Those Who Hold Up Half Our Skies

As today, May 25th marks Africa Day, I’ve seen many posts about the heroes of this continent. As is often the case, the names that were mentioned were predominantly, if not all, male. It reminded me of being at the 8th Pan-African Congress in Accra in 2015 and feeling the same way – this sinking feeling that half the stories are not being told.

Below are my thoughts and reflections from that day, which unfortunately are still relevant.

Where are those who hold up half our skies?!
Often forgotten, without whom the sky would’ve fallen?

All morning, we heard the high-level dignitaries pay tribute to pan-Africanists. I didn’t hear one female name being mentioned. Is it that we have done nothing for this movement? Is it that our contributions are meaningless? Or is that we are invisible? That we have been removed, or were never included in the collective memory and public imagery of Pan-Africanism? For those who would ask me who those women are, the list is  by no means exhaustive, but here are a select few that I would like to acknowledge and pay tribute to:
Amy Garvey
Winnie Mandela
Graca Machel
Amina Mama
Ama Ata Aidoo
Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
Miriam Makeba
Angelique Kidjo
Maya Angelou
Mable Dove Danquah
Taytu Betul
Adelaide Caseley-Hayford
Bibi Titi Mohamed
Fatoumatta Toure
Funmilyao Ransome Kuti
Gambo Sawaba
Muthoni Likimani
Thenjiwe Mtintso
Djamila Bouhired
Taytu Betul
Wangari Maathai
Charlotte Maxeke
Albertina Sisulu
Audley Queen Mother Moore
Louise Thompson Patterson
Thyra Edwards
Bonita Williams
Williana Burroughs
Sallye Bell Davis
Grace P. Campbell
Charlene Mitchell
Rahima Moosa
Emma Mashinini
Ruth First
Lillian Ngoyi
Sophie Williams

And countless others – often forgotten, who mobilized for Africa’s liberation, challenged
enslavement and colonization in defiance of imperialist, patriarchal culture and for a complete liberation of Africans – fighting multiple forms of oppression, domination and exploitation.

Interconnected Struggles
As Samora Machel and Thomas Sankara remind us:

Revolution & Women's Liberation
None of us are free until we are all free. This is in line with the emancipatory nature of the pan-Africanist vision. We must not buy into a hierarchy of oppressions, but rather collectively fight the multiple forms and systems of oppression and exploitation that keep us subjugated. Systems such as patriarchy which ensure women and girls are dispossessed and under siege every day, that ensure they are unsafe in their homes, streets, schools and places of work. How do we convey to them that their lives, and their dreams matter to us? That we will be their dream keepers, as Langston Hughes proposed, and will wrap their dreams and heart melodies in blue-cloud cloth and protect them from the too-rough fingers of the world?

We must recognize that ‘the struggle for Africa’s liberation and development is also a struggle for women’s liberation, gender equality and gender justice.’ Until we realize the interconnectedness and inseparability of our various struggles for justice; including gender, economic, environmental and ecological, and social justice; our movements will remain fragmented and our progress as a people will be stifled.

Power
If we thought the task ahead of us unsurmountable, Malcolm X reminds us: “Power in defense of freedom is greater than power on behalf of tyranny and oppression, because power, real power, comes from our conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.”

Toni Morrison, in reference to another system of oppression; racism also warns us of distractions that will derail us: “The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you from explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is
necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

Let us not get distracted.

Compassion – where is the love?

A comrade reminded me that at the heart of Pan-Africanism is love, a compassion for humanity – the ‘sympathetic apprehension of another’s suffering as intolerable’. Perhaps Che said it best when he said:

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”

Similarly, Malcolm X summed up his ethos towards the end of his life: “I have had enough of someone else’s propaganda. I am for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I am a human being, and as such, I am for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”

May this be our politics – one in which love for one another, for humanity, for the continent, for the movement, for the earth and its inhabitants trumps our love for power, prestige and privilege.

A luta continua.

