The institution of “poetic justice“ that we invoke so frequently in our discourse is neither lyrical nor fair. It often has neither verse nor rhyme, and can sometimes be delivered with utmost blandness. That said, the expression still carries a certain moral strength to warn all of us humans to guard against extreme behaviour in all that we do, for retribution is not very far from where we stand.
Cases of what I am driving at this week are legion, but it will suffice for now to treat only two cases we have heard of this past few days, that is the cases of Rudolf Louis William Giuliani and Yevgeny Victorovich Prigozhin, a whole wide world apart and yet drawn close together by the headlines.
The American in this story made himself a great name as a public prosecutor against the Mafia bosses in New York in the 1980s, earning a reputation of toughness against crime.
He collected a number of plaudits, even an honorary knighthood from England’s Queen Elizabeth ll, riding on a wave of popular approval as a tough crime buster and became a popular mayor of the Great Apple.
Now he finds himself being prosecuted under the same laws he wielded against the Mob in the 1980s, including the charge of racketeering, referring to the trouble he went through trying to reverse the last presidential election which his pal Donald Trump lost but whose loss he refused to accept.
Giuliani’s problems with law enforcement seem to stem from his almost blind loyalty to Trump, an unquestioning friendship which suggests that if the former president told him to follow him to hell he would only ask for a few minutes to collect his toothbrush.
Yet at the same time, he is the lawyer who warned Trump about an orange jumper-suit, which they could soon both be wearing if the courts find them culpable.
Well, the process has started, the lawyering has brought in the heaviest legal firepower money can buy, and the outcome cannot be predicted.
Compared to Giuliani, it is clear Prigozhin’s problems ended last Thursday when his plane dropped from the sky, if indeed it is true, he was one of the ten passengers on that flight.
Still, it is useful to spend a minute on this man who has been described as Russia’s most powerful mercenary and a personal friend of Russia President Vladimir Putin.
He seems to be the very epitome of the “poetry” in the “justice” I am talking about here. Having been literally a thief and a robber, there can be little doubt as to why Putin saw his usefulness. The man in the Kremlin saw what he could do with a man with zero integrity but endowed with great quantities of greed for power and money, unscrupulous and daring.
In situations like Crimea, Ukraine, Syria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and elsewhere, there were stupendous opportunities for the two men to make enough to enable them to retire comfortably anywhere in the world.
At the same time, ‘Putin’s Chef’ and his ragtag gangsters of an army, ranged across the Sahara to salvage tottering regimes, were making uranium accessible, and that has its uses for a resurgent Russia eager to occupy the seat once occupied by the erstwhile Soviet Union.
So, the Chef could make a sumptuous meal of what he could lay his hands on in Africa, and as long as he shared the spoils with Putin, he was okay.
But thuggery does not obey rules of good behaviour and etiquette, and once he had opened up huge and unlimited vistas of the expansive Sahara, his imagination new no bounds, and he began thinking that he could challenge his former boss.
Shaaban Robert, the great Kiswahili savant once wrote (in Kusadikika) that once the termite gets attracted to mortality, it grows a pair of little wings that it uses to fly to its perdition. The Chef had tired of just cooking and now wanted to be the host at the banquet.
It is a measure of the man’s stupid arrogance — probably caused by narcissism — that he thought he could do what he did in June and still live in Russia, and still catch a plane every whenever he needed to catch one.
There can be no doubt that this mercenary’s attempted march on Moscow hurt Putin to the bone and that he would find his moment to deliver his lesson to his Chef in a way that would not only chastise him but would be done in a particular manner, pour encourager les autres.
Thus, a quiet, neat knife stab in the sand dunes outside Timbuktu at night would be out of the question, in favour of the dramatic optics of a kite hurtling to the ground from above the Muscovite skies; it is memorable.
Arguably, donning orange overalls for Giuliani – if it comes to that – would be a much easier fate than being in a tumbling plane, although a prison term is not exactly an Ibiza holiday cruise.
