonathan is ‘The One’ even though he is much-maligned in other parts of the country.

“There’s no two ways about it. The man has performed creditably well and they love him,” said Obi Kingsley Adimkpaya, 35, a native of Asaba and a lifelong resident of the Delta.

“If you ask a common man on the street, he will tell you the household name is Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.”

And that holds for much of the myriad of smaller ethnic communities in the entire area.

Many point to Jonathan’s quelling of the youth restiveness among the Niger Delta militants who for years blew up oil pipelines and kidnaped foreign workers.


Adimkpaya added: “He engaged them to services, they started training them and they are gainfully employed. We are experiencing maximum peace in Delta. We don’t have the crime and kidnapping like it used to be in those days.”

Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is firmly entrenched here.

It is impossible to understand the dynamic patterns of Nigerian voters without looking closely at their ethnic and geopolitical leanings.

Even if they feel Jonathan has public policy failures, south-easterners and mid-westerners in Nigeria will vote for Jonathan because of the perception that northern politicians, in particular those of Hausa-Fulani origins have had more than their fair share of occupancy of the Aso Rock Presidential Villa. Since independence in 1960 nine of Nigeria’s 14 heads of state have been from the northern part of the country.

Sticking with your own

Most people here feel a ‘south-south’ candidate should have an opportunity for two terms as president. And many believe that northerners have tried for years to sabotage and undermine Jonathan from the get-go.

It has angered and galvanized some, who say said they weren’t inclined to participate, are voting for Jonathan now.

“Number 1 is geopolitical fairness,” said Jude Mordi, 46, a shrimp distributor. “There seems to be this whole thing about power belonging to the north, that’s basically why I decided to vote in the first instance.

He added: If Nigeria is one country I don’t see why someone should be bamboozled out of the presidency because of where his from. It would be a real contest, had APC picked anyone from the south-south.”

That is the thinking among many and the system Nigeria operates under, Mordi told me asking then why he shouldn’t vote for his kinsman.

Even when folks whisper, it’s about how terrible Buhari would be.

One retired civil servant, a septuagenarian, remembers Buhari’s 20-month reign from 1984 to 1985 for shutting down progressive projects such as Lagos’s plans to build a metro rail line that might have eased the commercial capital’s endemic traffic problems. She also praised Jonathan for finally funding a second Niger Bridge, the sole road gateway to the South-East from Asaba after decades of outcry to replace the 1960s bridge which has fallen into bad disrepair.

Others point to what they see as Jonathan’s strong handling of Boko Haram in the early days which led to northern politicians coming down on him hard with some accusing him of genocide.

Phantom Boko Haram

“They called Boko Haram a phantom. And afterwards Buhari said it was the first time he sees a president declare war on his own people. We have selective amnesia,” Mordi said.

This is, of course, in stark contrast with the narrative in the north of the country where Boko Haram has killed nearly 20,000 people and displaced over 1 million from their homes. The president has often been accused of being weak and ineffectual in dealing with the terrorist insurgency – though recent Nigerian military successes are finally changing that narrative.

But in this part of the country, Jonathan’s heartland, they blame northern politicians for allowing the insurgency to fester in a bid to destabilize the president.

The bigger issue, one high-ranked military officer told me in Abuja last week, was that very large parts of the north remain underserved with primary and secondary schools for basic education, leading to the kind of environment that allows anti-Western education movements like Boko Haram to fester.

With all the northerners that have been in power, why is this the norm? he asked. “Can you imagine this in the South?

No I can’t. Especially nearly 55 years after independence.

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Technical Mercenaries: Nigeria can beat Boko Haram with mercenaries but it won’t win the vote for Jonathan

BY FRANKIE EDOZIEN

So now we know where Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan is getting his new found swagger.

In recent months, the extremists who have wrecked havoc on the country’s northeast—killing thousands and displacing about one million people – finally seem to have been pushed back.

The regional force made up of soldiers from Chad, Niger and Cameroon as well as Nigeria’s own military have all claimed to have scored victories against the dreaded Boko Haram.

Chad’s president Idriss Derby has said he knows where the group’s fearsome leader Abubakar Shekau is hiding (perhaps in the vast Sambissa forest) and he’ll exterminate him.

Jonathan himself has said he’ll have this insurgency under control before the elections at the end of the month.

Wow.

