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Bodies That Matter: The African History of Naked Protest, FEMEN Aside

FEMEN continues to gain more visibility for naked protest, yet many fail to recognize that naked protest has long been a strategy in African history.


If you're unfamiliar, FEMEN is a Ukraine based feminist group with chapters throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. FEMEN has been making waves for the past year now, through their chosen method of activism: naked protest. While the method has gained popularity and visibility in the mainstream, it has also been problematized by feminists in other parts of the world. This past November, when Egyptian feminist Alia al-Mahdy posted photos of her naked body wrapped in an Egyptian flag, there was a huge debate over the use of the method as an example of European feminists imposing their values onto Third world feminism/Islamic feminism. Sara Mourad has already provided an excellent analysis contextualizing the debates surrounding Alia's naked body, which is in many ways applicable to the latest manifestation of FEMEN's tactics in Tunisia, via the naked body of Amina Tyler. Tyler's naked protest has been the topic du jour particularly because of the call for her to be punished with at least 80 to 100 lashes, or actually death by stoning.

Maroud highlights how many women of color feminists have taken issue with what they consider a clear example of imperial feminism, through importing western understandings of nakedness onto Islamic notions of the body; I want to draw attention to what continues to be overlooked. It seems that no one is emphasizing the fact that these white feminists do not own the method they have chosen to declare as their call to arms against patriarchy. In short, before we discuss how FEMEN is engaging in somewhat problematic dynamics with women of color feminists throughout the Middle East & North Africa region, we should recall that their chosen method of protest is certainly not exclusive to white European feminists. Have we forgotten the naked protests that have taken place in Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya and Uganda for over a century? While the conversations surrounding FEMEN's growing presence in the MENA region certainly highlight valid arguments about Western feminism and how it relates to other notions of feminism/womanism throughout the globe, what I find to be the greatest example of liberalism is that they've managed to convince us that they own the method and in some ways, how we understand our own nakedness.

What is arguably one of the most powerful manifestations of naked protest over the past century took place during the Women's War in Eastern Nigeria (1929) and was a significant manifestation of black women's resistance to colonial authority and racialised Western notions of the body. The significance of the history of this method continues to manifest in naked protests, which have taken place in West, East, and Southern Africa as recently as December 2012. Yet these black women and their unyielding fearlessness to literally put their bodies on the line and stand against multinational oil companies, corruption, and violence, receive little visibility in the mainstream. Sometimes, even in their own countries, their commitment and strength is dismissed as foolish, unfruitful and futile.

In this era of social media and new technologies FEMEN's tactics are able to gain notice through their chosen mediums of expression and well connected network. The issue is not so much that they use naked protest as a method, but rather that we continue to confuse our disapproval of how their tactics mimic imperial feminism with the method itself. In other words, FEMEN's expansion into the Middle East and North Africa is likely a glaring example of imperial feminism, but not because of the method. Women of color, specifically throughout the continent have been using naked protest and genital cursing for centuries to express their intolerance and perform resistance. FEMEN's naked bodies aren't the only bodies making waves- while their tactics are highly visible, they have yet to shut down an entire oil facility for seven days with the simple threat of disrobing.

African History Story by OKA Contributor: Maryam Kazeem

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Interview: How Stogie T’s ‘Freestyle Friday’ Became a TV Show

Freestyle Friday started as lockdown content but is now a fully-fledged TV show on Channel O. In this interview, Stogie T breaks down why the show is revolutionary and talks about venturing into media.

When South Africa was put under a hard lockdown in 2020, Stogie T started Freestyle Friday to "make SA rap again." Freestyle Friday, hosted on Instagram, saw a different cohort of rappers each rap over the same beat picked by the veteran rapper. From niche and emerging rappers to some of the most notable names in South African hip-hop—the likes of AKA, Focalistic, Ginger Trill and several others all participated.

In the last few weeks, however, Freestyle Friday has found its way to cable TV. The show airs every Friday on Channel O, one of the continent's longest-running music TV channels. Freestyle Friday as a TV programme isn't just about freestyles, it's about the art of rapping and the music business, particularly SA hip-hop. Guests range from lyricists to record executives and other personalities aligned with the scene—Ninel Musson and Ms Cosmo for instance.

But Freestyle Friday is only the first media product Stogie T is working on as he is in the process of starting a podcast network, a venture in which he is collaborating with Culture Capital. In the Q&A below, Stogie T breaks down the relationship with Culture Capital, how the show moved from the internet to TV, why it's a revolutionary idea, touches on his venture into media and his future plans.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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Interview: Made Kuti Talks Afrobeat, Activism & Family Legacy

We speak with Made about his debut album and the part he's playing in keeping the Kuti heritage alive.

It's all about happiness for Made Kuti. He wants to spend his entire life making music and living contentedly while doing so. This is why he is living above pressures, people's expectations of what the legendary Fela's grandson should look like and the kind of music he should be making.

"My goal is to attain internal happiness and I know that this can't come externally. It can't come from what people think of me and it can't come from me searching for other people's approval and I understood that long ago."

While he was alive, Fela Anikulapo Kuti—the legendary creator of the afrobeat genre—had bragged multiple times about his immortality and how he would never die. Many had understood his claim to be literal, when he in fact meant that his work and legacy would forever be remembered. Proof of this is a joint album project by Femi Kuti and Made Kuti, son and grandson of the man who is arguably the greatest musician to have emerged from the African continent.

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'Africa Is a Country Radio' Spotlights Cape Town in Latest Episode

Hosted by Chief Boima, the latest episode from 'Africa is a Country Radio' explores Cape Town's vibrant music scene from rapper YoungstaCPT to Cape Malay choral music, jazz and more.

Africa Is a Country Radio has shared its latest episode which puts Cape Town into the spotlight. The theme for the show's current season is port cities. Having explored the Black Atlantic and the Black Indian Ocean in their previous episodes, this latest episode positions Cape Town's history and so-called Cape Malay culture in the middle. The show is hosted by Sierra Leonean-American music producer and managing editor of the publication, Africa Is a Country, Chief Boima and also features two additional guests.

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