I am a Black Woman by Mari Evans (1923-2017)

I am a black woman
the music of my song
some sweet arpeggio of tears
is written in a minor key
and I
can be heard humming in the night
Can be heard
in the night

I saw my mate leap screaming to the sea
and I

with these hands

cupped the lifebreath
from my issue in the canebrake
I lost Nat’s swinging body in a rain of tears
and heard my son scream all the way from Anzio
for Peace he never knew….I
learned Da Nang and Pork Chop Hill
in anguish
Now my nostrils know the gas
and these trigger tired fingers
seek the softness in my warrior’s beard

I am a black woman
tall as a cypress
beyond all definition still
defying place
and time
and circumstance
on me and be


A Tribute to My Grandmother: #IWD2017

When my grandmother was about 13 years old, she was introduced to the man that had been chosen by her parents, for her to marry. Even now, my grandma is nowhere near 5 feet, and then this man towered above her. As she told the tale to me, she was bending over some washing during the introduction, she looked up, and his head was in the rafters, AND he was exceedingly old. (He was probably in his late 30s though!) What do you do? She was extremely intimidated by the thought of marrying this old giant, so she told her parents that times were a-changing and a good wife should at least learn to read and write. So, they sent her to school to learn to be a good wife. That is where she met my grandfather, and married him. Nigerian men often complain about how devious Nigerian women are, but often do not consider that deceit is the only way of escape from the unnatural evil cages of societal oppression and deprivation that we have been forced into. But this is not about Nigerian men. This is my grandmother’s story.

My grandmother probably did not have an easier life with my grandfather than she would have had with the man chosen for her. Apparently, he (her chosen intended) was quite well-off. My grandfather on the other hand, was a poor schoolteacher, in a time when cocoa farmers were the big moneybags. As the wife of a school teacher, my grandma trekked more miles across Nigeria than you could ever imagine. Carrying all her belongings on her head, and her children on her back. My grandfather was always being posted somewhere. Mention a town in present day Okunland and my grandfather has probably taught there. My grandmother buried three children. One died as she carried him on her back and raced to the hospital at Egbe to get him treated. He died before they got there. Trekking. She became the arbiter of family quarrels, the mother to all my grandfather’s students/pupils. The rock he relied on for sustenance. No, she has not had an easy life. But she had the life she chose. This is her story.

When we talk about women’s rights, or equality, this is what we mean. Ensuring that girls and women can choose their destiny. That they are not hindered by the irrational expectations of social mores that are nothing more that the fruits of the tree of dominator culture. We hope that we live our lives as the fulfilment of our grandmother’s dreams. And this is why I write. This is my grandmother’s story. This is my story. I am my grandmother’s dreams. Being fulfilled. Daily.


My Grandmother

Picture taken August 2016.

A Review of the ROOTS Remake

‘You can’t buy a slave, you have to make a slave’ Connelly the Foreman on the Waller plantation

‘You must hear your name first… your name is your spirit, your name is your shield’

One of the defining moments of my life was reading ‘Roots’ by Alex Haley when I was 8 years old. [Yes I know… not suitable for young children. I was precocious. Don’t blame me] The knowledge of the not-fictional nature of the book gives me chills to this day. The book is detailed and graphic. Neither of the TV editions of ROOTS, goes into as much detail as the book. A few months after I read the book, NTA decided to show the 1977 edition. The whipping scene was so hard to watch, it feels like it is seared unto the brain forevermore. A few years ago I bought the complete ROOTS boxset. It includes:

  • Roots: The Original Series,
  • Roots: The Next Generation, and
  • Roots: The Gift.

It is a hard watch. So when I heard of the new series, I was torn as to whether or not to watch it. However, I decided to. It was a traumatising experience. But necessary, I believe. I think everyone should watch either of the editions or read the book.

I do not believe in watching horrific graphics for fun. So I tend not to watch horror films of films with excessive violence. ROOTS is a necessary part of our landscape. We try to escape from the tendrils of slavery and shut its memory into the coffers of our mind. And we fail miserably. How we fail! It eats away at the fibre of group relationships like a flesh-eating worm and we lock the decay away, suffocating on the stench in the humidity of human oblivion. But it smells. How it smells! And still we pretend that group interaction today has not been affected by this, the gravest sin of humanity.

While watching ROOTS, if you see any parallels between then and now, this should make us take notice. Notice that many things have changed but many things remain the same. I think that the new edition was at times too aware of present day feelings. But again how could you not be? If you read/watch ROOTS today, you will be shocked at how slowly change has been wrought. We are so intent on labelling people as good or bad, we forget that people CANNOT be separated into monsters and saints. It is actions that are good or bad. Not people. People are just people. And if you hold up an oppressive system in anyway then you are complicit in it. Your action/inaction makes you complicit. No matter how good a slave owner is, his actions are oppressive. He has still decided that the trade in human beings is alright, because it does him no harm, but makes him richer. Think about it.

So the narrative seems to account for current sensibilities in a way that the first edition did not. Maybe that is not such a bad thing. Think about it. We look at Tom Lea as a horrible person, but he was not doing anything out of the ordinary. He sold his son and his grandchildren, but so many people did the same and he thought he was not such a bad guy. He felt oppressed. Think about it. Maybe our moral compass should not be what is acceptable, but what is right. And what is right? Human dignity. Anything that accords all people as much dignity as YOU think YOU deserve, that is right.

A few thoughts on the production itself. The whipping scene is still as horrific. The acting was great. The cast was outstanding. Special mention has to be made of Rege Jean-Page’s turn as Chicken George. George was always the star of the show, with his flamboyance and style. Ben Vereen was quite good in that role in the 1977 edition. But I think Rege drew me in from his first appearance on screen. Rege made Chicken George many-layered. Chicken George wanted to be loved by his slave owner/father. He wanted the privilege of whiteness. In the end he could not outrun his skin. He accepted himself. Rege showed the complexity of Chicken George’s journey and character arc in this role.

Another major change in the new edition is the attempt to show Jufureh as a thriving city, rather than the hamlet of the first edition. While there was much to be said for doing so, there are a couple of inaccuracies in the timeline. Kunta says he wants to serve the Mansa (King). However, the Mali empire that used Mansa as a regal title became defunct around 1610. Too early for Kunta Kinte to use that title as he (Kunta) supposedly fought in the Revolutionary war (1775–1783). There are a few other anachronisms which I will not mention. You can read my earlier piece on West African history here.

Nevertheless, the concerted effort to connect the narrative to the characters’ ancestral home gives the screenplay a lot of its heart. The naming ritual which consists of presenting the child to the sky, has much more resonance in this edition. When Kizzy attempts to kill herself and baby George but changes her mind and then decides to live, the naming ritual takes on an added significance. It becomes a reaffirmation of life. Binta – Kunta mother’s song is especially poignant. Her song followed them across the waters. It follows Kizzy through her ordeal and objectification at Tom Lea’s hands. It follows George into battle. And it also shows us a practical example of appropriation, when it gets turned into a Southern folk song. No royalties paid.

The new edition is shorter. About 4 hours shorter. There were incidences in the action that highlighted this difference. The need to have a series of quick paced sequences rather then the slow paced journey into death that was the reality of slavery. The most jarring of these is when George shoots Fredrick Murray at the end. In my opinion, this would have been highly unlikely in reality and the effect of it is to condense over 50 minutes of screen action into one minute. It alters the reality of slavery, suggesting that a black man could shoot a white man in front of witnesses and live to tell of it.

A word on Language: Connelly was right (see quotation above). A person is made a slave. Nobody is born a slave. Even children born into slavery were born INTO it. For a few seconds when their lungs greeted the air that will sustain them till death, they were free. Then enslaved. Which is why I hate labels. When we label someone, we reduce the complexity and vastness of their possibility to one thing and one thing only. And in most cases that one thing is a pejorative. Slave. Immigrant. Refugee. I know many people rail against political correctness because they see it as a restriction of their freedom of expression. However, the restriction is not on the expression, but on the use of that expression to restrict someone else’s equal humanity. The language we use is evidence of our values.

