Shot To Glory: Malala Yousafzai

Malala mama

When school girl cum global phenomenon and Nobel Laureate, Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban at noon time on October 9 2012, it was no doubt a cowardice act by a group of men with a sinister agenda to silence a girl whose voice has been vociferous against the latter’s insistence to stop the girl child from having education and a right to aspire for a better future. On this regular day, Malala was on her way back from school with her classmates, when the messenger of death masked in a gunman’s costume waylaid the kids and asked after Malala. Once her target was introduced, he cocked his gun and fired three shots: one journeyed beneath the victim’s epidermis and sank into her shoulder. She could easily have drawn her last breath that moment, and if she did, the world would have condemned it and Malala would have attained martyrdom. But that was not all. Fate still had more in stock for the wunderkind.

Malala Yousafzai comes from a family that oversees a group of schools and she had been advocating for human right advocacy and education for women in the Swat valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwest Pakistan. This is where the Taliban had been making life unbearable, stopping young girls from attending schools. Not too many people will able to confront a band of insurgents armed with not just guns, but a morbid philosophy. But Malala at a tender age of 11 or 12 believed that she had two options: to speak and pay the supreme price with the bullets of the Taliban, or remain silent forever and have her dreams and indeed that of many other girls in Pakistan annihilated. She chose the former and started venting her reservations by blogging for BBC under a pseudonym— narrating what life feels like when you have Taliban watching your back and cherry-picking how to go about your life.

Her obscurity gave way for global interest when Adam B. Ellick, a NewYork Times journalist, made a documentary about her struggles and the Pakistani military intervention in the region. It won’t be long before she will be nominated for the Children’s Peace Price by Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Malala’s recovery was nothing short of a miracle. Her battle for her life had started at a Pakistani Hospital before she was transferred to a military hospital in Birmingham, UK, where veterans with severe war injuries were treated. Her recovery gave prominence into the reason she was shot in the first place—the right for the girl child to aspire for a good life; her right to education and dignity. Her adversity gave her the veneer of legitimacy to be seen as an enigma for the struggle for freedom from human slavery and everything that had bedeviled the girl child and collectively, every woman. Recently, she was seen in London lending her voice to the bringing back of  the girls who were kidnapped in Chibok, a Local Government Area of Borno State, Nigeria. When Malala speaks, the world listens.

It is however interesting or maybe ironical, to point that not everyone in Pakistan is rooting for this phenomenal young lady. In a nation that is starved of equality, educational opportunities, and has little to cheer about, the news of Malala winning the peace prize was treated like an information suited just for the classified adverts section of the newspaper. It has been reported that about 25 million children don’t have access to education and the girl child make up a colossal 60% of that figure. Again, it’s a fact that the plight that Malala has been agitating for, which is the plight of most girls in Swat and other regions of that society, is not felt by the elites who still have access to the best government-funded schools in the land. Some in the Bhutto dynasty are even Oxford trained. Recent poles however, have also shown, that it is in those elite climes that you wouldn’t  find many fans of Malala. Other Pakistanis are simply disinterested and even feel that there are more compatriots worthy to wear that crown than a school girl that Western forces have connived with to make the next big thing. There are some conspiracy theorists who have also claimed that the whole Malala story was a big hoax in spite of the fact the Pakistani military claimed recently to have apprehended those who tried to gun her down and Taliban had since claimed responsibility.

While Malala was receiving instruction in Chemistry class at her school in Birmingham, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the Nobel Peace Prize 2014 is to be awarded to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” The latter who hails from India has been lauded for his long fight for the child’s right cause and for maintaining Mahatma Gandhi’s tradition of spearheading several peaceful protests and demonstrations against the exploitation of children for financial enrichment.

As the youngest Nobel Laureate ever was awarded, only 17, I marveled if fate has not connived with those who tried to shoot down this brave, intelligent and compassionate young lady whose aura radiates the peace that she passionately talks about. The Taliban had purported to keep her muted forever and had shot her—but with hindsight, they would probably regret that they had shot her to glory! You don’t plan to get shot by Taliban and become a global phenomenon, do you?

Sharing the Nobel peace with Indian child right’s activist was also something laudable and strategic as that may help foster a better relationship between India and Pakistan– Malala already hinted that they will be working together to achieve peace and had  extended an open invitation to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi to the award ceremony proper in Oslo, Norway, come December 10, 2014.

My reflections on Malala’s journey would have been incomplete without mentioning Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala’s father. Here is a fine gentleman who is an epitome of proper fatherhood. One would suspect that he was perturbed by the plight of the girl child in Pakistan and had supported her daughter when it was not the convenient thing to do. He didn’t lose site of the fact that the best legacy any parent can bequeath to their children is education and the knowledge that the children have human rights which are inalienable. He supported his daughter all the way—something both could have easily paid for with their lives. Credit must be allotted to Malala’s mother as well, and by extension, her siblings. Malala is no doubt a product of good parenting and a supportive family. I wish her all the best. She has affirmed my thinking lately that the voice of change lies in a new generation.

