Photographic Memory 1: props for Blood and Henna

It has been nearly a year since I posted on this blog, in the fevered anguish so many of us felt after the election and inauguration of America’s current glorious leader. After that, I lost the heart to write and I filled my time with teaching and and social media, that succubus.

But I miss writing. I miss my column in Daily Trust. And because I have no urgent deadline, I write very little these days, at least writing for myself. I do try to eke out what academic writing I need to get the job done. But, because I am not exercising my writing muscles, what I write is creaky and awkward.

Tonight, I was looking through my photos for one such academic project. I have thousands of photos, hidden in thousands of files on my laptop. And I have often thought that I should give myself a blog assignment of posting a photo a day and to write about the memory that rushes to mind. A photo a day is probably much too ambitious, so I will merely say that I will try to post more often, and I will try to look at my photos more often, and I will let myself remember and write more often. It is 2am here, but I have determined to do this, so let’s go.

 

 

So for today’s photo I went back to 5 November 2011. Only a few months earlier I had moved from Kano to Jos to try to work full time on my PhD dissertation. But in late October I went back to Kano for the Goethe Institut premiere of Duniya Juyi Juyi, a film produced by the researcher Hannah Hoechner but written, directed, and acted in by almajirai. I see, via my photos, that this was also the first time I saw my friend Sa’adatu Baba Ahmed’s newborn daughter, who is now a big girl of seven.

While in Kano, Kenneth Gyang, one of Nigeria’s most exciting and experimental directors, got in touch with me (I believe via Nafisa) and asked if I could act a bit part as an ugly-American Pfizer researcher in his historical film Blood and Henna, which touches on the tragic 1996 Pfizer meningitis trials in Kano. I said yes. So, on my way back to Kano I detoured through Kaduna where the film was being shot. We shot the hospital scenes in a school made to look like a hospital. Here a props guy is hanging a chart of a skeleton. (More photos in my flickr album, from the first and second day of shooting)

Feeling keenly my lack of training in acting and the exaggerated American accent I had put on after years of being back in Nigeria, I actually dreaded seeing this for years. It received 6 nominations at the 2013 Africa Movie Academy Awards–the first Hausa film to be honoured as such by AMAA. I finally saw it at a screening at KABAFEST, the Kaduna Book and Arts Festival put together by Lola Shoneyin this summer, and the film blew me away. Fortunately, my part is very small, and Sadiq Sani Sadiq and Nafisa Abdullahi carry the film with their powerful understated acted.  It is a quiet, moving film about the ordinary people behind the sensational headlines that make up history. It’s not as experimental as Gyang’s film Confusion Na Wa, but it’s just as striking.

I should write more, but it is much too late, and I have more academic writing and class preparations to do to tomorrow. But let this serve as a start. I will post more.

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For my loved ones in Republican states, call your representatives

Dear Republican loved one living in a “Red” State (from your non-Republican loved one living in a “Blue” state),

#womensmarch #womensmarch2017 #santabarbara

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Thank you for listening, two days ago, to me talk about my concerns about the Man in the White House. Thank you for listening, and thank you for asking me to send you a list of the things I am concerned about. I appreciate your openness to hearing my perspective.

There are some relatives I know voted for Donald Trump. I do not know if you did. I do not ask. What I do ask, however, of all my loved ones no matter how they voted is to please call your representatives and register your concerns with the ongoing executive overreach.

I realize that some people may have “held their noses” and voted along party lines or over concerns about abortion or high healthcare costs. I know those same people have serious concerns about his personal character and leadership ability. On the other hand, to those people who continue to defend the Man in the White House or to even celebrate him, please consider reading the links to the articles I provide below and giving some thought to our concerns.

I believe those of you who are Republicans and who live in states with Republican representatives have more power than those of us who live in states with Democratic representatives, since the Republicans currently have control of all three branches of government: the executive, legislative, and judiciary. Unless Republican lawmakers and those who voted for them stand up against abuse from the executive branch, I seriously fear for the future of this country.

Since the day of the inauguration, things have been moving so fast that it has been hard to keep up with everything that is going on (it’s similar to the days of the campaign, where Trump would blitz us with multiple things at one time so that when we focused on some new sensationalistic outrage, we missed the quieter but more dangerous discussions going on). However, this New York Times interactive site shows what Trump has done and what he still has to do on his agenda. PBS has a similar page from a few days ago that looks at 10 executive orders Trump signed with only one week in office.

Here is a partial (but not complete because I don’t have enough time to do that) list of some of my most pressing concerns.

Because I am alarmed at the amount of disinformation, fake news, and “alternative facts” floating around, I have decided to support institutions that are well known for investigative journalism and fact checking; therefore, I have subscribed to digital access for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. I have also donated to The Guardian, and have other magazine subscriptions, including Time, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, as well as The Sun and Essence. (And no, I don’t have time to read them all but the digital access to news is invaluable) If you find that you cannot access some of these articles because you aren’t a subscriber, please let me know and I can send you a pdf of the article. If you do not read news from these organizations because you think they are “biased,” please take a look at this “news literacy toolkit” one of my smartest students sent me last semester on how to evaluate what you read.

Commitment to a free and fair media.

Make America think again. #womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara

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I am alarmed by Trump’s proclaimed “war with the media.” A free press has long been considered one of the pillars of democracy, alongside the executive, legislative, and judicial branches—an essential check and balance to hold the government accountable. However, Trump’s “war against the media” has involved refusing to take questions from media outlets during press conferences, talk of moving the presscorps out of the White House, and restricting government agencies from speaking to the press or even publishing information on their websites. His “gag order” on Federal agencies does not allow them to engage in any external communications until Trump has completed putting political appointees into place.  While some analysts think this is merely temporary and not a big deal, it seems that he has targeted agencies, like the EPA, which are involved “environmental protection and scientific research.”. You can read more about this at The New York Times and PBS.

He has also been involved in propaganda efforts, such as demanding the acting director of the National Park Service to produce additional photographs of crowds on the Mall during inauguration and bringing a crowd to applaud him at his address at the CIA headquarters.; His advisor Steve Bannon reinforces this “war” with the media, and 6 journalists were charged with felonies while covering the inauguration protests on the day of the inauguration.

John Fea, a historian who teaches at Messiah College, points to the multiple untruths told by Trump, including the infamous appeal to “alternative facts” and his team since the inauguration and asks where the Christians who will stand up for truth are.

