Tag Archives: America

#9 ~ Americanah & Being a (rootless) British African

Americahna2

I really didn’t want to like Adichie’s new book, Americanah. Despite the fact that I got one of the first copies, and a signed one at that, I didn’t read it for almost two years. It sat, hardback cover and confident signature on my many university-room bookshelves, it’s large spine taking up pride of place, it’s crisp jacket (now oil stained) speaking of a newness, a freshness that should have been inciting, intoxicating even in its desirability. It blended cleanly into my pretence at a literary knowledge along with other ‘must-read’ African or African-American books, swilling from prose, to poetry, drama to criticism. Yet, for every month it went un-opnened, even throughout the summer when I couldn’t blame essays or supervisions, it reminded me of a fraudulence, a veneer of fakery that I had knowingly pasted over my face, its scent cloying, speaking of a knowingness, an intelligence, an awareness about the African experience which really wasn’t skin deep.

As Adichie has grown in the affections of white-educated-liberal society, the clamour for her work has, in a way, become cloying. I remember reading Purple Hibiscus when I was still a pre-pubescent teen and loving it (my own well thumbed copy has gone on a long loan/walk to a friend). I had always preferred it to Half of a Yellow Sun. There was a simplicity about the novel, a freshness and a pain in the characters – but never pity. Adichie didn’t (and still doesn’t) try too hard to breathe life into her world. Whilst my own attempts at any kind of creative writing have always been lugubrious, heavy handed and verbose, hers was stark, naked, clear and in that cleanliness it was seering, pernicious almost, unflinching. Whilst Half of a Yellow Sun became the literary love-child of all those politically-conscious white folks who were just so keen to ‘get’ the Post-Colonial experience, I didn’t love the book. I loved the meta-narrative that ran throughout, I loved learning about my matrilineal heritage. I loved a book that featured twins, but the narrative was detached from me – something to observe but not to feel. I felt the same when I dutifully ploughed through her collection of short stories (The Thing Around Your Neck) for A-levels. Her style effortless as though she doesn’t try she just tells. But I couldn’t help but fall into the romance of her craft when I analysed the stories, wrote essays about them – essays that got me my place at University, I learnt to admire her, yet still felt my heart ached as I saw glimpses, shadows of myself in her syntax, shadows that I recognised but did not fully understand.

So, when it came to reading Americanah, egged on by the girlfriends and soul sistas who kept plugging the book, the whispered comments of a smugness that surrounded Adichie now she was an established figure in the ‘African canon’, gave me a weak, immature excuse not to open it. I wanted to find a reason to resent her, to find fault with her, or at least her work. I wanted to struggle, I wanted her to be novel, unique, and not as celebrated as she was – as known. I wanted her to be mine, the way I had thought of her when I read the still unknown Purple Hibiscus. So instead I returned to her literary father and discovered that Achebe’s prose is indeed like palm wine, his criticism sharp, his fiction…beautiful. I devoured Things Fall Apart,reading the whole novel out loud in a 2-day sitting during my exam term last year. It’s one of the only times I ever sat in the armchairs of my lavish room. I don’t speak Igbo, but speaking Okonkwo’s name out loud, attempting to intone the proverbs I imagined my Grandfather would let slip from his lips as he sat on his verandah in Onitsha, gave me a degree of firmness, like a long lost child returning home after a long time, discovering the dusty memories of old rooms and forgotten wallpaper that had always been there, but one hadn’t had the clarity of mind to see. The last few sentences stilled my heart, and even speaking of it to a friend only a week ago, I felt my body plunge again into the wretched pool of pain and awe at his craftsmanship, at the reality that he described so unflinchingly, so un-ironically. I devoured A Man of the People, and began No Longer at Ease, and all the while my mind was pulled back to Adichie, and I saw just how well her form matched her forefather, just how talented her written sculptures were.

So, at the start of this term, I decided to cut the pages of Americanah at last and begin reading. I laughed, I was intrigued, but I grew bored and it sat on my bedside table for weeks on-end as the mania of term swept me away (or rather I turned on the fan and said – Micahelmas – Take me Now!). But then today, having passed out from sheer exhaustion after working till 5am and waking up at 1.30pm causally missing my 10am lecture, I thought – screw it – i’m going to indulge myself. And I read, and read, and read, and only just finished.

Americanah is exquisite. Painfully, beautifully, exquisite. People throw slogans like – best thing ever written – around too easily. But it was bloody brilliant. And I could launch into a wonderful critique of its arcs and curves, but that would spoil your own journey of it (because you will read it). But reading it made me understand more why I so wanted to dislike it.

There is a certainty in Adichie that is both compelling and unsettling. She knows who she is. Like Ifemelu, she might be buffeted by transition but she is not overblown. She might ‘code-switch’ but her tongue is not loose, not flaccid, it is not confused, it can always return to its original nuances and intonations. Though Adichie primarily writes in English (her work is littered, like Achebe, with Igbo sayings), she is not confined to speak in a language that is not her own. Hers is a choice, not an expressive requirement.

