Art and its role in telling personal, family and collective histories

Serge Attukwei Clottey and GoLokal, My Mother's Wardrobe, performance at Gallery 1957, 6 March 2016, courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957, photo by Nii Odzenma

Serge Attukwei Clottey and GoLokal, My Mother’s Wardrobe, performance at Gallery 1957, 6 March 2016, courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957, photo by Nii Odzenma

On March 6 2016 as Ghana marked 59 years of independence, Gallery 1957, a new gallery with a curatorial focus on contemporary Ghanaian art by the country’s most significant artists celebrated its inaugural exhibition. With over 400 people in attendance, My Mother’s Wardrobe, a new creative work by Serge Attukwei Clottey captured a diverse and equally enchanted audience.

Founded by Marwan Zakhem, the gallery has evolved from over 15 years of private collecting and offers an ideal location for both local audiences and international visitors to discover new artists, and to gain a deeper understanding of the breadth of their practice through curated exhibitions. With an initial curatorial focus on contemporary Ghanaian art, the gallery will present a programme of exhibitions, installations and performances by the region’s most significant artists under the creative direction of Nana Oforiatta Ayim. The artist, Serge Attukwei Clottey, is the founder of Ghana’s GoLokal performance collective and the creator of Afrogallonism, an artistic concept commenting on consumption within modern Africa through the utilisation of yellow gallon containers.

Based in Accra and working internationally, Clottey’s powerful testimony to his mother in the aftermath of her death explores narratives of personal, family and collective histories. In continuation of the artist’s established use of assemblage, he considers the value of material as a tangible experience of loss. His works examine the powerful agency of everyday objects, with particular focus on the significance of personal clothing.

Serge Attukwei Clottey and GoLokal, My Mother's Wardrobe, performance at Gallery 1957, 6 March 2016, courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957 Photo Credit: Nii Odzenma

Serge Attukwei Clottey and GoLokal, My Mother’s Wardrobe, performance at Gallery 1957, 6 March 2016, courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957 Photo Credit: Nii Odzenma

I recently interviewed Nana Oforiatta Ayim, founder of ANO, and Creative Director of Gallery 1957 to gain a better understanding of Clottey’s work, Gallery 1957, the creatives industry and intrinsically the role of art in exploring and reconciling Ghana’s past and present.

Tell us about yourself

I write, make films, and work as a cultural historian, which involves uncovering or creating new narratives, particularly of what is now known of Ghana, and the regions that surround it. I live in Accra, Ghana, where I founded and run the cultural organisation ANO, and where I am the Creative Director of a new art space, Gallery 1957.

Tell us about ANO, (what does it stand for) how did it come about and what inspired its inception?

The name ANO is an aberration of the Akan word εno, which means grandmother. In Akan mythology, an old woman or grandmother is the ancestress of humankind. And even though, at traditional occasions, at festivals and funerals, it is often the men that play the role of elders, it is the old woman they go out to spiritually consult. I liked this notion of the origin of beings being female, of this alternative history to the dominant one in our largely Christian country, which is of the first human being a man. ANO is largely about the uncovering and re-writing and -formulating of alternative, more covert histories to challenge dominant, sometimes reductive ones. –

It is also a suffix in the language Esperanto, which I love for its ideal of a common language, one that would transcend national divisions, and that means belonging. In a global narrative, which has for so long been dominated by one side, and in which our cultural offerings, our philosophies and ways of being, were to some extent denigrated, I very much liked this ethos of belonging, of us all sitting at the same table, as equals, with all right to be there, no one sitting higher or lower than the other, most especially in a world that still differentiates on a spectrum from first to so-called third world countries.

The third meaning for it is as a short form of A.N. Other, a pseudonym for the unknown or anonymous. I remember going to museums in Europe when I was younger, and often seeing very sparse plaques alongside sculptures or masks, giving very little context or meaning to why they were there, where they were taken from, who created them, and from within what greater narrative they came. There was a sense that these objects like so much else that came from the continent of Africa were raw material, objects of inspiration for ‘greater’ artists with greater understanding, consciousness and agency. And so ANO is also about retelling histories on their own terms or at least attempting to, and in this way giving them more rounded truths.

