The 45th Inauguration

The weather forecast over Washington DC for January 20th, 2017 was ‘cloudy.’ A lot of Americans felt the same. Cloudy. A steel grey backdrop for the Inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. The country was deeply divided. For some Donald was a beacon hope, for others he was the harbinger of doom. Planned protests turned violent early.

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The Donald waddled out on to the portico of the Capitol actually looking like a caricature of the super-villian ‘Penguin’ of the 1960s Batman classics “Hizzoner the Penguin” and “Dizzoner the Penguin.” Ryan Donovan Purcell over at allergic.com argues quite persuasively and eloquently that the series “created the space in the American political imaginary for a President Trump.” It is an interesting read especially if you are interested in the impact of pop culture on attitudes and society.

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The glitzy Trump Broads stood out like rare tropical birds in the wind and rain. I call them ‘broads’ because that’s what they remind me of, the hard expensive high maintenance broads that James Hadley Chase wrote about. All attention was on Melania in powered blue. Ivanka always seems to eclipse her. Except on this grey morning.

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Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sometimes I think Ivanka acts more like the First Lady than Melania. Later she stole the show again at the Inaugural Ball. Maybe The Donald wishes she was his First Lady. In Igbo-Nigeria there is often  a similar tension and rivalry between the wives and the daughters of Rich Men.

Melania is probably the oldest woman The Donald has ever had. He likes ’em young and shiny, a stereotypical billionaire.  I read she makes a whole lot of effort to look like a young and beautiful prop for her husband.

The body language during their First Dance looked cool. And he didn’t even wait for her when they got down from the car to met the Obama’s at the White House earlier. Maybe he’s just too tired to get a divorce and marry a younger model again. Or dance with his wife. She looked like she enjoyed that young officer swinging her around at the Ball.

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“How A Small Town Small Time Eastern European Model Married A Billionaire And Became First Lady of The  United States.”

Sounds like a good story. No less remarkable than Barack’s story surely. Some people would read it. If only she would tell us the truth.

Then of course there was That Speech. As the mostly male Global Elite left Davos news filtered out The Donald wanted a military parade at the inauguration but was refused by the brass. We all know that saying he wanted one is just as good as having one and suddenly the fiery fist pumping rhetoric of his First Speech makes total sense.

The Donald knows it anyway. He’s a reality TVprenuer, remember? He was a show man even before reality TV. Remember all those cameos he used to do? He probably though reality TV was created just for him.

Protests continued and fires burned in the street as the elite of Washington sipped champagne and danced the night away in their pretty gowns and tuxedo’s.

It was a Gotham perfect production. Right down to the sound track.

“And now the end is near” Frank Sinatra sang as The Donald and Melania came out for the First Dance.

I swear, The Trump Family are like the American Dream turned into a Nightmare.

'Dancing On Rivers of Blood' Oil of Canvas by PfIsayo (Sold)
“Ballroom” Oil on Canvas by Patrick Adekunle Adefisayo 2013
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Are Women Less Corrupt Than Men?

The light cuts out, the lights blink, the inverter kicks in with a muted click. I still wonder how we went from zero electricity to 60 x 60 mins straight so fast. Its not possible. So it was there all the time. Withheld while Good Jonathan was president.

I’ve heard so often thats the reason he had to go. No one was scared of him. He wasn’t ‘strong’ enough. Nigerians like men with balls, ‘big men’ with really big cahoona’s you know what i mean?  Strong men. GEJ was too timid and retiring to impress us. He was too ‘feminine’ – like a woman. or at least how they want a woman to be.

His wife on the other hand was just too forward and outspoken, despite the quaint parochialism of her accent and syntax. That couple seriously challenged  hyper-masculine Nigeria’s image of how it should be. It was an affront! Who was this uncouth ill bred woman! How could she! Women should be ‘quietly’ strong. In the background. Not making ripples.

Now the arrest of Deziani has suddenly become a gender issue. ‘What kind of woman is this?’ they ask. Already the story is being twisted to teach women a moral lesson about who they should be. Greed is not feminine we are told. A disingenuous attempt is made to disguise this blatant prejudice by blaming men for infecting women with this terrible virus.

So because she is a woman she isn’t allowed to be greedy and ambitious and Machiavellian? Really? Or is it against her nature? What exactly is it in a woman’s nature that would exclude greed, ambition and cunning from her character? Or bad governance, corruption and graft?

I have been waning my sisters for a very long time not to perpetuate this myth that female leadership is somehow ‘better’, kinder or more compassionate than male leadership.  Because when we come on that platform every instance where a woman in leadership fucks up becomes an excuse to judge ALL women and justify their exclusion.

Being a woman does not automatically make a  good leader. We know that gender is a social construct. Yet some sisters find it politically, economically and socially convenient to perpetuate that myth and reinforce traditional gender stereotypes.  It is a double edged sword, a poisoned chalice. Women are just flawed human beings with tits and a vagina. They’re not really a better breed of human which is really hard to say because hey – if you insist – I’ll take it.

Male leaders fuck up all the time. Maybe the problem is that no one tells them its not ‘masculine’ to be greedy, ambitious and cunning. As a matter of fact we tell men the exact opposite. We are all secretly proud when our sons display those traits – a real hustler, a real Nigerian. And relived knowing they will survive anywhere in the world.

If you’re questioning Deziani because she is a woman you’re really not gender neutral at all.

Equal to fuck up.

The Messiah Cometh! Its the Buhari Effect

Its becoming mildly irritating. Every where you turn there is another reference to some great thing that Buhari will do or has done. By just existing. The stock market rebounded, the falling Naira bounced back, oil prices stopped their decline and Obasanjo gave back $20gazillion dollars. Even the Nigeria Army started beating Boko Haram.

Someone called it the Buhari Effect.

And whats with all the Open Letters?  Folks seem to be really optimistic that somehow he will notice their great ideas to change Nigeria and make them a minister.

I’m usually an optimist but governance in Nigeria has only ever fuelled my pessimism. Every ruler is worse than the one before him, steals more than the one before (him and his cabinet and his cronies) and is generally more scandalous than the last. It hasn’t changed. Ever.

Well actually it has – Nigeria’s corruption index fell under Goodluck Jonathan.  But never mind that – the man was incompetent. It must have been a fluke. Perception and reality.

If Nigeria were the case study for democratic governance we would quickly do away with democracy and bury it next to communism, Stalinism and Maoism.  Maybe its not democracy that’s the problem. Maybe its capitalism and elitism. Maybe it is just a lack of empathy and compassion.

I don’t envy the man Buhari right now. The expectation is ridiculous. The smart man says he will focus on three key areas – security, corruption and employment/economy (the last one is actually two areas and if he doesn’t know that we are in BIG trouble). Meanwhile, his campaign team will be conducting a policy forum tomorrow and Thursday to discuss policy in least two dozen other areas. Just another jaw jaw moment.

I’m an entrepreneur. Tony Elumelu nails it in his recent speech at Georgetown. We need entrepreneur led development in Africa and Nigeria. Politicians will be politicians.

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Nigeria Are We Really Listening Or Just Reacting With A Knee Jerk

When I read some of the comments to local articles on Nigeria, Boko Haram and religion what strikes me is the depth of bitterness that a lot of people from the south feel towards the north. Lets forget for a minute what the politicians are saying, politicians are politicians because they’ve learnt to speak out of both sides of their mouths at once and be politically correct.  Meanwhile most of the responses to those bitter comments are down right dismissive, disrespectful,  as hostile and antagonistic and provocatively insulting.

Dare I say it? It sounds like the language commonly used between the formerly oppressed and the former oppressor. What does it say about our history or as some would insist to point out the perception of it? And what does that portend for our nation?

I know when Jonathan was elected a lot of people voted for him simply because they felt that an Ijaw man to have come so far in our dysfunctional nation with its decades of lop sided leadership  was too much of a feat to go unappreciated and unsupported. I heard these sentiments from simple people, unsophisticated people that  don’t think in complicated Big Picture concepts of nation building, political economy and global imperialism.

Many of these simple folk also  asked how they were supposed to trust a northerner to develop their own communities and regions when they had so glaringly underdeveloped their own. This was long before the upsurge in Boko Haram activities that has led to our current appraisal and appreciation of the north’s underdevelopment and the relationship it has to this violent insurgency.

I’m not questioning or judging the right or wrong of these sentiments, I merely want to look at what they mean and what we as the so called leaders of this nation are making of the people’s sentiments. Some people obviously perceived the status quo of leadership as it was as an oppression rightly or wrongly and see Jonathan’s presidency as a triumph against that oppressor and oppression and act and speak accordingly. It doesn’t help that their perceived oppressors seem more intent on returning to the status quo than sympathetically addressing those very real concerns.

A national identity is impossible until all Nigerians feel like equal citizens. Any sympathy for the north will be overwhelmed unless the causes real or imagined of this bitterness are addressed and sincere efforts made by all to build a truly federal republic where all nationalities (and I think it will be well to stop calling them tribes or ethnic groups) are recognized as equals, as capable, as important and as contributors. A national conference is a good step if only its members aren’t only the people tat say what we want to hear. Maybe a truth and reconciliation conference is what we need.

Just saying.

Feminism, Exclusion & The Silencing of African Women

I’ve been thinking about feminism and exclusion lately. Even before the hash tag #solidarityisforwhitewomen started to trend last week.  It all started for me when middle class white feminists made out the right to be stay at home moms a feminist issue. That was one reason why I paid close attention when the debate started; I followed it obsessively even though I knew that the issue that started it all had little if anything to do with African women. I had never even heard of Hugo Schwyzer before his meltdown triggered a conversation about men in feminism.

Ututu by Ben Enweonwu 1971
Ututu by Ben Enweonwu 1971

As if to underscore the issue of men in feminism, a self-proclaimed male feminist from Nigeria decided to opportunistically jump into the twitter debate and hold forth on the needs and goals of African feminism and protecting the feelings of white feminists  rather than honoring the obvious  anger of WOC or maybe asking why African and Nigerian women were not joining  the debate. He chose to make himself an umpire insisting women conduct a ‘clean conversation’ that does not alienate white feminists. But this is a matter for another post.

My contribution to the larger debate was minimal. While I empathized with my sisters of color, my personal experience with white feminists is limited and remote. However, I did try to point out that the voices of African and Third World women are frequently excluded by women of color in the west. An Afro-Caribbean woman who claimed western women of color had no power to exclude anybody asked me for specific examples and I felt I should save it for this blog post.

What are some of the issues important to African women that are excluded or ignored by mainstream feminism and often by feminist women of color in the west, the African Diaspora and even certain African feminists? Some of them were raised in the debate, like how white feminists refuse to accept and respect their sisters’ choice to wear the hijab.  However, some issues did not come up, like female circumcision, polygamy, infertility, adoption, and Africa’s family values.

Black and white feminists in the west and many African feminists have targeted female circumcision (and I use the word circumcision deliberately) for complete eradication. It is a crude practice in its present form, but many African women have said they support it; can we help them make it a safe option instead of telling them they are wrong? Young boys are dying in South Africa during circumcision rites; the on-going conversation is about ensuring safety not ending the practice.

Western women practice cosmetic surgery of all sorts including genital piercing and vaginoplasty, and call it ‘bodily enhancement’ or ‘body art’, in ‘primitive’ Africa its mutilation. I do not support this practice on children that cannot exercise informed choice but shouldn’t we listen and respect adults who make that very personal choice?  Having a clitoris shouldn’t be a badge of honor. Kola Boof may be problematic as a role model but she has shown that even infibulation can be erotic and powerful.

Otu Odu by Ben Enweonwu
Otu Odu by Ben Enweonwu

I am confronted daily by sisters who are desperate to find a husband or to conceive and who are risking their mental and physical health in the process.  While I believe that a woman’s worth and self-identity are not and should not be dependent on either, how can I ignore her suffering? Why should I tell her she should be satisfied with a career or that marriage or having children isn’t really important?  It’s important to her.

Marriage is an important rite of passage in many African cultures; it’s a sign of maturity and responsibility and in a lot of Nigerian communities a single person, male or female, is not allowed to exercise leadership unless they are married.  Marriage and procreation are not just individual choices; they are seen as an obligation of community citizenship. Discrimination against women in marriage is patriarchal oppression, not marriage itself.

The discrimination a Nigerian woman faces if she is married and can’t conceive is very, very real.  The ability to overcome infertility is determined by economic class.  Middle class women have the option of expensive fertility treatments or they adopt, another expensive option.  Reducing the cost and ease of adoption and fertility treatments would seem as important for Nigerian women as the right to abortion or contraception.  But are these particular issues receiving as much attention on the feminist agenda?

Motherhood provides protection for women. My ancient aunts in the village would ask ‘who will visit you and ask after your welfare when you are old if you don’t have children?’. Stories of old (and young) people dying alone and undiscovered in the west baffle us.  In Nigeria middle and upper class women can afford geriatric care and will have people concerned for their welfare so long as their money lasts even if they don’t have children. But for the working class and poor, rural woman not having children could have harsh consequences in her old age.

Negritude by Ben Enweownu 1957
Negritude by Ben Enweownu 1957

African feminists like Rose Acholonu, Catherine Acholonu , Helen Chukwuma and Molara Ogundipe-Leslie have written extensively on the importance of marriage, family and motherhood in African.  They tried to define an African feminism that recognizes and celebrates these communal values in opposition to western feminism that promoted individualism and saw marriage and motherhood only as oppressive patriarchal burdens or personal pleasures.  They also argue persuasively that the Africa worldview is not primarily patriarchal but based on equal male-female complimentarity. Are we throwing out the baby with the bath water? Yet again?

It should be noted that African-American feminists have also articulated the issues of motherhood and family as an important part of what they called ‘womanism’, an alternative to mainstream white dominated feminism and its hyper individualism. However, these African feminist scholars felt womanist acceptance of and uncompromising support for homosexual rights was incompatible with their values and tried to differentiate their brand of feminism from it, they called it motherism and positive feminism. Their work has been largely ignored as a result of their perceived homophobia.

Nigerian women have told us polygamy gives them more options and freedom but do we as feminists respect that?  In the late 80s when Women in Nigeria, WIN , a radical left leaning feminist organization that promoted women’s rights  held its first conference with market women in Ibadan they failed to reach a compromise on polygamy in their final communique and squandered an opportunity to build a powerful alliance with woman’s market associations. The matter remains one of contestation and has been largely ignored by feminists as a matter of individual choice rather than a part of the feminist agenda. Polygamy is still demonized but apparently it does work for some women.

These are just some of the many ways that mainstream feminism has ignored and excluded African women’s choices. This exclusion by mainstream white dominated feminism, WOC in feminism and African feminists seems to be less of a racial issue and more of class issue. The concerns of feminism do not seem to include the concerns of the poor and the working class as one writer has stated so eloquently here. If feminism really wants to broaden its appeal among WOC generally and African women in particular it needs to speak a language that is more inclusive and relevant.

Ogolo Metamorphosis by Ben Enweonwu 1991
Ogolo Metamorphosis by Ben Enweonwu 1991

#ChildNotBride Campaigns, Yerima & Dysfunctional Gender Discourse in Nigeria

I find it disingenuous for some male and female northern Nigerian leaders to try to belittle and even ignore the growing national disaffection with the socially regressive practice of child marriage. For Yerima to even proffer that it may be the solution to Nigeria’s social problems is gross.

As a woman, a lawyer and an social activist I am tired and increasingly resentful that issues arising largely from treatment of the Muslim girl child and woman are dominating the national gender discourse.  And it is mostly southern non Muslim women that are leading the advocacy ignoring or sidelining the issues that face the southern and non Muslim girl child and woman.

Child marriage, high maternal and infant mortality, VVF, general access to health care and education, social and economic marginalization, are mostly (not exclusively but mostly) problems for Muslim predominately northern women.

We talk of getting the girl child to school and ignore that in southern states the issue is retention, quality of education and appropriate career counseling and support, we talk of letting women work while in the south the issue is really about access to capital to grow female led businesses, conditions at the work place and child care for working mother etc etc etc.

Yerima says he can marry his daughter at 6 if he chooses, because he does not recognize her personhood. She is a girl he can ‘ give her out’ like his chattel. He says early marriage would end prostitution and fornication exhibiting a total lack of understanding about the social causes of both but choosing to make it a morality and a religious issue instead

While I empathize and support my Muslim sisters I would like to remind my non-Muslim mostly southern sisters that our women constituency has a unique set of problems that need advocacy. We have been overwhelmed by an agenda that ignores our needs for growth.

I do not think the cause of Nigerian women is best served by marching in place waiting for our sisters to catch up. We can and should give them a hand while also continuously moving forward, consolidating and increasing the gains we have made.

That said I recognize the fear of many of my sisters that their daughters could become prey to these religious pedophiles. Mariam Uwais has written eloquently and at length on the issue actually before the senate, pointing out the errors the campaign assumed and the possibilities for Islam in Nigeria to take a more progressive view.

Some have said and it may be true that it is only Yerima’s involvement that made this issue go viral. He is after all the poster child for and against child marriage in Nigeria. What the outpouring of sentiment has shown is that there are a whole lot of Nigerians against child marriage.

The Child Not Bride campaigns should quickly adjust and restrategize accordingly to fight the real fear of women and criminalize child marriage so that’s its never an issues in our country again. This is not a time to give up, it is time press forward.

If It Leads You To Sin Cut It Off

The elite globally hail Angelina Jolie for her courage and bravery in having an elective double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. I love Angelina Jolie but I’m growing weary of all  the hype.

Like one New York woman pointed out, it doesn’t change anything for working women in a country where medicare and insurance doesn’t cover elective mastectomy or reconstructive surgery.

It changes even less for African women. Only a few elite African women can afford the tests that will forewarn them if they have BRCA1 gene. Fewer still can afford the surgery. Most African women can’t afford treatment for cancer even.

Angelina acknowledges in her op-ed that “Breast cancer … kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization, mainly in low- and middle-income countries.”

So now we are more aware about the gene and about the things we can do to prevent the cancer if we find out we have the gene and we can get even less sleep worrying about not being able to test for the gene or having preventive surgery.

And wondering who to blame; the government, capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism, the trans Atlantic slave trade, corruption, international finance, Brenton Woods, IMF, the World Bank, development?

Makes you wonder sometimes just how bad your karma must be to be born African, female and economically disadvantaged. And please, do not come charging in with your free tests. We still can’t afford treatment.

I’m happy for Angelina. Like she said “I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.” Can I and millions of African women say the same thing?

I’ve worked in development a long time. All we’ve ever done is attack the symptoms, never the causes. If there is one thing I have learnt in my recent and personal health battle is that symptoms will always come back until you deal with the causes.