Author: fictioningdevelopment Page 4 of 7
Efua Sutherland’s ‘The Marriage of Anansewa’ is a well-crafted drama with hints of folk-tale, littered with amusing scenes that will make you reflect on traditions and their loopholes. Considering its thematic unity, this book could have been titled ‘The Bride Price’ as it projects the whole politics of the bride token.
Soaked up in the culture of consumerism, crafty Mr. George K. Ananse, uses emotional blackmail to initiate his daughter Anansewa into his plan of auctioning her by exploiting aspiring suitors. 20yrs old Anansewa has been out of school for lack of fees, she acknowledges that the burden of her need is on her father. Hence he identifies and capitalizes on her need for education to manipulate her. Anansewa is subtly pressured by her father to go behind the camera for a click. Ananse then goes on a tour, covering miles with different postured pictures of Anansewa to market her. Reluctant but helpless Anansewa speaks:
‘…Oh, my Father is selling me, he is selling me…I will not let you sell me like some parcel to a customer, I will select my lover myself, I will not take part in any photograph engagement’.
Secretarial education was the carrot Ananse dangled to Anansewa, symbolized in the overpriced typewriter he gives her. Yet beneath all these, Ananse aims to fulfil his ridiculous ambition, and Anansewa’s marriage was a means to his successful ending. The metrics of success for Ananse, was him resting his bones on a bouncy dunlopillo, attending burials in fine clothes, making open donations in church inside the gleaming collection plate, and finally being buried in a coffin drawn in a private hearse, and not the municipal.
Ananse has good knowledge of the traditions and the loopholes therein, hence he exploited it. Until a suitor’s bride price is accepted, and the head-drink ceremony is conducted, he cannot be given the privilege of a husband. Hence any appeasement suitors do is considered a gift with no emotional invoice; it is unaccounted for. He knows his daughter Anansewa can be married to only one man despite his enticing so many rich suitors, so he builds a net of competition for intending suitors to pay their way with gifts.
In an intricate way, Ananse exploited the laid down procedures for establishing a marriage, using it as a means of securing upkeep for himself. One is lured to read through the drama to understand how he extricates his self from the pending conflicts of his greed. With the help of Christie his girlfriend, Ananse eventually fakes his daughter’s death, using her resurrection as a selector of husband from the many chiefs he exploited.
‘The Marriage of Anansewa’ is another work of fiction that focuses on the marriage market framework, expressing marriage as a strong polarizer. Ananse showcases for us the politics and economics of the bride price, an extensive phenomenon that has continued to be executed in an organised way in many societies.
In social development, the concept of payment between families at wedding is sensational especially amongst activists who explore the practices and its impact. Be it is the groom price (dowry) paid to the groom’s family or the bride price token paid to the bride’s family, or the dower, all of these have over the years become an integral part of marriages. Steeped in the traditions of most African and Asian culture, these traditional rituals have been explained with different understanding. Some consider the price as the purchase cost of a wife; paying for her nurturing from birth, her mother’s breast milk, her education among others. Others consider the bride token of jewellery, furniture, and livestock among others received as a proof that a bride will be well catered for by the groom. Another group finds it a deterrent for divorce or desiring polygamy, while others find it as an element of marriage entertainmentas expressed in the new app at www.brideprice.com.ng
Many hypothesis hover over this seemingly sexist practice. People advocate for it because it gives economic value to a woman as payment is made in exchange for her family’s loss of her labour and fertility among her kin. Others claim that the dowry paid to the groom is a way of supporting the newly wed to establish their household. But the arguments many put up against the dowry system is; why should a woman’s family give money and gifts to a husband’s family when they are already giving their daughter?
Advocates argue that these transfer of valued gifts and payment between families at the time of marriage contributes to the subjugation and objectification of women. The prices are weighed to appreciate the woman’s agricultural labour value, educational qualifications, and family pedigree, amongst others. Be it as it may, this payment phenomenon has become a major factor triggering marriage anomalies; rather than strengthen marriages, it has caused an increase in violence against women. Often conceptualized as ‘Dowry Violence’, this act is perpetrated by husbands or in-laws intending to extort a bride’s family of more dowry price when the years of marriage has nibbled away the significance of the paid price. Fuelled by the rising culture of consumerism, their greed is expressed in sexual, physical and mental violence against the woman.
When Efua Sutherland published the ‘Marriage of Anansewa’ in 1975, it may have reflected another form of violence or abuse; emotional abuse. But bride price oriented violence has indeed grown. Female infanticide and Bride burning now exists; many women are driven to suicide, discouraged to seek divorce, suffer marriage squeeze and most of them become victim of dowry death. Dowry harassment remains a visible phenomenon in India, despite its being outlawed since 1961; it’s quite under-reported as the laws are not enforced. India’s government National Crime Bureau reports approximately 6,000 dowry deaths annually.
While the dowry and bride price may not be converse, their impacts are related. Stephanie Sinclair’s photo video ‘The Bride Price: Consequences of Child Marriage Worldwide’ includes compelling images of child brides in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and India. Most of them are married off to settle inter-family financial dispute. In Africa, a disturbing but prevailing attitude remains that when you have paid a price for a wife, she becomes your property.
The fact that some culture practices the two blurs distinctions between bride-price and dowry. Arguments persist on whether a bride price or dowry should exist or not, and should it be a refundable gift? The MIFUMI Project has worked extensively in African country, Uganda especially, seeking litigations to rule that the practice of bride price is un-constitutional. In Thailand it is called Sin Sod, southern Africa is lobolo, in my culture it is called Ego nwanyi.
All of these appreciations in different languages go to say how widespread and deeply entrenched this practice is in cultural processes of establishing marriages. Banning such practices may be to some people as being anti-cultural and against valued cultural practices which may represent a way of promoting friendly courtesy, hospitality and alliance between kinship groups.
Considering welfare impacts of marriage payments, women are disadvantaged. While the arguments persist on the abolishment of payment during marriage, perhaps we may consider a value shift also that will help such cultural exchanges become a stronger deterrent, and more so, a source of security for many women who walk in and also out of marriages with nothing. My argument is; can people begin to consider structuring a price or agreement that will protect all partners during and maybe after the marriage? Can we consider something in line with the Islamic bride gift of Mahr that should be given to a bride not at the consummation of their marriage, but at the end of a marriage partnership? Considering persistent economic disadvantages women suffer as a result of unpaid labour, can we focus more on divorce settlement where the woman is compensated when the marriage being her major form of social security fails? This I believe will have implication in securing marriages and also give more social security benefits to women especially in developing countries where wedding payments prevail as deterrents but yet its speedily failing to hold power.
Written by~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye
The caged bird sang about a little black girl’s pathway to a life of impact. Maya was a speechless child filled with a guilt that was not hers, with a shoulder too young to carry the weight of difference that insidious racism injects. Observing the cotton-pickers as they journey to and from work in the fields from Momma’s store was like the epoch of her creative life. Brother Bailey stuck to her despite her battered sense of self; it was as though he knew what the world will miss if Maya never found the courage to speak, to dance and write in words that will glitter forever.
Maya shared the story of a fragile world that groomed her into strength. Stories of constantly changing homes harbouring memories of violence between the lovely bones, nights in the junkyards, life as the female car conductor and a teen mother, all of this made the caged bird sing.
Thinking through the title of this book always made me understand the beauty of FREEDOM. Everything can never be taken from us. Freedom is when birds sing even in a cage; they do not have to fly to believe they are free.
Travelling through the pages of this book as a young girl and reflecting on the life of the author Maya Angelou, I grew. I understand that if you follow your anger, it will show you your fight. If you let pain do its work, your spirit will grow.
Dear Maya, you were a Spiritual Giant; the world got better because you came, you danced, you spoke, you wrote and you lived. Today we mourn you like widows of a worthy man. May death be to you as beautiful as life was, sleep sweet my woman with the scattered brain.
Written by~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye
It was just before spring, in the winter of 2012, I heard Anu Verma speak for the first time in our all women gender class at the Institute of Development Studies, Brighton. I had seen her severally and for most times, I admired her because just like me, she mostly adorned her traditional attire, the Indian Salwar kameez in cold England. Over time, she became even more remarkable; her passion for single women issues shined through her questions and contributions in our small group sessions. I appreciate Anu Verma, I think she is pretty and brave but I was very weary of her arguments which presented Single Women as a relevant category for marginalized persons. I was weary because I wondered if the experiences of being a single woman could be conceptualized as marginalization.
Being in my early 30’s, I have been single for quite a while. In my part of the world, this status certainly comes with more unpleasant than pleasant experiences. On the pleasant side, my status has opened unique doors of life to me and strengthened my individuality. But there are loses too. On the altar of marriages, many valuable relationships are slaughtered; I have lost the individuality of my friends to marriage. I feel strategically isolated by married friends who litter their conversations with stories of their husband and sometimes children but rarely of themselves. For comic tickles, our girlfriends when engaged like to display their trophy rings to spite, at the cost of seeming disabled in one hand 🙂 . Over time one becomes a sex prey for married men, and ego booster for single men. As a single woman, I tread carefully, walking on eggshell amongst married colleagues lest I get personal and excite their partners negatively. Pressure from family and friends can be stifling; I am reminded that a lonely old age is staring me in the face. To make it worse, the social identity constructions of a single woman lacks dignity; she is either a whore or unlucky in love. All my other achievements crumble like cookies every time I hit the speed bump question; are you married, why are you single, when is he coming forth…?
All of these experiences though psychosocially disturbing and indeed destabilizing could not justify my being a voice for single women as my friend Anu Verma. I often wondered if other single women had similar experiences. Will they be unashamed to openly identify with these experiences, or be willing to hold extended discussions on these phenomena? I have been unable to write or identify with Anu’s cause because I felt this issue will be easily derided as idiocies.
Despite all, I have been a happy nullipara, never-married single woman, who is not ashamed to flaunt this status and the dividends therein. Between heartbreaks, pressure, ridicule, distress and the pain we humans feel, there is a moment of rupture. Amid my fractured lines of rupture, are busted marriage myths that has liberated and strengthened me from living under this marriage pressure that always hanged like a heavy mist over our lives. But such freedom and happiness do not go unchallenged. Indeed my confidence in my status was challenged when my right to shelter was severally denied, not because I had no money, but because I was single and not married. All these years, being single seemed like a social problem that has no name, but my inability to rent a house in Ibadan (a Semi-Urban town in Nigeria) gave it a name; Marginalized! In that moment of discrimination, I realized that Anu had a case and I was willing to research more on other people’s experiences.
My search led me to many extensive works done by a fantastic woman, Jill Reynolds (RIP). Her book ‘The Single Woman, A discursive investigation’ contributes to the understanding and experiences of the stigma attached to the Single Woman Identity. Learning from social diversity, the experience of being single differs and has critical intersections of gender, culture, religion amongst others. For single women in the developed world, it might mean being a wo-man without man, living a man free life, suffering social drought and having less sex. But for women in developing countries like India, Pakistan and others, it means a denial of basic human right and a threat to survival.
There are no United Nation’s Conventions on this issue, but there are interests expressed by groups and individuals. With the support of Action Aid Gujarat, Anu’s research paper also made a strong case for India’s Dalit Single women. Titled We are told we have rights…but where are they! , this research chronicles a reflection on the life threatening experiences of exploitation, hardship, chronic poverty, lack of education and livelihood opportunities for these women as life with dignity becomes their major struggle. Their threatened well-being, loneliness, shame and vulnerability reminds us of the need to make them an agenda in literature.
Situating Dalit women in Manusmriti system (a prescribed code of conducts for Hindus), some disturbing verses were quoted;
‘By a girl, by a woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house… her father protects her in childhood, her husband protects her in youth and her sons protect her in old age; a woman is never fit for independence’ (Manusmriti V.174 & X.3)
The quote captures the tough patriarchal society these women are up against. The normalization of this perpetuates the continued isolation of this category of Dalit Women to the margins of social structures for the sin of being unwed women. Collective action enacted in the Dalit Single women group/Sangathans is helping. In India, they now have 7 states/provinces with more than 80,000 single women association striving for social change with their own movement.
My scope of enquiry was extended to literary fiction. How have writers presented the single woman character in their work? Are writers reinforcing the stereotypes or challenging it? Can I clearly find a single woman character in literature who is admirably happy, and whose source of unhappiness is anything else but a man, marriage or children? This was a challenge as I suffered a dearth in the severe drought of such characterization. The plots of many literary works focus on single women’s struggle to find lasting love, or manage love and its heartaches. Their lives are woven around men, clinging on the happily ever after myth that begins with being the woman in white, ending with them finding love or beginning a new life after being unlucky in love.
Unlike their western counterparts, African women writers, though very militant with their feminist writings, also align with the above plots as seen in our review of the models of femininity in Africa’s popular fiction. Marylyn French, a renowned feminist whom I admire, authored her novel ‘In the Women’s Room’ in 1977. It was described as an influential novel of the modern day feminist movement. Yet, the major character Mira Ward is a conventional and submissive young woman in a traditional marriage; we are entertained by her divorce and gradual feminist awakening. The story of Mira and many others may be captured in the voice of ‘Amaka’ in ‘One is Enough’ by Flora Nwapa:
‘… I don’t want to be a wife anymore, a mistress yes, with a lover, yes of course, but not a wife. There is something in that word that does not suit me. As a wife, am never free. I am a shadow of myself. As a wife, am almost impotent. I am in prison, unable to advance in body and soul… I don’t want to go back to my ‘wifely’ days. No, I am through with husbands.’
But the question that the character Nnu ego in ‘The Joys of Motherhood’ by Buchi Emecheta asked God is the same question I am asking writers. She said;
“God, when will you create a woman who will be fulfilled in herself, a full human being, not anybody’s appendage?” she prayed desperately. “After all, I was born alone, and I shall die alone.”
Why do writers of popular fiction invalidate happy single women characters? Is it a tale sign that books with such characters will be unaccepted or perhaps make poor sales? Considering the role of writers in influencing development, it is disillusion and myopic to promote false dichotomy. As children and teenagers, we had no one model of a happy single woman in the press, media or even in our school books. We have all been educated to become the woman in white and just marry, but the reality of our present day lives contradicts these models.
According to Eric Klinenberg’s ‘Going Solo’, there are more single people today than anyone could think. In fact, being single is the world’s biggest social change in the last 50years. This is true with huge possibility of being a continuing trend in the coming years. The alterations of lives and social impact this will have in future are unimaginable.
Let us remove the covers and blinders that are obscuring reality; there are lots of people out here who by choice are single, living fulfilled lives with no plans for marriage. We must acknowledge that we are first a person, before anything else. Not everyone will be married and if we are to marry, life’s trajectories are different, so are the ravages. Many will be single for longer than others. No one is married all their lives, hence there is a time to be single. How can a society ensure the psychosocial well-being of persons living single either as a phase or permanently? How are we protecting the human rights of those whom marriage does not fit their lives? How do we as individuals hold them in honour and give them a better worth?
If I smell your thoughts, my writings may stink of anti-marriage views, I am not anti-marriage; I detest social conventions which do not appreciate that life’s trajectories are different for each one. While I agree marriage can be good, the over-privileging of marriage and long-term partnerships in our society contributes to the marginalization of persons like the Dalit Single Women, among others as Anu’s research and other literature captures.
I am by choice, a happy single woman who continues to negotiate her identity, refusing to allow society inject shame into her. I now understand the challenges of people like myself, but again because of my education, I feel the responsibility of my privileges compared to the Dalit Single Women. Thus, through this writing, I wish to validate the Dalit Single women. I am saying they are not outsiders, they too belong here. Life is not an unaccompanied journey because you are single, you do not travel alone, I am with you.
Written by~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye
‘Back from the boats,’ [Captain Harrington] shouts, catchin’ up the hand-spike. ‘The first man that touches a boat I’ll brain. Women and children first…’
~Harrington: A Story of True Love (1860) by William Douglas O’Connor
The reality of the lives and struggle of women and children in war front cannot be known by war mongers, it’s only the imagery of this experience that we see. The lived experiences of women caught in war zones are diverse. From decade to decade, these woes continue to the point of normalization. They are captured in different media forms like photography and films. But they are also captured in fiction.
I must accept that chronicling war experiences in fiction is a really difficult thing, especially if the writer has not lived through war. Yet between the lines of many fiction novels, you can have a glimpse of what life in the war front is like. Of all the fiction narratives I have read about war, the novel ‘The Last Duty’ stands out. Published in 1976, bagging the African Arts Prize for literature awards, I wonder why the excellent writer Isidore Okpewho has eluded me all these years. Perhaps he has maintained a low profile, but viewing war through the lens of his writing provoked a lot of high moment. Most significant is its ability to capture the experiences of civilians, especially that of women and children in the characters of Aku and Ogheneovo.
‘The Last Duty’ stylishly gave almost all the characters a space to tell their own war story; hence there was no single person narrative. Set in the fictional land of Urukpe,we are exposed to a war in which every moment of it is pregnant with danger. Guerrilla air rades by the rebels happen and bodies are counted, the sounds of guns rattle in fury, tat-tat-tat-tat-tat! It awakens plain ancient fear, people learn to take cover according to civil defense instructions; under the tree, in the bunker, beneath the bed, at the foot of a wall, everywhere! Roads are chewed up and broken by the business of long fighting. Guns Booming, riffles cracking, invading planes dropping bombs…Diimm! Kpoai! Toai! There are endless wailing from the confrontations between two military forces; the federal and the Simbian. Guns answer to guns in deafening encounter.
Between the lines of weaving this entire story, the struggles of Aku stand out.Life and time was hard upon her. She had many things to say of her life, more so, every character held a slice of this young woman’s physiological and psycho-social existence in the war torn Urukpe. She comes into the scene sharing her dependency and loyalty to her beloved husband (Mukoro Oshivere)whom she was willing to pine for until his release from incarceration. She admits to the readers that she and her child Ogheneovo are not secure anymore in Oshivere’s absence. Hostile eyes assail her, no one greets her, she is isolated for her husband’s misguided accusation of being a rebel supporter by Toje his commercial rival. Yet among her catalogue of woes, Toje poses a new kind of danger; he offers her kindness bringing food, money and cloth through Odibo to her. She can see in Toje’s eyes that his gifts has a hidden emotional invoice attached to them, she is right but again, she is helpless. As a suspected rebel with insolent freedom, she is not allowed to go to the market, how do they survive without the food he offers? In her words, ‘It is a dreadful thing to be at the mercy of someone, the slave of a compulsion you know you cannot fight.’
Through the many encounters with Toje, she wavered between grudging acquiescence and unspoken protest, ashamed to admit it, the desire in her has accumulated like pus in a boil. Her heart tussling between hope and fear each day, she launches into the unfriendly open with a passion only rudely tickled every time she departs from Toju’s poor performance of regaining a deserted manhood. Her thoughts are racing with questions, ‘do I wear disgrace unmistakably on my person… Toje’s whoring mistress, bound to minister to his animal desire at the price of food and clothing, maybe even protection and occasional words of comfort?’ In spite of this, she harbors within, some adulterous longings that now strives to overpower her, her painful fancy for the 3years overdue touch of a man eventually but shamefully realizes itself in her skin fellowship with disabled Odibo, the imbecile nephew and errand boy of Chief Toje.
In Aku‘s words; ‘Frustration has driven me to the point where I will rather live the fact than the fiction of sin. Loyalty and devotion has been strained beyond all possible endurance. Neither the mind nor the body could any longer fight the overwhelming presence of temptation…the body could no longer be supported by the will of the mind…the entire defense came tumbling down, like an unsheltered mud wall under relentless down surge of rain’
Self-gloated, overzealous antagonist Toje, wages what I call a silent guerrilla war against protagonist Mukoro Oshivere who until towards the end of the novel was a war prisoner, incarcerated by Toje’s frivolous charges. In Toje’s words, ‘The absence of Mukoro Oshevire …gives me the opportunity to re-establish my prominence.’ This absence destabilizing as it may be for Aku, gave Toje plenty space to unleash his politics of using sex as a weapon of warfare on Aku. In an environment of war, we are entertained by his many attempts at taking advantage of Aku’s vulnerability to seek restoration for his deserted manhood which is now but a flab of flesh. Toje is finally beaten to his game by his ‘dumb and imbecile nephew Odibo who though disabled and mocked all his life, finally gives to Aku the touch of manhood she had shamefully longed for. The revelation of this sex triangle brings the novel to a very tragic end that recreates Aku’s sorrow.
This fiction book, tells the story of what happens to women and children when men go to war. Like Ogheneovo, children learns violence. More so, the only toy left for children are guns, the ambition left to their admiration is to become a soldier. For women, displacement, rape with impunity, hunger, prostitution among others hangs over their lives. Aku’s experience is similar to that of the South Korean comfort women who served as prostitutes for the military, commemorating their woes in a status. The lives they had before the war is suddenly nibbled away with every gunshot and death and destruction around them.
Writing ‘Harrington:A story of true love in the 18th century, William Douglas O’Connor is recorded to use the phrase ‘Women and Children first’. This phrase has grown so wide and far to the point that the two words ‘women’ and ‘children’ are almost an alliteration. Beyond it being a sort of crisis conduct code in the maritime world, this phrase has gradually planted its self historically in almost every war speech.Protecting women and children has been used by leaders to sweeten their words when bidding for war. It is the holy mantra invoked to make intentions of advocating for or against war seem noble, it is used to placate the sound of war drums.
With benefit of hindsight, the adoption of this phrase, just like the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict (adopted in 1974) and the Fourth Geneva Convention for the protection of civilian persons ( adopted in 1949), however has made little or no impact to the lives of vulnerable non-combatants in the many war so far fought. Do leaders just politically exploit the myth of women and children? Do they care to understand the true meaning of protecting women and children and the impact of not protecting them in the many war we tag them in?
In the words of Major Ali, the stranger from up country protecting Urukpe, ‘ that woman (Aku) meant more than just the wife of a detained man, … she was the measure of justice.’ The impact of war on women and children, more so the elderly and every vulnerable person, is the true measure of any war. I wish that my vision of a war-less world is possible, but with hindsight, this vision has eluded human nature. I however agree with C. JoyBell C view on war; “the country with truly strong men is able to have soldiers that need not a knife, that need no guns! And if you can soar even higher than that; fight with your pens! Let us all write! And see the substance of the man through his philosophies and through his beliefs! And let one philosophy outdo another! Let one belief outlast another! And let this be how we determine the outcome of a war!”
To leaders who add to the sounds of violence, using women and children to muffle the drum beats of war, I will say this; there is more to us than guns and bombs, if truly you care about the dignity of women and children, you will stop these wars and come to an understanding with the innocent. Therein is your power.
To Women and Children caught up in the raging wars of Syria, Congo, Sudan among others, I wish you courage for the days ahead that may be harder to get through and grace for when the time comes to let go. More so, from my depth, I wish you comfort.
Written by ~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye
Women and Children in Quotes
For many social causes that make headlines these days, there is an individual at the center to humanize it. In most cases they enjoy the support of their community. Yashika Bageerathi, became a ‘star pupil’, making headlines in the past weeks, thanks to her community and fellow students at the Oasis Academy Hadley, United Kingdom. The ‘Fight for Yashika’ campaign gathered thousands of votes on Change.org to ensure that Yashika, a 19yrs old Mauritian student who came to the United Kingdom as a refuge, was not deported to Mauritius without the chance to complete her A-levels. They pleaded that she should not be torn away from her family and be given a lonely deportation to Mauritius where she had no family or friend to rely on.
All of that fell on the deaf ears of the UK Home Office whom do not mix business with sentiments. Despite the knowledge that Yashika is a model student,a valuable member of the Einfield Community, and on the good side of the migrant books, she was deported. Yashika’s case does not stand out. Lorin Sulaiman, the Kurdish school girl, whom with her family fled persecution in Syria and claimed asylum in the United Kingdom, faced similar circumstances. Again the school community came to her aid with a huge ‘Free Lorin campaign’. Unlike Lorin, Yashika was eventually deported, plucked away from family and friends to Mauritius by a system that has shown it knows no compassion. She sought for so little; a chance to complete her exams before she was disproportionately deported against Article 8 of the Human Rights Act (respect for private and family life). But all effort did not go down the drain, thanks to the 178,000 votes gathered, the jammed lines and media platforms of MPs, Home Office, Air Mauritius and Heathrow Airport. Being at the center of media broadcast, this case helped to refocus attention on the horror of Yarl’s Wood detention centre where Yashika like other refugees and deportees are kept on arrival and prior to deportation. This structure projects the lack of compassion in deportation systems around the world.
Refugees who seek asylum are stereotyped as scroungers who lie to get into privileged systems. Not much can dismantle this stereotype which has filled the knowledge void of the average person whom knows nothing of a refugee experience. What happens in Yarl’s Wood and other detention centers no longer remains within. Yarl’s Wood Immigration removal center has made negative headlines with stories of death, torture, hunger strike, sexual abuse among other forms of injustice experienced by refugees.
Seeking to capture this in fiction novels has been a little challenging. But my friend Mary Okeke reminds me of Mark Twain’s quote ‘The truth is stranger than fiction …Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t ’. The truth of the horror of detention experience was painfully captured in the novel ‘Do they hear when you cry?’ With an emotionally provoking title, Layli Miller Bashir helps the author Fauziya Kassindja, narrate her experience as a refugee. This rare piece of work coming from Fauziya emerges from Togo where literary works are sparse in comparison to their neighboring countries. Fauziya is born into a middle class Muslim family in Togo, to a society where polygamy, teen marriage, genital mutilation among other practices are normalized. With the death of her father, she is married by a polygamist who requires that she be mutilated to qualify as his wife. With the help of her sister, Fauziya escapes to America via Ghana and Germany.
This non-fiction novel, gives us a first-hand account and a lens to view the experiences of refugees especially from developing countries. The irony of the refugee experience is well captured here; they leave the tortured spaces in search of their romanticized land of freedom in Europe, but the sanctuary they hope for welcomes them with the incarceration and persecution they run from. Fauziya was mortified, stripped naked, forced to bath in the open, given bad food and isolated in prisoner style by our dear America. Her failing health and dying hope was restored by Karen Musalo and the law student Layli Miller Bashir, together with Washington College of Law who helped gain her an asylum status.
Not many are as lucky as Fauziya to have been freed. More refugees are still being held at different detention center around Europe where they are treated as criminals which is against their human right. While the British Government expresses its promise to remove those who have no legal right to remain in the UK, a complex debate on the rights of refugees and Asylum seekers continue. The 1951 Geneva Refugee convention relates to the Status of Refugees (CRSR). This United Nations multilateral treaty defines the status and rights of a refugee, and setting out rights of individuals granted asylum and the responsibilities of their host nations. For a convention that was approved in 1951 and entered into force in 1954, it has not done much to protect the right of refugees even in ratifying nations.
Over the years, organisations like Women for Refugee Women, individuals like Fauziya, Melten Avcil, Yashika, and others have achieved more in highlighting the unjust treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Fauziya Kassindja’s case provoked the acknowledgement that victims of Female Genital Mutilation are worthy of Asylum in the USA. Melten Avcil (who at 13yrs was locked up Yarl’s Wood in 2007 with her mother and later released) is currently championing a campaign, petitioning Theresa May, British Home Secretary to end the detention of women who seek asylum in the UK. We can support this worthy cause by signing and making up the 50,000 signatures needed by Melten Avcil’s petition here change.org
What I am doing, is not to obscure the wider issues and challenges of migration control. I do understand the need for nations especially in the developed country to put further curbs on immigration for obvious reasons. The idea of this article is not to justify illegal migration or to ask that humane asylum policy should be led by emotions and not law, no! I believe that despite the challenges, we can still preserve the rights of persons who are fleeing persecution as stated in the 1951 Geneva Convention.
Men,Children and Women in particular who flee death, torture, rape and imprisonment do not deserve to be incarcerated if their only crime is fleeing persecution in their home land. They do not deserve to be welcomed by the very devil they fled from in sanctuary Europe, or to be forcibly returned to the country they flee from. In the word of Melten Avcil ‘If a woman has already experienced rape, torture, and imprisonment in her home country then it is really hard for her to be locked up here’.
Yarl’s wood and other detention center across Europe and America are no refuge for refugees. Sadly,they still have hundreds of asylum seekers locked up in them. Dear leaders, do you hear when they cry?
Written By~Adaobi Nkeokelonye
When a piece of writing gets you a space in jail, then it struck a very sensitive cord for the incumbent government. The texture of such writing, are absurd, dealing with surreal subject matters. Sizwe Bansi is Dead is such; a dramatically provocative piece with strands of humor and layers of irony. It excites the good and the bad. Despite not mentioning the word ‘Apartheid’ in all of the book, it triggered the then South African Apartheid Government to arrest Athol Fugard and his African co-writer/performers John Kani and Winston Ntshona for treason. Talk about a piece of fiction that has aged gracefully, this is it!
Written in 1972, it is set in a South Africa when blacks could only find peace in their grave. With a sparse setting, we meet three major characters, Styles the photographer and narrator, Sizwe Bansi whose experience the drama is centered on and his friend Buntu. Styles established his ‘strong room of dreams’, a photo studio representing an escapist world which presents a space for other blacks to interpret their dream. Behind his lens, they share their dreams, aspirations and achievements. With a click of his camera, he immortalizes them. When finally they are dead and buried like his father, their photo is their only memorabilia. This profession gave Styles fulfillment away from his former job with ‘Ford Motors’ where he was only a ‘circus monkey’ that would be rewarded with just a gold wristwatch after 25yrs of service. With little choice, Styles locates his dream studio next to a funeral parlor, he wages war against some symbolic cockroaches; social venom without which he could not function.
Sizwe is Styles client with a dream to get employment in Port Elizabeth, away from his home in King Williams Town where he could not provide for his wife and kids. But with a passbook that declares it illegal for him to reside or gain employment in Port Elizabeth, Sizwe is boxed! This scene captures the realities of migrants seeking greener pastures outside their home zone and abroad. Unlike most illegal migrants of today who have relative freedom to move around and live in most countries, Sizwe could not. Sizwe’s movement was strongly regulated by the apartheid system in place.His passbook (Visa) required him to return to King Williams Town in three days. Like Buntu his friend, Sizwe is battered but still hopeful.
This drama, projects for me, the extreme sacrifices many migrants and perhaps desperate job seekers make to survive in a strange land. Sizwe saw himself as a ghost; after all he lived in a strange land where he was irrelevant and unnoticed. More so, not being able to earn income to sustain his household meant he was not a man but a dead man. With the help of Buntu, Sizwe finally puts his self to death. He gave his life and body to a dead man’s name, incarnating his self into Robert Zwelinzima, (the dead man) whom Buntu performs a surgery on his passbook which still holds a job seeker’s permit. Buntu replaced Robert’s picture with Sizwe’s. Sizwe Bansi is dead, Robert Zwelinzima is alive!
Sizwe (now Robert) with a new job, wearing a new suit, Stetson hat, a pipe in one hand and cigar in the other, is transformed to who he wants to be. Styles escapist world is the best place to capture the birth of the new Sizwe for his wife and family in King William Town to see. The whole play is climaxed in this scene where Sizwe struggles with constructing his new identity. This has supported the projection of the theme of this novel as that of Identity struggle.
While identity as a theme is obvious, it should not overshadow the significance this drama gives to the reality of migrants especially in the world today. It frames the struggle for identity, projecting the realities of shifts necessary for a migrant’s survival. It fits within the development context of migration and human right discourses, detailing the negotiations of national identities and other struggles migrants experience in the search for livelihood in a foreign land.
Migrants don’t arrive alone; they bring with them their culture, values and perspectives to life. In some cases, they don’t leave their homes willingly, they are forced to migrate. In the struggle for survival, most migrant job seekers have to live with an uneasy switch to dualism, impersonating other people’s privileges; this for them is worth it if they can survive. Diffusion into a new society is difficult, both for the migrant and their host society. Governments and people struggle to give space to migrants. In this process, many migrants are displaced, left at the margin of their new society. Some are made to feel they are just invisible, and just don’t count.
The way individuals and communities respond to the challenges of immigration and settlement is a trendy issue in International development. This has been expressed by the United Nation’s Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers. Adopted in 1990, it entered into force in 2003.Though in place, it has only been ratified by just forty states, exclusive of major immigration country.
Taking a leaf from the knowledge on the plight of migrant workers in countries across the world, the vizualmusing blogger; my dearest friend Wajihah Hamid with the support of her Sister Aisha organized Project Parallel Paths. They brought together 18 injured migrants workers and 13 natives of Singapore for an excursion to some places of interest in Singapore. The migrant workers were given Cameras to take individual photographs within a theme that captures their perspective of their host community.
The outputs are amazing and insightful pictures of Singapore in the eye of a migrant. Most importantly, it created a space for injured migrant workers to relax, eat out, visit the beach and mix freely with the natives. This ingenious project inspired by Waji’s experiences of her dissertation which included participatory action research method for once exalted neglected migrant workers from being research guinea pigs to active participants in research processes.Relating her key lesson from this initiative to me, Waji said ‘I have learnt that people sometimes overlook each other, and that given an opportunity, they can stop, re-think and make an effort to acknowledge the presence of ‘the others’ within their society’.
I appreciate Wajihah, Athol Fugard, and his African co-writer/performers John Kani and Winston Ntshona, and many others who are creatively helping migrants to live and make a living in a foreign land. The Sizwe Bansi of our time doesn’t have to die if more concerned people will address the plight of migrant workers world over.
– Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye
While working on a short story on domestic violence recently, I was privileged to get a colleague review it. ‘It lacks suspense, no action, not gripping, it fell flat like a biography’, this was his response. To bring it alive, he suggested we add some action. This he did, by injecting some dose of violence, a scene with a strong narration of one violating one’s kind. Amazingly, the story came alive with suspense! It took the ambiance of most familiar fiction novels I know.
I am still amazed at the ease with which violent writing came to my colleague, unlike it came to me. I have tried to look at this event with a gender lens; are male writers better at writing on violence than women writers? This is a huge argument, but gendering this, is not the focus of this article.
At the soul of this piece is the need to explore how writers of literary fiction have engaged with the theme of violence in their work. Do they write to excite, inspire or discourage violence, or do they just flirt with violence for the purpose of adding shock to their work?
No work of fiction is written in a vacuum. All of them cling to issues that are of relevance to the society. Violence is trending in almost every society these days, governments no longer hold monopoly to violence, in all forms of unruly politics, citizens now exercise rights to different types of violence. You may call it terrorism, war, sexual or physical abuse, mutilation, child abuse or anything else. All of these names rest on violence; the act of violating one’s kind. The reality of this in our society cannot be ignored. From the city streets to the country sides, within our homes and in our daily lives, like air, violence is speedily and easily penetrating our life.
The rising number of war, the growing incidence of terrorism especially among developing countries, introduced a very high note in the rhythm of global violence. Like most violent acts, terrorism uses force to attain political end. What makes it incomprehensible is that the victims often have no relations or affiliation to the political issues they fight. Perpetrators of this type of violence, show a profound disconnection that amounts to hatred of one’s kind, a disregard for life and all it represents. This facts make me wonder if such disconnection and disregard are experienced by writers and their readers when conjuring, narrating or engaging violence in novels? I am still unable to comprehend violence, I cannot effectively narrate it fictionally, and hence I cannot answer to these experiences.
While the above questions represent questions of process, the questions on intent are also important. What is a writer’s intention for projecting violence? It seems to me that some writers use violence in their narratives to compel action in our society. For example, the generation of Apartheid writers in South Africa would use violent narratives to reflect the evil of the existing apartheid system and incite people against racism and injustice. Other writers may need to inject violence to gain a balanced reflection of a true society, considering that violence is understood to be organic. A later group of writers may use violence because it sells; it shocks or can indeed be entertaining.
Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’, ‘American Psycho’ by Bret Easton Ellis among others are example of fiction novels reeling in violent narratives that should disturb even the coldest hearts. While they are highly rated, I may highly underrate such dark writing for exciting violence. This category of literature, often termed ‘Transgressive Fiction’ or ‘disturbing Novels’ are characterized with presenting protagonists who thrill with terror and taboo, with all willingness to portray forbidden behaviors or shock readers. Like the terrorist of the real world, they are emotionally disconnected. Their striking detachment from life enables them to dice, slice and saw their fellow humans. Novels in this genre have been subject to many obscenity trial, but are often permitted.
Novels do not just entertain, they impact. Engaging with such blood-drenched books with routine killing of women, children and everything alive, I often ask, how are they helping shape the society, how are they contributing to helping people change their mental paradigms on violence, towards the peace and well-being our world so desperately needs? This may be defended as another genre of literature, yes a ‘disturbing genre’ with huge fan base to whom such violence is comprehensible and perhaps entertaining. But are there no better way of creating these types of work without indecorously portraying violence in all its stark nakedness?
It’s an understanding that violence is organic in our society, I am not sure if such violence can be extinct in fiction writing but I am sure we can change the stories around it to ensure we do not glamorize violence. Writers have a responsibility to reflect in their work, the world as we want to see it. I agree with Gail Larsen that ‘if you want to change the world, tell a better story’. I still believe that it is possible to live an inviolate life. Perhaps, we can indeed start with how we project violence in writing.
– Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye
Almost everything in the universe has a bit of water in it, the oceans, lakes, rivers and streams in different landscape are all connected to water. Hence 22nd of March every year is remarkably set aside to celebrate water all over the world. Still in its decade of water, the United Nations Water, with a theme on ‘Water and Energy’ for this year, brings to our attention, the water-energy nexus.
It is also pleasing that we can find in prose, poetry and drama, so many scenes and themes that celebrate water. I did not have to search too far before finding writers like Thomas Hardy among others who have written on water. Our choice for poetry below was because it is richer with water as a major topic and it comes from a writer that truly cares about nature
Talk of what it means to be an Octogenarian that still throws up the peace sign, the poet Wendell Berry comes to mind easily. He is not just an environmental activist, but accordingly, he has been described as a ‘prophet of responsibility’. Admirably, Wendell has maintained a family farming tradition that spans over 200 years, tilling the soil of Kentucky. Above all, he is a writer, a poet of repute with a lot of earthy poems to show for it. In his words, “It’s mighty hard right now to think of anything that’s precious that isn’t endangered.” And for sure , water is endangered, hence his special book titled ‘Farming: a handbook’ holds within its pages, a thought provoking poem on water.
I was born in the drought year.That summer my mother waited in the house, enclosed in the sun and the dry ceaseless wind, for the men to come back in the evenings, bringing water from a distant spring. Veins of leaves ran dry, roots shrank.
And all my life I have dreaded the return of that year, sure that it is still somewhere like a dead enemy’s soul. Fear of dust in my mouth is always with me, and I am the faithful husband of the rain. I love the water of the wells and the springs, and the taste of roofs in the water of cisterns.
I am a dry man whose thirst is praise of clouds, and whose mind is something of a cup. My sweetness is to wake in the night after days of dry heat, hearing the rain.
Wendell Berry writes with honesty and grace of a prophet and a poet. The poem on water carries a message with an urgency that crosses distance and national boundaries. It spreads to every nook and cranny, where water flows. Published in 1970, this poem portrays the reality that most people live today. For many, they have only memories of water; they mostly know dryness. Life for them is a picture of dry hot days with no crops surviving for harvest and barely clean water to quench their thirst. In particular, these experiences are reflected especially among the ‘bottom billion’ that live in slums and impoverished rural areas, lacking access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, sufficient food and energy services. According to the World Water Development Report, people who lack access to improved water sources and improved sanitation are also those who mostly lack access to electricity.
Beyond raising inter-linkages between water and energy as the theme of the day demands, we can do more. We can contribute to policy dialogues and relevant discussions on making water accessible especially to children. Every drop of effort in the ocean of change can prevent thousands of children from dying due to treatable diarrhea, largely linked to lack of clean water and sanitary conditions.
– Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye
It’s midnight Saturday 15th of March 2014, some families stayed awake with grief stricken faces. Close to twenty of their young graduates who left them that morning for the National Immigration Service recruitment examination had not returned home. They will never return home, they were gone; dead in the stampede, trampled to death by over six million fellow Job seekers vying for four thousand opening in Nigeria’s immigration service. There is no better indication to confirm that a third liberation is becoming long overdue for most African country.
Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst’s ‘Africa’s Third Liberation’ has been by my bed side in the past week. Coincidentally, I have read this book alongside ‘the Incorruptible Judge’ by D. Olu Olagoke which I reviewed here. Representing different genres of literature and published in different era, I had no challenge finding their linkages. This two books are my best bet at conceptualizing linkages between unemployment and corruption as projected in Africa and perhaps world over.
As children, we took pride in acting good plays. We were our own cast, our own stage and costume managers and producer. Our stage was the pure red earth beneath Africa’s moonlight. Yes, for us it was not just the sun that rises, the moon sets and rises too, giving light to our immature performances. The Incorruptible Judge was a favorite play with its good story line. It taught us the the words ‘bribery’, ‘corruption’ and ‘unemployment’. Of the three, unemployment was a word we didn’t clearly understand until we grew into graduates and job seekers. Perhaps the incidences mentioned above now gives more meaning to unemployment.
Written in 1962, almost three decades before we encountered it, D. Olu Olagoke presents a story that different generation can relate to. As captured in the review, ‘ The Incorruptible Judge and the Incorrigible Liar’, it tells of a time when in the face of crime, whistle blowers like Ajala the job seeker were commended and given justice by the legal system. It was a time when the values of the society reflected in the education we received and the expectations we had, there was in practice, no conflict. Our understanding of good and bad was in no way blurred. Consequently we knew bribery was bad and that it only births corruption. Apart from warning on the evil of bribery and corruption, D. Olu Olagoke with his play might have tried to excite our imaginations and prepare us for a season of joblessness.
‘Africa’s Third Liberation’ reflects back on the journey of African countries from about seven decades ago, to 2011. Seven decades
ago to the present time creates a wide space for reflections and deductions. Though Olu Adegoke writes at almost the same time, Greg and Jeffrey did a more extended and indepth work. They conceptualized the sub-Saharan African Journey of liberation in this era (1960’s and above) into three. Africa’s first liberation meant freedom from the colonist’s racial government. The second one was (or still is) freedom from Africa’s liberators. The long overdue third liberation addressed in this book focuses on Africa’s economic growth through reassessing their present political economy characterized by corruption, capitalism, elitism and social inequality.
If D.Olu Adegoke envisaged a failed state weakened by corruption then, he is prophetically correct. Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst’s reflection on sub-Saharan Africa’s development experiences and their reality today, projects a continent with rich resources littered within the boundaries of its fragile states. The widespread unemployment, a veneer of justice, pervasive impunity all climaxes in weak leadership which is a continental malady. Relatively, while the Incorruptible Judge espouses glimpse into the future where power is abused and public trust is betrayed by leaders using public power for private gain, ‘Africa’s Third Liberation’ gives a roadmap out of it.
Sharing a strong theme of pervasive unemployment as seen in the experiences of Ajala the young school leaver in ‘The Incorruptible Judge’, Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst likewise expressed that for all Africa’s progress, jobs for young people remains an extra-ordinary challenge especially for sub-Saharan Africa where formal sector employment is endemically low and falling. The demographic dividends of yesterday’s children being todays’ workers are being lost with all its exciting development opportunities. This lack of jobs for young people fosters slow growth of Africa’s middle class. This is imperative for any country’s development.
Corruption, which is the common thread that runs through the poor development of the continent, cannot be ignored as responsible for endemic unemployment. While Justice Faderin sought to deter this in the fictional society he represented, Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst projects it better in Malawi, an African country which remains one of the world’s poorest. It can’t be exclusively said that corruption is solely responsible for this level of poverty, but it also cannot be excused as reason why three-quarters of their population lives below US$1 a day. Greg and Jeffrey explored the trajectories of Malawi presidents from the time of late President Hastings Banda (who declared his self, president for life ruling from 1964 to 1994) to the time of President Bakili Muluzi, through to the time of President Bingu wa Mutharika.
The clear difference in their tenure was notably the nature of venality, escalating corruption from being very centralised, to being widespread, open and consequently, more sophisticated with a carefully developed chain. Everything trickles down, whether good or bad. This is the case with the Malawi government’s Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP). This reform helped build food sufficiency and improve lives for a while in an internationally acknowledged way; but it also gave scope and further created a ring for massive corruption among bottom ladder farmers on-selling the fertilizers and the elites managing the corrupt processes. Hence Malawi lost more years of growth to venality.
Despite the author’s comparison of sub-Saharan Africa to Central America’s country like Guatamela (the murder city of the world) where corruption is the way of life, African countries have in different ways proven they can grow. Holding 60% of the world’s most arable land and other resources, yes Africa can upswing their destiny away from poverty and endemic unemployment.
As the authors project, venal Malawi, poster boy Nigeria, war-land Congo among other countries alike, need to exercise the will to challenge vested interested which is the root of corruption. Otherwise the states will remain weak, festered with social inequality and infested with joblessness which may trigger radicalization of politics and criminality. We are reminded that citizens empowered by technology and power are no longer tolerant like before as can be seen in the Arab spring.
The authors of Africa’s Third Liberation recommends a clear departure from the trend of leadership conflicting with interest and encourages African leaders to take full responsibility for their country’s economic destiny, as steps for upswing economic growth. However my addition will be an essential factor which they and most of us seem to ignore.
In my understanding, fragile states have undermined laws, indeed the quickest way to weaken a state is to weaken the legal system and make its constitutions a paper tiger. Hence, strengthening the legal system remains a strong indicator for progressive growth in this region. Legal systems are important for institutionalizing and securing reforms that can create jobs and promote any proposed development models. A strong legal system encourages rule of law, providing mechanisms for accountability, transparency and political stability. This creates space for implementing forward-leaning policies and most of all good leadership. As Justice Faderin, the incorruptible judge puts it, ‘if the citadel of justice is corrupt, what will happen to the body politics? It will be completely rotten and collapse’.
There is a linkage between graft and unemployment as they are interconnected. Reducing unemployment or corruption is impossible without a refashioned process of law that enables a fair and functional state. Imposition of the rule of law will be the bedrock of development in African states; it will ensure supremacy of the law over all citizens, no matter how powerful they are. Africa needs the return of the incorruptible judges to strengthen the law and create a corruption free state, perhaps this will clearly differentiate Africa’s second liberation from the proposed third liberation.
– Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye.