Richard Ali with Imam Ashafa today at the Search for Common Ground Multi Stakeholder Joint Planning & Development Process meeting.
As part of my governmental/non-governmental engagement, I attended this meeting today where we workshopped and networked with various groups engaged in peacebuilding in Nigeria. The height of it all was getting to meet and greet Imam Ashafa, one half of the world famous Nigerian story of “The Pastor and the Imam” which centres on dealing with conflict. In these times of hate speech and tensions, it’s important to salute people who have shown there is a different, better way out that insists on putting people at the centre of all actions. The idea that human life is important to be preserved always and the best course of action is the one that leads to greater happiness of the greater number of people. That all people are brothers in humanity.
“In the 1990s, Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa led opposing, armed militias, dedicated to defending their respective communities as violence broke out in Kaduna, northern Nigeria. In pitched battles, Pastor James lost his hand and Imam Ashafa’s spiritual mentor and two close relatives were killed.
Now the two men are co-directors of the Muslim-Christian Interfaith Mediation Centre in their city, leading task-forces to resolve conflicts across Nigeria.
The Imam and the Pastor tells how they made this remarkable transition. It is both a moving story of forgiveness and a case-study of a successful grass-roots initiative to rebuild communities torn apart by conflict.”
One must remind oneself, sometimes, why one does what one does and how even when our idealism is not-understood and unpopular, that we are not alone in this, this foolish, important, crucial fight for an idea that should win.
On the issue of the rise of rape in our societies and its current popularity on social media, I have chosen an engagement. There will be no emotive post about it from me. I have instead accepted to join the board of trustees of Karniel’s Next Generation of African Men’s Initiative (KNEGAM Initiative) based here in Abuja. Its stated objective is to “empower boys so they overcome challenges as they transition from boyhood to adulthood”.
I see no justification for rape at all except a disregard for the sanctity of a body that is not yours. Yet, everywhere I see various cop-outs that more of less justify this traversing of another’s body. Whether the victim is male or female, a child or an adult, there is only one implication. I believe that the point of 5000 years of civilization is the privileging of the human body as being above that of any other animal from which it is, in fact, indistinguishable. The implication of a rape culture is to turn us all back 5000 years and more, so we are no different from any “lower animal”. We thus become lower animals. This eventuality I will not accept.
So, I will do my little bit to work with kids so they have a balanced sense of self and know where they stand as inheritors of many centuries of advancement and civilization and thought. The initiative is targeted at male kids because they are most in danger of inheriting bad assumptions as a result of the current power relations in society.
KNEGAM Initiative is run by a friend of a friend, Uchenna Idoko, in the name of her son. I thank them for asking me on their board. I am certain it will be a platform to fight bad ideas that threaten to send us all back to the times of pre-history. I hope my contribution will be concrete.
“…a very complex country which insists on bring narrow-minded…”
– James Baldwin.
As an African, I have often thought of Baldwin as being central to understanding the African-American experience. The biopic/documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, further underscores this and makes his position accessible to a new generation. I have been fascinated by him because to be an African, which is my insistence and protest, is to aspire to be the heir of all that is Africa, from Egypt to the Genocide in Rwanda to the African American population in the United States and elsewhere. That these experiences are organic and umbilical to mine.
This quote struck me.
And I think how the more things change the more they stay the same. In surveying the inter-African intelligentsia of which I am a part, the seemingly deliberate desire to be narrow-minded cannot be missed. In the argument for component countries, for example, or in the intelligentsia’s arguments for the ideological fruits of poststructural, globalised world of which the African people are the victims. In the desire to be accepted by members of a frame of reference based on excluding you.
Africa as a country is my argument. And this Africa is immensely complex. And it requires a broad based engagement with it, in its triumphs and catastrophes, its vagaries and variations. I am black. And everything black, to the precise extent of its blackness, is organic to me. And I will not say no to any of it.
I think that only when we have defined for ourselves the scope of what to be African means and accepted the reality of our descent and the validity of our dreams can we then become anything in global terms.
Hiding behind things, as adjectives and adverbs, is self defeating when what we are are nouns and verbs.
As a person who keens a lot to melancholy, certain songs speak to me, capture my mood well. So, today, I’ve thought to share one of my all-time favourites. Boogie Street, recorded by Leonard Cohen in 2001 for his album Ten New Songs. Boogie Street is, of course, the mental and physical space in which we live while we are still young, still beautiful, or still happy.
A sip of wine, a cigarette,
And then it’s time to go
I tidied up the kitchenette
I tuned the old banjo
I’m wanted at the traffic jam
They’re saving me a seat
I’m what I am, and what I am,
Is back on Boogie Street
And, oh my love, I still recall
The pleasures that we knew
The rivers and the waterfall,
Wherein I bathed with you
Bewildered by your beauty there,
I kneel to dry your feet
By such instructions you prepare
A man for Boogie Street
So come, my friends, be not afraid
We are so lightly here
It is in love that we are made
In love we disappear
Though all the maps of blood and flesh
Are posted on the door,
There’s no one who has told us yet
What Boogie Street is for.
“A girl at Kaleri Secondary School in Maiduguri reads.”
“There is a stereotype created for the Northern Nigerian woman. She is an uneducated woman who can’t speak eloquently. Or she is an illiterate street hawker who will end up married at 14 to a man old enough to be her father. Or a young woman with a rich father who funds an expensive lifestyle. These and more prevail. The society rarely acknowledges the modern educated Northern woman who reads.”
This is a nod to my Bookworm sisters in northern Nigeria and elsewhere. There’s light and magic in those books. Keep reading, keep living, keep speaking up.