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Three Women, Three Wives, One True Story

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“I will not give up on them. I will bring light to their darkness,” announces the feisty, damaged hero of Lola Shoneyin’s poignant, gripping, jaw-to-the-floor hilarious 2010 novel The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives.

Set in Shoneyin’s home town of Ibadan, Nigeria, it shadows the academically gifted but domestically naive graduate Bolanle (a Yoruba name, pregnant here with irony, meaning “find wealth at home”) and her struggle to adapt to, and escape from, her life as the fourth and youngest wife of Baba Segi, a prosperous, corpulent building materials dealer.

After two years of marriage, Bolanle has failed to add to the offspring provided by the three other matriarchs, and a visit to a maternity clinic with her fretting husband is the catalyst of the pungent crisis to follow.

The book has now been adapted into a one-woman show by storyteller Maimouna Jallow, who performed the piece on June 15 to a full house at Nairobi’s Goethe Institute.

The Future Of African Women In Art

The event was the latest in the ongoing Artistic Encounters series organized by South African novelist and journalist Zukiswa Wanner, and with Shoneyin also in attendance, there was a unique opportunity to talk to all three women about the prickly, convoluted drama inherent in the internal politics of polygamous marriages.

The novel is based on the bare bones of a true story related to Shoneyin by a childhood friend.

“So, what I then had to do was decide what each wife’s story was going to be,” she says.

“What do I want this character to embody? Bolanle’s situation, for me, was very much about sexual violence. And depression, which sometimes people would rather not admit exists.”

Bolanle is a complex persona, occasionally abrasive in her condescension towards the illiteracy and feral guile of the other wives, but never less than exhilarating – we cannot but cheer her defiant intellect and resolute grit. Her decision to squander her education and surrender to a smothering polygamous union is rooted in the open psychic wound of her rape by a wealthy stranger, committed when she was still in high school, and the subsequent backstreet abortion recommended by a callow paramour.

“I knew Baba Segi wouldn’t be like younger men who demanded explanations for the faraway look in my eye,” she narrates. “I chose this family to regain my life, to heal in anonymity.”

‘It’s Africa’s Time For Animation’

Her pain is exacerbated by the frequent and sourly-articulated disappointment of her mother, who is unwilling to believe that a daughter equipped with such rare and precious intelligence would move in with “an overfed orangutan”.

Confronted with the burden of dashed maternal aspirations, Bolanle yearns for societal solace; instead, she discovers only an oppressive new universe of strife, before her resilience – and a delicious key twist in the plot – delivers a rousing psychological and emotional triumph.

“There is this pressure on a woman of the expectation of marriage,” says Wanner.

“The one thing that really struck me about Bolanle is that she would rather be in a polygamous relationship than not being married at all – because she doesn’t know whether she’ll still be able to conceive.”

Jallow performing the adaptation at the Goethe Institut, Nairobi. (Photo by Donald Gregory)

It is striking that many of the characters in the novel, male and female, hunger for the reassurance of love, driven by the terror of abandonment.

“After having performed it several times, I then re-read the book a few weeks ago. And there was a layer to Bolanle that I realized I had completely excluded from the performance,” says Jallow.

“I saw her as a victim, but she’s still very much a strong woman who believes in the power of education, and who can still have a positive influence in this household.”

Jallow’s electric adaptation strips the narrative down to the individual histories of Bolanle and the three older wives: the tyrannical and materialistic lesbian Iya Segi, the kind and unworldly Iya Tope, and the cunning, weaponized glamour of Iya Femi, arguably the novel’s most fascinating personality, whom Jallow brings to life with particular swagger and relish.

“When I am transitioning from Iya Tope to Iya Femi, I do a little dance in front of the mirror,” she says. These histories are the empathetic heart and soul of the story, providing psychological context for the characters’ most mischievous, startling, horrifying choices.

“Baba Segi’s wives spoke to me the minute I read the book,” Jallow says. “All I could think about was that these women needed to be given a physical body and voice, to be accessible to new audiences. Lola’s writing is so vivid, her characters so alive, that it just seemed natural that they should be adapted into theater.”

