The Woyingi Blog

Woyingi Links of the Week: August 28th to September 4th 2012

What the Woyingi Blogger stumbled upon over the last week

Britain

Africa: Hollywood’s Invisible Continent

Eritrean British journalist Hannah Pool wrote this article in 2011 in The Guardian. In this article which promotes the Film Africa Festival and discusses the need for us all to watch more African Cinema, she asks:

How is it that stories produced by Africans, be it film, music, or literature, are still considered niche, worthy, or somehow “less” than art created by non-Africans? At best, African cinema is considered “art house”, African art is labelled “craft”, and African literature must focus on the big three (famine, war or poverty) to be deemed authentic…If Africa is only ever viewed through a western prism, how can you expect to have anything other than a deeply unbalanced view of a continent of more than 50 countries and 2,000 languages?

She bemoans the difficulty faced by African filmmakers to get their films distributed in the West:

Why do film distributors never come under fire for failing to adequately distribute African cinema? And why is it assumed that white audiences prefer Africa to come with a thinly veiled colonial backdrop, which usually involves a white hero saving a poor downtrodden country from itself? Blood Diamond, anyone? Africans are now telling their own stories. It’s time the rest of the world started consuming them.

Guyana/Britain

Grace Nichols Returns to Guyana

I have discovered BBC’s awesome Learning Zone sites which provides video clips and ideas for teachers to explore a variety of topics in class. The site includes videos featuring the poetry of Guyanese British poet Grace Nichols. The videos include readings of some of her poems. In the clip, Grace Nichols Returns to Guyana, Grace reflects on her trip to her homeland Guyana. In another clip, Grace Nichols-“Even Tho”, Grace discusses finding her voice as a poet and the use of Standard English versus Creole. Unfortunately, the video is only available fro viewers in the UK. I found a great video interview with Grace Nichols where she discusses and recites her poem Island Man on Youtube.

Kenya/United States

US group raises red flag over chemical in Coke

In Business Daily Africa, I came across this article by David Mugwe which contains some startling information for people who drink Coke. According to the US-Based consumer advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the level of the cancer-causing chemical 4 methylimidizole (4-MI) in Coca Cola are too high, the highest levels recorded are in the Coca Cola sold in Brazil and Kenya. According to the article about their findings on the CSPI site:

The carcinogen forms when the ammoniated caramel coloring used in colas is industrially produced. Coke began using a less-contaminated caramel coloring earlier this year in California after the state required a cancer-warning notice on soft drinks with excessive levels of 4-MI.

But according to Business Daily Africa, there is no intention to change the level of this carcinogen in Kenya:

The Coca Cola office in Nairobi said there were no plans to change the formula, saying its products were safe. “All of our products are safe and comply with regulations in every country where we operate. Regulators throughout the world have approved the use of caramel in our products,” said Norah Odwesso, the Public Affairs and Communications Director for Coca-Cola Central East and West Africa Business Unit. She said the company was not changing its formula and, therefore, would not affect the colour, taste and quality of its drinks. The firm does not agree with the State of California’s decision to require a warning label on some food products containing trace levels of 4-MI.

You can view more information about CSPI’s findings here.

Nigeria

A FarmVille for Africa

Nigerian start-up Maliyo Games is profiled in the BBC Online’s Technology Section. The company creates online games for the African Market. As one of the company’s founders, Oluseye Soyode-Johnson, states:

We looked at the local culture, the local attitudes and trends, and we tried to make games out of them,” Obi says. For Maliyo, that meant creating local characters, and putting them in familiar environments. In a game called Okada Ride, you are the cheeky driver of one of the many motorbikes (Okadas) that can be found on the streets of Lagos. In an effort to get to your office as quickly as possible, you pilot the bike through traffic, and avoid potholes, policemen, and other obstacles that are common on Nigeria’s streets and roads.

The article also discusses the African mobile market where smartphones do not yet dominate, but that is quickly changing. According to South African-based Tech Consultant Andrew McHenry:

The biggest trend right now is probably the rise of $50 to $100 Android-based smartphones across the continent. As we see more of these devices come online, you’ll see more native application games with in-app purchasing becoming available.

Many of these phones are being sold by Chinese companies. Hugo Obi, also with Maliyo Games, notes some of the challenges involved in drawing in the African market for phone apps:

Traditionally, Africans don’t use credit or debit cards to purchase things on the web, or on mobile devices. So, we need to think about how we’re going to give people opportunity to purchase these games, or make in-app purchases

The games currently on offer through Maliyo include Mosquito Smasher,  where to get to smash annoying mosquitoes, Kidnapped, where you have to save your neighbourhoods who have been kidnapped and held for ransom, and My Village, for those nostalgic for the rural life they have left to come to Lagos. If you want to learn more about Maliyo Games, visit their website and view this video interview with the company’s founders.

Somaliland/Canada

Fahima Osman, surgeon and DOVE Role Model

Dove Soap has complied profiles of Female Role Models which have been posted on YouTube. American singer Mandy Moore introduces these videos. Somali-Canadian Fahima Osman is profiled. Here is the description of her profile:

Fahima wanted to be a doctor from age 5. Along her journey from Somalian refugee to heroine of her community, she faced quiet racism and discouragement. Now, as the first Canadian-trained doctor in her community, surgeon and volunteer in Somaliland, she should be famous for inspiring women and refugees everywhere with her determination and success.

The video can be viewed online here. In 2011 Fahima won a John Hopkins Global Health Scholarship. She is studying at John Hopkins School of Public Health. She states:

My career goals are to improve access to health care resources in rural communities, particularly in the field of breast cancer. The research skills acquired at Johns Hopkins School of public health will allow me to increase the body of knowledge in access to health care services disparities and find ways to improve access in underserviced areas in North America and in Somaliland.

Uganda

How to share the wealth of Uganda’s oil?

Catherine Byaruhanga reports for the BBC about the current debate brewing in Uganda about how to ensure that Uganda’s new found oil weath is shared fairly. There is already local concern from farmers and fishermen that they are being displaced from government land around Lake Albert because of the oil exploration. Tullow Oil is currently the biggest player in Uganda’s oil industry. They say they are building clinics, schools and roads so that local communities benefit from the growing oil extraction industry. Fears of government corruption surrounding the burgoening oil industry have already been raised but Ugandan Ministry of Energy Spokesman Bukenya Matuvou dismisses them. You can watch the video report here.

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About The Prudent Women’s Foundation in Nigeria

Posted in Nigerian Women, The Woyingi Blogger by the woyingi blogger on June 12, 2011

After learning of the Leading Women, Building Communities Award I was honoured with by the Government of Ontario, my father decided to introduce me to his neighbour, Ijeoma Chinakwe, the founder of The Prudent Women’s Foundation. We spoke on the phone and by e-mail and Facebook. I learned that Ijeoma has worked with Baobab for Women’s Human Rights, based in Lagos, which is a Nigerian women’s rights organization that I have been following with much interest for years. I have taken a great interest in the work of The Prudent Women’s Foundation as well after learning more about it from Ijeoma.

The Prudent Women's Foundation in Nigeria (Ijeoma is standing in the centre in a pink dress)

The Prudent Women’s Foundation came into existence as the result of personal experiences and research carried out by women’s rights and legal activists. The team is composed of about 25 people including women right activists, school directors, social scientists, doctors and religion workers. The Foundation aims at addressing on a grassroots level women’s rights issues in Nigeria such as  high rate of unwanted pregnancies among Nigerian women, some resulting in early death caused by abortion; the high school drop out rate among female children; the intimidation of widows; and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

According to Ijeoma “Our goal, to help youths and adults (mostly mothers and widows) to adopt healthy behaviour and sustainable life styles. Our mission is to equip the women with much knowledge and services that will improve their physical, mental and social well-being; also to promote and protect women, widows and young girls.”

For example, The Prudent Women’s Foundation conducted a workshop in Imo State, in Eastern Nigeria aimed at supporting widows. Widows who have no male children are particularly vulnerable to intimidation by their late husband’s family. According to Ijeoma, “ a case was reported of a woman with three girls without any male child. The woman was forcefully pushed out of her matrimonial home by her husband’s relatives. This is because she had no male child for their brother for the years they lived together as a couple. As a result of these, she was sent out with her three female children with nothing to fall back to.

While looking to learn more about Ijeoma’s work, I discovered a fascinating article about Nigerian sex workers and their allies.  On March 3 2011, Nigerian sex workers in Lagos celebrated International Sex Workers’ Rights Day by marching for their rights.

Celebration of the day began in 2001 in India when Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta based group whose membership consists of somewhere upwards of 50,000 sex workers and members of their communities, organized a sex worker festival. Sex worker groups across the world have subsequently celebrated 3 March as International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. For the first time in Nigeria, sex workers publicly teamed up with their counterparts in cities across Africa, mobilized by the Africa Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA), to celebrate the day.

According to Margaret Onah, founder of Safe Haven International which aims at supporting girls and women who are victims of violence and co-ordinator of the Africa Sex Workers Alliance in Nigeria, the day is important in order to put an end to “the human rights violations against sex workers and to build in its place an enabling human rights environment in which sex workers enjoy the full-scale of their rights. This include being afforded equal protection of the law and opportunity to practice sex work without fear of prejudice in their communities.”

The march culminated in a gathering under Falomo Bridge in Ikoyi, Lagos where Ijeoma Chinakwe spoke to the crowd and told the women to “be proud of what you are doing. Do not let anybody trample on your rights. Everybody passed through something before they became what they are today.”

I will continue to follow the work of The Prudent Women’s Foundation and Ijeoma Chinakwe.

Further Reading:

Violence Against Women Without a Male Child by Ijeoma Chinakwe, article from Baobab for Women’s Human Rights blog available online

Blessed are the Sex Workers by F. Adebayo 2011 article in Tell Nigeria’s Independent Weekly available online

2008 Interview with Margaret Onah avaiable online

Video of the 2011 International Sex Workers Rights Day march in Johannesburg available online

Baobab for Women’s Human Rights Website

Africa Sex Workers Alliance Website

Play Review: Burned to Nothing by Rex Obano

Recently, I got to listen to BBC Radio 4’s Afternoon Play entitled Burned to Nothing by Rex Obano. The BBC Radio 4’s synopsis of the play states:

Matthew returns to Nigeria, the land of his birth. He has come to secure the release of his son who has become caught up in the politics of a land in turmoil; a land he has fallen in love with.

The cast of the play is as follows:

Matthew …. Lucian Msamati

The General …. Jude Akuwudike

Medina …. Lorraine Burroughs

Keith …. David Ajala

Sunday …. Obi Abili

Inenevwerha …. Gbemisola Ikumelo

Director: Femi Elufowoju Jr.

The story begins in Britain with couple Matthew and Medina being interrupted by a telephone call from Nigeria. The scene changes rapidly to an airport in Port Harcourt in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Medina is upset because thieves have run off with her bag and the houseboy, Sunday, did nothing to stop them. Matthew doesn’t seem to really care; he is more concerned with why he and Medina have come to Nigeria-to find his teenage son who is missing after reportedly been involved in an oil fire that has killed many people. He speaks with local Area Boys in order to find someone who can help him locate his son and they direct him to The General. From the General, Matthew learns that his son has become an activist for the rights of the people negatively affected by oil drilling and has joined the group Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). He demands that Matthew bring money in order to continue the search for his son and bribe the police who are also searching for his son because of his involvement in the fire. 

As the story progresses, we learn that Matthew, a British Nigerian widower and engineer who grew up in Warri but left when he was 10, sent his then 13 year old son, Keith, to live with his aunt in Warri after his son shot him. His son Keith was getting involved with local gangs in Peckham and also was very unhappy about his father’s relationship with British Jamaican Medina. Five years later, and Keith has gone missing.

Medina is very uncomfortable in Nigeria and looks for comfort and advice from her father who used to work in the Jamaican Embassy in Nigeria. Matthew asks Medina for the money to give to the General, some $20,000, and her father helps her get it into the country. After reading a news article about the devastation of the oil fire which is blamed on Keith, Medina concludes that Keith is dead but Matthew doesn’t believe her. According to the article, Keith, as well as other Niger Delta militants, was involved in illegal oil bunkering, basically stealing oil from oil pipelines. As many of the local people can’t get access to or afford fuel, they often try to come and collect some of this oil as well, although most of the oil is collected by militants in order to pay for supplies and arms in their struggle. Fires often break out at these pipelines, as had happened in this case, and many people died. Matthew and Medina go to visit the site of the oil fire with Sunday and they meet Inenevwerha, who lives in abject poverty and whose brother died in the fire. Matthew was told that she had seen his son but she doesn’t speak of him and instead breaks down after talking about the devastation of the oil fire which burned people down to their bones. Medina is deeply moved by Inenevwerha’s story.

Matthew is still convince that his son did not die in the fire. He confronts the General who admits that Keith is not dead and that he is actually hiding him from the police. It is the General who indoctrinated Keith into the resistance movement of the Niger Delta. The General considers Keith to be like his son, as he and his wife have been unable to have children due to infertility produced by oil pollution. Matthew gets to see Keith, who now wants to be called by his Nigerian name Keefay. Keith tells his father how abandoned he felt when he was sent to Nigeria but he is also happy because it is in Nigeria that he learned to be a man. Matthew learns that Keith is actually in a relationship with Inenevwerha and they are expecting a child. Matthew asks for Keith’s forgiveness and the father and son are reconciled. Matthew leaves the money with Keith and says that he will stay in Port Harcourt as he wishes to see the birth of his grandchild.

Personal Reflections:

The play explores identity as we see through out that Matthew is trying to assert his “Nigerianness” but constantly fails because he is out of touch with the political situation and can’t even really understand the local language anymore, apart from pidgin English. When he finally meets his son, he has to demand that he speak to him in English. Medina and Matthew’s relationship seems to fracture also because of identity. Medina, although Black, isn’t African or Nigerian and feels very out of place in the Niger Delta. Matthew doesn’t seem to appreciate the situation he’s put her in and goes on to demand to borrow a large sum of money from her. At the end of the play, he dismisses Keith’s concerns that Medina might not be happy to learn that Matthew wants to stay in Nigeria. Matthew’s lack of consideration for Medina upset me and seemed completely disrespectful, particularly after he borrowed the money from her. It’s as if in reclaiming his Nigerian identity and thus being able to connect with his son, he feels he must reject Medina and her Black British identity. It seems that Matthew is asked to choose between Medina and what she represents and his son, the choice which Keith had demanded his father make five years earlier when he shot him. Medina’s character is not played or written to be unlikable, quite the opposite, which makes Matthew’s treatment of her even more troubling.

The injustices facing the peoples of the Niger Delta are very clearly laid out in the play and will hopefully draw Westerners’ attention to the ever worsening situation in the area.

Further Reading:

Interview (2009) with Rex Obano available online

Interview (2010) with Rex Obano available online

Interview with Lorraine Burroughs available online

Interview (2010) with Lorraine Burroughs available online

Interview with Gbemisola Ikumelo available online

Interview (2003) with Femi Elufowoju Jr.available online

Interview (2009) with Femi Elufowoju Jr. available online

Interview (2010) with Femi Elufowouju Jr. avaialble online

Blood Oil dripping from Nigeria by A. Walker (BBC article available online)

Black Firsts: Rotimi Adebari, Ireland’s First Black Mayor

Posted in African Diaspora in Ireland, Black Firsts, Countries: Ireland, Nigerian Diaspora by the woyingi blogger on December 29, 2010

Rotimi Adebari

On June 28th, 2007, Rotimi Adebari , a Nigerian-born father of four, made history when he became Ireland’s first Black mayor. Adebari was elected mayor of the town of Port Laoise, in County Laois, in the province of Leinster, in the midlands of  the Republic of Ireland.  Adebari ran as an independent. Adebari came to Ireland as an asylum seeker in 2000 from Nigeria.

Before I go on to discuss Rotimi Adebari, I want to take a closer look at the Republic of Ireland in general and the town of Port Laoise in particular. 

One can find parallels between the history of the Irish people and other colonized indigenous peoples. Ireland was literally colonized by the English. Even before the religious division that further divided English Anglicans from Irish Roman Catholics, the Irish (Gaelic) were viewed by their colonizers (Normans and the English) as uncivilized savages and barbarians. In reaction to the fact that many of Ireland’s colonizers were beginning to intermarry with and take on the culture and language of the indigenous Gaelic population, England enacted The Statutes of Kilkenny in 1367. The statutes forbade the English settlers from marrying the Irish, adopting Irish children, and using Irish names and dress because English authorities were concerned that the English settlers were becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves. The expression “beyond the pale“, which means unacceptable behaviour (His behaviour was really beyond the pale) actually refers to this time period. The Pale was the demarcation line between territory in Ireland that was directly under English control and therefore “civilized”. It is clear that the English really perceived the Irish as a different race. Even as recently as the 1950s, English landlords actually put out “No Irish need apply” signs while renting out houses and apartments.

The Republic of Ireland has long had the reputation of being one of the most ethnically and religiously homogeneous countries in Western Europe. Since its independence from Britain, the Republic of Ireland has also been considered Western Europe’s poorest country. It’s been known more for its emigrants than its immigrants. So many Irish have fled Ireland over the last two centuries that the Republic still has a population less than it had before the Potato Famine of the 1840s (As a bizarre example of positive Muslim-Christian relations, The Ottoman Sultan actually donated money and three shiploads of food to support those starving in Ireland) The Irish abroad faced a great deal of discrimination based on religion and culture. Although many found success in their newfound lands, many also faced gruelling poverty becoming part of North America’s exploited working classes. As we can see here in Canada, many Irish settled in the Maritimes, worked in horrendous conditions in mines, and still haven’t escaped cycles of poverty. However, beginning in the mid 90s, the Republic of Ireland went through an economic boom, sometimes being called “the Celtic Tiger” in comparison with the economic growth of Asian countries. This led to an influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe, South Asia and Africa attracted by jobs and some of Europe’s most generous immigration laws. Several of these migrants came as asylum seekers (some 30,000), most from Nigeria. As you can imagine, integrating into a society like that of the Irish hasn’t been easy. The Irish government has recognized this and actually created a Minister of State for Integration! I would think that the recent crash of Ireland’s economy and rising unemployment (currently 14%) is only going to escalate anti-immigrant sentiment.

The town of Port Laoise is about an hour’s ride outside of Dublin. As of 2006, Port Laoise had a population of 14, 613. That’s quite small I would think.  The major employers in the town are the Irish Department of Agriculture and Port Laoise Prison, a maximum security prison which housed the majority of Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners sentenced in the Republic of Ireland. But the majority of prisoners are in there on drug-related convictions. The town is also the base of the international charity organization Self Help Africa, which promotes and implements long-term rural development projects in Africa. It’s the first Anglo-Irish development agency. It appears that Port Laoise is mostly a commuter town for people who work in Dublin but can’t or don’t want to live there.

So how did this small Irish town make history?

Rotimi Adebari was born in 1964 in Oke Odan, Ogun State, Nigeria. Ogun State borders the Republic of  Benin. Its capital is Abeokuta. Although I haven’t discovered it in my research, I would assume that Adebari is ethnically Yoruba. He studied Economics in University. He was never involved in politics in Nigeria, however he did take on leadership roles at school and he was a chief of a local Palmwine Drinkards’ Club, otherwise known as a Kegite among Nigerians. He also worked in the marketing division of a television station.

He is a Christian and his interest in Ireland developed out of his relationship with an inspirational Irish missionary in Nigeria. When Adebari arrived in 2000 in the Republic of Ireland he claimed asylum based on religious persecution. When he made headlines in 2007, many Nigerians were elated but his claim that he fled from Oke Odan due to religious persecution didn’t hold water and the newspaper THIS DAY investigated his claims and found them to be wanting. There is no doubt there is religious persecution of Christians in Nigeria but this occurs mainly in the Middle Belt and Nigeria’s North, not in the South-Western Yoruba heartland! Actually, according to THIS DAY, Oke Odan is a majority Christian town, with a minority of adherents of traditional African religions! Also, although there were no interreligious clashes in the town in 2000, there was a serious flood that left many of the town’s residents homeless. It also appears that some Oke Odan residents want him to return to Nigeria and run for Governor of Ogun State in 2011. The controversy over the legitimacy of Adebari’s asylum claim has helped fuel racist and anti-immigrant reactions to Adebari’s election. On Youtube, I was rather shocked to find comments demanding that Adebari be deported for coming into the country on a false claim. However, they should know that according to The Associated Press Adebari wasn’t granted asylum due to insufficient evidence of direct religious persecution. His family’s citizenship was established because his third child was born in Ireland. However, in 2003, Ireland stopped granting automatic citizenship to immigrants whose children were born in the Republic and in 2004 it stopped granting automatic citizenship to children born in Ireland whose parents were not citizens Actually, Adebari’s asylum claim hampered him because asylum seekers are not permitted to work in Ireland. Instead, Adebari began volunteering and helped to found the organization Suil (Supporting the Unemployed in Laois) that lobbies for the interests of the unemployed. As Adebari puts it: “I got involved in the community and I volunteered. It gave me the opportunity to meet people firsthand and they got to know me.”

Whatever the circumstances of his coming to Ireland, Adebari soon went to work making a name for himself, and as Port Laoise is a small town, you can’t say that he got the “immigrant vote”. In 2004, Adebari, by then a citizen, was elected to the Port Laoise town council, as a councillor. Adebari earned a Master’s Degree in Intercultural Studies from Dublic City University. In 2005, he won an award from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland. On their site, they give the following description of Adebari’s accomplishments:

Rotimi hosts a local community radio programme, called “Respecting Difference” on Midlands 103. The programme draws on the presenter’s experience and his election into Portlaoise Town Council to serve as an inspiration to the socially disadvantaged in the community, by engaging in discussions that motivate and offer a lift to people currently experiencing social exclusion.

Originally from Nigeria, Rotimi Adebari has lived in Portlaoise for the last 5 years. He is an elected member of Portlaoise Town Council, and has a Masters degree in Intercultural studies at Dublin City University.

He works with Dublin City University on the European Intercultural Workplace Project (EIW). He delivers training in intercultural awareness and anti-racism issues and works in association with local, regional and national groups to achieve an integrated society where everyone has a sense of belonging

He is an elected member of the National Executive Committee of INOU – Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, and is a director on the board of Portlaoise Community Action Project (PCAP).

Rotimi is also a founding member of Suil – An organisation that provides support for the unemployed in Laois, and a member of Laois Ethnic Minority Support Group.

Adebari also set up a consultancy firm, “Optimum Point”, which trains companies and educational institutions on cross-cultural awareness.

What those who aren’t familiar with Irish regional politics need to understand is that the town did not elect Rotimi Adebari as mayor. The town council did. The Port Laoise Town Council is made up for 9 town councillors. Six of the nine town councillors voted for Adebari to be mayor. Again, those who are outspokenly against a “non-national” being a mayor have blamed “political correctness” for Adebari’s election. I somehow doubt this. I think it had a lot more to do with him being an independent candidate while many of the other town councillors were party affiliated. Adebari was actually supported by two rival parties, the “left-wing” Sinn Fein and the “right-wing”  Fine Gael. So, Adebari’s real accomplishment, and one not to be underestimated, was getting elected as a town councillor in the first place. Adebari has said that he owes the success of his campaign for town councillor to this campaign team. He explains:

It was one team, but in the team we had Africans, Irish and non-Irish as well. But when I went out knocking on doors I went with Irish members of the team. The reason is because I understand the society. This is a society that some people are yet to come to terms with their changing world. In November 2001, a man approached me on the street and said he had never seen a black man before. So you can imagine, if two black people then went knocking on the doors, the sort of reception they would probably get. And I thought that won’t be a good idea. I did go knocking on doors with Irish members of my team, and we were well received. That is not to say that there were no instances where people slammed their doors in our faces. But it was not because I am black. They slammed their doors probably because they were disillusioned with politics.

But why did people vote for him? According to Adebari, his manifesto (in Canada we would call it a platform) related to people’s concerns and his experience volunteering in the community and setting up an organization representing the interests of the unemployed helped him to really understand these concerns. As he says:

I understand the issues. I was only four years in the country then, but my antecedent over those four years, what I have been involved in. I set up a support group for the unemployed. I was in the board of community organization in Portlaoise that caters for the lone-parents, the travellers, etc. So I understand the issues of each and everyone. And it was all these issues that I brought together, in putting my manifestoes. What is there for the unemployed in the country and what is not there for them? What aspect of education do I want an improvement on? Services to the youths and the elderly. Is there anything in the town for them? All these and more were the things I put together.

According to Adebari, the secret of his success was just getting involved in his community. As he says: “I want to encourage immigrants to be a force in their communities, to engage with their communities. People will get to know you. Their perception of you will change just like that. That’s what happened to me.”

But why did Adebari decide to go into politics? In an interview in Xclusive, an magazine for the African Diaspora in Ireland, Adebari explains:

When I arrived here in 2000, if anyone had said to me that I would be going into politics, I would have said to that person that he was joking. I felt I was not cut out for politics. I was looking at politics the way it is played back home in Africa. We all perceive politics like dirty water: if you don’t want to get stained, don’t get involved. I remember during my college days in Nigeria my Political Science lecturer used to say to us that, if you want to know the name that people call you at your back go into politics: they will no longer call you that name at your back, they will say it to your face. I would have arrived here with that mindset as well. But I see those of us who are here as the first generation of immigrants in Ireland. That is not to say that immigrants have not been coming here before we arrived, but it wasn’t as evident as it is in the last ten years. So we are like the first generation, and we know we have to really put something in place for generations coming behind. It got to a point that I had to say to myself what legacy do I have to leave for generation coming behind? Maybe one of those legacies would be to get involved in politics. One other thing that might have led me into politics was the image of Nigeria in Ireland at that time. They associated anything with Nigeria with fraud, criminality and all that. So it was like something has to be done. And I thought maybe politics was one of the ways to go: if I got elected people would begin to see that we are not all criminals.

There is no doubt that Adebari is a pioneer and the immigrants of Ireland will need him because I foresee that times will be tough for them now that Ireland’s economy has crashed, and not only will they face discrimination at work and school, but actual physical violence. Frankly, I’m afraid for them. And they include one of my Nigerian cousins and her family who live in Limerick.  But I am also hopeful. Many immigrants in Ireland, particularly Africans, are making names for themselves and showing that African immigrants are not all criminals. Maybe someday, they too will be accused of being more Irish than the Irish themselves.

Further Reading:

Rotimi Adebari’s Website

Rotimi Adebari’s 2007 Interview with Xclusive Magazine

Ireland Gets Its First Black Mayor by Shawn Pogatchnik (2007 article available online)

Ireland elects first Black Mayor (BBC article available online)

Laois County Council Article about Rotimi Adebari (article available online)

‘New’ Ireland’s changes go more than skin deep: Country long known as a land of emigrants is transformed by migrants (article available online)

Life in the land of a thousand welcomes by Crispin Rodwell (TIME article available online)

The African Voice Ireland’s No. 1 African Community Newspaper Website

Xclusive Magazine: Ireland’s African only lifestyle monthly and the first and only African magazine to break into the mainstream Irish media market

Akina Dada wa Africa (AkiDwA; Swahili for sisterhood) is an authoritative, minority ethnic-led national network of African and migrant women living in Ireland. The non-governmental organisation with charitable status was established in August 2001 by a group of African women to address the needs of an expanding population of African and migrant women resident in Ireland. The organisation is a recognised authoritative and representative body for migrant women, irrespective of their national/ethnic background, tradition, religious beliefs, socio-economic or legal status. AkiDwA’s advocacy approach is based on a gender perspective and the organisation promotes an equal society, free of racism, discrimination and stereotyping. AkiDwA’s advocacy approach is based on strengthening migrant women’s voice, applying a gender perspective to policies and practices and the promotion of equality of migrant women in Irish society, free of gender and racial stereotyping.

Irish Aid’s Africa Day Website

Africa Centre Dublin Website

A Short History of Ireland: A BBC Radio Series that tells the story of Ireland from the Ice Age to the present over 240 episodes. Transcripts of each episode are available on this site.

My Father is Older than Nigeria: Nigeria at 50

Posted in All About My Nigerian Father, Countries: Nigeria, The Woyingi Blogger by the woyingi blogger on October 1, 2010

On October 1, 1960, Nigeria achieved independence from Great Britain. Today marks Nigeria’s 50th Independence Day. Some Nigerians in Nigeria and in Diaspora will be celebrating. Other will be continuing the debate which has raged long before Nigeria gained independence: Is Nigeria a real state or just a geographical expression created by colonialists?  Others will be asking a recent but related question; is Nigeria a failed state?

I can’t answer any of these questions. I’ve never even been to Nigeria. But the country has shaped me because that’s where my father lives and where I long to visit and see him.

My father is older than Nigeria. He’s in his sixties. Nigeria’s only 50.

When I think about my father, his potential, and how things fell apart for him I see parallels with Nigeria, all its potential, and how so much of it has been wasted and has left its citizens, including its youth, so bitter and disappointed. But I like to think that my father has made the best of a bad situation. He is loved by his neighbours, who respect him as an elder and call upon him for advice and to mediate disputes. These people took him to the hospital when he had a stroke two years ago, paid his medical bills, and called upon a traditional Ijaw healer to speed up his recovery. I am grateful to them for all this.

Nigeria is its people, who are diverse and divided. But this is only to be expected in a country with possibly about 514 different languages. Nigerians, even the poorest, like my father’s neighbours, know how to make the best out of bad situations. And I believe, although I am only an outsider, that Nigerians can make the most of the bad situation that is the Federal Republic of Nigeria, despite how badly things have fallen apart.

Further Reading:

BBC Nigeria Country Profile available online

Nigeria at 50 BBC News Special Report

How Nigeria Has Affected the Rest of Africa (BBC NEWS article available online)

Languages of Nigeria

Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

“Auf Wiedersehen”….”Auf Wiederhoeren”: Phone Calls From My Father

Posted in All About My Nigerian Father, Countries: Nigeria, The Woyingi Blogger by the woyingi blogger on October 1, 2010

My father calls me on a weekly basis. He asks me if I am alright, then if my mother is alright. He might share news about the progress of the Ijaw, his ethnic group that is seeking a fair share of Nigeria’s oil wealth. My father is very happy that Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw, is now Nigeria’s President. It’s kind of like the equivalent of Barack Obama for the Ijaws. They never thought that an ethnic minority from the Niger Delta could become President. My father is grateful that he lived to see this happen. But more than anything, he wants to see me come to Lagos. He was deported when I was just a baby and has only seen me in pictures since.

My father and I speak German. Often, we end our phone calls with German Farewells. My father says Auf Wiedersehen, which means until we see each other again. I say Auf Wiederhoeren which means until we speak to each other again. This is indicative of my ambivalence about meeting my father in person.

Recently, my father contacted the Nigerian High Commission Employee who helped me find him. He was crying and asking her to convince me to visit Nigeria as soon as possible. She called me and demanded to know why I haven’t been saving up for the last six years to go see my father. I explained that my income has been precarious and I have to support my disabled mother, who really can’t be left alone, particularly since she ended up in the hospital at the beginning of this year. The odds seem to be stacked against me ever seeing my father. At this point in time, I cannot afford to buy a plane ticket to Nigeria. I also don’t know who would take care of my mother is I had to go to Nigeria to see my father. But even if these two huge issues were resolved, I still don’t know if I would go.

I want to visit Nigeria but I am really wary. Actually I’m downright terrified. This isn’t simply the fault of Western media. I can blame books, mostly written by Nigerians, like Chinua Achebe’s The Trouble with Nigeria. I can also blame Nigerians and other Africans for telling me horror stories:  I have been told that if I go to Nigeria I might catch malaria, be kidnapped and held for ransom by area boys, be kidnapped and sold into slavery, be robbed and killed, be cursed by evil witches, or become a human sacrifice for cult members. This all seems pretty extreme but considering that I don’t know anyone in Nigeria other than my father who is poor by Nigerian standards, I don’t know anyone with the means to guide or protect me if I travelled there. And this is where the troubles of Nigeria directly affect me.  I would feel much safer travelling to other African countries. If my father lived in Senegal, Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, or Ethiopia I wouldn’t be so afraid because these countries regularly receive Western tourists and their citizens don’t have an international reputation for being liars and inherently corrupt.

But, I would still love to go to Nigeria. Lagos which has a vibrant arts scene. I dream of going to Lagos, seeing my father for the first, and probably last time, and hanging out with musicians, painters, playwrights, poets and novelists while visiting NGOs working on human rights, ecological rehabilitation, and literacy. Nigeria might have a reputation for corruption but it is also one of the most artistically creative nations south of the Sahara. I would love to see this, and be part of this.

The truth is, I think what I fear the most about going to Nigeria is seeing the poverty. I grew up poor by Canadian Urban standards but that doesn’t compare to the poverty my father lives in. I worry about being devastated by guilt. I’m not to blame for my father’s or Nigeria’s poverty. It’s not my fault. But I still can’t get my head around the fact that just because I was born here I have access to so much, clean water, free education, reliable electricity, waste disposal, safe roads, so many things that I take for granted. It’s all so unfair. And if my father had not been deported he would have had access to these things to…and I would have probably gone back to Nigeria long ago, in the company of my father, protected.

If I want to ever see him in person, I need to go soon. I am hardly in a financial situation to go as I support my disabled mother and have no post-secondary education but where there is a will there is a way. If only I could feel safe going and not worry about coming back somehow less than I was when I left. If only I was confident that this would be a positive experience that would not destabilize me but strengthen me.

Nigerian Lives: Aina Onabolu (1882-1963)

Posted in African Art, African Artist Profiles, Countries: Nigeria, Nigerian Art, Peoples: The Yoruba by the woyingi blogger on September 22, 2010

Portrait of a man 1954

Aina Onabolu was the first Western-trained portrait artist in Nigeria. He also pioneered art education in the country.

Early Life  Onabolu was born in Ijebu-Ode in 1882. He started painting at 12. His main sources of inspiration were Western art that he saw as a child in Nigerian magazines and missionary religious text.

Onabolu went to live in Lagos in order to study at Caxton House School. He finished his education in 1900 and began working at the Customs Department as a marine clerk. Onabolu did not give up his passion for art and studied on his own, teaching himself to paint in the European academic style.

Onabolu’s Views on traditional West African art

Aina Onabolu had no interest in studying the art forms that were indigenous to his region. His opinions on these subjects were influenced by his missionary education. Western missionaries saw African arts and craftsmanship as inextricable from the practice of “pagan” religious traditions. They saw the figures as idols that needed to be destroyed in order to ensure that the newly converted were loyal to Christianity. In 1910, Nigerian Railways official J. Holloway wrote to Onabolu, saying:

I am happy that you yourself realize the danger of going your forefather’s way…by creating the type of art that our church can quarrel with…I came back from Abeokuta a few days ago, and I must here bring to your knowledge what the Rev. in our church said. This Rev. gentleman strongly rebuked the congregation for their stubborn devotion to their idols which he regarded as heathen objects. They were considered ungrateful people who could not appreciate what God had done in their lives.

Onabolu also had contempt for traditional art forms because he saw them as primitive. At a time when his contemporaries, like Picasso, were being influenced by the simplicity of West African art, Onabolu rejected this style for the more realist depictions of figures in more traditional Western art. In his book, A Short Discource on Art, published in Nigeria in 1920, Onabolu writes:

What have we done to promote Art and Science? Our Geledes, Alapafajas, the Ibejis (sculptures) and our drawings are still crude destitute of Art and Science; our canoes remain as they were since the day, when first they came into use without the slightest improvement. Why! Are there not among us young men, or men of brain capable of improving our condition and surroundings? There are, I say emphatically a good number of young men among us with fine brain, but for want of self application and perseverance they cannot bring themselves forward, and therefore, remain unknown.

Adam and Eve 1955

In contrast, at the time, a German anthropologist, Leo Frobenius , was visiting the regions of Yorubaland and Benin where he discovered traditional Bronze figures. These figures so struck him because of their complete lack of crudeness and the obvious knowledge of artistic techniques and science that would have been required for an artist to make them that he believed that they could not possibly be purely African in origin. He came up with the truly bizarre theory that these bronzes where Greco-Roman in origin and that their makers were the descendents of the lost island of Atlantis. The fact that this theory seemed more reasonable to him than to think that Africans could have had the intelligence and skill to design these figures all on their own demonstrates the intensity of the racist opinions held against African artists and their abilities. Frobenious lamented that these bronzes belonged to the Yoruba people. He said “I was moved to silent melancholy at the thought that this assembly of degenerate and feeble-minded posterity should be the legitimate guardians of so much loveliness.” It was these racist opinions that Onabolu wanted to disprove by showing that he could paint in the European style just as well as a White man.

In 1935, Aina Onabolu, was commissioned to construct pews for the Lagos Cathedral of the Church of Christ.

Onabolu died in 1963.

The Exhibition Hall of the Nigerian Gallery of Art is named after him.

to be continued

Further Reading:

The intersection of modern art, anthropology, and international politics in colonial Nigeria, 1910-1914  by Olubukola A. Gbadegesin (essay available online)

Picturing the Modern Self: Politics Identity and Self Fashioning in Lagos, 1861-1934 by O. Gbadegesin (essay available online)

A “Rooted” Reading of Race in the History of Art by O. Gbadegesin (article available online)

Book Review: Zahrah, The Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

Posted in African Literature, African Women Writers, Nigerian Literature, Novels, Reviews, Young Adult Fiction by the woyingi blogger on August 1, 2010

Zahrah, the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

Graphia Books, 2005

“A fantastical travelogue into the unknown of a young girl’s fears, and the magical world that surrounds her town. Written in the spirit of Clive Barker’s Abarat, with a contemporary African sensibility. Okorafor-Mbachu’s imagination is delightful.” Nalo Hopkinson

If Jamaican Canadian Fantasy writher Nalo Hopkinson recommends something, I’m going to read it. I wasn’t disappointed by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu’s novel Zahrah, The Windseeker, although it did leave me wanting more. The novel is ideal for young adults. It is the winner of the 2008 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa (Although published in the United States in 2005, it was only published in Nigeria in 2008). There are elements of it that reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. Zahrah, The Windseeker is a simple tale, which I think would translate well into a graphic novel or animated film. The story begins with Zahrah, who is in early adolescence, and lives in the Ooni Kingdom on the planet Ginen.  Reflecting on her birth, she explains:

When I was born, my mother took one look at me and laughed.

“She’s…dada,” said the doctor, looking surprised.

“I can see that,” my mother replied with a smile. She took me in her arms and gently touched one of the thick clumps of hair growing from my little head. I had dadalocks, and woven inside each one of those clumps was a skinny, light green vine. Contrary to what a lot of people think, these vines didn’t sprout directly from my head. Instead, they were more like plants that had attached themselves to my hair as I grew inside my mother’s womb. Imagine that! To be born with vines growing in your hair! But that’s the nature of dada people, like myself. (p. vii)

Zahrah, The Windseeker is a fascinating book, particularly as an example of African fantasy and science fiction. Okorafor-Mbachu, a Nigerian American, incorporates several aspects of traditional Southern Nigerian culture into the book. For example, Zahrah’s mother is a  market woman, a very common occupation for women in Southern Nigeria. The central city of the Ooni Kingdom is Ile-Ife, which is also one of the most important cities in Southern Nigeria, often seen as the city of origin for several ethno-cultural communities in Nigeria. Zahrah regularly reads about a superhero named Chukwu; Chukwu means infinite power and is the name given to the supreme deity by Igbos.

Another wonderful aspect of the novel is how the people of Ooni Kingdom incorporate technology with nature. Computer Operating Systems are grown, so are buildings of all kinds, including sky scrappers. The best parts of the book are the descriptions of the Ooni Kingdom itself. This is why I think that Zahrah, The Windseeker, would work best as a graphic novel or animated film or, at least, an illustrated text.

Our planet Ginen, is a world of vegetation; there isn’t one part of it that’s not touched by plants, trees, vines, grasses, or bushes. At least this is what explorers who claim to have traveled all the way around the world say. Cutting down trees or attempting to clear plots of land is a waste energy. Within days, things will creep back in. But the people of Ooni don’t bother to fight nature. Instead, they try to team up with it. This is one of the old ways that the people of Ooni have not forgotten.

However, there are times when people avoid nature at all costs. My small town of Kirki is right on the border of the Forbidden Greeny Jungle, a vast untamed wilderness that covers thousands of miles. No one ever thinks of venturing there. It’s full of the most savage madness. As the old saying goes. “You go into the forbidden jungle and even your ghost won’t come out.”

In Kirki, where fear of the unknown was strong and where so much of the past had been pushed aside and forgotten, my dada hair was like a big red badge on my forehead that said, “I don’t fit in and never will.” It kind of made me like the forbidden jungle. (p. xii)

We follow Zahrah as she enters puberty and discovers that she has the power to fly. But there is no one to ask about her ability as she doesn’t know other people who have dadalocks. At the instigation of her best friend Dari, the only person she’s told her secret to, she ventures into the forbidden Dark Market were she meets Nsibi, a fellow dada whose parents come from far away lands. She assures her that there is nothing wrong with her ability and that she should practice it more.

Dari once again encourages Zahrah to break the rules and travel into the Forbidden Greeny Jungle where she can practice flying without fear of being observed. But when Dari is poisoned by one of the many strange creatures in the Forbidden Greeny Jungle, Zahrah must abandon all her fears and travel alone deep into the Forbidden Greeny Jungle to find a cure. There she encounters many bizarre, deadly, and helpful creatures that have never been encountered by residents of the Ooni Kingdom before.

I just wished that we would have had a chance to learn more about why people in the Ooni Kingdom had lost so much knowledge of their past. Also, just where is the Planet Ginen and what is its relationship to Earth? In the novel, Earth is actually a legendary place, something that Dari, in his studies of mysterious and forbidden things, is curious to learn more about. I would have felt better as a reader if when finishing this novel, I was assured that this was the beginning of a series and some of these mysteries would be solved over the course of a few books. But, Zahrah, The Windseeker appears to be a stand alone novel, however the Planet Ginen and the Ooni Kingdom do appear in other works by Okorafor-Mbachu so if you want answers, I guess you have to look there.

Further Reading:

Review of Zahrah, The Windseeker on Strange Horizons

Excerpt from Zahrah, The Windseeker available online

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu’s Website

Profile of Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu by Publishers’ Weekly

German, My Father, and I

My Father spoke German. That was one of the very few facts I knew about my father before I actually found him. My mother had told me that he had lived in Germany before coming to Canada and had learned to speak German there.

But my knowledge of my Father’s German proficiency would have an unexpected effect on the trajectory of my own life. In my Grade 10 year, during which I spent mornings attending classes at the now demolished Laurentian High School and afternoons getting visiting teachers because I couldn’t cope with a full day of school because of my overwhelming social anxiety, I decided to do something different, something to engage me intellectually and quench my at that point insatiable thirst for knowledge. I had already attempted taking Philosophy classes which ended up being weird private lessons in theosophy that involved reading the works of the likes of Madame Blavatsky in some European man’s appartment. This would not due.

One day, well scanning the bookshelves at Carlingwood Library, I spotted a poster for German Language Courses. They were offered for free and you could even get high school credits for them, all you had to do was attend classes on Saturday mornings all the way down town at Hopewell Public School. I remembered that my father had spoken German and somehow I felt this was a sign, that I was meant to learn German.

I began at the beginning, a Grade 9 Class for newcomers to German. My teacher was a lovely Austrian woman. We were provided with a textbook which we were free to take home with us. I immediately took a great liking to German. For many people, German is just the language of Nazis and Adolf Hitler, but there was a Germany before the Third Reich. Actually, something like 1 in 4 Americans is of German Ancestry (there was even a possibility that German would have been the official language of the newly independent United States) and at the time of my taking these classes, German was the third most spoken language in Ottawa (now  it’s a competition between Chinese-the statistics don’t specify if it is Mandarin or Cantonese-and Arabic). German is also part of my own heritage. My great great mother was German, a Schoeder.

I came to love elements of German Culture as well. I became quite found of Lieder, German songs by composers like Schubert, based on the work of German poets like Goethe. I also developped a fondess for Kurt Weil songs as sung by Ute Lemper. I would never have had the opportunity to develop such obsure tastes had it not been for CBC Radio.

I excelled at German. It made me realize that I was quite gifted at acquiring languages quickly and thoroughly. It gave me a newfound confidence and sense of my own intelligence, something which had been battered down so long during my years of functional illiteracy in elementary school. German also gave me a way out of Laurentian High School. I had been told again and again by teachers and guidance counsellors that I would be better off at a more “academic school” where I would be challenged more intellectually. But to get a transfer out of my home school I would have to be a Music Student (couldn’t read a single note, still can’t), in French Immersion (self-taught French) or be studying an international language that was not offered at my home school-Bingo! Because I had studied German in Grade 10 I was allowed to transfer to Nepean High School for Grade 11 where I could continue my German Studies up to the OAC Level (back when there was Grade 13, boy am I dating myself!).

I had been warned that Nepean High School as very posh and very snobby. I would be Black White Trash in an ocean of silver-spoon-fed WASPs. That was an understatement. The school was something out of a John Hughes film-Think Pretty in Pink! But, the standard of education was amazing. We were being educated to go on to university as that was what all our teachers expected us to do. It was during my first year at Nepean High School that I learned how the socio-economic class of the students who attended a school shaped the standard of education at that school and the expectations teachers had about their students, even before getting to know them. This reality made me very angry. It also compelled me to excel. And this I did, with a vengence.

My first year at Nepean High School I came top of my class in German and went on to win the annual regional German Language Contest and the annual provincial German Language Contest. I was an Academic Star. I even landed a half-page write-up in the City Section of the Ottawa Citizen (a few weeks after my grandmother was convicted and the Citizen Court reporter wrote that my family was one of the most dysfunctional families he had ever written about).

My prize for my win at the provincial level was an all expenses paid 4-week trip to Germany! I had never been anywhere outside of Canada other than Ogdensburg, New York with my grandparents in their RV. I would be flying on a plane! I would be staying away from my mother for 4 whole weeks! I had never done this before unless she was in the hospital, at which time I would stay with my grandparents. No grandparents this time-just total strangers in a strange land.

Needless to say, my trip to Germany was a life-changing experience. My mother was not happy to see me leave and actually wanted me to cancel the trip but I went without her blessing. My time in Germany really helped me gain confidence as an individual without my mother (who at that time was my one and only friend) and helped me overcome my social anxiety. I got to meet other teenagers from across Canada (BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, and Nova Scotia) and from around the world (Uganda, Kenya, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Slovakia, Mauritius). We travelled all across Germany, visiting cities like Bonn, Frankfurt, and of course Berlin.

My Father in front of the Olympic Tower

I knew that my father had lived for some time in Munich, which was the last city we stayed in before we returned to Canada. This seemed fitting. I wandered the streets of Munich thinking that I was looking at the same buildings my father had seen, maybe even walking down some of the same streets my father had walked down.

When I finally found my father I would learned that he had lived in Munich while building the Olympic Tower (Olympia Turm) for the 1972 Munich Olympics. This was the first Summer Olympics held in Germany since the infamous 1936 Olympics that had been held under the watchful eye of the Fuhrer (which means leader by the way). The Germans were eager to paint themselves in a more positive light, to show the whole world that they had overcome their Nazi past and were happy, hopeful and open to diversity. This included a Cultural Olympics that showcased artistic talent from around the world, including Nigeria.

Nigerian composer Akin Euba premiered his piece Dirges at the University of Ife Theatre at the 1972 Olympics. This piece is a unique synthesis of African and Western musical influences. Euba also studied Lieder. In his essay “Text Setting in African Composition“, Euba writes:

The strength of German Lieder (art songs) in the nineteenth century rested partly on the gifts of the poets who provided composers with the texts that they set to music. It occurred to me early in my composition career (in the mid 1960s) that African composers might equally look to African poets for the texts of their songs.

One of Euba’s earliest settings was of a poem by J. P. Clark, “Abiku”, first as a dance-drama then as a song with a three-part chorus with five Nigerian instruments.

But the showcasing of African Classical music on an international stage is not the sort of thing most people remember about the 1972 Munich Olympics. What most people remember is the Israeli Olympic team being held hostage and then massacred by terrorists. This event is the basis for Steven Spielberg’s film Munich. My father was actually present in the Olympic Village when this all went down.

Learning German provided me with countless opportunities that I otherwise would not have had. But I never would have considered learning the language if  I had not had this strange attraction to it because of my association with it and my father.

Book Review: Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

Second-Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta, Flamingo 1989

Buchi Emecheta is one of Nigeria’s most well-known writers. She managed to raise her five children on her own, go to university, eventually achieving a Ph.D from the University of London, and write over 20 novels, plays, and short stories. She was honoured with the Order of the British Empire in 2005.

Emecheta was born on July 21, 1944 in Lagos, Nigeria. Her parents were Ibos who had left the Ibo town of Ibusa (Igbuzo in Ibo) located in what is now called Delta State. She moved to London, England to join her husband in 1962. Second-Class Citizen (1974), her first published novel, is semi-autobiographical, based on her childhood in Lagos and early life in London with her husband before she divorced him.

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Buchi Emecheta

Adah, the character based on Buchi, is smart and determined to study despite the fact that there is not much means or will to have her educated particularly after her father dies. Adah eventually marries Francis and together they move to London, England in the early sixties. Life is hard. Not only is there racism which makes it difficult to find accommodations, but Francis himself becomes Adah’s greatest obstacle.

Adah is the primary breadwinner for the young and growing family with her job as a librarian. Francis becomes physically abusive towards Adah and cheats on her. Although Francis is definitely portrayed to be an obnoxious bully it is clear that Adah doesn’t entirely hate him. She understands why he’s ended up this way: “Francis was not a bad man, just a man who could no longer cope with the over-demanding society he found himself in. (p. 110)” This is sadly probably true for many immigrant men or any man who does not have the ability to cope with failure and the setbacks and challenges of life. But why do men often need to feel power over someone in order to feel better about themselves? Where does this need come from?

Adah is a survivor and this novel is the story of her survival. It is also a fascinating portrait of Black immigrant life in sixties London. Despite what could be quite depressing subject matter, Second Class Citizen is actually an easy read and more often than not quite funny. I have actually reread Second Class Citizen several times and I never stop finding great character portraits and home truths.

Interesting Passages from the novel:

Adah is a Christian but her husband is a Jehovah’s Witness. But he wasn’t always a Jehovah’s Witness. While at the maternity ward Adah meets a women who waited 17 years to have her first child. Adah wonders what Francis would have done if it had taken 17 years for her to give him a son:

Suppose she had had to wait seventeen years for all that? She would have either died of psychological pressures or another wife would have been bought for Francis. He would have declared himself a Moslem, for he was once a Moslem when he was younger. Francis was like the Vicar of Bray. He changed his religion to suit his whims. When he realized that equipping Adah with birth-control gear would release her from the bondage of child-bearing, Francis went Catholic. When he started failing his examinations and was feeling very inferior to his fellow Nigerians, he became a Jehovah’s Witness. (p. 122)

Adah befriends Janet, a young Cockney girl who is the wife of a Muslim Nigerian, Mr. Babalola. He is hardly an endearing character. In the following passage, one of the sources of the conflict between Southerners (predominantly Christian) and Northerners (predominantly Muslim) is outlined, of course with a Southern Ibo bias.

Mr. Babalola had come to England, just like Francis and Adah, to study. But, unlike Adah and Francis, he had been single, and had a Northern Nigerian Scholarship. This meant that he had more money to spend, because the Northerners, unlike the over-educated Southerners, would do anything to encourage the men to really get educated so that they could come home and obtain the jobs in the North which were then going to the Southerners. Mr. Babalola was, therefore, a very rich student.
Rumour had it that he had a glossy flat and was always entertaining. This was no surprise to anyone who knew the Northerners. They liked to spend their money, to really enjoy what they had, and to them what they had was theirs only today, not tomorrow or the day after. Allah would take care of the future. That was certainly Babalola’s philosophy of life. (p. 52-53)

Janet, who gets pregnant at sixteen by a West Indian, gets kicked out by her parents because she refuses to give up her baby. Babalola ends up taking her in and using her as a party favour for his friends. As Emecheta writes: “…Janet was being offered to any black man who wanted to know how a white woman looked undressed. Most of Adah’s neighbours had had their sexual adventures with Janet.”

However, this all changes when a broke Babalola (His Northern Nigerian Scholarship is inexplicably revoked) realizes that Janet can receive enough social assistance for herself and her baby to pay his rent. Babalola decides to keep Janet all to himself and she bears him a child. Babalola, like Francis, seems content to depend on women financially, while still treating these women like servants.

Adah reflects on being the child of Ibos from Ibuza living in Lagos:

Well, Adah thought she was eight at the time when her mother and all the other society women were busying themselves to welcome the very first lawyer to their town Ibuza. Whenever Adah was told that Ibuza was her own, she found it difficult to understand. Her parents, she was told, came from Ibuza, and so did many of her aunts and uncles. Ibuza, she was told, was a beautiful town. She had been taught at an early age that the people of Ibuza were friendly, that the food there was fresh, the spring water was pure and the air was clean. The virtues of Ibuza were praised so much that Adah came to regard being born in a God=forsaken place like Lagos as a misfortune. Her parents said that Lagos was a bad place, bad for bringing up children because here they picked up the Yoruba-Ngbati accent.(p 7-8)

Adah reflects on her social isolation in England and how this relates to domestic abuse:

In England, she couldn’t go to her neighbour and babble out troubles as she would have done in Lagos, she had learned not to talk about her unhappiness to those with whom she worked, for this was a society where nobody was interested in the problems of others. If you could not bear your problems any more, you could always do away with yourself. That was allowed, too. Attempted suicide was not regarded as a sin. It was a way of attracting attention to one’s unfortunate situation. And whose attention do you attract? The attention of paid listeners. Listeners who make you feel that you are an object to be studied, diagnosed, charted and tabulated. Listeners who refer to you as ‘a case’. You don’t have the old woman next door who, on hearing an argument going on between a wife and husband, would come in to slap the husband, telling him off and all that, knowing that her words would be respected because she was old and experienced. (p. 72-73)

Adah reflects on the role of religion in her life in England:

There was no time to go to church and pray. Not in England. It took her years to erase the image of the Nigerian church which usually had a festive air. In England, especially in London, ‘church’ was a big grey building with stained-glass windows, high ornamental ceilings, very cold, full of rows and rows of empty chairs, with the voice of the vicar droning from the distant pulpit, crying like the voice of John the Baptist lost in the wilderness. In London, churches were cheerless.
She could not go to any of them because it made her cry to see such beautiful places of worship empty when, in Nigeria, you could hardly get a seat if you came late. You had to stand outside and follow the service through a microphone. But you were happy through it all, you were encouraged to bellow out the songs-that bellowing took away some of your sorrows. Because most of the hymns seem to be written by psychologists. One was always sure of singing or hearing something that would come near to the problem you had in mind before coming to church. In England you were robbed of such comfort.
London, having thus killed Adah’s congregational God, created instead a personal God who loomed large and really alive. She did not have to go to church to see this One
. (p. 164-165)