After five years of bloodshed and Boko Haram pledging allegiance to their equally blood thirsty cousins in extremism, Islamic State, why is Mr. President suddenly so confident?

Well it turns out he’s gotten himself Russian, Ukrainian and… wait for it, South African mercenaries. Mercenaries for hire, or rather technical security advisors as Mr. President would have the world believe.

On Wednesday Jonathan told Chris Stein, reporting for the Voice of America that these companies were simply providing “technical support” for newly acquired weaponry and other military equipment.

“So we now have these technical people who are trainers and technicians, who are to train our people on how to use them, and technicians that help the maintenance, at the same time training our people how to maintain this equipment,” Jonathan said from the presidential villa here, near the gargantuan Aso Rock.

But up in north east Nigeria’s biggest city, Maiduguri, there are hundreds of foreign soldiers from South Africa and Eastern Europe who are engaged in the fighting. Mercenaries.

It was these kinds of foreign mercenaries, white soldiers who attempted for years to crush the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. They bombed and killed many black South Africans for decades.

These soldiers are the ones who know how to operate the rocket propelled launchers and the South Africans like to work on their own not alongside the Nigerian soldiers.

Then there is the strange scenario of foreign ‘soldiers’ in night goggles flying fighter jets with Nigerian military equipment to attack the Boko Haram from the air. One foreign contractor has already lost his life, but gains are being made it seems

Jonathan must feel he’s got to try something different after all Boko Haram razes entire villages, straps bombs on children and kills with abandon.

Jonathan believes they have trained with Islamic State though he wouldn’t say which country this training took place.

“So we know the links are there. … we may not know the degree of linkages as to how much funds are coming in from them, the kind of volume of weapons coming in from them, the nationalities coming from them,” the president said. “But the training, because some of the Boko Haram members go to have their training in the ISIS camp and come back.”

But even if this new round of foreign military contractors succeed in killing many Boko Haram members, how will this play in two weeks when Jonathan is up for reelection against a surging Muhammadu Buhari?

In the shadow of the Aso Rock presidential villa, I chatted with a few blue collar workers. The ones who make this beautiful city work.

Unlike the chaotic nature of traffic in many Nigerian cities, Abuja is still fairly orderly, highways still have bright street lights and roads tarred immaculately.

On the surface it seems Goodluck is the man, but still a chunk of people here lowered their voices to me and whispered conspiratorially ‘We want change.’

Joseph, a launderer and sometime gardener, is a 41-year old Christian from the Jos area in the middle-belt of the country. He supported Jonathan for years. But now, back home in his village, people sleep in the bush at night, too afraid to sleep in their homes in case they are attacked by Boko Haram insurgents.

“There is no security. Our people dey sleep for bush. People are dying, he said mixing in Nigerian pidgin English.

He told me he was disappointed because working class folk supported Jonathan and put him in office last time but now all the poor are with Buhari.

Parking lot attendants, roadside traders all whispered some version of the same sentiment. This was hardly surprising after all people with little economic heft would of course hunger for a better life.

But then civil servants and friends in the private sector here also whisper the same thing, with one telling me that the galling thing about Jonathan and his cadre of ministers was that corruption was rampant and had become the norm. In the last year there has been an on going debate about whether as much as $20 billion really went missing from the treasury.

Could security and corruption issues, derail Jonathan’s bid to remain office? Despite the slick TV ads from Jonathan’s campaign urging voters to keep him in office ‘for the love of the country’ pollsters say it’s still too close to call.

The dour and conservative Buhari, in many people’s minds, would tackle Boko Haram and publicly punish the thieving.

As a child, I remembered the former dictator’s ‘War Against Indiscipline’ and his drive to root out corruption over 30 years ago, civil liberties be damned. But in a country with 60% of the population under-30 memories of his controversial reign are dim.

Yet support for Jonathan remains strong in the mid-western and south eastern parts of the country where he hails from. As I head out to that region, I wonder if the public vociferous support for him will be the same in private.

Nothing in Nigeria is ever what is seems.

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The key difference between Africa’s two biggest economies right now


Goodluck Jonathan (left) and Jacob Zuma at the World Economic Forum.(Reuters/Pascal Lauener)

Cape Town, South Africa—The ruling political party, the African National Congress (ANC), turned 103 years old and held a big bash at the Cape Town stadium over the weekend.