Ban on Refugees AND legal immigrants with visas/greencards

#santabarbara #womensmarch #womensmarch2017

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My most immediate concern is Trump’s executive order banning refugees entry from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, or Yemen (full text here following on an earlier draft, which proposed to “indefinitely block Syrian refugees from entering the United States and bar all refugees from the rest of the world for at least 120 days.” ). The ban also includes green card holders—that is permanent residents of the United States—and dual citizens of other countries—for example a British-Iranian or a Dutch-Somalian. If they are currently travelling, whether on business to go to a funeral etc, they will not be allowed to enter. Here are some of the stories of those travellers who were affected when the executive order was signed. (UPDATE, 29 January 2016: This story of a Somali woman travelling with her two children [American citizens] to join her husband in the U.S. is particularly upsetting. She was continuously browbeaten to try to get her to sign documents invalidating her visa, told she would be sent back to “Africa,” she was handcuffed, and she and her children were not fed during their 20 hour ordeal.)

These stories, as told by the New York Times, include the family of Fuad Shareef of Iraq, who worked as an interpreter and translator for the U.S. armed forces in Iraq, a job for which he had received death threats. He and his family were given clearance to move to the U.S. and they sold their home and car and gave up jobs to move to America, but were not allowed to board their flight in Cairo and are stuck there.  Nisrin Omer a Sudanese woman who is a PhD student at Stanford and a greencard holder was handcuffed, aggressively patted down and interrogated for hours after returning from a research trip in Sudan. Similarly Ali Abdi, a PhD student at Yale who has a green card is stuck outside of the country; an Iranian scholar who had a fellowship to study at Harvard is now unable to come. The stories also include a Yazidi refugee from Iraq who was about to join her husband; Christian Syrian relatives of U.S. citizens who have already landed in Philadelphia,; a dual British-Iranian citizen unable to get home to Scotland from Costa Rica because her flight connected through the U.S.; etc. etc, etc. This NYT article follows up some of these stories and describes the fear and unrest all over the world caused by this ban. Although immigration policy analysts say the ban is illegal and the ACLU was able to obtain a stay of action from a federal judge in Brooklyn so that travellers would not be deported, they may still be detained. Furthermore, this is only temporary, and White House senior advisor Stephen Miller has said, “Nothing in the Brooklyn judge’s order in anyway impedes or prevents the implementation of the president’s executive order which remains in full, complete and total effect.” (UPDATE 29 January 2016: The American Immigration Lawyers Association report that “border agents were checking the social media accounts of those detained and were interrogating them about their political beliefs before allowing them into the U.S.”Note that these were people with legal visas.)

This has already caused a massive international relations problem. Iran, which had recently signed a nuclear non-proliferation deal with the U.S., has called it “an obvious insult to the Islamic world.” Deutche Welle covers more global responses to the ban.

Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration also states that it will publish the “criminal acts committed by aliens.” For analysis on why this is problematic, see these articles,  on Simcha Fisher and the Daily Kos, which point to similar actions taken against Jews in Nazi Germany. The constant association of immigrants with criminality serves to dehumanize them and desensitize people to abuses against them.

A few Republican lawmakers, are joining Democratic lawmakers, to question the ban, but there should be more. [Update 29 January 2016 – Time Magazine now reports on “more than a dozen GOP members of Congress” who have spoken out against the executive order] [Update 30 January 2016  In particular, John McCain “has called the new Trump ban on immigration from a set of Muslim-majority countries a recruiting boon for Islamic State radicals.”]  Please call your representatives and register your protest.

American University history professor Richard Breitman has written about Anne Frank and her family were also denied entry into the U.S. and were eventually murdered in Nazi concentration camps. In a 2007 paper, he wrote “Otto Frank’s efforts to get his family to the United States ran afoul of restrictive American immigration policies designed to protect national security and guard against an influx of foreigners during time of war.” [UPDATE 29 January 2016 For Holocaust Memorial Day–the day Trump signed the executive order banning refugees–The Smithsonian has an article commemorating 254 Jewish refugees, passengers on the ship  the St. Louis, murdered in the Holocaust after being turned back from the shores of Cuba and the United States and sent back to Europe.]

Many members of our family have visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam and also visited the house of Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian who protected many Jewish refugees from the Nazis. Consider this in relation to the Syrian crisis today.  Can we not draw connections? What was the point of visiting those houses if we don’t learn from them? Will we be able to live with our consciences if we deny refuge to those running for their lives?

Here are several Christianity Today articles talking about the Christian responsibility to speak up for refugees, and those Christian organizations who already have: “How to Respond as a follower of Christ to Trump’s ban of refugees” and “Evangelical experts oppose Trump’s plan to ban Syrian Refugees.” [UPDATE 29 January 2016: a coalition of evangelical groups has written a letter opposing the privileging of Christian refugees over Muslim refugees. Those who signed it included the CEO of the Accord Network, the president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities,  the President of Korean Churches for Community Development, the President the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, the President of National Hispanic Christian Leadership, an Ambassador for the Wesleyan Church, the President of World Relief, and the President of World Vision US. Catholic and Mormon leaders have also opposed the executive order. The New York Times also interviews Christian leaders who oppose Trump’s plan.]

 The Wall

On 25 January, Trump signed an executive order on the immediate commencement of building a $20 billion border wall, which he concedes that “US taxpayers would have to initially fund” while simulateously defunding a myriad of far less expensive other programs including NPR and PBS, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Violence Against Women grants, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Office of Fossil Energy, etc but he cannot start building it until Congress approves. Please urge your representatives to oppose the wall. This article describes some of the problems Trump will face in trying to implement the wall, including  the huge expense of the wall, the ire of citizens whose land will need to be seized to provide property for the wall and those who are concerned that patrolling border communities with “tens of thousands of heavily armed, poorly trained, unaccountable agents puts lives at risk. This will turn these communities into de facto military zones” Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Colaition immigrant advocacy group says (The Guardian). See also, the New York Times.

It is not just advocacy groups who are criticizing the wall, however. Republican congressman Will Hurd of Texas has also said that “Building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border” NPR points out that Trump’s suggested “import tax” means that Americans, not Mexico, would pay for the wall.

And I haven’t even gotten into Trump’s worrisome appointments yet. Most recently, Trump has “restructured the National Security Council” and has given Steve Bannon, filmmaker and former publisher of sensationalist, conspiracy theorizing Brietbart News who has links to white supremacist organizations, a seat on the National Security Council.

Other issues of international concern

 China is talking about a WAR with the U.S.

Fox News points out the damage Trump is doing to American democracy and its reputation in the world.

Foreign policy experts are so concerned by Trump’s decisions that the “entire senior management team” of the state department resigned. These are people who had worked under both Republican and Democratic presidents in the past. Additionally over 100 diplomats and state department officials have signed “a draft document formally protesting President Donald Trump’s immigration and refugee order.” [You can read the full text of the document here.]

(Update 29 January 2016: Conservative analyst Eliot Cohen, who worked as a counselor to Condoleeza Rice,  has written):

Trump, in one spectacular week, has already shown himself one of the worst of our presidents, who has no regard for the truth (indeed a contempt for it), whose patriotism is a belligerent nationalism, whose prior public service lay in avoiding both the draft and taxes, who does not know the Constitution, does not read and therefore does not understand our history, and who, at his moment of greatest success, obsesses about approval ratings, how many people listened to him on the Mall, and enemies.

He will do much more damage before he departs the scene, to become a subject of horrified wonder in our grandchildren’s history books. To repair the damage he will have done Americans must give particular care to how they educate their children, not only in love of country but in fair-mindedness; not only in democratic processes but democratic values. Americans, in their own communities, can find common ground with those whom they have been accustomed to think of as political opponents. They can attempt to renew a political culture damaged by their decayed systems of civic education, and by the cynicism of their popular culture.

[…]

There was nothing unanticipated in this first disturbing week of the Trump administration. It will not get better. Americans should therefore steel themselves, and hold their representatives to account. Those in a position to take a stand should do so, and those who are not should lay the groundwork for a better day. There is nothing great about the America that Trump thinks he is going to make; but in the end, it is the greatness of America that will stop him.

The Environment

#womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara #womensmarchonsantabarbara

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Trump approved pipelines to pass near Sioux lands, building on a long history of disrespect, genocide, forced migration, and land seizure from Native Americans. Indigenous people are not protesting for no reason. According to Reuters, as recently as January 23, 2017, an oil pipeline in Saskatchewan, Canada, leaked over 50,000 gallons onto indigenous lands.  According to the New York Times, Trump owned stock in the company that is building the Dakota Access Pipeline. He claims he sold it, but he has provided no documentation to prove the sell–just as he has never released his tax returns. Trump also believes climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China and  plans to reverse environmental legislation.

The Rachel Maddow show gives researched evidence of serious environmental concerns under Trump.

Conflicts of Interest

#womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara

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Related to my concerns about Trump’s many falsehoods are my concerns about his ethics in other areas of life (and I don’t even have time to get into his abuse of women here). He has never released his tax returns and he has not divested from his business as presidents are expected to do. For comparison Jimmy Carter had to sell his family farm so as to not have a conflict of interest. By contrast, Trump did not put his business in a blind trust—instead having his sons manage his business. Now, there are reports that the fees at the club Mar-a-lago have raised membership fees from 100,000 to 200,000, cashing in on Trump’s new position and attracting those who might wish to have some influence over Trump or the government. There’s a lot more of this. I don’t have time to post it all right now. (Update: This piece by a Fordham University law professor explains Trump’s violation of the emoluments clause) But my question is, where are all of our checks and balances I heard people talking about before the election when they were saying Trump couldn’t do everything he said he would do? Who is enforcing our laws? And why aren’t we holding the man in the White House and our lawmakers responsible?

Education appointment

According to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, a Senate Ethics review found that Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, who has never worked at an educational institution and has no experience in public education or education standards and who seemed quite unprepared during the hearing, is involved in 102 companies that could cause a conflict of interest. She also believes there needs to be guns in schools. During the hearing, DeVos would not agree that there should be equal accountability for private or charter schools that receive federal funds: Here is more from The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

Hundreds of Calvin College alumni (the college DeVos attended) sign a letter outlining the concerns they have about the appointment.

This is just a very preliminary list that covers only a fraction of the fears I have over this new government. The only encouraging things to me in the past week have been the massive women’s marches that took place all over America and all over the world. I went to the march in Santa Barbara where over 6000 people came out.

Salami aleikum. Allah ya kiyaye mu. (Afraid that's bad grammar but anyway) #santabarbara #womensmarch

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We did not have a street permit, but when the police saw how many of us there were, they opened the streets for us.

I am also encouraged by the people who have gone to airports in the last 24 hours to demand that people with valid visas be let into the country.

Now is my time to get over my anger at those who voted (based on what they saw as “morals”) for Trump and to appeal to you to stand up for your values with us. You can’t get your vote back, but you can stand up for what is right. We will not agree on every issue, but I think (and hope) that many of those who voted for Trump believe in kindness, goodness, hospitality, love for our neighbour. It is only when we can realize, as President Obama said, in the face of grief and anger, that “we are not as divided as we seem,”  that we can stand up against the kind of reckless authoritarianism we are seeing manifest in the man currently in the White House and those around him.

Build kindness not walls. #womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara

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Courage and love. #womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara

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Please. Call your representatives. Remind them of the ideals for which you voted: life, liberty, freedom and justice for all.

We are created equal. #womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara

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Grow compassion. #womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara

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This is just the kick start. #womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara

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For my Conservative Christian relatives on why I am not voting for Trump (and some useful links and resources for Clinton or “other” voters with Trump-supporting loved ones)

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A truck observed. Sorry about the finger in the photo… still learning camera phones and trying to take the picture quickly before the owner of the vehicle saw me and started getting ideas.-CM

Since my last post, I moved, started a new job and have had very little time to blog. Tonight I have not had time either, but I, apparently, did have time to spend 6 hours or so on an email to one of my relatives, who sent me the following video of Mike Pence, meant for broadcasting in “The Church of the Mall” (???!!!–what a poetically appropriate name), appealing to Christian voters and reflecting on his own church background.

[So apparently privacy settings are blocking the video from being screened from my site, but you can click through to vimeo]

I will resist an analysis of this video, the look, the sound, the words, as I would like this to be a page for those, like me, who voted for or plan to vote for Hillary Clinton in this election. Those like me who, despite some misgivings (indeed who have some major problems with her), find Hillary the most competent, and indeed the only possible, candidate this year. Yet we have relatives, friends, and loved ones passionately opposed to her and willing to vote for even a candidate as horrifying as Trump in order to keep her out of the Oval Office. (I hope I haven’t just alienated a bunch of people by “replying all”to my aunt’s email with this. We shall see tomorrow).