Still, the lesson to be drawn from this week’s headlines is that we all have to accept that our actions have consequences, and too often we find that the best choice is to err on the side of caution: the Chef should have run, and Giuliani should have shunned his friend.
There is more worth in what is public than in what is private, By Jenerali Uliwengu
A conversation I have been having with my compatriots can suffer some escalation to the regional level, especially because our different countries have had largely similar experiences in many respects.
In the 1960s, Dar es Salaam had a more or less efficient bus transport service, run by the Dar es Salaam Motor Transport Company (DMT) organised along lines not dissimilar to the London metropolitan bus service. The city service once even boasted double-deck buses, immortalised in the Kilwa Jazz song, Kifo cha Penzi ni Kifo Kibaya.
The buses ran on strict timelines, and when a bus scheduled to pass by a stop at 7.15 came at 7.20 people waiting at the stop would be seen impatiently looking at their watches.
Some of us in the media would take the matter up as soon as we got to our newsrooms to ask of the transport company officials why our bus had delayed a full five minutes on a working day.
By 1983, the company had been nationalised and called Usafiri Dar es Salaam (UDA) and soon acquired the distinctive Ikarus articulated buses manufactured in Hungary, but soon even thy ran out of steam because of the usual, multifaceted problems attaching to public owned institutions.
Around that time, then prime minister Edward Moringe Sokoine decided to bring in minibuses operating in Arusha and Moshi to rescue Dar es Salaam “temporarily, while the government is making plans for a permanent solution” to the problem.
From that period, it is only now that Dar es Salaam is beginning to see what looks like that “permanent solution” with the introduction of the Dar es Salaam Rapid Transport (Dart), which was initiated by a former mayor, the late Kleist Sykes.
It was delayed for so many years due to political skulduggery and the inevitable corruption in all our public institutions.
In the meantime, a former transport minister, Harrison Mwakyembe, had the rare presence of mind to remember that the city had had, since colonial times, railway tracks linking different districts but which lay fallow; he took action, and this initiative — which created what has come to be dubbed as “Mwakyembe’s train” — has contributed to the easing of the transit system congestion, but only just, because of issues such as the infrequency of train rides and the lack of security lights, ventilation and so on.
As it is right now, the Dar Rapid Transit is hobbling along, packing the human press the way you would pack cattle if you are not a keen meat seller.
Surely, our people deserve better than that, and the so-called “Mwakyembe train” needs replication in other parts of the city, as I suspect, there are many other fallow railway tracks waiting for some smart alecks to collect them and sell them as scrap metal.
Amidst all this, we have young people with hardly an income to speak of dying to own and drive a personal car, not for anything else but that owning a personal car makes them “somebody.”
What I have been telling them is, you do not have to own a car to be somebody; you are somebody because you are a useful member of society, and, surely, if you are predicating your personality on ownership of material things, you’re not.
What our young people — including not-so-young people, like me — should be doing is to militate for public transport to be expanded, and for it to work well; that is what they do in Europe and the US. The collaborative cries should be for Dar rapid service to improve: This past week, I was in the Coast region and wanted to ride on the service, only to be told by the bored girl at the stop that they had no tickets. Shame!
I understand there is too much red-tape restrictions in the processes attaching to getting more buses run by private operators. If that is so, what are the myriad officials running around like headless chickens doing?
Why are they paid all the big salaries and allowed to drive such luxury cars if they cannot do a repeat “Mwakyembe train,” increase buses, and ensure tickets are available for rapid-transit bus rides?
These should be the issues our young people have to be fighting for not driving their cars, except if they belong to the Diamond Platmuz or Ali Kiba cohort.
With an efficient public transit system, we all become part-owners of our collective means of transport.
The opposite of that is when you forget what a car is for and you begin to think like the backward tribesman for whom the car is a mystical contraption which confers miraculous powers on the owner and driver, a far cry from the evolved, modern citizen.
Unfortunately, I know I am preaching to the unhearing, but this should not discourage anyone.
