Writings of the general word's body

Friday, April 30, 2010

Images from BookJam3

The third monthly BookJam took place at the Silverbird Galleria in Lagos on Saturday April 24. Here's writer Igoni Barrett who started the BookJam series (left) with 'God of Poetry' author Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, one of the featured writers at the latest event. Author of short story collection 'From Caves of Rotten Teeth', Barrett has become a leading advocate for writers and writing in the last year. 2009's highly successful Nine Writers Tour, was his brainchild. I guess we'd call Igoni Barrett a literary activist now.

Uzor Maxim Uzoatu greets Toyin Akinosho, the General Secretary of arts advocacy group CORA (the Committee for Relevant Art). Akinosho maintains the popular Artsville column in Nigeria's Sunday Guardian. In the background is playwright Wole Oguntokun whose theatre company lays on Theatre @Terra. Thanks to him, a play is performed twice every Sunday at Terra Kulture, Lagos. The play for May is Oguntokun's 'The Other Side'.

The BookJam is packing them in on the last Saturday of every month and features 3 writers every time. On the programme for April were Karen King-Aribisala (lecturer at the University of Lagos and author of 'The Hangman's Game' as well as 'Our Wife and Other Stories'), Uzor Maxim Uzoatu and Wole Oguntokun, who read from his playtext, Gbanja Roulette.

Among the poems read at the event by Uzor Maxim Uzoatu was 'We Will Vote With Stones', which has extra resonance now, given that one of Nigeria's most reviled military dictators, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, has had the gall to reveal he's gunning for the presidency - to rule Nigeria again! - in 2011. Here's hoping a hail of stones drives IBB the evil genius back to his hilltop mansion in Minna, and that he stays there not showing his face, for the rest of his days. That's the hope, the reality in Nigeria nearly always trumps logical conclusions. If only this were fiction and one could fix the ending.

Images courtesy QF Photos.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Unoma Azuah: Poetry workshops in Nigeria

I have the pleasure to announce a series of FREE poetry workshops across the country to be facilitated by the Poetry Editor of Sentinel Nigeria Magazine, Unoma Azuah professor of Creative Writing at Lane College, Tennessee, on the “Technique and Critical Appraisal of Poetry.” She will be assisted by Dr. Lindsey Green-Simms of Duke University, who will facilitate on the related topic of “Poetry and Poetics: A Reading of Classics.

Sub-themes of the workshop will include:
• A : Elements of Poetry
• B : Practicing Poetry
• C : Pattern By Eye: Objects
• D : Layering Patterns
• E : Problems of Poetry

The Workshop, made free by our partners and co-hosts, will be held in the following cities:
• Asaba - May 15th
• Lagos - June 5th
• Abuja – {June 12th or 19th: to be confirmed.}
• Kaduna - June 26th

Interested participants should register by sending an email indicating in which towns they would be attending the workshop. Writer’s groups may also inquire about group attendance via email to
nzeifedigbo@yahoo.com {Subject “Attn: Poetry Workshop”}

Following the workshops, Unoma Azuah will edit submitted poetry manuscripts for a one-off assessment fee of N2,000 (per Poetry collection). She will make a selection from these poems for the maiden “Sentinel Nigeria Poetry Digest” - to be published in August 2010.

Richard Ugbede Ali
Editor-in-Chief, Sentinel Nigeria Magazine
Administrator www.sentinelnigeria.org
Email: Richard.ali@sentinelnigeria.org
+ 2348062392145.

New Reads

Two new reads for you - two stories by two writers whose protagonists have rhyming names: Paito and Kaito. It's like E.C Osondu and Unoma Azuah planned it, though I'm sure they didn't.

2009 Caine winner E.C. Osondu's new story is in Atlantic Fiction 2010, and reminds me of old favourites by this writer, like his Caine shortlisted 'Jimmy Carter's Eyes'. The story this time is titled 'A Simple Case'.

It was simple enough. Paito is waiting for his prostitute girlfriend, Sweet, to service a punter when the police raids the Jolly Hotel. He finds himself in a police station and ultimately in the dreaded Area F. Interestingly enough, I had occasion to pay a couple of visits to a real Area F police post in Ikeja last year (not to worry, there was nothing 'Jolly' about my reason for going there); and I pass by Alade Market off Allen Avenue all the time. Osondu's character, Paito, is a second hand trader at Alade Market, so the landscape of this story's not so alien to the average Lagos dweller, though not everyone gets roped into trumped up allegations of robbery, as happens in this very believable story of suffering, which still allows the reader lots of smiles. Paito ends up in an Area F cell, a Jungle Republic presided over by Presido. Paito must sweet talk his way out of this sticky situation, in a story that reads nicely to its 'Jolly' end.

The man who had spoken to Paiko was the first to speak. He cleared his throat and launched forth boastfully.

“My name is Robert, but I am popularly known as Bob Risky. In the daytime, I am a motor-park tout at Iddo, but at night I am a robber. I have been robbing and killing since I was expelled from Mushin Grammar School in form two, for smoking and selling marijuana. No operation is too risky for me to undertake. That is how I earned my nickname, Risky. I have been detained in almost all the police stations in Lagos, including Isokoko, Panti, Alagbon, Bar-Beach, and even the old station on Malu Road. I was drinking in my girlfriend’s beer parlor when the police raided the place and arrested me. They found a locally made pistol in my pocket and some wraps of marijuana. When they are tired, they will release me. I have no other profession than armed robbery, and, as we say, once a robber, always a robber.” Bob Risky finished his introduction, to loud applause. Even the Presido appeared to be impressed.

In Unoma Azuah's story, Sirens, Kaito is a new arrival in the US. From the airport he begins he search for the only two people he knows in America, two 'brothers' from his village who preceded him in the search for the American dream. During his search he encounters two women who know the men, the 'sirens' of the story.

Excerpt Kaito sat in the well-furnished lobby. A movie was playing on the giant screen TV, but he was uninterested. What if Kamalu never turned up? He thought. A few minutes later, the lady at the desk joined him with an extra cup of coffee. Her red lip stick was smeared at the edge of the white mug. Her face powder didn’t quite hide the light wrinkles on her face.
“What’s your name again?”
“My name is Kaito.”
“No, thank you.”
“It might help calm your traveling nerves.”
“You are right, thank you. What is your name?”
“So you believe that Kamalu is out of town?”
“Well, I haven’t seen him in quite a few days. Are you related to him?”
“He’s my brother….from my village.”
“He didn’t know that you were coming to visit?”
“I sent him an e-mail and left messages on his phone, and while I hadn’t heard from him, I purchased a ticket anyway because my travel visa had kicked in.”
Beth’s eyes settled on his muscles. “You look quite fit. Are you an athlete?”
“You and Kamalu are from where again?”
“And the name of your village?”
“My village is called Iwu. I’ll show you pictures.” Kaito retrieved some pictures from his bag.
“The lake in the photo of you fishing is beautiful.”
They spent some time going over the pictures until a little after midnight. Beth’s shift had ended, but there was no sign of Kamalu. She sat with Kaito while he waited.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Caine Prize 2010 Shortlist

And so the 2010 Caine shortlist is out. From 115 entries from 13 African countries, the panel of judges have whittled the stories down to 5 writers. Here are the 5 writers who’ll go for the big prize and £10,000 this year.

Ken Barris (South Africa) for ‘The Life of Worm’ from New Writing from Africa 2009.

Lily Mabura (Kenya) for ‘How Shall We Kill the Bishop? From Wasafiri 53

Namwali Serpell (Zambia) for Muzungu’ from The Best American Short Stories 2009.

Alex Smith (SA) for Soulmates from New Writing From Africa 2009

Olufemi Terry (Sierra Leone) for ‘Stickfighting Days’ from Chimurenga 12/13.

Aside from the fact that Sierra Leone’s Olufemi Terry has a Yoruba first name that will make a few Nigerians look twice, there’s no Nigerian on this year’s shortlist, I'm afraid.

I remember having read Lily Mabura’s interestingly titled ‘How Shall We Kill The Bishop’ in Wasafiri some 2 years ago, even went as far as loading the opening page (see image) from the journal on Wordsbody, back then. Mabura’s notable writing nods back then were good showings in the Fish & Glimmer Train competitions. The Caine may be a giant leap…

It’s also interesting to see a shortlisted story for ‘African Fiction’ from ‘The Best American Short Stories’ anthology…

Chair of judges Fiammetta Rocco said of this year’s shortlist: “Africa has so much to be proud of in these five writers. Not only are their stories all confident, ambitious and skillfully written, each one boasts an added dimension – a voice, character or particular emotional connection – that makes it uniquely powerful.”

All on the panel of judges are: Ellah Allfrey (Deputy Editor at Granta), Professor Jon Cook and Samantha Pinto.

The shortlisted writers will read at the Royal Over-Seas League in London on Friday July 2; and at the South Bank Centre (as part of the London Literature Festival) on July 4.

The winner of the 11th Caine Prize for African Writing will be announced at an award dinner at the Bodleian Library in Oxford on July 5.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Writing black while white

Lauri Kubuitsile has an interesting post on her blog about being a white writer with a black name writing black stories in Botwana. Here goes

I am a white woman with a black name. The rough draft of me was finished in America, while the final edits are being done in Botswana. I often find myself in situations I call "the lekgoa moment", it is that blank stare or awkward pause when the person I am meeting is trying to reconstruct their idea of me with the reality before them. I try to tell myself that it is their problem not mine, this usually works. I try to maintain that point of view in my writing too. Still it is hurtful when a person loves me to death as the black writer, and then meets me and suddenly has no more time for who I really am. It's happened numerous times and always with South Africans or people in the publishing industry who want to "uplift African writers". I tell myself it is their issue, but it's difficult. I suppose the same happens for black writers with white names- maybe. It's crap- racist, sucky crap, from any direction it comes.

Lauri Kubuitsile's is the latest in the debate about an issue that, by my calculation, has reared its head on at least four writers' blogs thus far. First there was something on Sara Cowley's blog - A really long post about fiction, autobiography, cultural tourism and such like - that generated a mile's worth of comments.

Then came Petina Gappah's contribution, a post which asked, Can white writers write in the voices of people who are not white? Gappah picked issue with a lot of White South African writing that's written in the voices of black servants, presumably because this is the only aspect of black life they tend to have a window into.

I have a bit of a take on this aspect of South African writing. I read a collection of short stories by South African women a couple of years ago and I remember coming away from the book really put off by the often stereotypical depiction of black people therein. One story about a female in an abusive relationship with of course a white man, has a passage where she encounters blacks on a street corner and immediately she fears being robbed, raped or killed. What was disquietening about it was that the authorial voice presented this as though these horrific possibilities were the only likely outcomes of such an encounter between white and black. These were the only blacks in the story, they appear in only a few lines, and are made to symbolise untamed evil in the most stereotypical fashion. They are foreign intruders in a comfortably white psychological landscape, heart of darkness personified. Whereas the greatest threat to this female character is really her white lover. This was the worst example in the book, but there were mild shadings of this in many other stories. A wonderful story by Anne Schuster was one of the few that bucked the trend. For a book by 'South African women', it also surprised me that there was only one black writer featured, along with 2 who in SA may be termed Coloured. By and large, there was an insularity in many of the stories, as though they were written by white people for a white readership only, as though it never occured to many of the writers that a non-white person may ever pick up the book and seek to see themselves in some universal way therein.

Anyway, back to Petina Gappah, who didn't seem to think white writers could write with authority in a black voice, at least not unless they tried very hard. She tried to buttress the point with the example of "A talented British writer of my acquaintance [that] once wrote an awful story about a Zimbabwean man. She invented a Shona name, and, as I pointed out to her, this was completely unnecessary because many Zimbabweans have English names."

Gappah does have some points. But about whether or not it's unnecessary for a British writer to invent a Shona name because he/she is unschooled in Zimbabwean names, I thought it was neither here nor there, quite frankly. Didn't they say J M Barrie invented the name 'Wendy' in Peter Pan? Besides, I'm Nigerian, schooled in Nigerian names and often their meanings - yet I've invented a few character names in my time. Why? To de-emphasise the ethnicity of my character in certain sensitive situations, especially in a country like Nigeria where ethnicity is a boiling issue. I do it sometimes in order to be less specific about which African country my story is set in. And I guess writers - myself included - sometimes invent names simply to play God, because we can. That said, more often than not, my characters have Yoruba names. The point is, it didn't matter too much to me that the British writer in question invented a Zimbabwean name. I also did not think the only medicine for having no knowledge of names in a specific African setting, is to choose an English one simply because Africans sometimes bear them.

As to how white writers may get better at writing in authentic black - or 'other' voices, Gappah seemed to suggest that a Faber course she was going to co-teach could show the way. No sooner had the course passed, up pops a post in which the aforementioned writer of Petina's acquaintance outed herself!

In a post titled 'Cultural Tourism: writing 'other' - Vanessa Gebbie revealed herself as the writer of the so-called "awful story" - saying, "and finally, we have an actual piece of work to illustrate the issues. Maiba's Ribbon, by meself." Gebbie also revealed how she came by a Zimbabwean character's name, inadequate though it was: she looked up a website about Zim names. Easily done. I did same for a Zimbabwean character in an unpublished story of mine.

Back to the original dilemma: can whites write authentically in the voices of blacks? I have an anecdote of my own. I was once part of a writing workshop in which a white US writer wrote about the Liberian war from the point of view of a superficial, diamond loving American woman who's dealing with a Liberian refugee and who, when she looks at him, only sees in CNN induced one dimension. I had a lot of issues with the story and critiqued it heavily. The story was eventually rewritten through the eyes of the Liberian guy, in his voice, and it worked. So it is not impossible, but admittedly it's difficult. Now the flipside: I have a short story written from the point of view of a white British woman, and I'm still struggling with the draft, 2 years on.

Then along comes Lauri Kubuitsile's post, about her experiences as a white American-born Motswana writer with a black name writing black in Botswana.

Read all of the referenced posts, and see what you think.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

New poetry from Blessing Musariri and Mamle Kabu

Blessing Musariri (shown here with with Binyavanga Wainaina in the Gambia in 2oo7) was in yesterday's UK Guardian, her poem that is. Here's a few lines from Mitu's Spice Tour:

Stop four – in single file we are baking in the sun.
Cloves cure diarrhoea and stomach-ache,
the neem is very bitter but better than malaria parasite.
Boil bark or leaves and drink te
a for seven days.
Cures up to forty ailments.

Mitu's Spice Tour is taken from Sunflowers in Your Eyes: Four Zimbabwean Poets, edited by Menna Elfyn (Cinnamon Press).
Musariri will do a promotional tour of the UK in June (along with another poet in the anthology, Ethel Irene Kwabato), with appearances at the Hay Festival, Hay on Wye (6 June), Trinity Ffrinj Festival, Trinity University College in Carmathen, Wales (7 June) and at the Aberyswyth Arts Arts Centre, also in Wales (8 June).
And here on the right is Mamle Kabu, reading at the CDC Caine/Kwani literary eventing in Nairobi on March 24. Kabu has new poetry online.

Orange Juice is published on Groundnut Soup World Writers Blog on the PEN America website.

A few lines...

My dying wish?
Orange juice
From oranges that are yellow
Not orange,
Oranges from the forests of Ghana
Grown wild in cool shade
And careless beauty

Laban Hill on the Groundnut Soup World Writers Blog
"Over the past year, I have been travelling around the world meeting writers on almost every continent. This blog is meant to celebrate not only these writers, but also all writers. Please feel free to submit a short piece of fiction or nonfiction or a poem along with a short bio to: labanhill@yahoo.com. I look forward to reading your work!"
  • Blessing Musariri photo by MW/Mamle Kabu photo courtesy MO

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sefi Atta interviewed in Per Contra

Writer Sefi Atta is interviewed by Miriam N Kotzin in the new issue of Per Contra online.

I’m an African writer published in the West. I have seen how publishing industries in the West accommodate African writers. For a start, our stories are either about post-colonial traumas or human and civil rights abuses. As an American writer once said, which surprised me because he sounded so Nigerian, “For an African book to be successful here, a leg must cut.“ I laughed so much. Some writers can do whatever is necessary to get published and win awards, and the marketplace here rewards you if you meet its expectations. All I can do is keep on telling stories that interest me in honest ways. Now, it’s hard to define honest, but it’s very easy to tell when a story lacks integrity.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Lesego Rampolokeng reads in Lagos

Wednesday April 7: Lesego Rampolokeng, one of the headliners in a large retinue of poets and performers at the Poetry, Song and Memory event laid on at the Agip Hall of the Muson Centre, reads, in one of the more riveting performances on the stage. Rampolokeng hopped onto the stage, moved, talked and read his poetry at breakneck speed, and the crowd loved it. "If I'm going too fast please stop me," he said. "Ah, no," many said in the audience; they were loving it too much. The poet said Nigeria was the only country so far where he's had to bribe a customs officer in order to be let into the country. The bribe was a copy of Rampolokeng's book, so who knows, maybe the corrupt official could go get himself some enlightenment. The largely Nigerian audience did not have to squirm too long at the mention of the bribe; Rampolokeng did not leave his native South Africa out. One had to be black, he said, to be considered a 'foreigner' in SA. "There are no white foreigners in South Africa."

Rampolokeng's performance was over all too soon and he left the stage the same way he came on - he hopped off.

Lesego Rampolokeng reads with the Association of Nigerian Authors' Lagos Chapter in Lagos tomorrow, Saturday, April 10. Details below.

ANA Lagos Reading With Lesego Rampolokeng
Under the Samarkand Tree
Near Aina Onabolu Hall
National Theatre
Iganmu, Lagos
Time: 12 noon.

Sheryl Lee Ralph, festival queen

Here’s Sheryl Lee Ralph at the Southern Sun Hotel in Lagos on Wednesday April 7. The event, part of the Lagos Black Heritage Festival, had the actress and Danny Glover as the draw. Danny Glover wasn’t there, but Sheryl Lee Ralph did just fine. My son, sighting her in the room, asked, "Is that not Moesha's mum?" She was Moesha's (step)mum alright, only hotter, and bubblier.

The night before (Tuesday, April 6), Ralph had given a one-woman performance, ‘Sometimes I Cry’ at the Shell Hall of the Muson Centre… Those present said it was an arresting turn on the stage, and she did cry. But the actress, who’s been given the Yoruba name Omowunmi, was all smiles at the Southern Sun. She is shown on the left with Nollywood Actress Rita Dominic; and with fans (below).

Photos: MW

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Poetry massive

This trio was photographed at last night’s performance of A Feast of Return at the Muson Centre in Lagos. L-R: Ismail Bala Garba, Odia Ofeimun and Gabriel Okara (author of ‘The Voice’).

So, as promised in earlier post, here’s decoding the mystery of this Lagos Black Heritage Festival event - ‘Readings & Performances by Odia Ofeimun’ – on today at the Agip Hall of the Muson Centre in Onikan, Lagos (3-6pm).

The following poets are on the bill: Ghanaian Kofi Anyidoho, South African Lesego Rampolokeng – along with Nigerians Uzor Maxim Uzoatu (author of God of Poetry), Emman Usman Shehu (Open Sesame), Jumoke Verissimo (I Am Memory), Ogochukwu Promise, Amanze Akpuda, Ismail Bala Garba, the 80-year-old Mabel Segun etcetera etcetera.

Femi Fatoba’s widow, Lanre, will read her late husband’s poetry (They Said I Abused The Government); Actress Joke Silva will perform the poetry of Aime Cesaire; and The Crown Troupe of Afrika will render poems by Leopold Sedar Senghor.
There’ll be music too. Highlife maestros Orlando Julius and Tunji Oyelana will do their thing on the stage, before joining The Crown Troupe in a performance of ‘I Love This Lagos I No Go Lie’. Oyelana of course was a singer on the original song from the 80s, ‘I Love My Country I No Go Lie’, a record on which Soyinka also performed.
Oh, and there’s the Baba of Yoruba poetry, Adebayo Faleti, on the bill too. Not to be missed.

Some of today’s other events

  • Children’s Black Heritage Village (on account of which the traffic was impossible around Allen Avenue yesterday. A 10 minute journey took an hour!) – LTV 8 Grounds, Ikeja. 10am-4pm.
  • Presence Africaine Exhibition - Terra Kulture, Tiamiyu Savage, Victoria Island, Lagos. All day.
  • Contemporary Dances – Civic Centre, Ozumba Mbadiwe, Victoria Island, Lagos. 11am-2pm.
  • Cultural Performance – Artists’ Village, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. 3-6pm.
  • African Traditional Games – Campos Square, Lagos Island. 3-7pm.
  • Film Expo – Glover Memorial Hall, Ikoyi (and Badagry Town Hall), Lagos. Watch great films for free. 3-8pm. Continues till Thursday April 8.
  • A Season in the Congo, a play – Terra Kulture. 7-9pm.
  • Steve Rhodes Orchestra – Agip Hall, Muson, Lagos. 7-9pm.

And not forgetting the Danny Glover event at the Southern Sun Hotel (7pm), which is by invitation only.

  • Photo: MW

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Lagos Black Heritage Festival

Here's Odia Ofeimun's dance drama A Feast of Return being performed at the Agip Hall of the MUSON Centre on Easter Sunday as part of the Lagos Black Heritage Festival (in the Shell Hall next door was a performance of Aime Cesaire's 'A Season in the Congo'). A Feast of Return is on tonight again at the Agip Hall, starting 7pm. Another play, King Christophe will be on 7pm also at the University of Lagos Auditorium.

For something a little different, US actress Sheryl Lee Ralph gives a performance 'Sometimes I Cry' at the Shell Hall of the MUSON (5-6pm) - today April 6.

If you're thinking that sounds cool, wait till you get a load of Hollywood star Danny Glover. Star of The Color Purple, Beloved and the Lethal Weapon movies, not to mention African modern classics like Bamako - the actor arrived late for the festival's pre-colloquium on Sunday at the Civic Centre. He had an excuse. There's a lovely little story about how Glover was getting set to fly to Lagos only to discover that his Nigerian visa had expired (he was here last year for the AMAA awards, Forest Whittaker in tow; none of that 'I'm American without the African' Morgan Freeman nonsense for Mr Glover, who's been known to attend events even in the US proudly wearing his agbada; and who fraternises with African filmmakers). So Glover phoned Wole Soyinka to ask what to do; it was too late in the day to go seeking a new visa and arrive in Lagos on time. WS told the actor to talk to Virgin Atlantic and see if they would fly him down all the same (he is Danny Glover after all). The Lagos end would be taken care of by the Nobel Laureate and the Lagos Governor Babatunde Fashola (the festival is a Lagos State project). Well, someone must've taken care of something, because Danny Glover showed up, albeit a little late.

Danny Glover takes centre stage at the Southern Sun Hotel in Lagos tomorrow April 7 for 'Nollywood Meets Hollywood' - An Evening with Danny Glover and Sheryl Lee Ralph. 7pm.

It's all kicking off in Lagos this week. The Lagos Carnival was on yesterday, and carnival goers thronged Lagos Island and Victoria Island for the parades, which ended in a jamboree at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) in Onikan. All very well, but many who attended, even children, said it was a shambles at best, marred by poor planning on the part of the Lagos State Government. Why an event with a potential to attract a multitude of people should be concentrated on the island is beyond me. Immense pressure on the already crushing traffic situation as many extra thousands in cars would have squeezed through the bottlenecks of two bridges to reach the island, and find their way back again later. How much better it would have been if it had been on the mainland, Ikeja for example. It would have been less elitist too; who says it's only the well heeled on the island that must have everything at the tip of their noses?

There was poor communication of carnival routes which left many rudderless, only stumbling on parades by chance. Marwa/Keke Napeps (commercial tricycles if you're not a Lagosian) were dressed up to double as carnival floats instead of the real things - which was sad and charming at the same time. Some say it's only the first outing and the organisation will get better. But what is clear is that Lagos has a long way to go to come close to the now well oiled Calabar Carnival which takes place every December in Cross River State.

Perhaps the issue I have with these 'carnivals' in the first place is that they are so blatantly derivative of Caribbean carnivals. London's Notting Hill Carnival celebrates Caribbean culture in London (as claimed by people of Caribbean descent on the British Isles), so its perfectly fine. When the Notting Hill or Rio carnivals are then transposed wholesale to an African setting, which source-culture is being celebrated? How it is relevant to the day-to-day reality of Calabar or Lagos? Plumed, painted gentlemen with sequins and glitter on the streets of Calabar or Lagos - there is something faintly ridiculous about it. Something dreadfully out-facing. But as Lagos attests, it is catching on. Former Calabar Governor Donald Duke has succeeded in projecting Calabar as a tourist haven and a place of December fun and frolics, but at what cost? At least the Abuja Carnival - which is not without its problems - takes its cues from indigenous cultures, thank God for that.

Faint ray of hope: something tells me Lagos will not completely bow down and go the Calabar way, just something untameable about this city. Which is why I was so happy to see amidst all the cliched carnival images from Lagos yesterday a Sango devotee dressed up in trademark red adorned with cowries and "jazz" (oogun, juju, charms, talisman, voodoo... call it what you like), his hair in defiant 'Sango-man' cane-rows - doing his thing and breathing smoke. If only he had retained some dignity and did not carry on like a court jester. Oh dear.

Back to the Lagos Black Heritage Festival, which opened on Saturday April 3 and goes on till Friday April 9. The festival packs chockfuls of wonderful events into every day, something for everyone, including masquerades, boat regattas and Hugh Masekela in concert. Oh yes.

Unfortunately the festival programmes need a bit of deconstruction to unearth the gem of details from event listings. For instance there's an amazing Poetry Reading tomorrow (Muson, Agip Hall, 3pm) with over 10 poets (will post about it later). The festival programme just notes it down as 'Readings and performances by Odia Ofeimum (sic)' - which says nothing. Nuff said.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Welcome to Lagos

Hot on the heels of 'Blood and Oil', BBC 2 puts Nigeria on full blast again with a 3-part documentary, Welcome to Lagos, to be aired 9pm on April 15, 22 & 29.

Akin Ojumu reviews Welcome to Lagos for The Observer. For someone whose "parent's homeland" is Nigeria, it's a pity Ojumu can't get Makoko's name right.

Adichie reviews 'Blood and Oil'

For once we don't have to rely on foreign reviews of Blood and Oil, BBC 2's two-part film about militancy in the Niger Delta.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reviews the film in the Arts & Culture section of today's NEXT on Sunday.

Blood and Oil' is a film that names names - MEND, Joint Task Force - and a film that is clear about its contemporary Port Harcourt setting. There are scenes whose sole aim is to provide location authenticity, such as the Nigerian official slipping bribe money into his socks, the rowdy Nigerians in the economy cabin of an international flight, the excessive cell phone yakking, and these are all convincing. So, why are the accents so wrong? ("Where are these people from?" A Nigerian friend I watched the film with in Lagos asked). Sam Dede plays the Nigerian bad guy with dignified grace, and he is a relief to listen to because he alone sounds credibly Nigerian. It is lazy at best and patronising at worst to use characters who mostly speak a kind of generic Africanised-English; they become caricatures. Details matter because they lend authenticity and, for a knowledgeable viewer, can make the entire film believable or not.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Bruce Onobrakpeya @ Grillo Pavilion

Master artist Bruce Onobrakpeya, 77, photographed by MW with his works at the Niger Delta Cultural Centre during the 12th Harmattan Workshop in his hometown of Agharha Otor, Delta State, on 15 February 2010.

More images from Agbarha Otor later, but today Onobrakpeya is the subject of a major celebration at the Grillo Pavillion's 2nd Visual Art Fiesta. Details below:

Bruce Onobrakpeya: The Legacy
Saturday 3rd April, 2010
Grillo Pavillion 1
Sule Oyesola Gbadamosi Crescent
Off Obafemi Awolowo Way
Oke-Ota Ona (Near Grammar School)
Ikorodu, Lagos

Time: 11am

  • 11am - Lecture by Dele Jegede (Professor & Chair, Dept of Art, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, US)
  • 1pm - Viewing of Essentials of Bruce Onobrakpeya & his Disciples inside the Pavillion (curators Ejiro Onobrakpeya, Hakeem Balogun, Toyin Tubi & Olu Ajayi).
  • 2pm - Lunch & Garden Party.
  • 3pm - Interactive Session (comperes Jahman Anikulapo, Toyin Akinosho & Okechukwu Uwaezuoke).

RSVP: Ekpo Udo Udoma - 01-761-8025 / grillopavilion@yahoo.com


Update (related article)


Friday, April 02, 2010

New Read

An array of spices and condiments make for a mouth-watering culinary exploration of culture in a globalised world, in Mukoma wa Ngugi's new short story, Walking the Wok - published in African Writing.

Chan's girlfriend leaves him because he's been washing his wok with soap, a no-no, something that threatens her shaky hold on Chinese authenticity. The Chinese students of his culinary college in Limuru are angry with him for messing with the wok, and the Kenyans say he's messing with their culture, thanks to his wild experimentations with local cuisine. What to do? How to cook - or live - in a way that's free of the shackles of the past? Walking the Wok invites second and third readings.

Mpishi Msanii College (aptly translating into The Artist Chef) rested in the outskirts of Limuru, on land donated to the colonial government in the 1940’s by Lord Baring, and inherited by the African government in the 1960’s. Lord Baring carved the 10 acres from his 2000 acre ranch, declaring that Africa needed Africans with practical minds and practical skills, like cooking.

So started the Lord Baring Native Cooking School, where graduating from the three month course in British etiquette and cuisine assured students of work in country clubs and the homes of various wealthy colonials.

With the wave of nationalization and renaming that came with independence, or still-in-dependence as the witty amongst the natives called it, Mpishi Msanii College was born. The three month course in cooking pancakes, fried sausages, eggs and chips and broiled rabbit grew wings, becoming an intensive two year program that produced not cooks, but cosmopolitan chefs well-versed in local and global cuisines.

Lola Shoneyin launches debut novel in London

So, here it is at last, folks! The book with the flaming title by Lola Shoneyin - goes on the shelves in a UK edition published on April 8 by Serpent's Tail.

The publisher and the author invite you to the launch of 'The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives. Details below.

Daunt Books
112-114 Holland Park Avenue
London W11 4UA
Date: Tuesday April 6
Time: 6.30 -8.30pm
Free Entry - RSVP: 02078416300 / publicity@profilebooks.com.

She's written a piece in the UK Guardian about the theme of her novel, polygamy.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Odia's Award

Scholar Tejumola Laniyan (right) presents the 2010 Fonlon-Nichols Award to poet Odia Ofeimun earlier today in Lagos.

Ofeimun had been due to receive the award last month during the 36th ALA annual conference at the University of Arizona, Tucson, but was unable to fly to the United States. He however graced major celebrations in honour of his 60th birthday, organised by the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation in conjunction with the Odia Ofeimun Committee of Friends. The events included the Mamdani Lecture, held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Lagos on March 16.

Laniyan, a newly elected executive member of ALA (which gives out the annual award) was representing the Association. Also at today's presentation was journalist Kunle Ajibade, head of the Odia Committee of Friends.
  • Photo by MW

The Mamdani Lecture for Odia at 60

Congo and Sudan: Lessons for Nigeria

Mahmood Mamdani

Columbia University

[Text of talk delivered to the Nigeria Institute for International Affairs on Tuesday, March 16, 2010.]

How should we think of political violence in Africa? This is the question that I want to address today.

When it comes to making sense of political violence in Africa, most of us take the cue from how the international community reports it. By the international community, I mean those who speak in the name of the international community: that is, the corporate media, the international NGOs and UN agencies.

For that international community, Congo is today the paradigm case of senseless violence. The proof is said to be two-fold: first, the sheer numbers of the dead; second, the evident lack of reason for the violence.

Let us begin with the astronomical numbers of those said to have died in the violence. Beginning in 2001, the prestigious New York-based International Rescue Committee carried out multiple surveys of war-related deaths in Congo since the start of the conflict in 1998. According to the IRC, there were 1.7 million war-related dead in Congo from 1998 to 2001. These estimates climbed to a staggering 5.4 million by January, 2008. If correct, these figures would represent about 8 percent of DRC’s current population. Thus the Congo war was termed “Africa’s First World War,” the title of Gerard Prunier’s recent book on the Congo wars.

But how correct is this comparison? About 8.5 million troops were killed in the actual First World War. In contrast, the estimate of those who died of direct violence in the Congo wars is less than a hundred thousand. The balance, over five million, were said to have died of “war-related” causes, such as infectious diseases, malnutrition, disruption in vital supplies, and so on.
Your count of “war-related deaths” depends on your estimate of those who died of the same causes – such as infectious diseases, malnutrition – before the war. In October 2008, two Belgian demographers, André Lambert and Louis Lohlé-Tart, were invited by the European Commission to assess the 2005-06 voter registration process in the DRC. They drew on the data they had gathered, and whatever else they could muster, and wrote a devastating critique of the IRC estimates: they concluded that the excess death toll between 1998 and 2004 was roughly 200,000—which is one-twentieth of the IRC’s 3.9 million excess death estimate for the same period.

Their findings triggered further reviews. WHO commissioned a peer review, which concluded that the IRC “estimates” had been based on “extrapolations” that were “speculative at best”. A WHO-affiliated unit, called Health and Nutrition Tracking Service (HNTS), said the IRC’s estimates of mortality rates before the war had been too low. Another reputable source, the Human Security Report, used a more realistic baseline rate for the period May 2001 to April 2007 and found the results led to a very different conclusion: “The best estimate of the excess death toll shrinks to less than one-third of the IRC’s original figure––from 2.83 million to 0.86 million.”

At this point, then, we have several wildly divergent estimates of war-related dead in Congo: they range from the IRC’s sensational 5.4 million to the Belgian demographers subdued 200,000. Where does the truth lie?

Let me turn to Darfur, where there were equally divergent estimates of war-related deaths. In this context, an audit agency of the U S Government, called the Government Accountability Office (GAO), got together with another reputable U. S. institution, the U. S. Academy of Sciences, and put together a panel of experts. The GAO had compiled six different studies, which ranged from a high estimate of 400,000 dead, coming from Save Darfur-linked researchers, to a low of 50,000 to 70,000 dead, by the World Health Organization. The panel of experts agreed unanimously that Save Darfur estimates were the least reliable, because Save Darfur researchers had extrapolated the figures from a survey of refugees in camps in Chad and had generalized them to the whole of Darfur. The experts said that a more reliable estimate may be closer to 118,142, as calculated by CRED, a WHO-connected research unit in Europe, and not 400,000, a quarter of the Save Darfur figure.

As in Congo, there was a second distortion. WHO reports suggested that many of the deaths in Darfur may not be war-related as much as drought-related, for one reason. WHO estimated that 70-80% had died from the effects of drought and desertification; that these were mainly infants and children who had died mainly from diarrhea and dysentery. More importantly, the drought had preceded the war.

The GAO report was sent to the State Department which agreed with its findings. It then made its way to Congress and then to the GAO’s internet site. Just as the reassessment of the dead in Congo has had little effect on media reports, so did the GAO’s reassessment have little effect, either on media reports or on Save Darfur’s continuing claims, relayed in full page ads in New York Times as well as in subway and bus posters, on the numbers of the dead in Darfur.

We know that data collection is among the first of casualties in any social crisis. When international NGOs confidently continue to put forward figures even after their reliability has been expertly questioned, we have a right to question their motivation. I suggest that this practice reveals more about those making the projections than about the places they write about. Is the deliberate exaggeration of figures part of an NGO fund-raising strategy, or is the motivation more sinister, meaning more political? I frankly am not in a position to tell.

Please do not misunderstand me. My point is not that the numbers who have died from African conflicts are miniscule and not worthy of concern. The number who have died are too many by any yardstick, so much so that there should be no reason to exaggerate them.

The International Community does not just tell us how many have died in African conflicts. The also interpret the violence behind these deaths.

Think of the reports on the violence in Congo. Even as responsible an organization as Human Rights Watch ascribes the deaths to “anarchy”. Anarchy evokes meaningless, gratuitous, repetitious violence. In Africa’s World Wars, Gerard Prunier describes Congo’s “rebels” as “first and foremost armed movements without ideology, without any large civilian constituency, and without any sort of unified cause … more akin to vampires than to soldiers.”

Read a human rights organisation report on violence in Congo or in Darfur, you will find that the structure of the report is basically the same. The report begins with a page or two on history. The bulk of the report is given to documenting atrocities. The real point of the report is to identify perpetrators. The technology of human rights activism is summed up in one phrase: “name and shame”. The report concludes with a set of recommendations. These inevitably call for the perpetrators to be punished.

Here is the problem: contemporary international human rights reports show hardly any interest in the issues that drive the violence. In situations where the violence is not a stand alone event but part of an ongoing cycle, where there is a history of violence in which victims and perpetrators have tended to change sides, it is more important to identify and address the issues that drive the violence than to demonize the latest group of perpetrators. If we are interested in bringing the violence to a stop, we should be interested not just in crime and punishment but, more so, in reform.

To make my point, I would like to focus on one event that seems to recur in African conflicts: ethnic cleansing. The political history of post-independence Congo is marked by ethnic cleansing: in Katanga and Kasai in 1961, and then again in Katanga three decades later, in 1991; and then, in Ituri and in Kivu. The political history of Darfur is also similarly chequered: ethnic cleansing first surfaces in the 1987-89 civil war between the sedentary Fur and nomadic ‘Arab’ tribes and then in the 2003-04 counter-insurgency that overlay the rekindled civil war. A look at the Rift Valley in Kenya or northern Ivory Coast is enough to tell us that Congo and Sudan are not exceptions. Ethnic cleansing has become a central part of political violence in post-colonial Africa.

The events in Congo and Sudan suggest that ethnic cleansing is not anarchical,but methodic. Nor is it the result of sheer conspiracy from above, for the simple reason that violence on such a scale requires the coming together of initiatives from both above and below. It requires joining elite conspiracies to popular organisation. The challenge is for us to understand the popular dimension of this process. We need to understand the historical processes and the institutional practices through which these agencies were shaped.

I would like to trace this historical development step by step through the colonial period. Colonial authorities claimed that Africans have always lived in tribal homelands. At the same time, they told us that Africans have always been on the move, whether as nomads on hoofs or as farmers practicing shifting cultivation – or just running away from perennial wars and slave raids. If even a little of that is true, then there must have been at least some places where ethnic groups were mixed up. How were these places turned into tribal homelands in the colonial period?

The answer is: administrative force. Take the example of Katanga, where King Leopold, and the Société Générale de Belgique, Belgium’s largest corporate concern, partnered with British interests to form Union Miniére du Haut-Katanga (UMHK) in 1906. Their object was to exploit Katanga’s mineral resources. For this, they needed to squeeze labor from hinterland populations. This required a firm administrative grip on rural populations.

I suggest that we distinguish an ethnic group – a group that speaks the same language – from a tribe, a group defined by a common territory. I am suggesting that we view “tribalization” as a colonial administrative project. In Katanga, a series of decrees were passed, in 1906, 1910, and then 1933, requiring that each ‘tribe’ be identified, separated, and resettled, each in its own ‘homeland,’ each supervised by its own Native Authority. One District Commissioner complained: “Batshioko, Lunda and even Baluba are totally jumbled and it will be very difficult to organize them into separate chefferies.” The separation was accomplished between 1925 and 1930. “Customary” chiefs were charged with supplying designated quotas of labor and food, at first to the mines and, later, to European farms and administrators.

Like Katanga, Ituri too was the site of lucrative gold mines, Kilo and Moto, to which King Leopold’s men were lured as early as 1903. As in Katanga and Kasai, so in Ituri, colonial pacification began with a policy they called “regroupement”. Over nearly two decades, from 1916-17 to 1930s, the authorities separated the predominantly pastoral (Hema) from the predominantly agricultural (Lendu) populations, herding each into its own homeland (territoire) supervised by its own tribal authority (chefferires).

A census tagged every villager as a tribesman or woman, as a ‘native’ of a particular tribal homeland. Those living far from their “natural” leaders were targeted as “runaways” from tribal homelands. When the Lendu moved away from drought struck areas in the mid-30s, one District Commissioner wrote that force would be necessary “to maintain the regroupement which was under threat”.

Each tribal homeland was run by a Native Authority. This power was not elected; nor was it appointed from all those who lived in the administrative unit. The Native Authority was appointed only from the “tribe” said to be indigenous to the land. Non-indigenous groups were required to pay tribute to “indigenous” chiefs in the Native Authority. The Native Authority system politicized ethnic identity gave the name “tribe” to this politicized group. As a political identity, tribe became the basis of systematic discrimination between groups: only tribes officially acknowledged as “indigenous” were entitled to “customary” rights, which included the right of access to land and the right of participation in local governance. This system of discrimination was sanctified as “customary” and was enforced by law.

The colonial system rested on a dual system of institutionalized discrimination: race in urban areas, and tribe in the countryside. Whereas racial discrimination was justified as reflecting a civilizational hierarchy between colonizers and colonized, tribal discrimination was said to recognize cultural difference between natives.

What is the connection between the system of power I have just outlined, the Native Authority system, and ethnic cleansing? So long as the tribal system of power continued to discriminate between ethnic groups, all institutions came to bear a tribal imprint. Recruitment for the mines or the civil service or the army was driven by tribal identity. Not only competition but also resistance developed along tribal lines.

Let us return to Katanga. Labor migration gave rise to a triangular relationship within Katanga, with each group classified as indigenous or not. The interesting thing is that there were two ethnic groups but three different classifications in the “tribal” system. The first were the Lunda, said to be indigenous to Katanga. Then came the Luba immigrants from Kasai, who were divided into two groups. Those who had moved to Katanga before colonialism were considered ‘indigenous’ and were identified as Luba-Katanga. In contrast, those who had arrived during the colonial period as labor migrants were tagged as not indigenous and were known as the Luba-Kasai.

All three groups organized as separate political parties. Alongside, there was a fourth party, representing Belgian settlers in Katanga. In the mines of Katanga, the Belgians confronted the Luba, organized in militant unions. With the development of militant nationalism, Belgians promoted an alliance of the settler party with the indigenous Lunda, known as the alliance of “civilizers” and “authentic Katangans”. The alliance first targeted the Luba-Kasai, and then all the Luba.

It is the logic that the identity of the native was tribal, not only when it came to exercizing power but also when it came to resisting power. It is the logic that fed the dynamic to secession and, ultimately, ethnic cleansing. As the alliance between “civilizers” and “authentic natives” gelled, the colonial establishment – the church, the state and business – took to backing “nativist” tribal movements, in both Katanga and Kasai. With Belgian support, each mounted a separate drive for secession, first in Katanga (11 July 1960) and then in South Kasai (8 August 1960). Branded “aliens” in both places, the Luba became the first target of ethnic cleansing in both South Kasai and Katanga.

This is the context in which the first major political crisis in Congo’s history unfolded. The new government responded to the secession in Katanga by sending the army to suppress it. On their way to Katanga, troops of the Congolese National Army were ordered to put down the South Kasai secession. They went on a rampage, slaughtering civilians.

Nzongola Ntalaje, the Congolese political historian, has argued that Lumumba committed his “first major political blunder” when “as the number one national leader, instead of seeking to heal the rift in a bitter inter-ethnic conflict”, he chose to side with one group against another. Thus he provided political enemies the opportunity to corner him politically and eliminate him physically. Immediately, Dag Hammerksjold, the UN Secretary General, accused Lumumba of being responsible for “genocide”. That same day, 5 September, Kasa-Vubu dismissed Lumumba as Prime Minister.

The Native Authority system continues to drive the crisis of citizenship in Congo today. Driving a wedge between two politically defined groups – indigenous and not indigenous – it continues to fuel the dynamic leading to ethnic cleansing. The prophetic round of ethnic cleansing began at independence, with Katanga as he paradigm case, but it was repeated on a more dramatic scale in 1992-93, again in Katanga, then in Ituri in the conflict between Hema and Lendu, and finally in Kivu.

The political crisis in Congo is today at its most extreme in eastern Congo, in Kivu, where the Native Authority system pits ‘indigenous’ tribes against the Banyaruanda minority. The Banyaruanda are the speakers of the language Kinyarwanda, identified with the historical kingdom of Ruanda. Along with speakers of Kirundi, its sister language, they number roughly 40 million. Mainly resident in Ruanda and Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Eastern Congo, the Banyaruanda comprise the largest language group in the region, if we exclude the trans-ethnic speakers of Kiswahili. Since most Banyaruanda live outside Rwanda, they face the crisis of citizenship in its most acute form: wherever the mode of governance is defined by the Native Authority system, the Banyaruanda are defined as ‘non-indigenous’ outsiders. Even if born where they live, they remain without ‘customary’ rights, whether to land or to appointment in a local authority.

As with Lunda migrants into Katanga, the Banyaruanda in Kivu were also divided between those who came before Belgian colonization and those who came after. The former were considered indigenous, but not the latter.

Denied ‘customary’ access to land, the Banyaruanda took to purchasing land as private property, and refused to pay tribute to customary chiefs. The result was a contest between two different notions of rights: on one side the right of the citizen, and on the other “customary” right. The political dilemma became acute where the Banyaruada became a majority, as they did in Masisi and Rutshuru by 1958. The conflict between the Banyaruanda and the indigenous groups broke out in 1963 and turned into a wider contest: immigrants demanded ‘democracy’ and the indigenous groups called for ‘custom’ to be upheld. Known as La Guerre du Kinyarwanda, this conflict lasted two years.

So sensitive was the citizenship status of the Banyaruanda minority at independence that the Roundtable Conference in Brussels was unable to fix its juridical status. The Fundamental Law the conference passed left the citizenship status of the minority unresolved; instead, it called on the Congolese people to settle the issue at a future date. The 1964 constitution famously declared that only a person with an ancestor who was “a member of a tribe or part of a tribe established in the Congo before 18 October 1908” would qualify as a citizen of Congo. The consequence was to bar all colonial era labor migrants from citizenship.

The most important dimension of the citizenship problem in Kivu is the failure of the indigenous majority to work out a political principle that would accommodate developments on the ground and extend citizenship to migrants, thereby constantly redefining the political community. The consequence of this failure was that migrants into Kvu increasingly sought protection from an outside power, initially Mobutu and then, after Mobutu, neighboring Rwanda.

Even the internal opposition, a gathering of over 100 political parties and over 400 civic groups, which came together as the Sovereign National Conference in Kisangani in 1991-92, failed to address this question. In contrast, Mobutu tried, as in 1972, when his reform extended citizenship to those who had immigrated to Congo during the colonial period. Called upon to think of a principle other than ethnic descent as the basis of citizenship in Congo, the CNS failed.

It is this failure that ultimately led to the collapse of the CNS. The failure was tragic because the CNS began as a spectacular success. Its proceedings were televised throughout urban Congo. The effect was to inspire further initiatives. There was a mushrooming of civic organisations, thickening the texture of the internal political opposition. The Sovereign National Conference was closed abruptly on 6 December 1992 when it was ready to deal with two of the most politically sensitive dossiers: one on ill-acquired goods and the other on political assassinations. The failure of the CNS to reopen pointed beyond the regime’s strength to internal weakness of the opposition.

The opposition was faced with the dilemma of managing internal tensions within its own ranks, the very challenge that had undermined Lumumba’s position in 1961. The more it failed to manage these tensions, the more the opposition fragmented. The worst outcome was in Katanga, where events were sadly reminiscent of 1960. As in 1960, the Lunda and the Luba had organized under separate political roofs, the former in the Katanga-based party, called Union des Fédéralists et des Républicains Indépendants (UFERI), led by a relative of Tshombe, Jean Nguza Karl-i-Bond (Nguza), and the latter under UPDS, led by Etienne Tshisekedi, himself a Luba from Kasai. Initially, UFERI joined UPDS to form Union Sacré, the most important opposition bloc in CNS. But this was an inter-ethnic unity of two separate ethnically-based organizations. Intent on splitting the opposition, Mobutu first appointed Tshisekedi as Prime Minister and then replaced him with Nguza. It was Nguza who closed the CNS in 1992 on Mobutu’s orders. On its heels followed the second episode of ethnic cleansing in Katanga, on a scale much larger than in 1960. This time, over a million Kasaians expelled from Katanga.

Let me turn to Darfur and Sudan. Since I have traced this history in detail in my recent book, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror, it should be sufficient to underline key developments in this lecture. The first was the creation of tribal homelands under British colonialism.

The British faced several crises during their centuries-long imperial venture. The most serious of these was in mid-19th century when two revolts, the 1857 Uprising in India and the Morant Rebellion in Jamaica, rocked the empire at its two extremes. The next great crisis was the Mahdiyya in Sudan. When the British returned to defeat the Mahdiyya and colonize Sudan, they were determined to fragment the colony as effectively as possible. Thus began the program of “tribalization”, beginning with the creation of tribal homelands. From the very outset, this was a political program. It favored British allies against those who had joined the Mahdiyya, and then it favored settled over nomadic groups, since the former were easier to control. So the colonial power created “tribal homelands” – called hakuras – for peasant groups, and smaller ones for cattle nomads who were semi-sedentary, but none for the wholly sedentary camel nomads.

This did not seem to matter much until drought and desertification hit the region. Studies by the United Nations Education Program, released a few years ago, show that the southern rim of the Sahara expanded nearly a hundred kilometers over four decades, from the mid-1940s to the mid-1980s, pushing the northern nomadic tribes south in search of better land. The result was a classic ecological conflict between nomads and peasants over the best land in an ecological disaster zone.

I was a consultant for a year for the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation, a unit created by the African Union after the Abuja negotiations. The DDDC carried out a research on the dynamics of the conflict. Its findings showed that the conflict had spread over two axis: a north-south axis that pit nomadic against peasant tribes, and an east-west axis in the south that pit two kinds of nomadic tribes – those with homelands and those without – against one another. The media focused exclusively on the north-south axis of the conflict which it portrayed as one between ‘Arab’ and ‘African’ tribes.

There are two problems with this portrayal. The first is that the driving force of the conflict was not ethnic identity but the search for land in an ecological crisis. Whoever controlled the land would survive the crisis, whoever lost control over land would parish. But because land had been defined as “tribal homeland,” the fight for land turned into a fight between tribes. This is how most observers on the ground understood the logic that fed the growing brutality in the conflict. As in Kivu in eastern Congo, the conflict in Darfur pit two notions of rights against one another: the camel nomads claimed the right of the citizen to settle anywhere in the country, whereas peasant groups laid claim to tribal “customary” rights to land and local governance.

Second, there is no single history of “Arabs” of Sudan. In particular, the history of “Arabs” of northern Sudan and that of Arabs of Darfur is radically different. Whereas the “Arabs” of northern Sudan include immigrants from the Arab world, the “Arabs” of Darfur include immigrants from West Africa, mainly the Fulani who are known as the Fallata and identify as an “Arab” tribe in South Darfur. There is also a difference in the relationship of Arabs to the slave trade in different parts of Sudan: the slave trade in the Sultanate of Funj in the North was driven by an “Arab” elite, but in the Sultanate of Fur was driven by a Fur elite. The result was that whereas most former slaves in the north tended to identify as “Arab”, most former slavers in Darfur tend to identify as Fur.

The elite in northern Sudan today is mainly “Arab”, but the elite in Darfur is not. The Arabs of Darfur are in fact its least privileged group, with the lowest levels of income and education and the least representation in the state. If Darfur is marginalized in Sudan, the “Arabs” of Darfur are doubly marginalized.

Let me return to my main point: the Native Authority system and how it generates the dynamics that tends to lead to ethnic cleansing in times of political crisis, and the need to reform it.

When he faced the internal opposition in Congo, and its spectacular success as witnessed in the launching of the Sovereign National Conference in Kisangani in 1991, Mobutu launched a counter-offensive, disguised as a reform of the state. This is when he advanced a new federal principle for Congo. Geopolitique, as he called it, was an attempt to elevate ‘nativism’, hitherto the basis of organization of the Native Authority, into a principle for the reorganization of the central government. Having already passed a resolution that every aspirant to Congolese citizenship demonstrate an ancestral connection with Congo prior to the Berlin Conference, Mobutu now declared that new heads of Ministerial Departments represent their ‘native’ provinces. By calling for regional quotas as the basis for recruitment at the center, Geopolitique further entrenched indigeneity as a principle and institutionalized ethnic competition. Mobutu then went on to demand that “delegates [to the CNS] represent only provinces to which they could be considered autochthon”.

The CNS lost the political battle the day it succumbed to this demand. In Ituri this logic was picked up and used by the Hema against Nande competitors. When a 1995 decree declared all Kinyarwanda- speakers as foreigners, the momentum of ethnic cleansing shifted from Katanga to Kivu. On 7 October 1996, the governor of South Kivu ordered all Banyamulenge to leave the country within a week, or else they would be interned in camps and eliminated.

I have often wondered whether Nigeria’s post-civil war constitution did not emulate the substance of Mobutu’s “geopolitique”, particularly in its inclusion of the “federal character” clause, requiring that key federal institutions reflect the federal character of Nigeria. As I understand this requirement, the key federal institutions are three: the federal army, the federal civil service, and federal universities. For these institutions to reflect federal character, enrollment is driven by a state-based quota system whereby the quota for each state is in proportion to its share of the federal population. Finally, the right to compete for this quota does not belong to all those who live in a state, but only to those who can claim to be “indigenous” to the state in question, meaning that not only they but also their father be born in that state.

It is possible that this provision was adopted as a form of affirmative action for those parts of the country which had lagged behind in educational and social development during the colonial period and that its purpose was to ensure them fair representation in key federal institutions, one proportional to their weight in the population. The question I have in mind does not concern motive, but consequence. My question is: have the unintended consequences of this provision – its costs – come to outweigh its intended benefits for Nigeria?

The federal character principle has extended the colonial principal of Native Authority to key institutions in the federal state. Its unintended effect has been to turn federal citizenship into an extension of ethnically-defined membership of Native Authorities, thereby eroding it. By dividing Nigerian citizens into “indigines” and “non-indigines” – not of Nigeria but of individual states – for purposes of participation in national institutions, it has disenfranchised a growing number of Nigerian citizens, those who do not live in the states where they were born.

That Nigeria is increasingly integrated into a global economy, and has been the subject of market reforms, has intensified the contradiction between the market and the state as currently organized in Nigeria. The tendency of the market economy is to move more and more strata of the population away from the locality where they were born. This includes both rich and poor Nigerians: on the one hand, businessmen, industrialists, and professionals, and on the other, unemployed workers and landless peasants. The state system, in contrast, disenfranchises precisely those who move. The state system penalizes precisely those the economy dynamizes. The least dynamic sectors of the population respond to this situation by calling for a defense of their “customary” rights, and the most dynamic rally around the principle of a “national” citizenship. One lesson of Congo and Sudan is that it may be time to rethink the legacy of both the colonial past and the reforms you undertook to end the civil war.