My Favourite Def Jam Poets

Spoken word changed my life. My favourite poets in no particular order:


Joaquin Zihuatanejo — This is a Suit

I love the fact that it opens with legalese ‘specific litigation…’ A history lesson in a few short minutes. A snapshot of a life lived.


Michael Ellison — Mezeker Means to Remember

Now this guy does the bait and switch thing. And I love it. Memory and the failure to remember, each life makes this world richer, each loss makes it poorer.


Roger Bonair Agard — Calypso

Spoken word is meant to resonate with the musical rhythms and this one is an ode to calypso. Because music is always something more. An exploration of the depths of Calypso, a compelling listen.


Daniel Beaty – Knock, Knock

This is how to perform spoken word. I was spellbound when I heard this one. A personal tale of a father’s absence against a bigger picture.


Sunni Patterson: A Poetic Medley

This is Ms Patterson being dazzling. With her Afro and her baby and she is speaking word, like we are sitting in her living room, but she is taking us back to the dawn of time and opening our eyes to see vistas of possible worlds before us, if we would just believe. There is a reason I love Ms Patterson.


Gemineye – What Are You Fighting For?

Gemineye went there. Life is precious, but we need to open our eyes and see it. Sometimes we underestimate the power in our own hands.


Bassey Ikpi – Homeward


Oh! Homeward makes me cry, because of my grandmother, because we live in a world that insists on labelling dualities and pluralities, because home will never stop calling, because home is more than a place and because Ms Ikpi is brilliant.

Black Women Run with a Million Dreams

women of colour run with a million dreams on their backs

they run from the scripts of silence

they run from the hands that hinder

they run with the dreams of their children

they run with the regrets of their grandmothers

they run with the pains of those trapped in prisons of love

they run with the sounds of screaming singing in their ears

they run with a truckload of doubt in their hearts

yet they run

they run

they run

because all they have is hope

hope of what is possible

so they run carrying a million dreams

they run till their breath runs out

still they run

run till their strength gives out

still they run

run till their life runs out

and then they fall

and the dreams they carry take flight

to be caught by a new set of women

a million million dreams to be carried

on a million million backs

we run with a billion dreams on our backs






Why Black Girls are Magic

Dorothy Dandridge dipped one toe into one end of a swimming pool and panic ensued,

At the other end of the pool Simone Manuel emerged with a gold medal… magic


we are black girls

and we are magic

because we are many

and the voices we hear are many

we are told to be soft enough to be desired

hard enough to survive

smart enough to understand the trouble

dumb enough to shield fragile egos

skinny enough to be Western

wide enough to be African

beautiful enough to be exotic

ugly enough not to care

rich enough to be resilient

poor enough not to threaten

loud enough to be heard

silent enough not to be feared

not to be too fast to be women

not to be too strong to be human


we are black women

we need to be angry enough for our children

we need to be calm enough for our children

we need to be laughing with our children

we don’t need to be weeping for our children

we who have swum across the oceans

we who have trekked across the desert

we are saartjie and semanya

we are moremi and michelle

we are nzinga and condolezza and wangari and harriet and maya and johnson-sirleaf

we are the girl in the photograph and the girl on the ocean bed and the girl on the mountaintop

we are all this

we are black women

we must be magic



After the Games of Rio 2016: My review

As the Olympic Flame was extinguished once again, at the end of what is often called the greatest show on earth, it is time to pick the pieces, count the cost and move forward. I have really enjoyed the games at Rio (The first games in South America!). Rio is extremely beautiful and real. Watching the coverage on BBC platforms was an experience. I have been an avid fan of the Olympics since Seoul 1988. There are lessons in the Olympic movement that are constant, and messages that fluidly morph with the passage of time.

The Olympics is like NYSC for the world (for the uninitiated the National Youth Service Corps is a governmental organization and scheme in Nigeria which sends tertiary graduates for one year to a state far away (supposedly) from where they are locally from within the country. The aim is to foster peace and unity by enabling youths identify with other ethno-linguistic groups by learning different cultures). The premise of this post is that the Olympic Movement may fail if (in the language of the NYSC) rich kids get posted to their homes (host cities are mostly in the first world and events like horse dancing are de rigeur) camp officials keep stealing the rice (Team Nigeria management), corps members stay away for most of the year (Lochte gate) and the fluidity of national and international identity is not recognised (That does not really need an explanation, does it?).

Firstly, I must say that the star of the 31st Olympiad was without a doubt, the city of Rio and its people. From the views of Christ the Redeemer, to Sugar Loaf Mountain and Copacabana Beach. Its majesty was breath-taking. The fact that Rio is a city of contrasts of extreme poverty and extreme beauty was much talked about before the Games – like it was some new revelation. In every city around the world, tinted armoured cars drive past run-down dwellings and well-heeled business men turn their faces from the homeless. In every city. Rio is still beautiful and still alive.


The goal of the Olympic Movement is succinctly phrased in its Charter ‘to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised in accordance with Olympism and its values.’ (Just in case you wondered what Olympism means – ‘Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.’) The 1st Olympic Games of the modern era opened in Athens on 6 April 1896 championed by Baron Pierre de Coubertin who was strongly motivated by the pursuit of peace and intercultural communication through international sport.

For the most part, these pursuits are achieved. Nevertheless I believe the IOC has not begun to appreciate the difference between the world of 1896 and the world in 2016. The first Olympics in Athens was attended by 241 athletes, 14 countries and had 43 events – there were no women competitors. Probably a step-up from the ancient Games were women spectators were killed! At Rio 2016 there were 11,544 athletes (more than 45% are women), 207 teams (205 countries, the Refugee team and the Olympic team) and 306 events.

While many countries won their first medals ever and their first gold medals ever, the Medal Tally still manages to reflect the inequalities in the world. US, UK and China at the top, UAE, Trinidad and Nigeria at the bottom. Evidently the IOC is not doing enough to promote Olympism around the world. More youth from across the world deserve the opportunity to be the best they can be – at sports that are international. There were 14 countries at the first Olympics because there were very few recognised states in the world at the time. The idea of Wesphalianism underpins the Olympic Movement – as a tool of peace, the presumption is that states that participate will not go to war during the Games. The more states at the Games the better. However, the nature of the world has departed from Westphalianism – the idea that in international life states are the dominant actors. This is no longer so. Many non-state actors dominate global affairs, terror has become a fact of life, and the Games has often been a target. The IOC needs to acknowledge this as well as the diversity of human existence.

Doing the above comes at a high cost. It is slightly surprising that the Summer games were held for the first time in South America in 2016. Thus far Asia (the most populous continent) has hosted thrice (Tokyo 1964, Seoul 1988 and Beijing 2008) and Africa (second largest continent) never. Conversely, The United States has hosted four Summer Olympics (1904, 1932, 1984, and 1996), and Great Britain has hosted 3 – all in London. This is a clear imbalance. The sports are also imbalanced – gymnastics and dressage for instance. The excuse for not going to more locations has always been the cost. However, not taking the Games to as many diverse places as possible defeats the purpose of the Olympic Movement. It has been suggested that the Games should permanently be held in Greece. While there are environmental advantages to this argument, it would defeat the purpose of the Games. The IOC has a duty to factor in sustainability into its agenda AS WELL AS diversity. We need to see a more diverse and responsible Movement that upholds the dignity and aspiration of all the youth of the world. For example, the fact that there were fewer spectators in Rio than in London does not suggest that one was better than the other, but that different approaches should have been taken based on the nature of the host city. Rigidity will kill the Olympic movement faster than expense could ever hope to. The Favelas were full of the youth that the IOC claims to wish to inspire. Olympism should speak to us all. The Movement belongs to all of us.


Switching Nationalities: Going back to how much the world has changed in 120 years. ‘We are many’ seems to be the state of nature in the 21st century. We also need to remember that nationality is fiction that was a relatively recent introduction to many parts of the world. Furthermore, people switch nationality for various reasons. Nigeria benefitted from UK and US switches, but had people switching to Bahrain or choosing to compete in their alternative nationality. More than 30 Kenyan-born athletes switched nationality for Rio. Now we need to remember that for many athletes, their participation in sport is their job, the IOC cannot rightly hinder the freedom to work. I strongly believe that people should be allowed to compete for anyone they want to. The problem we have is that many countries treat the Olympics as an extension of hostilities. So you see China wanting to outdo the US, the UK wanting to outdo France. This is not the vision of the Olympic movement. We want the best people in the world to compete at their best in the spirit of fair play. I also believe that if the Olympic movement is hijacked to serve the aspirations of state-based dominance we will continue to see more state-sponsored or state-complicit doping. So the IOC should encourage all youth participation at the Games – if someone is eligible to work in a nation, they should be eligible to compete for them. As a friend in the UK once asked me. ‘I am Brazilian, my wife is Hungarian, if we have a child in the UK, which football team would he play for?’ Oro p’esi je o = no answer. Orlando Ortega,  Cuban-born Spanish 110 hurdler, found out he could run for Spain a few days before his event and won silver.


Unsporting Behaviour: There was so much sportsmanship at the Olympics. But. While the utmost unsporting behaviour at an Olympics is still doping, there were various instances of different types of unsporting behaviour at the Games. A personal pet-peeve of mine is commentators who rejoice in the misfortune of a good competitor from another country because they believe that it will advance their own competitor’s chances. They never seem to like it when the script is flipped. On average there seem to be more disqualification of athletes from the South, athletes from the South are also less likely to contest DQs. The IOC and sporting organisations need to take note of this. Sexist and racist commentary was rife. (Being a black woman is not easy!) Also of special note is the constant single story approach to the Parade of Nations commentary. All African nations were defined by whether or not there is a war or poverty in it. Please stop it! Stop in now. However Ryan Lochte and Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad stand out for me. Lochte for whom the trauma of being unable to speak Portuguese caused him to destroy a petrol station and ‘embellish’ the facts and Mekhissi-Benabbad who saw his mentor Ezekiel Kemboi make a mistake on the track and began to rejoice in the benefit he would receive from that. There should be some wooden spoon award for bad behaviour. I do not mean heat of the moment unguarded reactions, but actions that suggest deep-seated character flaws. These should attract penalties as harsh as some doping penalties.

The Refugee Team: This for me was one great ‘thumbs-up’ act of the IOC. We live a world where labels have been used to dehumanise people who have to flee the exigencies that global greed has created. We are complicit in their plight. In the search for hope for humanity, the refugee is a flickering light that must not be extinguished. Of special note is Yusra Mardini a Syrian swimmer, who along with others pushed a boat for nearly 5 km, over 3 hours, until it reached shore, saving the lives of 18 people. She reflects the Olympic spirit.

‘Politics’ and the Olympics: The Olympic movement has always been used to highlight issues that affect everyday life in countries sometimes not always in the news. At the 1968 Olympics African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised Black Power salute as a demonstration conducted by during their medal ceremony. All three athletes on the podium suffered for this. In 1976 most sovereign African nations (and a few others) boycotted the Montreal Games when the IOC would not support the banning from competition of countries whose athletes had participated in sporting events in South Africa as long as apartheid continued. The IOC has typically frowned upon behaviour that it deems ‘political’. In my opinion these actions are not political, but necessary – especially for the silenced. It is hypocritical for the Olympic movement not to acknowledge the voices of the oppressed. At the men’s marathon on the last day of Rio 2016, Feyisa Lilesa from Ethiopia crossed his wrists above his head in solidarity with the Oromo people, hundreds of whom have been killed protesting the Ethiopian government. He went on to win the silver medal. The Olympics should never be the site of erasure or silencing.


Athletics at Rio 2016: I have waxed lyrical about my love for athletics in a number of previous posts. So I will not repeat all my love here. However, I must say that the athletics program was one of the best I have seen in a while – Almaz Ayana breaking the 10,000m record, Wayde van Niekerk breaking the 400m record, Anita Włodarczyk breaking her own hammer record, the repeats of Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Ashton Eaton – all mesmerising. I will not talk about Caster Semanya. Too much has been said already that should not have been said. On some matters silence is golden and worth more than any medal. Nevertheless, athletics the longest serving Olympic sport proved itself yet again.

Nigeria at the Olympics: Okay Nigeria messed up. Not the athletes, they did the best under very, very bad conditions. However, I believe that if we want to see a change in Nigerian fortunes at the Olympics, the people of Nigeria have to be the change. Firstly it is not the governments business to run sports. The business of government will and should always be government. Sports is not political. Secondly we need to remember that in 1996 Nigeria won more gold medals than the UK. At Rio 2016 UK was 2nd on the medal table. We need to learn their lessons and learn our own lessons. The death of sports stems from lack of funding. My suggestion is that rich kids need to become athletes. I am very, very serious. They can afford it and it will create a legacy that may encourage funding. It is worth a shot. Rio 2016 was not Nigeria’s worst games.

Nigeria at the Olympics

Africa and the Olympics: I hope that very soon an African country (or a consortium of countries) will host the Olympics. Then the movement will definitely be complete. Imagine the opening ceremony and the volunteers and the music. The African Olympiad would be the most beautiful thing on earth.



Lessons From Day 6 of Rio 2016

Lesson 1: Michael Phelps is all of us. I don’t mean that we are all built for swimming. I mean we are all built for something. And like Phelps we are all built for something great. We are all a combination of spirit, heart and body built for something great. On the 11th of August 2016, Phelps won his 22nd Olympic gold medal and his 25th Olympic medal. He has won more Olympic medals in his life than Portugal has ever won as a country. But his journey to this point has been marked by obstacles which he has been able to overcome, he has had people come alongside him, and there has been times of self-doubt. He retired and returned; learned to fall in love again with his passion. And that is all of us. Watching him play with his son at the poolside and tear up during the medal ceremony, I learn that Phelps is all of us, because we have many dreams inside of us, we need drive, we need determination, we need love and we need balance. And we need to believe even when we don’t.


Lesson 2: Ten-ten needs to be an Olympic sport. Prior to Rio 2016, Fiji had never won an Olympic medal. In Rio 2016, Rugby sevens was included for the first time. So in the Rugby 7s final, Fiji decimated their opposition 43-7 to win their first ever medal and it was gold! Rugby is their thing. They won without remorse. Listening to them singing after the match, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. In life you have to do you, and sometimes you get a big stage to do the thing you know how to do best. Take that chance, decimate your obstacles. I am writing to the International Olympic Committee, asking that Ten-ten, Ayo, and Country Game should be added to the Olympic movement. Sure gold for Nigeria niyen!


Lesson 3: Name your daughters Simone. I jest. Sort of. On day 6, 19-year old Simone Biles won the women’s individual all-around final in gymnastics. Her dominance in the sport have had people comparing her to Bolt and Phelps. In response she said ‘I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.’ On the same night Simone Manuel jointly won the 100m freestyle swimming event to become the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold in an individual swimming event. Growing up, gymnastics and swimming were not sports I associated with black people and especially not black women. This. This is why representation matters. Because there are markers in the sands of time. A black girl who watches the Simones knows that these are possible dreams, these are valid dreams. Because black women carry a million dreams on their backs. The dreams of those watching their screens with wide-eyed smiles and seeing the Simones say to themselves, ‘I can do this, that could be me.’ The Simones draw a line in the sand, for the next generation to step over, till we get to the Promised Land.




My Dubious Love of Telenovelas

In 1992 when Marianna strolled onto our screens in ‘The Rich Also Cry,’ the sociology of our lives was changed forever. Our eyes were opened to new worlds of never-setting sunsets, impossible story lines, over-the-top reactions, plotholes you could sail an ocean liner through with a galaxy to spare, characterisations so fluid as to be so obtuse that one minute they are unable to spot a disguise which constitutes the wearing of sunglasses, while the next minute they are able to pick out the paternity of a child by glancing at a grainy picture. Most of all watching, telenovelas in the 90s required the complete annihilation, destruction and repudiation of disbelief.

Some of these old telenovelas have been uploaded onto YouTube and I am now convinced that a large part of my youth was spent watching the stringing out of incredible storylines. Like the time in the ‘Lady of the Rose’ when the heroine spent 3 40-minute episodes taking a pregnancy test, this after the lady got pregnant before going into a 7 month coma, afterward she had the baby about 1 year later! (I am still convinced that they should have adopted the indisputable and infallible Nollywood pregnancy tests that involve either throwing up – despite the prevalence of malaria in Nigeria throwing up is a definite positive test – or the slightly less common one where the mother looks at her daughter’s palms and falls to the ground disconsolate, but I digress.) Then there was the nearly 60 year old Veronica Castro acting the teenage brat in ‘Wild Rose’. Re-watching clips of ‘Maria de los Angeles’ I see that over a space of 40 years the only thing that changed about the appearance of Orquídea Córdoba Escalante was the length her skirt, which became longer as she aged – if this telenovela had gone any further she would probably have been killed off by tripping on her skirt. Then there was Maximiliano “Max” Albéniz in ‘No One But You’ who kept on thinking of increasingly ridiculous ways to kill his stepbrother, Antonio Lombardo. The major idea he had was marrying the unsuspecting Raquel Samaniego Silva in his brother’s name and then engineering a plane crash to kill Antonio – while carrying on a clandestine affair with Martha Samaniego, Raquel’s sister. When Max got too irritating, Antonio just shot him dead in their living room – which is what Max should have done in the first place.

My personal favourite ridiculous scene comes from the ‘Lady of the Rose.’ The characters had spent about a gazillion episodes getting reading for a dinner party, so we knew something big was coming. The dinner culminated in Tony Clemente packing his wife Eleanoré out his house – she had managed to conceive a child with William Ashford (an ex-boyfriend and son of Tony’s best friend) in a bid to maintain her husband’s (Tony’s) affections – and move his secretary Emperatriz Ferrer into the house immediately – they literally bumped into each other in the hallway. Unbeknownst to the gathered relatives, Emperatriz Ferrer was actually his ex, Gabrielle Swanson who had been falsely accused (Tony was complicit in a convoluted way), escaped from prison and by means of some very convincing glasses and amazing make-up (there had to be some juju people!) had managed to get a job in Tony’s corporation and become his right hand person. Also in attendance was Tony’s stepmother Amanda Érliz – Amanda happened to at one time be Tony’s mistress, but when he dumped her she slept with Andrew Payne (Tony’s pilot) in revenge  (Andrew had proposed to Gabrielle), when the Tony found out, (about the sleeping together not the proposal) he (Tony) employed Hernandez to hire people to beat them up (Andrew and Amanda, in case you are confused – even my brackets are confused), the hired hands could not tell the difference between Amanda and Gabrielle (it’s a long story) so beat up Gabrielle and somehow this contrived to land her in jail.

The surprising thing is that we kept up with the story lines. And how we did! On Monday mornings, in secondary schools, in offices, in street corners, we gathered around doing our best telenovela impressions and coming up with story lines for the next few episodes. Everyone was on tenterhooks to know what happened next, streets were deserted when the telenovelas went on television, weddings ended early so that people could go and watch the next episode, and woe betide the NEPA station that decided to cut off the electricity during an episode.

Telenovelas defined the 90s when there was little to watch on television. Despite the incredible storylines, telenovelas were the stuff of the 90s with their sparkly dresses, tight trousers, hairy chests and poufy hair – a kind of innocence that is the nostalgia that ran through our youth, a dying art form which tells an ordinary story with flash and funfare, and held us gripped and never really set us free.

No One But You

Wild Rose

The Rich Also Cry


The Lady of the Rose


Maria de Los Angeles

Amandla: A Revolution in 4-Part Harmony

I have this DVD. It is fantastic. I encourage everyone to watch, especially if you love music. I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the laws of apartheid. The research I did was a fascinating exploration into the oppressive and liberating possibilities of law.


Madam, Please!


Mandela Brings Us Peace


The Study of Apartheid is Still Relevant

On Feb. 11, 1990, my grandfather came to Ilorin from Koro to visit. He had to go to my father’s office so that my dad could bring him home as there was no one at home. My grandfather was quite insistent on being brought home as quickly as possible. He wanted to put on the radio and listen to the news. Something people thought they would never see in their lifetime was happening. This was the day Nelson Mandela was set free after 27 years in prison. For those of us who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, apartheid was something both far away and very near. Live coverage of the Paul Simon’s concert in Zimbabwe, myriad films about apartheid, anti-apartheid songs, news reports, and constant donations to the ANC were woven into the tapestry of our lives. After the election in South Africa in 1994, when Mandela became president,  preoccupations with apartheid withered away.

Years later as a Law undergraduate I wrote my UG dissertation on the continuing relevance of the crime of apartheid. I was and continue to be concerned that the lessons of history seem to have little impact of the rights and laws that we advocate for. To understand why I say this, an understanding of the nature and structure of apartheid is required.


Apartheid, is defined as the policy and system of laws implemented and enforced by the white minority governments of South Africa from 1948 to 1990; and by extension, any legally sanctioned system of segregation. This definition can be found in Article 2 of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. The most intellectually interesting and relevant thing about apartheid, was the system of laws that kept it in place. These laws predate 1948. The first such legislation denounced by the African National Congress was the Natives Land Act 1913 of which Solomon Plaatje wrote ‘awakening on Friday morning, June 20th 1913, the South African Native found himself a pariah in the land of his birth.’ These were laws that were deliberated upon by seemingly rational people who sat on commissions like the Sauer Commission which states in its report: ‘The policy of apartheid has grown out of the experience of the established white population of the country, and is based on the Christian principle of right and justice… The National Party realizes the danger of the flood of Africans to the cities and undertaken to protect the white character of our cities.’

The apartheid government attempted to divide the internationally recognized State of South Africa into a number of states.  Some 87% of the land was reserved for whites and Indians. About 13% of the land was divided into ten fragmented “Homelands” or “Bantustans” for Blacks (who represented 80% of the population).  The South African Army would intervene to remove homeland governments that implemented policies not to the government’s liking. The purported autonomy and independence granted those homelands were therefore merely an illusion.

To keep this illusion in place at least 317 Acts specific to racial segregation were passed by the apartheid government. There served to legitimise the idea separation predicated on presumptions of inferiority. The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act 1949, prohibited marriage between whites and non-whites. The Population Registration Act 1950 led to the creation of a national register in which every person’s race was recorded. The Group Areas Act 1950 extended the provisions of the Natives Land Act 1913.  It forced physical separation between races by creating different residential areas for different races. The Separate Representation of Voters Act 1951, together with its 1956 amendment led to the removal of non-whites from the common roll onto a separate roll. The Acts required that blacks elected white representatives only. The Natives (Abolition of Passes and Coordination of Documents) Act 1952, was commonly known as the Pass Laws. This ironically named Act mandated black people to carry identification with them at all times.


There was internal and external agitation against apartheid. Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo were members of the ANC at the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement. In 1962, the security police captured Nelson Mandela. Oliver Tambo had been sent away from South Africa to seek international support for the anti-apartheid movement. The UN General Assembly passed the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid on the 30th of November 1973. African states and other post-colonial/third-world states were instrumental in international anti-apartheid agitation. In 1976, 33 African and other countries boycott the Montreal Olympics in protest of New Zealand’s rugby tour of South Africa. Individual citizens across the world began to boycott companies and products associated with the apartheid government. Eventually the economic strength of apartheid was broken, by the ‘powerless.’ In 1990 Nelson Mandela was released. At 12.19pm, on 10 May 1994, Nelson Mandela was sworn in as President.



There are number of reasons why the foregoing history is still relevant. Apartheid was sustained by laws. Laws can be wrong, unjust discriminatory, it is never sufficient to say ‘well, they have not broken the law.’ We need to question the justness of laws, as we need to question the justness of humanity. Apartheid may have had a different name, but the idea that difference is a marker of inferiority has never left the landscape of humanity. We must always remember that inaction by world governments may result in the destruction of humanity, we saw this in Rwanda and Bosnia and we see it in Syria and the Mediterranean. We should also remember that the powerless are only so, if they think they are. It was the powerless that ended apartheid, not the powerful. The current state of South Africa give us cause for caution. Laws may be repealed, and laws may be passed but this is insufficient for real change. If the fibre of humanity is decayed, laws are cosmetic.

Most importantly the study of history is always relevant. Ralph Waldo Emerson, said, ‘The use of history is to give value to the present hour and its duties.’ There are many historical and contemporary situations reminiscent of apartheid.

The Native American: From before the American Civil War (1861-1865), Native Americans were assigned to different areas known as ‘Indian Territory’.  The India Intercourse Act 1834 prohibited whites from entering into Indian Territory. The Dawes Severalty Act 1887 divided tribal lands into small plot, which were then distributed to individual members of the tribe 47 million acres went to Native Americans 90 million acres of the best plots of land were sold to whites. Laws and separation predicated on difference.


The African-American: After a long history of slavery and cruelty, in 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment was passed which gave blacks the right to vote.  However, this right was subject to literacy tests, poll taxes and property qualifications, which allowed blacks to be disfranchised. The US Supreme Court in Williams v Mississippi (1898) held that literacy tests were constitutional.  Louisiana adopted the Grandfather Clause which allowed anyone to vote only if the fathers and grandfathers had voted before 1867, a time when no blacks had been allowed to vote. The Supreme Court in the case of Plessy v Ferguson, held that segregation was not a violation of a citizens’ rights. Laws and discrimination predicated on difference.


Israel and Palestine: In April 2002 Israel declared that the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be cut into eight main areas, outside of which Palestinians could not live without a permit. Settlement expansion went on unabated: more than 2500 houses and 52 settlement outposts were constructed between September 2000 and January 2003. The construction of the wall between Israel and the West Bank, expected to be at least 360 km long, has established a unilaterally Israeli border that encroaches on the 1967 boundaries and cuts Palestinian areas off from each other. Laws and separation predicated on difference.


South Asia’s Untouchables: At the very bottom of this social strata are the ‘untouchables’ or ‘Dalits’. The caste system is very rigid. A member of one caste may not move to another caste, higher or lower. It is totally impossible. Untouchables are discriminated against, denied access to land, forced to work in slave-like conditions and abused, even killed at the hands of the police and of higher-caste groups that enjoy the state’s protection. Apart from India, the caste system is also well-grounded in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Japan. In 1950, untouchability was abolished under India’s constitution. However, these laws are openly disobeyed. It is culture-based discrimination not law-driven. Laws, indifference to laws, discrimination and separation predicated on difference.


Global Apartheid: this ‘is an international system of minority rule that promotes inequalities, disparities and differential access to basic human rights, wealth and power.’ The inequalities of the present, build on a foundation of the old inequalities like slavery and colonialism. Global apartheid entrenches great disparities in wealth, living conditions, life expectancy and access to government institutions with effective power.

According to Salih Booker and William Minter, (writing in The Nation – 2001)  this disparity relies on the false assumption:

“… that it is ‘natural’ for different population groups to have different expectations of life. In apartheid South Africa, that was the rationale for differentiating everything according to race, from materials for housing to standards of education and healthcare. Globally, it is now the rationalization used to defend the differential between Europe and Africa in funding for everything from peace keeping to humanitarian assistance ($ 1.23 a day for European refugees 11 cents a day for African refugees.”

The gradations of privilege according to group are closely linked to the possibility of crossing barriers from the “homelands”, to the more privileged, geographical areas. Like South Africa apartheid’s influx control, the immigration barriers of developed countries do not succeed in stopping the flow despite raising the costs of enforcement.

In his book, Unraveling Global Apartheid, Titus Alexander says ‘the G7 countries have 12 percent of the world’s population, but they use over 70 percent of its resources in cash terms and dominate all major decision-making bodies.’



Apartheid is sometimes seen as one of the world’s greatest evils. However, we need to remember it, so that we do not relieve its horrors. We need to remember its lessons. Sometimes the smallest things makes the biggest changes. Legal does not always mean right.  The passage of a law does not mean the inherent rights/protections are just; the repeal of an unjust law is not a magic wand to remove years of injustice. It is people that can bring about change. Ultimately, power belongs to the people.