It is 1:30-ish am California time, and I have just squandered an entire evening of writing and grading (I’m putting it down to my civic duty before the election), so please forgive all of the little inconsistencies in the way I list these articles. In some I list the author, in some I list the publication. In others, I just put the name of the article and the link. I did not take the time to correctly punctuate and italicize everything. Because I didn’t want to use up my 10 free New York Times articles, I sometimes provided indirect links to New York Times research.

To those who wish to comment on this blog post, I would ask for you to keep your remarks civil or I will delete you. No trolls. If you think you disagree with me, please read the articles I have posted before responding. If things get too nasty, I will close the comments section. I’m a “Nasty Woman” like that.

Dear Aunt  (Sweet Aunt),

First, I love you all, and I know that you are approaching this election season, as am I, with your faith and your love for Jesus at the forefront. I know, too, that our love for eachother as a family transcends political boundaries.

I have watched the Mike Pence video, and I am sending this email not to get into a political argument–indeed, I have already voted and I imagine many of you have too.
screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-6-29-38-pm

Although I had been sent a pre-paid envelope by the election office, I sent that baby certified mail with a tracking number.

Instead, I am responding to you in order to share, in kind, some of the articles that help to explain my own take, as a Christian, on this election season, and why I am not supporting Donald Trump.  Even though Mike Pence quotes scripture and talks about his churchgoing, in an appeal to Christians to follow him, we have to closely examine the candidate he has tied his own character too. Remember that Paul described the Bereans as “noble” because instead of just accepting his word for it, they searched the scriptures to be certain of the truth of what he was telling them. My approach to this is to respond also with scripture, with the words of Jesus, who himself rejected political power when it was offered to him by the Devil:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus by their fruit you will recognize them. (Matthew 15:20, NIV)

If someone is appealing to me to follow him on the basis of our shared faith, then, I look for this good fruit. And when I read Paul’s list of the fruits of the spirit, I do not recognize Trump, who after all is the one who is running to be president, not Pence. Indeed, I see in him examples of what the “flesh desires”: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, … enmities, strife, jealousy, anger”

“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

Although some evangelical leaders believe that Trump is a “baby Christian“, Trump has, since that initial meeting with his evangelical advisory council, demonstrated that he does not seem interested in following the teachings of Christ, continuing to insult women and other groups and engaging in violent, self-glorifying rhetoric. When Christians continue to follow such a leader, it sends alarming signals to those who might have otherwise been attracted to Christianity and to Christians. If Christians loudly back Trump as the best candidate, what does association with and loud support of such a man say about who we are to those who know Christianity only by what we show to them? Christian writer Jonathan Hollingsworth pulls no punches in describing what we look like from the outside.  I ask, are we willing to gain power at any cost? Are we willing to gain power if that means we can impose our “own values” and “our agenda” on America but turn away millions, who will associate Christians with hatred and anger and division and selfishness and support of sexual violence? As Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot” (Matthew 5:13). In Luke, he repeats, “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Luke 14:34).
Now, of course, Trump’s opponent, who identifies as Methodist, is not entirely free of these sins of the flesh either, but neither does she claim to represent all Christians as Trump does, joke about getting rid of all the non-Christians (LA Times), or claim to be a saviour, a rhetoric that has been adopted by Trump’s most ardent supporters, such as this Breitbart article that claims “Donald Trump is Last Chance to Save America.” (Update 8 November: More recently Trump claimed on the even of the election. “You have one day until the election. It’s not even one day. Half a day, to make every dream you’ve ever dreamed for your family and your country to come true.”  Here he repeats earlier statements, as published on his website, that “You have 40 days to make every dream you ever dreamed for your country come true.” He is promising that he can make every dream come true. That’s dangerous messianic rhetoric. Even Barack Obama who inspired voters to believe “yes, we can”  [and also inspired certain unrealistic expectations of people who expected Obama to solve all problems rather than focusing on the “we”] did not imply that he alone was the solution but instead appealed to an American tradition of working together to bring about a greater good.)
Please note note that the majority of these articles I share below are by Christians, by conservatives, or by internationally respected newspapers/magazines, known for fact-checking their materials. If you would like to engage with me on this, I would simply ask that you read the articles I’ve posted below before doing so. I have roughly organized them by theme, but some of them could fall into several of the same categories. I have been obsessively reading for a year on this election, and I have a pinterest account with dozens, if not, hundreds of articles, if anyone is interested in reading further than the articles I have sampled below.
Much love, Carmen

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Christian responses
“Have we Forgotten the Point of Christianity” by Christian writer Stephen Mattson on Sojourners
“Speak Truth to Trump” by Andy Crouch executive editor for Christianity Today
“Trump’s Offer to Christians is same Offer Devil Made Christians” (see this article, in particular, as a response to the temptation of political power and “our agenda to make America great again” (stated by Pence, in the video you sent) (See Matthew 8:11) and “Hillary Clinton is the Best Choice for Voters against Abortion” by Christian Post writer Eric Sapp
“Decency for President” by Max Lucado, Christian bestselling author
“10 Conservative Christians who are not supporting Trump” by Emily McFarlan Miller for Religion News Service
“Powerful Evangelical Women Split from Male Church Leaders to Slam Trump” (Article focuses on Beth Moore). Joshua DuBois in The Daily Beast
“I’m Pro-Life and I’m Voting for Hillary. Here’s Why.” by Christian Mom-blogger Shannon Dingle, who has adopted multiple disabled children

