The Poor [and their] Choices

This past Sunday, NYTimes columnist and self-designated poor-people-of-Africa expert extraordinaire wrote penned yet another op-ed piece that forced me to change the page shortly after the first paragraph. Here is where I changed the channel:

...if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed. Much suffering is caused not only by low incomes, but also by shortsighted private spending decisions by heads of households.
As controversial as it sounds, it's not a terribly new argument. It tows the line of Bill Cosby's tirade against poor black America, who, in his opinion, would prefer to purchase the latest pair of Nike sneakers for Lil' Shaquan rather than invest in Hooked on Phonics. Time will fail me to address why his sentiments are problematic, but if interested, I recommend Michael Eric Dyson's Is Bill Cosby Right or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind.

Bill Easterly and Laura Freschi provide, what I think, is a more balanced response to the issue of the poor spending significant percentages of their income on non-essential, "recreational" items (H/T Change.org).
The larger issue is explaining the seeming irrationality of, for example, [the poor's] decision to spend his evenings in a bar while his children sleep without a mosquito net. Could it be that outsiders make simplistic assumptions about the perceived value of bed nets to [the poor]?...Perhaps it is that parents do not really believe in the efficacy of nets, drugs, or water purification tablets. Going even further than Kremer and Holla, we speculate that belief in the scientific theories underlying all these products is not so easy to achieve in a poor society. Rich people believe in scientific medicine not only based on their education, but also because they see it working for themselves and everyone around them. Scientific medicine is a harder sell in a society that has never had a well-functioning health system to demonstrate its benefits.
I think that in some instances, the degree to which a person perceives the efficacy of their actions in changing their situations, may explain seemingly irrational behaviors such as spending money on drinks rather than education. In essence, many of these individuals may possess a low internal locus of control, a phenomenon shaped by external historical and societal forces and perhaps personal decisions. Information alone, the post later stresses (such as in the form of malaria campaigns etc.), does not necessarily change behavior.

An example that readily comes to mind is the the ambivalence some may have towards the political situation in Nigeria (I know, some of you are cringing at the thought of yet another Nigeria/Africa generalization, but please bear with me). Despite clamors for active civic engagement and get out the vote awareness rallies, some may prefer the "siddon look" position rather than actively engaging in politics (through voting, participating in protests and the like). So while such activities are taking place, one may take the "irrational" route of ignoring the world, and taking a nap, instead. Sorry for the throwback pic...but I'm simply in love with it. And please, this is a very simplistic explanation for an incredibly complex phenomenon. A more concrete example of the relationship between locus of control, education, and irrational choices can be found here - I know, random, but just happened to stumble upon it sometime ago.


My name is Wally...

Last month or so I attended a K'Naan-Wale concert, and simply thinking about it induces a strong desire to curl up in my bed and forever shun the past-10pm, under-21 night scene. I am still tired. Never again...I seriously think I am getting too old for such "all-ages" soirees. Had no idea that "all-ages" meant 85% 18 and under and 15% other. Throughout the 3 hour or so concert, I found myself yearning for longer interludes in order to rest my aching back in the seated section of the club and wondering why I wasn't at home curled up in a blanket with a good novel (a delightful luxury these days). And my, I haven't been around so much weed since undergrad (and note, most in the audience seemed to be imported from CT's surburbs).

The ticket was more of an impulse buy and had I known earlier, I would have gone to the NYC version of the concert (which also featured Damian Marley and my guess, would have lacked the "High School Musical"-vibe). The show opened with Togolese-American rapper, Tabi Bonney, followed by ex-Fugees rapper/producer, John Forte (love him!) and finished with Wale then K'Naan, a combination of both, then encores by K'Naan. To be honest, I paid to see K'naan, though I was somewhat curious about the hype surrounding Nigerian-American rapper Wale. Prior to this, I only knew of one Wale song, My Sweetie, a modern day remix of the Bunny Mack classic and dedicated to "...everybody who ever was forced to go to african parties wit they parents in the 80s [and] 90s...." It was cute - but I have never been much of a fan of remixes.

Prior to the concert, I thought that perhaps Wale was probably the Nigerian Diasporan's answer K'Naan...


I left Wale's performance a bit disappointed that the only mention of his Nigerian heritage came when he corrected audience members (over and over and over again) that his name was Wale, not Wally (for the love of all that is right and decent, didn't Eminem effectively end the reign of my-name-is-like lyrics - please stop). And even at that, he provided no context. By the end of the night, I felt like ditching my green-white-greens and join the Somalis in waving their blues and whites.

The circumstances that gave birth to something-American/Canadian/French artists such as Tabi Bonney, K'Naan and Asa and other Africans-in-America/France/Germany etc are very different from that of Wale. While the other three spent portions of their formative years in Africa, there is no indication that Wale spent much time outside of the Washignton D.C.-Maryland area. I think for that reason, the transition back-and-forth between their "western" and non-western selves seems more fluid; but from the little I know of Wale - his Nigerianness seems to be more of an all-or-nothing phenomenon. To me, "My Sweetie" appears to be a fleeting reference to his African heritage. His "Nigerianness" seemed to be merely packaged into a 3-minute soundbite that hardly made it into his latest album.

Despite the initial disappointment, I am sympathetic. And considering my limited exposure, I am the last to provide a balanced critique of Wale's genre of music (I guess DC Underground rap or something). Admittedly, I almost left his performance embracing the attitudes I have criticized in some of our elders who have complained endlessly of the inevitable Americanization of their progeny in exile. (Elders, who oftentimes, remain incognizant to the Americanization of their homelands and probably would not be able to find the road back to their villas owing to the rapid changes that occurred since Abacha was in office...that is the last time they stepped foot out of the US...anyway, a conversation for another date).

So, when I am not drop-dead tired from a concert, I am of the opinion that there exists a spectrum of whatever you call, "Africanness" possessed by my fellow first-generationers born to immigrant parents. I guess you have the my-name-is-wally identities on one end and the the akpokwala-m-udi-aha-ozo** identities on the other, which, to me, all represent the diversity of what it means to be a first generation Nigerian.

And I couldn't help it, but had to include this old school video of Identity by Chief Oliver de Coque in honor of our musicians for whom music is simply in their nature and represents their identity.

**Translation: (in angry Igbotic "ascent") Don't call me that sort of name again...(feel free to insert fantastic threat re: Amadioha here) ...and forgive my laziness re: dotting of o's...

And yes, Akon is glaringly absent from this conversation...and for good reason.


"Bad Aid"

TIMES article on "bad aid" and the "T-shirts for Africa" controversy that busied the development/aid blogosphere for the past couple of weeks.

Bad Charity? (All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!)


In Praise of (Naija) Pop

Chimamanda Adichie comments on a growing sense of Nigerio-centricity that has recently infused itself into several sectors of Nigeria media. Of note, she highlights, is the home-grown hip-hop sector, which is now "mainstream cool" and reflects "...a newly energized self-image that young Nigerians have of themselves."

Looking inward for inspiration, long gone are the days of the 90s and early 2000s where some Nigerian artists merely aped the beats (and sometimes hooks and lyrics) of their American or Caribbean counterparts. Today's Nigerian pop music scene is fresh, original, and fiercely pro-Nigerian (though, at times, critical of it's current state of affairs).

Hat tip to AfricaIsACountry re the Adichie article. Though, I'm not to crazy about the Banky W reference. He's cute and all, but not a big fan of his so-called remixes, which in essence borrows the hooks of others. I gave him a pass on Ebute Metta...but his Naija version of K'Naan's Wavin' Flag...was just about one remix too much. For someone with such a commitment to the rule of law, the copying...I mean...remixing of another artist's creation should not feature as a regular career move.


Too Late for Mama...Six Years On...

Over the weekend, I couldn't help but remember the flamboyant Queen of African Pop, Brenda Fassie, who six years ago from Mother's Day, lost her life to a tragic overdose. A more fitting remembrance from MIMI can be found here.

On an unrelated note...I decided against opening my private blog...which was more a notebook of sorts. I will continue to post intermittenly here at pyoo wata...couldn't let go, I guess.


Moving on...

I am sure that many of you have noticed that I have been blogging rather infrequently these days. After almost three years of pyoo wata, I have decided to retire from this blog.
I'm not retiring from blogging entirely. Nigerianstalk.org is very much active (and always looking for more contributors). Also, I will soon be opening up a formerly private blog, which features more of my current interests interests in health and disease - maka ọria na ahu ike. It's a bit lifeless, but hope to inject some pyoo wata spunk to it. Originally, MONAI served as place where I occassionally posted info I thought might be helpful in the future - but I figured that someone else might find it useful. So for now, I will be posting there regularly. Remember, I can still be found on twitter as pyoowata.

I am very appreciative of those who continued visit, despite my epileptic posting schedule at pyoo wata. For those who left comments and sent emails and responded to mine, I learned so much from you all over the past few years, months. Love you all...sort of.