Three Strong Women

“She didn’t need them. Khady knew that she didn’t live for them….Yes, I, Khady Demba, always happy to pronounce silently her own name and to feel it was so harmoniously linked to the accurate and satisfying image she had of her own face, as well as to her Khady heart which nestled inside her and to which nobody had access but herself.” (Translated from the French)

Three women, one space between Senegal and France.

Three lives, one will to surpass fate and make one’s own choices.

Three directions from Senegal to France, one obsession with being free in both places

Norah, Fanta and Khady Demba are the three women whose stories are told by Marie Ndiaye: bouncing between West Africa and France; between dictatorial families and husbands and an almost obsessive desire for freedom; between pride and shame. A three-faceted circle of life in which connection and freedom are central.

The three stories share one of the emblematic themes of Marie Ndiaye’s work, the way the mirage of Europe affects migrants from West Africa and the consequences of displacement. Norah, a successful lawyer in Paris, is called back to Senegal by a father she knows very little about. Once back in her homecountry, she finds out that her brother has been imprisoned and this triggers changes in her life.

Fanta, the protagonist of the second novella, is a much more discrete figure who, interestingly enough, manages to occupy the central part in the story. Far from illustrating a gap between Senegal and France, she manages to bridge the two worlds and creates the most balanced of the feminine images in the collection.

And Khady Demba, the widow of a man whom she never managed to give a child, she leaves her in-laws’ house to make her own way in the world. Her destiny mirrors a classical tragedy: caught in a tentacular underground world of clandestine immigrants, forced to become a prostitute, she manages in spite of everything to find love and compassion.

Khady Demba relies on self-consciousness, highlighted in the text through mantra-like expression “I am Khady Demba.” This self-consciousness acts as an elixir that enables her to keep her head high in the most horrible situations. The awareness that she only and truly belongs to herself, and that the mere echo of her name pronounced silently has the power to give back her dignity.

Marie Ndiaye’s collection draws a curve through the lives of these three women whose strength lies in their search for meaning: be it memories, balance or freedom, the women go from a base world to their own world explosive within themselves.

A collection like a circle of destinations, of experiences, of freedom.

Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye

978-2070-78654-1| 2009| Gallimard Editions

Review by Ioana Danaila

IMG_0478-2Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.

When Doctors become Storytellers

“This is how it is when you glimpse a woman for the first time, a woman you know you could love. People are wrong when they talk of love at first sight. It is neither love nor lust. No. As she walks away from you, what you feel is loss. A premonition of loss.”

Freetown, January 1969, an evening party at the university campus. Elias Cole, an academic, sees his colleague’s wife, Saffia and becomes irreversibly attracted to her.  Thus begins the most powerful story of his life, full of betrayal, passion and obsession. Freetown, 1999, in a hospital. Cole is now very ill in the care of Adrian Lockheart, a psychologist. In the same hospital Kai, a young surgeon and a survivor of the civil war, suffers from a double wound: the injuries of war and lost love.

The three lives are intertwined in distress, violence, political and social instability —the perfect context to portray the fragility of the human condition. Unfolding through three simultaneous voices, timelines and spaces, Aminatta Forna’s second novel gives the reader a fragmented, yet vivid and sometimes cruel image of how war changes lives.  However, the fact that the three main characters are either healers or victims of physical injuries (be they victims or doctors), also shows to what point love can be the most vivid and harmful wound.

The plot is centered on memories, on relics, on what is left when love is no more, or, more interestingly, what the survivors of love become. The possible answer, common to the three characters, is that writing and story-telling is only way to keep the feeling, and oneself, alive: Elias Cole’s life is the story that we read when he is speaking to Adrian Lockheart who keeps a textbook of psychologic pathologies as a means of preserving and putting order in his life.

The Memory of Love is a book about what love injuries, like war injuries, can do to the human soul, and also how stories help us gain perspective and direction in life. In the violent context of war, physical pain and death, love marks can only be healed by words and story-tellers become doctors.

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

Bloomsbury Paperbacks| 2011| 978-1408809655

Review by Ioana Danaila

IMG_0478-2Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.

 

Coming of Age in Zimbabwe

The first time I read Nervous Conditions, Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga’s seminal first novel, I was an undergraduate student at the University of California, Davis, enrolled in a course on African womanhood (this was in 2004). The course was called “Women in Africa.” Professor Moradewun Adejunmobi taught the course and Nervous Conditions was on the syllabus, along with several other works of African feminist fiction like Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Letter and Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood.

I began the course with a mixture of curiosity and arrogance. It was my first time taking a course that mentioned me in its title. I am an African woman who grew up in Cameroon. I once was “a woman in Africa.” I once was a girl in Africa. The class had to be about me! And because of this, I felt curious to see what the course could teach me about myself. But I also felt that I already knew a thing or two about African womanhood and wouldn’t be learning anything new.

That course quickly erased my arrogance and amplified my curiosity. The books we read transformed me. I did not just read those books. I inhaled them. I consumed them as if they were pills that had the power to cure me of an illness I suffered from. I was especially taken by Nervous Conditions because, unlike the other novels assigned to us, this novel had a young woman as narrator. I emerged from that course — from those books, especially Nervous Conditions — a changed woman, a woman with a lot of questions about her life.

A few months later, in my very first semester of graduate school at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), I enrolled in a course called “African Women” and was re-united with Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel. I read it a second time and felt the same way I felt the first time I read it. I felt that the book was, in so many ways, about me, about my own family, about our struggles. It’s been ten years since 2004, a decade of living and learning now tucked securely in my past. Today, as I complete my third reading of Nervous Conditions, I am more convinced than ever that this book captures the essence of my life story.

I am Tambu, the main character. I am telling my life story, working my mind around it and through it, trying to understand the things that have happened and are happening to me. I am the girl who is not afraid to fight with her brother, to challenge him when he tells her that he is more worthy of great things. Tambu’s voice is my voice. Tambu’s mind is my mind, trying to impose some order on all that seems senseless. I am Tambu mulling over ideas of feminine decorum and notions of decency, as well as patriarchal status differences between male and female relatives. Tambu’s long, dense paragraphs of fluid prose — narration oftentimes unpunctuated in various places, breathless, hurried — is my prose. I lose myself in Tambu’s words, and I find myself in them, at the same time. I lose myself, because I find myself. I lose my sense of being separate from the narrator. I become the women in the story. I am not only Tambu. I am every woman in her family. Their trials and tribulations are my own.

I am Tambu’s cousin Nyasha. I am Nyasha asking profound and heartbreaking questions, interrogating reality constantly. I am Nyasha challenging male authority, turning patriarchy on its head. I am Nyasha confronting my father, fighting with him. I am pushing against the boundaries of women’s worlds, failing to explode those walls or transcend them, and internalizing my grief and disappointment. I am Nyasha using my mind to try to break out of the varied but similar prisons of gender, race, class, colonialism, patrilineage, and age/generation. I am looking for answers and solutions, reading countless books, becoming mired in a mental bog of facts, histories, injustices, and tragedies. I am the young intellectual immersed in a sanity-annihilating world of extreme academia and perpetual education. I am Nyasha losing her mind.

I am Tambu’s aunt Lucia being bold and fearless. I am Lucia using my voice so confidently that it frightens men; I understand that a woman’s voice is a powerfully liberating instrument. I am Lucia showing that a woman owns her body. But I am also Tambu’s mother, whose body has been given over to her husband and his lineage, and whose older children have been taken away, offered up to the voracious cause of education and a financially secure future for the family. I am Tambu’s other aunt (Ma Chido, married to Tambu’s uncle Babamukuru), whose education and employment and marital status have not been able to assure her of a peaceful life or assure her daughter, Nyasha, of a life safe from physical and psychological harm.

I am all these women, but I am especially the two young women, Tambu and Nyasha. I am these schoolgirls, pursuing their studies passionately. Growing my mind in the classroom and beyond, learning to think for myself. I am a young woman who, having been given the opportunity to become educated, can now prove to myself and a doubting world that I am intelligent, capable, and worthy of greatness. I must believe that I am worthy of freedom, of the chance to choose a life in which my fate is not bound to that of a man or what a man might wish for me. I am free to think and speak for myself, free to build a new way of life for myself–a life I am willing to work hard for, to slave over my books for, and beyond that, a life in which I fight to always perceive reality accurately, a life in which I comprehend the world I live in with clarity. I create a life in which I engage with the struggles of every human being, the struggles of women and Africans–struggles that are individual and collective battles for a full, authentic, and self-determining existence. I fight to be recognized as a human and to be valued as such.

It is a testament to Tsitsi Dangarembga’s phenomenal literary gift that I–a woman from Cameroon — can read her book about a girl in Zimbabwe, feel that it is my story, and draw strength from it. Like the young women in Nervous Conditions, I must (as much as possible) decide what to do with my mind, heart, and body. I must chart the best paths for life. I must learn how to think for myself about men, women, power, and freedom. I must realize that education, as empowering as it may be, is no easy or uncomplicated solution to the problems of gender and social inequality. Ten years ago, Nervous Conditions compelled me to take ownership of my being, and today, it still does. I know what this means. It means that this story is timeless and the struggle for equality is far from over. Women’s words and stories can change the world. Tambu’s voice will continue to transform African women’s lives, one reader at a time.

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

978-0954702335| 1997| Lynne Rienner Publishers

Review by Viola Allo

ViolaViola Allo is a Cameroonian-born poet and essayist based in the United States. Her first chapbook of poems, Bird From Africa, is included in the Eight New-Generation African Poets chapbook box set published in 2015 by Akashic Books and the African Poetry Book Fund. Viola resides in California and writes at her blog, Letters to Cameroon.

Black Women Be Like: An Interview with Andiswa Maqutu

Andiswa Maqutu describes herself as a pan-Africanist and feminist. She is the author of Black Women Be Like and the founding curator of the eponymous series that consists of stories, poetry, visual and audio art to be produced by black African women from around the continent. Whether exploring a lesbian couple in South Africa, or travelling around Asia as a black woman, Andiswa’s writing is a magnificent lens that captures so much of what it means to exist, on one level as a relational human being, and on another, as a black woman negotiating societal tensions. What could become a futile exercise in double consciousness instead becomes a work of art and genius in Adiswa’s hands. The ABR had a brilliant chat with Adiswa about Black Women Be Like and more.

 

Andiswa Maqutu

ABR: What inspired Black Women Be Like?

MAQUTU: Black Women Be Like-The Book, was inspired by my experiences as a woman who is black. It was driven by the conflict I had with my lived experience as a black woman in the 21st century, and the stories I had read and watched about black African women in short stories, books, films and music videos.

I believe the way to get a nuanced story about any people, is for those people to tell their authentic stories themselves. Even in stories that are purely from the imagination and may never take place in this realm, an authenticity needs to be tapped into. And if a storyteller wants to venture into the experiences of another person, she should do the necessary research.

But I struggled to find stories about women who looked like me and had similar conflicts to mine, even though I had read many stories about black women, especially African women. I mainly saw four recurring typecasts of black African women in the creative literature I read; the struggling, mystical and asexual grandmother raising her many grandchildren while dishing out pearls of wisdom or curses to strangers, the [perceived] oversexed jezebel who sleeps with army generals or older men to survive, the educated professional who is rude and proud, and the meek but passive aggressive black Muslim girl.

In her paper titled, Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire and Their Homegirls: Developing an “Oppositional Gaze” Towards the Images of Black Women, Dr Carolyne West explores these stereotypes in American media and how they have narrowly evolved over the years. And I realized that it is not a problem unique to black women on the African continent, while the recurring stereotypes are sometimes the lived experiences of black women, particularly in Africa’s developing nations, they are not the only images of black women that exist. So I wrote the anthology with the intention to share stories of my experiences as a young black middle-class woman in South Africa.

Black Women Be Like-The Movement, was inspired by my desire to get other black African women writing their own stories, to get the nuanced story of the black African woman.

ABR: What was the process of writing the collection? Are they based on your experiences or on those of other people and was there any emotional/ personal journey that occurred as you confronted and wrote about these issues?

MAQUTU: The process turned out to be more emotional and conflicted than I had imagined. I usually carry a little black book to write down story ideas and experiences that I can explore in the form of short stories or poetry, so I can capture the emotion of each moment in the moment, so I had a list of potential stories and decided to choose the experiences that were closest to me for good and bad reasons.

I had intended to title the book When Black Women Speak for Themselves, because I felt that was what I was doing as a black woman who had been written about and yet had never seen her stories told. But I felt that title was too loaded and would distract from the content of the book, so I decided on Black Women Be Like, playing on the memes circulating social media and perpetuating stereotypes about black women.

