Friday, 19 May 2017

#Childnotwitch

Dear Africa,

As a child I saw the movie 'Battle of Musanga'. A nollywood film. One of the several that I was learning to love. It told the story of Mgbeke, the young Igbo woman who was forced to submit her newly birthed twins to the community because twins were believed to be an abomination.

A few years ago, I read Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart' where the concept of Ogbanje was explained through storytelling. When children get too sick too often, they must be witches. We must mark them, mark them repeatedly with hot razors so that they dare not return to this world in reincarnation.

Ola Rotimi's 'The gods are not to blame' in exploring the Oedipus Rex told us the story that may be explained as the child that should have been killed. And if this child is not killed, the world will pay for it.

Sometime ago, we saw a flush of movies about child witches, lots and lots of them.

Children! These movies and art paint them as blood sucking, dark and demonic creatures.

This rain beats us all. The four year old child in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria now being chained and whipped. The 17 year old gay boy in Owerri, Nigeria starved for days and abandoned in the name of exorcism. Lesbian girls lambasted and raped by prayer warrior after prayer warriors. The victims also include parents, families and communities trapped by age long unquestioned customs of demonising the queer, the beautiful and non-conventional.

They have used art, sermons, conversations, relationships, intimidation, power, patriachy, seniority and status to force us into ignorance. And these are  the strong names in our movie industry and  literati in full support, in applause. 

Let us move beyond this, let us learn. Let us untell these stories. Let us right this wrong. Let us accept and protect children, they are not witches!

Pissed off!
Nnanna









Saturday, 6 May 2017

Counting as human first

It is not often that I identify with the race struggle. One does not become genuinely emotionally aware of it by reading Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, seeing Idris Elba’s rendition of the Madiba or the Sophia town play- although I believe, I came very close. ‘Race’ has not always my reality. I live here in South Africa but I do not pretend to understand it fully, yet. What I do share with this reality is the consciousness of a tedious journey of struggling towards acceptance. If this is anything to go by, the parallel realities of the several immutable features that attract pain and exclusion share the same ‘darkness’. These features, race inclusive, are gender and gender expression, sex and sexuality, disability at several levels, ethnicity and ancestry, social and political class, religious affiliations or the lack of it. There will really be no end to this list. But Freedom Day every year as the celebration of the first time that exclusion was formally stopped as regards the peoples’ right to vote is not only a symbol of so much but a parallel victory for every reality that smacks of discrimination and exclusion.
You see, elections and voting are not just a political exercise of slipping cards through card-board slots. They could be symbols of integration, involvement, community, power and continuous change. They do not only say that my preference is allowed to count. They also mean that I am here validly, unapologetically, protected by the structure, history and aspirations of the state regardless of what, who, where or how I am.  It is not just the protection that counts but that there are mechanisms set up to ensure that nothing derogates from this status with impunity. And this idea of this is a beautiful one, phenomenal even.
However, this idea does not get realised because the people have a legal right to participate and contribute. All rights are linked to one another. A person cannot enjoy his/her/their human rights to participation and voting if their humanity is not first recognised. This humanity entails the respect, protection and fulfilment of every human right in the bill of rights. And for South Africa, given the colonial history, apartheid, the state’s policing of certain citizens privacy and sexuality, post-colonial anti-white sentiments, this humanity is strongly pegged on non-discrimination and inclusion. 
The idea of this protection should mean that I may walk into classrooms and not be looked at differently because my skin is a shade of brown or black. And that my white friends are not constantly perceived as predators and oppressors. That waiters in restaurants do not look at me strangely because I am in a visibly biracial or same-sex relationship. This should mean that I may hold my head up high as I walk through the streets or into health care centres and police stations regardless of whether my sexual inclinations and gender presentations are known and visible. This should mean that the kink in my hair, sway in my hips or the lack of one or both does not get in the way of  working at work, learning at school, and ‘churching’ at church. This should mean that my life, culture, health and living standards should matter when state policies and plans are being made. This should mean that the great, little, dissimilar and similar should see me as deserving and worthy of visibility, audibility and engagement - and I reciprocating the same the whole time.
sourced from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/glenn-garner/southern-gay-men-and-interracial-dating_b_5660825.html
Still, it is not often that I identify with the race struggle. It has not always been part of my reality. I know about the struggles of sexuality, gender, ethnicity and religion. I know about being looked down on because by some standards I am not cis-gender and Christian. I know about being a stranger and hiding my ‘Nigerianness’ to protect myself from homophobia and xenophobia, to guard against physical, mental and emotional hostility and to live one more productive day. I know about being silent because my spoken words do not flow out articulately and struggling to compete with the same rules as persons who do not stutter. I know about fear and repression and that my scars are not instigators but a bench mark on how people must never be treated. Most importantly, I know that the Freedom Day should mean more than voting because history exists as a symbol to be celebrated, learned from, project further and not to be limited by. I know that Freedom Day means that in our dissimilarities, we should all count the same.

