|Nyansapo – Donating Support
“One cannot lean upon emptiness” – African proverb, Yoruba
I killed a cockroach. For me a person who doesn’t eat meat or fish for spiritual reasons this is a profound statement. Around a month ago as I entered my room straight from the airport, ready to sleep after a long flight, I saw it running around from floor to wall and I felt compelled to remove it. After much gymnastics I trapped it under a box and tried to move it out of my room without harm but it escaped. Tired, annoyed and just wanting to sleep I took off my sandal and whack, I had intended to stun it but had used too much force. It was dead. I took a tissue picked it up and dumped it unceremoniously outside my space. A few days later another one appeared, same treatment, until eventually they stopped appearing seemingly as I decided to stop attacking them and learnt to sleep with them scuttling around in the dark, out of sight, their very existence no longer effecting my peace of mind.
It’s been a while since I last wrote so I want to start by thanking those of you who have stayed in touch with myself and Ligali, whether through our weekly radio programme, internet forums or by sending emails sharing your kind thoughts and words. For the many new subscribers to this newsletter – welcome to our family.
Over the past few months I have embarked on a journey of much personal and community development that has had me studying in the University of East London, debating [or perhaps lecturing ;-)] in the halls of Oxford Union, developing learning resources tackling forced marriages and gender inequality to delivering workshops on journalism and filmmaking to young people in the heart of Lagos, Nigeria. In fact I only just arrived in the UK early Sunday morning just in time to welcome in international African History Month 2010. If it were not for my being greeted with the warmth and love of my family and friends I would be utterly depressed looking at this steely, cold, grey environment after being kissed by Africa’s hot sun.
Surprisingly for the first time in a while I was not harassed at the airports. Don’t get me wrong I was still typically interviewed by customs in the UK, my bags were searched a zillion times in Nigeria, but this time I did not sense the maliciousness accompanying the actions as I usually do. Other than British social services annoyingly and intrusively turning up to my house whilst I was out of the country with police officers in a bizarre attempt to interrogate my children and a strange message from Starcomms, my ISP provider in Nigeria stating that my internet access was ‘function not permitteded (sic)’ when I tried to broadcast my final programme - politicians and their various agents have thankfully kept out of my way.
However I still can’t say it’s great to be back, because although it’s less than 24 hours since I’ve touched UK concrete, I still long to repack my bags, gather my loved ones on several planes and return home en mass. Perhaps in time, but right here, right now there is still work to do.
Before I write about that, let me admit that while at home I promised my dear friend, Morenike, that I would always be truthful about Africa, and in this particular instance, about Nigeria. Like any relationship, my marriage with our great Continent has had its moments of good and bad, extreme happiness and abject sadness. In balance however it is always good to be on the motherland, you see no matter how much you read about Africa, no matter how much you watch through films or on television, you can never truly understand and love her until you have breathed her air, danced in her soil, smelt her sweat and eaten with her children.
Home is home.
During this visit I went with a group of wonderful volunteers through a programme called Development Impact for Nigeria (DIFN) which calls for Africans in the Diaspora to give back to Africa in order to help counteract the ‘brain drain’. Like the scheme run by the superb ADAP organisation, we didn’t live in a five star hotel or drive through the streets in an armoured UN styled assault vehicle, no. Instead we lived amongst the people we were working with, ate the same food, experiencing the same joys and frustrations. Yes we had a little more security than others, and the addition of taxis, keke mara and air conditioning (when working) was a sweet bonus, but there were no bangers and mash, no EastEnders just pounded yam, jolof rice, NEPA whiteouts and African Nations football!
Suffice to say the experience was both very humbling and simultaneously extremely rewarding for all involved. But back to that promise… despite all that went right, Nigeria is not easy-o. She will test your character, either make or break your will. Some of you are already aware that I was assaulted and kidnapped by armed police who threatened to take my life after observing them take money from innocent motorists. Thankfully I was rescued by the courageous and righteous actions of one of the DIFN heads, Yomi Oloku. The experience allowed me to reflect on the true meaning of the words community support.
