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


Why Democracy? – Spine Poetry III


Why Democracy?
The Wretched of the Earth,
A Force More Powerful
The Children of the Revolution
Who After
Bringing Down a Dictator

-Inspired by Spine Poetry


Nairobi, are you that place?

Are you that concrete jungle
Crumbling under the weight of
Maneuvering, manipulative matatus
Where passengers are shuka’d at whim

Are you where darkness whispers sweet lullabies
Or where lights play dirty tricks

Where money is mobile
And glass ceilings tower as high as KICC

Where freedom is plastered on bus stops
And injustice deeply rooted
Into territorial boundaries

Where few attest their tribe is indeed Kenyan

Where tusker runs like maji

Where unga is revolutionized
And revolutions are most definitely not televised

Where radios relentlessly relay well kept secrets

Where the rain commands the city
And payday drives traffic

Where the likes of Kibera & Sinai make way
For the likes of Karen & Spring Valley

Are you the capital of thieves and robbers
Or a mega polis of IT geeks, business gurus and self made men

Where every pocket is packed with dreams
But not every dream packs pockets

Tell me, Nairobi, are you that place?

© Nebila Abdulmelik, February 2012

Unapologetic Feminist

“The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky.”

Thomas Sankara

I am an unapologetic feminist. And before you run for cover, let’s explore this issue a bit further. What is a feminist? Historically, this seems to be a rather scary, intimidating term that many shy away from. My male doctor just the other day told me that a feminist was a woman screaming at the top of her lungs, thinking she was better than everyone else. Feminists have been thought of as bra-burners and men bashers. An activist by the name of Lindsey told me she didn’t like the term “Feminist“. She said she’d rather refer to herself as a “humanist”. I’m wondering though, why being a feminist excludes you from being a humanist? In fact, wouldn’t it make you more of one? After all, women’s rights are human rights. Unless we’re not human.

For me, a feminist is one, male or female, young or old, who agitates for the right of girls and women to live dignified lives free of discrimination, violence, intimidation and one full of opportunities and choices.  One who agitates for women to give birth without having to give up their lives, or be able to take control of their own bodies, and make the choice not to give birth. A feminist is one who believes women and girls should have access to the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as their male counterparts.  Some argue this on the basis of the socio-economic argument; empowering women empowers the entire community. Living standards will improve, children will be healthier and more educated…but we can also argue that women deserve all the rights and privileges afforded to their male counterparts simply because they are women who hold up half the sky, as Sankara reminds us. We should value women as women, and girls as girls. Not necessarily because they are mothers, sisters, daughters and such. And although that is invaluable, if a woman is not a mother, is she not given consideration?

When men lift their hands to beat their wives or partners, let them also remember that this could be their mother, their daughter, their sister. Would they want their daughters to be beaten up senseless by their partners?

When I tell people, men especially that I work in the area of women’s rights, I’m immediately asked, “What of men’s rights?” We know that in much of the world, historically and presently, women have been at a disadvantage. They have been marginalized in terms of political participation, in issues of their sexual and reproductive health rights, in terms of economic and business opportunities and the list goes on. To quote another, “Men never died as a result of having children. Unless their children killed them.” The fight for women’s rights need not come at the expense of men’s rights, as many believe. In fact, the realization of women’s rights leads to the realization of human rights which is beneficial to men.

Lastly, we are not men bashers. At least not the majority of us. In fact we believe that we can’t win this battle alone. We believe that we must work with our male counterparts to achieve our goals of equity and justice.

Men, remember, just as you hold up half the sky, so do we.

Excerpts from Meskel

Excerpts from Meskel
By Mellina & Lukas Fanouris

I didn’t want to lose that miraculous moment when the sun set the sea aflame and the black night descended to quench it.

Topped with half a dozen mounds of wat in varying colors, our plates took on the appearance of artists’ palettes. An expert had certainly been at work in the preparation of the food.