Originally published on SOGIE Diaries: http://www.chr.up.ac.za/index.php/sogie-diaries-blog/1795-counting-as-humans-first.html 

Monday, 20 March 2017

On Chimamanda's 'anti-trans' statement

Dear Africa,
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The experiences are not the same for a cis-gender person and a transgender person. This is because while experiences are partly based on internal interpretations, they are also partly based on external environments, prejudices and circumstances. A trans-man while addressing a colloqium on Sexualities a few weeks ago here in the University of Pretoria relayed that he realises that he has come into male privilege  because he now appears to unsuspecting patriachal eyes as cis-gender. 'My girlfriend is ignored when we go out together but I am acknowledged. When the bill gets to the table, it is handed to me.' He is naturally able to see, tell and feel this difference in how the society treats men and women. He is more sensitive to this than I am, and perhaps more than I can ever be.

As a mostly cis-gender male myself, I have never had the feeling of culture shock that this trans-man had and others have when they realise they are treated differently from what had been obtainable before their physical transition. I am not saddled with internal gender struggles or the history of not being taken seriously for not having a dick or not being seen as my family's secure link to the continuity of lineage. Among these, there are several other levels of varying experiences that distinguishes a trans-man from me.


I do not consider trans-men any less 'masculine' or genuinely 'male' than I am. But I have a special respect for them which is defined and fed by my recognition and acknowledgement of  their historical, personal and individual backgrounds and journies. In this light, I strongly understand Adichie's statement to be rooted in  her reluctance to flatten the uniqueness of trangender existence and identity by unduly submerging it in the almost homogenous ocean of cis-gender identity and experience. But she is careful to note that 'diversity is not difference'. As such saying- or I believe she is saying- that there are all sorts of women, but they are women still.

Being a trans-woman does not negate or dilute the authenticity of womanhood. It only makes you the trans-woman part of a category(transgender) within a category(women). Of course, the conversation is still on, but I believe that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a valid position on the subject. It is  misconstruing, I believe, to regard her respect for the trans-community as being exclusionary and demeaning.

And to Chimamanda, I celebrate and agree with you. Jisike!

Resolved!
Nnanna

Image of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche sourced from https://www.wsj.com/articles/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-on-the-world-of-african-literature-1430504839

More on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's statement :
http://www.vox.com/identities/2017/3/15/14910900/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-transgender-women-comments-apology

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-transgender-women-channel-4-interview-views-lgbt-raquel-willis-a7628571.html


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Women I Celebrate

Dear Africa

Today I celebrate the 'Sahhara's and 'Caitlyn's among us. The 'Anastacia's, those of us who are genuinely women whether the world likes it or not. I celebrate the Tamales and Khumalos, those whose femininity are not contested but who choose to jump in the fire still to be the voice of those who are not yet powerful enough to speak and be heard.

I celebrate the Owenus and Nnajis whose gifts have paved the paths of our childhood. Whose talents have taught me love, coquettery and 'Ekwe'.

The most of all, I celebrate those who have lived their lives singing, yet unsung, pouring their core into us: My mum Doris Ikpo, my  sisters, cousins, aunts and even neices and daughters unborn- unconceived even.

I celebrate the men who do not think they have to step aside but are happy to stand beside unchallenged yet applauding. And the men who can tell the emptiness of violence, chauvinism and suppression from the blessings of inclusion, affirmation and conversations and the choose the better.

I celebrate the children that are watching(reading, learning, hearing, feeling and knowing) . Also I celebrate the large board rooms, organisations and little backyard kitchens that discuss women in a positive light. And the ones that have opened new doors, written new books and requested that we all be feminists.

Feeling a bit festive(and nervous)
Nnanna


(#HappyInternationalWomen's Day)

Monday, 13 February 2017

The sun was rising

Mum woke everyone in the house: dad, three of our cousins, two uncles and one aunt, all my sisters. We assembled at the Obi downstairs. Mum while in her night dress had adorned herself with the traditional red coral beads. And dad as well. We said a short prayer. She asked my partner and I to kneel before her and dad. She asked us to wash our hands together in clear bowl of water with so many udala seeds in them. After we did that, she asked the youngest of our cousins to pass the bowl round till every one got a seed. It finally got to us, but one was left. She it
placed on the floor between us. Then dad spoke, ‘we don’t pretend to understand why you have chosen this man, we don’t understand why he has chosen you. But who can question the validity of what you both have and share? We cannot question the hand of God here. We all bare witness to your union this night. We bless and agree with you. Our ancestors and God before them agree as well. You both will grow forests together. Your seeds shall be nourished with the purest of rain and soil. The storms shall rage fire and not blow it out. You both shall enjoy this youth and grow old together. Let the ancestors curse whoever gets in the way of this blessing. Let the ancestors bless whoever gives way for this blessing. Let God Almighty never blink on your case….  ’ the blessings went on, tears poured down my eyes. Finally I was getting married.

When we left Nigeria, a few weeks later, we had yams and palmoil. And lengths of plain goerge material. My partner's skin glowed contrasting sharply with red wrist corals that dad had given him to celebrate his manhood. Mum’s corals hung lightly on mine. Nigeria was giving in, the sun was rising.

Happy St. Valentine's Day Africa!

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Let's pretend that we are 'TANZANIA'

Dear Africa,

We are pretending again. We are pretending that there is one way, just one way of 'be-ing'. So we hit hard on every other thing that diverges from that one way. The most recent, Tanzania. They are pretending that it's okay to run amok on the lives of people who have chosen to speak, write and say the things that others pretend not to know or see.

They pretend that they have no need to lubricants or that the battle against HIV/AIDS is no longer
a worthy cause . Of course all Tanzanians are either naturally asexual or are capable of secreting natural lubricants in the course of intercourse- they had better. They pretend the 'homosexuality is un-African' argument has not reasonably been trashed all over by arguments more valid and more practical. But this pretension has gotten out of hand Africa. Some of them now wake up in the morning and decide that all of Tanzania should be subject to laws no one legislated. 'Promoting homosexuality'! How does a person do that? Does a person's genitalia get lectured on what or who to erect or moisten for and when or how to erect or moisten? Or is a person's heart trashed repeatedly, fiercely...so hard that it will never beat or love again the way heaven has scripted it to? How, Africa, does a person promote homosexuality?

Photo sourced from the movie 'Naz & Maalik'
Even if there was a way homosexuality could be promoted, do you think it would compete with our corruption and bigotry? Scratch that. Do you think throwing people into detention without due process and bending to laws imagined through undemocratic whims, does not create a trend that will soon come back to haunt you, us? Look Africa, bigotry, discrimination, inhumanity, unfairness is a poison that will spread once it is allowed. Injustice validates further injustice. Perhaps tomorrow it won't be people writing freely on the internet, or loving freely, it will be the Igbos in Nigeria that now think the presence of an Hausa/ Fulani person(or anyone not traditionally Igbo) is a threat to their security and perhaps attack. Or the Hausa/ Fulani cattle herders that think that an affront to their cattle is a sin worth killing  for. Oh dear, so sorry Africa, that's not tomorrow. It's happening right now!