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Conservative Responses
“The Conservative Case for Voting for Clinton” by David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, and currently one of the senior editors at The Atlantic
(Update 7 November) Moving piece by Republican strategist “Ana Navarro: I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton–and against Donald Trump” CNN
(Update 7 November) Fox News host and conservative commentator Glenn Beck is touched by Michelle Obama speech, says Donald Trump is “Dangerously Unhinged”“Glenn Beck Tries Out Decency” The New Yorker ; “Glenn Beck: Opposing Trump is ‘Moral’ Choice–Even if Clinton is Elected.” CNN ; Even Breitbart reports on this, linking to Beck’s Facebook page where he made the statements:
“For this Republican, Never Trump means ‘I’m with Her'” by Caroline McCain, granddaughter of John McCain
“10 Reasons why I will never vote for Donald Trump” by conservative writer Aaron Goldstein in the American Spectator
(Update 7 November) “The Conservative Case for Hillary Clinton” by Erica Grieder for The Texas Monthly
(Update 7 November) “The Problem of Character: Why Conservatives Must Reject Donald Trump” by Ashleen Menchacha-Bagnulo for the conservative Witherspoon Institute publication Public Discourse
“5 Conservative Reasons to Vote for Hillary Clinton” by conservative writer Tyler O’Neil
On the prominent Republican leaders Trump lost after the tape of him bragging about groping women came out: “Republicans who won’t vote for Donald Trump: McCain, Kasich, and more” AM New York

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On National Security/Corruption/Business Ethics
This letter written by 50 Republican former national security advisors (Letter in New York Times) description in Business Insider
“The Donald’s Dangerous Dismissal of NATO Allies” by Evan Moore in the conservative journal The National Review
“Trump insults Gold Star mom, freaks out U.S. allies” by conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin
On Hillary Clinton’s emails: “Admit it. The Clinton Email Controversy  bothers you but you don’t really know what the Clinton Email Controversy is” by Ken Crossland on Medium. This Newsweek article comparatively examines the private email server used by the Bush white House and some of the missing emails from that time. On Sunday, November 6, the FBI director said that “the agency stands by its original findings against recommending charges” (Washington Post).
Donald Trump’s Business Plan left a Trail of Unpaid Bills” by Alexandra Berzon, Wall Street Journal
“Trump’s Empire: A Maze of Debts and Opaque Ties” by Suzanne Craig for the New York Times

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On Racism, sexism, violent rhetoric, and enthusiastic responses to Trump’s rhetoric by “deplorable” white nationalists
“This is How Fascism Comes to America “ by conservative columnist Robert Kagan, Washington Post
(On Trump’s discrimination against black renters in the 1970s) “No Vacancies for Blacks: How Donald Trump got his Start and was first accused of Bias” by Jonathan Mahler and Steve Eder for the New York Times. “Donald Trump’s 1973 Discrimination Case Really was Part of Something Larger” by Lily Rothman for Time Magazine
The KKK and the American Nazi party have publicly made their support known, there have been an increasing number of hate crimes recently, including murders and attacks against Muslims, the torching of a black church in Mississippi, which was also defaced with pro-Trump graffiti; the appearance at a football game of my own alma mater UW-Madison of people in costume as Obama with a noose around his neck etc. Although Trump’s campaign rightly disassociates themselves from these hate crimes, Trump’s own words encourage these kinds of interpretations. He has called Mexicans rapists. He has endorsed torture. He has called for banning Muslims from entering the U.S. He has insulted Muslim Gold star parents over their religion. He has claimed an American federal judge is biased “because he is Mexican.” He has said that the families of terrorists should be killed. He has called women who have spoken out against him disgusting, nasty, and “fat pigs.” He has bragged about grabbing women by the “p#@%y” [and as a woman who has been groped several times before I have an especially visceral reaction to that]. He has implied that “2nd Amendment” people can do something about her once she is in office. He has a a record of discrimination against black people in his housing units etc).
“Hate Crimes Against Muslims Most Since Post 9/11 Era” by Eric Lichtblau in the New York Times (September 2016)
This Daily Beast article points out that at least one of the three men called himself a “big” Trump fan. The article also points out the discrimination other “Middle Eastern” looking Christians are facing.
An open letter to the University of Wisconsin chancellor by my pastor in Madison, WI, about a recent incident at a football game, in which a man in a costume depicted Obama with a noose around his neck, a reference to lynching: “Alex Gee: An Open Letter to the University of Wisconsin, Madison” 
At the University of Wisconsin-Stout, a Saudi student was just murdered a few days ago. “Saudi student is beaten, killed in Wisconsin.”USA Today
A Republican protester is beaten up at a rally in Nevada. “Trump rally protestor: I was beaten for a Republicans against Trump sign.” The Guardian

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On Sexual Assault and Adultery 
Again, I don’t think I have even told my parents about the times I have been groped, but as a woman who has experienced that, it horrifies me that good Christian people are willing to vote for a man who has himself bragged about kissing and grabbing women without their consent.
Here is a timeline of accusations that have been made against Trump (International Business Times)
“Trump, Companies accused of mistreating women in at least 20 lawsuits.”USA Today, investigation shows that accusations of Trump sexually harrassing and demeaning women have been going on for years, long before he started running for president
“Trump bragged on hot mic about being able to grope women”Fox News (in which Trump brags about trying to seduce a married woman and about kissing women without their consent and “grabbing them” by their genitals. Since that time multiple women have come forward with stories of him doing just that. Multiple news agencies, including Fox, have reported on this. Trump has responded to these allegations by further demeaning these women and insulting their looks, saying that they would not be his “first choice” (Time Magazine). Most of these women had confided in their family and friends before the tape was leaked.
etc

Nowhere to Run Wins Best Documentary Short at The African Film Festival (TAFF) Dallas and screens 6 more times this week in Abuja, DC, and Linden, NJ

Nowhere to Run, the documentary shot, directed, and edited by my brother Dan McCain at Core Productions, Lagos, narrated by Ken Saro Wiwa Jr., and featuring Nigeria’s leading environmentalist Nnimo Bassey of Mother Earth Foundation,  (with a script written by Louis Rheeder and myself) just won the award for best short documentary at The African Film Festival (TAFF), Dallas. It had been nominated for three awards, Best Short Documentary, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. So I got up this morning and searched twitter for it. Amara Nwankpa, representing the ‘Yar Adua Centre (which produced the film) at the festival, tweeted the news.

It has been gratifying to see the film get so much attention. Back in April, it won the Grand Jury prize at the Green Me film festival in Lagos, and it has had a pretty steady stream of screenings in Nigeria and an increasing number abroad since it premiered in November 2015. There are five more screenings this week in Abuja; Washington, DC; and Linden, NJ. See this link or the bottom of this post for more details.

 

In the past month I have also been a part of two other screenings in Nigeria, one at Kwara State University, Malete, as part of the 2016 convocation events and the other at the American Corner in Jos.

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Nnimmo Bassey on screen, at the Kwara State University, Malete, screening of Nowhere to Run, 3 June 2016.

At the Kwara State University, Malete, screening on 3 June, there were about fifty students and faculty represented, including playwright Femi Osofisan, poet Tanure Ojaide, feminist critic Mary Kolawole, and ecocritic Saeedat Aliyu.

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Nowhere to Run screening at Kwara State University, Malete, on 3 June 2016.

Professor Osofisan spoke after the screening, pointing to the long history of environmental abuse and activism against it in Nigeria. Osofisan’s contemporary Ken Saro Wiwa was one of Nigeria’s most outspoken activists and critics of the degradation of the Niger Delta and was executed on trumped up charges under the military regime of Sani Abacha. Now his son continues the struggle.

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Playwright Femi Osofisan speaks after the Kwara State University screening of Nowhere to Run.

Tanure Ojaide, the author of multiple volumes of poetry which speak to the environment, also spoke to the importance of environmental issues in Nigeria.

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Poet Tanure Ojaide spoke after the Kwara State University screening of Nowhere to Run.

Saeedat Aliyu pointed to the litter on the university campus as a major problem that the university should strive to correct.

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Saeedat Aliyu speaks about rampant littering on university campuses after the Kwara State University screening of Nowhere to Run.

Sadly, the university buildings are also contributing to some of the issues spoken about in the documentary. In the film Michael Egbebike points out that erosion is caused by blocking off water ways and as I walked to my office after the screening, I saw how the new walls built all over the KWASU campus were built without proper drainage and were creating small ponds next to buildings.

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Drainage issues caused by poorly planned walls at KWASU, 3 June 2016.

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Drainage issues caused by poorly planned walls at KWASU, 3 June 2016.

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Drainage issues at KWASU, 3 June 2016.

While this is a relatively small problem that affects only one institution, it illustrates how poor planning and bad construction practices all over the country are contributing to much larger environmental issues.

In Jos, on 28 June, there were over 35 people crammed into the screening room at The American Corner.

Screening of #nowheretorun at American Corner Jos #environmentalfilm #climate change #nigerianenvironment

A post shared by Carmen McCain (@carmenmccain) on

Many of them were young people involved with community organizations, and some of them were people who had simply heard about the film and wanted to come. The audience discussed the complexities of bringing about change to how humans affect the environment. One of the most striking comments came from a man who owns a wood selling business. He spoke movingly about how he was terrified about what was happening to Nigeria and he did not want to contribute to deforestation, and yet his family business and income depends upon wood. The family bought a piece of land in a swamp to try to farm trees for use in their business, but he said the people in the neighbouring village would come at night and cut down their trees.

Voice of America journalist Ilyasu Kasim spoke about a recent story he had done about coal production. Coal production destroys a large number of trees and is dirty energy, and yet some of the poorest people in Nigeria are dependent on this industry and it provides necessary heating for people in Jos, who would otherwise freeze during harmattan. What do these people do in an increasingly devastated economy when people are already having trouble eating? Perhaps fast-growing bamboo could be used in some instances where wood is used. Furthermore, steady electricity would likely help with the problem of heating in Jos and in creating job opportunities. This led to questions of government responsibility  versus the responsibility of individuals. Obviously, the government needs to do more in enforcing laws already on the books and in improving power supply, but if individuals do not get involved then there is no hope at all.

Upcoming screenings in Nigeria this week include two screenings at the One Environment conference in Abuja, which is holding at Thought Pyramid Arts Centre, 18 Libreville Street, Wuse II, Abuja. It will be shown (tomorrow), Tuesday, 5 July, at 3:30-5pm, and on Thursday, 7th July, at 2:30-4:30pm.

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This week it will also be screened in the United States in Washington, DC, first on 6 July, Wednesday, at the International Republican Institute, 1225 Eye Street NW, Suite 800, Washington DC, at 2-4pm. To register for the event, click here.

Then a few hours later, on 6 July,  John Hopkins University-SAIS (in partnership with American University) will screen the film at 1619 Masssachusetts Avenue, NW, Rome-806, Washington, DC 20036. 5-7pm. If you want to attend, please RSVP to African Studies, saisafrica (at) jhu.edu or 202-663-5676.

It will also be screened at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC, at 3519 International Ct. NW, Washington, DC 20008, on Thursday, 7 July at 6pm. To RSVP please respond at this link.

For those in New Jersey, it will screen at  Rodo African Cuisine, 1600 East Saint Georges Avenue, Linden, New Jersey, Friday, 8 July, 8-10pm. For more information, call 347-200-2509.

Next week, on 11 July, the film will be showing at 12 noon, at the University of Ibadan, Draper Hall, as part of the IFRA-Nigeria Post Cop21 Conference “Ecological Crises in Nigeria.”

Ifra nowhere to run poster

The film will be playing at other film festivals around the world and continuing to screen in both Nigeria and abroad in the next year.

To stay updated on upcoming screenings, check back regularly on my screening schedule post. And to watch the trailer, check it out here:

Nowhere to Run to be screened as part of the convocation events at Kwara State University, Malete

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The Centre for Nollywood and New Media in Africa (CiNNeMA) at Kwara State University, Malete, invites the university community and any interested guests to a special screening of the award-winning documentary film Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Climate and Environmental Crisis to be held Thursday, 12 noon prompt, in the University Auditorium, immediately before the 2pm convocation play: Professor Femi Osofisan’s Aringidin and the Night Watchmen.

 

The film, shot on Epic, produced by the ‘Yar Adua Centre and Core Productions, Lagos, and directed by Dan McCain, is narrated and presented by Ken Saro Wiwa Jr. and features Nnimo Bassey, in addition to many other Nigerian environmental activists. It introduces some of the most pressing environmental concerns facing Nigeria today: from the link between desertification and Boko Haram, to the threat rising oceans pose to Lagos, to the connection between the devastation in the Niger Delta and global climate change.

 

The film is not yet available on video or public release, so please come and invite a friend, and prepare for a double feature of film and play.

 

Thus reads my press release to the Kwara State University community. To read the other blog posts I’ve written about this film, its making, and its screening schedule, see the links below:
To see a trailer of the film, see below:

‘Nowhere to Run’ wins Grand Jury Prize at the Green Me Film Festival, Lagos (and draws further attention to the plight of the Ekuri Forest)

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Left to right: Louis Rheeder (script), Nnimo Bassey (environmentalist featured in film), Dan McCain (director, cinematographer, editor), the organizers of the event.

So delighted to report that the film Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Climate and Environmental Crisis has won the Grand Jury prize at the “Green Me” environmental film festival in Lagos this past weekend.

Watch the trailer here:

 

I have written previously about my work with my brother, Dan McCain, on the film.

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Dan McCain with the Grand Jury Award at the Green Me film Festival in Lagos, 3 April 2016.

The Yar Adu’a Foundation sponsored the film, which was produced by Lagos-based Core Productions, directed, shot, and partially edited by my brother, and hosted by Ken Saro Wiwa Jr. Dan travelled all over Nigeria exploring environmental issues and asking if there were any links to climate change. The research and some of the early interviews were done by  Chinelo Onwualu, I did a little more research, transcribed hours of interviews, conducted a few more, and cut together the first version of the script. Louis Rheeder finished and rewrote part of the script, sat with the editor, and turned it into  a beautifully organized story, where everything flows together and makes sense. Ken Saro Wiwa Jr., who “hosts” and narrates the documentary ties everything together. Together with Dan’s spectacular cinematography (shot on Epic), it all comes together, boom!

As I have mentioned previously, as we were working on it, “we made a point of making this a ‘Nigerian’ documentary, and the interviews in the documentary are all with people based in Nigeria.” Some of the strongest voices in the film are those of well known environmentalists Ken Saro Wiwa Jr., and Nnimo Bassey, as well as those activists and environmentalists like Ekaette UkobongMichael Uwemedimo, Godknows Boladei IgaliLiza Gadsby and Peter Jenkins and others who work at the grassroots community level to make a difference. Nnimo Bassey has been an amazing advocate for the film, speaking at multiple screenings, including #COP21 in Paris. Ken Saro Wiwa has screened it at University of California, Berkeley, and other locations. Jacqueline Farris, Nnena Ogbonnaya-Orji, Marve Michael, and others at the Yar Adu’a Foundations have been working tirelessly to organize screenings in Nigeria and beyond.

Nimmo speaks #cop21 #Paris #nowheretorun

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I was in Lagos for the first screening at the Green Me Film Festival Saturday with Dan, Louis, and Sabrina Coleman of Core Productions. We’ve watched it dozens of times on large screens, but it was the first time any of us had seen it in a cinema. We were all blown away. It’s amazing in the cinema, the BOOM! of the cinematography and colour grading, the detail of the sound design. The audience was chattering at the beginning but suddenly everything went quiet. Later they began talking again, but they were exclamations and responses to the film. I’m looking forward to seeing at other film festivals. The organizers encouraged Dan to come back for the awards ceremony the next night. (Sadly, I hadn’t known about this on time and already had plans to travel for a conference that night. I keep missing things!) To everyone’s delight, the film won the Grand Jury Prize.

For more information about the film and the screening schedule, please see my post about the premiere (to which I have attached a calendar of screenings) or the Yar Adu’a Foundation Facebook page.

I hope this win and the attention the film is receiving will also draw more attention to the current crisis surrounding the Ekuri Forest. We had featured the Ekuri community forest in Cross River State in the film as one of the encouraging stories about what a community can do to take initiative for conserving their own environment. In the 1980s, they had refused offers from logging communities and decided to form the Ekuri Initiative to preserve their forest. The forest is one of the few remaining rain forests (crucial as a carbon sink) in Nigeria, or West Africa as a whole.  According to The Daily Post, on 22nd January 2016, a

Public Notice of Revocation signed by the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development and published in a local newspaper on 22nd January 2016 decree[ed], among other things, that:
“all rights of occupancy existing or deemed to exist on all that piece of land or parcel of land lying and situate along the Super Highway from Esighi, Bakassi Local Government Government Area to Bekwarra Local Government Area of Cross River State covering a distance of 260km approximately and having an offset of 200m on either side of the centre line of the road and further 10km after the span of the Super Highway, excluding Government Reserves and public institutions are hereby revoked for overriding public purpose absolutely”.

The outrageous 10 kilometres on either side of the highway, would decimate the community forest, and, as the Rainforest Rescue petition points out, in seizing this community’s ancestral lands, would render them homeless.

Although, it seems that no Environmental Impact Assessment has been done (required by law for major projects of this sort in Nigeria), in February 2016, bulldozers came to the community. While the Ekuri community protested, they have already begun to knock down trees in neighbouring communities.  The Ekuri Initiative has started a website, and there is a detailed and disturbing background on the threat against the forest accompanying this Rainforest Rescue petition.

Nnimo Bassey’s Mother Earth Foundation released this press release, pointing out that,

Observers think the project may be a cover for land grabbing, illegal logging and poaching and the destruction of habitats in the forests and reserves that are protected by law and preserved by custom. They question why a project of this nature would reportedly enjoy contributions from Nigerian banks without requisite preliminary surveys, plans and approvals.

The affected communities inform that “besides the fact that the proposed route was going to cause untold damage to the globally important park, it also demonstrated that the route had been selected without looking at a contour map, let alone having an engineering survey.”  

Nnimo Bassey protests  ““We find it unacceptable that a project of this magnitude is pursued without regard to the law and in defiance of the rights of communities.”

In the upcoming weeks/months I hope to publish some of the full interviews we had done for the documentary with members of the Ekuri Community. Consider signing the petition, or if you have influence with the government, exercise it to prevent this outrageous land grab. And if you have a chance to see Nowhere to Run, you will be able to see the beauty of this forest and the passion of the community members like Martin Egot and Chief Edwin Ogor for their land, before this threat.

For more on the film, see the Facebook page and the screening schedule.

For more about Core Productions, see their website, their Twitter page, and their Instagram page.

A Win for Translation: Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s novel Tram 83 wins Etisalat Prize for African Literature. (And I archive my articles of 2013 critiquing lack of translation)

The Etisalat Prize for Literature just announced its 2015 prize for African Literature at a ceremony in Victoria Island, Lagos. The winner of the £15,000 prize is Congolese novelist Fiston Mwanza Mujila for his novel Tram 83, originally written in French and published by Éditions Métailié, Paris in 2014, and translated  from French to English by Roland Glasser for Deep Vellum Publishing, Dallas.  I have not yet read the novel, but I picked it up at the most recent Modern Language Association Conference on the recommendation of Aaron Bady. So, it is going onto the top of my reading list.

