Call me Bwana

call_me_bwanaRemember the movie Call me Bwana from the 1960s. It was a crazy mad cap adventure of Bob Hope masquerading as the great white hunter. NASA falls for Hope’s pretenses and recruits him to find a lost spacecraft in Africa before hostile forces could lay hands on it. Bwana in Swahili means master. It has its roots in Arabic word Abu’na (our master). The whites were Bwanas – the masters in Africa. In many ways they still are. Their legacy and influence is still very strong and visible. Take for instance the drive from Nairobi to Lake Naivasha. You drive on the left hand side on the narrow single road and all the signs that you find along the way are in English. You would find nary any sign in a local language and the odd one out in Swahili is written in English script. I could detect only three such signs in the two hour ride. One was for a brand of chapatti. Another showcased a trakta (tractor) and another was a campaign poster extolling the virtues of a candidate for the local elections. It was quite evident that the white masters have totally suppressed the African languages. The villages are shanty towns with small churches dotting the landscape. The Africans still believe in voodoo and black magic and other indigenous beliefs but subscribe largely to the white man’s faith. There is no wild life visible. Most of it is now restricted to safari parks and resorts. Most that you see in the countryside are cows, sheep, hens and ducks. You can also see donkeys grazing or pulling heavily laden carts. I’m told the Chinese are importing these animals for purposes other than as beasts of burden. So I suppose we are not alone in earning from this asinine business practice. Sacks of khat, a mildly narcotic weed, line the road to be exported to countries like Somalia. The Somalis are addicted to this niswar like intoxicant. Our famous addiction is the Kenyan tea. A substantial amount of our foreign exchange is spent on importing tea from Kenya. Tea was bequeathed to us by our colonial masters the way they gave opium to the Chinese.

In the 1950s and the 1960s as the age of colonialism was ending and countries in Asia and Africa were gaining their freedoms. There was a great deal of hope. Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kuanda and Jomo Kenyatta were being hailed as the new breed of African leaders set to lead their nations to a journey of prosperity. The great African dream did not materialize the way it was expected to unfold. Africa is still mired in poverty and is being thoroughly manipulated by former colonial masters. Resource cursed countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone of the “blood diamond” fame are experiencing civil wars, internal disturbances and bloodshed. Africa is hopelessly divided along the linguistic lines bequeathed by the colonial masters. Francophone and English speaking Africa look at each other with suspicion and hatred. Arbitrary lines drawn in the sand cut across ethnic and tribal lines creating wars which have no end in sight. Smaller colonial powers like Belgians exercise great influence over former colonies like Congo. Contemporary Africa has the largest number of conflict zones.

While individual Europeans own large plantations and their governments are indulging in a new kind of land grab in Africa. They are not only obtaining licenses for large blocks to prospect for oil but are also buying huge swathes of land to grow agricultural produce for their own national food security.  Ironically food for the Africans is in short supply and many African countries are experiencing famine. The Bwana in Africa is perpetuating a new age of colonialism.

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Badli sha

“Badli sha” said the receptionist at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Nairobi to the bellboy. She was telling him that the room had been changed. This sounds familiar to the traveler from the South Asia. Badli means change. In Pakistan ‘change’ has a political context as well with Pakistani politician Imran Khan shouting hoarse about Tabdeeli or change for years now.

Kenya is a multilingual country. The most spoken languages are Bantu  Swahili and and English, the latter was inherited from the British colonial rule, are widely spoken as lingua franca. They serve as the two official working languages. Including second-language speakers, there are more speakers of Swahili than English in Kenya.

Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, is a Bantu language and the first language of the Swahili people. It is widely spoken in the African Great Lakes region and other parts of eastern and south eastern Africa, including Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The closely related Comorian language, spoken in the Comoros Islands, is sometimes considered a dialect.