Sources and for further reading:
Pan-Africanism & the Women’s Movement (African Women’s Journal, Issue VI)
Feminism & Pan-Africanism (Feminist Africa Journal)

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An African city – through a neighbor’s lens

Khartoum Exhibit Flyer - Arabic - w logo

I came to Sudan for a photography/storytelling residency as part of the East Africa Media Lab. Initially my plan was to do a follow up to an URBAMORPHOSIS series that we had begun in Addis. I came and realized however that it might not be as meaningful in the context of Khartoum as I had thought. So I struggled to answer that question. What was I doing here and what angle would this project take? What questions of socio-cultural/political importance would it interrogate, if any? How would I, as a non-Sudanese come and add value to a space that had a rich array of storytellers and documenters capturing everyday Khartoum? I felt stuck and anxious.

On one hand, I argued with myself that as a pan-Africanist, this was my city too. I should feel home in any African country. On the other hand, I couldn’t be audacious enough to believe that I could capture and investigate as I had done with Addis. My reference points – cultural, historical, social, economic and political were nowhere near the same and I was just beginning to learn about everything. I soaked in all the tales and viewpoints that were offered to me, making a mental note to cross-check ‘historical’ references to see if they corroborated or contradicted what I was hearing. I asked many that I met endless questions about this city.

I got a range of responses but most were nostalgic references to a more beautiful, clean, green Khartoum that had character and class. Most seemed to want to return to this time and place before the current regime assumed power and war followed, ravaging the country and leaving it split into more than two pieces. Crippled under sanctions that has frustrated but not prevented people from moving forward.

As this residency comes to a close, I will leave with a deeper appreciation for this country and its people who have endured decades of civil war, a separation of their own and yet still manage to maintain a level of warmth and hospitality that is unmatched anywhere in this world.

What I settled on was a story told through my viewpoint  – Khartoum – through the lens of a neighbor. If you are in Khartoum, make sure to come out and experience this one day exhibit that will be taking place at Impact Hub Khartoum on 117 Street in Riyadh from 2-10PM. See you there.

Khartoum Exhibit Flyer - w logo

The State of Africa

image

The State of Africa:
The Ghost of Sani Abacha
Bathing under half of a yellow sun
Watches
As things fall apart
In the secret lives of Baba Segi’s wives

A Letter to my Unborn Child

There were many who came before you
Who decided that the world they were born into
Was not going to be the one they would die in
Ones who dared to dream of another future
And woke up every day to realize those dreams
They didn’t need to be told their dreams were valid
 
I pray that this is the world you will be born into
One in which you’re able to chart your own course
Without seeking the permission of others
 
I pray that you will not know of days when
Our bodies
Were fragmented
Compartmentalized along with our identities
When the dignity, integrity and autonomy
Of our bodies which house us
Was up for negotiation
 
I pray that you will not know of
Violence, abuse and discrimination
At the hands of
Those meant to protect you
Your parents/teachers/partner/police or employers
And perhaps worst of all, by the society at large
Condemning your very birth and gender
 
I pray that
FGM
Child and forced marriages
Rape, widow inheritance
Breast ironing
Honor killings,
Will be foreign words to you
A taboo to the entire community
That the only culture you know
Puts your safety and well-being
Above all else
 
I pray that you will not know of a time
When bullets were more readily available than bread
When profits came before people
When industries were mined on our backs
When our own drowned in foreign shores
Searching for a life worth living
 
I pray that
Your realities will only be peppered
By the understanding that those before you
Overcame the most horrendous of sufferings
 
I pray, my unborn child, that you will only know days
Where those who used to be at the margins of our societies
Are now at its centre
 
Where gender parity and equality are not principles
In an idealist conversation
But rather your daily reality
 
Where you have an equal say, share and control
Of the resources this continent has to offer
Where your voice and your choice
May be questioned, but never threatened
 
Where we care for the earth
And the sustenance it births
 
Where your chances of becoming the next
President
CEO
Pilot
Scientist
Engineer
Media Owner
Is equal to that of your brother
 
Where the guns will be silenced
Where justice & peace are simply
The constant and consistent state of affairs
 
Where all people, everywhere
Are treated with
The Dignity & Respect
They deserve and were born entitled to
 
And I pray, my little sweet one,
That as I end this letter
And read it to others,
 
That they won’t dismiss it as the rantings
Of a mad idealist who dreams of an impossible utopia
I pray that they will wake up from their stupor
Wake into a state of consciousness that makes them realize
We can and we must refuse to accept things as they are
We must be mad and ‘dare to invent the future’
Another reality is not only possible—
It is necessary

After all, we are reminded:
‘Africa is still waiting for its makers to re-make it’
‘We shall be the ones we’ve been waiting for’
 
Together, we’ll create that world for you
And for those who come after you
 
And when that day comes,
My unborn child,
I can’t wait to welcome you into it

©Nebila Abdulmelik, November 2014

We’ve lost the last vestiges of our humanity

‘What makes it even more unconscionable, more horrific is that they’re being blamed for their own deaths – there’s a deliberate, systematic campaign to blame the victims….