I also wanted to shy away from exploring themes and experiences that presented new haughty extremes to combat existing stereotypes about black women. It was more important for me to share stories that were close to me, authentic and I could write well.

So the process of writing the book was me wrestling with trying to creatively write out my experiences using the characters in the book to explore internal conflicts, and worrying about how the book would be perceived because I am a woman who is black and aware of it. And I could have easily been labeled a number of things including angry black woman and/or using empowered black African women in my stories as a feminist trope and gimmick.

Each story has at least one of my experiences. The first and last stories titled My Favourite Aunt and Kulula Izila, are both inspired by my mother and her sisters, who have been my opinionated and empowered role models. .

The story When the Jacarandas Had Begun Rotting was inspired by friends who are lesbian and by the events and brutality against lesbians in South Africa and on the continent. I wanted to explore some of the forgotten ways black women are oppressed and how they fight back, love and are loved. I had my friends read the story to ensure I hadn’t explored it from the point of view of heterosexual privilege.
Out of Africa, is about my experiences and thoughts on my trips overseas during 2014. I was really emotional transferring that piece from my little book into a short story because the experience of the racism and otherness was fresh. I could still remember sitting on a bench outside the Ayasofya in Turkey, with people watching and pointing at me. On my visit to Istanbul, I experienced, for the first time, the kind of racism that made me fear for my life.

ABR: There’s a thread of dissonance that runs through the collection, especially in the essay titled Out of Africa. Dissonance between how the protagonist is perceived based both on her gender and skin color, which is different from how she perceives her own self as a human being. Do you think that dissonance is reflected in black women today? And with regards to the dichotomy between how the protagonist sees herself vs. how the world sees her, is there any point in trying to reconcile both viewpoints? Is there a stage when one should be more important than the other? And is there a way to utilize both to one’s advantage?

MAQUTU: There is definitely that dissonance reflected in black women, and particularly young black women right now. And that’s one of the conflicts that I experience as a young black woman that I feel is not explored enough in creative writing, even by black women writers.

Black women are an acute reflection of how perceptions about both race and gender have changed very little, and where those perceptions have evolved, they have only evolved narrowly.

Black men are grappling with a similar conflict to what white people and previous oppressors of black people are; that these people (women and black people) who were supposed to keep quiet and do as they were told, now want to exercise their right to control their own actions and also have opinions about the status quo…as equals.

Continue reading “Black Women Be Like: An Interview with Andiswa Maqutu”

A Powerful Essay on Being A Black Woman: An Excerpt from ‘Black Women Be Like’ by Andiswa Maqutu

Out of Africa

The brave ones, or their nosy children, come closer to look over your shoulder and walk off muttering and giggling. But you keep yourself on display, because you hope the more of you they see, the more of you they will believe is actually human.

Their nosiness reminds you of the girls who ran to you at Guangzhou airport chanting something in Mandarin between excited smiles and squeals. You remember how they grabbed and touched your dreadlocks. You remember how one of the girls pulled out her cellphone and typed something on it with small pale hands. You watched as the slits she had for eyes read something on the screen and then she said, “You hair pretty”

“Is that a translator on your phone?” you asked her, moving your head around, trying to dodge the pats from her friend’s hand.

“She like your hair,” the girl repeated her meaning, pointing at her friend, who was still excitedly trying to touch your dreadlocks. You remember how you were disarmed. How you smiled and let her examine your hair. Were you condoning the common ownership of a black woman‟s hair or was that a display of tolerance?

You wonder if tolerance and not treating people who look different as if they were zoo animals, is a product of education and exposure to the world. But then you think of the rich American brats at the summer camp you ran in Kinetikit during your gap year. Who, when you tried to show them how to do an activity or tell them it was lights out, would say, “Shut up! You‟re from Africa; I don‟t have to listen to you”. And you remember how the camp organisers told you to smile, because for some reason you just weren‟t smiling enough, or you would ruin a teenager‟s summer.

You remember walking in the Ayasofya, its marble floors wrinkled and painfully etched with the memory of earthquakes. Overlooking you were ancient paintings of Christianity and Islam, side by side. You struggled to connect with a history that did not include your people, who may have been despised at the time. But you were drawn by the symbolism of religious tolerance and coming together in painful earthquake times. You longed for a racial tolerance and you wondered where this tolerance was lost. So you thought that maybe you were being hard on them. I mean, maybe you stared the first time you saw white or Indian women. Maybe you tried to grab the locks of her silky hair.

The ships below sail your mind from your notebook to Lagos. To memories of a visit where you felt you belonged. You are ashamed now of the pride you felt when you basked in compliments about how you were a lighter shade of black; “Are you South African or Kenyan?” they asked. “South Africans are beautiful, not dark like us”. But out here, brown is all the same. There is no yellow-bone privilege. It does not matter the shade. You miss seeing black women wearing their copper and brown Peruvian and Brazilian weaves and big black afros, walking into a hotel in Lagos. You miss seeing the birthday girl, wearing a pink sash with the words “Miss Lagos” stitched across it, wearing a long black dress that ran its material over every visible and secret curve of her body. You miss watching her walk into the hotel and command a table of the best French Champagne to celebrate her 21st birthday. You miss her friends‟ short mini-skirts and printed peplums. You miss how some of them wore dresses and pants made of “African print” fabrics. You miss the way some of them wore the latest trends hot off the pages of the latest magazines and not seeming any less African. You miss the way the whole restaurant would stare at each one walking in, one after the other, with stares that were not threatening or loathing or ashamed, but appreciative and often curious.

You miss the way Lagos girls looked at you; sized up your hair and make-up by whatever standard they liked on that day, and walked off feeling more beautiful. The way they did not care that you looked foreign.

You miss measuring the size of their ass against yours, and sometimes coming up short. You miss watching women of your colour commanding appreciation from all kinds of women and men in ways that were not taboo. You feel superficial, as you miss having your beauty measured against your own kind.

Because yesterday, you took a selfie outside a store called “Gratis” in Istanbul, and giggled that everything in the store must be free, with the two blonde Afrikaans girls and the red haired male tourist with you on the trip. When you reviewed the selfie you felt like you stuck out repulsively among them. Then a group of young Turkish looking men told the other girls how pretty they were as they annoyed them with their advances. While you stood awkwardly aside, trying not to be seen, but wanting desperately to be noticed.

You wondered when you loathed yourself so much.

You are nostalgic. You miss hearing Kabelo‟s “Ngicela ukuhamba nawe” and singing along to the words. You wonder if it is okay, even for black men, to sing that way about black women‟s‟ bodies. But you are too desperate for home and belonging to care. A stranger‟s back that presses against your own as they take a picture of the ships sailing across the bay startles you back into the present. Maybe they didn‟t mean to, but it‟s the first physical contact you have had with a stranger on this trip. Maybe the display is working. Maybe their fear and ignorance is beginning to wear off, you think. But then you sneeze, once, and then again. And a third time too many. You are reaching for your purse, reaching for some tissues. And they begin to move away in panic. After a few sneezes, your hay fever has failed you. The café owner walks over to let know “No Ebola allowed here.” You try to explain that‟s it‟s an allergic reaction to the rose bed behind you. He tells you he doesn‟t speak English. He tells you to leave…in English.

And then walks off.

You are the dark brand face of a hemorrhagic disease some three thousand kilometres away because you sneezed. Suddenly you fear your own display. The stares are no longer curious. They are no longer excited. No one is taking pictures. Some are moving away slowly, more of them briskly. Some are standing just staring at you. Challenging. You are afraid. You are alone. You think of the reports you read about restaurants and shops in Thailand and Korea with signs at their doors reading “No Africans”, an uninformed fear, or precaution, that all black people suffer from Ebola. You think back to your trip to Mozambique and are convicted by how you kept your distance from the local people, out of a fear of contracting malaria. Or when you joked with friends about making sure you don‟t befriend anyone from anywhere “north of the Zambezi River” until “this Ebola thing” blows over.

You stand up to leave. They grab their children and dash off in different directions. You are left with the cries of those children reaching for your eardrums from distant places you can‟t see, and then slipping until faint and no more. You are alone, except for a few men who stayed behind. Their eyes are threatening. You move forward to leave. They remain stationed. You swear you see another smile. You see another caressing your skin and your behind with his eyes. The same way that store manager did when you ran back to spend the last of your last Turkish Lira on those sunglasses. Or the Chinese men whose eyes followed you as you walked down the beach on Hainan Island. Or when you were shopping downtown for cheap souvenirs in Sao Paulo. Or walked into the hotel elevator in Madrid. Those men who, when you caught them staring at you, would quickly look away, offended. Not out of respect for you, but from the self-damning shame of finding you attractive. Those scare you, because you don‟t know how dark their fantasies of exploring a dark woman might be.

You push through the remaining men, the last kick of your dying display. One of them grabs your arm and twists it. He mutters something and the others laugh. They move closer. He moves his grip from his arm to your face. He holds your chin between his thumb and index finger. His eyes are a muddy green covered by a hanging forest of dark eyebrows. His olive skin is weathered; maybe from drinking, definitely from smoking, as he breathes foreign words laced with tobacco onto your face and the others laugh, again.

His face is analysing your skin; like fine cocoa granules moulded into a face. You struggle from his grip only to walk into more grips; from different hands, because a black woman‟s body is for common ownership. On every visible and secret curve of your body. You struggle, and struggle some more to keep the glass sheets over your eyes from shattering into stinging tears. You are saving them to stain your pillow with muddy foundation. You struggle until you break away.

And now you sit in your hotel room nursing the bruised brown of your skin. It will never turn into a pale shade of white. You think about the interview on the talk radio station back home, about why it is not okay to mock black women‟s bodies. You remember the emotional voice of the woman who called in describing the struggles she had with the voluptuous body that carried her. You remember the men who called in saying it did not matter what anyone thought or said or did, and she should be proud of her body. The glass sheets over your eyes do not shatter. If people only get a certain amount of tears to cry about one thing, you‟ve long used up your ration. You resolve to go and report the men to the police, even though you don‟t believe it will make a difference.

But you will keep yourself on display, because you hope the more of you they see, the more of you they will believe is actually human.

 

Black Women Be Like by Andiswa Maqutu | Buy the Book | READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH ANDISWA MAQUTU HERE

Andiswa Onke Maqutu | 2014 |  B00OM907TO

Nigeria in Transition: A Historical Recollection

Debut novelist Nnaziri Ihejirika is the author of A Rainy Season. He spent most of his formative years in the thriving city of Lagos, Nigeria. An alumnus of the University of Toronto, he retains an avid interest in African history, literature and infrastructure development. Here he discusses the socio-political background that influenced his debut.

Nnaziri Headshot
Nnaziri Ihejirika

None of the many military dictatorships in Nigeria’s history squandered as much goodwill as General Sani Abacha’s regime between November 1993 and June 1998. As a young boy who came of age during this time, an awareness of the socio-economic impact of his government and observations of the individuals forged by this environment provided the backdrop for my debut novel, A Rainy Season.

Abacha’s predecessor, General Babangida, was a politician in uniform and his charisma, oratory and policies were cultivated to maximize his political appeal. However, his attempts at transitioning Nigeria to democratic rule failed in June 1993 when he was pressured by his colleagues to annul elections that were considered free and fair. From the ashes of Babangida’s regime came Abacha and his promise of political reform and discipline. Doing away with the transitional administration left by Babangida, Abacha was backed by pro-democracy activists who believed his promise to reinstate the June 1993 election results. Even Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of those elections, gave tacit support to Abacha’s palace coup.

Within two years, Moshood Abiola was in prison for seeking his mandate. Ken Saro-Wiwa, the populist social critic was hanged on trumped up murder charges. Several serving and retired military officers, including former Head of State Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy, Shehu Yar’Adua, were sentenced to life in prison for plotting a coup against Abacha. Newspaper editors were routinely harassed and arrested. Political opponents were assassinated in broad daylight on the streets of Lagos. As a result, the country was turned into a pariah state on the international stage. Developed countries limited visas to Nigerians, rendering escape nearly impossible for all but the wealthy or those lucky enough to win the US diversity visa lottery. Economically, oil – the country’s main source of foreign exchange – traded at eighteen dollars a barrel and inflation was as high as 47.5% in January 1996!

Living in Lagos, I witnessed the depths to which the citizenry fell as they struggled to survive their daily existence. I saw schoolteachers, bribed by desperate parents, assisting students during exams. The clergy openly courted the rich, with no regard to the source of wealth. Young women offered their bodies to those who could offer material comfort. Young men, lacking gainful employment, took to crime and ethno-religious fundamentalism. When asked, people said “conditions are what make the crayfish bend”. Rationalization of misdeeds became a popular pastime…

It is easy to understand the reaction, palpably captured in A Rainy Season, to Abacha’s death. The book’s characters are fictional, but many of the social ills which currently plague Nigerian society were incubated and birthed during that dark era. Nearly two decades later, it is time for Nigerians to realize something they did during those dark days – the question is not whether the country’s ethnic, religious, gender and class fault lines will lead to its downfall. The question is whether or not its people will join hands to ensure Nigeria’s salvation.

 

For more information, visit Nnaziri Ihejirika’s website www.nnaziri.comRead an excerpt of A Rainy Season here.

 

 

A Rainy Season by Nnaziri Ihejirika | An Excerpt

Chapter 1: Jude

I met Alex at a cocktail party at the British High Commission. One of those the parties where tickets are sold out well in advance and senior Nigerian government officials paid homage to British officials in exchange for horrible food and condescending remarks like:

“Well, I guess we should be happy NEPA provided power for an hour today. Surely, that’s a milestone for your people, isn’t it?”

The Nigerian officials would grin stupidly and bob their heads like excited zombies.

Alex was introduced as a progressive journalist who was “passively campaigning against the government in power” as my British host, Mrs. Chambery, assured me with no small hint of high intrigue. What exactly was a passive campaigner? In any case, despite my reputation as a government news spinner, he smiled warmly when introduced. I had to wonder why he was wearing aviator sunglasses indoors. Later, I would appreciate the cunning brain behind the jovial countenance and dark shades.

“Are you the same Jude Ezeala who turned a small consulting outfit into Abacha’s spin room?”

“I see my reputation precedes me. As does yours, or aren’t you the same Alex Odutaye who specializes in getting the scoop on which government official purchased a mansion or a sports car and other such important news?”

He laughed where others may have taken offence. We struck a fast friendship.

Naturally, our first few meetings were slightly contentious.

Me, trying to paint a rosy image of the regime. Alex, berating me for propping up the government’s propaganda. He tried to obtain insider information on whether General Abacha was planning to shed his uniform and contest the presidential elections as a civilian in ‘98. I stuck to the official line that the good general was going to retire to his family home in Kano and leave Nigeria under a democratically elected government. I could tell from his disbelieving looks he wasn’t buying any of it. Certainly, I was not, either.

Alex was separated from his wife and I was single, so we spent a great deal of time playing tennis or squash at the Ikoyi Club. Having resolved to get more active, I was glad to have a regular partner to play with. Afterwards, we would enjoy suya and chapman, a tasty cocktail made with angostura bitters, orange soft drinks, blackcurrant juice and slices of lemon or cucumber for garnish. We’d watch the women at the bar, pick the best looking one and make bets on which of us could get a date.

Outside of that, we discussed a variety of topics. Pan-Africanism. Reparations for victims of civil war in Africa. And what Alex liked to call the “stifled polygamous nature of the African man,” his absolute favourite topic. I don’t think his wife shared his justifications, which could explain his impending divorce.

From day one, I was convinced that our meeting was not entirely coincidental. It did not take long for Alex to reveal his hand. We were by the swimming pool bar at the Le Meridien Eko Hotel when he decided to come clean.

“You know, Jude, if you want to do something about this despotic government, you’re not alone.”

I stopped in the middle of singing praises of the government’s public relations campaign to eradicate cerebral meningitis. Alex continued blowing cigarette smoke and sipping his 33 Export beer nonchalantly.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Oh come on, Jude. You believe that bullshit you’re spitting out as much as I believe that Abacha plans to retire next year. How did you get into this PR business, anyway?”

“This is Nigeria.” I shrugged. “A fellow has to make a living. The gift of gab coupled with a buried conscience.”

“Indeed,” he laughed. “I have heard about your student activism at Legon. How you marched on campus with posters denouncing the governing council. Vitriolic letters written to university administrators demanding tuition freezes. You know, stuff that sounds radical and fancy but means nothing once you graduate and need to find a job.”

“It was a little nobler than that, Alex,” I demurred.

“Be that as it may, I’m talking about real action here. You and I know that the biggest obstacle to Abacha’s selfish ambition is a free press. Coupled with a vocal political opposition, we can ensure that enough pressure is put on Abacha to leave office and allow democracy to flourish in the country.”

