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 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
Lately, in debates on white supremacy and racism, I keep getting responses from white people to the effect that I am wrong because they “know Africans who would disagree” with me. That my difference in opinion is not valid as the Africans they know would agree with their particular opinion. Often the white person will then go on to point out that they encountered said Africans during “extensive” travels in Africa; travels that even included my country Kenya. It is at this point that they will often stress their relief at not having encountered Africans/ Kenyans like me during said travels.
But here’s the thing. There are over one billion Africans in this world. Therefore, in order to seriously claim a firm and unanimous African opinion on any issue, you would have to obtain the perspectives of ALL Africans, and not just those of a token few.
Contrary to western stereotype, Africans are diverse people with diverse perspectives emanating from diverse experiences. After all, Africa is a continent (not a country) with over 54 diverse countries. And while there seems to be a preference among white people in Africa to surround themselves with token Africans who will tell them only what they want to hear, this does not mean that all Africans are in agreement with the token’s particular perspective.
Some Africans supported slavery and colonialism, while others continue to support neo-colonial imperialism by the West. Does that make those forms of oppression okay? Of course not. And the same applies to white supremacy and racism today. There are some Africans who – purely for financial reasons – uphold white supremacy. This is especially true when you take into account the economic hardships and rampant poverty plaguing many African people worldwide.
While token Africans make my job as an activist harder, I find that I can’t really blame them. Studies show that racism harms black people on a psychological level, leading to low self-esteem and sense of community worth among black children. It also damages the aspirations of black people and heightens anxiety and depression. When generations of black people are exposed to white supremacy and racism, it’s a no-brainer that some of that psychological damage will take on the “Stockholm Syndrome” effect of internalized racism.
Within the African-American community, there’s a name for black people who exhibit signs of Stockholm Syndrome: “Uncle Tom”. Such blacks are typically subservient or excessively deferential to white people. Uncle Toms tend to behave in a servile manner towards whites, marked with uncritical acceptance of the opinions and values of white people. Eager to win the approval of whites, they will cooperate with them – even to the detriment of the black community. In other words, they are willing to do anything to remain in good standing with whites, including betraying their own people. An Uncle Tom is a black man or a woman who bends over backwards for white people, while selling out the interests of black people.
I’m not that kind of African.
Fortunately, we live in a world in which “popular” (privileged) opinion is never the sole deciding factor. If it were, abolition and many other progressive achievements in history would never have been approved. Moreover, the fact that you “know” Africans who would validate your point of view, yet still encounter Africans like myself who would disagree with you should be proof enough of the diversity in African opinion. Picking and choosing only the perspectives that validate your opinion is a rather lame and disingenuous attempt at derailing conversations on race.
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 31, 2015 § Leave a comment
In December 2013 when conflict broke out in the Central African Republic, France swooped in to “save the day” by sending soldiers to its former colony. Just over a month ago, a UN report was leaked detailing sexual abuse of children in the CAR by the very same French troops.
The report detailed the rape and sodomy of starving and homeless young boys by French peacekeeping troops who were supposed to be protecting them at a center for internally displaced people in the capital Bangui. The boys, some of whom were orphans, were sexually exploited in return for small amounts of food, water and money. In one case, a 9-year-old boy described being sexually abused with his friend by two French soldiers when they went to a checkpoint to look for something to eat. The soldiers forced him and his friend to carry out a sex act. The child was so distressed after the assault that he fled the camp in terror .
Harrowing stuff. But just as worrying were the various responses to the report from the UN, French authorities and the mainstream media.
The United Nations responded to sexual abuse by its peacekeepers by suspending the senior UN aid worker who chose to disclose the report to French prosecutors, after the UN’s failure to stop the abuse.
The response by the UN shouldn’t come as a surprise. When it comes to sexual abuse by its peacekeeping forces, the UN has previously been known to embark on witch hunts against whistle-blowers; politicize the issue despite its urgency; and display an appalling disregard for victims.
Ignore, deny, dissemble and cover up is the UN’s instinctive response to sexual violence in its ranks, as demonstrated by its past failure to act over pedophile rings operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and allegations of sexual misconduct by its troops in Burundi, Liberia and Haiti.
The pervasive culture of impunity that prevails at the UN should raise serious doubts as to its credibility in managing world affairs.
Many media outlets chose to portray this sexual exploitation of African children by peacekeeping forces as a “sex-for-food scandal”. This is nothing new. The media similarly covered as “sex for food” stories past incidents of peacekeeper child sexual abuse in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone (2002); the Democratic Republic of Congo (2004); Liberia (2006); and the Ivory Coast (2011).
Yet children cannot legally, let alone morally, consent to sex. When an adult has sex with a child, this is rape not “sex”. For the media to describe it as “sex for food” implies that the soldiers were merely compensating locals with food for transactional sex, rather than acknowledging what they were truly doing to vulnerable children.
The ultimate danger of such antiseptic reporting is that it will deny the victims the necessary attention, indignation and outrage that could generate public interest, mobilize activists and institutions and ultimately bring about positive change. The only beneficiaries of such downplayed media coverage are the UN and French authorities, whose ongoing policies get to proceed more easily without interference due to concern over their politically inconvenient victims.
The media must refrain from attempts at minimizing the gravity of sexual abuse crimes. When peacekeepers force African children to perform sex acts for food, or for any other reason, this should be covered by the media as a “child rape scandal”.
French Government Response
In response to the scandal, the French defense ministry issued a statement which read in part that:
“If the facts are proven, the strongest penalties will be imposed on those responsible for what would be an intolerable attack on soldiers’ values.”
The French government would have us believe that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against children were merely bad apples, when in fact they were exhibiting the toxic values and ideals of militarism that are encouraged and rewarded in militarized cultures. To become a soldier you must unlearn consent and empathy. You need to dehumanize in order to kill – which is what ALL militaries everywhere train their soldiers to do.
The French soldiers showed no empathy towards the starving boys desperate for food. They instead exploited victims who could not consent to sex, dehumanizing them before and during the rape. The French soldiers were doing exactly what they were trained to do.
When the story of sexual abuse in the CAR first broke out, many around the world expressed their shock that peacekeepers would “take advantage of desperate people they were supposed to be protecting.” However, the fact that sexual abuse by peacekeepers has happened many times before, points to the existence of a pattern that begs to be looked into. It’s time to stop treating peacekeeper sexual abuse as anomalies or random, isolated occurrences, and begin to recognize the deeper issues at play. Until we begin to address the root causes of such incidents, this will happen again, and soon.
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.
May 24, 2015 § 3 Comments
White people can play a role in African causes; but only in facilitating and boosting African voices – not trying to derail the conversation, or distract from and dismiss as irrelevant issues pertaining to white supremacy and racism. Dominating discourse, insisting on speaking for us, silencing criticism and abusing critics is an abuse of white privilege that only does more harm than good.
A white woman doing research in Kenya not too long ago went on a social media rant accusing Kenyans who expressed their support for the “Black Lives Matter” campaign of caring more about the victims of police brutality in the United States than those in Kenya. To her, Kenyans voicing opposition to white supremacy and racism in a spirit of pan-Africanist solidarity (see here and here) was trivial and below consideration. In short, our feelings and emotions towards the plight of our own in the Diaspora – Africans and people of African descent – did not matter.
Rather, it was her job to decide what matters for Kenyans, as we couldn’t possibly know what issues to prioritize for ourselves. After all, only the objective, rational perspective of a privileged white woman can determine exactly what is most important for us – and it apparently was not expressing solidarity with victims of the racism that she as a white person benefits from.
Taking her bigotry a step further, she went on to denigrate the efforts of Kenyans in raising awareness using social media. This in turn revealed just how much her white privilege had distanced her from the reality of the many Kenyan activists who turn to online platforms due to a lack of access to the real world platforms that she, on the other hand, is guaranteed by whiteness.
However, contrary to her belief that Kenyans are uncaring to their own, we are human beings capable of compassion and empathy for each other, as has been demonstrated time and again. More importantly, we’ve realized over time that white supremacy and racism in the West exacerbates the issues we as Kenyan people face in our country. It is this very same white supremacist and racist mentality that makes white academics in Africa, such as herself, feel entitled to engage in acts of erasure by invalidating and devaluing the views of Kenyan activists with the same or greater credentials, not to mention, lived experience, while posturing as “African expert” (white person who believes they know more about Africa and Africans, than Africans themselves).
Frankly, the cliché of the white academic turned “African expert” erasing African agency by stealing the spotlight from grassroots activists so as to be worshiped by Africa’s poor, while simultaneously boosting her academic qualifications to farther her career and profit from her “activism” is getting old. As a Kenyan woman, expressing solidarity with African-Americans against white supremacy and racism doesn’t mean I undervalue the experiences of Kenya’s poor. I just do not need a white woman to “educate” me on what they are.