The party of the late Nelson Mandela pulled out all the stops, bands, minstrel troupes, deejays, to commemorate the event and entertain hordes of party loyalists who poured into this city by trains, planes and buses in the days leading up to it. The entire affair reminded me of the World Cup celebrations in 2010, with all that dancing on the streets.

President Jacob Zuma is the de facto head of the ANC and chose Cape Town for this massive celebration, because in a sense it could be considered enemy territory. He wanted to send a message: The municipal government is in the hands of a minority party, the Democratic Alliance, and Zuma has an eye on reclaiming this Western Cape province for the ANC in 2016. So he brought his party here to tout his successes and respond to his critics. Before the bash he spent a few days in an old-fashioned door-to-door campaign, facing the voters here head-on.

This is the main difference between him and the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan. Both men run Africa’s largest economies. Both men are controversial. But one man doesn’t hide from his foes.

For years, South Africa was this continent’s largest economy until it was overtaken recently by Nigeria. Goodluck Jonathan is up for re-election next month—but he would never be so bold as to enter a part of Nigeria where some folks don’t want to see him, the way Zuma did this weekend.

Indeed, those parts are growing. It appears Jonathan has ceded complete control of the northeastern Nigeria, to Boko Haram, the ultra violent extremist insurgents that want to destroy his government and establish a strict Islamic caliphate.

While the world wasn’t paying attention, Boko Haram now rivals Islamic State for deadly carnage on innocent citizens. Over the last few days:

Yesterday, bombs reportedly rocked Potiskum, bringing down buildings.

The day previous, Boko Haram strapped a girl, probably 10 or 11 years old with a bomb and sent her into a crowded market in Maiduguri, an ancient city. The blast killed 19 and injured many more. The new tactic of using little girls is particularly heinous and ungodly.

And it came just after many were reeling from what was supposedly the deadliest attack yet by Boko Haram, last week in Baga where scores, hundreds possibly up to 2,000 were slaughtered.

Baga is on the Lake Chad and many reportedly drowned swimming to an uninhabited island for safety. Those who reached the mosquito-infested destination were trapped without food and clean water. Many headed for buses that took them to Maiduguri—also the site of a Boko Haram bombing.

Is anyplace safe in Northeast Nigeria?

Bama, Baga, Damaturu, Chibok, Ngala, Dikwa, Banki, Gulak may not be familiar towns to the outside world but they represent places where this terrorist group has wreaked havoc, burnt down entire villages, and defeated the Nigerian soldiers.

And in the process displaced 1.5 million people.

But Nigeria boasts Africa’s largest economy. Where is Jonathan?

The world knows about the attack and kidnapping of 219 schoolgirls in Chibok and the resulting #BringBackOurGirls campaign, but Jonathan’s government hasn’t succeeded in bringing them home or remotely taming Boko Haram. It took the Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafza’s urging Jonathan to even meet with the relatives of the abducted girls.

Last week Jonathan was quick to condemn the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, but remained mum on Baga. This weekend, his dancing at his foster daughter’s wedding made the rounds on social media. He spoke about Nigeria’s “big challenge” but doesn’t appear to have named Boko Haram specifically.

Meanwhile, Jonathan continues to campaign for votes across the country, just not in the northeast.

Wouldn’t it be great for Nigerians there to see their president? Or for him to show solidarity with those people? Some believe those in the northeast won’t get to vote with bombs going off daily.

Last month, US presidential candidate and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said Jonathan and his government had squandered Nigeria’s oil wealth. “Nigeria has made bad choices, not hard choices,” Clinton said. “They have squandered their oil wealth; they have allowed corruption to fester, and now they are losing control of parts of their (own) territory because they would not make hard choices.”

Jonathan seems to care only about squelching the campaign of his opponent, a former military dictator, Muhammadu Buhari, who despite his brutal past, many see as a viable alternative to the current state of affairs.

Before the election next month, maybe he ought to go and explain himself to residents of northeastern Nigeria. Just like Zuma did to voters in the Western Cape. I won’t hold my breath.

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I left Nigeria 25 years ago—but America just sees me as black

It stings, but doesn’t surprise.

No criminal charges were brought yesterday against the New York City police officer who tussled with a black man and the latter ended up dead.

I wasn’t even mildly surprised.

By now, I know better. I moved to New York 25 years ago and spent most of that time as a reporter covering the city. I have investigated stories on corruption and the misuse of funds that have resulted in some serious consequences for people, including getting fired.