O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.

Park The Bus: The Underdog’s way


Park bus

This week is an international break in the football world and as I was thinking of what to blog on, I remembered the story of T.E. Lawrence retold by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, David and Goliath. The British general, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, led the Arab revolt against the Turkish army occupying Arabia about the end of the First World War and achieved an upset against a very formidable foe. The British then were helping the Arabs in the face-off and wanted to obliterate the long rail road built by the Turks, which was running from Damascus into the Hejaz desert.

T.E. Lawrence was not a trained soldier; he was an archaeologist and a poet and all he had as troops for combat were a group of Bedouin nomads. In fact one of the British commanders in the region then, Sir Reginald Wingate, described Lawrence’s army as “an untrained rabble, most of whom have never fired a rifle.” These Arabs, however, had certain qualities going for them, Lawrence himself later wrote: movement, endurance, individual intelligence, knowledge of the country courage. Consequently, these men kept on attacking the Turks and dynamited rails after rails.

The major upset however came from an assault on the port of the town of Aqaba. The Turks were expecting an attack from British ships patrolling the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba to the West but Lawrence decided to change tactic and attack from the East, through the dangerous desert marauded by cobras and black snakes. That move was not anticipated by the Turks and it caught them off guard. It was reported that Lawrence’s troop only lost two men but killed or captured one thousand, two hundred Turks.

This feat reminded me of one person—Jose Mourinho and his park the bus tactics. For those of you who follow football, you’d know that park the bus, was the brain child of The Special One, who made the term popular after his initial arrival to the English elite league, following an unlikely success in the Champions league in 2004. This tactic ensured that Jose when playing a team that is more superior than his side in attacking prowess, would stifle play by ensuring there is little space for the opposition to operate fully. Usually when a superior team plays a less superior one, you’d expect a flurry of goals and domination, but with Mourinho’s tactic, even the so-called superior one is even more susceptible to a loss! Manuel Pellegrini, City’s boss, complained weeks back when Chelsea squared up against the champions at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester that “I think we played during 90 minutes against a small team trying to defend, trying to keep 10 players in front of their goal and [City were] a team that wanted to win from the beginning.” Pellegrini managed to avoid humiliation that time and Manchester City salvaged a draw, thanks to on-loan Chelsea legend, Frank Lampard, who probably had the antidote to parking the bus.

Liverpool won’t forget in a hurry what went down last year when they played Chelsea and the Blues had to contend with a lot of first team players missing in action. It turned out that that bizarre circumstance led to Chelsea easily winning the game, because all they had to do was, sit in their own half and give the play to the home side. It was only a matter of time for Stephen Gerald to slip up in his own half of the midfield and give Demba Ba, Chelsea’s then Senegalese striker, the opportunity to slot home an unlikely goal. The game ended up in favour of the underdog for that day as Chelsea scored another goal in extra time to shatter Liverpool’s title ambition. We all know how Jose has employed this tactic against teams like Barcelona and others in Europe. It’s not only Mourinho that resort to this style; we have some teams too who organize themselves in defensive units when they want to play a superior opposition.

The fascinating thing that I have observed about Jose Mourinho’s tactic is that other teams don’t like it. Coaches and players of the opposing team complain when it works against them, and more often than not, it does! One thing to note however, from Mourinho’s tactic, or that of Lawrence of Arabia, is that they turn a seeming disadvantage into an advantage— it becomes their competitive strategy. Yes they may be the underdog, but that doesn’t mean they would cower.

Now, like Gladwell alluded in David and Goliath, the underdog’s way is hard— not too many teams will  be able to defend and organize their back to accommodate a flurry of attacking pressure from a superior opposition. Many teams will crack and eventually concede goals—even Jose’s (Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich, Super cup final). The team usually employing this tactic will need to employ a high work rate. They will need to operate at better fitness level and cover more distance—defending deep while maintaining a high concentration that ensures that they stick to their plans. The underdog’s way is hard and for many, unsustainable.

 The paradox of the underdog is that it looks at disadvantages and turns it right on its head—and it becomes an advantage. You can draw parallels with this in most human endeavors. A company that is so big might be aloof to the yearnings of its customers— they may not give them the kind of service they want, or the specialized attention they require due to the size of their operation. That may be an opportunity beckoning for the smaller guy, not necessarily to come and usurp them, but to find a place to thrive in the market.

Individuals too can begin to look at disadvantages in a different way and begin to change their tactics. Your edge could just be in that little thing you know how to do well. A student with a high IQ may require little time to study and pass very well, but that should not spell doom for the others who may not be that lucky; the underdog way of making up for that will be for the other student to pull off the all-nighters, burning the proverbial (it’s the reality at times in Nigeria!) candle and studying—hard.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to how we see ourselves—the so-called disadvantage— and turn it around for our good. Remember the underdog way is hard, but anything is achievable if we stay put and are willing to work hard at it.

 O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.