Has ANO changed since its inception? If so, which significant changes have happened?

I first started working with the notion of ANO as a mobile platform in 2002 curating exhibitions at the Liverpool Biennial, organising events at the Royal Festival Hall in London, making films etc. The most significant change has been ANO’s settling into a physical space in Accra, and also expanding into more large-scale encompassing projects, like the Cultural Encyclopaedia.

Serge Attukwei Clottey, Love and Connections, 2016, Plastics, wire and oil Paint, 95 x 89 inches, ©the artist, courtesy Gallery 1957, Accra

Serge Attukwei Clottey, Love and Connections, 2016, Plastics, wire and oil Paint, 95 x 89 inches, ©the artist, courtesy Gallery 1957, Accra
How do you choose the artists who receive residency such as in the case of Serge Clottey?

It all happens quite organically. ANO is not a static institution with fixed paradigms and goals. It has been very porous and open, listening to and seeing what works, what synergies there are with other creatives, and then acting upon them. The residency programme emerged from shared interests and the notion that mutual collaboration could be of benefit.

What gap if any do you see in the art and creative works industry in Ghana?

I feel that whatever gaps there are are being addressed by people’s ingenuity. New institutions are springing up, like Gallery 1957 and the Archiafrika Gallery of Design and Architecture. The government is putting some funding into the arts, even if it could do a lot better. Institutions, like the National Theatre are starting to engage with young artists, like Ibrahim Mahama and Serge Attukwei Clottey, and of course artists keep pushing at their own boundaries. I think it is a very good time creatively in Ghana, and I’m excited to see what emerges over the next few years.

What role do you see art playing in creating a platform for reconciling socio-cultural, economic and political discourse beyond ANO?

I think art provides another way of seeing, of thinking, of understanding. I think it highlights things that might be obvious to everyone around, but that are not being addressed, as well as things that might not be obvious at all. I think that the more attention is paid to it, the deeper our engagement with our environment will be, as well as that with our own selves, and that in itself is the strongest foundation for any discourse or development.

You have been quoted as saying the following profound words on reconciling art and loss with regards to Clottey’s work:

“According to custom in many parts of Ghana, a person’s wardrobe is locked up for a year after their death then released to relatives, often leaving the person’s offspring with little or nothing of the material memory of that person. Textiles and materials in Ghana, and other parts of West Africa — each weft, line or mark — are potent carriers of memory, of communication, and the artist weaves into his sculptures subtle traces of loss, remembering, and of rebirth.”

In your view, does Clottey’s artistic work resonate with most Ghanaians?

I am going to do a series of talks at Gallery 1957 around his works for schools and universities and workers, and I’m very excited about the exchanges that will happen as a result of that. I think Serge’s work is deeply embedded in Ga cosmogony and offers an aesthetic and provocative way of looking at our past and recreating our future, and it is always a spectacle, which in itself excites people’s attention. The challenge now is to get the work and the discourses around it seen by more people than those naturally drawn to art, and I hope to do that with a series of films around Serge and other artists, their work and the deeper themes.

Serge Attukwei Clottey and GoLokal, My Mother's Wardrobe, performance at Gallery 1957, 6 March 2016, courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957, photo by Nii Odzenma

Serge Attukwei Clottey and GoLokal, My Mother’s Wardrobe, performance at Gallery 1957, 6 March 2016, courtesy the artist and Gallery 1957, photo by Nii Odzenma
My Mother’s Wardrobe is a result of Clottey’s residency with ANO, whose remit is to uncover hidden and alternative, personal and collective histories, which make up what is now known as Ghana. Can you tell us about other projects you are working on and what to expect in 2016?

There will be a lot of projects in 2016! Another collaboration with Serge on the Korle Lagoon around the themes of nature and its invasion and the mythologies around this within Ga philosophy, as well as a book and film on his work. A collaboration with Zohra Opoku for Gallery 1957, as well as a book and film on her produced by ANO. And an exhibition with Serge, Zohra, and Ibrahim Mahama at the end of the year at LACMA in Los Angeles, for ANO’s Cultural Encyclopaedia project. There will also be a preliminary tour of the country with what I call Living History Hubs, mobile museums, to gather and exhibit material cultural and upload it onto the Cultural Encyclopaedia site. And finally, an exhibition at Gallery 1957 with young artist and performer, Elisabeth Efua Sutherland which resonates deeply with ANO’s remit, as its subject is the role of the feminine in myth-making.

What advice would you give to upcoming artists in Ghana?

To listen deeply to whatever it is that resonates with them the most and to follow that impulse. To look around and see what inspires and challenges them in their environment, as well as outside of it. And to keep working at it, despite all the obstacles, and even without initial support; to create and express even if it is on their street corners or in their family compounds or in a market place, and to keep delving. I feel like it is consistency and integrity of purpose, as well as clarity of expression that draws support, in whatever form, to itself.

Lastly, why is this exhibition a must see for all?

The exhibition is a must see, because Serge is a very talented artist at the full potency of his creative expression. He is experimenting with form and he is delving into the various layers of his environment and bringing them forth in ways that are unexpected and that enchant and expand. The exhibition is a testament to ingenuity, to diligence, to just what is possible, and because of that I think acts a source of inspiration.

 

This article first appeared in my blog post @ Africa at LSE .

An Alternative Perspective on Africa Rising

Listen again

Is Africa’s growth trajectory overhyped? Is it as Omidyar Network’s Ory Okolloh call, ‘a fetishisation’ over some of the continent’s development achievements at the heavy expense of turning a blind eye to the weighty issues? As she concernedly asks, “will technology ‘save’ the continent from its poorly run resources, bad leadership and ineptitude?” Is Africa really rising? And if she is indeed rising, who are the beneficiaries? This was the subject addressed by Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International when she spoke at LSE on 12 October 2015.

Credit: Africa at LSE

“As I prepared to come here to give my views on this topic, I promised myself I would not be an Afro pessimist,” she announced. “My job has me talking about poverty everyday but being an African girl, I can say that I am proud of what Africa has achieved. I am proud of my country, the continent and her people and at the grassroots especially, you see a true reflection of the resilience of her people.”

“Africa has witnessed four centuries of slave trade, one century of colonialism totalling five centuries of domination with just 60 years of independence,” she continued. “Growing up in Uganda, I know what it feels like to have false freedom and false independence. I grew up with a leader, Idi Amin, who would decide overnight new legislations pinning them to what he claimed lucid dreams; dreams of women without make-up, skirts, and more aggravating, education. But regardless of this, we took on the risk of getting an education with the support of ordinary people who inspired resilience,” she reminisced.

Today, African economies are growing at an average rate of 5% per year and Foreign Direct Investment has expanded by over 30%. Fewer mothers die in child birth and the rate of child mortality has decreased tremendously. The continent boasts several of the fastest growing economies in the world and is posited to leapfrog in development through its ever growing innovation and technology. “The universities are hotbeds of innovation,” the speaker stated with a smile. “However, despite all this, one in two Africans lives in extreme poverty. Women are the hardest hit earning 30% less than men.”

“The most important question I would ask you today is, Africa is rising but it is rising for whom?” she poses.

“Jane is my mother’s god-daughter. She was married at 16 years old and not out of choice but for labour. She was a successful farmer tilling her husband’s land. She lost three of her children to curable diseases but due to poverty, she had to bear the burden of burying her own. Her husband too passed on. I am helping her to build on her husband’s land but now she wants to leave it to her son. Under Ugandan law, she can claim the land but as a second wife, the land belongs to the son of the first wife. When she came to ask for money to buy the land from her son, I challenged her to claim what was rightfully hers to which she opposed.” Through this poignant story, Winnie Byanyima unmasks the reality of Africa, her people and the challenges they face on a daily basis; challenges of legacies of discrimination regulated by traditions and custom.

“Increasing the income share of the poor and middle class increases growth; illicit financial flows alone make Africa a net creditor to the rest of the world,” she informs. “Tax reforms need to be fit for purpose.”

“I have worked in several positions but none compares to working at Oxfam International where I feel that I can challenge elite capture. I love this job because I can speak truth to power,” she affirms. “Power lies with organised citizens because it is through solidarity that power shifts. Africa is the youngest region yet the oldest and by the year 2030 we will see a demographic dividend. My hope is that we will have halved the tax gap and these resources will be channelled to health, education and social protection thus investing in Africa’s true wealth, her people.”

This article is based on a LSE Public Lecture with Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International. Follow this link to listen to the full lecture.

Article Originally posted on Africa at LSE 

Is Africa really “rising”?

Source: TEDxEuston

ALI A. MUFURUKI is a Member of the Board of Directors of the Tanzania Central Bank, Member of the Board Directors Technoserve, Inc. of Washington, DC and Board Member of Nation Media Group of Kenya. He currently serves as Chairman of the Board Wananchi Group Holdings Kenya, Chairman of The CEOs’ Roundtable of Tanzania and the Trustee–Mandela Institute of Development Studies (MINDS), South Africa, and Chairman of The Africa Leadership Initiative (ALI) East Africa.

As an African business leader, Ali Mufuruki implored the TEDxEuston audience to scrutinise the ‘Africa rising’ narrative. In the words of young political commentator, Inez Sarkodee-Adoo , he took to the stage, boldly questioning why 6-7% GDP growth was considered impressive for African economies while 8% growth is dubbed a recession for China.  He asked why “60 years later Africa is still negotiating on a global scale for aid”.

In his speech, Mr. Mufuruki cites three short stories that can be easily paraphrased as “Africa is NOT Rising”, “Africans are NOT Changing” and “A dire prediction for Africa and the World”

These are hard questions, but questions that have to be asked on the TEDxEuston stage. Ali builds his argument in a way that will make you pause to think…and watch it again.

Moving from early Pan-Africanism towards an African Renaissance

Like the famous mythical Sankofa bird symbol, Africans must look into their past to create their future; acknowledging our previous mistakes and learning from them but also celebrating our successes and building on them.

A focus on African Renaissance gives an opportunity to reflect on Africa’s self-reliance trajectory and the need to demystify, appropriate and popularize our history, our shared values, and our narrative about the state of Africa today, in honor of the generations that went before us and to inspire current and future generations.

Pan-Africanism at its inception was more than just a search for racial or geographic identity. Initially led and popularized by Africans in the Diaspora such as Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois, it was a clear rejection of the laughable fallacy that Africans did not have a history. It was also a strong refutation of the mindset that defined Africa and Africans from the perspective of the historical experience of slavery, colonialism and racial discrimination.  Rather it was the affirmation of the rich cultural heritage of African societies and the importance of achieving freedom and continental unity.

Since then the concept of Pan-Africanism has continued to evolve, measured by the challenges and aspirations of the African continent. During the independence period, this ideology enabled Africans to overcome domination and oppression by ending colonialism and apartheid in the continent. The possibility of rapid socio-economic transformation of the continent was another goal promoted from early days. As noted by Emperor Hailé Selassié during the launch of the OAU, “Unless the political liberty for which Africans have for long struggled is complemented and bolstered by a corresponding economic and social growth, the breath of life which sustains our freedom may flicker out.” This statement still rings true. [1]

Despite strong political mobilization for the liberation from oppression, Africa has failed to fulfill its full potential. It is well known that in the early 1960s, at the time of the establishment of the OAU, there was high optimism that the continent will perform well. Several African countries were at par or had even higher GDP rates than their counterparts in Asia. It is now common place to mention that, the GDP per capita of Ghana and South Korea were at the same level in 1960. Up until 1975, the fastest growing developing country in the world was Gabon. Botswana’s growth rate exceeded that of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Thailand. Despite the optimism of the time, Africa failed to complete the transformation journey which Asia has to a large degree now traversed. While East Asia’s share in world global exports grew from 2.25 % to 17.8% over a period of 40 years (1970 to 2010), Africa’s share in world global exports drastically reduced from 4.99% to the current 3.33%. This led to Africa being called the ‘hopeless continent’, ‘a scar on the conscience of humanity’ and many other Hegelian fallacies.

