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The title of the article is what caught my eye at first. Despite being incredibly off-putting and having a gut feeling that I would be disgusted at what I would be about to read, I decided to go ahead and read it as something that can only be described as a minor form of self-torture.
“How I Got Addicted to Africa (and Wrote a Thriller About It)" is the title of American author Todd Moss’ op-ed published in The Daily Beast on September 9th, 2014. Moss opens up the article by describing the rejection of his novel about Africa by a literary agent. But it’s not the response of the literary agent that concerns me, it’s the premise of his white savior novel. Moss describes the pitch for the book as centering on an American diplomat in Mali who foils a coup and an attack on the U.S. Embassy there. Right.
As the article progresses, Moss manages to do a brilliant job of sounding like the typical white person who goes to Africa, thinking themselves brave and exemplary for actually bothering to visit a part of dark, rural and dangerous Africa. In his own words, “unlike my peers who were mostly going to Britain or Spain, I chose Zimbabwe.” I won’t even bother giving him points for describing himself as a ‘privileged American’, that’s simply stating the obvious. Besides, he seems to do so in passing as if to say that it is an unimportant fact in the story when it informs much of what Moss goes on to describe in the article.
As he details how his love affair with the continent happened, he begins with describing the place of his visit 20 years ago, Zimbabwe, as a place that felt ‘familiar’ to him which was not what he expected. Expanding on the ways in which it felt ‘familiar’, Moss first describes the host family he was staying with as people who actually “talked and laughed about the same everyday things as my own family back in Rochester, New York.” Just how different, or ‘exotic’ was he expecting Zimbabweans to be? What did he think this family of six - two schoolteacher parents and four children - would talk about that would make them so strange and different to any family around the world, especially his own? If expectations say anything about Moss, he sounds like the kind of guy that didn’t do much in the way of expanding his understanding of his place of visit before going there. After reading his article, I still have no clue why he chose Zimbabwe in particular, aside from the fact that it wasn’t ‘Britain or Spain’, which would have been interesting to know.
Still talking about ‘powerful and captivating’ Zimbabwe, Moss talks about his stay there - eating sadza and fried mopane worms, travelling in a rickety taxi bus, learning Shona and local ‘elaborate greeting rituals’, etc. - as though he’s some version of Indiana Jones in Africa. I actually lost it when he said, “The smells of roasting maize, diesel fumes, and floral soap from the streets of Harare are still seared into my brain.” And by “lost it” I mean I laughed out loud. Hard. But it seems all that is what led to Moss catching what he describes as the “Africa bug, a common ailment of visitors who develop an intense lifelong affection.” Ah, so that’s what white people call it.
In case you’re wondering how this bug works, Moss provides his experiences in Africa as the perfect example. First, you have to either visit Africa or become dangerously obsessed with it - both usually end up happening one way or another. Traveling to Africa as a missionary, volunteer, tourist or any version of a neo-colonial white savior is the first transformative step in the progression of the bug. Being born there or living there already also counts. Whilst there, your unhealthy obsession will begin to develop even more, informed by your experiences as a privileged white person. For Moss, after his stay with his host family, it happened when he began raising money through a non-profit to help build homes for people in Zimbabwe, ravaged by rebels in Mozambique’s civil war. Shortly after, it really began to escalate when he and his now-wife chose to travel from the southern to the eastern part of the continent not with the comfort of an airplane, but on a “harrowing sailboat”, hitchhiking, taking a “52-hour train journey”, as well as spending “countless days on bone-jarring local buses.” Wow, Indiana Jones in Africa strikes back! Bravo, Moss. You are so special and unique for choosing to do this. Such authentic experiences. Nevermind that many people have little to no option when traveling but to take these modes of transportation. Or that, as an American citizen, you have the privilege or crossing borders on a foreign continent that many citizens of that continent do not.
I contemplated halting there, but I had a strong feeling of what I thought Moss would write about (based on the similarities between his story and the many victims of the Africa bug I’d encountered) and had to see if I was right. In short: I was.
Let’s break it down. Moss begins career in Africa. Works for World Bank and US government. Writes books on Africa. Children become infected with Africa bug. Distances himself from stereotypical depictions of Africa by Americans and American media because he had a most amazing eureka moment - that Africa is “always changing”.