In the first half of the book, Ifemelu, our striking, forthright yet at times vulnerable protagonist attends the African Society of her university, where she is told, laughingly (but not mockingly) that African Americans who seek to be part of the society are those who ‘write poems about Mother Africa and think every black woman is a Nubian Queen’. I laughed wistfully when I read it, because I realised that was me.

For those of us born and raised in, and here i’m specifically talking about the UK diaspora, we are not rootless, like African Americans. Many of us know ‘where we come from’, whether we are Caribbean or African – and will say (now with pride, when we were in primary school the question either confused or mortified us) – I’m from Nigeria, Jamaica, Grenada, Ghana etc. Even if we are not that attached to those countries of ‘ethnic origin’ (as if 2nd generation Polish, German or Spanish people don’t also have a country of ‘ethnic origin’), we will at least state – my parents are from XYZ. So we are not rootless. But we, or at least I, have still suffered a trauma, a blow to that fragile process anthropology will call the constitution of self. Because though we are not rootless, we are also not rooted.

I wasn’t raised to think of England as my home, neither was I raised to think of Nigeria as my home. Home was something that existed in the present, where I was right now, it didn’t extend into the future and it didn’t link into an ancestral past, at least not in daily life. On applying to University my father emphatically challenged me about saying I was British Nigerian, insisting I was British but cited the fact that I had never lived in Nigeria and carried a red passport as the reason. My mother agreed, but only because she feared my CV could be rejected on account of 419s and other shitty prejudice. But aside from that, whenever we did something bad, they would remind us that we were not from England, therefore we dare not act like these oyinbo people with no home training. Sometimes it would even resort to – Do you know who your people are, where you come from – by which they referred to our tribal people group or home village – a culture we barely understood, a language we didn’t speak, a place we had never been to (or if we had, we’d been too young to formulate concrete memories). Sometimes my mother would say, why do you want to claim Nigerian, when I went through my ‘Mother-Africa-down-with-Colonisalism-BS phase’ – what has Nigeria ever done for you?! But then we rarely spoke about what England had done for me. It was taken as a given: education, amenities, healthcare, safety – but in terms of culture, values, history, I was never taught to be grateful to England for those things. So we (I) existed in a liminal space – a non-space, having to carve out Rushdie’s imaginary homeland. A space where people who looked like me and carried, as Adichie beautifully typed, the fine stamp of culture, existed. A space where people who had taught themselves to code switch spoke loudly and over-confidently. Reading Americanah, I wondered when that had happened. My ability to at best mimic at worst parody a Nigerian accent. In primary school I was as English as they came, in fact I remember actively learning long complex words to make sure by Englishness was permanent. And then, towards the end of year 6 this weird craving for America arose.

Fresh on the wave of TLC and Destiny’s Child, being African American wasn’t just sexy (as If 11 year old me even knew what sexy was, though in a way we did) it was acceptable. So I walked into secondry with the fakest Californian accent ever straight out of Saved by the Bell, My Wife and Kids and all that Disney crap. I remember feeling so proud when two year 10 girls asked me curiously if I was from the States one break time. But then the softness of the accent got to me, and I found myself switching from my Shepherds Bush accent into a weird cockney mockery, into faux American into Received Standard English, until I got to Uni. I got to Uni and met real Nigerians, the one’s that actually knew what to say in pidgin’ and not just how to intone it. They humoured me, and my tonal flexibilities increased, but always hollow. I made my voice. I don’t actually know what it should sound like, but today it’s a beautiful pan-world mishmash that is simultaneously ugly, phoney and lifeless.

The diaspora is a trauma, and not just the trauma of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Even when we moved by choice, moved for a better life, for safety, for whatever London streets promised or required, trauma was inflicted. And not just on the parents, safe in their knowledge of ‘home’, safe in the knowledge that they even have place to call ‘home’, where they don’t have to explain why their English is so good even if their name is ‘foreign’, where they don’t have to straddle a place that gave them culture and a place that gave the rudiments of basic survival of human nurture.  Where they are not limited to expressing themselves in one medium even when they are surrounded by a multiplicity of other languages which teaches them to create parts of themselves that can only be expressed in non-English sounding words (when i’m angry, or impassioned I want to reach for Yoruba like my parents, but just end up with an exasperated Ahn-Ahn, You know, Ha! Because I can’t say anything, I can just sound things).

I hate being rootless. I hate being rooted in that rootlessness. I hate having multiple homes that are more like rented apartments rather than deeply dug foundations. But I acknowledge that it is an emerging existence, and it is something Americanah pulls out so teasingly, so exquisitely. I loved it. I loved Americanah and I mourned when it ended because, some small part of me, wanted the security Ifemelu has at the end, wanted someone to say to me ‘Come In’, and to take my hand, and lead me home. But I am glad Adichie wrote it, and I know that now, those of us that are the Non-African (but perhaps still Afrcan) Blacks, need to write for our own – for we are an ‘our’ now, as much so as we’ve ever been.

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There’s Something About Chimamanda

Chimamanda-Ngozi-AdichieFor most people, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s second novel Half of a Yellow Sun was their introduction to African literature and Adichie’s growing cannon of fiction. Conversely, I first met Adichie in the pages of her first novel Purple Hibiscus, and preferred it to her second, possibly because I was only just understanding the history of Biafra that so grounds the award-wining text. During my A-levels I studied her collection of short stories: The Thing Around Your Neck, and today spent just under £40 on her latest  novel Americanah. I state all this in order to ensure that the reader is aware that Adichie is neither a flash in the pan writer, nor a token symbol of the African canon, but rather a solid and ever-expanding force in global literature. 

 This evening, after a very lucky purchase to the Cambridge Wordfest seminar featuring Adichie, I sat in the Palmerston Room of St. John’s College with eager anticipation. The following account is everything I scribbled in my Moleskin diary (what other option is there?) whilst wedged beside two elderly English ladies who were ever so curious to decipher my scrawl. The interview was chaired by Alex Clarke, the narration (influenced by retrospective analysis and now steady hands) by me. Although it is quite lengthy i implore you to read through, she has some incredible pearls, and her question and answer session is the definition of how to be a BOSS. 

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The Palmerston Room  of St. John’s has a capacity exceeding 300. I know, because two years ago I sat and watched myself get inducted  in that very room. Today it is crowded, not with students, but mainly geriatrics and those that have or are about to hit their half a century mark. There are very few women of colour (let alone men) and for some reason that interests me. On one hand, after the total sum of ethnic people halts at ten, I conclude that hey, it’s Cambridge what can I expect. Yet listening to the conversations that spool around me, it becomes apparent that, like Jon Snow, many of the audience members would have been young adults when Biafra hit the West. The first image of Africa post-independence, the first time images of children suffering from kwashiorkor at the expense of ‘tribal warfare’ really hit home, Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun was both topical and insightful for this generation. It resonated with their experiences, not least because, as she candidly states towards the end of the interview, many of the audience members would have had relatives who were instrumental to the construction of Nigeria, and inevitably it’s demise (yes, she literally said that).

As people pile in the heat becomes stifling, the anticipation crawling at your skin. Late-comers eagle eye vacant seats, the elderly lady next to me gets her toe crushed by a desperate scavenger. All eyes are fixed earnestly on the stage. It’s empty, except for two white chairs and a matching table, inspired by Ikea, decorated with a jug of water, two cups and a pair of microphones. At this point there are only four women of colour noted, excluding myself. One has an afro-hawk with shaved sides, the others perms, weaves, and then there’s me, with a natural afro tied back into a large poof, with a clipped fringe. I note this, because Americanah and Adichie, are both obsessed with hair – especially the politics of black women’s hair.

Dressed in a black top and jacket,  forest green shorts with red trimming all made out of traditional cloth, over dark tights and high-heels, Adichie looks like the perfect image from ‘Black-Girls Killing It’. She looks fierce. African, beautiful, and with her hair piled up on her head and highlighted by her afro-kinky extensions (she proudly mentions later) she looks regal.  The audience clap, she smiles benignly, takes her seat and is introduced by the MC. The MC gets her name wrong – what a shame (I reserve judgement, that is for another post).

She begins with a short reading from Americanah. Recently, a friend described Chinua Achebe’s prose (Adichie’s greatest literary influence) as palm wine. I’ve never tasted palm wine, but listening to her voice, flecked with a subtle naija accent, rich, deep and confident,  pool over the audio system, i’m sure you can drink palm-wine through your ears. Definitely. Then we begin:

Americanah

Americanah

There is a disjuncture between Adichie and her audience simply because her novel is concerned with the politics of black women’s hair. Her protagonist complains about having to travel to Trenton to get her braids done, as Princeton wouldn’t have a black hair salon. The audience giggle but find the description of a grown American man eating ice-cream far more humorous. It’s only until Adichie shows that women’s hair in general is political that change starts dropping.

“I think white women’s hair is very different to black women’s hair. But white women’s hair can be political, for example, when they choose not to colour it. Then they are presented as one of those ‘earthly organic types’”. At this the audience laugh.

‘The difficulty for black women, is that the way our hair grows on our heads is not something the world likes. (Audience giggle), No – it’s true’, she’s insistent, leans forwards and gets serious.

Growing up I used to always want straight hair. And we weren’t allowed it in secondary school. So in the holidays I would get it straightened with the hot comb. Even though it could burn me, I loved it. It was only until I got a really nasty burn from a relaxer when I was at University, that I suddenly decided I didn’t like this any more. I wanted to love my own hair. But it was a very long journey. It wasn’t easy. Even now, underneath here (she touches the pile of braids that crown her head), I have a very thick afro. Now, my mother loves me, but when she sees it she asks me – when are you going to do something with your hair? I.e, when are you going to straighten it. Even my cousins, when they see my hair, they always say (here she switches to a Naija accent), Aunty, your hair is very rough’.

The audience titter, but they still haven’t grasped the depth of the identity crisis Adichie is pointing too. But this woman is astute and fearless in the best of ways – she tells it like it is.

Hair is political for black women because it casts allusions about our character. Now, if three women were to get onto this stage, all dressed the same, but one with dreads, one with straight hair like yours (she points at Alex Clarke), the other with an afro, we are going to draw very different conclusions. The best is that they are vegetarian (a loud guwaff erupts), the worst is that they are ‘angry black women’. Silence. ‘There is this idea, that black hair as it is, is not suitable. If we were to go for a job interview, our hair as an Afro or in dreads would not be deemed acceptable. You’d think – oh this one’s going to be trouble, if they aren’t vegetarians, then they’re radicals, maybe even Black Panthers.’

Adichie says all this with a smile on her face, her tone easy and non-judgmental, but suddenly her audience are starting to think.

I’d love it, if after this discussion or after reading the book, the people in here, when they do job interviews, wouldn’t judge someone because they have dreads or a fro. They wouldn’t assume someone is a musician or an artists or writes poetry because their hair is natural. Maybe, there will be someone in the audience who runs a magazine, and after this will think – ok black hair isn’t scary. Maybe i’ll put someone on the front cover of the magazine who has natural hair. Because growing up, if all a young black girl sees is straight hair, she’s going to want that. When you see those before and after images in magazines, the before image she always has natural hair, the after image it’s straight. It’s basically saying natural hair is ugly’.

At this point I am silently fist-pumping Adichie to victory. Now she’s said a lot that I haven’t written, about her relationship to America (which she is grateful for because they gave her money for education) and Britain. Britain she views as belonging to her parents generation. It was the only place they looked to because it had money and was instrumental in the construction of Nigeria, but now  the country isn’t doing so well,  young Nigerians are looking to the US, because it has money (oh UK financial crisis, look what you’re making us miss out on!).  But now – onto Question Time Adichie style!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hay festival 2012Q: How does Half of a Yellow Sun differ to Americanah?

A: 1/2 YS made me cry and cry. Americanah made me laugh and laugh. 1/2YS made me cry because I was mining the pain of my people. My father was sharing things with me about Biafra that he had never told anyone before. I felt very fragile writing it. With Americanah I was laughing, because I was intrigued by the absurdity of race. Coming to America was the first time I realized I was black. (audience laugh). No really, I arrived and I suddenly realised I was ‘black’. We have a lot of problems in Nigeria, but race isn’t one of them. I felt like, in the US I could observe things and criticise racial issues, because whilst I was black, I am not an African-American. I am Nigerian. Therefore race wasn’t so much of an issue for me before I went to University, it was something I learnt. Writing Americanah I used to wonder if it was wrong that i found it so funny, you know, I thought that i’d be one of those people who thinks they’re hilarious and then tells someone a joke and  they’re like….ok? (Laughter, this sums up my humor perfectly).  

I am passionate about gender and I am a happy fierce feminist. I am keen on women’s issues but not in an “issues” way (she laughs). I am passionate about the multiplicity of female voices and what constitutes femininity.

Q: What do you think of Chinua Achebe?

A: (Pause and she looks very emotional). He was a man of intense integrity, he told stories beautifully, brought dignity to my history and made it worthy of literature. 

Q: (MY QUESTION, I was sweating but forged ahead).  My name is Kehinde (yes i’m going to buss out the traditional name!), and I am an English student here at John’s. I was fascinated by you stating that when you were in the states you knew that Nigeria was your home. As someone born here, having studied English, I feel more and more as though Nigeria is also home or has a claim over me. I was wondering how you came to the conclusion and contentment that Nigeria was also home for you.

A: First and fore most I am a Nigerian. That is non-negotiable. Though I am grateful to the US, Nigeria is my home. More importantly Anambra state (she then names her patrilineal town and village, I was too engrossed to scrawl it down, shame on me) is home for me. I think being in the States has made me understand the difference in race, the US added to my acknowledgement of being black. Initially when an African-American would be like to me – ‘Hey Sister’ – I would move away thinking ‘No, no  I am not your Sistah (in Naija accent), because I knew that being black had bad connotations in the US. But now, I am not afraid to acknowledge that. I think being in the US helped me to understand and redefine race and being black.

At this point she asks them to turn the house lights up so she can SEE MY HAIR!!!

A: I like your hair. It’s super cool. Really cool, I love it. When you were asking the question i couldn’t see your hair, but now I can I really like it

I died…literally and was born again. The audience clapped. Power to black women’s hair being beautiful. Boom!Chimamanda-Ngozi-Adichie-Commonwealth-Lecture-2012

Q: You talk a a lot about yourself as a Nigerian, and you formerly mentioned Britain’s sins in Nigeria. Is there such a thing as being Nigerian? And has Nigeria made it yet.

“Trigger warning – this is when Adichie shows you what it means to be A BOSS”

A: Well I think what you are really saying is ‘Didn’t we (the British) do well in creating Nigeria?’ Parred. Straight out, woman went IN. ‘Is there such thing as Nigeria? Yes, you created it. Is it working, no. You can’t expect Nigeria to have it all together. Maybe your father was involved in setting up Nigeria. It takes time to make a country work. The concept of a ‘Nation’ is an idea. First and foremost, when you came and lumped together groups of people that, apart from perhaps trade, had no actual relationship with one another, you can’t expect it to work. I mean even today, the North and South are so different. Yes, there is such thing as Nigeria in the sense that we have for example the same education curriculum, but we are very different culturally. There are larger characteristics. For example, all Nigerians are aggressive, and we have this very confident swagger which means we act like we own everything, even though Ghana as things worked out and we don’t, we still believe we run the continent (laughs). We won’t break apart, but we still have a way to go. 

I suppose the question you are asking is ‘Do I wish the ancestors of people here hadn’t gone meddling, Yes, I do.  Can I change that, No’.

And she said it all with a beautiful smile and a calm tone.

This woman is the image of intellectual grace, talent, beauty and power. She is proud to be an Igbo woman, to be a ‘fierce and happy feminist’, and to speak the truth. There is so much more scribbled down but i’ve already passed the 2000 word count, so figure I should stop around about now. If you haven’t read her work, GO, if you haven’t got Americanah GET. This woman is a Queen. I am proud to be half Igbo, also from Anambra state (yes I told her that when I got my book signed, and my family surnames and my Igbo name, she was duly impressed and inquired some more. I’m sure if I dig hard enough we can find some common ancestor, Nigerians are all related, she also made a point of saying how Glorious may hair was and how she was proud I was wearing such glorious hair – allow a girl to be gassed for once in her life), but she has made me proud and excited to be part of a long, colorful, heritage that embraces great writing, and now hair.

What a Queen. A real, bona-fide African Queen.

Adichie in a recent Ted Lecture: Again, what a Queen:

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#336 ~ Alex Jones

You’re right. Guns don’t kill people, People kill People…But People also make the Guns….so in a way, Gun’s do Kill people. It’s ok…you can still be American though.

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#69 ~ Invisible

Nothing is more powerful than an Idea whose time has come


Exposing the injustice and immorality of child soldiers is a commendable action. Reminding an apathetic world that communication can be a  tool for liberation is an empowering and much-needed message. The talent to galvanize a generation of future world shapers through a single film is mind-blowing.

The work of Invisible Children and the production of their viral short-film KONY2012 has achieved all the above. They have highlighted to the communicable world the atrocities that have scarred Northern Uganda for the past two decades at the hands of guerrilla leader and head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony.  I do not want to dispute these simple facts. However, what I do want to suggest is that what has made KONY2012 such a ‘hot’ topic right now in fact has nothing to do with what is going on in Uganda, DR. Congo, the Central African Republican, Southern and Northern Sudan, all countries where the LRA has and is operating. I want to emphatically state that the righteous indignation that is spreading like wildfire across social media sites has nothing to do with the mutilations, rape, forced conscription and ethnic genocide which characterize this militant organization. I want to say that the reason we are all getting ready to paper every major city with Kony’s face in a month’s time, is because this video has highlighted how Invisible we are – and it scares us.

Facebook is a cyber world inhabited by the West’s version of its own invisible children.

KONY2012 opens with Jason Russell, the director of the film and innovator of Invisible Children, reminding us how humanity’s greatest desire is to see, be seen, and in that acknowledgment form a connection, a bond, a relationship. We are defined by how we are perceived. Facebook has become the ignition fuel, the catalyst that has caused an exponential growth in the awareness of this video. It is the means by which IC hope to get ‘Kony’s face out there, his infamy globally known.’  Yet Facebook is a cyber world inhabited by the West’s version of its own invisible children.

Throughout the film Russell vaguely alludes to his ‘work in Africa,’ once again making the specifics of Uganda in to the generalizations of a continent. There is a pervasive yet subtle act of censorship that permeates the execution of the video, which is what this article is criticizing. Banners are held by youth in America claiming statements like: ‘We Have Seen these Children, We Have Heard their Voices, They are Not Invisible.’ Yet which children, apart from the now mature Jacob whom Russell befriended on his first trip a decade ago to Uganda, have we seen? We’ve seen Russell’s son Gavin. We have seen the western youths who have been moved into action. But we have not seen these 30,000 plus children that have been forced to carry guns and obliterate their families, their friends, their countrymen under the eye of the LRA. Why do I bring this up? Because we live in a world where the transient remains transient but the physical has an impact. If I cannot see you, I don’t know you. If someone were to be shot in front of us, we would be moved into action. Yet we cannot see the hundreds of thousands of Ugandan’s who are being shot and massacred, and so we do not care about them. It is not that we don’t know. We know child soldiers exist. From the Biafran war of the 60’s, to the conflict in Syria it is the young who either volunteer or are conscripted. There is an innocence in children that when perverted is more sickening, more disturbing than the actions of mutilation they leave behind.

There is an innocence in children that when perverted is more sickening, more disturbing than the actions of mutilation they leave behind.

It is not ignorance that has allowed Kony and his regime to survive, just as it was not ignorance of Gaddafi or Hussein’s ‘reigns of terror’ that allowed Al Qaeda or the Libyan dictator’s regime to exist. It is choice. We have chosen not to connect ourselves with these stories, these truths. Russell freely admits that the American Government has seen, until this point, no reason to involve themselves in Uganda or against actively finding Kony because it presents  no benefit to the country.  It would seem to me the abuse of human rights does not stem from a rebel leader’s bloodthirsty desire for power. It flows from the self-centered capitalist structures of the democratic world. If IC believe that with more US soldiers Kony can be found – hence why the pressure to get as many people involved in the campaign before the end of 2012 – then it means Kony could have been found, we just haven’t wanted to find him. We, our Western pro-human-right’s governments, have not wanted to make these children visible, because it is of no profit  to our lives, our politics, our way of living. Until our ‘national security’ is at stake, the lives of these ‘invisible children’ are of no consequence. That is the reality we live in. And it is that immoral, horrific and unjust reality that allows for people like Kony to rise to power. He is not the first. He will not be the last. The post-colonised world has been and is littered with figures like him. The colonizing world have their own, they are only better hidden under the rhetoric of democracy.

The difficulty with this ’21st century mark on history’, is that it is transient and not physical. By rooting it in the domain of Facebook, by surrendering the integrity of giving a voice to the voiceless to the realm of over a million cyber produced ‘voices’, we have consigned this idea whose ‘time has come’ into the memory of an update that will last as long as that status is on our homepage.

the abuse of human rights does not stem from a rebel leader’s bloodthirsty desire for power. It flows from the self-centered capitalist structures of the democratic world.

The process of rehabilitating Uganda and the other central African countries that have been infested by the darkness that comes from guerrilla warfare is not one that ceases when a leader has been captured. The death of Saddam Hussein did not stop the ferocity or growth of Al Qaeda. Dare I say it perpetuated it? The removal of Mubarak from Egypt didn’t bring peace and democracy. It turned the largest muslim nation in Africa into a military controlled state. The Arab Spring which thwarted the impending Gaddafi dynasty has seen more bloodshed line the Libyan streets, more despair and rampage overflow in Syria, more civil unrest, than we naively thought when we did our street protests, shared videos and removed their dictators. Yes, removing dictators, people who flaunt their people’s human rights and retaliate with unprecedented violence is a bloody good thing. Yet the institution of peace, the restructuring of a nation from anarchy to democracy, from accepted injustice to consciously implemented justice, is a generational, life time process. Nigeria gained independence and ended it’s own civil war fifty years go. Yet the North and South, Muslims and Christians are still wantonly killing each other. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are recognized separate states, yet in the name of a different branch, a different practice of the same religion, are still bombing their own people.  You see, this is not an ‘Africa issue,’ as we are too quick to assume. This is a human issue.

Whilst KONY2012 has been quick to tell the nameless world of the internet that this is about us coming together as people of the world to demand justice, the focus is very much American based. Culture makers, like the not-yet-adult Justin Bieber, or the just-returned-to-an-abusive-relationship Rhianna, are to be the voices of this protest. Why? Because, we the public, we are invisible. And this video has reminded us of that.

He gives him an identity outside of the pistol he is holding, and the blood that his body and soul are caked in

The hype that consumed us like influenza or swine flu, was so contagious because suddenly this reared its head as a moment for us to be part of something, to have a voice and be recognized. This wasn’t about giving a voice to those nameless people of the Acholi tribe, it didn’t stretch to the invisible children in the favelas of Chile who are being exterminated by the local police, it hasn’t stretched to north korean girls who are being smuggled into China as brides to fill the gap the female infanticide generated. These are all cases where ‘children haven’t had the right to a loving childhood.’ This protest stopped short at the name Kony. And when he goes, those children he stole, abused and brainwashed, those children we are ‘fighting for’, they will take his place – because that is the reality they know. How are we going to fix that? Is this about Kony, or about reaffirming to those who have watched and shared the video that we are autonomous human beings with an active voice? Is this just giving our passive generation a fleeting wake up call that there is more outside the confines of our LCD screens?

In the film Blood Diamond there is a beautiful scene, where the father stands before someone who is about to kill him. It is his son who has been turned into a child soldier. Instead of running, or fighting the father stands still. And he tells the child his name. He gives him an identity outside of the pistol he is holding, and the blood that his body and soul are caked in. And then he goes further. He reminds  his son/child soldier what the smell of his mother’s cooking was like. The sounds of rain falling on the roof, coming home from school, playing with his siblings. He returns to him memories of a life that didn’t know the horrors of his infant war. And after some persuasion the child chooses to remember.

Who will give these invisible child soldiers that opportunity? Who will recount their memories to them, and re-identify them? Will IC? Will you? Will I? Do we care enough, are we really  prepared to invest that much? Because, as at now, the people that we are advocating for, are themselves little Kony’s. And this is the point I am striving to make. We cannot make this issue about the man. Because the man is also one and the same with the children he has made invisible. Dare I say this: It is the act of the Holocaust that reminds us how evil Hitler is. There may come a time when his name fades into the recesses of history books just as the names of other evil men down the ages at some point or other do. They become a figure of history. Yet the experience of the Holocaust will never leave the Jewish people or the Western world, just as the memory of slavery has come to the define the black Peoples of America and the Caribbean. If we did not continue to explain the vile act that was the Holocaust, then Hitler’s name and infamy would soon fade away. IC place Kony beside Hitler, yet they do not give us an experience to really remember him by, only a name. And as we know, names, identities can be taken away, made invisible.

To give critical acclaim to Kony is to give him the power he desires, the power of entering our lives and taking over them. The power of brainwashing us into a militant frenzy that is directionless, purposeless, and perhaps even becomes senseless.  We, instead, need to be venerating and giving a public voice to the children whose lives he has prematurely aborted in forcing them to become killing machines.

Do I believe people should support IC? I believe that if people want to invest in charitable work, in making a change and giving a voice to the voiceless, they must realize it is not a year commitment, it is a life commitment. It is their life, their lives, the lives of their children and grandchildren that you must understand you are investing in. The damage that has been elicited won’t disappear in 2013 – it will most likely get worse. Oh – and then, if you really  care about child soldiers, girls being forced into the sex industry, you have to remember, it doesn’t stop with Kony. You have to take that action around the world. Are you ready for that commitment? Because to stick up a poster, share a video and promptly move on with your life is to do a disservice to the very real human beings you are right now advocating for and whose situation you are lamenting.

If you don’t want to be invisible yourself, than stand up, shine a light, let us know you’re here, and use your voice for the rest of your life, because that is what it will take to make this issue become  valuable  enough that those of us, our countries that can help, will think it profitable enough to help. It’s not about whether you can shout loud enough. Can you, can IC, can this cause shout long enough?

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#43 ~ I’ve done Africa

It is so exhilarating when you meet young people with a heart for social justice, ‘human rights’, development, education, aid. It reaches a new level of excitement when those ideas aren’t confined to the rhetoric of socio-political speech but are transformed into action. What is annoying, is when underneath all of that, lies a veneer of condescension, superiority and deep ignorance.

Speaking to someone this morning they had it all. The speech, the action and i assume the ignorance as well. They had travelled the world building wells, teaching English, doing community projects, fighting the instigation of anti-homosexual laws in ‘Africa,’ and yet they still responded to that continent as a country. Where would you like to focus your humanitarian aid or interests? Well, i’ve done Africa. Oh really. Which countries  have you ‘done’. Oh, well i’ve been to Uganda and Kenya.

I’m sorry. So because you’ve spent six weeks in Ugandan and a few in Kenya, you have suddenly covered, had an interest and invested in that whole continent, all 50+ of its countries? You have not only understood the vast multitudes of people, literary-musical cultures, histories, religions, politics of the whole of Uganda and Kenya, but also of West Africa, Southern Africa, and not forgetting the Arabic Northern Africa. My, what a guy you must be.

Q: If you had one area that you could focus on what would it be?

A: Education, because without it nothing else works. Then agriculture, medicine, human rights, there’s just so much to do!

Now, I’m all for education.Personally i believe illiteracy in the world we live in is a form of child abuse. But education, as I have recently learnt, is a two way thing. The teacher both teaches and is taught by the pupil. What kind of education are we in the West hoping to give these ‘poor third-world countries,’ enslaved to the barbarism of ‘tribes and tribal conflict,’ with obscure female subjugatory cultures? Is it the colonised education that saw the destruction of these cultures that are only now trying to restore their fragmented identity? The education that propagates Western ideals instead of aligning them with their own cultural and national concerns? An education that thrives on enshrining our ‘democratic, tolerant and pro-human rights’ culture as the  way to live, simultaneously disregarding the rich cultural and socio-political history of these ‘foreign’ lands, which funnily enough, in the case of the Yoruba people of West Africa and predominantly Western Nigeria, had a democratic system before the Greeks. Or the Igbo people of Eastern Nigeria whose political system depends on the support of the ‘Adahs’, the first born daughters of the village. Before any political decision is made, the men must give the proposal to the first daughters. If they refuse, it’s like a bill being sent back to the House of Commons to be re-drafted. Before any father is buried, their daughter has the say on when, where. In Igbo land, Beyonce will proudly get the answer that in their own vital way, girls run the world. That seems pretty pro-women’s rights?

I’m not going to say ‘Africa’ and her 56 countries has it all sorted. Far from it. But the condescending attitude that people place upon it alongside Asia, the Middle East, everything bar Europe and Northern America irritates me. It’s as if these ‘post-colonial, tribal, war-mongering, poor, culturally fragmented’ people are one huge writhing mass of flesh. They all fit the same description, the same needs and most importantly have the same history. They have an homogenous identity, proclaiming ‘We are one’ as Simba proudly states in Lion King 2.

No. No ‘we’ are not. Just as people don’t say – I’ve seen Europe- when they come to London, or travel to Paris. In fact, they tend to be even more specific – I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, but i wish i could have gone to the South of France.    Or, i’ve been to Central London, but I wish i could’ve gone to the Lake District. Geography seems to count for ‘us’ in the West.

It is no wonder that ‘Africa, Asia and the terrible Middle East,’ have yet to find a solution to their problems when no one seems to know about their problems. If I stated: China has the highest abortion rate in the world, and someone responded –   Oh my word, the Chinese are so cruel – I think a Chinese person would be extremely unimpressed and look at said person as being an ignorant twit. Not to mention, people from other countries and cultures wouldn’t feel particularly enlightened and therefore know how to respond.

If, however, I stated – China is a country that lacks the natural resources needed to maintain its population. After the cultural revolution there was a big push to build up the Chinese people to become a national force to be reckoned with. However, the sky-high birth rates put a vast strain on their resources economically and agriculturally. China is also a country, like most nations and cultures in the world  which is patriarchal and where having a son, especially historically, was a favoured option because  men made up the workforce whilst women – just like in most nations and cultures across the world – ran the household.  China made the decision for a one-child policy in order to prevent a nationwide famine and starvation. Their histo-cultural concept on gender has meant that when women fall pregnant they are encouraged to keep the baby if it is a boy, but abort it if it is a girl. This has led to the largest female infanticide in modern history, and also meant that many women are now being smuggled out of North Korea to fill the gap.’

My. Suddenly not only are you more informed of the situation, but ‘CHINA’ has not been demonised. One can understand that there were a range of other factors apart from some ‘genetically inherent Chinese cruelty’ that led to the methods put in place, which has now had drastic and unforeseen knock on effects not only in terms of the type of abortion that is happening, but the quality of life of the Chinese and these North Korean women that are being smuggled into the country. One could go on and on looking at the particulars of the problems that have arisen, but most importantly they can acutely and intelligently look at how to alleviate the situation alongside  the work that the Chinese government is doing. 

My point is this, China is not perfect, the ‘third-world’ is not perfect, funnily enough, neither is this Utopian ‘first world.’ As humans we move in a cycle of prosperity and destitution. In order to change that circle into a flat line leading to global equilibrium, one must understand that whilst Europeans were still going unbathed, with the majority still illiterate, the Songhai Empire dominated Western Africa. Astronomers and mathematicians of the Mali Empire that went before the Songhai were putting into motion the bane of most Western Teenagers lives – Algebra exams. Whatever economical empire America or China or the EU are trying to create, Genghis Khan got their first.

If we understand that these people who are in dire straits at the moment, and who do to some degree need a helping hand, need serious input in their failing economies, their corrupt politics and their social disruption did not just crawl out of the desert, half formed, incapable, an immediate and selfish drain on the IMF and World Bank, but have gone through this cycle, then maybe we’ll know how to help. We will realise, instead of ignoring a lot of the cultural taboos and issues, the historical problems that have fuelled their present states. And with that knowledge in hand we will learn how to help, and how not to help.

You cannot ‘do Africa.’ Moreover, there are plenty of children in the UK who can’t string one grammatically correct sentence together in their own ‘superior’ language that is English, before we start trying to educate children who are often multilingual, and  want  to learn. Why don’t we focus on firstly ‘doing’ our own countries, and then ‘understanding’ other peoples. It’s just a thought.

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