In the fullness of time, the message will sink home when the hordes of the lumpen motorcar realise they have more important things to seek for their lives to be better and more meaningful, instead of the trinkets that are being dangled before their noses.
I stand ready, as ever, to engage in a conversation.
Inside the special mission to save Nigerian music; and why the rest of Africa should care, By Chinedu Chidi
When famed German composer and pianist, Beethoven described music as a “higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy” and as “the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents”, he may well have laid out a profound exposition of the depth and reaches of the art, one that is unrestricted by time or distance, by creed or colour, by status or zone. He envisioned a limitless art form. Today, we speak not only of its internal freedoms, but of its transcendent liberating force coursing through entertainment, education, politics, the economy, technology, and social change. Music has become a life form meandering like the bellows of an accordion into the many circles that define life as we know it.
The conception of the MTN MUSON Music Scholars Program in 2006, a partnership between MTN Foundation and the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) School of Music, was a clear reflection of a keen appreciation of this power of music. It was a visionary idea that laid a foundation that would redefine the story, not only of aspiring and practicing musicians, but of the music industry itself. Looking back, it appears a bold demonstration of faith in the promise of Nigerian music while still at comparatively modest levels, and a commensurate investment in the vehicle that would drive its actualization. Today, over 300 graduates later, the Nigerian music industry has grown in leaps and bounds. With over $2 billion in revenue annually, over 30 million monthly listeners worldwide, over 500 music producers, over 1000 record labels, over 50 radio stations amplifying its rhythms and sounds, and multiple digital music distribution platforms, Nigerian music has become the stuff of dreams, if only commercially.
The partnership involves a 2-year Diploma in Music at the MUSON Diploma School. All the students admitted to the Diploma course receive MTNF Scholarships comprising annual scholarships worth N250,000 to cover tuition, books and transportation over a 2-year period. The graduating students are awarded an internationally recognized Diploma in Music. The scholarship is an open opportunity one. It allows applications from all musically talented youth through an open and fair process.
MTN Foundation’s investment in this educational scholarship is not an isolated endeavour; it is an integral part of the foundation’s broad commitment to promoting youth development through empowering the nation’s young people with the “skills, tools, access, knowledge, and opportunities to become economically active citizens”. The foundation combines this intervention with its “National Priority” portfolio which “focuses on Initiatives that support community infrastructure development and health-related initiatives that support women and children”. Together, the initiatives align with the objectives of the Government’s National Development plan and te UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since its founding in 2004, the MTN Foundation has invested over N23.7 Billion in the 36 states of the federation and FCT, has over 1,017 project sites across Nigeria, with 50 unique projects spanning 3,319 communities. Overall, it has reached over 31 million people.
All this has been made possible by MTN Nigeria Communication PLC, its parent body, which has committed up to 1% of its Profit after Tax (PAT) to the foundation. Far-reaching strategic partnerships with key stakeholders have also been a major driver of the social investments.
MTN Foundation’s choice of MUSON School of Music was thus no coincidence. MUSON has been at the heart of developing and preserving the purest form of music in Nigeria, and helping to export same to the rest of Africa and the world. Created in 1989 by a group of friends, namely Mr. Louis Mbanefo (SAN), Mr. Akintola Williams (late), Chief Ayo Rosiji (late), Mrs. Francesca Emanuel (late) and Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi (late), the school was designed to promote, as Mr. Mbanefo, who is Chairman of the school, aptly captures, “the performance, understanding and enjoyment of serious music”. The dream, he notes, has continued to be realized, producing internationally reputed graduates and changing the dynamics of music in Nigeria and Africa. “The school has produced over 400 Diploma graduates, many of whom have continued their musical education in Europe, South Africa and America and attained international recognition. Most of our alumni have made and are making very impressive contributions to the musical life in Nigeria and indeed, the world. They have raised considerably the standard of singing and musical performance in churches, in schools and at social events. Indeed, many churches and musical societies throughout Nigeria are borrowing from the templates established by MUSON”, he proudly reveals.