I was silent, looking intently at my drink.

He continued with increasing vigour. “The group I’m with is made up of people in our age group. We’re looking to provide a haven of escape for journalists, politicians, pro-democracy activists, basically anyone with principles whose life is in danger at the hands of government agents. Shall I continue or are you about to call State Security and report me?”

“Come on, man,” I retorted, “surely you know me better than that. Besides, you haven’t told me anything about this haven of escape of yours.”

“What’s your gut feel about being involved in this project? It’s certainly anti-government and it flirts with the Abacha government definition of treason.”

My heart was pounding in my chest, and a feeling of inevitability was creeping upon me. It was almost as if the door I had been knocking on was finally opening. I had to be sure of Alex, though.

A Rainy Season by Nnaziri Ihejirika | Buy the Book | Read more by this writer

FriesenPress | 2014 |  978-1-4602-4495-1

A Letter From Our Editor: Thanks For A Wonderful 2014

Dear Readers, 

T
he African Book Review marked its first year in 2014. During this period we reviewed classic and upcoming African literature, and interviewed some of the best writers on the continent. From original poetry, to insightful interviews and essays, we had our fingers on the pulse of creativity within Africa and around the diaspora.

The African Book Review wouldn’t exist without writers, editors, reviewers, and readers around the world. We’d like to say thank you to everyone who has been a part of this incredible project. It’s amazing to note how quickly we’ve grown while retaining a high standard of quality content.

We’re excited to collaborate with more readers, artists, and writers; those concerned about the continent, those engaged and active within it, and those whose works reflect the vibrancy of African literature, as ours does.

To a great 2015!

Sincerely,

Etinosa Agbonlahor | Editor, Curator | The African Book Review

The United States of AFRICA

But contrary to the saying “Happiness is in your own backyard,” so popular and so untrue, it wasn’t—not over there, anyway. Pg.57

The United States of Africa is a deeply satiric that imagines an alternative history in which African states occupy the role of Western nations today and Western nations find themselves in the so-called ‘third world’ space, strained by its constant problems; immigration, diseases, foreign aid tinged with ulterior motives, and more.

In the world imagined between the short chapters that present themselves as news reports from different areas of the world, AIDS first appeared in Greece and ravishes the Caucasian ethnic groups: Norwegian, Belgian, Hungarian, British, Swedish, etc. A refugee fleeing ethnic violence in Zurich is treated by Gambian nurses in Banjul with the same aura of fascination, exoticism one would approach a wild animal, reminiscent of the way North African refuges arriving on Western shores are approached today.

Waberi uses actual text sources, real people and real ideologies to weave a masterful narrative. Wole Soyinka, Achebe and Wa Thiongo become globally revered heroes. And ‘birdbrained’ kids demonstrate outside of McDiops and Sarr Mbock, chanting “End African domination” and decrying the restaurants genetically modified foods which the rag pickers of Vancouver and Convicts of Melbourne are grateful to gulp down.

Despite this world being one that could have very well, in different circumstances, occurred, what emerges out of Waberi’s re-imagination is a world exactly like the one we currently occupy. Full of politics and chasms of inequality, where the rich run over the poor and create laws that protect themselves. It’s still a world dictated by skin color and origin, one where labels and stereotypes attach themselves to people with a vise-like grip determined to strip them of their humanity. And governing African bodies meet frequently to determine what to do about the world resources when they, like western nations today, have implicit roles in depleting those resources and cheating the people who directly need them out of it. Waberi seems to suggest that even if the world were different, even if African nations collectively won a series of attacks that forever altered the course of their histories, the world would possibly remain the same.

Yet amidst this furor emerges Malaika, a young girl adopted by an African doctor on a humanitarian mission to France. Now grown up as an artist, Malaika travels to the land of her birth in hopes of finding her mother—and herself. And through her journey and her art, Waberi gives us glimpses into ways of bridging the divides that trouble our worlds.

Deeply hilarious yet biting and derisive, The United States of Africa is a glimpse both into an alternate past and an alternate future. Brilliant and short yet written with an elegant simplicity that belies great depth, it’s a novel aimed for the critical thiner in all of us.

The United States of Africa by Abdourahman A. Waberi. Translated by David and Nicole Ball

Bison Books| 2009| ISBN: 9780803222625