Tyranny and institutionalised homophobia or hate such as what is happening in Tanzania only begets more, poisoning all of us. Some people are behind bars right now, not for a crime, but because some one powerful enough does not like anything that smacks of homosexuality or not being traditionally ordinary. What will this person not like tomorrow?

Let's pretend we are Tanzania. Let's pretend that hate and intolerance are okay. But while we are pretending, let's buy umbrella's of steel(if it will be of any help) because hate is an acid that will rain if we don't smack out of it, if we don't stop pretending.

Stop it Africa! Stop it!

Frantic,
Nnanna

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Master class: how studying towards a masters degree helped me discover my identity

by Mulesa Lumina

(Winner of First Prize, Dean's Essay Award, Faculty of Law University of Pretoria South Africa)



I’ve always believed that there is great value in education, particularly higher education which is a privilege granted only to a lucky few. I don’t value my legal education for the monetary gains or prestige that it can bring but rather, for the skills it has equipped me with to make a career out of ‘making a difference’  as well as the lessons it has taught me about life, love, sexuality, spirituality, relationships, family, careers and human behaviour. 

After roughly two years of seemingly never-ending masters and scholarship applications and taking the time to get some ‘real world’ experience, I was finally set to embark on my 1-year LLM journey. While my real world experience provided  me with a great deal of perspective and insight into where I see myself in the near future, the last ten months have had the most profound impact on me in a way that I could not have possibly imagined.

Never in my life have I experienced anything as academically stimulating, highly demanding and mentally-challenging as this academic programme. I knew doing a masters degree would be tough but I must have taken for granted just how much. After the intensity of the first semester subsided and we made it through relatively unscathed, I had time to reflect on the half-year that was and revisit some of the hobbies I’d neglected in order to get through it. It’s been exceptionally taxing but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything because it’s helped me reshape my professional and personal goals and understand exactly what I’d like my legacy to be.

Last year, I started two blogs: one on fashion and the other on the theme of identity, but more specifically on how growing up away from my ancestral culture has affected my developing a sense of identity in my teens and early adulthood. I was born in the UK to Zambian parents, I hold a Zambian passport and have spent my formative years between Australia, Swaziland, Zambia and South Africa (where I’ve completed the bulk of my education and have been permanently resident for the past ten years or so).It’s not a particularly novel thing to go through a bit of an identity crisis when you’ve spent a significant portion of your developmental years outside your country of origin but it’s a subject that’s very personal to me and, as I came to discover, something that affects many people across the world. A surprising consequence of my LLM studies is that I’ve once again become hyper-aware of my cultural identity (or lack thereof). In a programme that emphasises acquiring skills and knowledge to improve the human rights situation in one’s ‘home’ country, feeling like I don’t have a home makes for great opportunity to learn from my classmates but at the same time makes me feel disconnected from my passport country and the African continent generally.

My classmates and I introduced ourselves countless times while attending short courses, lectures and some special events. The introductions been rather exhausting for the entire class but I came to regard the exercise as a bit of anathema because I was constantly confronted with a question that I do not particularly enjoy answering: ‘where do you come from?’ Initially, I would give my go-to responses: ‘I’m Zambian but I live in South Africa’ or ‘I’m ‘originally’ Zambian’ but five introductory speeches in, I grew tired of adding the qualification to my answer and would simply respond ‘I’m Zambian.’ I would then pray to my creator that I wouldn’t be called upon to educate the class about the political, legal or human rights situation in Zambia of which I had very limited knowledge when I first started the programme. It may seem strange or even comical that a question as simple as ‘any Zambians in the class?’ could make my palms clammy and my heart start racing for fear of being exposed as a ‘fake’ Zambian but it made me incredibly anxious until I decided to steer into the skid and focus on my studies. The wonderful thing about human rights issues is that they affect all people the world over regardless of background, age, race, status, religious affiliation or orientation. Moreover, there are so many different capacities in which every person on the planet can contribute to the advancement of human rights. I believe this is what drew me to the field in the first place, especially being someone who comes from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.


Linked to my identity, for the longest time the ‘feminist’ label bothered me immensely. The programme has, however, led to a change within me and I now where the badge with great pride. While I’m more inclined to the business and human rights side of things - a passion which the programme helped me nurture through clinic work, a short course and my dissertation - I developed a deep interest in women’s rights advocacy. Two or three years ago, if someone had asked me if I consider myself a feminist I would most likely have said no. Painfully ironic considering I strongly believe in equal rights and opportunities for all people, staunchly advocate women’s empowerment and fiercely defend women’s rights. I’m ashamed to admit that I naively bought into ridiculous feminist stereotypes of the radical, man-hating, bra-burning, perpetual spinsters and felt unworthy to put myself in the same class as distinguished and seemingly elitist Germaine Greer-type feminist scholars and philosophers. But I believe I rejected the label primarily because I used to be uncomfortable with the inherently divisive nature of labelling people. This discomfort also stems from my inability to develop a firm grasp on a linguistic and cultural identity connected to my country of origin.

My opinions on feminism were altered during the thematic week on Gender, particularly when I attended a lecture delivered by Professor Sylvia Tamale. I immediately took a liking to her. It’s incredible how another human being can make such an impression on you at your first-ever meeting but this is the effect Prof. Tamale had on me and part of the reason I chose Makerere University as my second semester destination. As a Zambian woman who has lived amongst a range of different cultural groupings for most of her life but whose parents continually imbued her with some of their cultural values and did not wholly abandon many of their cultures’ practices, I straddle different sides like many African women my age. I try as much as possible to harmonise all facets of my cultural identity but they are often at odds with each other. In some measure, Prof. Tamale’s teaching and writings taught me that I don’t necessarily have to break one down in favour of the other as they are all-encompassing of my identity. I had the privilege of attending her inaugural lecture, Nudity, Protests and the Law, in which she reflected upon the internal moral dilemmas she wrestled with when her friend and colleague Dr. Stella Nyanzi carried out a nude protest earlier this year. Her openness and honesty about fighting to retain her feminist identity in the wake of such a shocking event so close to home and what it said about the objectification and sexualisation of the female form further ignited my new-found passion for feminist activism. 

I now realise that it is incumbent upon me as an African human rights defender from a privileged background to become actively involved in combating the many injustices that myself and my sisters on the continent face daily. Not only will I be doing this in my professional life but in my creative endeavours as well. Blogging is my art and a medium through which I have found my voice. I’ve truly been inspired by our lectures on art and human rights taught  by the quirky Marissa Gutièrrez and those on human rights advocacy by the brilliant Professor Liz Griffin to transform my blogging into a platform for pushing my activist agenda. My fashion blog has already been a platform for me to discuss a variety of subjects including history, race, art, sexuality, culture and feminism to some extent. I have come up with a variety of new pieces and ideas for both of my blogs, stimulated by my LLM studies, for my audience to enjoy, be inspired by and reflect critically on pressing human rights issues. I will continue in this spirit going forward.

It’s a bittersweet moment for me as my long and difficult LLM journey comes to an end but it’s been the most enriching experience, allowing me to forge wonderful friendships, hone important professional skills, travel and learn two new languages. Most importantly, the programme has helped me discover the identity I’ve been searching for since adolescence. I’m no longer afraid to label myself. I’m Zambian, African, feminist, activist, blogger and significantly, I’m a graduate of the LLM in HRDA programme 2016.