Estimates of the total number of Swahili speakers vary widely, from 50 million to over 100 million. Swahili serves as a national language of three nations: Tanzania, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Shikomor, the official language in Comoros and also spoken in Mayotte (Shimaore), is related to Swahili. Swahili is also one of the working languages of the African Union and officially recognized as the commonly spoken language of the East African Community.

A significant fraction of Swahili vocabulary is derived from Arabic through contact with Arabic-speaking Muslim inhabitants of the Swahili Coast.  The word Swahili has its roots in the Arabic word Sahel or coast. Badli sha no doubt must have its etymological roots in Arabic. The Muslim influence in East Africa is pronounced. Somalia, one of the largest country on the coast of East Africa is almost hundred percent Muslim. Kenya also has a significant Muslim population. Barrak Hussein  Obama, the father of former President Barrak Obama was a Muslim hailing from Kenya. Obama visited his Kenyan family as a senator and later as President.

There are a number of mosques in Nairobi. The Jamia Masjid is located on Banda Street, Nairobi, in the Central Business District. It is one of the most prominent Islamic religious structures in the country. It was founded and first built by Syed Maulana Abdullah Shah between the year 1902 and 1906. The Mosque has since been extended since its original construction.

The word of greeting in Swahili is Hujambo or just Jambo. Another common greeting is Habari gani. If you want to be extra polite you can say Shikamo, which literally means “I hold your feet.” This greeting is for your elders. Young children will often mutter Shikamo under their breath when you walk by. The reply to Shikamo is Marahaba. Literally translated to something like “I am delighted, I don’t get that every day.” Marahaba, now doesn’t that sound familiar? Asnate is thank you. I think this was the title of a song sung by Nazia and Zohaib and before I sign off remember the Safari film Hatari. It means danger or snake. I don’t have a clue if it has its roots in Arabic or is it just a native African word.


Water Shortage in Islamabad

There is an acute shortage of water in Islamabad and hardly anybody is paying attention to this growing problem. In Sector G14/4 for instance there is no piped water and every house has sunk a well to draw this precious commodity from underground aquifers. The subsurface water is decreasing at a very fast rate. Underground water is not being recharged as fast as it is being depleted and often no water is found even at the depth of 300 feet. People constructing houses end up sinking more than one bore at exorbitant expense ranging from Rs. 750 to Rs. 1000 per foot. The cost of sinking a well can cost in excess of Rs one hundred thousand. Most of the people living in the fast expanding sprawl have already stopped drinking water supplied by the Capital Development Authority (CDA). Bottled water is the norm. Islamabad today has a population of roughly two million people – a fourfold increase in the last few decades. The civic authorities are supposed to provide the essential utilities like electricity, water and security to the denizens of Islamabad. Like many other cities of Pakistan this obligation to the citizens has been abdicated by the city managers. The shortage of electricity is covered through generators or inverters, most commonly known as Uninterrupted Power Suppliers (UPS), private security guards provide protection to those, who can afford and almost everyone tries to dig a well in his or her home because the municipal water supply is uncertain or too little.

Recently a protest launched by the common people to highlight the shortage of water to the Mayor of the city but no one knows if this led any fruitful solutions. According to water experts the designed capacity of the available water resources for Islamabad is around 107 million gallons per day (mg/d). The major source of surface water is Simly dam. Groundwater is obtained from tube wells installed in the National Park area. Spring water is diverted from springs located at Saidpur, Nurpur and Shahdra-hills. These calculations discount the wells that everyone is sinks in one’s home. Water shortage to urban households is also being made up by water tankers that sell water at their own price that vary from Rs 1000 to 1200. There is no regulation on this private supply of water.

Unregulated water tankers must be brought under the law and so should the practice of boring wells for households. This will dry up aquifers and ground will rapidly sink causing a huge ecological disaster. However, stopping this practice will not be the solution for those needing regular water supply. The growing population of Islamabad needs water and new and dependable sources need to be discovered to keep the citizens supplied of this urgent commodity. Hot weather and frequent droughts will only exacerbate this situation.