The death of Eric Garner—placed in a chokehold by an officer in a fight over loose cigarettes— was caught on video, though. I saw it and knew nothing would happen. Perhaps I am jaded.

Journalists hold up the mirror to our societies. We don’t have to like what is looking back at us.

New Yorkers have reacted with demonstrations. More than 30 people were arrested yesterday. More protests are expected today. Thousands are tweeting and Facebooking their fury.

America is having another racial moment. I’ve covered these before. And yet I’m still left wondering why, in 2014, black men scare the bejesus out of white police officers.

I suspect most Africans of my generation aren’t conscious of race until we have this awkward dance with her after we’ve settled in the first world.

Growing up in Nigeria, I was an Asaba man first. My ethnic identity was a source of pride. While I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, I wasn’t Yoruba.

And Lagos might have been home, but Asaba was and is where I come from.

For me, and those of my ilk, our whole identity is wrapped up in our ethnic identity. You are a Yoruba, Ibo, Hausa or Fulani first, then Nigerian.

But once you set foot in America, you are Black.

It’s a shock to the system but then you get with the program, assimilate or remain fiercely African.

Or Nigerian. Not just the catch-all “black.”

I was just beginning my career around the time of the vicious Rodney King beatings at the hands of white police officers, also videotaped, and the riots that followed in 1991. I can still remember the shooting death of an unarmed African son, Amadou Diallo in 1999 in the Bronx. Forty-one shots fired, and none of the shooters, all Caucasian, got any jail time.

Even after Diallo, in 2000, Patrick Dorismond, a dad of two, brushed off an uncover officer who inquired about drugs, was shot killed outside a bar in midtown Manhattan.

That officer got off with no criminal charges.

It was 50 shots that were fired at Sean Bell in 2006 on what was to be his wedding day. At least the shooters lost their jobs.

I didn’t grow up with the indignities that my African-American brothers endure daily—but they came eventually.

I’ve learned to put white fear in its own box when coded language like “angry” is used to describe hard working black professionals.

It really stings, but it no longer surprises.

It’s not just an American issue. Years ago, I walked past a blonde guy in a bar in Amsterdam. Instinctively, he reached back to grab me and held me—making sure his wallet was still in his pocket before letting go. This was in supposedly enlightened Europe.

It stung, but didn’t surprise.

Just last week, a young Liberian woman had to school much older white people in Britain that the entire African continent isn’t infested with Ebola. That she had to ask them to check their white savior complex in 2014 was shocking to me.

I spoke on a panel about newsroom diversity right after Ferguson erupted. I told the large group of New York University students to embrace all the things that made them different, whether it was ethnic diversity or ginger hair.

One student asked me what needed to be done to make changes in our world.

I responded that I thought it the responsibility of the powerful, the majority, white folks in general, to embrace and demand fairness for those who are not like them.

And it doesn’t have to involve money. Or maybe, it does have to in these cases.

New York City has paid millions in taxpayer dollars to settle civil cases of the families of minority men that police have killed. We all deserve better than what we are getting. Black lives matter and should be everyone’s concern.

I’d like to be pleasantly surprised soon.

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Nigeria’s president may finally do what he should have done all along: bring back the girls

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

One big long failure. (Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde)