As it always happened in the rainy season, the heavy storms of the previous three months had left the tarmac roads in a state of total disrepair, their surfaces pitted with huge potholes and the edges crumbling away. Everywhere repair gangs were disrupting the flow of traffic, as they performed cosmetic surgery on the highways…

‘Considering that, although the people of Ethiopia look in good faith upon the Crown, which has persisted for a long period in Ethiopian history as a symbol of unity, Haile Selassie I, who has ruled the country for more than fifty years ever since he assumed power as Crown Prince, has not only left this country in its present crisis by abusing at various times the high and dignified authority conferred on him by the Ethiopian people but also, being over 82 years of age and due to the consequent physical and mental exhaustion, is no more able to shoulder the high responsibilities of leadership. It is hereby proclaimed that Haile Selassie I is hereby deposed as of today, September 12, 1974.’

The staff at the United Nations were stunned by the news. Their compassion was not for the Emperor they had seen the previous night, feeding his pets while his people died, but for a ruler who once had the respect of the world.

A crowd of students who had lined the road began shouting, leba, leba. ..the Emperor stooped forward and asked the driver what were the people saying? ‘They’re shouting ‘thief’ your majesty,’ …without hesitating, the Emperor replied, ‘What do you expect them to call you, when you’ve robbed them of a King!’

In one instance it was reported that Colonel Mengistu had asked the Emperor for his view on the changes that had taken place in Ethiopia. The Emperor had replied, ‘When the people of Ethiopia who have been indoctrinated and deceived by the words of Hebresebawinet (Socialism) have fully understood the true meaning—they and only they will give you their views. Not you, not even Mussolini nor his compatriots ever managed to change or damage our history and heritage.’

A new era of Keyshibir, Red Terror, began. Anyone opposing the new government would be deemed a Reactionary and would be executed, it was proclaimed. The enemies of the regime were to be wiped out, destroyed without mercy. Bodies began appearing in the streets—young and old, men, women and children, left sprawling in the gutters where they had been gunned down the previous night for their anti-revolutionary activities. Students were the main target: Amnesty International later estimated five thousand young people were put to death in a three-month period. Torture was commonplace. People were burned in oil, toe and finger nails were ripped out; suspects were beaten and suspended by wires; women and girls were raped. To add insult to injury, bullet money had to be paid to reclaim bodies.

Even under Haile Selassie, prosecutions normally ran into years, it was not unknown for them to run from one generation to the next, while the detainees rotted in dank prison cells. There was no reason to believe that military tribunals would be any different, if—in fact—they took place at all.

Life was eternal and love was immortal and death was only a horizon.

‘What made things worse was that, with the first slap, my false teeth fell out of my mouth. Without them, there was no way I could make any sense. No one could understand what I was saying. The more I mumbled, the more they beat me.’

‘We’re in a situation which is dragging on and on—like gangrene. It’s eating us up, killing all our hopes and aspirations, leaving only rotten feelings inside.’

Greeks said, I tan i epi tas. Better dead in freedom than alive in captivity.

‘The soul never dies. Anna Maria has just crossed over to the other side.’

‘Not everyone who looks like a gentleman is one.’

‘Useless bit of junk, a car is, without the precious liquid.’

‘My Mellina would never go do anything like that. She’s molded from good paste.’

The smoky blue shadows of daybreak leisurely unfolded to expose the first blushes of sunrise. Dawn came with dramatic African suddenness—a silent explosion of red and gold with ribbons of apricot fanning out across the curve of the eastern horizon.

After he had gone, in an age-old tradition, she fetched a jug of water and poured it where the car had been standing, to wish him a smooth journey. “We’d better pour a whole a whole bucketful this time,” I said trying to make light of the situation….She didn’t fail to comply!

Even as thousands of cases of whisky were being imported for the celebrations, another catastrophic famine—worse than the one which brought down Haile Selassie—was already threatening the lives of millions in Wollo, Eritrea and Tigray. The government did eventually appeal for western aid but before the world took notice, the famine had claimed nearly three million lives.

‘Haile Selassie never harmed youngsters,’ said one parent. ‘He would warn the disloyal but never kill them. This tyrant is unrestrained by laws or religion. He snatches our children from our arms without conscience or compassion.’

Candid with Bothaina Kamel, Egypt’s First Female Presidential Candidate

Candid with Bothaina Kamel, Egypt’s First Female Presidential Candidate

Following FEMNET’s Third Regional Conference for African Women in Political Leadership held in Nairobi, Kenya from Aug 29th-31st, 2011, I had the opportunity to sit down and candidly chat with Egypt’s First Female Presidential Candidate, a beautiful, humble and genuine Bothaina Kamel.

What inspired you to run for presidency?
We made a revolution in Egypt, started by the youth in Tahrir where coalitions and politicians introduced themselves to represent the youth, the revolutionaries, and to give a message to the Egyptian people. That is, the right of elections, and the right for all to run for presidency. Women are a marginal group, along with Nubians and Coptic Christians. I wanted to reaffirm their right to be leaders as part of the revolution. When I put in my candidacy, I wanted to give Egypt a civilized image, put the conservative people in the corner. It is important to push for the demands of the revolution.

What role did you play in the revolution?
Before the revolution, I was involved in monitoring the presidential/parliamentary election since 2005 through a movement dubbed, or We are Watching You-which resulted in the production of a film about our efforts. We fought for the independence of the judiciary, and worked to fight corruption and as part of the Egyptians Against Corruption provided awards to those fighting corruption since 2007. We were able to mobilize 800,000 signatures to freeze Mubarek’s assets which was presented at the UNCAC (UN Convention Against Corruption). In 2010 during the World Day Against Corruption, I staged a one-person demonstration in front of the Office of the General Prosecutor who was in charge of impacting the Convention. We also wrote the Shadow Report at the last conference of UNCAC. The officers were very angry with me, claiming that I was giving Egypt a bad image. I also prevented police from arresting youth, often putting my reputation as a media person to support the youth movement (6th April, and those for freedom and justice).

I have been out in the streets from day 1, since 2005 and continued to be in the streets during our revolution and to this day.

What was Cairo like during the Revolution?
Cairo during the revolution was a very special place, there was euphoria, almost a kind of paradise-all together, head to head, Muslims and Copts, men and women, youth and the elderly, the poor and the rich-all were working together for one goal, to dismantle the corrupted marriage between money and power. In the Mubarek era, there was no ownership over the country, no pride in being Egyptian, after the revolution, this all changed. You could even see Cairo clean, because the people felt ownership, they were no longer subject to the indignity imposed by the old regime.

The revolution gave us the true Egyptian spirit, and we will do our best to sustain this-we owe it to the martyrs, that is our promise to them.

Did you ever envision an Egypt without Mubarek?
Personally, I do what I have to do regardless of the outcome. Like the Egyptian peasant, we must cultivate the land, rain or no rain—in any circumstance we must do our work properly. Everyday, we win as Egyptians. But the Mubarek regime is still in power-through the army. The people made the revolution, not the army. The army didn’t shoot us, but at the same time, they did—they enabled the police to buy guns and bullets. SCAF, the Army Counsel, although not like Libya and Syria, tried to kill the fervor of the revolution by making the activists out as liars. If the army was with the revolution, how can they accuse people fighting for the revolution? Thugs who were handed over to the army were released back into the square.

The revolution still has a long way to go. We need to rebuild the country, build democracy and encourage youth to play the right politics.

Your campaign slogan is “My Agenda is Egypt”—what do you mean by that?
During the revolution, Mubarek accused us of having a foreign agenda, of being financed from the West, and claimed that 50 Euros was being spent per person per day to fund the revolution. My slogan is a response to this, my agenda, first and foremost is Egypt-there is no foreign agenda. My agenda is the revolution-“Dignity, freedom & social justice.”

Do you feel that your background in journalism and activism has helped further your campaign?
In a way it has, as a journalist myself, I know how to talk to media-which is very important. I also am able to talk to the people and understand their concerns. I have travelled all over Egypt to better understand the situation in different parts of the country. Social media is also very important—I am able to communicate, especially with the youth and hear their views on certain issues. In fact, I announced my bid for presidency on Twitter!

What lessons are there for the rest of Africa to learn from the revolutions of the North of the continent?
We need to give hope to the youth. We shouldn’t pay any attention to skepticism. Before the revolution, people said “Egypt is not Tunisia”, but we were able to prove them wrong. If it happened in Egypt, it can happen elsewhere. We need to connect with the rest of the African Continent—power comes from our unity and solidarity.

Anything else you would like to share with us?
I don’t want people to vote for me because I am a woman. I want people to vote for me because they believe in the cause that I champion.

©Nebila Abdulmelik, August 2011

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