Whilst in Naija I was able to listen to people, many with next to nothing, watching in pain and sympathy as our cousins in Haiti were suffering, you should have heard the pain in the local eateries as we watched CNN, BBC and several other broadcasters, stripping Africans of their dignity, violating the privacy of our family members, filming child births, attempting to validate the abduction of children, acting as voyeurs of grieving families, hungry families, all whilst seeking to profit from this poverty porn by soliciting donations for charities whose directors, management and administration staff who instead of volunteering, create a career from an industry that sees no shame in taking a huge slice of donated tax free contributions for their own personal enrichment.
The elite and their supporters in Nigeria are no better. The headless political class who are scrambling for power in the prolonged absence of the President Yar’Adua did not act on Haiti until shamed into action by the inspired mobilisation of Wole Soyinka and thousands of people marching in mass grass roots action against poverty. Nigeria is characterised as a nation of extremes. Modelled very closely on British principles and values, the gap between rich and poor continues to grow – the only difference is whereas in the UK the liberal middle class barely have enough socio-political clout to fend of rampant conservatism in favour of neo-liberalism, in Nigeria the middle class is so small it is almost non-existent, leaving those who traditionally espouse socialist thinking facing a serious struggle when attempting to bridge the same socio-political gap.
Tragically, the poor monolithically aspires to become the rich, all whilst the rich continues to feed of the poor. As a result, the acquisition of money dominates the mind of the masses, leading to churches charging fees for seminars on becoming wealthy, pastors becoming millionaires overnight, like an infestation of cockroaches these leeches perpetuate a sick capitalist driven culture bereft of spirituality where anyone not enslaved to materialism, especially women, who is neither Christian nor Muslim is openly derided as lost, confused, or worse yet a witch.
This is the negative side.
Thankfully those that marched remain a permanent reminder of a positive side. Of the spirit of millions who whilst likely to be in the minority across Nigeria still represent both the fearful and fearless of our people still despite all odds remain determined to bring about change.
You meet them everywhere, in the café’s, buses, schools, universities, on the road, in shops. No matter how many dirty politicians you witness robbing Nigeria, no matter how many police officers and corrupt religious leaders you see abusing their authority, no matter how many employers using brown envelopes (bribes) to solicit business, no matter how many examiners demanding sex from female students for good grades. Despite the very real fear of cost to life, the good continue to work for a better future, editors in newspapers continue to write to inform the people, and activists continue to challenge injustice.
In fact during one of my workshops on documentary making I screened the film The Walk. The pride felt by the young people watching Africans in the UK working in unity encouraged them to believe in their own ability to produce a community newspaper, the first of its kind in Lagos, focused on their concerns, their dreams, their aspirations – their voice.
They alongside the millions of other silent community workers inspire hope, real hope.
They work for change, real change.
They do not seek to reform the image of evil or masquerade as an audacious noble agent of change using a brazen vision of capitalist meritocracy.
They seek transformation, elevation, and in time – a, put the people first, revolution.
And that is why I continue to love Africa. Despite her contradictions of impoverishment and wealth of oppression and freedoms, it is only when you come into direct contact with her children, she shares with you a possible future, a promised future of unity, prosperity and dignity.
This year as with the last, I plan to be quietly active behind the scenes, studying, writing, and working. Although our newsletters will not be as frequent as usual, I will be engaged in projects to address the continuing issue of stop and search attacks on our community, to progress the development and promotion of community media, arts, dance and crafts that empower us both politically and spiritually.
But if there is one message I want to get out this year then it is for the need of us to be more supportive of those of us with a history of organising for our community. We should not be reactive and only mobilise our efforts when the media tells us to act in a crisis, instead, we should support those who are pro-active all year long even when the media gets bored of a story and ‘moves on’ to the next in vogue issue.
The fantastic community response to the crisis in Haiti through the brilliant work of the United Haitians in the UK organisation should have revealed to the pessimists amongst us, that when our community decides to take action on an issue, anything is possible. Many of our enemies do not doubt us, this morning I received an email warning me about a planned letter campaign about to be launched against Ligali to prevent our political party from gaining power during the next elections. The columnist Ella Henderson recently revealed a little known quote by the ‘white’ supremacist, Napoleon Bonaparte that read; “My decision to destroy the authority of [Africans] in [Haiti] is not so much based on considerations of commerce and money, as on the need to block for ever the march of [Africans] in the world”.
I was saddened to read upon my return to the UK of the attack on Garveyism and Pan Africanism by instruments of the British establishment. Whilst nonsensical comments proclaiming 'Africa for Africans' as a pipe dream are idiotic, there is a truism in the fact that if Marcus Garvey were alive today it is possible that a large number of the europeanised/arabised Africans whom he would sacrifice all to empower would not only betray him but ultimately themselves. I believe the same to be true of the African of the millennium, Kwame Nkrumah.
It is my belief that despite the malignant US-UK involvement in removing both Garvey and Nkrumah from power, that there was also a failure of Africans worldwide to mobilise, organise and support them whilst alive in their hour of need. This is why members of the British Empire working with propaganda institutions such as the BBC feel emboldened to attack our Ancestors with impunity. They lack the integrity and courage of their ‘too intellectual’ predecessors. Would Claudia Jones be proud of what the Voice newspaper has become today? The answer is clearly no. Would Marcus Garvey be supported by those who organise Notting Hill Carnival? Again the answer is no. If Malcolm came to the UK and ran in an election, would we vote for him? If Yaa Asantewaa said we must fight to maintain our dignity, how many of us would instead betray our people by running to join the British army.
But the cockroaches have not yet won, if we are brutally honest, the situation today whilst very similar is thankfully not permanent. There is pure evil in this world, but there is also true good. Quietly working to restore our quality of life we have our maroon communities, our quilombos. We have others supporting a revolutionary rainbow coalition along the lines of John Brown, the Vietnam aware, Martin Luther King.
For those who are not looking, change is not coming, but for those actively engaged and working, they know the Truth. There are many leaders amongst us, young and old, male and female, Africans who are not driven by ego, whose integrity cannot be bought with cash, whose vision cannot be compromised and most importantly who do not cower before our political and spiritual oppressors.
Their pride, experience with disappointment, betrayal and apathy, may prevent them from calling out for help but they need our support. We must hear them even when they do not speak. They may not be charismatic, or great orators, you may even feel them to be physically unattractive but in the real world outside the ‘celebrity’ realm of politicians and appointed ‘community leaders’ none of this matters. It is the transformative work being done by these community workers that makes them leaders, not some vanity title or selection for accolade by corporate media and the political classes.
Instead of waiting for them to burn out from exhaustion, give up from frustration, please don’t let them pass away without taking the baton. We should strive to be guided by our Ancestors, not blinded by them.
If we want African leadership that doesn’t sellout, then we must be it, support it, when we see it trying to emerge, if we need Africentric media that doesn’t compromise on Truth then help create it, write it, be it by contributing to its production, if we want supplementary schools that nurture the genius of our youth, books that teach our history, art that reflects our spiritual personality, businesses that not only employs but also provides essential services for our community, then help build them by donating our time and financial resources to them. Join that organisation near where you are. Help at that Saturday school down the road, adopt, foster and love that abandoned African child you secretly desire. We are constantly under attack and those leaders, those workers amongst us are always taking casualties whilst silently defending us - only many of us don’t know it.
As Harriet Tubman once said; “I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”
As she learnt, the Truth is, no matter how much time we spend on our knees praying for deliverance, the only ones who can truly set us free is staring right back at us in the mirror.
Happy African History Month 2010
May the Ancestors guide and protect us. Ase.
Toyin Agbetu is a writer,
film director, poet, and founder of Ligali, the pan African human rights based organisation.
The Need for a Historical and Political Context to the Haitian Earthquake Disaster
By Ama Biney
The TV image of a six week baby girl with an amputated right arm will remain the searing image I have of the Haitian earthquake. It reduced me to tears and simultaneously stimulated me to think of how the disaster continues to be disconnected from history; not just African history but world history and simultaneously imperialism and neo-colonialism.
We constantly hear from Western journalists that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Yet, we are not told how that happened i.e. how did Haiti get so poor? This is a critical question and related to it, is another important question: how is it that the same 7.0 earthquake tremor that hit San Francisco in 1994 led to only 63 deaths compared to the estimated 200,000 deaths of Haitians? The answer is that we are not given a political and economic context of Haiti’s current poverty that enabled it to become victim to the colossal Armageddon that it currently faces. Instead we are told that Haiti is victim to geography; it sits on two teutonic plates that last shifted in 1887 (it’s last earthquake) and secondly it sits within the Caribbean wind system and is subject to hurricanes, four of which it experienced in 2008.
