Pigeon Posts: Letters from Africa – special offer for AiW readers

We’re delighted to be able to offer African in Words readers free access to the first five staves (chapters) of Pigeon Posts: Letters from Africa. 

Monday 19th January 2015 saw the launch of digital serial publisher The Pigeonhole’s first real-time book, Pigeon Posts: Letters from Africa. Over the course of ten weeks, correspondents Tom Mboya (Nairobi), Tolu Ogunlesi (Lagos), Tawanda Mudzonga (Harare), and Tilly Kingston (Cairo) send weekly dispatches about everyday things in their cities: family, fun, the daily commute, education, sexism, ethnic tensions, the arts and corruption, as well as on-the-ground updates on the Nigerian and Egyptian elections.

Pigeon Posts: Letters from Africa is about life as it is really lived in Africa’s thrivingletters-from-africa metropolises, piercing the often hysterical headlines from western commentators. Multimedia extra content will include photo diaries, Q&A videos, guest posts on tech industry and must-read literature, and a round-up of the best music from around the continent.

Jacob Cockcroft, founder of The Pigeonhole, says: ‘Even though it is 2015, images of war, starving children and wild animals continue to pervade most people’s idea of Africa. The truth is entirely different. African cities are some of the most exciting places in the world. Sit back and see.’ For more information and to subscribe visit: http://thepigeonhole.com/books/letters-from-africa

For exclusive free access to the first five staves of the letters, just for Africa in Words readers, please visit here: https://thepigeonhole.com/special-offer/africainwordsThank you to the Pigeonhole for making this offer available to our readers!

About the correspondents:

Tom Mboya is a leading civil society figure and governance expert. Educated in the US, UK and South Africa, he lives and works in Nairobi. @tommboya

Tolu Ogunlesi is a Nigerian journalist, poet, blogger and satirist based in Lagos. Between 2009 and 2011 he was Features Editor and editorial board member at NEXT newspapers; and is currently West Africa Editor for the Africa Report magazine. @toluogunlesi

Tawanda Mudzonga is a Harare-based writer and journalist who has written for online and print publications in Zimbabwe and the United States. @LalaTawanda

Tilly Kingston trained as a political risk analyst and is currently attending a language school in Cairo while considering a move into the NGO sector.

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The Pigeonhole have kindly allowed Africa in Words to reproduce an extract from the first stave (chapter) of Pigeon Posts: Letters from Africa.

From ‘Lagos: Exceptional City’ by Tolu Ogunlesi

It’s election season in Nigeria. Online and offline that’s what everyone seems pre-occupied with. The stakes are high; political office is one of the most assured routes to personal prosperity. In Lagos, the economic capital of the country – a coastal city which, were it a country, would be one of the ten biggest economies in Africa – the remarkably popular Governor Tunde Fashola, member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), is finishing his second term in office. In February we will go to the polls to elect his successor; one of thirty or so Governors who will be sworn in for a first or second term. I’m not sure I will be able to vote, fate having conspired to keep me away from Nigeria at all the times stipulated by the electoral commission for registration. For some reason I don’t think it is possible to register at any time of your choosing, in ongoing fashion, it has to be done on specific dates set by the election body. Nigeria, as you will soon realize, has its reasons, for which reason has scant defence. Nigerians are given to asking themselves how India manages to conduct an election involving 800 million voters with electronic voting machines and minimal fuss, and Nigeria can’t even manage a decent election with fewer than 80 million voters. The answer to that puzzle – whatever it might be (and the jury is still out) – that answer is ‘Nigeria’. It is far more than a place on a map, it is a way of doing things – or not doing them.

Lagos too is like that: a way of doing things. Or 15 million ways, or any multiple of that. Actually, no one knows exactly how many we are in Lagos. The last census, in 2006, put us at 9 or so million people. But it was a federal census, and Lagos State disputed the numbers, and carried out its own. (Census figures are deeply political here, because they play a part in determining how much money states get from the federal government, as well as voting representation). Today Lagos is said to be anywhere between 12 million and 21 million, 15 million and 18 million being the most common compromises. As with everything else in Lagos, perception is the actual reality, and the outermost boundaries of an idea far more substantial than its core.

Whoever gets elected to replace Mr. Fashola in February – the contenders being his party’s candidate Akin Ambode, an accountant, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party candidate Jimi Agbaje, a pharmacist – will have his work cut out for him, just as it was for the nerdish Mr. Fashola, a lawyer, eight years ago.

Somewhere near the top of the to-do list will be Lagos’s traffic situation, which regularly turns swathes of the city into a giant car park. It is that traffic which supplies the basis for my preferred way of explaining Lagos to the uninitiated. Here goes: ‘Imagine London, yeah? Now double the population. Then strip it of the Tube, and its roads of much of the asphalt layering that makes them pleasantly motorable. Replace the bicycles with motorcycles whose daredevil drivers have replaced the factory-fitted horns with truck ones. Welcome to Lagos.’

You might argue that many cities in the world have to deal with crushing human traffic. Agreed, but Lagos still stands in a corner by itself. The traffic in Nairobi is awful as well, but its population is only a fraction of Lagos’s, and it’s not a $60 billion economy. Cairo too is crazy, I hear, but at least it has a metro system.

Apart from the roads in Lagos there is no other way to get around. Actually that’s not completely true. A railway line dating back to colonial times still runs along a few routes, but only the poor use it, squashing into it, hanging from it.

Governor Fashola has tried to deal with the traffic issue. In 2008 he created dedicated bus lanes. And then he started to build a new rail system: two lines, one running west to east, a second planned to run north to south. It’s well behind schedule, alas (the same fate that befalls every meeting and event in the city). But when it’s done it will probably significantly alter the city’s traffic patterns. Then again, maybe not, for a number of reasons that might shed light into the way Lagos works – or doesn’t work.

First, there are no guarantees that the Lagos middle-class will abandon their cars. Everyone who can afford a car in Lagos buys one. Everyone who can afford a second, or third, car also buys one. Decades of a dysfunctional public transport system have forced residents into self-sufficiency. To get those car-owning multitudes to jettison their cars for public rail would be challenge number one. The advantages of that public rail would have to far outweigh the drawbacks – the loss of privacy, the compulsion to stick to timetables in a country where time, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and punctuality is treated like the biggest thief of time.

Challenge number two: such is the scale of the problem that every possible solution stands the risk of being instantly overwhelmed. But since this is Lagos we are not allowed to be anything less than hopeful. Hope is what we breathe, what we excrete. Because everything is possible here. The ‘No Parking’ signs are not meant to dissuade you from parking. Instead they are there to make you slow down and nervously cast your gaze around in search of the self-appointed ‘Chief Parking Officer’, the one who uprooted the sign from wherever it once belonged and relocated it here hoping you would properly translate the gesture. Ditto the ‘No Unirating’ (sic) sign. One is never sure which came first: the sign or the smell of urine. And then there is the ‘This House Is Not For Sale’ sign, which actually means the land beneath is not for sale. (If you could find a way to acquire the house and leave the land untouched you could probably have the house – for a fee, of course. Not that it has ever happened.)…



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