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Ben Okri on Steve Biko - 'Freedom Is A Small Part Of The Story'


In September 1977, Stephen Bantu Biko, an anti-apartheid agitator, writer and co-founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, died in police custody from a brain haemorrhage caused by severe blows to the head. A death Sir Sydney Kentridge, counsel to the Biko family, bleakly described as “miserable and lonely…on a cold prison floor”. He was thirty years old.

The annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture, now in its thirteenth year and in the past delivered by luminaries such as Nelson Mandela, Chinua Achebe, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and Alice Walker; commemorates the enduring legacy of his short life and the relevance of his ideas on freedom, equality and justice. To mark the occasion, this year the organisers invited 1991 Booker Prize-winning Nigerian writer, Ben Okri, to pay tribute to the slain visionary of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Dressed in a black suit and a matching beret, the fifty-three-year old giant of African letters, said growing up in independent Nigeria, one of the great moral questions about the world was first posed to him by the struggle against apartheid. The iconic black and white photograph of Hector Pieterson dying in the arms of Mbuyisa Makhubo (below) after being shot by police during the Soweto uprisings in 1976, Okri said, awoke him from a moral sleep. “I was roughly the same age as the children being slaughtered in that famous picture and it instantly made me aware that our fates are one.”

The brilliance of Steve Biko (I Write What I Like), much like his intellectual forerunner Franz Fanon (Black Skin, White Masks), was in situating the struggle against racial subjugation in the realm of consciousness. “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed” he argued; articulating the link between tyranny and its corrupting influence on selfhood. The path to freedom, he surmised, would begin with a renewed self-vision on the part of the oppressed. “In a sense Biko transcends politics and has in him something of the terrible integrity of the true artist” Okri said, “one who with hammer-blows will relentlessly pursue his vision of exalted truth regardless of its consequences. In that sense Biko is more than just the unfinished conscience of this land; he is also that finger pointing at the only acceptable future: a life and a society in which citizens can be proud of what they are. Biko’s spirit is permanently, fantastically set against the humiliation of man and woman”.

Shifting his gaze from the past to the contemporary, Okri said that the value of suffering is that it’s transformative: “when a people overcome the impossible, they achieve eventually a kind of evolutionary shift and epistemological break. They realise, eventually, deep in their souls something powerful about their will: they are never quite the same people again”. He continued; “history is like a nightmare we wake up from after a struggle and blink in stupefaction at the strangeness of daylight. With awakening a great energy is freed; a new question is posed: the nightmare is over but what do we do with the day?” This, Okri said, has been the real challenge of our times; what to do with the day? Other nations, he said, caught in the mire of corruption, dictatorships, coups and civil wars, had squandered the transformative possibilities of Independence. The courage, ingenuity and the toughness needed to overcome the great evils of colonialism and apartheid “are required much more for the days of sunlight…freedom may turn out to be a very small part of the story of a people. The real story begins with what they did with that freedom”.

Stripped of its apartheid context, Okri argued, “the heart of Black Consciousness is a message of 'becoming'; its goal is not limited, it hints at a continuing journey of self-discovery and self-realisation. This can be as wide and as expansive as the mind that interprets it. There can be no end to self-realisation. Every day we discover more and more who we can be - this is what Black Consciousness says to me: become who you are, and also, become what you truly can be. It is an injunction of greatness”. Ever the poet, he added: “after all, the people cannot come away in their oppression and fall right asleep after their liberation. A continued wakefulness is the burden of Black Consciousness; a continued vigilance is its responsibility.”

You can read Ben Okri’s lecture in its entirety here.

 

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Introducing OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 List

Celebrating African Women Laying the Groundwork for the Future

It would not be hyperbole to consider the individuals we're honoring for OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 list as architects of the future.

This is to say that these women are building infrastructure, both literally and metaphorically, for future generations in Africa and in the Diaspora. And they are doing so intentionally, reaching back, laterally, and forward to bridge gaps and make sure the steps they built—and not without hard work, mines of microaggressions, and challenges—are sturdy enough for the next ascent.

In short, the women on this year's list are laying the groundwork for other women to follow. It's what late author and American novelist Toni Morrison would call your "real job."

"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else."

And that's what inspired us in the curation of this year's list. Our honorees use various mediums to get the job done—DJ's, fashion designers, historians, anthropologists, and even venture capitalists—but each with the mission to clear the road ahead for generations to come. Incredible African women like Eden Ghebreselassie, a marketing lead at ESPN who created a non-profit to fight energy poverty in Eritrea; or Baratang Miya, who is quite literally building technology clubs for disadvantaged youth in South Africa.

There are the builds that aren't physically tangible—movements that inspire women to show up confidently in their skin, like Enam Asiama's quest to normalize plus-sized bodies and Frédérique (Freddie) Harrel's push for Black and African women to embrace the kink and curl of their hair.

And then there are those who use their words to build power, to take control of the narrative, and to usher in true inclusion and equity. Journalists, (sisters Nikki and Lola Ogunnaike), a novelist (Oyinkan Braithwaite), a media maven (Yolisa Phahle), and a number of historians (Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Leïla Sy) to name a few.

In a time of uncertainty in the world, there's assuredness in the mission to bring up our people. We know this moment of global challenge won't last. It is why we are moving forward to share this labor of love with you, our trusted and loyal audience. We hope that this list serves as a beacon for you during this moment—insurance that future generations will be alright. And we have our honorees to thank for securing that future.

EXPERIENCE 100 WOMEN 2020

The annual OkayAfrica 100 Women List is our effort to acknowledge and uplift African women, not only as a resource that has and will continue to enrich the world we live in, but as a group that deserves to be recognized, reinforced and treasured on a global scale. In the spirit of building infrastructure, this year's list will go beyond the month of March (Women's History Month in America) and close in September during Women's Month in South Africa.

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Burna Boy 'African Giant' money cover art by Sajjad.

The 20 Essential Burna Boy Songs

We comb through the Nigerian star's hit-filled discography to select 20 essential songs from the African Giant.

Since bursting onto the scene in 2012 with his chart-topping single, "Like to Party," and the subsequent release of his debut album, L.I.F.E - Leaving an Impact for eternity, Burna Boy has continued to prove time and again that he is a force to be reckoned with.

The African Giant has, over the years, built a remarkable musical identity around the ardent blend of dancehall, hip-hop, reggae, R&B, and afropop to create a game-changing genre he calls afro-fusion. The result has been top tier singles, phenomenal collaborations, and global stardom—with several accolades under his belt which include a Grammy nomination and African Giant earning a spot on many publications' best albums of 2019.

We thought to delve into his hit-filled discography to bring you The 20 Essential Burna Boy Songs.

This list is in no particular order.

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Image courtesy of Lula Ali Ismaïl

'Dhalinyaro' Is the Female Coming-of-Age Story Bringing Djibouti's Film Industry to Life

The must-watch film, from Lula Ali Ismaïl, paints a novel picture of Djibouti's capital city through the story of three friends.

If you're having a tough time recalling the last movie you watched from Djibouti, it's likely because you have never watched one before. With an almost non-existent film industry in the country, Lula Ali Ismaïl, tells a beautiful coming of age story of three young female Djiboutian teenagers at the cusp of womanhood. Dhalinyaro offers a never-before-seen view of Djibouti City as a stunning, dynamic city that blends modernity and tradition—a city in which the youth, like all youth everywhere, struggle to decide what their futures will look like. It's a beautiful story of friendship, family, dreams and love from a female filmmaker who wants to tell a "universal story of youth," but set in the country she loves—Djibouti.

The story revolves around the lives of three young friends from different socio-economic backgrounds, with completely varied attitudes towards life, but bound by a deep friendship. There is Asma, the conservative academic genius who dreams of going to medical school and hails from a modest family. Hibo, a rebellious, liberal, spoiled girl from a very wealthy family who learns to be a better friend as the film evolves and finally Deka. Deka is the binding force in the friendship, a brilliant though sometimes naïve teen who finds herself torn between her divorced mother's ambitions to give her a better life having saved up all her life for her to go to university abroad, and her own conviction that she wants to study and succeed in her own country.

Okayafrica contributor, Ciku Kimeria speaks to Ismaïl on her groundbreaking film, her hopes for the filmmaking industry and the universality of stories.

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Stogie T Enlists Nasty C, Boity, Nadia Nakai and More, for ‘The Empire of Sheep’ Deluxe Edition

Stream the deluxe version of Stogie T's EP 'The Empire of Sheep' featuring Nasty C, Boity, Nadia Nakai and more.

Stogie T just shared a deluxe version of his 2019 EP The Empire of Sheep titled EP The Empire of Sheep (Deluxe Unmasked). The project comes with three new songs. "All You Do Is Talk" features fellow South African rappers Nasty C, Boity and Nadia Nakai. New York lyricist appears on "Bad Luck" while one of Stogie T's favorite collaborators Ziyon appears on "The Making."

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