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Dalmany (Slave Belonging to Mr. Dalman), Auguste Edouart (French, 1789–1861)

Laitan's Story: Spare Me Your Outrage Over Libyan Slavery

Nigerian novelist Elnathan John points out the hypocrisy of those who would condemn slavery in Libya while ignoring it in their own yard.

If there was someone whose life at once confounded and saddened me, it was Laitan's. In the low cost housing complex of my adolescence, in flats connected in rows by low fences with rough plaster finish, conversations scaled over walls and secrets across fences.


Laitan was not the biological child of the family she lived with. She was the youngest and had to do most of the chores both for the parents of the household and for their older children. Many nights every week, when she did not deliver with the perfection that was demanded, sticks found her flesh and bones—they sold firewood and had plenty—and she screamed herself hoarse: Edakun. [I am] sorry. In addition to this hobby of the matriarch she also planted maize (and to our delight as teenagers, some tobacco). Laitan had no friends, no visitors, no leisure moments, except perhaps, for when she was alone at home. It used to horrify me, but then I got used to her screaming for mercy when the sticks smashed against her body.

This is not uncommon in Nigeria: relatives sent away, often from villages to perform domestic labour for slightly less poor kin in the cities. Sometimes, they are not relatives and a friend of a friend makes the connection: an underage girl who will spend most of her waking hours cleaning and washing and scrubbing and cooking and caring for children, sometimes not too much younger than she is. She is often easy to recognise, set apart from the organic family: hair shorn, clothes wrinkled or old, hand-me-down shoes.

Swift to Condemn

I read of Nigerians, Europe bound and unable to pay their smugglers, sold into slavery, forced to perform hard labour, on construction sites, in farms, in houses under the threat of torture or death. Worse, I read of women who, while experiencing similar conditions, had to also face rape at the hands of multiple rapists. I saw the swift condemnations of Nigerians, felt the shock rippling through Nigerian waters, that black people, many of them Nigerians, were auctioned off into slavery by armed Libyans. What I did not immediately read, was the stories of the Nigerians and Ghanaians and Senegalese who were also involved in buying, selling and reselling black bodies in Libya.

For a quick moment I wondered if there was something wrong with me, for not feeling this outrage against "Arabs" or Libyans, this outrage against racist people, this desire to demand that the Nigerian government together with all other black governments send delegations and outrage and demand the release of all our black captives. And all I could think of were the Laitan's of Nigeria. Enslaved. Chained. Brutalised. Forced to perform endless labour. Many times having no access to education or proper health care.

I thought of the Laitan's who are illegally made to submit to having blood samples taken from them for HIV and other blood tests by their supposed guardians or "employers." A colleague once told me about testing a young maid who worked for her and when I asked if this was legal, she was more concerned about the health of her young child than she was the legality of the testing. Nigerian law makes requiring an HIV test as a precondition to an offer of employment illegal.

Differences Between Slaves

I wonder what the real difference is, between a Laitan—trafficked locally, who suffers beatings, does hard labour from dusk until dawn, is made to do an HIV test without her consent, cannot have friends, does not go to school, cannot decide to quit without adverse consequences—and a person who is enslaved in Libya while trying to get to Europe or trafficked internationally.

I read the response of a middle class Nigerian who, deeply uncomfortable with my categorisation of Laitan as an enslaved person, cautioning me not to refer to the persons like Laitan's guardians as people who keep slaves and wondered: is she perhaps thinking of the girls and servants in her own home, shorn heads, without liberty or rights? Is one type of enslavement worthy of outrage and hashtags and not another?

I recognise the extreme dysfunction, occasioned by political chaos in Libya which has allowed for vast swathes of ungoverned spaces where slave auctions and the practice of slavery can subsist without challenge. It is horrific and highlights the need for economic and political stability in the countries from which these exploited and enslaved persons flee from. As horrific as the enslavement in Libya is however, it is only one type of slavery. According to the National Crime Agency, Nigeria is the third most common origin country for slavery victims in the UK. Some say as many as 800,000. I wonder, if we could count, how Laitan's exist inside Nigeria. Quietly suffering, praying (the one thing they are allowed to do freely) for succour, for release.

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From Chale Wote Street Art Festival 2016. Photo by Ofoe Amegavie.

5 Ghanaian Creative Spaces Doing Afrofuturist Work You Need To Know

These Pan-African outfits are actively visualizing and creating realities for black people that are better than the ones we inhabit now—get to know them.

In her praise for Octavia's Brood (an anthology of science fiction stories from social justice movements), filmmaker dream hampton quotes these words of adrienne maree brown, a co-editor of the anthology: "All social justice work is science fiction. We are imagining a world free of injustice, a world that doesn't yet exist." A respectable appropriation of brown's statement would be: all pro-Black/African activism is afrofuturism in praxis.

In that frame of social justice activism being twined with the useful framework that afrofuturism is—envisioning and exploring viable realities for black people all over the world—here are five Pan-African outfits out of Ghana who're doing advocacy work, and variously tasking our imaginations to visualize an existence for black people other—and better—than the one we inhabit presently.

Accra [Dot] Alt

Photo courtesy of Accra [Dot] Alt.

The "Alt" in Accra [Dot] Alt stands for alternative, which should say much about this organization's orientation: an invested interest in facilitating the alternative. To that end, A[D]A creates programs which provide spacial and other forms of support for the expression of alternative thought, and also for spawning boundary-breaking art. A[D]A's most popular initiative, the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival, since its inception in 2011, has been thematically preoccupied with imagining and creating existences that are more humane and fulfilling—particularly for black people.

The African Electronics Trilogy exemplifies this. Between 2015 and 2017, the Chale Wote Festival's themes, African Electronics, Spirit Robot and Wata Mata—have altogether exhorted festival participants to "tap into a super power grid [and] create a new encounter with reality that is entirely of our choosing and construction." The theme for this year's festival, Para-Other, does not stray from this visionary mission. A[D]A partly describes Para-Other as an order "embracing of a black labyrinth and establishment of an aesthetic that captures our cessation of flight and transit into a non-contested existence."

Last time the statistics were checked, in 2016, over 30,000 people were at Chale Wote; which is a more than 6,000 percent increase from the number that attended the first edition of the festival. Talk about possibilities.

African Women's Development Fund (AWDF)

Photo courtesy of the AWDF.

This grant-making foundation, Africa's first pan-African women's fund, was co-founded in 2000 by three African women: Hilda Tadria, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi and Joana Foster, who passed in 2016.

Since setting up, the African Women's Development Fund has funded and supported close to 1,500 women's rights organizations and women-led initiatives in countries all over the continent.

In April 2017, the institution launched their ground-breaking AWDF Futures Project. The initiative is basically composed of projections on the future of the continent as seen through an African feminist lens. These projections are based on a mix of data/trends analysis and sheer imagination.

The AWDF Scenario Stories is one aspect of the project. It comprises of four short stories imagining four different kinds of futures—desirable, undesirable, wild card, transitional—for African women, in Africa. The protagonist in each of these scenarios (set in August 2030) is Mariam; a queer, intelligent and free-spirited young woman in a wheelchair.

The full narratives of Mariam navigating each of these four futures can be accessed, in both text and animated audio-visual formats, on AWDF's website, together with the Futures Africa: Trends for Women by 2030 report.

What will Africa be like in 2030? What would we see if we looked through the eyes of a woman? The AWDF Futures page holds a number of possible answers to these questions.

AfroCyberPunk Interactive

Photo courtesy of AfroCyberPunk Interactive.

Sci-fi writer and self-proclaimed afrofuturist, Jonathan Dotse, created AfroCyberPunk in 2010. Then, it was a blog whose focus was on "exploring the creative potential of African science fiction and speculative narratives."

Almost a decade after running as a blog, AfroCyberPunk morphed into AfroCyberPunk Interactive—a digital hypermedia content developer and publishing house—in 2017. Still, the preoccupation with "exploring the future of Africa" (as went the blog's tagline) remains prime. A part of what could be referred to as their mission statement reads thus: "Our roots in afrofuturism continue to inspire the recurrent themes, motifs and aesthetics of our publications. We aspire to [...] address the global imbalance in the representation of marginalised peoples and perspectives."

Founder Jonathan Dotse is himself at work on his debut novel, a cyberpunk mystery/ psychological thriller set in Accra, Ghana circa 2060 AD.

All of the above certainly do echo these words offered by Jonathan in a blog post titled Why Africa Needs Science Fiction: "As Africa marches onward into the future it is important that we as Africans begin to critically visualize the development that will take place on our own soil, and our vision must be based on our own unique reality, cut from the cloth of our own societies and tailored to our specific needs."

Drama Queens

Photo courtesy of Drama Queens.

This feminist and Pan-Africanist theatre organisation optimally embodies the idea of Sankofa: an examination of heritage to select and use, presently, the positive and helpful values, in the ultimate service of creating the future.

Drama Queens is founded on the ancient Egyptian philosophy of Ma'at—which adjures for justice, balance and harmony as ways of being. The world being as it is now—generally unjust, imbalanced and disharmonious, against black people specifically, and more specifically against marginalized black communities—renders Drama Queens' work futuristic.

To ground this, they are avowedly working towards "a just, balanced and harmonious world where highest respect is given to nature and all nature creates."

This year, for instance, is Drama Queens' year of "contributing to an end to homophobia towards the African LGBTQ+ community" through various activities such as theatre productions, facilitating queer film production workshops, social media discussions and talk events.

Nana Akosua Hanson, founder and director of Drama Queens has said in an interview that her organization aims, ultimately, "to end oppression by changing mindsets through the use of cultural tools, to revolutionalize thinking and bring forth the existence of an Africa without heteropatriarchy, and a continent free from the exploitation and destruction of racist nations." Sounds about Afrofuturist.

Squid Magazine

Photo courtesy of Squid Magazine.

Comics, games and animation are probably the most popular media through which creators indulge in futuristic thinking. Add to this the truism that critical, intellectual engagement and documentation are of lifeblood importance to the efflorescence of a culture. Put together, it adds up to the fact that Squid Magazine (simply, Squid Mag) is doing essential afrofuturist work.

Started in 2015 by Kadi Yao Tay and Kofi Asare, Squid Mag is dedicated to the "exploration, critique, promotion and archiving of African creativity manifested within comics, games, animation..." As it happens, Squid Mag is one of the very few, if not only, platforms on the continent that wholesomely covers African output in the above mentioned media.

There's a rather poetic resonance as to why this outfit is named 'Squid.' Here's the import of the name, as explained on their website:

The name is inspired by squids, sea invertebrates that release ink as a defense mechanism. We find it poetic how such a mechanism can be a metaphor for painting a people's realities and dreams fluidly in an ocean of canvases. An ocean that is threatened to be overrun with narratives that exclude us.

So now you know, if you didn't know before, where to go in search of a sea of narratives—of realities and dreams—that include us.

*

There is a great deal more than can be said for the imagination—and exercising it. It begets creation, after all. Thus, what these and other entities are doing—engendering alternative socio-political imaginaries for all peoples of African descent—is such a needful venture. But after all is said and visualized, the ultimate challenge, most probably, is to act, to create. Blitz the Ambassador puts it succinctly on his afrofuturist song, "Africa Is The Future" (long since renamed "Africa Is Now"): There ain't no future unless we build it now.

moshood lives in Accra, from where he writes across genres. He has recently taken on painting. He tweets here: @thehamzay

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Still from Emmeron's "Good Do"

Following Government Suppression, Sierra Leone's 'People's Popstar' Is Finally Allowed to Perform

Emmerson's music has influenced past elections in Sierra Leone. Here's why his performance at the National Stadium is a win for artistic freedom.

Early December 2017, a flyer was circulating on Whatsapp in Freetown announcing one of the most exciting concerts of the year. Sierra Leonean superstar Emmerson Bockarie, stage name Emmerson, was going to perform live alongside two other popular artists. The concert was to be held at the National Stadium, Freetown's foremost and largest concert venue where the likes of Timaya and Wizkid have performed in the past.

One week later, with no further explanation, the concert was cancelled.

Rumours went wild. The then ruling party, All People's Congress (APC), was seen by many as the culprit. Elections were just around the corner and Emmerson, with government-critiquing lyrics, was not to perform to an audience that could reach 36,000 people. It was a recurring story; Emmerson has not been able to perform at the National Stadium since 2012, all during the APC reign.

Now, a month after the change of government, Emmerson held his concert, called Finally, on the April 28.

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The Prince and Princess of Lesotho Were the Only Foreign Royals At Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Wedding

The Basotho and British royals have a long-standing bond.

While Prince Harry and Meghan Markle avoided inviting politicians and foreign royals to their wedding on SaturdayBarack and Michelle Obama were noticeably absent—the couple made an exception for one pair of royals: Prince Seeiso of Lesotho and his wife Princess Mabereng.

The two were amongst the 600 guests present for Saturday's festivities at Windsor Castle. Princess Mabereng donned colorful traditional attire for the ceremony, and stood out in the best way possible.

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