Perhaps it was too good to be true. And indeed many thought, prayed, and hoped it wouldn’t be.
When the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan announced last week that the government had reached an agreement with the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, to free the 219 kidnapped schoolgirls, their parents rejoiced.
“We were jubilating. We had every reason to be happy,” Lawan Abana, a parent of the one of the missing girls, told Reuters. This “agreement” even called for a ceasefire. What a feather this would have been in Goodluck’s cap. Right on on the heels of his country beating back the Ebola outbreak.
But in Nigeria, past is always prologue. Jonathan’s government has said in the past that it killed Abubakar Shekau, the group’s leader, only for him to pop up in new videos, taunting the government. So when more gruesome attacks on five towns took place one day later, it just seemed like the government was toying with the parents and the world, who have waited for six months for tangible results of a release.
Jonathan, it seems, cannot tame Boko Haram. The Islamist separatist terror group has wreaked havoc on the Nigerian government with its bombing and kidnapping campaigns. It is probably now the biggest threat to Africa’s largest economy.
Boko Haram has killed thousands in its attempt to create an Islamic state in a country with millions of Christians and others who practice African traditional religions. The militant group is so well armed that Nigerian soldiers have been accused of refusing to fight them, with a large group being charged with mutiny just before the “ceasefire agreement.”
Yet Jonathan never projects a sense of urgency where these girls are concerned, rarely acknowledging the worldwide #bringbackourgirls campaign. After all, it took him three months and the urging of activist Malala Yousafzai to even meet with the parents. Would this have been his response if those children were of his ilk? Children of his friends? Or his coterie of ministers?
Since Jonathan never made it to Chibok, where the abduction happened, it’s not hard to surmise he’s ceded the territory to Boko Haram. A release now would have been perfect, making him a winner, projecting the strength and resolve he can’t seem to muster—particularly after six months in captivity, and just before he’s expected to formally announce he’ll seek another term at Aso Rock, the Nigerian seat of government in February 2015 when the elections are scheduled. It would be his moment to shine bright in the eyes of the world.
Others who seek the presidency can lay the failures of resolving the Boko Haram crisis firm at his feet. He has, after all, failed to protect the citizenry in northeast Nigeria and the girls remain captive. But right after Saturday’s attacks, doubt began to set in. The alleged negotiator for Boko Haram was dubbed an imposter. And by the one person who could know.
Ahmed Salkida, a journalist who once shared a cell with Boko Haram’s founder Mohammed Yusuf and has been close to the group, set the Twitter world afire when he pooh-poohed the agreement in a series of tweets over the weekend.
Salkida now lives in Dubai, but he’s rarely been discredited on Boko Haram information.
Jonathan can still pull off an October surprise though. Without fanfare or announcements, he can and should do whatever it takes to recover those abducted—then return the boys and the girls to their families—and then blow his own trumpet.

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Don’t Forget Conakry: Ebola is getting worse in Guinea and no one’s paying any attention

(AP Photo/ Youssouf Bah)

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

When the Ebola outbreak began March it started in Guinea and soon spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone overwhelming hospital systems there. Monrovia has American boots on the ground, Sierra Leone is leaning heavily on her colonial mistress Britain as well as Cuban doctors, but Guinea has received minimal attention.

Of the nearly 9,000 cases, Guinea has had the smallest amount, at 1,472. Yet it needs just as much help as its neighbors. Guinea, which is ground zero of this outbreak, is now the one country with the least amount of resources or even attention.

This week Doctors Without Borders or Medecins San Frontieres (MSF) warned that Guinea’s capital Conakry is seeing “a massive spike in cases.” The president of Guinea, where 843 people have died, has just begged retired doctors to come back and assist in the treatment effort.

When I first visited Conakry in 1999 to report on the funeral of Amadou Diallo, the unarmed Bronx resident shot 41 times by New York City cops who mistook his wallet for gun, I saw firsthand how beautiful, but impoverished the entire country was.

Even though Guinea’s bauxite exports ought to make among the richest nations on the continent, it was lacking basic infrastructure. The major city seemed like a very small town in any other country in the region.

From Conakry to the Fouta Djallon mountains, France’s colonial legacy was visible everywhere.

Yet in 2014 the French government has not given the commitment that Britain has given to Sierra Leone in the Ebola fight.

The healthcare system is still crumbling.

“It’s still the same or even worse now,” Diallo’s mother, Kadiatou Diallo told me Thursday.

“We don’t have any good hospital in Guinea, we have no infrastructure. Trust me Guinea is the worst (of the three countries healthcare systems).” The Maryland resident has been working with others in the diaspora to bring democratic principles to Guinea under the umbrella group Pottal Fii Bhantal, but also to build a world-class hospital in Conakry.

“One good hospital built in Guinea with solar power would go a long way. Even if someone wants a test they have to send it elsewhere. One good hospital will be a good start,” Diallo added.

Of course the few Guinean elite can fly to Paris or Morocco for their check-ups. The rest of the 10 million folks are the mercy of the government hospitals, which may not always have running water.

While the US military handles logistics and builds treatment centers in Monrovia, Diallo and others who form part of the Justice in Guinea group wish that was also the case in Conakry.

President Barack Obama has leaned on France’s president, Francois Hollande to step up.

“This is not simply charity,” the president. “Probably the single most important thing that we can do to prevent a more serious Ebola outbreak in this country is making sure that we get what is a raging epidemic right now in West Africa under control.”