It seems the gist of the article is to show Moss as some sort of exemplary figure, someone who is not only an “African insider” or “expert”, but someone who knew the potential of Africa before foreign media started picking up on the “Africa rising” narrative, and before the U.S. government began hosting economic summits with African leaders. All starting with his travels two decades ago in his “beloved Zimbabwe”. His words, not mine. Seriously.
Luckily for Moss, Mali did experience a real coup and his novel was published. And if you’re a fan of stories like this, he’s working on a sequel about a “stolen election in (where else?) Zimbabwe”. Lucky us (not that that sounds at all familiar).
But you gotta hand it to him for the way he ends to the article:
Across business, foreign policy, and popular culture, more Americans are discovering Africa and catching the bug. I hope that, in some small way, by sharing my passion for the continent, the region can be even more accessible—that Africa will, finally, be considered mainstream.
The Americans are coming, everyone! Africans, your continent will finally achieve a sense of validation! Viva neo-colonialism!
(Related reading: “How to Write About Africa" by Binyavanga Wainaina)
Consider the history of borders. Starting with the Berlin Conference of 1884 when seven European countries carved out their stakes on the continent, Africa was gradually broken down into an illogical clutter of nation-states. The borders of these states had no regard for historical groupings and identities, and shifted depending on what was most politically and economically expedient for the colonising country. At different points during the first half of the century, for example, Burkina Faso was part of Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Mali and Senegal, before eventually coagulating as the Republic of Upper Volta.
In the early 1960s, as more African states gained “independence” and moved towards establishment of the Organisation of African Unity, border blues drove one of the earliest rifts in continental politics. The “Casablanca group” of states led by Kwame Nkrumah advocated a radical approach to African unification, while the “Monrovia group” led by Leopold Senghor called for a more conservative approach, one that held the borders of nation-states in higher esteem.
The Monrovia group won, and one of the first resolutions of the OAU was to endorse colonial borders. Today, there are only a few African countries – Comoros, Madagascar, Mozambique, Rwanda and Seychelles – that allow all Africans either to enter without visas or to obtain visas upon arrival. For the rest, fellow Africans have to jump through hoops whose variations in complexity often reflect larger political dynamics. It seems that what has infiltrated our psyche even deeper than colonial geography is the spirit that inspired the origin of borders: perceptions of superiority and inferiority, the violence of competition for resources, selective openness determined by levels of perceived threat and historical animosity. And questions of historical clarity are chronically present.
Where did the vision of division come from? How does it stay alive? Who teaches you to hate your neighbour? Official classifications along invisible lines were both symptoms and tools of oppression throughout the 20th century. In apartheid South Africa, pass books determined where and when Africans had the right to exist in their own land. In Rwanda, Belgium introduced identity documents with “ethnic” classifications, to nurture divisions in the incubator of rigid bureaucracy. Across the continent, people put arbitrary colonial divisions on paper and called them passports.
Any person who makes everyone happy is not real, and the Mandela that does so is not the real Mandela but the one the world has constructed, removing the parts of the man some people did not like.
Many use this Mandela to project themselves as real defenders of his legacy while not living according to his values and disregarding what he stood for.
Like hypocrites in religion, they only extract what makes them happy from Mandela and disregard the rest.
It is an image of a very liberal Nelson Mandela who expected South Africa to be perfect within a very short space of time.
It’s an image of a man who is a messiah, who delivered freedom and democracy to South Africa single handedly.
This cropped out image of Mandela from the real one is ingrained in the minds of those who resist transformation and economic freedom of black people Mandela fought for.
These anti-transformation, anti-justice and very ignorant people use this image to protect what they have.
They easily tell people to “get over apartheid” which Mandela spent his life fighting against.
Any op-ed piece about Nelson Mandela that doesn’t take on the usual peace-loving, always smiling, ‘Rainbow Nation’ messiah format will undoubtedly be met with great criticism and anger from those who were sold and bought into this image of the late anti-apartheid leader and human rights activist (seriously, just read the comments under the article).
But the fact of the matter remains that Mandela did not become a pivotal anti-apartheid figure by establishing himself as everyone’s favourite docile father-figure. From with his early days as a lawyer and later with the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela was a radical who was deemed a terrorist by the West and co-founded the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Zulu for ‘spear of the nation/people’). During and after his time spent incarcerated on Robben Island, Mandela made many statements that would not sit well with many who in turn seem to calculatedly omit when reflecting on the importance of Madiba’s legacy.