As we entered the 21st century, Pan-Africanism reflected Africa’s conscious need for not only political independence, regional integration and the improvements of its living standards, but also the throwing of the shackles of economic bondage and democratic stagnation that had seen it reverse the short lived prosperity of the independence era. This meant devising a new economic positioning and new forms of partnership in which Africa, as an equal partner, would negotiate with the rest of the world, with fierce defense of its own defined priorities.  Without losing the key elements of unity, cultural heritage and freedom, the reinterpretation of Pan-Africanism in the form of an African Renaissance is very relevant. It is a new phase that requires popular participation and mobilization of the African people behind the goals of structural transformation and improved governance.  Indeed, Africa’s Renaissance can only be complete when the African voice will be heard and taken into account.

The relevance of the Pan-Africanism ideal, and its continuous attraction to intellectuals both on the continent and in the Diaspora, will be measured by the ability to adjust to new demands and new generations. Indeed, the ability to continue to provide inspiration and conviction to Africans across ages is the trade mark of Pan-Africanism. Thankfully, things have changed for the better since the turn of the century. Six out of the ten fastest growing economies are in Africa, there is a marked reduction in the number and size of conflicts in the continent, democratic governance and the respect of human dignity are on the rise. Africa is therefore ripe for change. It must seize this moment for re-strategizing.

The AU’s proclaimed vision is for ‘an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena’. Laudable in its aspirations, what guarantees do we have that it will not remain rhetoric? We must ask ourselves how we reach these goals.Agenda 2063 identifies the prerequisites for Africa’s sustained transformation in clear and unambiguous terms and offers a reinterpretation of the continent’s trajectory and claim the 21st century as Africa’s!

What might draw Africa back from achieving its objectives?

In pursuing any bold transformation, there are a few risks that must be appreciated and tackled head on. Current challenges facing any developing countries are very different from past two decades. These include addressing borderless problems such as the impact of climate change, creating jobs while building an educated and innovative workforce, tackling the scourge of disease, famine and conflicts, as well as ensuring that Africa’s vast natural resource wealth benefits its people. Economic inequality, expanding opportunities for all, reducing illiteracy and creating the enabling conditions for the growth development and protection of nascent local industries are just a few examples of a myriad of tasks that will certainly continue to drag Africa down in the world scales.

Towards an African Renaissance.

One thing is sure; Africa must act very differently, if it is going to take advantage of the current momentum. African leaders need a paradigm shift in their thinking. This transformation has already begun and it shows itself in diverse ways. For example, the perceptible change in the orientation of current African leaders from a dependence on external aid and external actors to an Afro-centric and internal support system.In an interview he granted in 1993, Issa Diallo questioned the rationale behind Africans expecting foreigners to build their countries for them[2]. An aid dependence mentality is slowly giving a space to a more assertive leadership.

Starting from the original OAU Charter, there already existed a myriad of resolutions, treaties, accords and inter-governmental agreements to sustain Africa’s ambitions. What is needed now is for African leaders to move their agenda forward. The advantages of regional integration were recognised by Africans through the Pan-African ideology long before others and even longer before the term ‘globalisation’ was coined. The OAU’s creation simply reflected this awareness. The benefits of regional cooperation – increased investment, sustainability, consolidation of economic and political reforms, increased global competitiveness, prevention of conflict- are accepted, but sometimes just that: accepted.

If Africa is going to own its narrative, it has to preserve its policy space and try out its own development approaches. Renaissance means ‘revival’ or ‘rebirth’ and in the context of its usage now, not only offers an opportunity to awaken the spirit of Africa in the 21st century, but also a rallying call to rid the continent of poverty, instability, corruption and neglect. This new mindset means the need to rethink the traditional models of growth and development. In conclusion, the spirit of African unity is alive. It still lives amongst Africans. As Patrice Lumumba said so long ago, ‘The day will come when History will speak… Africa will write its own history… It will be a history of glory and dignity. Long live Africa!![3]

[1] ECA, AU. 2013. Celebrating success: Africa’s voice over 50 Years 1963-2013. Speech of Emperor Haile Selassie during the inauguration of the OAU in 1963
[2] Interview with Issa Diallo in ‘The Courier’ Jan 1992. http://collections.infocollections.org/ukedu/uk/d/Jec131e/1.1.html
[3] Patrice Lumumba, 1961. Letter from Thysville Prison to Mrs. Lumumba.http://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/lumumba/1961/xx/letter.htm

By Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary Economic Commission for Africa

Article Cross Posted from the Executive Secretary’s Blog

Marxism and Anti-Imperialism in Africa: Letter from Thysville Prison to Mrs. Lumumba

My dear wife,

I am writing these words to you, not knowing whether they will ever reach you, or whether I shall be alive when you read them.

Throughout my struggle for the independence of our country I have never doubted the victory of our sacred cause, to which I and my comrades have dedicated all our lives.

But the only thing which we wanted for our country is the right to a worthy life, to dignity without pretence, to independence without restrictions.

This was never the desire of the Belgian colonialists and their Western allies, who received, direct or indirect, open or concealed, support from some highly placed officials of the United Nations, the body upon which we placed all our hope when we appealed to it for help.

They seduced some of our compatriots, bought others and did everything to distort the truth and smear our independence.

What I can say is this—alive or dead, free or in jail—it is not a question of me personally.

The main thing is the Congo, our unhappy people, whose independence is being trampled upon.

That is why they have shut us away in prison and why they keep us far away from the people. But my faith remains indestructible.

I know and feel deep in my heart that sooner or later my people will rid themselves of their internal and external enemies, that they will rise up as one in order to say ‘No’ to colonialism, to brazen, dying colonialism, in order to win their dignity in a clean land.

We are not alone. Africa, Asia, the free peoples and the peoples fighting for their freedom in all corners of the world will always be side by side with the millions of Congolese who will not give up the struggle while there is even one colonialist or colonialist mercenary in our country.

To my sons, whom I am leaving and whom, perhaps, I shall not see again, I want to say that the future of the Congo is splendid and that I expect from them, as from every Congolese, the fulfilment of the sacred task of restoring our independence and our sovereignty.

Without dignity there is no freedom, without justice there is no dignity and without independence there are no free men.

Cruelty, insults and torture can never force me to ask for mercy, because I prefer to die with head high, with indestructible faith and profound belief in the destiny of our country than to live in humility and renounce the principles which are sacred to me.

The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations.

It will be the history which will be taught in the countries which have won freedom from colonialism and its puppets.

Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity.

Do not weep for me. I know that my tormented country will be able to defend its freedom and its independence.

Long live the Congo!

Long live Africa!

Thysville prison

Patrice LUMUMBA

The passion of uncle Ruckus, House of Slaves, the Slave Trade

Uncle Ruckus: If you black of skin and full of sin, come forward so I may lay my hands on you.

[slaps a black man]

Uncle Ruckus: Black be gone!
[slaps black woman]

Uncle Ruckus: Praise White Jesus!
[slaps another black man]

Uncle Ruckus: Now, I want everybody to find the nearest black man and lay hands on him. But first, make sure your hand is balled up in a fist so you can beat the black outta his soul. God smiles when you hate blackness so you beat that darkie in the name of the Almighty! Hallelujah!
[the whole congregation starts beating each other. Granddad pulls Tom away from the melee]

Uncle Ruckus: That’s right! Ronald Regan said ‘Beat a blackie and go to Heaven.’ God is good! Now, let us pray. Lord, I have spent my whole life hating you for making me black. And now I see I must hate myself and all those like me. And cause them misery just like your servant, Ronald Reagan did. And if any of my words don’t come directly from the Almighty God himself, then may I be struck by lightning right this very instant! Halle-

[Ruckus is struck by lightning]

Uncle Ruckus: AAAAHHHHHHH!

(Scene from Boondocks)

Pause and Rewind.

I would like to go back in time, back to a place where being black was indeed a crime and burden, a place that knows pain and anguish, has seen both tears and immense fear, witnessed countless deaths as well as countless atrocities; a place known for the role that it played in the slave trade era; that place being Goree Island.

To be more specific, the place is Maison des esclaves, a slave house that has in fact been preserved well and looks just as it did several hundreds of years ago.

IMAG5477_1

As I set foot into the building, I couldn’t help but try and fathom what was going through the minds of women, children and men as they stepped into the house back then. Some fighting to avoid getting in despite the heavy shackles on their feet; others silent from the acceptance of their impending doom; others being unable to look their children in the eye, while others breaking down from the sight of them. Honestly, I couldn’t fathom it, and just those thoughts in themselves made my chest tense up.