Let’s put things in context. It’s very disingenuous to say no nation will accept being shelled by rockets…it’s the other way around, it’s exactly the other way around! No nation can accept to be imprisoned, besieged by air, by land, by sea and being starved and deprived of the most basic requirements for decent life….no nation can accept to be treated like defenseless canon fodder’ – Hanan Ashrawi

May we always remember Rasul’s words paraphrased:
“If one of you sees something wrong, change it with your hand; if you cannot, then with your tongue; if you cannot, then with your heart and this is the weakest [level of] faith…..there is no part of faith behind that, not even so much as a mustard seed.” – Prophet Muhammed (PBUH)

Take action.
Join the BDS movement.
Add your voice calling for a military embargo of Israel.
Demand that  companies who are contributing to the death, destruction, oppression, occupation and injustice to stop doing so.

In Solidarity and Struggle,

The Lion’s Daughter

In Solidarity – Resistance is Existence

Palestine

The constant bombardment and occupation, the arbitrary arrests and indefinite detention, the incessant killing – an entire family of 18 killed at once from an attack – the very real fear and reality of being bombed to non-existence – regardless if you’re an infant or an elder, a student or a fighter, the deliberate policy to suffocate existence and ability of people to live lives of dignity,  crushing any possibility for ‘loving thy neighbor’  for over half a century  – if that isn’t terrorism, I don’t know what is. We must join the BDS movement  –  we must boycott, divest and sanction Israel until it stops its systematic policies of state oppression, violence, destruction, apartheid and terror against the Palestinian people.

In Solidarity. Resistance Is Existence and Existence Is Resistance.

Further viewpoints:

Marwan Bishara – On Journalistic Responsibility: Media & Palestine

‘…a military occupation is a violence-based system managed through force; one that breeds more of the same. No act, terrible as it might be, could or should be seen separately from the larger system of violence governing an occupied territory. Separating individual cases of violence from the larger context of collective violence is morally irresponsible and journalistically misleading.

The occupation is not a theological or religious issue. Not a question of Muslim and Jew, Arab and Israeli. It’s about power, its pretexts and ramifications.’

Richard Falk – Tormenting Gaza

‘Granted that such indiscriminate rocket attacks are unlawful forms of resistance, but to single out this lesser type of violence and overlook the greater violence distorts the context in biased and unacceptable ways. Surely, the greater occasion of terror is that being inflicted on the hapless Gazans as disclosed by comparing the casualty figures, and surely the political condemnation by responsible governments and even more so by the UN should be directed at the aggressor, who also happens to be the only political actor with the means to end the escalating violence.

The international reaction to this latest crisis confirms for all with eyes to see that geopolitical alignments, not law or justice, dominate the diplomacy of leading western states and the UN, when it comes to the Middle East, and especially if it concerns Israel-Palestine, and never more so than in relation to Gaza.’

Here’s an interactive map that chronicles disproportionate attacks on Gaza since 2005 and 11 Infographs that break down the injustices.

Join the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement for justice, freedom and equality.

In Solidarity and Struggle,
The Lion’ Daughter

The Africa I Envision – #TheAfricaWeWant/Need

#TheAfricaWeWant

I envision an Africa
Where our little ones grow up
Believing the world is their oyster
Knowing that whatever dreams they may have,
‘Their dreams are valid’
And not only are pockets packed with dreams
But dreams also pack pockets

An Africa
Where our elders are well taken care of
Because we’re not only thinking about the ‘youth bulge’ but also the resulting ‘aging bulge’
Where our youth are not robbed of today at the promise of tomorrow
Where our educators, our healers, our artists, activists and creatives are valued
Where we tell, retell and value his and her stories equally

An Africa
Where our dignity cannot be bought or sold for a dollar
Where we don’t have to fight to survive
Where we don’t struggle for
Sima/Ugali/Foufou/Injera/Aish
Or Freedom

An Africa of
Solidarity and Sisterhood
Beauty and Brotherhood
Unity but not uniformity
Where the multiplicity of our voices strengthen us

Where our Africanness is not determined
By the shade of our skin
Our ability to Afro-speak
Dress in ‘African’ garb
There is no shade of African
#TheAfricaWeWant is one
Where we recognize
‘I am not African because I was born in Africa,
But because Africa was born in me’

I envision
Seamless borders
Where no visas are required for African citizens
Where I can travel freely from Cairo to Capetown,
By road or rail
Where my journey from Dakar to Mogadishu is not punctuated by a stop over in Europe
Where the color of my passport is only a mere technicality

I envision
An Africa of conscious citizens
That would rather take a stand than take a seat
An Africa that respects its people and the planet
And an Africa that reflects the realities, aspirations and ambitions of its people

I envision
An Africa where our voices matter
Not simply at the ballot boxes
An Africa where half of our 55 nations have females heading them
An Africa which has no room for rulers preaching ‘democrazy’
No room for impunity
Where leaders realize they are public servants
Hired and fired by the will of the people
Where the bellies of people trump pockets of the high & mighty

An Africa
Where war drums and guns are silenced
Overwhelmed by the tranquility of peace
Where police protect rather than harass
Where we critique our governments without risking our lives

An Africa
Where harmful practices – FGM, early and forced marriages
Mothers dying giving life, children on the streets
Disease and poverty
Are confined to story books

Where security is defined by
Satiated bellies, healthy bodies, educated minds,
The safety of our streets, our homes, our schools
Our communities

I envision
An Africa where we pull each other up
For when one is down, so are we all

I envision
An Africa of the highest standards
Where “TIA” is a statement of excellence
Because there’s no room for mediocrity in #TheAfricaWeWant & Need

I envision an Africa that is the epitome of
Equality
Integrity
Solidarity
And self-sufficiency

One in which all members of our African community lead and live lives of dignity, respect and justice.

This is not only #TheAfricaWeWant, but also #TheAfricaWeNeed if we are not only to survive, but to thrive for generations to come.

Dear Momma

I write this to you today as the World commemorates Mother’s Day. I salute and pay tribute to you – everything you do, all you are, have been and continue to be. For reminding us that the revolution will only be sustained by love, and that we must begin by loving ourselves. For teaching us to breathe beauty. To seek knowledge. To grow and build by picking others up along the way.

I cannot wait to be a mother, so that I too may be able to pass these things on, as you have done for me. But I’m also anxious. Anxious about the world in which our offspring will grow up. Disheartened by the fact that 300 girls can be abducted from their schools, what is meant to be a safe refuge and still not found close to four weeks later. Heartbroken and enraged by the 25 who were abducted and the 50+ school boys who were massacred months prior and got little attention.  Disillusioned by the kind of governments who seem to have little if any regard for their citizens – at least those in far-removed remote areas whose socio-economic status perhaps doesn’t threaten.

Perhaps the love and the beauty that we’re taught can counteract all the ugly in this world.

Today, I stand in solidarity with all the mothers whose children have been abducted, tortured, killed, disappeared – who are victimized by terrorism and the counter terrorism efforts which seems to have the same effect. As we agitate to #BringBackOurGirls, may we never forget the thousands who are currently detained at Kaserani, whose homes are barged into every night, whose lives are  disrupted, whose dignity is trampled.

As we begin to shape #TheAfricaWeWant and the #Post2015, next development agenda, may we never forget that at the core of it all, we all want Dignity, Justice and Respect.

In Solidarity and Struggle,

The Lion’s Daughter.

 

 

Necessity for the Revolution

‘The Emancipation of women is not an act of charity,
the result of a humanitarian or compassionate attitude.
The liberation of women is a fundamental necessity for the revolution,
a guarantee of its continuity and a precondition for its victory.’

-Samora Michel, 1973

Everything You Do Matters

Don’t be disheartened.
Don’t be disillusioned.
Understand that everything you do matters.
If a pebble in the oceans can create ripples,
Why do we doubt that the pebbles and bigger stones thrown into the universe
(Whether to build or destroy)
Don’t set the beginning of foundations
Or create cracks in our systems
Preparing them to come crumbling?

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