This is not to say that we cannot or should not refer to Mandela’s social and political views and policies when analyzing the current state of the ANC. It’s clear that in many ways, the current ruling party has failed to deliver on promises made as far back s the 1990s. The danger lies when people use Mandela’s words against each other, for their own gain, or as a means of erasure. Citing the term ‘rainbow nation’ as a case for why affirmative action is irrelevant (because apartheid is over and we’re all equal now) is not only ignorant but spits in the face of justice and true reform.
Too often, leaders not from the West are often cast in one-dimensional roles that make them out to either be heroes or villains with no in-betweens when we know that history and politics are always exceptionally complex.
As Hasane so aptly puts it, there’s a difference between ‘getting over apartheid’, and forgiving as a necessary part of the healing process but in no way forgetting the atrocities and injustices of the past. We’d also do well to remember that Mandela was no saint, nor was he perfect in any way. There is no single Mandela story.
Just the other day, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about the passion, potential and power of Africa’s youth today and as I told him about some of the amazing things happening in Rwanda he looked at me and said, “you are such a proud Rwandan!” And I replied: well, thank you, to which he quickly responded wittily: “that wasn’t entirely a compliment by the way.”
This was the inspiration for this piece.
While I may have been somewhat caught off guard by my friend’s reaction, I wasn’t completely surprised by it. It is a reaction that I too have had before, and that I have had to make a deliberate effort to overcome. The reaction of a pleasant yet dubious surprise when you hear a fellow African speaking highly of their country and culture, excited about the present and optimistic about the future. It’s a lovely narrative that is sadly only recently beginning to flourish and we are only now learning how to respond to it. I remember back when I was in college, Africans bonded over exchanging shared experiences of poor customer service, pot-holed roads, strict, and what we thought were restrictive cultural expectations, and the struggle to find a good hot-dog. Somehow that seemed to be a concern that we all passionately shared. I remember spending hours with friends from across the continent laughing at many of the things that we felt were not-so-right about our continent, and although we were joshing it from a place of love and nostalgia, it would take me years to realize how damaging this kind of “talk” can be. The urge to criticize and ridicule the deplorable state of some aspects of our continent and respective countries is sadly one that comes too quickly and too naturally to many of us. As Africans, we are not accustomed to hearing praises of Africa by Africans, and so when we do, we’re not sure how to receive it or respond to it. We automatically assume that the person is in some way privileged or comes from a class of society that has inherited and not earned the right to be proud of who they are and where they come from. This is changing, however. #TIA (This is Africa) for example, is no longer entirely a mockery of Africa or an almost complacent blasé display of affection for it, #TIA is evolving into platforms, blogs and websites that genuinely amplify and illuminate the awesomeness of Africa. Although I recognize that there is much wrong with the continent and whilst much of our history and in some cases, our present, does not merit much praise, there is also so much that is very right. There exists a multitude of awesome that is very deserving of praise. So, this piece is by no means a starry-eyed romantic attempt to paint a perfect picture of Rwanda or of Africa; it is a conscious choice and effort to shine more light on the positive aspects of who we are and where we come from. Africans, and in particular Rwandans, have created and continue to create a beautiful story that is worth telling. I believe that being Rwandan is a responsibility and it is one that we cannot afford to carry with mediocrity. Most importantly however, being Rwandan is something that we must be unapologetically proud of. So here are only 3 of the #1000reasonsIamproudtobeRwandan:
1. #Gonearethedays: Gone are the days, when you would meet a non-Rwandan and upon introduction receive the following reaction: “oh…the Genocide! Yes, I’ve seen a movie about that” or “Are you Hutu or Tutsi?” Now, it’s more like: “wow, yes the COFFEE!” or, “the gorillas!” or, “I’ve heard so many great things about Rwanda” or quite simply, as I experienced yesterday: “Rwanda is where it’s at!” Growing up, sometimes being Rwandan felt almost exhausting: all the explaining you had to do about Rwanda when you met non-Rwandans who had a million negative questions, or to those who had no idea what or where Rwanda was, or listening to people’s sighs and receiving pity pats when they found out you were from the Rwanda that they saw on the news in 1994. While we will still experience some of this today, it is definitely to a lesser degree and it will more than likely be followed by a good ‘but’…for example: ‘but you have some really good coffee!’ #gonearethedays when we were looked down upon. We have many looking up at us now.
2. #AGACIRO! Ok, this is pretty self-explanatory, but if you know me, you know how deeply passionate I am about Agaciro (dignity), so I will do some explaining. Although I recognize that the concept of Agaciro is not one that is entirely brand new to the continent, I must say that Rwanda has breathed new life into a concept that once had immense potential to create a stronger better Africa, but one that was sadly very short-lived. The struggle for the restoration of human dignity was one that characterised post-colonial Africa. With the end of colonialism and the achievement of independence across the African continent, the 1950s and 1960s were a time of re-birth in Africa, in which the founding fathers of Africa focused foremost on building national unity and restoring a sense of dignity amongst their people, while working towards national development. Sadly, many of these principles of unity and dignity did not live too long after their brainchildren. But today, Rwanda’s leadership has not only restored the concept of dignity, it has reinstated it in a way that I’m sure our founding fathers would be supremely proud of. In Rwanda, Agaciro, along with the concept of self-reliance have taken on a life of their own and have evolved into a mind-set, an identity, a way of life. Agaciro has seeped down into the individual’s core and has changed not only the way we see our country, but also the way we see ourselves. Rwanda’s leadership is doing an incredible job at restoring the dignity and confidence of Rwandans that was detrimentally compromised and in so doing have directly and indirectly allowed Rwandans to discover their potential and grow it. This takes me to my next point.
3. #THEDREAMTEAM: I’m sure many of you know of or at least have heard of the original, or what some have called the only, Dream Team. The U.S basketball team which comprised of legends like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and Scottie Pippen changed the game of basketball forever and placed the NBA on the global map when they won the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Although there have been subsequent dream teams, none have quite measured up to this one and they continue to be the height that many athletes today aspire to reach. Rwanda’s leadership today is to me, just like this dream team. With our president as MVP, Rwanda’s dream team is setting the bar tremendously high not only for the future generation in Rwanda, but for Africa as a whole. I am proud that our dream team has created a space for young Rwandans to grow, to dream, to flourish, and to make their mark. I am proud that Rwanda today, is not only a place where you can dream, it is also a place where you can live your dream! I am proud that I can watch Rwandan women on CNN speaking about their businesses, that I can pick up a magazine on a bookshelf in Capetown with a Rwandan face on it, that I can sit in Bourbon Coffee in New York City and that I can wear stunning jewellery by a Rwandan designer! I am proud that although I was born to a mother and father in exile, that they are able to finally be somewhere they can call home and mean it. Warren Bennis said that leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality, and our leadership has been in the business of turning visions into realities since the creation of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. I am proud of the fact that, in the words of Kwame Nkrumah, “the forces that unite us are intrinsic and greater than the superimposed influences that keep us apart.” I am proud that despite some of the backlash against Rwanda, we remain a people of doers and that our actions speak louder than our words, and the words of others.
What are you proud of?
Such a great read and although I’m not Rwandan, the ironic pride I have in being Nigerian is constantly being questioned by other Africans so that’s definitely an experience I’m familiar with.
I have seen a lot being posted on social media and in the press about Boko Haram, and some of it is really astounding. I’ll list it what I’ve seen numerically, along with some thoughts.
1. Part of the narrative being shaped around Boko Haram in the western press is that they’re like the Taliban and that they exist because they don’t want girls to go to school. People need to stop using Malala Yousafzai to make their talking points on Boko Haram and to draw parallels to the Taliban. First of all, Boko Haram is not a political party like the Taliban. Second of all, if these people even bothered to research, they would know that earlier this year, Boko Haram murdered 59 school boys in Yobe ranging in age from 11 to 18. It wasn’t the first time they’ve murdered male students, so Boko Haram hasn’t just targeted girls. Also in Yobe last September, they killed 40 students. They don’t discriminate who they victimize. Boy, girl, man, woman - they are equal opportunity killers.
2. Republicans are having a field day with this story. They have somehow managed to inject the US liberal and conservative binary with Boko Haram. Just the other day, Rush Limbaugh said the leader of Boko Haram (Abubakar Shekau) is good looking and that since Boko Haram are black guys, liberals don’t want to call them terrorists. Huh? Every article I have seen refers to them as “islamists”, “jihadists” or terrorists, so this is a lie. Now I know Limbaugh is a clown, but he’s a clown with a lot of pull, and his supporters are spreading his nonsense. It’s really disgusting to warp the public’s reaction to Boko Haram into an American liberal and conservative binary just to push forward your agenda of hating “the left”. Unfortunately, salacious garbage like this spreads.
3. The “false flag” conspiracy Alex Jones watching people are sinking their teeth into this story. Boko Haram has been in existence for a while. This is not new. It is very real. I know people who have fled Abuja because of Boko Haram. Just because this is the first time you’ve heard about Boko Haram doesn’t mean they came out of no where. Thankfully, these false flag people can be easily dismissed because of their grade school analysis, which isn’t grounded in facts or reality will only make sense to fools. One guy actually messaged me and said (direct quote) “If this was real, how come no one ever heard about Boko Haram before these school girls were allegedly kidnapped?” I didn’t respond. Ok buddy, Boko Haram didn’t exist until last month according to your “research”. You’re really on top of things.
4. The white guy who spent some time in an African country who is now an “African expert”. They genuinely think a summer in the early 90s in a village building a well makes them an expert on all things African. They think because they went to an African country and maybe dated an African woman or two that they are now authorities on all subjects Africa. Salon published an article written by a guy who spent a little time in Togo with the peace corps over 20 years ago. I’m making a wider point here beyond Boko Haram articles and posts. My point is that many outlets give these know nothing white folks access to write. It’s amazing what you can do when you’re white. Could you imagine an African writing authoritatively on Europe because they went hiking across the Swiss Alps in the early 90s. It’s absurd, yet this is the reality with many white people and their “expertise”. We have to hear them constantly. Anne Hathaway is going around saying only 5% of Nigerian girls have access to an education.
5. I’ve noticed a sentiment that Nigerians are ungrateful on social media. It’s not that big, but it is there. Enough for me to see the commentary. Some Americans are upset that some Nigerians have vocalized their concerns about western intervention because they don’t feel the west is altruistic. This is a legitimate feeling for Nigerians to have, completely backed by reality and history. Nevertheless, it has angered some Americans. Now I expect white folks to be angry or to not really get it, but I was disappointed that some black and brown folks were angry too. Their tone towards Nigerians was hostile, paternalistic and implied that Nigerians should be grateful that the US and the west are helping and that the US is ‘damned if they do, and damned if they don’t’ and that Nigerians were begging for help. They think this way because they weren’t listening to all Nigerians. The Nigerians who vocalized their concerns were drowned out by the deluge of misinformation pumped out daily, people saying no one cares and no one is reporting this story and those that called for western intervention. They weren’t listening to concerned Nigerian voices.
6. It’s not that these Nigerians don’t want genuine help (of course they do), you just need to realize that there is history and baggage with foreign intervention, and it’s not something Nigerians (or any clear thinking individual) can afford to ignore. We know western “help” doesn’t typically come with no strings attached. This has been the western model of help, from the World Bank and IMF, to everything else. You will owe them. What you can’t pay back financially with interest, you will pay back by giving them unfettered access to your mineral wealth. If you’ve read any of the actual briefings the US has written about Boko Haram, the thing they mention repeatedly is oil and protecting it at all costs so it doesn’t get sabotaged by militants. Niger Delta militants don’t have the firepower, numbers or funding like Boko Haram, not to mention that they don’t kill thousands of innocent people, so they’re not as a big concern. Boko Haram is a real threat.
7. I want to ask these people who are upset at concerned Nigerians if they know the history of western intervention in black and brown nations that started out supposedly altruistically (usually to restore order, promote democracy, rescue and/or “liberate” women etc). If you’re lashing out at people who are concerned about the future of their country when they have previously dealt with “altruistic” western forces who end up exploiting and/or murdering their people, then you’re not looking to dialogue or even listen to them. As black and brown people, the reason why our diasporas are far and wide is because of marauding Europeans disrupting our lives, often coming under the guise of help. The reason why many of us emigrate from our homelands to the west is because we need to survive by either getting an education or looking for employment. Why do you think Nigerians in the diaspora are highly educated when compared to everyone else? Do you think if everything was great that they wouldn’t be back home? They’re not back home because home has been destabilized by corrupt leadership who are puppets for imperialist nations who were usually their former colonizers. It’s ripe for exploitation. We have been perpetually abused. Imperialism and puppet governments replaced colonialism post independence. So try to be empathetic and understand where the Nigerians who aren’t terribly excited about “help” are coming from before lashing out. Finding Nigerians who don’t agree with them doesn’t negate their opinions. After all, your own histories in the diaspora are not dissimilar. Not everyone within your ranks saw eye to eye on everything in the midst of your suffering. How would you feel if people dismissed your fears and concerns, and implied that you were ungrateful when the hand reaching out to ease your suffering is the same hand that used you as a punching bag for generations?