As the proud owner of Nigeria’s “only professional Symphony Orchestra” and a choir of international renown, the school boasts a rich platform for empowering young Nigerian artistes and instrumentalists, especially in the dying art of classical and orchestral music performance.
Accredited by the Federal Government to award Diplomas in Music since 2002, the MUSON Diploma School grants all MTNF MUSON graduates diplomas which are equal to those awarded by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in the United Kingdom.
Perhaps the most critical area of importance that MTN Foundation’s music intervention serves is the preservation of the fine arts of the classical, orchestral and live performance genres, with their accompanying socially valuable messaging. The rapid rise of studio-recorded music, with its massive commercial success, has sadly provided an alternative to total music, one that substantively accommodates a wide array of ‘real’ instruments, trained voice, and electrifying theatre. It is perhaps the appeal of total music that inspired Victor Hugo to bellow, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”.
This challenge is one that is not only unique to Nigeria or Africa, but a universal one. In Sasha Frere-Jones’ piece, “Do Recordings Kill Music?”, she cited a profound quote from Richard Kostelanetz’s interview with John Cage, thus: “I’ve always said that a record is not faithful to the nature of music.” David Grubbs, a professor at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, she reports, “takes up a specific belief of Cage’s: that recordings can injure the ability of an audience member to experience a performance in real time. In theoretical terms, the recording reifies a specific moment, potentially interfering with a composition’s ability to live and change and breathe by fixing a single iteration as the ‘authoritative’ version”. Perhaps, nothing captures the triumphantly seductive and absorbing force of the authentic live performance than Robert Ashley’s description of Alvin Lucier’s 1969 piece, “Vespers” as referenced by Grubbs. Ashley wrote of “Vespers”: “No number of microphones and loudspeakers can reproduce the relationship between the sounds and the space in which the sounds create the musical experience.” This reminds one of Mozart’s delicate refrain that “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”
This dying art form was once the force that rocked the bowels of mother Africa, from the Sahara to the Mediterranean. From Fela and Makeba to N’Dour, Salif Keita, Amr Diab, Sangare, Mapfumo, Kidjo, Mtukudzi and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the glory days of message-laden total music may, but for the flickers embodied by the likes of the eternal Kidjo and the heirs to the Fela dynasty, be well and truly over.
But the rebirth glistening in the hallways of MUSON Diploma School offers hope. The school is home to the award-winning MUSON Diploma Choir directed by Sir Emeka Nwokedi, and the MUSON School Orchestra & Concert Bands. It has been able to produce outstanding Jazz ensembles such as the all-female GIRLZ RULE Band, the 5YZ MEN and The Theosolites.
At MUSON, MTN Scholars take advanced training in music with majors in voice or any of the instrument forms of: Piano, Organ, Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone, Percussion, and Classical Guitar. “Students are also required to take 2 terms of an instrument minor other than their major instrumental family. All voice students must pass grade 2 piano, instrumentalists must pass vocal techniques and all students must belong to the choir. Orchestra is required for all string majors. All wind and percussion majors must belong to band. Others who may not be majors are welcome to audition for the orchestra band”, the school says. They also take part in high-level musical productions which provide the perfect opportunity to exhibit their talents and skills. At the end of their programme, the music scholars have the opportunity to showcase the result of their advanced training through performances at the annual Donors Appreciation Concert. This speaks to the neat integration of sound and rhythm, of theatre and messaging; the total music.
If the MUSON Diploma School is to continue to plot the course for Nigeria’s music salvation and become the sure hope of total music’s triumph for all of Africa, then it must display resilience, which its parent body— The Musical Society of Nigeria— chose as its Festival of Arts theme during the celebration of its 40th anniversary earlier this year. It must be resilient in the face of the onslaught of crass commercialism. It must be defiantly resilient if it must realize its goal of producing “well-rounded, thoroughly educated musicians…comparable to those found in a Conservatoire”.
And in its resilience, it must remember that lodged in the soul of this art, in its purest form, are the currents of humanity.
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