September 12, 2015 § 1 Comment
Racists who don’t value the lives of Africans love to quote Mandela and other famous black people, in weak attempts to silence and invalidate Africans who get too radical for their liking. They take the words of historical African figures out of context, twist or otherwise manipulate them to try and win an argument. To support their baseless arguments, racists will typically barge into my conversations with cut-and-pastes from Wikipedia of quotes that don’t even apply to the situation.
And they do so with the expectation that I bow down at the mere mention of lionized figures such as Mandela. A figure who, in death, whites can sanitize to suit their interests, while conveniently ignoring the fact that Mandela was a militant who literally blew things up in his fight against oppression.
Mandela may have been the most famous African of his time, but that doesn’t mean that non-famous Africans are obligated to obey and agree with his thoughts. This may come as a surprise but we are allowed to disagree with Madiba.
As a Kenyan woman living in 2015, my perspective derives from my experience of my world, which is quite different from Mandela’s experience of South Africa during apartheid. That doesn’t mean that I don’t value the words and actions of Mandela or any other African freedom fighter. I most certainly do.
However, like every other African, I am under no obligation to place the words of Mandela above my own understanding and experience of the world. I personally value Mandela’s words and actions in the ways that they align with my freedom and the freedom of all Africans, now and today. But I will also respectfully reject them when they don’t.
I am not Mandela. I am me. I am but one of a billion African people, each with their own feelings, thoughts, beliefs and ideals.
The time racists spend searching for some Mandela quote to use to try and silence Africans could have been better spent on educating themselves on the fact that African people are individual autonomous beings, with all sorts of ideas of our own. Our words are equally important to those of the Africans whose names we are expected to fall in line at the mere mention of.
Therefore, if someone wishes to share a quote because they think I might find it interesting, helpful or poignant, that’s fine. But if they’re simply throwing quotes at me with the expectation that I bow down to them and the African figures they imagine know more about my experiences in the world than I do – they can forget it.
I can think and speak for myself.
July 2, 2015 § 3 Comments
Patrice Lumumba was born 90 years ago today on 2 July 1925. Lumumba was the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Congo (today known as the Democratic Republic of Congo). He led the Congolese independence struggle that ultimately wrested the reins of power from the Belgian colonialists.
My dear companion,
I write you these words without knowing if they will reach you, when they will reach you, or if I will still be living when you read them. All during the length of my fight for the independence of my country, I have never doubted for a single instant the final triumph of the sacred cause to which my companions and myself have consecrated our lives. But what we wish for our country, its right to an honorable life, to a spotless dignity, to an independence without restrictions, Belgian colonialism and its Western allies – who have found direct and indirect support, deliberate and not deliberate among certain high officials of the United Nations, this organization in which we placed all our confidence when we called for their assistance – have not wished it.
They have corrupted certain of our fellow countrymen, they have contributed to distorting the truth and our enemies, that they will rise up like a single person to say no to a degrading and shameful colonialism and to reassume their dignity under a pure sun.
We are not alone. Africa, Asia, and free and liberated people from every corner of the world will always be found at the side of the Congolese. They will not abandon the light until the day comes when there are no more colonizers and their mercenaries in our country. To my children whom I leave and whom perhaps I will see no more, I wish that they be told that the future of the Congo is beautiful and that it expects for each Congolese, to accomplish the sacred task of reconstruction of our independence and our sovereignty; for without dignity there is no liberty, without justice there is no dignity, and without independence there are no free men.
No brutality, mistreatment, or torture has ever forced me to ask for grace, for I prefer to die with my head high, my faith steadfast, and my confidence profound in the destiny of my country, rather than to live in submission and scorn of sacred principles. History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history, and it will be, to the north and to the south of the Sahara, a history of glory and dignity.
Do not weep for me, my dear companion. I know that my country, which suffers so much, will know how to defend its independence and its liberty. Long live the Congo! Long live Africa!
June 14, 2015 § 1 Comment
Argentine Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara was born 87 years ago today on June 14, 1928. Che was also a physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist who had a deep connection with Africa.
Che was instrumental in getting Cuba to forge links with African countries during the 1960s, when Cuban soldiers fought alongside southern Africa’s liberation fighters in Angola. Guevara also personally pitched into the brutal battlefields of the newly independent Democratic Republic of Congo, convinced that the ”Yankee imperialism” he detested had to be confronted not only at home but also in its bases of support in the developing nations emerging from colonialism. He slipped into Congo in 1965, in the midst of rebel uprisings against the American-supported government, following the 1961 CIA-approved assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the Congo’s first democratically elected president.
On April 23, 1965, three months after Che met Nkrumah in Accra, (Ghana) this heroic warrior with three Cuban fighters, crossed Lake Tanganyika in two small boats as they left Kigoma, Tanzania for Congolese soil, where they fought alongside Lumumba’s guerrilla fighters. About 130 Cuban fighters used this same route in the following weeks as they joined what became known as Che’s Column One. These fighters arrived in Tanzania and crossed the Lake with the full support of President Nyerere. – The Rising Continent
By sending a vanguard of black fighters to pass on to their Congolese brothers guerrilla tactics that had proved successful in Cuba, Che and Cuban leader Fidel Castro undertook a daring experiment in the internationalization of the Communist revolution.
Before heading to the Congo, Che had been to Ghana, Algeria, Egypt, Guinea and Benin:
Ernesto Che Guevara visited Ghana in the third week of January 1965… El Che met with Nkrumah on the second day of his visit… They held discussions on the situation in Cuba, Latin America and in Africa most especially in the former Belgian colony of Congo… During his week-long stay, el Che met with the press, Liberation Movements in Accra, party leaders, unionists, youth movements and women’s movements… – The Rising Continent
Che was murdered on October 9, 1967 on the orders of Bolivian authorities, in collusion with the CIA. After his death, Cuba remained a friend to Africa’s newly independent nations who aligned themselves with the communist state that opposed their former colonial oppressors. Today, Cuba continues to send doctors, teachers and soldiers to African countries, as demonstrated during last year’s Ebola outbreak.
Nearly 50 years after his death, Che’s image remains a symbol of resistance, determination, and hope for a better world in the eyes of many in Africa and across the globe.
Rest in Power.
Some memorable quotes by Che:
“The true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.”
“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine.”
“Above all, always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world.”
“We cannot be sure of having something to live for unless we are willing to die for it.”
“I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves.”
May 29, 2015 § Leave a comment
Maya Angelou, the American activist, author, poet, dancer, actress, and singer died a year ago today. Angelou had a deep connection to Africa. In 1961, she helped organize a protest at the United Nations over the assassination of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, which had been approved by the CIA.
Shortly after, she moved to Cairo, Egypt, and served as the editor of the Arab Observer. The country was at the time a center of anti-colonial movements opposed to imperialism and Zionism. During her time in Cairo, she met Nelson Mandela while he was on his trip in Africa in 1962, to garner support for the armed struggle and to undergo military training.
She then moved to the newly independent state of Ghana and became one of hundreds of expatriates known as the “Afro-American community”. She worked as a teacher in the School of Music and Drama at the University of Ghana. She also served as a feature editor of the African Review, and wrote articles for Ghanaian Times.
Angelou met with Malcolm X when he visited Ghana in 1964. Ghana was at the time the citadel of the Pan-African and socialist movements taking place in Africa and throughout the Diaspora. The first chapter of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, founded by Malcolm X in 1964, was formed in Ghana among the expatriate community.
Upon her return to the United States, Angelou was encouraged to put her life experiences down on paper. In 1970 she published “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which gained international notoriety.
Dr. Maya Angelou’s contributions to literature and social movements remain an inspiration to many in Africa and across the globe.
Rest in Power.
By Maya Angelou
Thus she had lain
deserts her hair
golder her feet
mountains her breasts
two Niles her tears.
Thus she has lain
Black through the years.
Over the white seas
rime white and cold
took her young daughters
sold her strong sons
churched her with Jesus
bled her with guns.
Thus she has lain.
Now she is rising
remember her pain
remember the losses
her screams loud and vain
remember her riches
her history slain
now she is striding
although she had lain.
February 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
Dedan Kimathi, a leader of the Mau Mau group which led an armed military struggle against British colonial rule in Kenya in the 1950s, was murdered 58 years ago today by the British colonialists.
I’m currently reading The Trial of Dedan Kimathi by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Micere Githae Mugo, some excerpts below:
… it is generally assumed that Kimathi fought in the Second ‘World’ War and people have tended to assume that was where he learnt his military skills as well as his skills in making guns. Kimathi never fought in that war. He evolved his brilliant guerrilla tactics and his enormous organizing capacity from the needs of the struggle. Karunaini people were proud of their son; they talked of him as a dedicated teacher, the committed organizer of a theater group he named Gichamu, as a man with a tremendous sense of humor who could keep a whole house roaring with laughter. They talked of his warm personality and his love of people. He was clearly their beloved son, their respected leader and they talked of him as still being alive. ‘Kimathi will never die’, the woman said. ‘But of course if you people have killed him, go and show us his grave!’ She said this in a strange tone of voice, between defiance and bitterness, and for a minute we all kept quiet.
Wanjiru, they called her. She was lean, wiry and strong. Fought like a tiger in the battle of the Beehive. No wonder the terrorists made her a Colonel… Should have seen when we captured her. She swore at us, spat in our faces and kicked like a wild goat as we bound her. Later at Karunaini camp, she would not eat or drink. And she would not tell us where we could find Kimathi. And you know? She bit my finger. And why? I wanted to see if she was really a woman. Our Africans: Gati, Hungu, Mwendanda and even Wambararia, Kimathi’s brother, were frightened of her.
To a criminal judge, in a criminal court, set up by criminal law: the law of oppression. I have no words… I will not plead to a law in which we had no part in the making… Two laws. Two justices. One law and one justice protects the man of property, the man of wealth, the foreign exploiter. Another law, another justice, silences the poor, the hungry, our people.
Which people? Loyalists? Home guards? Traitors! Simpletons! These are your people.
I have never feared anybody’s rivalry. I have only sought to protect the struggle from betrayal, opportunism and regional chauvinism.
It’s not numbers that fight. Better fifty men armed with faith, armed with discipline, than a thousand villains, doubters, possible collaborators.
It is true children, that Kimathi could do many things. Even today, they sing of the battle of Mathari; the battles he waged in Mount Kenya; the battle of Naivasha. Yes, they sing of the enemy aeroplanes he brought down with only a rifle! He was a wonderful teacher: with a laugh that was truly infectious. He could also act and mimic any character in the world: a story teller too, and many were the nights he would calm his men and make their hearts light and gay with humorous anecdotes. But above all, he loved people, and he loved his country. He so hated the sight of Africans killing one another that he sometimes became a little soft with our enemies. He, Great commander that he was, Great organizer that he was, Great fearless fighter that he was, he was human! Too human at times!
And, a few memorable quotes attributed to Kimathi:
“We reject colonization in Kenya because it has turned us into slaves and beggars.”
“The journey to freedom is full of sacrifices, tears, hunger, clothes full of lice, blood and death”.
“I don’t lead terrorists. I lead Africans who want their self-government and land. God did not intend that one nation be ruled by another for ever.”
“I consider myself a great African patriot fighting, not for the liberation of Kenya alone, but for East Africa and the rest of the continent.”
Rest in peace O great warrior, freedom fighter, African hero.
January 15, 2015 § 1 Comment
Under the guise of being an “equal opportunity offender” Charlie Hebdo‘s intolerance was not only directed towards Muslims, but also diverse groups of marginalized peoples including Africans. Charlie Hebdo mercilessly targeted black people with a selection of racist cartoons including those featured below. This is why I say Africa is not Charlie. Because Charlie was racist and racists do not make martyrs.
Of course, the “Je Suis Charlie” apologists for Charlie‘s racism are now trying to shift the blame onto those offended by asserting that it is in fact we who lack the intelligence to comprehend the complexities of French satire as manifested by Charlie‘s crass, vulgar and tasteless sense of humor. They want us to believe that Charlie was in the same league as the Onion and Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. They are trying to tell us that we should instead be grateful to and stand in solidarity with Charlie because Charlie was “anti-racist”.
Yet “fighting racism by being racist” is an old, tired and rather disingenuous excuse for racism that has long been used to systematically silence black people who call out racism. Racism is racism and you do not get to be racist and thereafter insist on defining what is and isn’t racism for those you have offended. The idea that only white voices are allowed to define what is and isn’t racist is an exercise in white privilege that seeks to uphold white supremacy.
The wider implications around black people’s rights not to have their group depicted as a racist stereotype must also not be ignored. While Charlie‘s stereotypical racist depictions may have appeared normal during the French colonization of Africa, today they are at best infantile and at worst derogatory. They exemplify the essential problem with white anti-racism in general, and certainly the problem with anti-racism in France.
The most worrying aspect of the “Je Suis Charlie” campaign, for me, is how easily it ignores the link between dehumanization and mass killings. During the Nuremberg trials on the Jewish Holocaust, the publisher of a German Magazine was tried and executed for publishing anti-Semitic cartoons. In the Arusha tribunal on the Rwandan genocide a radio journalist was among those tried. Another radio journalist is currently on trial at the ICC for crimes against humanity relating to Kenya’s post-election violence of 2007/8. In all three cases, journalists were accused of spreading hate speech.
It is noteworthy that the people voicing the strongest support for Charlie do not belong to racist movements. They are not members of America’s Ku Klux Klan or the Neo-Nazi groups of Europe. These are ordinary white people who ignore the link between dehumanization and killing in cold blood. It is the good white people who resort to emotional antics under the banner #JeSuisCharlie, when their right to define racism is challenged.
If there’s anything the events of the last week have taught us, it is that for all their virtuous proclamations of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, the French people’s sense of morality is highly questionable.