One thing I still find heartbreaking about the narrative is the relay nature of it. When the runner’s time is done it is done. When Kunta is stolen, Omoro and Binta cease to exist for us; Kizzy is sold, Kunta’s screen time ends. How heartbreaking is that in a world that prides itself so much on heritage and family, to erase a family. But batons are passed on – Binta’s lullaby, the sky, a sense of self.

(For a more cumulative effect/volume of the Atlantic slave trade, see this interactive map here. Between 1525 and 1866, they were more than 35000 slave trading voyages between Africa and the Americas. People enslaved and traded – 10.7 million. Human cost: Infinite)

A word from the stars of ROOTS:

“Our history does not begin at slavery. Be proud of your ancestry. Don’t think that it’s a negative thing to be African. It’s a beautiful thing. A positive thing. Those people who were enslaved were not weak. So it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Those were strong people. If they weren’t they wouldn’t have been slaves. They woulda just been killed. They were taken because they were so strong. And they survived.” –Malachi Kirby (Kunta Kinte)

‘If you tell human stories properly and with respect… there will always be redemption’ –Rege Jean-Page (Chicken George)

Finally a message for Africa: Pan-Africanism is the belief that all black people are bound and can only achieve true liberty in unity. We Africans have come this way before, we have read these lines, cried this lament, too many times. There have been too many rhymes sent up to deities who have given us power to break free of the cords with which we have bound our brothers and sisters, bound our own souls. I believe the earth has drunk more of our blood then it has drunk the water from the skies. Freedom is an abstract concept. Freedom is a becoming. It is not a work of a moment. The moment slavery ended, black people in America (and across the world) did not achieve equality, and have not done so as yet. It is a becoming. When the colonial masters marched out of Africa fleeing from malaria and mosquitoes, African states did not immediately achieve equality, and they have not as yet. Freedom is a becoming. And at least it has started.

‘They can’t sell my wife and child no more. No more that! No more that! We free now. Bless the Lord!’

Freed man, USA, 1865

Cited in Paying Freedom’s Price: A History of African Americans in the Civil War
The African American History Series

by PD Escott


I Don’t Want to Hear Another Non-Apology

I have been thinking about whether or not to write this for a while. Yoruba people say that you do not comment on everything you see. Silence is often golden. But I saw something today which took the biscuit – more like the akara, really. And nobody messes with my akara. You can have the moin-moin, but step away from the akara.

So this woman and her partner, went to a kids’ party and traumatised them by using racial slurs, threatening to kill them and waving the Confederate flag. Because… Who cares? I don’t. So after being sentenced to 6 years in jail, she purports to apologise. Watch supposed apology below.

The gist of her apology is ‘I am a good person, and it is unfortunate you had this bad experience.’ I see this kind of thing over and over again in public apologies, like there is a template somewhere, that everyone uses. The structure is standard. First explain how you are blameless, then express some emotion at the bad experience of the other person had,  experience that you directly caused but are not responsible for. This type of apology is mostly targeted at an oppressed group. Very much a symbol of our dominator culture. Black people are told that the apologiser is sorry for offence caused, women are told that the apology is for their hurt feelings. There are so many problems with this format of apology, but the major thing is that the apology is for the offence caused, not the act itself.

So let us break it down, offence is a choice that the receiver of the wrong action makes but offence is not what makes an action or statement of the giver of offence objectionable, but the inherent objectionability of said statement or action. If you use offensive language in the woods and nobody hears is the statement offensive? Yes. Was anyone offended? No. Should you apologise? Who to? Should you be remorseful? Of course yes! Many people respond to objectionable comments targeted at groups with statements such as ‘I am a member of group X, and I am not offended.’ So? Who cares?! The statement is offensive irrespective of offence received. Apologising for ‘offence caused’ prefaces the apology on the other person’s decision to take offence and completely abdicates responsibility for action taken/words spoken. By premising the apology with a statement about the speaker’s goodness, and backing that up by blaming the hearer for taking offence, what looks like an apology, is actually an insult.

I was going to write a longer rant about this. However, people more articulate than me have engaged with this. Stacey Midge in response to Jenna Bush’s apology after HiddenFences-gate tweeted the following.

An apology that does not express remorse or take responsibility for personal action and change is not an apology and is better left unspoken.

Over and out!

State of Naija – Whose Fault? Govt or People?

It can hardly be doubted that Nigeria – the state – is in a precarious position. Naija – the idea – seems to be flourishing, after a fashion. We seemed to be locked in a cyclic battle of according blame/responsibility for the survival/non-survival of the Nigeria. Who is responsible for Nigeria? What ails Nigeria? Is it a leadership problem? Or a followership one? I fear, however, that we are attempting to resolve complex matters by addressing simplistic questions. It is like trying to use a catapult to catch a raging lion. Without understanding the nature and purposes of a nation, its history, and the core of nationhood, we will be attempting to build a house by starting with the windows.

Because state demarcations are an artificial construct, there are no absolutes, all governance, democracy and the human rights frameworks are doing is to seek a suitable balance between authority and liberty. A stable nation requires enough authority to ensure sufficient control of resources and human behaviour, but not too much authority that it becomes oppressive; enough liberty to enjoy resources created and dispensed, but not too much that it results in anarchy. Both the governed and the governing create this balance by pulling in opposite directions. If there is any slack this will result in overcompensation. This balance cannot be created by only one side. The balance cannot be sought only during elections. If the nation has not been created by this push and pull, how can it possibly be maintained by it? The problem of Nigeria is that we have people in leadership positions, people in followership roles, but no leaders, no followers and ultimately no Nigeria.

I Still Don’t Want to Talk About Racism

We cannot end Racism, without speaking about it,

We cannot speak of what we do not know

The right to be free from race-talk discomfort is earned

This is a rewrite/update of a previous post. In the previous post I set out the baselines of racism and suggested that love will triumph over racism. I still believe that. But we are a long way from love. I am perturbed at the shock people express over aggressive acts of racism that happen in 2017. The objectification, over-sexualisation and racism that black women in public life are subject to also continues to rankle – Gina Miller, Diane Abbott, Serena Williams etc. But what is most frustrating is how slow we are to want to change.

Therefore I reiterate, labels are prisons which we use to deny each other and ourselves of the luxury of a nuanced identity. These labels contain the scripts and narratives entrenched in our subconscious that define our thinking. Because they are so entrenched we refuse to allow contestation, even when these narratives are patently false.

What is Racism?

Racism is difficult to define, however, it transcends mere hate or prejudice. I believe that the criminalisation of racist acts requires an objective definition of racism. So for my purposes as a legal scholar, I recognise the following definitions for my discourse.

According to the online Oxford Dictionary racism is ‘Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.’

The Merriam-Webster online Dictionary defines it as ‘a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.’

There is a really detailed definition from the Cambridge online Dictionary which defines racism as ‘the belief that people’s qualities are influenced by their race and that the members of other races are not as good as the members of your own, or the resulting unfair treatment of members of other races.’

Three things connect all these definitions: ‘difference’, ‘inherence’ and ‘subservience.’ Racism is based on the idea that one race is inherently inferior and another is inherently superior. All oppressions and discriminations and subjections flow from these beliefs. The outcomes of racism include exclusion, prejudice, hatred, inequality, and injustice. Without the impression of inferiority racism lacks definition or objectivity. Stereotyping is unfair and mostly unfounded, but is not in of itself racist. Racial attacks are horrible, but when not predicated on hierarchical motives and ideas, these are not strictly racism. It is the outcomes of racism that are the most significant in this discourse. Nevertheless, without systemization (normalisation) racism would have ended long ago.

The Place of Power and Systemization in Upholding Racism

Without power, racism would be a few isolated violent acts which would have long since died out. And we are all complicit in upholding racism. We are complicit by our silence and neutrality in a system of hierarchy of worlds. We wrongly promote diversity by bringing others into our world, the normal world, thereby entrenching dominant epistemologies. Rather we should be promoting an equality of worlds and diverse lived experiences.

Racism and colonialism are like fraternal twins, born together, looking similiar, but not identical. The force behind colonisation was the  ‘othering’ and infantilisation of people of colour – racism. Colonisation was created on the back of racism, and racism will not end without complete decolonisation. Decolonisation asks us to uproot the structures of power that demarcated people according to colour and accorded colour differentials intellectual value – anti-racism. These structures persist and we live in them, we trade in them, we are steeped in them. They are part of our dominator culture. These are the social constructions of race that mean that the darker you are, the more likely you are to be subject to violence and poverty and derision and prison and silence. Therefore, seemingly isolated incidents of racism are actually escalations connected to and fed by the pre-existing structural racialised societal architecture. While we draw back in horror and disgust at singular acts of overt racisms – the use of the N word, racialised violence – they are not as destructive as the sleeping cancer of structural racism. It is like being horrified by a headache, but undisturbed by rotting flesh, seeking a cure for the the common cold, but not for crushing cancers. It is because we failed to challenge the old racists that young racists are born, seeing clearly that the reward for racism is privilege and not ostracism.

By predicating our world on violence and dominator culture, we have erased the possibility for true and diverse dialogue. When my spirit meets with yours, we should not be distracted by the containers of our consciousnesses. By focusing on containers, we have lost the substance  of communion that is the true beauty of our world.

Myths and Misconceptions about Racism

So because we fail to understand the soul of racism, we misguidedly attack its tentacles with blunt weapons and false myths. Myths such as:

  1. ‘You cannot say certain words lest you be accused of racism.’ Mentioning someone’s race is not racism. The human race is beautiful in its diversity, recognising and celebrating that diversity empowers us. Patronising diversity is racism, because it is predicted on a narrative of inferiority.
  2. ‘S/he deserved that racist response.’ Racism is not justifiable and has no excuse. The idea that someone had done something to deserve racism is immoral. The need to demonise people who have been subject to racism goes back to the ideas of inherence and inferiority. If a person is a ‘thug’ then it is ok to be racist to them, right? Is it ever ok to be racist? This shows how deeply entrenched racism is in our psyche; it is easier to justify it than repudiate it.
  3. ‘Unintentional racism is not bad, also known as good people cannot be racist’. (Read the previous section) The problem with unintentional racism is that it is insidious, it is based on misinformation, ignorance and misrepresentations that are so deep-seated that confronting them will disrupt our understanding of the world around us. ‘The American Journal of Public Health reports that subtle racism is more psychologically damaging than overt discrimination. Whereas recipients can “shrug off” overt discrimination, subtle racism is more likely to be committed by colleagues, neighbours, or friends.’ Unintentional racism shows us that eradicating racism is an arduous and world-changing task that may not be finished in our lifetime. Josephine Kwhali talking about unintentional racism says “if it still is unconscious, there really is something worrying about what it will take for the unconscious to become conscious.” Millennia of campaigning?
  4. ‘Only a racist can do racist things.’ Racism is not an action. Identifying people as ‘racist’ is unhelpful and pointless. It is a label that is obtuse and opaque. Very few people believe that difference indicates inferiority deserving of exclusion. This does not mean that our actions cannot reflect the mores of the society which we live in. It is quite disconcerting to see people defend themselves against racist actions by saying ‘I am not a racist.’ The fact that you are not a tree does not mean you will not shed leaves if you have been walking through the forest. If you swim in effluent matter, you will smell, this does not make you human waste. The problem is that you can only legislate against an idea in societies where thought is crime. None exist…yet. Racism is more about the effect than the intention. By seeking to defend ourselves against structural racism, we personalise the issue, deflect and defuse it and resolve nothing. We make ourselves the centre of a war that was started years before we were even imagined.
  5. ‘Racism is inherent in certain races.’ The direction of racism in a society depends on the receptacle of power and privilege in that society. We cannot define the capacity for and character of racism solely by the experiences of our existence. Racism exists as difference, inherence and subservience. Any suggestion that a particular race is incapable of projecting these may itself be considered racist.
  6. ‘It is 2017, we are post-racial.’ The only thing that stops the narrative of the post-racial society from moving forward is the voices of victims who cry ‘No!’ Yet these are often called ‘playing the race card.’ Is it so difficult to believe that these cries may be true? Is it really, REALLY easier to believe that all, ALL people who complain of racism are lying?!


The Resulting Emotions of Racism

Rage: Rage is instinctive, it flows naturally from the offence. The feeling of powerlessness that racism inflicts results in rage and anger. The idea that one human being can take one look at another and consign the other to oblivion for no other reason than the colour of their skin has become so pervasive and unconscious such that the fact that this still happens induces rage. But wrath is destructive. Rage builds nothing. Anger tears apart the foundations of humanity.

Denial: The idea of racism is uncomfortable. The discomfort of the reality of the generational injustice makes us subconsciously reject the magnitude of its existence. But we cannot conquer what we do not face up to. This world belongs to us all. The good and the bad things are all ours to embrace or repudiate. Denial is futile and counterproductive.

Guilt: Guilt is universal. It arises out of a feeling of responsibility. We feel that by not doing more we have retrenched from our own high standards. But guilt is ineffective if we do not do more than feel guilty. If I have done/not done something that I should rightly feel guilty about, then it is my responsibility to change and not do or do. If I take no responsibility, then my guilt is self-serving.

Love: Love can never be too much. Love can be defined as ‘the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.’ Love and racism cannot cohabit. Love is like a candle that loses nothing by lighting another candle. Every action predicated on love that is pure will yield unselfish results. If we can look into to face of any human being and feel love, than the world will heal itself. But for love to dismantle racism, it has to be coupled with knowledge and wisdom. Trying to love each other out of racism without knowledge is like driving a car with out learning how to drive. It is an accident waiting to happen.

But indifference is not an emotion. It is the absence of emotion.

Remember that racism cripples us all, it objectifies the victim and deprives the world of the beauty of our dynamism and complexity.

Remember that victims are not saints and perpetrators are not monsters.

Racism exists and continues to be widespread because of the unconscious fear in accepting the existing level of racism is accepting that you could be a racist – that much racism cannot possibly exist without us all being complicit, overtly or covertly.

We have created the myth of the racist monster and the saintly sufferer. We need to avoid denying the humanity of monsters and the monstrosity inherent in all humanity. We need to repudiate hate and ignorance, and embrace positive change and love, accepting love, expansive love, for all.


The Song of Ifrani (Africa)

Man is born crying, Ifrani was born howling,

On a hot dusty day I, Ifrani was born, howling in pain as if in premonition of the life to come.

I was born amidst a sea of green, gold, lush with its ripeness and fullness, waterfalls spiralled around me;

Nature sang a song rich in its cadence, so rich, men weep to hear it, and no one ever forgets it, though they hear it but once.



And yet I howled at birth, but thrived in youth, growing as quickly as a palm tree, whose water source never dries.

And then I howled wildly as men surrounded me, wildly violating me and stripping my skin;

I was cast in chains and dragged off to work for my brothers, human like me, blood like mine, bones like mine



And then they came yet again, these brothers of mine and  for the half-life left at home, And for a second I rejoiced, for I was home again, would grow again;

But alas, they locked me in a cell, forbidding me to speak or dance or talk or think or feel without permission;

They told me what to think, and what to wear and what was right and what was wrong;

They told me who I was, what I could never be, that I could never be free



And then they left.

Opened the prison doors and left. Yet again I rejoiced, for a second I thought to myself ‘here at last is true freedom’.

But then my body betrayed me. For though all around me lay green gold and growing nectar,

My hands refused to plough and my feet refused to move; I fell to the ground ravaged by hunger and disease.

Nigeria Floating Slum


Now here I lie the great Ifrani, fallen and dying.

But I do not die!

My body is constantly torn apart with its own wars, but it refuses to die.

Oh! How I pray for death. I should take nothing from my brothers;

Even if begged me, I should take nothing from them.



My body rots and the sun dries the pus and larvae eat my flesh;

And the jackboots trample me,

The gunshots echo over my head, piercing my dreams, piercing my nightmares

The bodies of my children, pile up the stink drawing the flies and the vultures

and the human flies and human vultures.

The bodies of my children float to the surface of the waters,

The scene of their aborted quest for freedom.

And yet I will never die; though I live in pain, the pain of war and strife.



And what will you do? You who hears the howling of Ifrani?



And my children (for they are many) flee to the homes of my brothers,

And they wait years at the door before they are let in,

To enter they promise not to eat, nor sleep on the beds,

They promise to wash the toilets

They promise to empty the trash.

And their cousins cringe from them,

As if they had a contagious disease.


But what can I do?

Stripped of everything but my pride, I cannot feed my children,

So they must go begging to their uncles who laid me waste…

And where is Freedom?

Is she hiding or was she killed too,

Another innocent ground to dust?

For here Silence reigns,

An evil taskmaster,

With a nefarious grin.




What must become of Ifrani and her children?



But this is not the end of the story, this cannot be the end.

For though my body lies ravaged like an aging tree striped of its bark;

My spirit leaps within be like a young deer.

My spirit still sings songs of aspiration,

My spirit still dreams dreams of deliverance.

Adversity may have laid me waste,

But my time is not done yet,

My song is not over yet and I am still here.

I still live and I still breathe and I still hope.

And my eyes still look up to the horizon,

Still look up to tomorrow,

Still look up in hope.



‘Ifrani’ is a play on the word ‘ifran’ from which Africa derives her name



Timbuktu: Site of 1st African University

Many Africans and non-Africans believe that the quest for knowledge originated outside the continent. I would like to present the evidence of Sankoré in Timbuktu.

Sankoré, the famous medieval mosque-university at Timbuktu (in present day Mali) was set up around the twelfth century; and teaching was based on Arabic scholarship and Islamic values.  More sophisticated methods of adjudication and political administration, were also established. It was initially a mosque built by Mansa Musa in the year 1327. By the end of Mansa Musa’s reign (early 14th century AD), Sankoré had been converted into a fully staffed Islamic school-university with the largest collections of books in Africa since the Library of Alexandria. The level of learning at Sankoré University was superior to that of all other Islamic centres in the world. It was capable of housing 25,000 students and had one of the largest libraries in the world with between 400,000 to 700,000 manuscripts.


The University had four degree levels. The primary degree level at Quran schools introduced students to the holy Quran, Arabic language and basics in science. The secondary degree or general studies level students were introduced to grammar, commentaries of the Quran, the hadiths, prophetic narrations jurisprudence, mathematics, physics, chemistry, history, trade, Islamic business code and ethics. The superior degree consisted of highly specialized learning where students were guided by professors and it took about ten years. It was equivalent to a doctoral degree. The University also hosted the Circle of Knowledge which was a specialized club of scholars and professors. Students who impressed their teachers were admitted to circle of knowledge and became tenured professors.


State leaders such as Mansa Musa of Mali, Askia Muhammad I of Songhay, Sheik Amadu of Fulani caliphate of Massina, and Emirs of Sudan often sent questions on major issues to Circle of Knowledge for guidance demonstrating centrality of university education in the sustainability of society. The Circle of Knowledge provided a ruling that was often respected and binding on the issue at hand. Scholars of Sankoré included Ahmad Babu as-Sudane (1564-1627) the final chancellor of Sankoré University before the Moroccan invasion in 1593. He wrote more than 60 books in law, medicine, philosophy, astronomy, Mathematics. Others included Muhammed Bagayogo as-sudane al-Wangari al Timbuktu. He was conferred with honorary doctorate degree from Al –Azhar University in Cairo.


During the uprising the Mali in 2012, it was feared that Sankore would be destroyed. Thankfully it was not. Sankore, and its legacy of historic African enlightenment still stands, for now. It is an African legacy we should be proud of.

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.


‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’ by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes, 1902 – 1967

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.


I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.


I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.


I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.


I’ve known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.