A World of Falling Skies & Dominator Culture

Women hold up half the sky – Mao Zedong

I do not like the idea of ’empowering women.’ Hear me out. Hold the firing squad. When we speak along those lines, we suggest that women are inherently powerless. We suggest that there is something within womenfolk that needs to be corrected to grant them agency. We ignore millenia of cultures and policies that were designed to strip women of their inherent power. We ignore the way women have withstood these efforts and persisted and what women have achieved despite real and indirect violence. We put responsibility for change solely on women. Without putting responsibility for change where it should rightly be, we cannot see real and lasting change.

Most men do not realise how they are socially conditioned to be violent. Jamie Utt wrote a very instructive article on men’s blindspots to socialised behaviour which could be potentially abusive. It is worth a read.

Someone else worth reading on this is bell hooks, who talks about ‘dominator culture.’ She says:

“Dominator culture teaches all of us that the core of our identity is defined by the will to dominate and control others. We are taught that this will to dominate is more biologically hardwired in males than in females. In actuality, dominator culture teaches us that we are all natural-born killers but that males are more able to realize the predator role. In the dominator model the pursuit of external power, the ability to manipulate and control others, is what matters most. When culture is based on a dominator model, not only will it be violent but it will frame all relationships as power struggles.”

bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (Atria Books, 2004) 115

Put very simply, she is saying that our global value system is based on violence and not virtue. Biologically men are stronger than women, so we as society give men more value – establishing patriarchy. The richer you are the more able you are to assert all forms of violence against the less rich – establishing classism. The social constructions of race mean that the darker you are, the more likely you are to be subject to violence – establishing racism. Dominator culture can never achieve community. It is a culture better suited for destruction.

We have constructed a world based on false values and prioritised violence.

The history of the world is a history of violence. A history of domination and oppression.

Reform that attempts to correct the oppressed but not the oppressor is doomed to failure.

And our skies will keep on falling, because half the world is holding down the other half.

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The Fallacy of African Statehoods

Introduction

Caveat: This is a sweeping generalisation, that tries to pick on the middle ground of similarities. I have taken account of the extremes such as Somalia which is the classic failed state, and more stable polities like Mauritius. It is notable that African states have often score highly on the Fragile/Failed States Index.

 

The Argument for the Failed African State

States were ostensibly created to maintain the security of those who live within that state, when its peoples’ security is not observed the state would be said to have failed; the failure to protect human rights is a malfunction of state, for example.

According to Kaufmann and Kraay the crux of good governance is ‘a capable state that is accountable to citizens and operating under the rule of law.’ The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank encourage good governance that can be achieved through accountability, political stability, adherence to the rule of law, government effectiveness, ability to promote private sector development, transparency and eradication of corruption. Secondly, a state is said to fail or be collapsed ‘when it no longer performs the functions attributed to it.’ According to these definitions as well as the Fragile/Failed States Index mentioned above, many African states would be properly classified as failed.

The concept of state failure is a matter of functional collapse, i.e. state malfunction or non-function, when a state is not able to perform the fundamental functions attributed to it. This proposition, however, fails to take account the nature of the post-colonial state in Africa.   What is not addressed, based on the same criteria, is whether African states are actually states. Coupled with what could be seen as a relaxation of the traditional criteria for statehood at decolonization, the emergence of the additional criteria has resulted in some post-colonial states to be classified as failed states. What that means is while failure is clearly proven, statehood is not. This is a fallacy of logic based on a false premise.

 

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The Creation of States in International Law

The classical criteria for statehood is listed in Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention 1933 as follows: permanent population; defined territory; government; capacity to enter into relations, i.e. independence.  Some additional suggested criteria include: the protection of human rights; external recognition; and effectiveness.

In fact, of the classical criteria of statehood, recognition and territory are the only conditions clearly attained by African states; in the case of territory, even though this is usually clearly defined it is not completely accepted by those within those territories. According to Kreijen state attainment in Africa was achieved by a ‘legal trick’ which involved the abandonment of ‘effectiveness.’ Therefore, according to his theory, African states werr created and recognised outside the classical method of creating states which led to inefficient pseudo-states which inevitably failed.  Somewhere between the fleeting transition from colonies to states, there was a legal and political mishap.  The disintegration of governmental control reduces the strength of the peoples’ allegiance to a state, and in fact the belief in citizenship and the rights and duties it entails become a hollow confidence forcing people to re-align along religious or ethnic lines. In actuality, a state never really existed and there was nothing to pledge allegiance to.

Even though Kreijen’s theory works from logical historical premises to achieve a seemingly rational conclusion, nevertheless he accepts African states as states, though inevitably failed. He posits therefore that what was not in existence can be created by relaxed rules and engendered by recognition. Therefore, while he asserts that the states are not states stricto sensu, he suggests that they were created as ineffective states doomed to failure. This theory operates from the conception that state failure induced the reduced allegiance to the state, it does not consider the fact that there was lack of allegiance to the state by the citizens and the government; that by attributing that same allegiance to the ethno-linguistic or ethno-religious group rather than to the state, the state disintegrated before it was integrated. Furthermore, from Langford’s definition of a failed state, as a sovereign entity, that can no longer perform the functions of statehood, suffers from the same presupposition. The problem is that the states never performed the functions of statehood prior to decolonisation, and have had difficulty in doing so thereafter. The classification of African states becomes increasingly problematic. The definition of a failed state is only convincing because we all accept, at a very fundamental level and without evidence that African states are states, because we say they are. Conceptually and logically, we have no reason to do so.

The lack of effectiveness that Kreijen adduced to African states is exhibited by the following signs:

  1. The central government’s authority is weak and doubtful,
  2. Government is ineffectual and riddled with corruption,
  3. There is segmentation of the community and society into various publics and political allegiance is divided along those segments.

Mazrui described the failure of the African state as being characterised by lack of sovereign control over territory; ineffective revenue extraction, inability to maintain national infrastructure or provide social services or maintain law and order.

Africa’s Future?

Nevertheless, despite the theoretical and/or overt ineffectiveness of African states, any attempt to effectively and legally question their statehood would be met with opposition internally and externally. They have existed and trade and been admitted into the UN. In other words, they are externally functioning as states.  On the other hand, the inherent problems of questionable statehood are exhibited by the inadequacy of their internal functions which results in underdevelopment, instability and insecurity. They exist in sufferance and while not possessed of effectiveness, the states have title to territory. This itself was an expedient step in decolonisation. Title to territory enables the sale of natural resources.

Ironically, a state which is completely effective but was created by means unaccepted by international law would not be recognised as a state (Somaliland). Conversely, because some states were created by an acceptable means – decolonisation – though largely ineffective, they are protected by the cloak of externally imputed sovereignty. The conception of state has become rigid in policy and theory while it remains fluid in actuality.

Therefore, the responsibility for the creating the African states, ideologically lies with the African people. The people need to take charge of their own destiny. States should be built, not imposed the grassroots. The international community suggests democracy as a means to ensure human security. While encouraging people to vote is commendable, a populace whose understanding of democracy is limited to political participation as only achievable by voting, will not ensure a credible democratic process. Governments that only have to convince the international community that elections were ‘free and fair’, will not be constrained to ensure the security of the people is protected.

The immobility of ideology about African statehood, identity and community allegiance needs to be confronted, but this can only be done efficiently, when the need for it is realised, from within. On all spheres, local, national and international, there needs to be an attitudinal and paradigmatic alteration that eschews conceptual stagnation and focuses on human security. Human security involves a paradigm shift. We need to change the ‘focus of security to the ability of individuals to live, rather than states to exist.’ Human security is a mechanism ‘to protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhances human freedoms and human fulfilment.’ In other words, it does not matter how Africa is subdivided, as long as her people are allowed to live free fulfilled lives.

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What Gandhi Taught me About Love and Nonviolence

I was probably about 7 years old the first time I watched the film Gandhi. It still holds pride of place in my film collection, nestled in between The Sound of Music and The Godfather I, II and III sits my worn copy of Gandhi. Close friends have been forced to sit through 3 hours of film as I study every single piece of dialogue and nuance. The film has layers deep as the crevices on the mountain range behind my grandparents house in Okebukun. The message of the film of Gandhi is love and non-violence in the pursuit of human freedom. Nothing I have seen in the many, many years since has convinced me that there is a better path to tread than love in the quest for a better world.

One of my favourite scenes in the film is the burning of the passes. Peace does not mean giving up, ever. If we want to see change, we must keep on pushing till we see it, or die trying.

Using violence loses you the moral high ground. In the speech below he says ‘In this cause, I too am prepared to die… but there is no cause in which I am prepared to kill…They cannot take our self-respect if we do not give it to them…They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me, then they will have my dead body. NOT MY OBEDIENCE!’

Non-violent resistance is persistent. Many struggles have failed because ideals have betrayed and strayed. ‘I want to change their minds, not kill them for weaknesses we all possess.’ When Gandhi fasted India came to a standstill. As he says below ‘In the end, you will walk out. Because 100,000 Englishmen simply cannot control 350 million Indians, if those Indians refuse to cooperate.’

Great resistance need great leaders. The protest at Dharasana salt works only succeeded because of great leadership, sacrificial leadership. Such that when the leader was arrested, his guidance continued. We all deserve a better world, but someone has to stand up for it. We have more in common than the things that divide us.

Love Always: The film ends with these lines spoken by Gandhi, ‘When I despair, I remember that the way of truth and love has always won. There may be tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it: always.’

Louise Linton’s ‘Heart of Darkness’: A review

From Chinua Achebe to Binyavanga Wainaina, so much has been said about the pernicious obscuring of African humanity in writing about Africa. The volume and passion of writing in this area means that it is very, very disheartening to see that this type of writing can get published (even self-published) and an excerpt can get space in a ‘respectable’ paper.

Joseph Conrad’s  Heart of Darkness, was much vaunted at the time of publication, but as African writers began to enter into the literary arena, the cracks in his prose were pointed out. In his critique Achebe notes:

Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as “the other world,” the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where a man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality

(Achebe, Chinua. “An image of Africa.” The Massachusetts Review 18.4 (1977): p 783.)

Achebe explains further the dangers in this type of writing, he says it portrays:

Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril.  p. 788

And it perpetuates and makes us think only of :

the stereotype image, about its grip and pervasiveness, about the willful tenacity with which the West holds it to its heart; … about books read in schools and out of school, of churches preaching to empty pews about the need to send help to the heathen in Africa…p 792

Binyavanga Wainaina’s piece How to write about Africa, describes Linton’s prose so accurately, it may have been used as a guide.

Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life—but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.

But let us take a look at the excerpt as produced by The Telegraph

How my dream gap year in Africa turned into a nightmare (Excerpt from ‘In Congo’s Shadow’)

(She went to Zambia! Not Africa! Not Congo! Why does Congo have a shadow? Why is Congo included in the title?)

Two hours had passed – maybe three. I couldn’t tell. The dense jungle canopy above me had eliminated what little moonlight there was and plunged me into inky blackness deep in the Zambian bush. (I reiterate, she went to Zambia, no jungle in Zambia, it is Savannah, grassland like much of Africa and the rest of the world, no jungle! no jungle at all. Which means that there would be no inky blackness and no bush. Why do we have the word ‘bush’ here? Dictionary meaning = ‘wild or uncultivated country.’ See above about Savannah which is grassland, even when wild, no bush)

I lay very still, listening for the armed rebels and wondering how long it was until daybreak, not knowing if I’d survive to see it. (unnecessary sense of terror)

With my body shaking and my brain frozen with fear, it was hard to remember how I’d ended up there, 6,000 miles from home. An 18-year-old Scot and former pupil of the prestigious Fettes College (contrast the prestige with the wild jungle, bush etc),

I had come to Africa with hopes of helping some of the world’s poorest people. (Because the prestigious Fettes College equips you to ‘help’  all of Africa’s poor. An 18 year old who has the arrogance that she can help Africa. The creators of the instagram account for ‘Sviour Barbie’ want people to “stop treating ‘third world countries’ as a playground for us to learn and gain real life experience from“. Because this story has at its most basic message, how good she is, despite how bad Africa is.)

But my gap year had become a living nightmare when I inadvertently found myself caught up in the fringes of the Congolese War (Which one? the 1996–1997?  or 1998-2003?).

Gunshots echoed through the bush and seemed to be getting closer. I couldn’t imagine the awful, sporadic acts of violence that were being committed as the village was ransacked. Fear and anger for the children consumed my thoughts. Part of me wanted to jump up and make it all stop (And how will you be achieving that? The same way you plan to make all the poor countries rich? By your very presence?), but then I heard shrill screams and shrank back into my hiding place.

As the night ticked interminably by, I tried not to think what the rebels would do to the ‘skinny white muzungu with long angel hair’ if they found me. (I really do not have words for this…)

Clenching my jaw to stop my teeth chattering, I squeezed my eyes shut and reminded myself how I’d come to be a central character in this horror story. (I know! I know! You wrote it?)

I could hear the voice of my mother, Rachel, in my head: her soft Scottish accent always sparks memories of my childhood on the outskirts of Edinburgh, where I grew up with my brother, sister and our many pets – even a boating lake and a secret garden. We had everything we could possibly want and were very happy – until the day when cancer took our mother from us and everything changed forever. She was only 53.

My sister fled to college and then went travelling, while my brother threw himself into work, following in our father’s footsteps in property. Needing my own escape and hoping to continue my mother’s mission to do good works in faraway places, I’d accepted a position as a volunteer at a commercial fishing lodge in Zambia. It was the most remote country on the list I was given and the one most in need. (In need of what exactly?)

“Find a bolt-hole as soon as you get there,” my father pleaded. “Somewhere to hide, just in case.” I’d laughed and assured him I’d be fine but now here I was on the jungle floor, in a fragile minefield of vines crawling with potentially lethal creatures – including the dreaded rain spiders, up to twelve inches across. (DREADED RAIN SPIDERS???? IN ZAMBIA??? OSANOBUA!)

My innocent dreams of teaching the villagers English or educating them about the world now seemed ridiculously naïve. (Why do you want to educate them about the world, do they not live in it? Is there anything you could learn about theirs? Since you obviously did not realise that it was NOT filled with dreaded rain spiders that are a foot long!)

With a cheery smile, I’d waved goodbye to Dad and jumped on a plane to Africa without researching anything about its tumultuous political history or realising that my destination – Lake Tanganyika – was just miles from war-torn Congo. (Ok! that is it! This sentence is filled with so much pernicious stereotyping, it deserves to be the posterchild for that trope. 1. Plane to Africa? There are over 200 airports in Africa, you cannot take a plane to ‘Africa’! She did not research the history of the continent?! If you were going to Madrid, Spain, would you research ALL European history? As for the rest, ok let us look at a picture…)

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So she was going to Lake Tanganyika, which was somehow in Zambia and miles from war-torn (everywhere in Africa is war-torn apparently, we need more tailors) Congo (note that she does not specify which Congo, Hint: there are two Congos in Africa). Ok. Shior!

Life was idyllic at first, a gap year student’s dream. My new home was beautiful and I made close friendships with the local Bemba people. I learned some of their language, planted a vegetable garden and created a little school under a Mukusi tree, writing about my experiences in my diary. I was still struggling with the loss of my mother and found special comfort in my bond with Zimba, a six-year-old orphan girl with HIV who called me “Ru-eese”.

(Somehow Bemba-is spoken in Tanganyika which has moved to Northern Zambia. Why not just say Simba? hmm? Revealing someone’s HIV status? Not cool. The people behind the Saviour Barbie instagram say that aid workers should act in the same way they would back home. “For example, nurses in America are not allowed to take Instagram photos of their patients and post emotionally captivating blurbs about how tragic their life is.” They note that in the US, and other Western countries “it was decided that a person’s privacy is more valuable than the need of the caretaker to have an emotional outlet” and the same standards should apply in Africa. )

But I soon learned that Africa is rife with hidden danger. (Since you travelled the whole of the continent???) I witnessed random acts of violence, contracted malaria and had close encounters with lions, elephants, crocodiles and snakes (Boo hoo hoo!). As monsoon season came and went, the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in neighbouring Congo began to escalate and then spill over into Zambia with repercussions all along the lake. Thousands of people were displaced and we heard brutal tales of rape and murder. (Again  pile of misinformation! Hutu and Tutsi conflict in Congo??? Spilled into Zambia? Tell me more, CNN missed that one!)

Then one day, without warning, armed rebels descended on our bay. Taken by surprise, I spent a night huddled with others in an old straw hut, hoping not to be found as we listened to the engines of the rebel boats drawing near. The next morning, I was faced with a dreadful dilemma. Should I stay and care for Zimba, risking my life? Or flee to the safety of my family and break her heart? (Personally I blame the makers of Tears in the Sun) The rebels would surely return and the plane to take me home wasn’t due for several weeks. Torn, I wept for my mother and for myself as I hadn’t wept in years. (Stupid question, I know, but if the plane was not due for weeks, where was the she fleeing too that Simba sorry, Zimba could not go?)

A mail plane arrived unexpectedly a few days later and – with its propellers still rotating – its pilot offered me a ride. But as I made the decision to board, Zimba ran wailing from the village and begged me to stay. So I did, but within days the rebels came again. (Yay! Saviour!) This time, I had no choice but to flee alone in a desperate attempt to stay alive. For hours on end, I remained on the jungle floor with no idea if I would make it or if any of the people I had come to love would survive. During my months in Africa I had become part of the same story that my mother started when she spent time administering medical treatment to the natives of Papua New Guinea as a young woman, but suddenly my story didn’t look like it was going to have such a happy ending.

How had I come to be in such a place and for what? To prove myself worthy of her? She would never have wanted me to end my days like this. That was when I knew, deep in my heart, that it was time to go home. (Such a place??!!)

My time in Zambia, and especially that long night in hiding, is imprinted on my mind now as a defining coming-of-age moment. It was the point at which my appreciation of the fragility of life – already shaped by my mother’s death – was fully realised.

Now that I’m a grown woman living in California and pursuing a very different dream – as an actress and film producer – I know that the skinny white girl once so incongruous in Africa still lives on inside me. Even in this world where I’m supposed to belong, I still sometimes feel out of place. Whenever that happens, though, I try to remember a smiling gap-toothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola. Zimba taught me many beautiful words but the one I like the most is Nsansa. Happiness.

White people are not incongruous in Africa, certainly not in Zambia. The problem with this type of writing about Africa is that it denies equal humanity to African people. It reveals that this denial is entrenched, embedded deep in our collective subconscious and may never be overcome. And that is truly sad.

The Long Road from Valleta: Why British-Africans voted to Leave the EU

From the beginning of the referendum campaign, it has been my contention that the campaign failed to address the concerns of citizens of the Commonwealth and those of African descent living in the UK. The BBC estimates that there were approximately 1 million Commonwealth citizens eligible to vote in referendum. This number does not include people with Commonwealth or African heritage who hold British citizenship. This was quite a considerable section of the electorate whose concerns were ignored or presumed. In fact some members of the Leave campaign petitioned to have this section removed from eligibility to vote, presuming that they would vote to Remain in the EU. For a Commonwealth African living in the UK, this was gaping hole in the campaign. I had an interesting time trying to counter presumptions made by various African friends about why they wanted the UK to leave the EU. I do wish I had said more when there was still time, but no one expects the unexpected. Ultimately, Africans voting to leave the EU was the result of badly run campaign, an enormous amount of misinformation and a glaring disregard of the history of Africa-Europe relations. The two primary issues that should have been addressed with regard to British-Africans were immigration and financial concerns.

Immigration

The free movement of people is a plus and a minus when campaigning to stay or leave the EU. However, Africans mostly regard themselves as unfairly treated in this equation. Any tightening of UK borders has always had a greater impact on people outside the EU. Prior to the Leave vote, EU immigration was untouchable. Every African I spoke to who voted to Leave, expected and still expects that exiting the EU would improve immigration policies for Africans. This was not addressed in the referendum campaign. There is absolutely no evidence to show that this belief is rightly held. It should be noted however, that the free movement of people from Europe into the UK occurred alongside increased restrictions on people from outside Europe. Until the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962, all Commonwealth citizens could enter and stay in the UK without any restriction. Later the British Nationality Act of 1981 removed the automatic right of citizenship to all those born on British soil. In April 2006 the UK government introduced the points-based immigration system to replace a number of visa schemes. Since May 2010 immigration under the Tier visa points based system has become more and more difficult. These are points of concern for many Africans or people with African heritage with family in Africa.

We must not forget the ‘migrant crisis.’ (I believe that language on this matter has been used to dehumanise people who are fleeing horrific situations.) In a different blog I lament the EU’s reaction to the migrant crisis, especially in relation to African migrants. At Valletta, Malta, between the 11th and the 12th of November 2015, European and African Heads of State and Government held a summit on migration in an effort to strengthen cooperation and address the current challenges. I suggested at the time that the EU ‘presumed that the promise of money would be sufficient to spur African states into action on Europe’s behalf.’ There seemed to be within the political declaration from the summit, a presumption of what Africa wants/needs. This presumption was settled without dialogue with Africans or their leaders. Somalia’s Prime Minister Omar Abdirashidali Sharmatke told the BBC: “What Africa needs today is not charity, but investment.”

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The Financial Dimension

Another sore point for Africans are the illiberal trade practices the EU and Europe has with African countries. At the EU/African summit in Valletta on migration Senegal’s President Macky Sall, accused multinational firms of tax avoidance and conniving at corrupt transfers of Africa’s resources costing countries many times what they receive in aid. This is coupled with the remittance [money sent ‘home’] to Africa from the diaspora [legal and irregular]. Remittances are notoriously nigh impossible to track. Africans tend to send money to Africa via unconventional means, sometimes due to the high charges imposed on African remittances by Europe’s finance houses. However, it is believed that the remittances from the diaspora to Africa could amount to nearly €150 billion per year. As African leaders pointed out in their speeches and comments to the press at the Valletta summit, the contradiction between aid to Africa and the exploitation of Africa’s resources needs resolution. Definite figures [nearly €30bn] are put on aid ‘given’ to Africa by the West. No definite numbers are put on what leaves Africa to the West, there is a possibility that it is in excess of €180 billion. These points were not addressed by the referendum campaign. They definitely weighed heavily on the minds of those who have to save a large part of their UK salaries to send home.

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The Results and the Aftermath

As a result of the foregoing, I suspect there were a sufficient number of Africans who voted to Leave who could have swung the vote to Remain. Some voted out of hope, some, spite. After the results there have been an alarming rise in racist events reported. Many Africans do not seem very bothered about this. Akwugo Emejulu, a professor at the University of Edinburgh (who has also written an excellent blog post about Brexit called ‘On the Hideous Whiteness Of Brexit‘) illustrates why in the following tweets:

What Comes Next?

With the freefall of the pound and instability in the global marketplace, I cannot bring myself to believe that Leave was the best result for Africa or anyone. According to Alex De Waal, Brexit is a terrible result for Africa because it will result in security and financial worries.

However, there are a considerable amount of people who think the result will have a good or insignificant effect on Africa. Grieve Chelwa believes that recession in the UK will have little impact on Africa, as he humorously states ‘If the UK sneezes Africa will … well Africa will say “bless you” and move on.’ Richard Dowden believes that Brexit is a political suicide that will have a limited effect on Africa. Levi Kabwato links Brexit to coloniality – it is an undeniable fact that Europe has always had a toxic relationship with Africa. Africans voted to leave the same Europe that traded Africa’s children for cheap cotton, the same Europe that carved up Africa’s land and created countries that split kingdoms and made families of warring factions, the same Europe that imposes stringent trade restrictions on Africa and then watches blithely as Africans drown in the sea fleeing from the result of all the foregoing. Revenge is a very poor reason for a vote, but the following Yoruba proverb has been proven by Brexit – iyan ogun odun a ma gbona janjan (a grudge is always as cutting as the day it began to be held).

It is essential that future campaigns should be informed by ALL relevant interests. Also moving forward, it is imperative that this toxic relation is mended. Europe should relate with Africa as an equal continent. There is no alternative.

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