IMAG5476_2_1

Below is a picture showing the manner in which the slaves were ferried across; stacked as if lifeless objects or what you would of marbles in a bowl.

IMAG5526_1

Below is the children’s room which is about 8 square foot in size and that held 30 in number. Children were separated from their parents and were left to relieve themselves within the same space; this is the same place in which they were fed.

IMAG5508_1

Below is one of the windows in the room, one can see that the opening narrows outward to avoid the children from escaping.

IMAG5498_1

Below is where the rogue prisoners were kept. A small space underneath the stairs that led to the colonial master’s quarters above. The prisoners were stacked there whether dead or alive. One can only imagine the trauma and disease.

IMAG5506_1_1

A sobering fact to note is that the colonial masters held parties and hosted dinners in the top quarters while the slaves were at the bottom barely a few metres away.

IMAG5479_1

Quite the sobering and heart wrenching visit.

IMAG5528_1

The slave trade era dates back hundreds of years yet whose reverberations still ring true today. This is what I wish to write on today. Mental slavery as witnessed through uncle Ruckus above and many of us through our day to day activities.

On various platforms today, be it political, social or economic, Africa is still yet to rid itself of its shackles.

IMAG5544_1

(Art piece by Goree Island resident)

For starters, when did it become okay for us to export majority of our agricultural produce when our citizens still die from hunger?

The recently convened African Union second high level private sector and agribusiness meeting saw discussions surrounding this topic. A participant rightly put it when he stated that Africa has lagged behind in emancipating itself from slavery giving the example of Nigeria which imports tea from England when it could do so from Kenya. This statement is not only true for the West African state, but one that sheds light on the entire continent. Today intra African trade stands at barely 12%.

Moving on, when was it ever okay to require 33 visas to travel around Africa? In fact to connect between some countries in Africa, one needs to leave the continent only to fly back in.

When did headlines such as these ever become acceptable especially in the year 2014?

“14 African Countries Forced by France to Pay Colonial Tax for the Benefits of Slavery and Colonization”

The article continues as follows… “14 African countries are obliged by France, trough a colonial pact, to put 85% of their foreign reserve into France central bank under French minister of Finance control. Until now, 2014, Togo and about 13 other African countries still have to pay colonial debt to France.” To read the full article kindly do so here.

Where did we go wrong?

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds,” Bob Marley stated.

Indeed there is no temptation so insidious as the one of pointing fingers when it comes to slavery today. No one is to blame but us. Uncle Ruckus rants are our own doing.

When will we begin to take pan africanism and the African renaissance seriously?

“Besides, political independence, though worthwhile in itself, is still only a means to the fuller redemption and realization of a people. When independence has been gained, positive action requires a new orientation away from the sheer destruction of colonialism and towards national reconstruction. It is indeed in this address to national reconstruction that positive action faces its gravest dangers. The cajolement, the wheedling, the seductions and the Trojan horses of neocolonialism must be stoutly resisted, for neocolonialism is a latter-day harpy, a monster which entices its victims with sweet music. In order to be able to carry out this resistance to neo-colonialism at every point, positive action requires to be armed with an ideology, an ideology which, vitalizing it, and operating through a mass party with a regenerative concept of the world and life, forge for it a strong continuing link with our past and offer to it an assured bond with our future. Under the searchlight of an ideology, every fact affecting the life of a people can be assessed and judged, and neo-colonialism’s detrimental aspirations and sleights of hand will constantly stand. In order that this ideology should be comprehensive, in order that it should light up every aspect of the life of our people, in order that it should affect the total interest of our society, establishing a continuity with our past, it must be socialist in form and in content and be embraced by a mass party.” Kwame Nkurumah

image
(Friends at the door of no return)

Entoto, Ethiopia: Part I

Its 3 am in the morning in Addis, the rain is pounding hard, it’s pretty cold and I can’t sleep. My mind and thoughts are in Entoto, a relatively large mountainous region in the outskirts of Addis Ababa.

My mind is here for one reason only; the remarkable women that I had met a few days earlier; Aster, Alamnish and Abavechi.

“I wonder what Aster is up to,” I think to myself. Maybe she’s asleep? Or is she chatting with her 6 children this very moment? Or has she already left her house to head out into the mountains to pick firewood? I for one am freezing my brains off, are her and her loved ones warm enough up there?

“Nyagz, try and sleep your mind will explode,” I tell myself. But my brain was on overdrive till day break, I just couldn’t sleep.

Allow me to introduce you to Aster, Abavechi and Alamnish; very beautiful, strong and graceful women that I met on my final stop in Entoto; and final in the sense that the cab could not go any higher up the steep slope. The car engine coughed and sputtered and finally gave in. It was time to head back down.

IMAG4776_1 (1)

Just as we turned the car is when we saw the three ladies heading down the steep slope with what seemed as heaps upon heaps of wood. “Oh my goodness, “I exclaimed to my friend Hedego. “Is this for real?”

“It is my dear.”

Entoto is a mountainous region that is approximately 3,200 metres above sea level and was home to Menelik II when he founded Addis. This is an area densely populated with eucalyptus trees so maybe you can understand why on this rainy morning; my thoughts were with the ladies and their families.

I had been here about two years prior visiting some tourist sites, Menelik II’s palace and a religious church called Entoto Maryam church, both sites that are very rich in history and culture. (I highly recommend)

It was on this first visit to Entoto that I encountered the women in this area. Back then I was astounded just I was that very moment when I saw the ladies, only difference is that this time around I had come to interact with them.

“Salamnu,” I say. “Salamnu, they reply back.

That’s as far as my Amharic goes and so I ask my friend Hedego to ask them kindly if they could take some time to speak with me to which they agree.

“We need to rest anyway, so there’s no problem,” Aster says as she walks to the side of the road with the others following suit. They all put down their bundles of wood in unison and look me squarely in the eyes awaiting my questions. This caught me off guard I must admit as I wasn’t quite prepared for their quick cooperation.

I begin by introducing myself and explaining my reason for wanting to speak with them; which was to gain a little more insight into their lives (quite intrusive if you ask me) but thus far, this forward approach has worked for me.

I ask them if it would be okay to pay them something small for their time and this seems to tickle Aster. “Of course daughter, I will never say no to money, I’m not even sure I’d speak to you without you offering it.”

“Do you ladies know each other?” we begin, “No we do not, we introduce ourselves to each other in the morning as we head up into the forest or on our way back down. “We are usually there by 5 am and only make our way back after 10 hours; you are bound to make friends on the way,” Alamnish informs me.

“I have many friends,” Abavechi quips.

I come to learn that the women spend most of the day in the forest and sell their collection at the bottom of the slope for about 20-25 Birr ( $ 1-1.25 )

This load that I speak of is approximately 35-40 kgs or could be more. I could not fathom the weight on my back after lifting it with my hands (which I was still unable to) and so my friend Hedego tested it out. The poor guy could barely flinch let alone take a step. Alamnish had to help him.

IMG_20141004_185118

“This is out of this world,” he exclaims.

I also come to learn that both Abavechi and Alamnish have husbands who work in the textile industry and that it is they who chiseled tools for them to use in the forest. For Aster it was a different story, “Ah my ex husband is a nobody,” she says in between laughs. ”Ok not a nobody per se he sends me 1000 Birr ($ 50 ) from time to time for our 6 children.”

She seems to think about it for a split second and looks at me again, “Ah my dear, let’s call him a nobody.”

”One day when I went into the forest I returned home to find him gone.  Despite the aching back and long hours on this road, I was always on time to make food for him and the kids.”

What intrigued me most about Aster is that from the get go she kept eye contact with me the whole time yet my friend Hedego was the one translating our conversation. It felt like a woman to woman conversation.

I came to learn that Aster has 6 children, Abavechi one child and Alamnish 2; who are all in school. “You cannot undervalue education; not after the government has made this much an effort in providing it for our children. We can only play our part and that is by being responsible mothers. That is why we have to make ends meet by all means; our kids can only help us over the school holidays,” Aster says.

I commend them on this and can’t help but think of the words George Manblot once said. If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work, then every woman in Africa would be a millionaire; Alamnish, Aster and Abavechi being at the front line.

“Egzi’abher yibarkih” we say to each other, which means in Amharic, God bless you as we part ways.

IMG_20141005_004415 (1)

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: