Blackberry: Is the fruit rotting?


I took a blogging ‘summer holiday.’ But hopefully I am back at just the right time. As I type these words, gunmen are still holed up in a Nairobi Mall in Kenya exchanging fire with the Kenyan Defence Force and confirmed and unconfirmed reports filter in from the North-East of Nigeria as Boko Haram militants continue their, now attritious war, with the Nigerian Army.

But for many young people across these climes, especially the social media savvy type, the biggest news of the week is how to download the iOS 7 and the BBM for Android and iOS. Blackberry, taking a huge hit in the Smartphone market and suffering a slow death, has made its flagship chatting application ‘cross platform.’  Cross platform here does not include Nokia’s Window’s Mobile, meaning that Blackberry thinks Nokia should go back to making bicycles for Finns.

Though the stats continuously indicate that Blackberry is no more a ‘cool’ device to have in the rest of the world, the Canadian firm, formerly known as Research in Motion (RIM), has still got plenty of momentum in Africa, especially Nigeria, where BB, as they are affectionately termed, still sells bucket loads. New ones and huge amount of used ones too as all the abandoned Blackberries from Europe make their way here. A combination of cheap internet via the Blackberry Internet Service (BIS) and its use a a fashionable accessory has driven this, obviously ‘against the market trend,’ and at the height of the ‘Blackberry madness,’ lynching of Blackberry thieves and a Nollywood film titled Blackberry Babes were the hallmarks.

Still popular and entrenched in Nigerian Pop Culture, social scientists, media watchers and tech geeks are all watching to see, if, and when, the Blackberry will change from uber-cool to unwanted now that the mother company is adrift and the BBM (ubiquitous, must-have, social media tool) is available on Android and iOS. The Blackberry has driven the social media interaction in Nigeria helping tens of millions of young people become active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc and communicate with each other, affect the outcome of a presidential election, sound the death knell for print media in the country, lead a successful ‘occupy’ protest against fuel subsidies and of course spread innumerable rumours and misinformation.

Blackberry activists are geared up again, ready to use the platform to mobilize and engage citizens for protests against the national assembly this September. In the wake of celebrations marking fifty years of the March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights brass of the day, it is a remarkable indicator of progress in technological development that, while King and his people wrote letters and trudged from door-to-door, today letters are typed on keypads and thousands respond.

So while my heart goes out to the carnage in Kenya and Borno and of man’s inhumanity to man worldwide, and while you search for a link to download BBM for Google’s Android, cast a thought for Google’s motto: Do no Evil.



Boko Haram have torn my English Reader


Simbi, from the Macmillan English Reader

Back in Primary School – in the late 1980’s – we had this wonderful, nationalistic English Reader (can’t remember the title now), where a family takes a holiday road trip across Nigeria, starting off somewhere in the South and touching the northernmost parts of Borno and Kano. Back then, most Schools studied English with the legendary Macmillan Reader starring Edet, Simbi and co. But I was fortunate to learn my punctuation, grammar and spelling while reading about the many adventures of this man and his wife (cosmopolitans a la Kwame Appiah), who put their two kids in the car and drove all the way to the ancient city walls of Kano so the kids could glimpse that pre-colonial engineering feat while making stops at Jebba, Lokoja and the thousand and one sites along the route. They made it all the way to Sokoto – the heat and the flies brilliantly described – and introduced me (a pre-teen) to the Toureg, with their daggers in their belt.

The ‘expedition’ was exotic and memorable, so that even today, as an adult, the little boy in me (not Robin van Persie’s kind) still screams to see the Kano walls and the palace of the Sheu.  Not even the bombs of Boko Harem has doused my urge to see the ancient Kano market (is it still there?) which, according to my text, drew traders from across the Sahara.

That ‘simple’ Reader has driven my idea of the North for over twenty years now (I have never gone beyond Abuja), even now, after having studied communication and can see the ‘tricks’ immanent in a text written to foster national integration. That is the power of communication and one wonders if enough advocacy is still being deployed in tackling the intransigence evident in the North, which is unfortunately aiding the Boko Haram insurgency.

I fully support the State of Emergency declared in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. In fact, if I were a President I would have done it six months ago. The BH have upgraded from insurgency to terrorism and since they have started hoisting their own flags, the ‘R’ word might not be far off. Unfortunately, the little boy in me will have to wait a little longer before we see the flat lands and dusty Sahel of the ancient Kanem-Bornu Empire.

In my Reader, the father had friends from across the nation and whichever city they got to they slept in an ‘old buddie’s house, never in a hotel. These were ‘brothers’ he met in University, who eagerly opened their doors, gave them water and food, and acted as willing tour guides for their cities. In one beautifully rendered chapter, the family car broke down (a Peugeot 404?)on the roadside somewhere in the North-East, and while the father went in search of a mechanic, the family, in proper English style, picnicked on the road side, under one of those big trees in the North that seem to have a secret underground water supply. Those were the ‘good old days,’ before Boko Haram and terrorism, and fear. Fantasy? Well, Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “We have art in order not to die of the truth.”

Honestly, can’t remember the title or publishers of that English Reader. Somebody help.