While the novel’s depiction of polygamy, and, by implication, the swelling phenomenon of the ‘benefactor’, ‘blesser’ or ‘sponsor’, is almost uniformly unflattering (at one stage, Bolanle even refers to the other wives as ‘inmates’, in what is probably the novel’s most unambiguous reference to enslavement and subjugation), Shoneyin says her feelings about these practices have softened.

“I shy away from being prescriptive, where consenting adults decide to engage in transactional relationships,” she says. “However, this continent needs leaders who recognize how critical it is that girls have access to the quality education, skills and opportunities they need to attain the economic independence they have a right to.”

She says she is aware that her own life has been blessed.

“I feel there must be something about my upbringing, or my country, that have put me in a situation where I am never afraid to break into spaces women didn’t occupy before. When I want to do something creative, I do it. I force my way and I make it happen.” She smiles her blazing smile. “And that’s how I’m raising my daughters.” – Written by Alastair Hagger

– Jallow will perform The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, Edinburgh, from October 20 to 31

Current Affairs

‘With Covid-19, See How Resilient Nature Is’

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Adjany da Silva Freitas Costa; image supplied

Adjany da Silva Freitas Costa, the youngest minister in the Angolan cabinet, is an intrepid adventurer, biologist and conservationist committed to saving the world’s last wild places.

Adjany da Silva Freitas Costa is not your ordinary minister. At 30 years old, the Luanda local is currently the youngest minister to serve in the Angolan cabinet and an intrepid adventurer with an inspiring hands-on background.

In 2015, Costa was one of the braves who undertook a four-month journey for the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project. The captivating trip documentary, Into the Okavango, follows the courageous crew of scientists (including Costa) who travel the riverine route. The journey began in the highlands of Angola and had the team meandering 2,400km by mokoro (a traditional canoe), camping wild along the Okavango River until they reached the town of Maun in Botswana. The trip illustrated how the Okavango Delta relies on Angolan rains, but also highlighted the costs of Angola’s lengthy war to its landscapes.

In April this year, Costa assumed the government position as Minister of Culture, Tourism and Environment. “It is not exactly unusual for a woman to join the Angolan government,” says Costa, “but it’s not exactly common either.” Currently, there are seven women ministers in the Angolan cabinet, creating a gender split of roughly 35% female.

“We bring a lot of benefit for the simple fact that we can bring inclusion to the politics forged in society,” says Costa. “I think that every single one of us brings a different perspective to the whole context of politics. Currently, I am the youngest minister to serve in the Angolan cabinet. It makes me feel like there is hope for youth and hope for the future. I do think we bring an innovative way of thinking and innovative vision into the current system that is very beneficial to change and to the improvement of the system here in Angola.”

The National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project expedition revealed new species (to date, ongoing field trips have resulted in the discovery of 26 species new to science, more than 75 species potentially new to science, and more than 130 species previously unknown in Angola). It also embedded in Costa a life-long commitment to saving the world’s last wild places. It short, it changed her life.

“It changed the whole perception that I had of everything, personally, professionally, academically,” Costa admits. “The trip helped me see the world and my participation in the world, in a very different way. In a very concrete way and I don’t think I would be sitting here answering these questions if I hadn’t participated. I have never, ever in my entire life “envisioned myself as a minister. I don’t think I’ve ever envisioned myself being part of politics, but there is a writer who once said, ‘You don’t choose politics. Politics chooses you’, and that’s exactly what happened. I see it as an opportunity to bring change from the outside. I am someone that has always applied the policy that’s created by decision-makers. I think it’s an opportunity to bring that applicability into the system and make it much more action-focused – and more than a piece of paper.”

In 2017, Costa was named an emerging explorer at National Geographic, and in 2019, she became the Young Champion of the Earth for Africa in the United Nations Environment Program. Before taking a seat in the government, Costa worked as an ethno-conservationist to pioneer projects that developed working conservation models for communities living alongside crucial wildlife hubs.

“Being a biologist is also a great advantage for this position. I believe that policies should be made to be applied and not archived,” Costa says. Another benefit for her position is that she knows all about being on the ground. “I started my journey in conservation, looking specifically at biodiversity and working directly with the specimens. I started with turtles, and all we did was patrol the beaches and look after the nests – and that was it. There was no engagement. For a long time, I always thought there was a separation between humans and wildlife – and that the separation was needed for us to protect wildlife. Working for the past five years in the East of Angola, I realized that it is the complete opposite. The gap that we’ve created with nature is what causes us to destroy nature in the first place.”

Costa has a masters degree in Biology and a PhD in International Wildlife Conservation Practices from Oxford University. In the wake of Covid-19, we are just beginning to see the harsh effects of tourism loss to wilderness protection.

“Rural communities are the true protectors of the environment around them,” Costa says. “Ethno-conservation is the art, and it is our privilege of being able to work with communities for the sake of nature. Not just for the conservation of biodiversity, but also the improvement of their own lives.”

The drastic decline in visitor numbers in the wilds of Kenya, Zimbabwe and across the African continent highlights the importance of such a conservation model more than ever as decades of conservation successes hunker in jeopardy due to tourism collapse. 

“Our main target for tourism in Angola is internal tourism. We have 29 million people that don’t know most of the country,” says Costa. “We have a lot of potential though; whether it’s landscape, culture, adventure or eco-tourism, it’s possible in Angola. We are very much focused on creating the services and infrastructure for internal tourism before we look outside of our borders.

“In terms of tourism, Angola’s biggest asset is definitely diversity,” Costa enthuses. “Not just naturally and not just culturally. The conditions that you find from one place to the other are so unique that you can go, within Angola, to 10 different places that feel like completely different countries. We literally go from a tropical forest, all the way to a desert in one row. Angola has partnered with different collaborators to assure the protection of these spaces. Whatever happens in Iona National Park is completely different from what happens in the Luengue-Luiana National Park (which feeds the Okavango Basin), and that’s completely different from what happens in the Quiçama National Park.”

She also believes that protecting such wild spaces enables wildlife to flourish.

“Nature has this incredible thing that is, to me, one of the most fantastic traits. It is resilient. Even now, with this Covid-19 situation, we have seen how resilient nature is. Wilderness itself can resuscitate, and wilderness can find a future – if we just know how to protect it.”

When asked about inspiration and the future, Costa cites other intrepid conservationists, Jane Goodall and Sylvia Earle as strong influences.

“If I have to send a message to young women around the world, what would it be? Do it. That’s something that I always say. Do it. Whatever it is that we set our minds to do. We can most definitely, definitely do it. We can achieve impossible things. I’m a minister today. That says a lot!”

 – By Melanie van Zyl

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Sport

Naomi Osaka Is The Highest-Paid Athlete Ever, Topping Serena Williams

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The 22-year-old Japanese tennis player racked up $37 million in earnings in the past year, more than any other female athlete in history.

Naomi Osaka was only a year old when Serena Williams won her first grand slam title in 1999. Nineteen years later, Osaka beat Williams at the U.S. Open finals to win her first grand slam. It was one of the most controversial matches in Open history involving three code violations called against Williams. Now the 22-year-old ace has beaten her legendary rival once again, this time for bragging rights as the highest-paid female athlete in the world.

Osaka earned $37.4 million the last 12 months from prize money and endorsements, $1.4 million more than Serena, setting an all-time earnings record for any female athlete in a single year; Maria Sharapova held the prior record with $29.7 million in 2015.

Osaka ranks No. 29 among the 100 highest-paid athletes, while Williams is No. 33. It’s the first time since 2016 that two women have made the ranks of the top 100 highest paid athletes, with the full 2020 list set for release next week.

“To those outside the tennis world, Osaka is a relatively fresh face with a great back story,” says David Carter, a sports business professor at USC Marshall School of Business. “Combine that with being youthful and bicultural, two attributes that help her resonate with younger, global audiences, and the result is the emergence of a global sports marketing icon.”

The ascension puts an end to a decisive winning streak for Williams, who has been the world’s highest-paid female athlete each of the past four years, with annual pre-tax income ranging from $18 million to $29 million. The 23-time grand slam champion has collected almost $300 million during her career from endorsers who have swarmed the 38-year-old star.

Osaka’s rise to the head of the charts was a perfect  convergence of several factors. She first proved herself on the court, with back-to-back grand slam titles at the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open. That plus her heritage—a Japanese mother and Haitian-American father—helped separate her from the pack; at only 20 when she won her Open title, she had a cool factor and engaging personality.

Osaka’s roots are crucial to her endorsement stardom. She was born in Japan. When she was three, she and her family moved to the U.S., settling on Long Island and then heading to Florida; older sister, Mari, also plays on the pro circuit.

She turned pro in 2014, a month before her 16th birthday. She cracked the WTA’s top 40 in 2016 and won her first title in March 2018 at Indian Wells. In the 12 months that followed, she became the first Japanese player to win a slam, and first Asian tennis player ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world.

Osaka maintains dual citizenship but made the wise choice to represent Japan ahead of the since-postponed Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. The decision made her an even hotter commodity for Olympic sponsors, like Procter & Gamble, All Nippon Airways and Nissin, who signed endorsement deals with Osaka to use her around marketing for the Games, now scheduled for summer 2021. She is expected to be one of the faces of the Olympics that had triggered unprecedented levels of excitement among the Japanese public before the coronavirus.

A Decade Of Highest-Paid Female Athletes

Tennis has been a winning strategy for highest-paid female athletes. Before Naomi Osaka arrived on the scene, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams were the top earning women of the decade, holding the top spot for five and four years, respectively.

The last top-earning female athlete, outside of Williams and Sharapova, was Serena’s sister Venus in 2003. Tennis remains the only route for women to rank among the top-paid male sports stars. Sharapova, Li Na, Serena, and now Osaka are the only females to rank among the 100 top earners in sports since 2012. The highest-paid female athlete every year since Forbes started tracking the data in 1990 has been a tennis player, with Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis the top earners most of the 1990s. 

Tennis players are walking billboards in the only major global sport where men and women have some level of equality in their paychecks, thanks to similarly sized audiences tuning in to watch tournaments. Prize money at the four grand slam events has been even since 2007, although men still earn more at lower level tourneys.

The demographics of the tennis fan make sponsoring top players attractive for brands. At the U.S. Open last year, attendance skewed in favor of women by a ratio of 56 to 44, a rarity at big time sporting events; 78% held at least a bachelor’s degree versus 35% for the U.S. overall; the average household income was $216,000. This is a group with significant disposable income, ready to buy apparel, sporting equipment, cars, watches and financial services.

Steering Osaka’s brand is tennis powerhouse agency IMG, which leaned on its history with breakout female tennis stars when Osaka started blowing up, having represented Maria Sharapova and Li. Stuart Duguid is her lead agent at IMG.

The apparel deal is almost always the biggest endorsement for tennis stars, and Osaka’s timing was perfect there as well, as she hit the open market just after winning two grand slams. It triggered a free agency bidding war between Nike and Adidas—her previous apparel sponsor. The Swoosh emerged on top and paid her more than $10 million last year in an agreement that runs through 2025.

Osaka secured an extremely rare but lucrative provision in her Nike contract. The sportswear giant always requires its tennis players to be clad in Nike gear from head to toe, without any other logos on their shirts or hats. This is lucrative real estate for marketers, as cameras focus closely on the player as they serve or get set to return serve.

Nike never made an exemption for Serena, Sharapova, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi or any of the other marketable tennis stars in their stable. The only exception until last year was China’s Li Na; Osaka was the second, thanks to massive leverage with Sharapova headed for retirement and Williams turning 39 this year. Her “patch” deals are with All Nippon Airways, MasterCard and ramen noodle maker Nissin Foods.

Nike plans to launch an Osaka streetwear line in Japan in the fourth quarter, featuring hoodies, leggings and shirts, as well as a new collection each season. There will not be any tennis apparel.

Osaka now has 15 endorsement partners, including global brands like Nissan Motor, Shiseido and Yonex, whose tennis racquets she has used for more than a decade; almost all are worth seven-figures annually. 

Sharapova was 17 when she defeated Williams to win the 2004 Wimbledon crown. IMG quickly mobilized to lock up lucrative long-term deals for the Russian, who ranked as the highest-paid female athlete for 11 years before injuries and a suspension for taking a banned substance dented her earnings.

IMG got an education on marketing a female Asian tennis star with China’s Li. She was the first grand slam singles champion from Asia, man or woman, when she captured the 2011 French Open at age 29. IMG quickly secured seven multi-million deals, pushing her off-court earnings from $2 million to $20 million. She challenged Sharapova as the sport’s top earner until her retirement in 2014.

IMG used its expertise in Japan with Kei Nishikori, who has never won a grand slam but is the most successful Japanese male player ever, resulting in an endorsement portfolio worth $30 million a year.

Sharapova, Li and Nishikori paved the way for Osaka’s marketing breakthrough. “We were fortunate to have a very sophisticated office in Tokyo that already had the experience with Kei,” IMG’s head of tennis Max Eisenbud told Forbes last year. “The relationships in that region are important.”

With plenty of endorsement cash, Osaka partnered with several brands last year, with significant equity components, including emerging sports drink BodyArmor and Hyperice, which makes recovery and movement products.

BodyArmor marketing exec Mike Fedele says Osaka was one of inspirations for its “Only You” ad campaign launched this week. “Naomi is fiercely dedicated to perfecting her game on the court and a huge part of that is what she does off the court with her training, nutrition and hydration,”he says.

“I’m really interested in seeing a young business grow and adding value to that process,” Osaka told Forbes last year. “I tasked my team with finding brands that align with my personality and my interests.”

Brands are lining up to get into the Naomi Osaka business.

Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff, SportsMoney

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Politics

‘It’s The People-To-People Connections That Make A Lasting Impact’

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Sahle-Work Zewde, Ethiopia’s first female president and the only serving female head of state in Africa, tells FORBES AFRICA why more leaders should use soft power to achieve shared growth.

Sahle-Work Zewde has her name etched in political history. A veteran public official having served as an ambassador to Senegal, Djibouti, and France between 1989 and 2006, before her presidency, Zewde was Special Representative to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union. In an email interview, Zwede, who was also on FORBES AFRICA’s list of ‘Africa’s 50 Most Powerful Women’ for its March issue, dwells on why the ‘Africa we want’ will only become a reality with the positive and significant transformation of women’s lives:

In your position, how are you moving to achieve more gender proportionality in Ethiopian politics?

I see my being in this position as both an opportunity and responsibility. I know that it is political will that has opened the way for me and many other women to assume positions of power and influence in the Presidency and the ministerial cabinet in Ethiopia. This stride is a major step forward for Ethiopia as a nation and also for the continent. However, things can regress and go back to how they were unless we take strategic and intentional action to build on the momentum. For me, the way forward is using my platform to empower and embolden the women coming after me. This can occur in two ways. The first is working on empowering the women who are in the workforce and especially in positions of leadership to reach their full potential and engage in activities that provide opportunities for the next generation of women leaders. The second is helping female students at both the university and high school levels to ensure that we have a steady stream of competent, educated and confident women ready to take over. As women in power, we have a responsibility to all the women that will come after us to ensure that their trajectory is easier than ours.

How must Africa change in this regard?

Although more progress has been achieved in terms of delivering on our promise to provide support towards women’s education, health services, access to finance and political participation in a growing number of African countries, much more needs to be done. As a continent, we must go beyond the rhetoric and provide tangible solutions for African women in all sectors. The ‘Africa we want’ will only become a reality with the positive and significant transformation of women’s lives and the extent of their participation in all walks of life.

What do the words ‘power’ and ‘soft power’ mean to you?

There is a clear distinction between ‘power’ and ‘soft power’. While the first uses any means to achieve a goal, the latter relies on influence through communication, understanding and healthy discourse. Soft power does not resort to violence or coercive methods to achieve the results sought. Serving as a diplomat for a quarter century and at the United Nations for over a decade, I became very knowledgeable of the utility of soft power to reach consensus and effectuate change.

For me, the idea of soft power is what we need to promote as a continent. For decades, our continent has been ravaged by civil war, ethnic conflict and infighting.

However, Africa is now enjoying more economic growth than it has ever had. What we need now is more leaders to exercise soft power, finding what unites us to achieve a vision of shared growth. Traditional governance sees the government as the sole owner and executer of international relations. However, with our increasingly globalized world, it’s the people-to-people connections that make a true and lasting impact and bond. Leaders of today have to detach from traditional views and adopt the more global perspective the times require.

– Interviewed by Renuka Methil

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