The truth of the matter is that Haiti’s poverty lies in centuries of French financial enslavement from 1825 to 1947; American colonial occupation (1915-1934); the propping up of neo-colonial corrupt dictators in Haiti by the French and the Americans; Western looting of Haiti’s forests over years that have led to widespread deforestation and therefore Haitians flocked to the capital, Port-au-Prince for lack of employment in the countryside; Western neo-liberal economic policies that have created sweatshops in the country in which Haitians earn no more than $2 a day; the 2004 ousting of the country’s most popular and democratically elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide (from 1996-2000 and 2001-2004) that created political instability and gave rise to the incumbent leadership who serve the imperialist interests of Western masters rather than the Haitian people.
Instead, we are led to believe that the backwardness of material poverty is a natural order of things, if not the fault of the Haitian people, or the fate of an accursed land. Take for example the diatribe of Pat Robertson, the right wing evangelical leader, who recently suggested on the Christian Broadcasting Network in the US that Haiti had brought decades of torment on itself by making a pact with the devil to end French rule.
Meanwhile, the US is portrayed as a self-less benefactor, ready to come to the aid of Haiti with donations, rescue teams, warships, marines and troops. Whilst immediate humanitarian relief is crucial at this time, whether it be from the US, other Western countries and Latin American countries, if Haiti had not been economically bled dry by the financial compensation she had to pay the French for the slaves and property lost on successfully creating the world’s first black republic in 1804, the general level of economic development would be different. The payment of 150 million francs finally ended in 1947 and amounts to £21 billion in today’s money.
In order to pay the Haitian government turned to the US for a loan from Citibank and also French banks. In 1915 President Woodrow Wilson feared repayments would cease and therefore sent troops to occupy the island until 1934. Several Haitians were killed during the occupation. Subsequently the UN forces in Haiti – MINUSTAH - has become the new seemingly benign occupying force. In reality it serves the role of the defunct Haitian army (FAdH), that is, keeping the black masses under control and securing the profits of the neo-colonial Haitian elite and their foreign allies in a stable financial climate.
The Haitian people have a glorious history to be proud of; one of revolution and rebellion in which in the 19th century, half a million enslaved Africans overturned the enslavement system of 30,000 French slavers in the Pearl of the Antilles by defying european domination and by taking to heart the ideals of the French revolution “liberty, fraternity and equality” as principles to be realised for all. Why the Africans felt such a need to rebel against the cruelty and barbarity of the French is brilliantly captured in the complex historical epic written by the Trinidadian scholar-activist, C. L. R. James’ The Black Jacobins (1938). It requires urgent reading in our current times.
A former enslaved African lamented: “Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars? Have they not forced them to eat excrement? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss?” As the wealthiest island in the whole of the Caribbean slave system, producing tonnes of sugar, coffee, cotton and indigo. Haiti was the envy of all other European powers, particularly the British who lusted after the colony and played a duplicitous role in seeking to covet the island during the 15 years of the revolutionary upheaval (1791-1804).
|Haitian Uprising by Kimathi Donkor
The revolt profoundly frightened the entire European slaver classes throughout the Americas and in the Caribbean. It threatened the racist notion that African people could govern themselves without European paternal guidance.
The threat of a revolutionary model was represented in Haiti and its commanding military leader, Toussaint L’Ouverture who provided contagious inspiration for millions of African uprisings and revolts against enslavement throughout the Americas and Caribbean. For Africans all over the world, the message of the achievement of Haiti’s freedom fighters was that Europeans were not invincible. Within the region Haiti facilitated the success of Simon Bolivar, the Great Liberator of South America who sought to free the continent from the Spanish. He met with the Haitian President Pétión who gave Bolivar arms in 1816 to continue his struggle against Spanish domination. It was Pétión who influenced Bolivar to end slavery in Venezuela which he decreed in 1819. In short, the impact on world history of the success of the Haitian revolution has often been downplayed or ignored in the Western world.
How many children in the Western hemisphere – regardless of ethnicity know of Haiti’s history as a beacon of self-determination and the world’s first successful abolition of slavery and establishment of an African republic? Not many. And this is because this fact does not fit into the later image that has been perpetrated of Haiti as a begging bowl of poverty, voodoo magic, and disaster. In short, in the Western mind, Haiti is a byword for a “failed state,” fulfilling what the Nigerian journalist, Pascal Eze aptly identifies as the Western media’s fixation for “PIDIC” images of Africa i.e. anything concerning, Poverty, Illiteracy, Disease, Instability and Corruption because positive Africa does not sell nor capture audiences.
Yet, those who failed Haiti – the French, Americans, Canadians and UN do not ponder over their failures. Similarly, on 15 January 2010 in his statement on the Haitian earthquake, Commander in Chief of the United States, President Obama referred to the “long history that binds us together” – yet he did not probe deeply into the history of exploitation, plunder and imperialist intervention of his own nation.
Financially limping into the second half of the 20th century Haitians were saddled with the neo-colonial leadership of Papa Doc Duvalier and his equally brutal son Baby Doc from 1957 to 1986. They were supported during the era of the Cold War by the US who sought to prop up the vile and ruthless dictatorship of the Duvaliers with their brutal Tonton Macoutes that killed thousands of Haitians who opposed their political repression and undemocratic rule in order to keep Haiti within the Western sphere of influence. The Duvaliers were considered to be a bulwark against the communist government of Fidel Castro in the region. And so the people of Haiti paid with their lives.
When the charismatic libertarian theologian Jean-Bertrand Aristide came to power in 1996 and promised to increase the average wage for Haitians he was targeted as an enemy by the American administrations of Bush Snr and Clinton who wanted to maintain the sweatshops in Haiti where Haitians get paid a mere $2 a day, for producing Disney and Walmart products.
Aristide was ousted in 2004 with the complicity of the US and flown to the Central African Republic to begin his exile. Since then he has been prohibited from returning to his country and his popular Lavalas party, has also been banned from participating in elections. Since 2004 Haiti has been led by the weak government of Réne Preval which has acquiesced to IMF and World Bank dictates that have plunged the country into further poverty. Meanwhile, it is profoundly disturbing that the response of the Obama administration to this human tragedy was not to send in 10,000 doctors and medical equipment as Cuba, China, Venezuela, Jamaica and other neighbouring countries accomplished in haste, but to dispatch 10,000 American troops who took control of the airport in Port-au-Prince and scandalously turned away flights bringing medical equipment and emergency supplies as the Americans gave priority to landing their troops. It seems Blackwater – the security helicopters have been prioritized over drinking water for ordinary Haitians.
There is also a painful sense of déjà vu with the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and how the Bush administration’s inaction contributed to a further loss of African life. Are the Americans preparing to re-occupy Haiti? Why is it that the richest nation on the earth, a stone throw from the suffering of ordinary Haitians prioritizes soldiers over drinking water, doctors and medical equipment? The response so far as has been disastrous in itself and we can only hope it improves in the next few days, weeks and months.
Yet, in some quarters, the disaster planners are planning on how to use the crisis to reconstruct Haiti in the predatory interests of Western neoliberal policies that would not have been possible in another situation. Essentially it is about maximising the advantage of a natural disaster or war, such as Iraq, or the 2004 Asian tsunami, to impose what Naomi Klein characterises in her book The Shock Doctrine as “disaster capitalism.” In New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 real estate vultures quickly moved in to ensure that in the post-reconstruction phase, the gentrification of New Orleans would take place. Undoubtedly, Haiti’s socio-economic development has been plunged back a generation as result of this devastating earthquake. The country is on its knees and one contemplates whether the US troops are doing nothing but occupying the country in a humanitarian guise?
Contributing to the economic exploitation and regression in Haiti has been the case of odious debts raked up by the Duvaliers (as well as the millions they stole), and the tax incentives for American companies, that bring very little into the coffers of the Haitian state and the country’s poor infrastructure that has crumbled in the earthquake – unlike that of California in 1994.
