Monday, December 28, 2009

Dennis Brutus 1924-2009

By Biko Agozino

When I first met Dennis Brutus on the campus of the University of Calabar in the 1980s during the African Literature Conference Series that Earnest Emenyonu organized, he looked so tall and so larger than life that when I met him again in Pittsburg in 2002, I could not believe that it was the same person. We shared an Azania Heritage Foundation platform discussing reparations for slavery and for apartheid crimes. He briefed us on the litigation against companies that benefited from apartheid gold and I expressed the view that litigation might benefit lawyers who corner 40% of the payout more than the litigants and recommended that pressure for legislation, negotiation and arbitration might produce more substantial 'reparative justice' in the long run for the victimized.

Later, Dennis agreed to grant me a videotaped interview in his office at the University of Pittsburgh during which he taught me a few lessons. I had read the dolphin poem in the Stubborn Hope collection during high school and believed that the reference to a father was metaphorical, not knowing that it was a poem to his own children about freedom in the open seas with all the risks being preferable to the security of the swimming pool from the point of view of the dolphin; his children had asked him for a dolphin poem, he explained. But when I interviewed him in Pittsburgh,
feeling like one of the children for whom he wrote it, he did not pretend, just an honest reality check.

I interviewed him about his anti-apartheid activities and he explained something that had been bothering me for a long time, given my own name: why did Steve Biko not join the ANC? The explanation of Brutus was that the ANC would not admit white people and colored people back then, Brutus himself had to join the colored people's congress, for instance, and progressive whites had no choice but to join the CP. Biko was of the view that anyone who was for the struggle should be allowed full membership. This explanation reminded me of that scene from Cry Freedom where Denzel Washington as Biko responded to those who queried what a white man, Donald Woods, was doing in the Township and Biko asked them to witness the education of a white liberal, an education that probably helped to save the life of Woods when the regime went after him. It took a long time before the ANC came round to the correct position of Biko in terms of inclusiveness but it may have been a sign of the times with apartheid decreeing separateness in organizations. I checked this fact on the ANC website after several senior scholars expressed surprise at the information. Brutus was right because the official history of ANC states that membership of the party was thrown open to 'non-Africans', meaning non-Blacks, only after the 1969 Consultative Conference in Morogoro, Tanzania, as a measure to consolidate the mulit-racial ideals of the party as expressed in the Freedom Charter declaration of 1959.

Brutus will never die! I told him as much at the end of my interview with him. What was he still doing in Pittsburgh when he could be exercising greater moral and intellectual leadership in South Africa? He expressed concern about the violence in the country but I reassured him that no one would dare touch him if they knew what he represented. He must have been planning the relocation and surely enough, he achieved a lot more in those final years than he could have achieved in exile, at least judging by all those honourary doctorates that our Baba Dolphin gathered in the wild compared to the sterile chlorinated pool that he resisted being deported from when the wild sea was still ruled by apartheid sharks!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Healing The President

Healing Help for President Yar’Adua

By Biko Agozino

My book, ADAM: Africana Drug-Free Alternative Medicine, has been recognized by the National Natural Medicine Development Agency for many months as the ‘Book of the Month’ in their digital library. I am pleased to say that the book has the solution to the health of President Yar’Adua. The solution would cost him absolutely nothing and also save our country from the contempt of the international com munity. Poor Nigerians will also benefit from my discoveries because my effective prescriptions cost absolutely nothing because they are based on drug-free and herb-free methods of healing!

They said that the man complained of chest pain and doctors diagnosed it as pericarditis with symptoms of cough and catarrh. None of our medical scientists in Nigeria and abroad is able to prescribe anything for the poor comrade and so we are enduring the shame of having our number one citizen being detained by common medical doctors who are dictating when he would be allowed to come back as our Servant Leader. What a shame!

We are not told details of what the illness is and so we can only speculate. It is important that we know exactly what the president is suffering from to avoid unnecessary panic whenever he is hospitalized. Nigerians have demonstrated their melodramatic Nollywood traits by organizing prayer carnivals or jockeying for his office rather offer a scientific response to what is a scientific problem in the age of the knowledge economy.

If it is common catarrh and chest pain, then we should be told so because there is nothing secret about the common cold. Millions of Nigerians catch it every year without having to rush to hospital. Many would just buy antibiotics (unnecessarily) from chemists and treat themselves but many more will just endure it and let it pass. What is shameful is that our number one citizen would go abroad for treatment when there could be effective remedies in the country. To put it bluntly, the president should save us the embarrassment of going abroad to be treated for the common cold because there is no known cure for the infection.

For the chest pain, the president should immediately check his posture. I read in one of the papers that he is sitting and watching football as he recovers in Saudi Arabia. Bad situation, if you ask me! Sitting on a couch or being propped up in bed to watch hours of television is exactly the kind of posture that would trigger chest pain. Snap out of it and do some gentle stretching for at least 30 minutes daily. As a powerful man, I am almost certain that the kind of couch he sits on at home and in the office is very soft. Wrong type if you have to sit there for hours and hours on end. Always sit with your back resting on a firm backrest and always sleep on your back for quick recovery from the chest pain without any medication!

If it was allergy to hay fever, the president should note that he may be catching it from his air conditioners. As a big man, he probably sleeps in an air-conditioned bedroom, drives everywhere in air-conditioned vehicles, works in air-conditioned offices and rarely gets to breathe fresh air. This could lead to something called air-conditioner fever which is caused by pores that the cold air blows into the enclosed environment. The air indoors is twice as polluted as the air outside. So for prevention, the president must make sure that he opens the windows in his bedroom, his office and his vehicles at least once a day. He should use fans more and air-conditioners less.

If the allergy is about to attack him by blocking his nose, he must not blow his nose. He should sniff it in and spit out to prevent the imminent attack from being full blown. If the cold is a full blown attack, all the president needed was to go off food, get plenty of bed rest, lots of fresh air, lots of fresh fruits and lots of water and he would be better within twenty-four hours. My 2006 book, ADAM: Africana Drug-Free Alternative Medicine ISBN: 978-1-4116-6915- 4 ( has a chapter on how to prevent the common cold and the president may benefit from reading the book for this and other ailments that could be treated or prevented without any medication.

It is an easy to read book about bio-feedbacks and how to listen to the body in order to learn how to prevent or how to heal the body without relying on drugs or herbs for the cases of ill health covered. In it I reveal to any person who suffers from many chronic illnesses, the secrets of how to listen to the body and to understand what the body is saying and how to respond to the feedback from the body in order to stay more healthy.

ADAM: Africana Drug-Free Alternative Medicine is good news to the poor people of the world who lack adequate access to modern medical technologies because the methods revealed in the book are not only drug-free, they are also free of charge because you do not need to buy anything other than the book to help you follow the instructions and take better control of your health.

ADAM: Africana Drug-Free Alternative Medicine is a humorous step-by-step guide to help individuals rediscover the ancient wisdom that must have been with us from the beginning of time when there were no doctors or drugs and yet people lived for centuries because they could tap into knowledge systems that the modern world may have lost as we chase after pills and disregard anything that could not be sold as a commodity.

I wrote ADAM: Africana Drug-Free Alternative Medicine to help my family, friends and colleagues to learn from my personal discoveries but they soon started urging me to publish it and share it with the world generally. My aim is to get the book to readers as quickly as possible without making the book too expensive, hence I used on-demand printing to publish it.

I propose to share the discoveries in the book with the Nigerian public as part of the struggle for better health for all but especially for the poor who do not have the kind of money that made it possible for our Comrade President to travel abroad for such a small thing. If the government would approve a research grant for the clinical trials, I would design an experiment in which thousands try my proven ADAM principles while a control group tries the conventional methods and we will compare to see which is more effective.

The newly founded national institute for alternative medicine is a step in the right direction and I would like to collaborate with the institute in the clinical trials if funded. Apart from the flu and the common cold, my book also has discoveries on how to prevent migraine without drugs, how to heal backache without drugs or surgery, how to cure bellyache without drugs, and many more tips that could benefit both the rich and the poor.

It is sad to read that the president keeps being rushed abroad where the authoritarian doctors keep holding him hostage in order to claim a bigger payment in defiance of our national interest to have our Servant Leader back! When will the human rights lawyers bring a law suit against the foreign hospitals for kidnapping our Comrade President? I wish the president quick recovery but I also hope that his handlers are alert to issues of national interest in how his health is being handled. I hope that the issues will be carefully analyzed to identify lessons for the country and for the president personally.

Dr Agozino is Professor of Sociology and Director of Africana Studies Program, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Princess and the Frog

By Biko Agozino

It was my daughter’s ninth birthday recently and she chose as one of her birthday activities to go and see the Disney movie, The Princess and The Frog. As we waited for the movie to start, she interviewed me about what anyone needs to do in order to be famous. I replied that anyone who writes a great book would become famous and anyone who stands up to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, or makes great music or plays great sport, or discovers something important in science, or becomes a great politician or makes a lot of money and uses it to help the poor. I added that being famous is different from being notorious because the famous person is liked by many while the notorious person is disliked by many. I ended by suggesting that it is better to be a good person who is not famous than to be a bad person who is notorious. As we watched the movie later, I kept reviewing my responses to this unexpected question and kept wondering if I gave the right answers.
After the movie, I tried to reopen this discussion about fame by asking my daughter if she liked the movie and she said that she did. So I asked her what she liked about it and she said everything. I could not pursue the discussion further but promised myself that I will review the movie and hope that when my daughter is older, she will remember my review and understand how I felt about the movie that got a standing ovation from some in the audience. As the National Amusement Preview magazine put it, quoting the executive producer, John Lasseter, a Walt  Disney movie like The Princess and the Frog is famous or liked by many because it ‘is an ageless fairy tale…but with a fresh twist that combines everything we look for in great stories: comedy, adventure, music, and the kind of heart that sets Disney animation apart.’
One of the new twists is that the Princess is black for a change and my daughter made sure that she chose the black princess doll as one of her birthday presents soon after watching the movie. This is probably the first Disney animation with a black princess and I can see why my daughter loved everything about the movie for I have often called her Princess. Apart from that other Disney drama production of Cinderella in which the music and comedy star, Brandy, played the poor girl who was transformed into a princess by the fairy godmother, there is no other Disney movie that I know of in which the princess is a black woman.
But what the two Disney black princesses have in common is that neither of the two princes is a black man. In the case of Brandy’s Cinderella, the prince was Asian, a marketing strategy by Disney to bring in more audiences around the world. However, does this choice have anything to do with a certain reluctance to present black romance as a standard fairy tale that is ageless the way Eddy Murphy tried in Coming to America? In the case of The Princess and the Frog, the prince appears to be a poor European who had been disinherited by his parents in a fictional kingdom of Moldavia. Does the fact that he was not of Anglo Saxon ancestry and that he had fallen from grace serve in this movie as an indirect justification why Disney was ready to risk having a poor black woman kiss a dark white prince?
The poor black woman was laboring and skimping to save enough pennies to buy a restaurant that was her father’s dream before he worked himself to death to no avail. Here the young woman was about working herself to death as well to the scorn of others who jeered that she would never save enough to buy that restaurant. Even after she thought that she had saved enough for a down payment through her hard work, the real estate agents took her money only to tell her that another investor had offered them the full payment in cash and unless she could come up with the full payment for the dilapidated warehouse, she should kiss her dream goodbye. Here Disney is alluding to the discriminatory reality in real estate which makes it difficult for African Americans to get a fair loan especially in places like the New Orleans location of the movie where the recent memory of Hurricane Katharina remind us that African Americans and poor whites were concentrated in the poor neighborhoods that were flooded out.
