“Everyone talked about #Bringbackourgirls, but what about the girls who escaped, did anyone come to see them, to support them?”

Nelly Ating is a development coordinator, gender activist, journalist, and photographer working in Yola, Nigeria. We met with Nelly to talk about her work with internally displaced people in Northern Nigeria (survivors of violence, or people who fled their homes in anticipation of Boko Haram attacks), why she’s not a fan of the #BringBackOurGirls movement, as well as her personal writing, and her travels.

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Nelly Ating

ABR: Please tell us about your work with internally displaced people (IDPs) and how that came about. 

ATING: I work with the American University of Nigeria, Yola as a writer. The university identifies itself as a development university and partners with local organizations to identify vulnerable youth in Yola who need support.  One of those local organizations is the Adamawa Peace Initiative–an NGO that aims to maintain peace and create new avenues for sustainable development in the state.

In March 2014, the group decided to aid IDPs who were camping at the Emir’s palace in Mubi. I was just an intern then, but I heard stories of victims of the insurgency, and I wanted to see firsthand. Luckily, I was assigned to cover that story.  It became a routine, I was always assigned to cover stories about IDPs, and also help distribute food to them. The University fed more than 270,000 internally displaced persons who lived in and out of that camp in 2014 alone.

ABR:  Where are some of the IDPs from and how is the program helping reintegrate them into society?

ATING: Some of the IDPs are from Borno, Yobe, Michika, Madagali, Hong and other neighboring local governments. Some fled from Cameroon as well. The Adamawa Peace Initiative established a farming system to reintegrate the IDPs community. The first group of IDPs who benefited from that project, are now members of Bole Community where the university is located.

ABR:  What are some misconceptions about IDPs both in terms of media portrayal and what other people understand about them? What are the things you’d like people to know instead?

ATING: The media portrays IDPs as illiterate and incapacitated. But it may shock you to know that among these IDPs we have teachers, head masters, local government IMG_0976workers, village heads and so on. These people are picking up their lives notwithstanding the violence they’ve survived, they are creating small businesses to keep them going. Others are farming, and some volunteered to continue their professions in the refugee camps.

When the media comes here, they walk past all the educated IDPs, the ones who have set up shops, have become teachers and farmers…they go to the townships and look hard to take pictures of flies buzzing around hungry-looking people.

The conflict is not a religious fight, we have both Christians and Muslims living together in peace. The media attention is what this insurgency group [Boko Haram] feeds on, they need this publicity to instill fear in people.

ABR: Tell us a little about the escaped Chibok girls. Where are they now, what progress are they making?

ATING: Pure Joy! That is how I felt when I saw two of the girls who were very broken when we picked them up last year; enrolled in our Fall academic session as freshmen. I couldn’t help but hug them and whisper congratulations. They are really doing fine. They have been able to blend in the AUN community and continue their education.

 
ABR: You’re not a fan of the #BringBackOurGirls movement, can you tell us a little about why?

ATING: Whether we like it or not, our generation is changing gradually, women are beginning to challenge the status quo. A feminist friend of mine once said, “Women changed social science.” We can unchange all those ideologies that the female child is not as important as the male child. Education is for all.

But please tell that #BringBackOurGirls campaign group; they might be acting with the knowledge they have, but I still feel they act out of their own selfish interest. I haven’t seen them come to Yola to visit the escaped girls schooling in AUN. If you believe in fighting for education, first of all support what others are doing.

“Everyone talked about the #Bringbackourgirlscampaign, but what about the girls who escaped, did anyone come to see them, to support them?”

ABR: You’re a writer, photographer and traveler.  Tell us about your relationship to those three professions, how do they help you understand the world?

ATING: I enjoy creative writing– I can be inspired from a picture of the cloud. As a traveler, I yearn to understand what other people think. African culture is really outstanding. There is more to see in the world and write about.

ABR: Who are your favorite African writers/artists who have influenced your work?
ATING: Chimamanda Adichie is a prolific writer who has influenced my work. Asa’s music is also an invigorating influence, it is truly African.

ABR: What has your role working with IDPs taught you?

ATING: That the only factor that holds us bound is our mind. If you choose to IMG_0228dwell on a situation or your condition it might kill you, but when you see your condition as just a momentary step down, you can excel. Those IDPs are the most resilient people I have ever met.

 

ABR:  How can people get involved in terms of giving or volunteering?

ATING: Visit The American University of Nigeria website to support our work.

ABR: What are some upcoming projects you’re working on in terms of travel, development work or creative work?

ATING: South America is my next destination and recently I have been trying to blend creative writing with journalistic writing. I will be hosting a workshop very soon on that. I am also working on a documentary about child beggars in Yola.

Stop Trying To ‘Save’ Africa | Uzodinma Iweala

This is an excerpt of a larger piece published on The Washington Post.

Uzodinma Iweala

It seems that these days, wracked by guilt at the humanitarian crisis it has created in the Middle East, the West has turned to Africa for redemption. Idealistic college students, celebrities such as Bob Geldof and politicians such as Tony Blair have all made bringing light to the dark continent their mission. They fly in for internships and fact-finding missions or to pick out children to adopt in much the same way my friends and I in New York take the subway to the pound to adopt stray dogs.

This is the West’s new image of itself: a sexy, politically active generation whose preferred means of spreading the word are magazine spreads with celebrities pictured in the foreground, forlorn Africans in the back. Never mind that the stars sent to bring succor to the natives often are, willingly, as emaciated as those they want to help.

Perhaps most interesting is the language used to describe the Africa being saved. For example, the Keep a Child Alive/” I am African” ad campaign features portraits of primarily white, Western celebrities with painted “tribal markings” on their faces above “I AM AFRICAN” in bold letters. Below, smaller print says, “help us stop the dying.”

Such campaigns, however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly focus on the continent’s corrupt leaders, warlords, “tribal” conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured by abuse and genital mutilation. These descriptions run under headlines like “Can Bono Save Africa?” or “Will Brangelina Save Africa?” The relationship between the West and Africa is no longer based on openly racist beliefs, but such articles are reminiscent of reports from the heyday of European colonialism, when missionaries were sent to Africa to introduce us to education, Jesus Christ and “civilization.”

There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one’s cultural superiority.

My mood is dampened every time I attend a benefit whose host runs through a litany of African disasters before presenting a (usually) wealthy, white person, who often proceeds to list the things he or she has done for the poor, starving Africans. Every time a well-meaning college student speaks of villagers dancing because they were so grateful for her help, I cringe. Every time a Hollywood director shoots a film about Africa that features a Western protagonist, I shake my head — because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West’s fantasy of itself. And not only do such depictions tend to ignore the West’s prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems.

Why do the media frequently refer to African countries as having been “granted independence from their colonial masters,” as opposed to having fought and shed blood for their freedom? Why do Angelina Jolie and Bono receive overwhelming attention for their work in Africa while Nwankwo Kanu or Dikembe Mutombo, Africans both, are hardly ever mentioned? How is it that a former mid-level U.S. diplomat receives more attention for his cowboy antics in Sudan than do the numerous African Union countries that have sent food and troops and spent countless hours trying to negotiate a settlement among all parties in that crisis?

Two years ago I worked in a camp for internally displaced people in Nigeria, survivors of an uprising that killed about 1,000 people and displaced 200,000. True to form, the Western media reported on the violence but not on the humanitarian work the state and local governments — without much international help — did for the survivors. Social workers spent their time and in many cases their own salaries to care for their compatriots. These are the people saving Africa, and others like them across the continent get no credit for their work.

Continue reading on The Washington Post.

South Sudan: Child cry of war | Onam Liduba

I was found along the road side in open ash air
I grew like a child of leach
No mother and no father
I feed on bitter leaves and roots in the desert
I stay in rain and hot sun for fear
Are all children in the same condition?
No, a child elsewhere enjoys the calm blue sky
And the love of his parents
A fox has a den and a bird has nest
But the child of war has nowhere to lay his head
For fear of bombs and bullets in southern Sudan
O God lift up this child of war

 

 

Onam Liduba was born in  Southern Sudan. Displaced by the war, he lived in different refugee camps where he attended and then taught secondary school classes. In 2000, Liduba was granted asylum by the U.S., and in 2001, he was sent to Chicago where earned multiple degrees. In 2007, Liduba founded a non-profit organization called the Pari People Project to build a clinic and to provide school supplies for students in the Lafon area of Sudan.

Run till you no longer see yourself in other men’s eyes: Nick Makoha

The African Book Review met with finalists for The Brunel University African Poetry Prize to discuss their poems, inspirations, and hopes for the future of African Poetry. Here’s our interview with Nick Makoha, a poet from Uganda, whose powerful poem “Beatitude,” dwells on the pain of refugees forced to leave their country.

ABRWhat inspires you to write poetry and what inspires your poems?

Nick Makoha

MAKOHA: Writing for me has never really been a hobby. It is something that I have done since I was a child. Initially I was inspired by the ability to play with words, to use language as a puzzle. It became my playground, something I did without thinking just for the joy of it. But as I moved from country to country leaving my homeland of Uganda, language became something else: it became a refuge. It also became a place where I could reap the harvest of my emotions….

In my ignorance I assumed everyone wrote poetry. I wrote my first public poem for a math teacher that died of a heart attack at my boarding school in Kenya. I remember crying under a tree and thinking there must be a better way to remember him. He had been a pillar of support and writing a poem was the only way I could find in my 14 year old self to honour him. The poem was published in our yearbook and it was the first time I was called upon by my community to be a poet of the people.

So to answer your question, I would say what inspires me to write is a strong conviction or the welling up of emotion. The skill is to identify these convictions when camouflaged by ego, stereotypes and day-to-day living. My collection The Second Republic was inspired by my need to return emotionally to Uganda. I am describing a metic experience, a foreigner living in a land that is not his own. A person in exile is a person between two worlds, where language becomes the conduit through which emotion is expressed.

ABR:  Your poem “Beatitude,” which is a finalist for the Brunel University African Poetry prize, touches on an everyday (almost casual) violence as the backdrop to a country that is unstable. The lines “Run past sleep, past darkness visible./ Stop when you find a country where they do not know your name,”  are especially powerful. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration for this poem and what it’s representative of?

MAKOHA: “Beatitude” is a perfect example of the metic experience. This poem came as one stream of consciousness. I really had to stop myself from writing it. It is a capstone in my poetry collection in that it holds a hidden pain which I really discuss about leaving my country. It also sets up the cinematic landscape of the world I want my reader to inhabit; a world that does not belong to the European consciousness.

It is a world that runs parallel to the world we live in right now.

In today’s culture there is a cynical view of the refugee or the asylum seeker but I wanted to give a clear understanding of what many people around the world suffer in a matter of fact way.

Beatitudes are the blessings that Jesus gave in the bible. I wanted to communicate that for many leaving their beloved it homeland and running to freedom is a blessing at the cost of losing all.

ABR:  As a Ugandan poet, how has Uganda influenced your works, and what do you think the future of poetry in Uganda is? What ideally would you like it to be?

MAKOHA: Most of my life has been spent out of Uganda. So my Ugandan influences are indirect or subliminal. The writing of these poems has brought me closer to my culture as I have investigated my heritage through literature. Early on I read Okot p’Bitek and Okello Oculi. Most useful was leading the politics of many African writers from all genres. People like Ben Okri, Wole Soyinka, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o… their insights are like finding gold in a river.  As for the future of Ugandan Poetry, I hope it is at the beginning of a great journey. A journey that brings great writers to the international stage. I hope I can play my part in doing that.

ABR: Do you have any favorite African books? Any that have particularly influenced you or that you just love for some reason?

MAKOHA: If by favourite African books you mean books that I come to again and again there are many; Of Chameleons and Gods, any play by Athol Fugard as his works hold up to any generation. This week I am reading Jack Mapange’s Beasts of Nalunga.

ABR:  Can you talk about your future projects and things you are currently working on?

MAKOHA: There are few projects that I’m working on currently. My show, My Father and other Superheroes will be touring later on in the year. And my first poetry collection The Second Republic will be out soon. There has been interest in making parts of this poetry collection into a film. I have also been commissioned to be part of a special basketball project on which I can say no more at this point

ABR: Thanks and congratulations on being a finalist for the Brunel University African Poetry Prize.

MAKOHA: Thank you. It is a great honour of being picked as one of the finalists I feel privileged to be among their number.

 

Born in Uganda, Nick Makoha fled the country with his mother during the Idi Amin’s regime. His debut pamphlet series, The Lost Collection of an Invisible Man was published in 2005 and he is currently working on his first full poetry collection. Nick represented Uganda in the Cultural Olympiad Poetry Parnassus at London’s Royal Festival Hall. His one-man show My Father & Other Superheroes debuted to sold-out performances in London, and a national tour begins at the end of 2014. 

A Mother In a Refugee Camp by Chinua Achebe (excerpt)

Achebe 1This a wonderful excerpt from a poem by Chinua Achebe. The poem is centered around a mother in a refugee camp, most likely during the Biafran war. The link between the past and present and the way war ruptures this is focused so articulately in the mother’s actions, combing her son’s hair. The foreshadowing, ‘like putting flowers on a tiny grave,’ anchors the poem rendering it heartbreaking yet somehow full of hope. Most people know Achebe as a great writer, not necessarily as a poet but his collection of poetry in Collected Poems by Chinua Achebe is a brilliant, tender, and humorous exploration of a range of topics many centered around the effects of war in Biafra, colonialism in Nigeria, and the poets own observations on life.