Friday, January 16, 2015

Dear African People, Our Leaders Suck!

 Image from Anne Kansiime


 I write this letter to you out of desperation. I am desperate because since theCharlie Hebdo  killings of last week in France as well as the Baga massacre  in Nigeria- which also happened last week- there are many of you who are upset that there was not much initial coverage of the Nigeria atrocities in western media. Coverage on CNN, BBC and other major Western outlets began a few days after I had read about it on Al Jezeera. I noted this anomaly but I was not at all surprised or upset by the monotonous repetition of the Paris shootings every time I turned on the TV. On the heels of the Baga attack came the story of the suicide bomber, a 10 year old girl exploded in a crowd, killing and maiming more people. Once again I was not surprised that there was little immediate coverage of this horrific story. Before long the hashtag #I am Charlie had appeared and social media was abuzz with condemnation of the attacks on grounds of freedom of expression. At the same time, Nigerians and some African papers were running stories and pictures on the horror that was still unfolding in Northern Nigeria. Over 2000 people killed, bodies strewn in forests and streets, whole villages set on fire. It was at this point that the elusive thing that I knew was missing became starkly clear: The voice of African leaders was missing. While western media rattled off condolence and condemnation messages from heads of state all over the world on the situation in Paris, there was a deathly quiet about Boko Haram killings still going in Nigeria.

 I scoured the internet for a Statement from President Goodluck Jonathan wading through the millions of “I am Charlie” solidarity stories. I searched for a statement from the African Union Commission Chairperson, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma, from other heads of African states, from the SADCC region, from ECOAS. Nothing. Only Julius Malema of the Economic Freedom Fighters party in South Africa came out strongly on the issue of Boko Haram’s terrorist activities. I really did not care whether western leaders said anything about Nigeria because it is not of them that I have expectations but of our own leaders. Then came the kicker, an article stating that six heads of African States had flown to Paris for the unity rally and an image of one of them wiping tears from his eyes. It is this last act that has me desperate to communicate with you.

 Please can we stop expecting everyone in the world to treat us better than we treat ourselves and each other. Please can we stop expecting solidarity marches in Palestine, Israel, Europe or anywhere else, even Mars for that matter. We do not have any solidarity marches on the continent of Africa, or perhaps I may have missed something?
When our own so called leaders in Africa do not deem it fit to condemn the many acts of terror by Boko Haram, from the missing girls of Chibok the bombings in Abuja and so many others, WHY should western leaders or the media focus on these acts that are happening in relatively remote Africa when they have Paris burning under their noses?

African leadership is a disgrace, a sham, and we see this from South Africa, Zimbabwe, and spanning the length and breadth of the continent. This is what we should be angry about, that we have people in leadership positions who have no clue what they are doing and who do not genuinely care about the plight of their people. We should be livid that we have incompetent and ineffective leaders who bury their heads in the sand while a lethal insurgent group like Boko Haram gains traction on its destructive march towards its catastrophic mission. We should be enraged by the corruption that cripples entire nations so that they are propped out by external western NGO’s to whom these so called leaders have simply outsourced their responsibilities, rendering African people beggars. Just think of the Ebola Crisis and recall African leaders shamelessly demanding western assistance and stating that they were acting too slowly. Western agencies came out strongly to say that they there to assist and support governments with the Ebola crisis because clearly the expectation on the part of leaders in the affected countries was that agencies like WHO and Doctors without Borders should shoulder the burden of that crisis in its entirety.

I do not mean to oversimplify the often complex maneuverings of global geopolitics or to trivialize the extent of direct or indirect involvement that western politics and even media have had on the current situation in Africa. However it would be remiss of me if I did not hold our leaders accountable for the very minimum:  public condemnation of terror attacks, compassion for the victims of Boko Haram and their families, offers from neighboring states to assist with boots on the ground (if nothing else). Nothing like this happened when the girls from Chibok were abducted, and nothing has happened then or since to demonstrate goodwill among Africans as exemplified by western leaders coming together for a unity rally in Paris and offering practical assistance to the French for counter- terrorism measures. In fact I put it to you that African leaders do not care about African people and the people who perished in Paris appear to get more attention from African leaders than the thousands who have perished in Nigeria. This is demonstrated by the six leaders who flew to Paris to stand in solidarity with France. In the light of the problems on the continent I have to say that this is shameful and my hope is that when elections come this year in all countries where there is an opportunity to change leadership, Africans will remember things like this as they cast their ballots.
 

Please let’s start to really reflect on our own somnolence in the face of looming annihilation. Let us look at how and why we elect the kind of leaders we have and why we seem to be powerless to get rid of bad leaders. Let us reflect on why we have come to expect, to feel entitled even that the west should care about what happens in Africa more than we ourselves care. Let us reflect on our lack of collective self-worth that has us expecting outside help to solve our own problems, while at the same time resenting the help for the price that it comes with. Yes, Western help does not come for free and we continue to pay a high price for “help”, the least of which is its toll on our collective self –esteem and dignity. The word -solidarity- means to stand with, to march shoulder to shoulder with. The world cannot stand with those who do not see it fit to stand up for themselves. No one can cry more than the bereaved. Our lives, African lives will matter to no one if they do not matter to ourselves. #IamNigeria. #Africanlivesmatter #‎nonebutourselves.



 
And this just in: Almost two weeks after the Baga attack President Goodluck visited displaced people from Baga in a camp in Maiduguri. Let us clap for him please!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My Year in Pictures! What a Year!

The year 2014 marked the beginning of a major journey for me. It was one of the most difficult years of my life in many ways but also the most transformative. To all those who were a part of this journey, both negative positive and /or neutral: THANKYOU! Every single person and experience taught me something about myself about humanity and my place in the grand scheme of things. I wish each and every one of you an amazing 2015 filled with all those things you wish for yourself. The word that comes to mind as we move into the new year is COURAGE! We are all going to need it.
February 2014 Highlight









Coordinating the One Billion Rising for Justice Campaign in Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland was an amazing experience which stretched me beyond anything I could have ever anticipated! The highlight was working with the country coordinators, who have become my sisters in the truest sense of the word. Thanks to their love care and passion so many new movements and ideas were birthed in 2014~! To Zubeida, Mbachi, Hannah, Lerato and Thamy, Nyasha, Glanis, Doreen, Soneni, Nyasha2, Batsi, Judith and Colani, Jade and Mantala Thenjiwe, Andrea, Yasmeen, Samu, Peter, Busi, Deveshni, Myeshia, Mpho, mum Pru, Mmatshillo, Pumla...THANKYOU for making OBR in southern Africa a huge resounding success and most of all thank you for opening your hearts to me. I truly feel so blessed to have met each of you physically or virtually. I am and will always be your sister!
 
March 2014 Highlight- Caine Prize Workshop Zimbabwe
 






Thanks to Lizzy Atree for an amazing time at Leopard Rock in Zimbabwe! It was such a joy and an honor to meet and share writing with Bella, Gertrude, Abubakar, Elnathan, Philani, Bryony, Chinelo, Abdul, Clifton and Michael. Thanks to Nyii and Henrietta for being such wonderful facilitators. You all are such wonderful people and I am so thankful to have shared space, time and stories with you all! I met the fabulous John Steward, Jane Morris, Jessesi Mungoshi, Roger Stringer, Batsi and Blessing!



I got to meet the then Minister of Gender VaMaphosa, Opah Muchinguri and had what I thought were amazing discussions about ending violence against women in Zimbabwe. I am so saddened by how things have turned out now. I wish I understood it but I don't because none of it is rational.


April 2014 Highlight- Rome OBR Summit
Colani H

Nyasha S

Fartoun and Aissatou


Kushi and Karin

It was a joy to finally meet Colani  in person and to see Nyasha once again. I met many women I greatly admire and I am so thankful.

May 2014- Domestic Violence workshop with my sisters of the Delta Sigma Theta Inc. Sorority Alumnaie Chapter! I was introduced to Laurita Thomas the Vice President of the Delta Sorority in Ann Arbor in December 2013. From there we worked together to create a community forum on Domestic and sexual violence. This Forum was a game changer for me, and I began thinking about evidence- based programs and interventions in minority communities.




 


Mother's Day 2014- Bring back our Girls March Ann Arbor
A few weeks after the kidnapping of over 250 school girls from Chibok Nigeria by Boko Haram. We put out a call to action on Mother's Day and joined the world in demanding the return of the girls and for the Nigerian and other governments to ensure the safe return of the girls. Till today the girls have not been found and only a few managed to escape on their own. This is still one of the saddest and most frustrating events of 2014.#Bringbackourgirls!


My Daughters and their friend leading the march.


My two older daughters
My girls and me



July, 2014- Hedgebrook Residency- Women Authoring Change!
It was in this place called Hedgebrook on an Island in my cabin where I met Barbara the writer. This is what Radical hospitality did for me: It unveiled me to myself and the novel was finally written. I was so blessed to share that journey with Greta, Lauren, Tracey, Rickey, Jewelle, Nicky






 
 
October 2014- Healthy relationships with Collegiate Deltas and HEADS
 
This was an interactive session with young men and women on the subject of health relationships and the power dynamics in  health and unhealthy intimate partnerships. I was inspired by these young men and women and by their hunger to understand the pathology in intimate partnerships and how to resolve conflicts effectively. We talked about being active bystanders and look forward to working with them in 2015 to create a network of active bystanders that included bar tenders and the police. After the session we held a candle lit vigil for women who had been killed by intimate partners and for survivors.

 
 








 

8 November 2014- Female Genital Mutilation Walk, Washington DC
This walk was organized by the Global Woman P.E.A.C.E Foundation (GWPF), an organization working to end FGM in the US and in Liberia. It was an emotional experience, listening to survivors, But I was determined to be a part of the movement to end FGM in the United States particularly "Vacation Cutting", where by girls are sent to countries where FGM is still practiced with impunity. they are sent during summer vacation from the US, get cut and are brought back to the United States for school. We will be partnering with GWPF to raise awareness of the practice in the US and to provide support for survivors and identify "at risk" girls in immigrant communities.






 
 
25 November 2014- Sexual Violence Panel Discussion at UNWomen, NYC

The panel discussion was organized by Inter-Parliamentary Union, UN Women and the World Future Council on “Violence against Women: Best Laws and Policies - Learning from the winners of the 2014 Future Policy Award.” The discussion  looked at successful strategies since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action, remaining challenges and the way forward. At UN Women! 


Me with Ms. Mensah-Williams (Namibia) President of the Women Parliamentary Committee at the IPU
 

Me with Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka Executive Director  UNWomen 
 
December 2014- Our Foundation is born and I was invited to become a Rotarian!
This foundation is the result of love support passion that grew out of my activism and is a mirror to the love and admiration I have for the beauty and resilience of African women. This Foundation is for and about them! To all who have supported me listened, wiped tears, laughed, encouraged and danced with me....THANK YOU! Here is to a miraculous 2015! I love you all!
 
 
This is our logo chosen from the ones below!