Tuesday, May 15, 2018

GUEST BLOG POST: BARRIERS TO BOOKS: Nigeria Has Produced Some Of The World’s Best Authors—So Why Is Its Reading Culture So Poor? — Fareeda Abdulkareem

More options than interest? (AP/Sunday Alamba)
Back in February, Nigeria’s Guaranty Trust Bank announced the launch of The Dusty Manuscript, a contest for Nigerian crime and romance fiction writers with finished but unpublished novels.

The top three authors from the contest will get a publishing contract with Kachifo, one of the country’s renowned publishing houses. Kachifo distributes some of the Nigeria’s best known authors, including Chimamanda Adichie, Jowhor Ile, and Eghosa Imasuen.

Over the last decade a number of literary prizes like these have helped support Nigeria’s literary fiction circles. They include the 9Mobile Prize for Literature, backed by the telecommunications company formerly known as Etisalat, the Nigeria Prize for Literature, sponsored by the NLNG gas company, and the Miles Morland grant, which supports authors working on a novel for a year.

While these prizes will help up and coming writers gain exposure as well as the chance to sell their work, it’s important to ask what kind of market their books will be entering.

 The reality on the ground is that demand for literary fiction in Nigeria is low. 

Nigeria’s rich literary history includes some of the world’s most respected authors, such as Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, which has been translated to more than 50 languagesWole Soyinka, Africa’s first’ Nobel laureate for literature, and Florence Nwapa, who is often referred to as the “mother” of modern African literature. In the current era, Nigeria boasts one of the world’s best known authors in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose literary success has been amplified by her commentary on everything from feminism to African politics.

Despite that rich history and the current growth and interest, the reality on the ground is that demand for literary fiction in Nigeria is low.

It’s unclear if it’s about people not wanting to read for leisure, or in fact not having access to fiction. Books have become increasingly expensive in the country as bookshops have shuttered, and with an adult literacy rate of 51%, it’s not surprising that some supporters of literature in the country are concerned about how novelists might fare once their books are published.

 “Forget the number of books you see being sold in traffic and our global acclaim for excelling—Nigerians read only when they have to.” 

Wale Adetula, the founder of The Naked Convos, one of Nigeria’s popular youth-oriented blogs, is one of those people. He conducted an online poll surveying over a thousand users of his site on their reading habits, and found that many said they only read one book a year. These results inspired him to launch the TNC Stories app, which carries the disconcerting tagline, “Reading is dead.” This app allows contributors to create and share stories using text video, audio and music—Adetula’s attempt to keep Nigerians reading, albeit in non-conventional forms.

“The reading culture in Nigeria is poor,” Adetula says. “Forget the number of books you see being sold in traffic and our global acclaim for excelling—Nigerians read only when they have to.”

Adetula believes a culture of reading is not being written into Nigeria’s educational system. “Students see it as some sort of necessary evil. And it becomes harder when you have to deal with the many distractions and challenges that come with being an adult and living in a country like Nigeria.”

Indeed, most of the sales for Farafina Books, an imprint of Kachifo, and one of the country’s most popular publishing houses, come from religious or educational texts, not fiction, according to a senior editor there.

Okada Books, one of the sponsors of the Dusty Manuscript contest, also makes much of its money selling educational, self-help, and motivational titles, but is similarly trying to cultivate a love of reading amongst young Nigerians. The free reading app publishes ebooks written by Nigerian authors covering a host of genres, from memoir to comedy to thrillers. Customer support representative Karo Oforofuo says that authors from the diaspora have reached out to discuss potentially distributing their books to an African audience on the app.

Oforofuo believes Nigerian reading culture “is getting better by the day, given the computer age and advent of ebooks.” Nigeria has a limited number of bookshops, and printing books domestically is a difficult and expensive process. Ebooks are easier to distribute, as people only need the app to download as many books as they want, Oforofuo says.

In 2011, academics from Lagos State University released a paper titled “Poor Reading Habits Among Nigerians,” which cited the benefits of reading for self-improvement and mental and emotional health and hypothesized that Nigeria’s reading culture had suffered from widespread poverty, corruption, deprioritization, and a dearth of dedicated quiet reading spaces like libraries. “A reading nation is an informed nation,” the authors write. “Nigeria cannot be regarded as a reading nation because the younger generation of Nigerians does not consider reading a leisure activity.”

The Nigerian literary canon will keep expanding and developing, thanks in part to the interest expressed by private institutions. But it won’t get far if it doesn’t spread to the offices of elected representatives, or if people don’t view reading as a enjoyable hobby. If new genres continue to be supported, books redistributed and reoriented as multimedia content, and the government takes an active role in the refurbishment of existing libraries and the redesign of the school curriculum, some things might change. For now, the players in the small, but growing industry keep fighting to keep reading alive.

Originally published on QUARTZ

Friday, May 04, 2018

NEWS POST: First African ATM Pharmacy Launched In South Africa

"ATM pharmacy" launched in South Africa, patient waiting times cut to under 3 minutes
An ‘ATM pharmacy’ that gives patients with chronic illnesses their repeat medication in under three minutes was officially opened in Alexandra today.

The innovative Pharmacy Dispensing Unit™ (PDU™) is the first of its kind in Africa and was developed by a team comprising experts from Right to Care and Right ePharmacy in collaboration with the Gauteng Department of Health. The Pharmacy Dispensing Unit works like an ATM for medication, with Skype-like audio-visual interaction between patient and tele-pharmacists, cloud based electronic software and robotic technology to dispense and label medication.

Right to Care CEO, Professor Ian Sanne says, “Our partnerships made this innovation possible and we are grateful to the Gauteng Provincial Health Department and for the contributions of USAID, GIZ who are implementing on behalf of the German Government and Mach4. The PDUTM was developed to ensure accurate dispensing and quick collection. A clinically stable patient on chronic medication can be given the option to collect chronic prescriptions from the PDUTM pharmacy. While driven by sophisticated technology, patients’ concerns and information needs are still handled one-on-one by tele-pharmacists.

Manning the Pharmacy Dispensing Unit 
Sanne added, “Alexandra Plaza, where our first PDU is located, is a central community shopping centre which is on transport routes and it is open on weekends and public holidays. Sites in Diepsloot and two sites in Soweto have also been selected for the pilot of this public pharmacy programme.”

Gauteng Health MEC, Gwen Ramokgopa, says, “This is a great step forward for patients in our city as it dramatically reduces waiting times and congestion in public healthcare facilities. In Alex, there are eight primary healthcare clinics in the vicinity which refer patients.

“The system is run by qualified pharmacists and pharmacy assistants and integrates with the clinical management of patients with chronic conditions at public facilities. It also supports adherence. The date for the next collection is shown on the receipt the patient receives when collecting medication and prescription collection reminders are sent by SMS. Late collections are immediately flagged for follow up. It also offers patients service in all eleven languages and there is support at the site to help patients deal with the technology.”

Sophisticated technology notwithstanding, patients’ concerns and information needs are still handled one-on-one by tele-pharmacists
US Charge d’Affaires Jessica Lapenn explains, “This ATM-like approach to dispensing medication demonstrates innovative thinking to overcome challenges we encounter in ensuring people stay on HIV treatment or treatment for other chronic illnesses. We are pleased to have partnered with Right to Care on this and other innovations for people living with HIV. The Pharmacy Dispensing Unit is a unique solution that uses technology to move beyond traditional healthcare delivery. It is a wonderful example of commitment by the United States Government to the people of South Africa through PEPFAR to help create a safer, healthier, and brighter future for South Africans.”

“Improving access to medication is key,” said Klaus Streicher, Deputy Head of Mission at the German Embassy in Pretoria. “The PDU promises to significantly improve people’s ability to deal with their illnesses. The German government is pleased to be a part of this multi-stakeholder partnership which brings together government, international donors and the private sector.”

Medicine is dispensed in a simple 5-step process:

Patient scans barcode ID book, ID card or pharmacy card and enters PIN

Patient talks to a remote pharmacist

The prescription and or items are selected

The medicine is robotically dispensed and labelled and drops in the collection slot

Patient takes receipt which indicates next collection date.

Fanie Hendriksz, managing director of Right ePharmacy comments, “This pharmacy enhances access to quality pharmaceutical services and improves patient convenience. The early benefits have shown valuable patient and community data trends that are needed to improve patient outcomes. The technology is making it easier for people with various illnesses to have access to medication, ultimately improving adherence.”

Originally published on GBC GHANA and EWN

Monday, April 23, 2018

NEWS POST: Goldman Prize Awarded To South African Women Who Stopped An International Nuclear Deal

Goldman Environment Prize Winners 2018: (Clockwise from Top Left) Manny Calonzo, Francia Márquez, Nguy Thi Khanh, LeAnne Walters, Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, Claire Nouvian. Photograph: 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize - Image source: Goldman Environmental Foundation
Winners of the world’s leading environmental award faced down Vladimir Putin and the country’s recently deposed leader, Jacob Zuma, to overturn a multibillion-dollar nuclear deal

Two grassroots women activists – one black, one white – stand together against two of the world’s most powerful men – one black, one white – over a secret, undemocratic, multibillion dollar nuclear deal.

If this was the plot of a Netflix series, it might be dismissed as too neat, too perfectly symbolic and symmetrical.

But this is the true story of the two South African winners of this year’s Goldman Environment Prize who tapped their roots in the anti-apartheid struggle to take on and beat an agreement by their nation’s recently deposed leader Jacob Zuma and Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid were the sole signatories of a successful legal challenge against the plan for South Africa to buy up to 10 nuclear power stations from Russia at an estimated cost of 1tn rand (US$76bn).

After a five-year legal battle, a high court outlawed the deal last April and accepted the plaintiffs’ claims that it had been arranged without proper consultation with parliament. Aside from the immense geopolitical ramifications, the ruling was a vindication for the civil society movement that aims to expand public participation, especially by woman, in energy decision-making.

There were risks in confronting the president, the electricity utility and the interests of a foreign power. The two women were warned they could face violence and attacks on their reputation, but they signed the legal papers regardless.

“It is important that this campaign is led by women,” Lekalakala said in an interview in Cape Town. “We are getting this [Goldman] prize because we really sacrificed ourselves by putting our names on the line. Others were shit-scared. But we’ve been through so much that we were willing to take the risk.”

McDaid, who works for the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute, said the campaign was a recognition that grassroots action can work. “Governments everywhere like to give the impression that citizens have no power. That’s not true. We have checks and balances and we need to use them.”

Both cut their activist teeth in the anti-apartheid struggle of the 1980s. McDaid, then a teacher, was caught up in the Trojan Horse massacre in Athlone, Cape Town. She hid students sought by police in her house and used her car to block troops chasing students.

Lekalakala grew up in Soweto, the heartland of the black consciousness movement. She served as a shop steward in a department store when she was 19 years old. She also witnessed some of the worst of the violence, both from the white authorities and black-on-black factional conflict. 

In the late eighties, an era when alleged apartheid collaborators were being punished with “necklaces” of burning tyres, she was woken by screams in the middle of the night and found bodies on the floor in the morning. “That was the hardest time of my life,” she recalls. 

This background has made the two women relatively fearless. They have both been threatened and suffered break-ins in which alarm systems were expertly dismantled and only their laptops (rather than valuables like jewellery or cameras) were stolen, suggesting the intruders were after information rather than money.

“It’s harassment,” said Lekalakala. “But I’m very forceful. I’m used to threats.”

The two began working together in 2009 when they joined Earthlife, a group designed to encourage women to become more involved in energy and climate policy-making.

For Lekalakala, it was an eye-opening experience. “When I started at Earthlife I was one of the only black women. I thought that was wrong. It is poor black women who are most affected but it is rich white men making all the decisions.”

They have proved influential, providing input into the National Energy Act and the climate energy policy. They challenged the long-held view that energy is a technical, engineering matter for specialists rather than ordinary people. “We broke that barrier and we are continuously breaking barriers,” said Lekalakala, who has also campaigned against plans for a coal mine at Thabametsi.

They were tipped off about the nuclear deal by the Russian group EcoDefence. Although the South African government had not told the public about the plan, its business partner, state-owned Rosatom initially posted an announcement on its website. This was quickly taken down but not before Earthlife made a copy that they used to rally opposition from environmentalists, faith groups, lawyers, and, the media.

Their court victory was a major setback for Putin’s plans to increase Russia’s income and influence, and may have contributed to the fall of Zuma after nine years in power. The president had reportedly fired two finance ministers in part because they were unwilling to approve the $76bn cost of the project. It was also a focus of corruption claims by political enemies and rivals in the ANC, given reports that Zuma’s son was a director of the sole mine that supplied uranium. 

The new government has signalled a shift in direction. President Cyril Ramaphosa said in Davos this year that the plan to add 9.6 gigawatts of nuclear energy was off the table. More recently, energy minister Jeff Radebe has signed deals that will promote wind and solar power.

“The political signs are good that nuclear is not going ahead any time soon,” said McDaid. “But I think this is just a step on the path to a nuclear-free South Africa. There is a long way to go. Success would be for our one existing plant to be decommissioned and for the government to make a nuclear-free declaration.”

Lekalakala agrees on the need to stay vigilant because coal - along with nuclear - remains a concern and the government will revisit its energy policy in five years.

“Civil society can claim some credit for ensuring the government didn’t run along a nuclear path that would have bankrupted the country,” she said. “We’ll use the Goldman award to further our struggle and build a new generation of activists.”
The Goldman Environment Prize - Image source: Goldman Environmental Foundation 
Michigan Water Activist, 6 Others Win Environmental Prize

A woman who played a key role in exposing the lead-tainted water disaster in Flint, Michigan, is among seven people from around the world to be awarded a Goldman Environmental Prize for grassroots environmental activism.

LeeAnne Walters was repeatedly rebuffed by Gov. Rick Snyder's administration, even as she confronted regulators with bottles of brown water that came from her kitchen tap. Finally, with critical help from a Virginia Tech research team and a local doctor, it was revealed in 2015 that Flint's water system was contaminated with lead due to a lack of treatment.

Walters, a mother of four, "worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring justice to not only her immediate family but all residents of Flint," the Goldman Environmental Foundation said Monday in announcing this year's winners.

The prize was created in 1989 by the late San Francisco philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman. Winners are selected from nominations made by environmental organizations and others. The prize carries a US$200,000 award.

Walters now lives in Virginia but regularly returns to Flint, where thousands of home water lines are being replaced due to the lead crisis. The city's water quality has improved since it stopped using the Flint River as its source after 18 months, although there are many concerns about lead that was ingested, especially by children.

The other winners are:

- Francia Marquez of Colombia, who rallied other women to vigorously oppose gold mining in the Cauca region.

- Claire Nouvian of France, who successfully campaigned against deep-sea fish trawling.

- Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid of South Africa, who fought to stop a nuclear plant deal between their country and Russia.

- Manny Calonzo of the Philippines, who led an effort to ban lead paint.

- Khanh Nguy Thi of Vietnam, who used scientific research to discourage dependency on coal-fired power.

Originally (STORY 1) published on THE GUARDIAN UK and (STORY 2) published on AP WIRES