On February 11th, this year, the Cameroon military raided the small village of Tiben, in Batibo, in western Cameroon. A village family, including a father named Jonas Ndi, fled their home, fearing arbitrary arrest by the military. A child, sleeping, was left behind. In the attack, the military torched a quarter in the village, including Jonas Ndi's home. His child was burnt to death.
Atrocities such as this and ongoing human rights abuses and crimes against humanity against the Anglophone communities of northwest and southwest Cameroon are happening every day. These abuses are being diligently documented by the University of Toronto's "Cameroon Anglophone Crisis, Database of Atrocities."
The growing number of atrocities in the conflict has caught the attention of the new administration of U.S. President Joseph Biden. Indeed the Biden administration has acknowledged the severity of the crisis in Cameroon.
Jan Egeland, a former senior Norwegian diplomat who is the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a partner of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, served in 2019 as a panelist at a UN Security Council meeting about the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon.According to an NRC survey utilizing four criteria to evaluate humanitarian crises in areas of conflict and disaster globally (number of displaced persons deriving from a crisis; political will to solve a crisis; international media attention on a crisis and level of financial aid for crisis relief), the NRC ranked Cameroon FIRST out of ten countries as the most neglected humanitarian crisis in the world for two consecutive years (2019 and 2020).
During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 19th, Secretary of State Blinken said that the administration would uphold US values in defending human rights in Africa and expressed concern with the conflict in Cameroon.Secretary Blinken said,
“The United States must actively participate in the resolution of the situation in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon where populations are victims of multifaceted violence.”
If past history can be any guide, gender-based violence (GBV) tends to increase during humanitarian crises and emergencies. There is currently no cure for the deadly COVID-19 virus which is why imposing a lockdown has been necessary. While doing so may reduce risks of virus transmission the case of Zimbabwe suggests that doing so can increase risks for those vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV). Thus, now more than ever, it is paramount that nations like Zimbabwe work to develop more effective strategies to protect those vulnerable to GBV.
In Zimbabwe, it is often the woman who is more vulnerable to polymorphous forms of abuses. GBV affects all genders, but females are victimized more frequently. In general, the lockdown imposed in Zimbabwe amid the COVID-19 pandemic has helped to reduce criminal activity. Fewer people on the streets means less crime. However, while violence against women in public spaces has inevitably declined, the reverse is true for gender-based violence (GBV) that occurs in private.
Regardless of the conventions, charters, forums, conferences, constitutions, and governmental and non-governmental organisations fighting against violence against women and girls, it continues to be pervasive and its effects are detrimental to the lives of the abused.
The lockdown in Zimbabwe has been in place since March 30. The government has not hinted at when the current lockdown will end. To the dismay of many who are suffering during this period, the lockdown could stretch many more weeks if not months. From a sociological perspective, this uncertainty poses a serious social problem, as these victims or survivors of GBV are now forced to spend days, weeks, and months with their perpetrators.
Living so closely together for an extended period can exacerbate tensions between couples, which increases the likelihood of domestic violence. In such situations women’s bodies often become battlefields, they are susceptible to physical, sexual, emotional/psychological, and economic deprivation, among other forms of violence.Three out of every ten women in Zimbabwe have been affected by GBV during their lifetime according to doctoral research conducted by one of the co-authors of this article. In 2016, there were 8,069 rapes reported to police in Zimbabwe. An average of 22 reported rapes per day is devastating and these numbers have continued to trend upwards. While 2020 numbers are likely to be lower, much of that decline can be attributed to the increased obstacles women face to report to the police due to the lockdown.
GBV and The Lockdown
The Zimbabwe Republic Police has stated that their units are continuing to investigate reports of GBV. They have provided a special emergency phone number during the
lockdown for potential victims.While mobile telephones are widespread in Zimbabwe, not all women have access to one. Indeed mobile phone penetration has dropped in the past two years – a symptom of a worsening economy. The unequal power dynamics that tend to exist in relations between the two domestic actors (that is, husband and wife, or male and female partners), one finds himself or herself in a disadvantaged position if there is only one telecommunications device.
Even if they have the means, women often do not report such cases because of fear and stigma from paternal and maternal relatives. Economic dependence is another factor that continues to give the leeway to the perpetrators to abuse their financially dependent partner without reservation.
The government of Zimbabwe and governments worldwide need to pay more attention to the social problems that are getting exacerbated during the lockdown such as GBV. More support facilities and information should be made available. There are many entities that exist which can support women and prevent GBV, but few people have knowledge of the resources offered. For example, Zimbabwean women can make use of the various agencies and legal structures such as the Zimbabwe Domestic Act of 2007, the Zimbabwe Republic Police Victim Friendly Unit (VFU), the Zimbabwe Constitution, the office of the Ministry of Women, Gender and Community development, and local non-governmental organizations namely the Musasa project, and Padare Enkhundlen Men’s Forum.
Furthermore, there are many other well-respected international institutions that can be catalysts for a new approach to tackling GBV in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean government can work more closely with international organizations such as UNICEF, USAID, and World Vision to scale their efforts to protect women and girls.
Running more awareness campaigns disseminating information in homes, schools, and other public spheres would go a long way in changing societal attitudes towards gender-based violence. Efforts should be made to increase solidarity between men and women equipping people with knowledge from a young age on what to do, where to go, and when to report gender-based violence abuses. If relevant stakeholders and players (both government and non-government) could work more closely together to address gender-based violence, the plight of the victimized would be eased.
All the recommendations highlighted above are viable strategies for improving information sharing, which can lead to the reduction in cases of gender based violence against women, not just during the lockdown but, also more broadly.
The lockdown presents a unique opportunity for the government to confront the issue head on with a more captive national audience. Zimbabwe can build a stronger support network for GBV victims. Developing better systems now can have long-term dividends for society going into the future.
Maybe Zengenene is a doctoral researcher in Indonesia on gender based violence.
The death of Nelson Mandela in 2013 elicited tributes from around the globe in honor of the man who negotiated with South Africa’s apartheid rulers to bring about majority rule. He continues to be a symbol of resistance and reform. In his delivery of the latest Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on July 18, the late statesman’s birthday, United Nations secretary-general António Guterres used the opportunity to call for wide-ranging reforms to the international order.
But despite the commemorations, which often focus on his capacity for forgiveness in the 1990s and his ability to make peace with the regime that had imprisoned him, the Mandela of the early 1960s was a very different man. He was a guerrilla, not a peacemaker, and in 1961 had co-founded the armed-wing of the African National Congress (ANC), uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), meaning Spear of the Nation.
To truly understand Mandela, we must understand this earlier part of his life. And to understand this earlier part of his life, we must examine his attraction to Ethiopia, where he spent time as a revolutionary and guerrilla in training. In his various memoirs, he made numerous references to Ethiopia, which he first visited in 1962.
Since Mandela’s passing, a degree of controversy around his time in Ethiopia has also emerged, coming from an unlikely source. Shortly after his death, a story in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel’s secret intelligence agency Mossad had clandestinely trained Mandela. As evidence, Haaretz quoted part of a letter by a member of Israeli embassy staff that describes Mandela: “He greeted our men with ‘Shalom,’ was familiar with the problems of Jewry and of Israel, and gave the impression of being an intellectual. The staff tried to make him into a Zionist.”
The Nelson Mandela Foundation has questioned the authenticity of the letter, but there is no doubt Mandela was indeed familiar with Jewish and Israeli issues. In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, he writes that he “read The Revolt by Menachem Begin and was encouraged by the fact that the Israeli leader had led a guerrilla force in a country with neither mountains nor forests, a situation similar to our own.”
Ethiopia, the African kingdom that successfully resisted colonization save for a brief Italian occupation from 1936 to 1941, held a particular allure for Nelson Mandela and many African nationalists in the post-colonial period. It could be argued that Emperor Haile Selassie was Africa’s most famous politician of the 20th century, until he was eclipsed by Nelson Mandela. In Jamaica and elsewhere, the emperor was revered as a messianic figure among followers of the Rastafari movement. But history has not been kind to the emperor, partly due to Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s book The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat, with many now remembering him as the ruler who spent his time feeding the pride of lions he kept at his palace, indifferent to domestic affairs.
Meeting the Ras
Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten the Selassie of the 1960s was an ardent Pan-Africanist, and it was in AddisAbaba that the Pan-African Freedom Movement for East, Central, and Southern Africa (PAFMECSA) was hosted in 1962. PAFMECSA was the forerunner of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was, in turn, the forerunner of the African Union.
In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela recalls his excitement upon visiting Ethiopia. The prospect of seeing Ethiopia had always intrigued him more than visiting Europe or America. “Ethiopia has always held a special place in my own imagination…” he writes. “I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African.”
Forty-three years old at the time, Mandela experienced a culture shock when he boarded the Ethiopian Airlines flight from Khartoum to Addis Ababa to find an Ethiopian pilot at the controls. “How could a black man fly an airplane? But a moment later I caught myself: I had fallen into the apartheid mind-set, thinking Africans were inferior, and that flying was a white man’s job. I sat back in my seat and chided myself for such thoughts. Once we were in the air, I lost my nervousness and studied the geography of Ethiopia, thinking how guerrilla forces hid in these very forests to fight the Italian imperialists.”
Entering Addis Ababa, which he calls the Imperial City, in February 1962, Mandela’s vision of Ethiopia was, for the moment, shattered: “a few tarred streets, and more goats and sheep than cars. Apart from the Imperial Palace, the university, and the Ras Hotel, where we stayed, few structures could compare with even the least impressive buildings of Johannesburg.”
Today, most roads are paved and crowded with cars, especially the city’s ubiquitous shared taxis, though the city’s skyline is still somewhat spartan when compared to the skyscrapers of Johannesburg. Time, though, has been less kind to the Ras Hotel: in one corner stands a haggard stuffed lion while women of the night cast around the lobby for potential customers. Outside the revolving door, touts and beggars wait to pounce on tourists under a portico next to the neighboring book vendor selling Amharic and a few English books, including a knockoff copy of Kapuściński’s The Emperor. The Ethiopian “national cuisine” served in the hotel is among the best in the city. It remains one of the few places in the Ethiopian capital where one can find meat dishes being served even on days of the week Ethiopian Orthodox Christians observe fasting days where they avoid consuming meat.
Another change from when Mandela first visited the city is that a room on the third floor has since been turned into a veritable shrine to the man himself, albeit one that is available for booking, and the third floor is now the Mandela Floor. A larger-than-life image of a grey-haired Mandela greets visitors from the top of the stairs, followed by a photo of Robben Island on the door to the Mandela Room. The three-chambered suite is modest by today’s standards, but would have seemed lavish in the early 1960s, when it was graced by many notables, including the Yugoslav statesman Marshal Tito.
Mandela met many revolutionaries and people of note at the 1962 PAFMECSA conference, but it was Emperor Selassie—whom Mandela asked for help raising funds, a crucial part of the ANC’s revolutionary cause—who made one of the biggest impressions. As he later recalled in Conversations with Myself: “That was an impressive fellow, man, very impressive. It was my first time to watch... a head of state going through the formalities... the motions of formality. This chap came wearing a uniform and he then came and bowed. But it was a bow which was not a bow—he stood erect, you see, but just brought down his head.”
He later observed Selassie at a military parade. At the time, Ethiopia was a United States ally, and US military advisors at the occasion paid their respects to the emperor, leading Mandela to note: “to see whites going to a black monarch emperor and bowing was also very interesting.” The US was one of just six countries to never recognize the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, and the two states were enjoying warm relations at the time of Mandela’s visit. In 1957, then US vice president Richard Nixon visited Ethiopia and hailed the kingdom as “one of the United States’ most stalwart and consistent allies.”
Training in Guerrilla Warfare
After the conference, Mandela left Ethiopia to continue his wide-ranging fundraising tour, visiting Egypt, Mali, Tunisia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, Sudan, and the United Kingdom. Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba was a particularly strong supporter, donating £5,000 (about US$150,000 in today’s money) to uMkhonto we Sizwe for arms. En route, Mandela also received some training in guerrilla warfare from Algerian rebels in Morocco.
As agreed, Mandela soon returned to Ethiopia for military training. The ANC had offices in Cairo and Accra, but neither Nasser’s Egypt nor Nkrumah’s Ghana had a military versed in guerrilla warfare. Many Ethiopian officers had honed their field craft fighting the Italians during World War II. In deciding to train in Ethiopia rather than a Warsaw Pact country or China, Mandela was openly branding the armed portion of the ANC struggle as African and moving the ANC’s position away from the Soviet Union, a policy that might have influenced him to meet with the Israelis.
Ethiopia, whose military had multiple veterans of the guerrilla war against the Italian occupation, also possibly presented Mandela with the best opportunity to learn the military skills necessary to lead uMkhonto we Sizwe. He planned to spend six months receiving training on weaponry, tactics, and leadership. The ANC’s armed wing had already launched a series of sabotage attacks in South Africa, so instruction on mines and other explosives was also given. Mandela’s training included live-fire exercises with both Eastern Bloc- and American-made weapons. His instructors were Colonel Tadesse Birru, Colonel Fekadu Wakene, and Lieutenant Wondoni Befikadu. Wondoni, a former fighter, led the physical training, and Tadesse lectured Mandela in the philosophy of guerrilla warfare. The recently emerged Israeli government letter implies Mandela was trained by someone referred to as “the Ethiopian,” which could mean some of Mandela’s instructors were linked to the Israelis.
Indeed, Israel was keen to cultivate good relations with the non-Arab countries in Africa at the time, though later, as African liberation movements came to be dominated by communist elements, this policy shifted slowly to an awkward security relationship with the apartheid South African government.
Biniyam Mengistu, a tour guide and local historian in the southern Ethiopian city of Harrar, believes Mandela received some of his instruction in Harar. If this were true, it was perhaps Tadesse who invited him to visit this important city in the east of the country. The region’s main inhabitants, the Oromo people, are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, and Tadesse eventually launched his own guerrilla war against the state four years later in the name of Oromo nationalism. In 1975, he was executed by the Derg regime.
To this day, the time Tadesse spent with Mandela is a source of pride for Oromo nationalists. A grainy photo of him in uniform standing next to Mandela can be found on many Oromo nationalist websites, and the Oromo National Congress (now the Oromo Federalist Congress) originally named itself after Mandela’s African National Congress.
The Way of the Gun
In the end, Mandela’s time in Ethiopia lasted only a few short weeks before it was decided he was needed in South Africa. On the orders of Haile Selassie, Tadesse gave Mandela a Bulgarian-made Makarov pistol and 200 rounds of ammunition before his trip home. He was also issued with an Ethiopian passport under the name David Motsamayi (meaning David the Walker).
Upon his arrival in South Africa, Mandela spent time at an ANC safe house, Liliesleaf Farm, in Johannesburg. As the police closed in on him, he decided to bury the pistol. Digging a 1.5 meter pit not far from the farm’s kitchen, he wrapped the weapon and its ammunition in foil and placed the stash, along with his military uniform, under a tin plate. He was arrested days later.
Mandela did return to Ethiopia decades later, in 1990, to address the OAU in Addis Ababa. This meant meeting Mengistu Haile Mariam, Ethiopia’s brutal dictator who had ruled the country directly or indirectly since 1974. During Mengistu’s rule, more than 2 million Ethiopians were murdered or died of starvation, and with the Soviet Union on the verge of collapse, Mengistu beseeched Mandela to visit and provide him with a small propaganda victory.
Perhaps reluctantly, Mandela agreed to the short visit while already on a trip to Tanzania. Coarse footage from the period shows the veteran Mengistu beaming as he honors Mandela, yet it is Mandela who appears the statelier figure. When Mengistu was overthrown the next year, he fled to Zimbabwe and even briefly visited South Africa in 1999 for medical treatment. Mandela’s government considered turning him over to international authorities, but Mengistu soon returned to Zimbabwe, where he has kept a low profile ever since.
Mandela’s time in Ethiopia provides insight into the man and helps place the ANC struggle in its broader African context. It further illuminates his commitment to the armed struggle, making his later role as peacemaker all the more revealing.
Ethiopia has never forgotten its links to Nelson Mandela, and in 2011, for example, 2,300 trees were planted around Addis Ababa in his honor on the Second Annual International Nelson Mandela Day.
The pistol Mandela received in Ethiopia and buried in Johannesburg has never been found. He provided information about its probable location and even searched for it on a visit to Liliesleaf in 2003. Excavations began on the site in 2011 to search for the lost pistol, but it remains lost.
A version of this story was published in Think Africa Press in 2014.
Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, one of Africa’s foremost philosophers, civil rights activists, and pro-democracy scholars, passed away at the University Clinic of Kinshasa on Wednesday, July 15.
Wamba dia Wamba obtained his education in the United States after earning a scholarship through the African-American Institute, studying at Western Michigan University before earning his MBA at Claremont University. He taught at Brandeis and Harvard universities while in the United States, where he met his wife and got involved in the civil rights movement through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
He became a history professor at the University of Dar es Salaam
He moved Tanzania and became a history professor at the University of Dar es Salaam, which had become an intellectual nexus of Pan-African thought. He founded the university’s philosophy club, and from 1992 to 1995 he served as the president of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA).
In 1998, Wamba dia Wamba founded the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) with the support of Uganda and Rwanda, and began a campaign against newly installed DRC president Laurent-Désiré Kabila. In August, the RCD launched an attack on Goma, starting the Second Congo War. The RCD later split into two factions, supported by the two rival neighboring countries, after which Wamba dia Wamba faced revolt in his own faction.
After the war, Wamba dia Wamba became a senator in the DRC government and helped to draft a new constitution. He continued to write and was a noted political theorist. More recently, in May 2017, he was appointed president of the political-religious movement Bundu dia Mayala.
Kim Jones, artistic director for Dior Men, has partnered with Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo to design the Spring/Summer 2021 menswear collection. Jones first encountered Boafo’s work at an exhibition at the new Rubell Museum in Miami, Florida, and at the Art Basel Miami fair. Taken with the Ghanaian’s unique finger-paint approach to portraiture, the designer traveled to Accra, Ghana, to visit Boafo’s studio. Jones himself spent many years of his childhood in various African countries, including Ghana, where his father worked as a hydrogeologist.
The two creatives worked around the current suspension of regular fashion shows by creating a short film to show the collection and the inspirations behind it.
There has been a notable change in the popular perception of African fashion
Boafo’s collaboration with Dior demonstrates high fashion’s changing attitudes toward creatives of African descent. In 2019, more than 1,700 young fashion designers from 100 countries entered the competition for the prestigious LVMH Prize—and the winner was South African designer Thebe Magugu. He is the first African to win the prize since its launch in 2013. Initiatives such as Industrie Africa, a digital showcase for contemporary African design talent, also reflect a notable change in the popular perception of African fashion.
The Library of Africa and the African Diaspora (LOATAD) in the Ghanaian capital Accra is the product of a dream Ghanaian-British writer Sylvia Arthur had of opening a library dedicated to African literature. She founded the library, called Libreria Ghana, in 2017, and after an expansion and renovation it reopened to the public under the new name on July 1. For a small subscription fee, members can borrow books from the library.
In an interview on the literary platformLiterandra’s YouTube channel, Arthur says she could afford to accumulate such a large collection of African and African diaspora works partly because African writers are not as highly valued in the market as Western writers. Her own collection forms the nucleus of LOATAD’s catalogue, which currently offers some 4,000 literary works by authors from across the continent—including world-renowned writers Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, J. M. Coetzee, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o—and by African diaspora authors in the Caribbean, Europe, and the United States.
On the LOATAD Facebook page, the library is described as a “decolonized space,” reflecting a broader cultural movement that seeks to reassess how cultural works from previously colonized nations and peoples are valued.
Thanks to support from the Nyege Nyege arts collective, African women have fast become an influential force in the country’s electronic music scene. Based in Kampala, Uganda, Nyege Nyege also has two record labels and community studios that offer a place for female musicians from Uganda and other East African countries to record their music. An artist residency is offered to musicians ranging from novices figuring out their own sound to those who want to finalize recording and mastering full-length tracks.
Co-founded by Derek Debru, a Belgian, and Arlen Dilsizian, a Greek-Armenian, Nyege Nyege has also put on a festival every year since 2015. It not only provides international exposure for African musicians but also serves as a safe space to elevate marginalized members of the LGBTQ community, who are integral to the development of electronic music but who face political and social exclusion, especially in Uganda.
Nyege Nyege still plans on holding this year’s festival
In May, the label was invited to take part in a series of streamed concerts titled “Nyege Nyege, A New Hope” broadcast by the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology in Lisbon, Portugal, in celebration of International Museum Day.
Despite the restrictions imposed because of COVID-19, Nyege Nyege still plans on holding this year’s festival in Jinja, Uganda, from September 3 to 6, with significantly reduced physical capacity and a livestream.
Bleak humor can be a common response to uncertain and scary times, which may explain why a short clip of Ghanaian pallbearers dancing to a techno bop is the biggest meme right now. The pallbearers’ dance is usually paired with a joke about breaking lockdown procedures or otherwise engaging in risky behavior that risks infection.
The meme originates from a funeral performance group based in Ghana, where they perform modern variations on traditional burial dances, where funerals are important social occasions. Benjamin Aidoo, the group’s founder, was surprised to see his troupe become so ubiquitous online, but is nonetheless pleased by the public-awareness message that the meme sends.
The government has banned large public gatherings with music.
During an interview, Aidoo cracked a joke about the importance of remaining indoors to avoid COVID-19, otherwise, “We’re going to dance with them!”
The attention the pallbearers is getting is some distraction from the somber reality in Ghana, which to date has reported 1,550 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths. The government has imposed a raft of temporary restrictions, including a ban on large public gatherings with music. In the meantime, the pallbearers do more subdued performances at smaller funerals.
Burkina Faso had managed to avoid the worst consequences of the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel, until it didn’t.
The West African country is known for its religiously and culturally diverse society, yet it has until recently largely avoided the kind of inter-community violence that Côte d’Ivoire or Mali experienced. Now, it’s become embroiled in one of the world’s deadliest civilian conflicts.
The United Nations estimates that more than 700,000 people have fled their villages in Burkina Faso in the past year due to inter-ethnic violence and jihadist attacks, and that a further 2 million are in need of aid. In March, dozens of semi-nomadic Fulani people were killed in attacks by local Songhai or Mossi for allegedly harboring or being sympathetic to jihadists.
The New Humanitarian conducted interviews with six Burkinabe individuals—including an imam, an aid worker, and a teacher—to get a sense of what this violence has done to social cohesion in Burkina Faso. Read the full article here.
COVID-19 has had the entire world hit the panic button. Well, clearly not the little brats who refused to cancel their Spring Break parties in Miami. And not my dad's relative who, I'm told, hosted a large party in Douala last week to celebrate his new job.
I don't know how people are not freaking out. Here’s actual footage of my mind during the past few weeks:
I am scared as f*@k. Deliberate and afraid of nothing? Lorde, that is not me. I’ve lived with pretty severe anxiety for the past few years, and that was before a global pandemic decided to ruin 2020 for everyone.
When in panic mode, I often go back to this quote by Japanese artivist Yoko Ono: “Write down everything you fear in life. Burn it. Pour herbal oil with a sweet scent on the ashes.”
Naming My Fears
So, I made a list of everything I’m afraid of, and everyone I’m afraid for, in these surreal times.
I am scared for my asthmatic mother who won't be able to get the healthcare she needs in Cameroon if (when?) shit hits the fan.
I'm terrified that I might have unknowingly passed the virus to the friend I visited in hospital two weeks ago.
I worry about single mothers. Those who are home-schooling their kids while working from home or keeping their home running, with no possibility to get assistance. And those who are wondering who will take care of their children in case they are quarantined.
My anxiety hits peak levels when I think about how the COVID-19 prevention guidelines are nothing but wishful thinking for millions of people, especially in Africa. How do you wash your hands after every sneeze when you have no access to water? What does social distancing even look like for those who earn their wages by the day or live in large households?
Let’s not forget that for countless women, #StayAtHome is not a hashtag, it’s a potential death sentence. Self-isolation means they are trapped in with abusive partners until further notice, and that is terrifying.
I’m worried about the health workers who are on the frontlines of this pandemic: who takes care of them and their families?
I’m scared for all “safe spaces” and girls’ club participants who won’t get sexual health and rights information and services for the foreseeable future.
I can see how this exercise can be stressful for many, but expelling my unending internal monologue onto paper has been oddly soothing for me. Yet as I write these words, I am not sure I should publish them.
“Own Your Fears” Is Easier Said Than Done
Not only do I have no interest in spreading even more gloom, but I’m also aware that it is because of my privilege that I am able to process my emotions from the comfort of my home while others are out there fighting for their lives. It’s a feeling Shonda Rhimes captures beautifully in The Year of Yes:
“Am I drunk? Am I kidding me? Did I just think that? Honestly I’m a little indignant with myself. I’m embarrassed to even be having that thought. I’m ashamed, if you really wanna know. I’m bathed in shame. (…) You know who gets to be miserable? Malala. Because someone shot her in the face. You know who else? The Chibok schoolgirls. Because the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped them for school for forced marriage (…) and no one cares anymore. You know who else? Anne Frank. Because she and about six million other Jewish people were murdered by Nazis. And? Mother Teresa. Because everyone else was too lazy to treat the lepers and so she had to do it. It’s pretty shameful of me to sit around saying miserable when there are no bullets in my face and no one’s kidnapped me or killed me or left me alone to treat all the lepers.”
Replace “miserable” by “afraid” and that is exactly my inner voice right now. Add to it the hopelessness that comes from confinement, as I’m fully aware that the online tools at my disposal are out of reach for the people who will bear the brunt of the pandemic.
Fear, guilt and helplessness. Sounds like an activist’s nightmare to me.
Feminists Are Showing Us How It’s Done
I don’t know about you, but I typically react to fear by being quiet and immobile. (If you’re wondering why Eyala’s social media go silent for weeks at a time, now you know.) But somehow, I’ve found the energy to keep moving. Obviously, being in military-enforced lockdown with two kids who need to be home-schooled and reassured doesn’t leave much room for freezing. Plus, there is some comfort in remembering that this is everyone’s first global pandemic, and everyone must be equally terrified.
But also, I have seen enough glimpses of the world’s beauty to keep me going. I don’t mean the free concerts on Instagram, though it was nice to get a sneak peek into John Legend’s living room. My bouts of hope come from observing and conversing with feminist sisters from across the globe. Let me give you a few examples.
Nigerien feminist Fati N’zi-Hassane (from Niger, not Nigeria) is inviting Africans to record #SafeHandsChallenge videos in their local languages and share them on Whatsapp family groups. The goal is to reach family members who don’t speak the WHO’s official languages. Join the challenge if you can!
Chantal Naré, a feminist and communications specialist from Burkina Faso, has been blessing our Facebook timelines with simple infographics she created to debunk myths about COVID19, always using WHO-verified information. (No, eating garlic does not prevent Coronavirus infections.)
African Union Youth Envoy and badass feminist Aya Chebbi is organizing Africa’s COVID19 Youth Response with young activists from across the continent. She too is focusing on #FactsNotFear, and she’s making sure we know how to reach our respective countries’ Conoravirus hotlines. A queen!
Olutimehin Adegbeye, a brilliant feminist writer from Nigeria, is hosting hilarious but informational “Girl Grab a Glass” Instagram live chats. Last week we discussed what “building community and practicing solidarity looks like in these unsettled times”. I drank Orangina, but in an elegant wine glass. Don’t judge my life. I can’t wait for the next one.
Zimbabwean feminist Everjoice Win is asking all the tough questions about Africa’s response to the pandemic. I’ve learned a lot about online advocacy from just following her on Twitter.
In France, Afro-feminist poet Kiyemis started an online petition to demand that the government provide basic protective equipment (gloves and masks) for cashiers who are putting their lives at risk just so people can stock up on pasta and toilet paper. Sign the petition here.
Collectif PsyNoires, A small group of Black women therapists in France are making themselves available for free sessions with vulnerable women of color whose traumas are being triggered by COVID19-related anxiety. More information here (in French).
African feminists are once again inspiring me to feel my fears and do my part anyway, so I will.
I will keep checking in on my feminist sisters, and starting all my conversations with some version of “Hi, how are you coping in these scary times?” I will keep offering Eyala as a space that amplifies the voices of African feminists. I will host digital versions of Eyala’s Sisters Circles, the intimate, safe and brave spaces I’ve been creating for African women to share, learn and support one another.
The world has changed in unimaginable ways, but feminists haven’t. We got this.
How are you holding up?
What is giving you hope in these trying times? Please tell me in the comments below, or find me on: