Media’s perspective of foreigners can be better

Edited version published in Joongang Daily, December 10th, 2013. http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/Article.aspx?aid=2981768

I have lived in Korea for seven years now. Despite firsthand experience and research on media and education, I still do not claim to be an expert in Korean media culture. No doubt that media are powerful tools that orient us to reality particularly in societies like Korea where the media are a near ubiquitous. The significance of new media in contemporary Korea lies in its proximity; smartphones have become our closest consultants. In the words of Marshall McLuhan four decades ago that “the media work us over completely” couldn’t be truer today. McLuhan is considered the father of modern communications.

It is also common knowledge that the media largely influence our choices: what we buy, what we eat, how we dress and sometimes invokes our thinking on topical issues. Beyond the traditional functions of media to inform, educate, persuade, entertain and set agenda for deliberations, the media too form deep-seating cultural perspectives or worldviews. In fact, McLuhan asserted that all media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values. His claim that the media are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, or unaltered is quite evident in modern life.

In the recent days, there has been a series of publications focusing on multicultural aspect of the Korean Read the rest of this entry »

They came to maim Kenyans but instead heroes emerged

Edited version published in Joongang Daily  http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/Article.aspx?aid=2978229

The Somalia-based Al-shabab militia group and Somalia pirates are not new to Korea and certainly familiar to any country that has borne the pains of abductions, loss of life and property, or disrupted trade routes. It was just last December when Somali pirates released four Korean seamen they had held for 19 months; mind you a ransom had to be paid. In our archives we have some indescribable stories about terrorism but those are for another day.

The recent terror attack in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in which about 70 people died and more than a hundred injured is still fresh in our thoughts. Yes, agonizingly vivid. May the bereaved families will find immediate solace at this time of grief.

Without a shred of doubt, the Westgate attack was one of the most brutal acts against a population. Read the rest of this entry »

Madam President you won’t snub Africa, will you?

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President Park Geun-hye.

  1. * Edited version published by The Seoul Times on February 8th, 2013.

Dear Madam President. Receive my heartfelt felicitations for seollal, the lunar new year. If it is in order, allow me to commend you on your election.

Now to my point. Madam President, it seems to me that you’re commencing your executive journey on the right footing. I mean you are now the safeguarding vital links with your key political and trade allies globally. Indeed Beijing and Washington remain dominant in the contemporary geopolitical realm. Others like Tokyo, Pyongyang and EU’s main office (Brussels) are undeniably significant depending on the attitude they bear toward you and your country.

But Madam President, I wish to plead for Africa. This time, let’s forget the ‘begging bowl’ images of 80s and 90s. I want to proclaim to you that Africa is rising, and seriously so.

Admittedly, the West tried doling out aid for decades but look where Africa stood – stuck in a socio-political and economic quagmire. But that was then. So what has changed? I say the attitude; purely the attitude, Madam Read the rest of this entry »

World Bank presidency and the moral aspiration

[Edited version published by  Joongang Daily – April 9th, http://koreajoongangdaily.joinsmsn.com/news/article/Article.aspx?aid=2951130]

Dr. Kim and Ms. Ngozi

When the US president Barack Obama recently nominated Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank, debate arose regarding who among the other formidable candidates was best qualified for the top job.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister and former Colombian finance minister José Antonio Ocampo are other frontline candidates. Jeffrey Sachs, with massive experience in development and poverty eradication programs would have made a decent entrant. Well, that’s life, isn’t it?

I have no doubt that Dr. Kim, a Korean-American public-health expert, can make an exceptional head of the World Bank having led World Health Organization’s global body on AIDS/HIV, an significant public health body. I also have no doubt that Ngozi, a World Bank savvy insider, can bring in her experience and development perspective which is an important ingredient to regions yearning for crucial development.

And of course, Mr. Ocampo can also inject his expertise of international finance and perhaps a fresher cog to the South-South cooperation which is getting attention in its role in the global economy.

Admittedly, debate still lingers over the candidates and their merit on proficiency in global economic development which is seemingly what the World Bank is about. The debates may continue but what matters at the end of the day is whether the new president Read the rest of this entry »

Seoul Nuclear Security Summit: An open letter to leaders

Dear world leaders and delegates. Receive my Spring-time salutations. First, my sincere apologies for I will not be attending the summit. That should not bother you since I was actually not invited to the high level meeting.

By the way welcome to Korea. I am not a native of this land of the morning calm, but trust me I have been here long enough to show you how to use a pair chopsticks or do a taekwondo double kick. I assume that you’ve been inside Sangchoonjae in the Blue House where tradition and nature harmoniously subsist near a city. Therein, they must have served you with Kimchi and some makkolli. Koreans are cordial.

Secondly, I belong to the layman’s cluster and their wisdom that wonders why you, ladies and gentlemen, seem to have been making fires and now convincing the world to help think of a fire extinguisher. Okay, I will put it in a context. Sirs and madams, some of your nations’ passion for nuclear technology, for weapon or energy, supersedes any known safety capabilities. That makes me a worried chap.

You know what? If I came to the summit, I mean if I were really invited (jokes aside), I would first meet with the Japanese visitors in those extra meetings – What do you call them again? Aha, ‘side Read the rest of this entry »

Korea’s college entry exams and the ‘inconsolable’ desire

 Edited version published in Joongang Ilbo (http://mengnews.joinsmsn.com/view.aspx?gCat=010&aId=2944395)

Last week, over 600,000 Korean students sat an exam that seemingly determines their destiny in life. To most of them, the college entry exam is also a postern to their critical goal of entering Seoul National University, Korea University or Yonsei University. The three institutions are commonly christened as SKY. And they know quite well, that credentials from the “sky” comfortably land graduates plum jobs with big companies or the government. The three institutions are considered the academic cream of Korea.

There is nothing wrong with education that assures one a stable, happy future; after all, it is every parent’s dream to see their children prosper in all aspects. However, observers have termed the College Scholastic Ability Test or CSAT in Korea as either a national obsession or radically esteemed.

On the day of the nine hour exam, the country literally changes. All flight landings and take-offs at the airports are put on hold while the arriving international aircrafts are ordered to circle at altitudes above 10,000 feet for some while. Motorists are also asked to lower their speed and to avoid honking near the test locations during the listening comprehension assessment. In fact, traffic is usually banned from within 200 meters of the test centers until the exam is over.

At the periphery, parents, friends and school juniors of test-takers gather to wish their loved ones success. Some parents would be praying outside the exam centers. In the recent past a mother reportedly vowed to bow 3,000 times, kneeling down with her forehead touching a red cushion perhaps to invoke luck to her beloved son. Most schools will also give a day off to students who are not sitting the exam.

But beyond the facade lies fundamental question that many parents and educationists raise regarding Read the rest of this entry »

The young and unsatisfied? My wonder on smoking and cosmetics in Korea

By Millicent Omollo and B. Kamary, Edited version Published in The Seoul Times – Nov. 3, 2011
 

Puffing off the smoke

Sitting at a roof balcony as I wait for my next lecture to begin, one by one they streamed in, each pulling out a cigarette. Before I knew it I was seated amongst teens – all puffing off streams of smoke into the otherwise blue skies. I have seen similar scenes before, but today’s scenario sends my mind into a wonderland; yes, I simply wondered why.

Don’t mistake me, I have nothing to do with smokers yet I am always irked by smoking itself. Would it be fair to say I detest smoking but not smokers? Yes, I love smokers but hate smoking and I am yet to know why smoking is such an attractive addiction particularly to teens. But as they say, opinion is free and facts sacred. My sentiments on the subjects are likewise freely given and freely to be taken.  Back home in Africa where I was born and raised, a cigarette advert comes along with quite a stern warning: “harmful to your health!” Who doesn’t know that? I have a friend, a medical doctor but a chain smoker, who spares no chance to warn his sons against smoking. “You better do as I say and not as I do,” he would often rumble.

Hey, did you know they now say cancer is a deadlier than HiV/Aids? I think this is where most of us would pause to care. Possibly pharmaceutical companies are better ready themselves to fund a scientist who will be genius enough to discover cure for cancer. And at rate we are Read the rest of this entry »

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