Even before the earthquake the tiny island was awash with NGO’s that many Haitians would say that when a Haitian minister pockets 15% of aid money it is called “corruption” and when an NGO takes 50%, it is referred to as “overheads.” The reality is that it is the US and France that owe Haiti reparations. The hefty indemnity the Haitian political elite agreed to pay the expelled colonists contributed to retarding Haiti’s economic development in the first half of the twentieth century are the systemic roots of Haiti’s poverty.
In 2001 at the UN Conference on Race in Durban, South Africa, Haiti made a powerful representation to the French to repay the 150 million francs. This sum of capital is a start to the rebuilding of Haiti. The spiritual and psychological healing of the nation and the people will perhaps be tougher and longer.
Ama Biney (Dr) is a Pan-Africanist, scholar-activist and journalist.
Origin is enrolling now for its Rites of Passage inspired programme!!!
Where: 55 Willington Road, Stockwell, SW9
Contact: 07956 904 401 /
Come to the taster session on Wednesday 3rd February 2010, 6.30pm
Click the link to witness the hi-lights of the ‘09 program.
Check the website for more information
Tell your sons, nephews, cousins, brothers & friends...
There is a genius in everyone waiting to be born!!!
Film Night: Emperor Jones
When: Saturday February 6th 2010, 7pm start
Adm: £6 minimum donation
For More info/directions call: Tanya 07932 435118 or Afua 07956 337391
In the key role of his career, Paul Robeson repeats his powerful stage portrayal of Brutus Jones, a railroad porter who becomes the ruler of a remote Caribbean island, a story loosely patterned after the life of Haitian Emperor Henri Christophe.
Created by playwright Eugene O'Neill, Emperor Jones was one of the first plays to attempt to portray the black man as an individual rather than as a stereotype. The storyline and the manner in which the play allows Jones to conduct himself is certainly controversial for the times in which it was written and themes of determination, manhood and fear are all displayed throughout the performance.
The Emperor Jones first staged as a play on 1 November 1920 in New York City, and although Robeson did not play the part of Brutus Jones until the London production in 1924, his performance gave him worldwide acclaim as one of the twentieth centuries greatest Black artists. The film, also starring Robeson, was made in 1933.
Join us to view and discuss a legendary production starring one of the most celebrated Black actors of all time.
As always, food and drink will be provided
The history and meaning of an ancient Afrikan ritual – Libation (Malcolm X honoured) - Dr Kimani Nehusi
When: Friday 7 February 2010
Starlight Music Academy, 44-46 Offley Road, The Oval, London SW9 0LS ( Nearest Tube: Oval (Northern Line); Buses: 3, 36, 59, 133, 155, 159, 185, 333, 436)
When we were oppressed under slavery and colonialism our ancestors knew it; they knew that they had to remove these oppressive systems in order to be free. It is a massive contradiction that despite the fact that we are actually living in the neo-colonial phase of history, most of us do not know what it is. The problem this poses is that if we do not know it, we cannot understand it; if we cannot understand it, we cannot consciously do anything to challenge it; if we cannot do anything to challenge it, we cannot get rid of it; if we cannot get rid of it, we will remain stuck in it; if we remain stuck in neo-colonialism, Afrika cannot be liberated and we will not be a free and self determining people. The critical task before us therefore, is to raise our collective level of consciousness of the nature of neo-colonialism and how to defeat it in Afrikan communities everywhere.
After 8 years operating in London and over 26 years internationally, have you still have not attended one of our workshops? Ask yourself why not? Over 6000 people have participated in 200 workshops in London alone. NCBI has won the Mandela International Award and the British Diversity Award for Best Diversity Practice. With our track record and such noteworthy recognition, you should at least be curious about what we do to make a difference and why so many people have enjoyed the experience.
In NCBI we are proud of an inclusive track record and we continue to listen.
NCBI do ‘open’ community workshops; we work in schools; we do multi-faith & multi-cultural events; we present at conferences; we work in the Board room with members/Trustees; we prepare committees to take on the difficult issues; we help you understand and manage bullying/conflict/violence; we help you make sense of and deliver preventing violent extremism; we help develop your management teams; we help individuals, young and older, develop more self-esteem.
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