Friday, April 11, 2014


Abuja is that young, rambunctious lover with an inordinate self-awareness, demanding that anyone who seeks its favours forsakes old ties and loves. While at its best, it can make one delirious with joy; it drives the keen observer to madness with its sheer amount of contradictions. 
This is why you love it, cautiously, from a distance. You nag constantly about its deplorable features. Especially about its airport, which has gulped millions of dollars but is hardly more functional than airports in poor countries wallowing in sanctions like Zimbabwe.
In fact, you have made a note not to write about this again, before someone asks if you have nothing else to write about.
Abuja is that flagrant rascal that mocks you while revelling in scandals of unimaginable proportions. Scandals that make you ashamed when foreigners ask about it.
It is in this state that you check in to the hotel in the Bvumba Mountains of the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. You have since come to the conclusion that patriotism does not lie in putting up desperate defences for Abuja’s contradictions; you are not a patriot if you justify the absence of electricity in a country that exports electricity, or the poverty rate of close to 70 per cent in Africa’s biggest oil-producing country. You simply sigh when any of these issues are raised.
Abuja is that lover that makes you hot and sweaty on the inside, but angry on the outside. You imagine that the Zimbabweans you meet must feel the same about their country, about a land so blessed and beautiful, yet having its development truncated in so many ways.
You start to make jokes about the near centenarian Mugabe whose 90th birthday billboards you saw in Harare. You talk about his most recent speech, reciting the words in an accent as close to his as you can. You watch the Zimbabweans around you cringe. Not ordinary Zimbabweans; Zimbabwean writers.
People in these parts speak about Robert Gabriel Mugabe in whispers, one writer tells you. Agents of the secret service are everywhere. At first you laugh, thinking it is a joke that in 2014 writers speak in undertones about their 90 year old president who is rumoured to have crocodile farms where people disappear.
You think of the many columns you have written about your president, of whom you are often ashamed, and his ministers whose propensity for making vast sums of money disappear is unlimited. You think of the many cartoons in the national dailies that depict your president as clueless or make fun of his wife.
You think of how often you have accused the government of complicity in deaths and violence. Reading of a people trapped in fear of its leader is a different animal from seeing enlightened adults look over their shoulders before they whisper what they really think about their president.
‘The walls have ears here – anyone can just disappear,’ another Zimbabwean tells you. Not long after, you hear of friends of yours who have organised a protest in Abuja and of their eventual arrest and release.
While you sent out frenzied tweets condemning their arrest and brief detention, you cannot help but wonder what would have happened to them if they were in Harare. The freedom of speech you often take for granted suddenly takes on new significance.
You return to Abuja after spending two weeks in Zimbabwe. You can still see the inefficiency of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport through all the cosmetic makeovers and shiny columns. But at least you can complain aloud without thinking of a crocodile farm.
Abuja may be an insensitive, abusive lover. But at least she lets you complain.


  1. Please come to Johannesburg so you can write about her :)

  2. i haven't heard many warm things about south Africa. It would be interesting to hear your first hand opinion about SA.


You fit vex, bet abeg no curse me. You hear?