Her own mother had labored as a maid for the rich white girl whose obese father enjoyed being waited upon and served as part of the motivation for the young girl, now a grown woman, to seek to realize the dream of owning a restaurant just so she could wait upon the rich all her life. Neither the rich white girl nor the poor black girl was presented with the now more common option of going on to college (where female students now outnumber male students by far) to earn higher education with which to access better paying jobs or access more profitable entrepreneurship. All the young women were presented with from the beginning in the story read by the black woman as the maid to the two young girls was the chance to kiss a frog and marry him when he turns into a prince! The black girl was horrified and said that she would never kiss a frog for any reason while the white girl said that she would kiss a million frogs and begged the nanny to read the story again and again.
The black girl learned from her own parents that hard work is the best way to make an honest living as President Barak Obama told students in his surprisingly controversial school address but look where all that hard work got her parents – perpetual poverty. Once upon a time in America, working hard was known as working like a Negro and look where all that hard work got African Americans after many centuries! We need to emphasize that working smart produces better results than working hard all the time. The Shadowman in the movie worked really hard  trying to use voodoo to change the porter of the prince into the prince and turn the prince into a frog in order to fool the rich white girl into marrying the pauper so that the voodoo man would get his hands on her father’s riches after he killed the rich man with a voodoo doll. He could have worked smart by looking for a woman of his own to fall in love with and build a family to prosper together. Instead, he spent his whole life trying to pimp a rich white girl to a poor white man and ended up losing his life to the forces of darkness that he slaved for and that he recruited to serve him. The blind voodoo woman did not work as hard but used smart tactics to get the two people who were now frogs to fall in love and kiss each other of their own volition in order to break the spell that Shadowman had used in turning them into frogs.
In the end, all the black people in the movie appeared to be created just to satisfy the needs of white people in different roles. None of them was put in the movie to address the urgent needs of the black community in New Orleans – from the joblessness of Shadowman, to the multiple-job working poor of the girl’s father and mother, to the disability of the voodoo mama. All that mattered was to make sure that the disgraced white prince regained his parents’ approval and thereby his inheritance by marrying a princess. The white people in the movie had power as the rich white man whose daughter had to be waited upon by a black woman and her unpaid child and as the real estate agents who decided who could buy what choice property or as the cruising rich being entertained by poorly paid musicians. In fact the white prince did not even have the courage to propose to the black girl who risked everything to kiss him in a vain attempt to turn him from being a frog into a human and in return for a promise to help her buy her dream restaurant and who labored to paddle him on the raft and cook for him on their way to find a cure. In the end, it was the poor girl who proposed to him by asking him not to kiss the rich white girl because she, the black girl, loved him. Then the rich white girl proceeded to plaster kisses all over the frog and claimed that she was doing it patronizingly for the poor black girl as if she did not have the ability to kiss her own frog especially now that she too was still a frog. 
As a black parent of a young black girl, I was uncomfortable about the moral of the story and I hope that when my daughter grows up, she will follow her father and shun the gospel of hard work (as I tell my students: hard work is for dummies) and instead choose the more rewarding smart work of highly educated or talented people. I hope that she would not go about the disreputable quarters of New Orleans looking for white frogs to kiss in order to be able to afford a dilapidated old warehouse where she could die on feet waiting on rich white people but that she would be using her great intelligence to invent the future (the motto of Virginia Tech) where everyone (irrespective of race, class or gender) would have equal chances to be the best that they could.
However, despite my reservations about The Princess and the Frog, the positive roles of the talking firefly and the alligator may have redeemed Disney’s storytelling by emphasizing the Copenhagen Green Summit message that we should live in harmony with our bio-diverse environment rather than burn everything in pursuit of greed.
Dr Agozino is Professor of Sociology and Director of Africana Studies Program, Virginia Tech.