As an aside, I do find it interesting that some of the people who regularly decry the ‘military industrial complex’ have become their biggest cheerleaders. One wonders if they realize it.
8. People using Boko Haram for talking points, agendas, comparisons, jokes etc are awful human beings. Some issues should be no go areas. I don’t need you to explain what satire is or what jokes are. What I need you to do is grow the fuck up. It used to be that fools would compare things to nazis. If a woman was a feminist, ignorant people would say she’s a “feminazi”. If someone was a stickler for grammar, then they were “grammar nazis”. For a while, people did similar with the taliban. Now, they are doing it with Boko Haram. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson basically said that people calling someone out for racism are like Boko Haram. All this stuff is exhausting.
A friend of mine in London wrote me to ask what I was doing to #BringBackOurGirls and how she could help.
I said I wasn’t doing anything. She was very shocked to here this because I was someone who used to be active, working hard to make people recognise and fight about social injustices.
Of course, I am sad about over 200 school girls getting abducted and possibly being sold into slavery but I am too tired to fight.
Almost everyday is a fight. Not of the physical sorts. Just immense emotional and mental turmoil.
You fight to be safe when you’re out.
You fight internally with yourself, telling yourself that you can relax because your family members and loved ones in the northern part of the country will be safe.
Every Sunday when you’re greeted by the news of the latest bomb blast you fight not to scramble onto whatsapp to make sure everyone is safe. When people do not immediately reply, you fight not to enter into full-fledged panic mode.
When you fly, it is a struggle. Visiting family and friends must be reduced. Because you expose yourself unnecessarily to our unsafe road and air travel networks.
From the minute you get into the plane to the minute you land, you assume supernatural powers, telling yourself that today is not the day you will die. You recall dreams of writing a book or making a movie. You recall wanting a family and a house with a garden and patio. You decide that first you will start with an apartment that will be lavishly decorated with works of art. You echo your mother’s prayers for the journey, “The sun shall not smite you by day nor the moon by night. The elements will support you”.
You are not sure if you believe in God but Hail Mary escapes your lips at the slightest threat of turbulence. Have you located the exit nearest to you? Check. Have you told everyone important in your life that you love them? Check.
The kind of therapy we need for this mental turbulence has not been invented. Not even by America.
You fight some more the minute you hear someone has taken ill. Your mind cannot help but recall the number of horror stories you’ve heard from people dying from poor health infrastructure or negligent doctors. Granddaddy was diagnosed with a stroke and was treated for it but he had only slipped in the bathtub and was suffering from a mild concussion. Uncle Tunde died because his son had contracted chicken pox at school. He never had it as a child. Obi’s brother died of an asthma attacked while he raced around Lagos trying to find some oxygen. Baby Seun died from a brain tumour. Not a single brain surgeon in the country was qualified enough to treat him. Before the family could rally round to raise funds for him to be taken to India, he had passed on. The poor thing spent weeks outside school and in agony. His siblings think God is mean for taking him to heaven. Aunty June just got back from India where she went to receive treatment for cancer. She had spent months visiting hospitals in different states of the federation and not a single doctor diagnosed her with cancer.Within two days of arriving India she was diagnosed with cancer and was put on the appropriate treatment. She is now back and we hope she will make a full recovery. Her greatest pain is not going through weeks of chemo but the agony of knowing that she would be dead as dog is she hadn’t left for India and no one would really know why. Now, when I hear the news about the girls, I am sad. I retweet. I share articles, I keenly watch out for new developments around the story. Will I join a march? I do not think so. There are only three things on my mind when I wake up each day: 1. How will my main business make more money? How can I scale it? 2. How will my side business begin to make money? God please send me a lightbulb moment! 3. What other side business can I get into that will make me money? I focus on money because while it will not buy me peace of mind or national security, it sure as hell can buy me a one way ticket out of here if all hell breaks lose. That being said, I applaud all the efforts of those who are making noise and trying to restore some semblance of accountability in our leaders. May God bless you all. May your lives be better. May your children’s lives be better than yours.
Really well written
"The kind of therapy we need for this mental turbulence has not been invented."
Honestly, the psychological trauma that comes as a result of the things we go through need serious attention.
I think hashtag activism should be used judiciously, especially when it comes to issues affecting the black community, at home and abroad. In some situations, it risks offering users of social media a false sense of accomplishment while obscuring underlying policy and structural issues as well as the full picture of what is taking place on the ground.
That’s why, after a few tweets, I ceased participating in the ongoing #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which is designed to highlight the plight of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram last month. I worried that this was becoming one of those situations in which people feel an unjustified sense of accomplishment.
But what would help? What are the other options? That’s a question I challenged myself to answer. Doing “something else” doesn’t have to mean picking up and moving to Nigeria or sleeping outside the embassy in a demand for action. One quick way to make a lasting difference in the conditions that led to this disaster would be to dedicate some time to learning more about the issue of abduction in Nigeria and in other areas of the world, so that comments and tweets are based on personal research, not just recycled demands.
If that’s too time-consuming, start following some of the people and organizations that are doing work on the ground so you know what’s happening even after Twitter moves on to the next trending topic. Commit to knowing what the United States can do to prevent the conditions that led to this disaster. Support non-governmental organizations and international groups that are fully dedicated to protecting and providing for girls around the world. We should arm ourselves with information and avenues for making an impact beyond just awareness. I’d personally rather see lasting social change in Nigeria than temporary, hashtag-inspired media attention. We know that never lasts long. Plus, the other amazing thing about the Internet is that we don’t need the media to be our middleman.
Quite a few people have asked me, both in person and online, what I’m doing as a Nigerian citizen to contribute to this situation, and frankly, besides keeping my eyes peeled on the news and doing my own research as I’ve always done concerning any issue about Nigeria throughout my life, there’s not much else I’ve done in the way of hashtag activism. Perhaps it’s because as a Nigerian who has both lived at home and abroad, as a Nigerian who endures the stigma attached with being Nigerian - from customs at the airport to casual conversations, as concerning as this kidnapping is, there’s a part of me that just doesn’t have the same amount energy as others might have to get reverently radical. Over the years, I’ve grown more and more tired and frustrated with Nigerian leadership that I often find myself being disappointingly indifferent to matters that concern my country. It’s not to say that I don’t care, believe me, I will ironically defend Nigeria ‘til my dying breath. But when your existence becomes a struggle on so many intersectional levels - being black, being a woman, being Nigerian, etc, there’s only so much fight and force you can give when matters of concern arrive.
There’s also a part of me that, as D.A. Lovell at The Root writes, does not necessarily buy the hype when it comes to hashtag activism.
I do, however, highly commend those who are providing much needed insight on the matter and are doing their best to not let this issue die a quick death.
Hello. I usually respond to messages privately, but I’ve received a few like this and figured I would respond to this publicly, as well as address some other points not related to your ask, but I’ll just post this here in one centralized spot.
With regards to the ‘Rock a Gele’ and ‘Rock a Crown’ rallies, I have no problem with them. In fact, I attended one earlier today to show some support, to stand in solidarity with them, to observe and to document it. I will post some photos later. There weren’t just Nigerians there. There were many other Africans like Ghanaians, Zimbabweans, Cameroonians, Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, South Africans, Kenyans and others. Not to mention many from the Caribbean, Afro-Latinos and Black Americans. There is support. Many people showed up. I’m all for making inroads and people working together in any way possible. It can’t hurt.
My main gripe is how some in the west were framing this catastrophe online, and from what I’m witnessing, it’s gotten worse. From the “nobody is reporting this” and “nobody cares” posts, to completely disregarding the situation for self-aggrandizement, to gross representations of Nigerian people, to rampant Islamophobia and an undercurrent of paternalism towards Nigeria in general. This story should be international news (and it is), but some people framed it as if everyone was sitting on their laurels and just letting things be idle, and that didn’t sit well with me. We all want the girls back, but people shouldn’t be reckless in their proclamations for their safe return. Just be cognizant of how you are saying things. If you want to take western media to task, then do that. You don’t do that by saying “no one cares” or “no one is reporting about this”. Be specific about who you feel is dropping the ball, because Nigerians have been tirelessly doing everything they can to bring awareness by screaming, shouting to the heavens, protesting and everything else in between. There were even rescue and search parties that went deep in the bush to look for the girls. The Nigerian press has been on it as well. You know about it because the Nigerian media reported it. It irked me when people said no one reported it, as if the information they have of what is happening manufactured itself out of thin air. Other African nations are covering it too. I have friends in Cameroon who I regularly talk to and they are well informed of the latest happenings. Protests and rallies have been far and wide in Nigeria, from Abuja to Lagos to Kano to Port Harcourt. Protesting in Nigeria is not like protesting in the US or the UK. The police there will shoot, so people are risking a lot with civil disobedience. We in the western diaspora have it easy in comparison.
The reason why it has taken off in social media is because of the work of Nigerians back home first and foremost and those in the diaspora. It’s because of the work of other Africans in the diaspora organizing and rallying. It’s because of the Black Americans who are standing in solidarity and side by side with us. These are the people amplifying the story, and it’s been Black women doing the organizing and rallying. At the rally today, there were quite a few men who turned out, but I expected more. I wanted to see more men stand with their sisters. Many did come out and shout out to those who came to support and document, but I expected more. For every man at the rally there were easily 5 to 6 women. If over 200 Black boys were kidnapped, there would not be a ratio of 5-6 men for every woman at a rally or protest decrying the kidnappings. That is certain.
The Nigerian government has failed its people. It has routinely failed its people. People feel helpless. I know that feeling. None of us are trained soldiers or mercenaries. We can’t just storm in with guns blazing. This is real life, not a video game. All people have is their voices and pens, and people are speaking and writing wonderfully. So much so that many who wouldn’t have heard have heard. People are making noise, as they should. Boko Haram is a scourge that is making life miserable for Nigerians. My friend in Abuja quit his job and is moving back to Aba at the urging of his wife after the second bomb blast there in 2 weeks. His wife is deathly afraid, and so is he. So yes, people need to hear about what is happening.
Now, many people hearing will come with potential problems. We should be on guard so that the people working diligently don’t risk being written out of the narrative. On paper, that should not matter. At stake are the lives of over 200 missing Nigerian girls. There is bigger fish to fry. However, I just got wind of CNN interviewing a white woman named Ramaa Mosley, and they credited her for the social media campaign and hashtag of #bringbackourgirls. You can see a tweet from the CNN journalist crediting here for it here. A white woman did not start this campaign or the hashtag. Nigerians did. How do you erase Nigerian people and activists from this narrative? Ms. Mosley is doing work in support and that is super, but how do you just take credit for this entire thing and not even say that this wasn’t your idea? Thankfully, after being called out on twitter, the CNN journalist tweeted a correction that it wasn’t Mosley’s idea, and that she just created a logo. It might seem like squibbles, but things like this need to be clear on the record. She’s done an interview on CNN was paraded as the brainchild of this. This is what always happens. We must remain diligent so that Black people are not written out of their narratives and work.
Also, now that the kidnapped girls are rumored to be in Chad and Cameroon, this is an international problem. One that Nigeria should work with along with the government of Chad and Cameroon for the rescue of these girls. The leader of Boko Haram (Abubakar Shekau) is Nigerien, or at least has close ties to Niger. Perhaps Nigeria could work with Niger in addition to Chad and Cameroon as well. They should work with them before the US. This is my opinion, I’m no foreign relations strategist. Nevertheless, now that John Kerry has promised US involvement, I sincerely hope that the involvement does not go beyond intelligence. The last thing I want is US boots on the ground. I will never support western military intervention in Nigeria. Believe me; you do not want western troops on the ground in Nigeria. We cannot afford to be ahistorical about things like this and the repercussions of it. Not to mention that this is what Boko Haram wants. The “western devil” on their land will be like a dream come true for them. We can work with peacekeeping troops of other African nations if need be. Nigeria and other African nations regularly sent peacekeepers to former warzones in Sierra Leone and Liberia, so Africans helping Africans is nothing new. It should be like this. The real travesty is that it took President Jonathan 2 weeks to convene a meeting on these missing girls. What an embarrassment he is.
Also, with the rumors of these girls being married off, Nigerians need to take this as an opportune time to take a bigger stand against young girls being married off to old men. We have Senator Yerima from Zamfara who is marrying children. He was previously a governor, and is now a senator. Why are the people of Zamfara supporting this child rapist? It’s absolutely horrid. The people of Zamfara should have run him out of office immediately. Why are they voting him in? Why does a child rapist have their support? These questions need answering. Nigeria should be asking it, Northern Nigeria in particular. These are their daughters.