It appears that Obama frustration with France is now public knowledge despite the administration’s refusal to ‘name and shame.’

But some Guineans in the US have not refused to name and shame pointing to their own leadership for failing them.

“The Guinean government has shown the worst leadership. The outbreak started in Guinea and they don’t know how to handle it,” said Bashir Bah, 60, a computer engineer who now makes Washington DC his home.

He says the reason the Guinea is lagging behind its neighbors is because President Conde, let go of qualified healthcare workers when he took over as president in 2010 in favor of cronies. “When Alpha Conde got into power one of the first measures was to total purge the health care staff and all the cronies took over. That’s the fundamental explanation. The root cause is ethnic,” Bah said.

Conde is from the Malinke ethnic group and they are about 35% of the population. He’s been accused of sidelining other ethnic groups including the Peul who comprise 40% of the Guineans.

MSF is building two new treatment centers with one in Conakry to tackle the influx of new Ebola cases after months of instability.

The Atlanta based Humes-McCoy Aviation will fly medical personnel to and from the region for aid groups who want it. They will do it at no cost as long as fuel is paid for.

Guineans in America will join other West African groups to hold a fundraising concert next month to raise funds for the hospital when every one leaves eventually.

And after Obama’s push, the French government said it would kick in some funds to build two treatment centers, but not before implementing stringent temperature checks from travellers jetting in from Conakry at its airport.

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Powerless: It wasn’t Ghana’s team that just lost. It was the president

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN
QUARTZ

June 17, 2014

ACCRA, Ghana—Poor Dramani.

The year is barely halfway through and it is turning out to be an annus horribilis for Ghana’s president, John Dramani Mahama. It seems everything he touches turns to cow dung.

Ghanaians are experiencing untold financial hardships at a time when a president a year from the next election should be rolling out new initiatives to soothe the masses. At least that’s how it often works in many places in West Africa.

But Mahama’s government is accused by many here of living beyond its means and plunging the government into more and more borrowing to stay afloat.

To stop the dollarization of the economy brought about by little confidence in the local currency, the Ghana cedi, his team put in place reforms that include not allowing pricing in dollars and permitting holders of dollar accounts to only withdraw their funds in cedis.

The reaction to that has been a drastic 25% drop in the value of the cedi to the dollar. The falling cedi, currently at about 3 cedis to $1, has resulted in price increases for all and sundry. Increases in the cost of living and a currency losing value are enough to stoke discontent among a populace who loved Mahama when he was vice president under the late John Atta Mills.

But then Mills died in 2012 and Mahama was elevated to the top job. And as president he has brought in his own team. And he and his team have to govern.

With his well-written memoir (My First Coup D’état) many people expected more from him. But his policies and cabinet reshuffling elicit yawns. The problems seem to be worsening.

The genial but “accidental” president, also the chairman of the regional bloc, summoned his counterparts to Accra to tackle the issue of Islamic militancy in Mali and Nigeria earlier this month.

They came. They tied up traffic—forcing Accra residents to be trapped in roads for hours—and then they left with nothing to show but a communiqué.

No troops, no drones, no nothing.

All this and an increase in power cuts like Accra hasn’t seen in years.

The “Light on light off” phrase so pervades the vernacular because not a day has gone by in months without electricity being cut.

But for the FIFA world cup in Brazil, particularly during Ghana’s matches, Mahama and his team decided to give the roughly 25 million citizens uninterrupted power supply. Ghana can’t produce enough power so Cote d’Ivoire, its neighbor, agreed to pump in 50 megawatts, since their games don’t overlap.

“These plans are put in place for consumers to watch uninterruptible football matches during the World Cup,” the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission said in a statement to Bloomberg News. “Within these arrangements the load-shedding schedule, though varied, still exists.”

Before the first match Ghana played, which was against the United States, Mahama was on the airwaves encouraging his soccer-fanatic nation to wave flags and show love for the Black Stars who had beaten the US in the past two World cups.

Ghana’s team was about “skill and talent,” the president said, joining the national frenzy here.

Well, the lights didn’t go out and the carnival atmosphere on the streets lasted for hours.

Until the Black Stars lost to the US 2-1.

Mahama has now failed to deliver a sure-thing soccer victory against America like his predecessors. His political rivals are smelling blood. At least the power was on for the night.

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