Let’s use this space to celebrate, also, the translator Roland Glasser, who writes here about the process of translating the novel. Glasser watched the ceremony via live webcast (Etisalat, couldn’t you have brought the translator to the event as well? This makes me also wonder if the prize money will be split at all?)

Tram 83‘s  win is exciting on multiple levels, but I am the most excited about the reversal of Etisalat’s 2013 policy that the prize would only be given to works written originally in English. See the twitter conversation I had with the organization in June 2013.

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I criticized the policy in my column in Weekly Trust, part of a two-week critique of African literary prizes inspired by my time at the 2013 Africa Writes event in London. Rather bizarrely the South African literary website Books Live, picked up on my critique of the Etisalat Prize and gave it a headline.

Since the time I wrote my critique, there have been many changes for the better. In 2015, Mukoma wa Ngugi and Lizzy Atree founded the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature, In October 2013 Words Without Borders published a special issue on African women writing in indigenous languages, Abuja-based Cassava Republic/Ankara Press published a special Valentine’s Day anthology in 2015 featuring stories written in African languages translated by well-known authors, and Nairobi-based Jalada published a special language issue in 2015. Since 2015, Praxis Magazine has also been making an effort to publish creative work in African languages and in translation. There has been an upsurge of interest in Hausa literature, brought about by both the 2012 publication of Aliyu Kamal’s English language translation of Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s novel Sin is a Puppy that Follows You Home by Indian publisher Blaft, and Glenna Gordon’s 2015 book of photography Diagram of the Heart that features gorgeous images of Hausa novelists. And now the Etisalat Prize for African Literature has become truly pan-African in awarding a Francophone novel translated into English, not from London but from Lagos. (The prize is in pounds rather than naira, but I suppose we have to take one thing at a time.) I hope the next big news will be that a pan-African prize is awarded to a novel translated from an African language.

In the meantime, I have realized I have not archived either one of my 2013 articles on the Africa Writes event or the Etisalat prize on this blog, so I will copy them below here:

Defining the “African story” in London: a preliminary response to the African Writes Festival at the British Library

It was around 10:20pm on 8 July in London. Just as I was handing my boarding pass to the ticket agent at Heathrow airport, I refreshed my phone screen and saw the news that Nigerian-American Tope Folarin had won the Caine Prize for African Writing for his story “Miracle,” a subtle well-crafted story set in a Nigerian church in the American state of Texas.

I had spent the weekend at the Africa Writes Festival hosted at the British Library in London, hanging out with the lovely Tope Folarin, as well as my two friends Elnathan John and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, who had also been shortlisted for the prize. After finding my window seat and chatting a moment with my seatmate in Hausa, I asked her “have you followed the Caine Prize at all?” “Not really,” she said. “I’ve been so upset about the killing of these school children in Yobe.”
My heart dropped. As I kept refreshing the twitter homepage on my phone, waiting for the winner of the Caine Prize to be announced, I had seen some chatter on twitter about a school attack. I suddenly remembered the Facebook message my cousin had sent me a few days before condoling me on the school attack and saying she was praying for Nigeria. I hadn’t known what she was talking about, and I didn’t google the news. I was too busy going to the festival and seeing London-based friends, too sleep deprived from late nights of gadding about with writers. I did not read the full story of the attacks in which, according to Leadership, forty-two students and teachers at a Yobe boarding school were shot in their beds Saturday morning by invaders, until I arrived back in Nigeria on Tuesday morning.

The juxtaposition of the two news items made me think about the ongoing debate about the Caine Prize and “stereotypes” about Africa. Last year in my article “The Caine Prize, the Tragic Continent, and the Politics of the Happy African Story,” I questioned the rhetoric of last year’s chair of the prize, British-Nigerian novelist Bernadine Evaristo, who said it is time “to move on” past stories of suffering in Africa. At the Africa Writes festival on a panel “African Literature Prizes and the Economy of Prestige,” on 6 July, Evaristo continued in this vein, speaking about how during her tenure with the prize, “I was absolutely determined that we were not going to have any traumatized children winning this prize.” She described her “battle” to make sure one particular story, “which ticked all the boxes … a boy living in a terrible situation, prey to gangs, brutalized etc” did not make the shortlist. In her defense, she brought up U.S.-based author Helon Habila’s recent review of Zimbabwean novelist NoViolet Bulawayo’s novel We Need New Names, in which he commented that it seems Bulawayo “had a checklist made from the morning’s news on Africa.” Habila, himself a recipient of the 2001 Caine prize for his story about the suffering of a journalist in a Nigerian prison, worried that a certain “Caine Prize aesthetic” was developing that valued sensational stories of Africa—what he called “poverty porn.”

Ironically, Evaristo was expressing her impatience with stories about “traumatized children” only hours after the attacks on the school in Yobe. When I arrived back in Nigeria, a friend described to me a story he/she wanted to publish about terrorism in a Nigerian newspaper but was afraid of becoming a target. As I wrote in my article last year, “To say we must ‘move on’ past stories of hardship suggests to those who are suffering that their stories don’t matter—that such stories are no longer fashionable. Writers who live amidst suffering are in the unfortunate position of inhabiting an inconvenient stereotype. They are silenced by threats of terrorists inside the country and by the disapproval of cosmopolitan sophisticates outside.”

Later that night after Evaristo’s panel, Kenyan writer Mukoma wa Ngugi on the platform with his father, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, spoke of his concern about “this push for what I call Afro-Optimist writing … wanting to show an Africa that is very Hakuna Matata…. In Kenya you have a very, very wealthy estate and next to it you have poverty…. I think it is our job as writers to explore this contradiction.” In response to Habila’s essay he cautioned, “we have to be very, very careful. It’s too easy to say there is a Caine Prize aesthetic… it’s as if we want to paint happy colours over the poverty and all those complications.” Caine Prize nominee Chinelo Okparanta further argued that “many people who jump on the poverty porn thing don’t even understand the context of what is being said…. These are superficial discussions.”

When I asked Evaristo about these contradictions, she hurriedly assured me that she was not in the position to tell people what stories to write, but that it was time to “start talking about different kinds of stories coming out of Africa, and I think this is happening especially with Taiye Selasi’s new book, and Chimamanda’s new book…” Ironically, the two novels she cites as more exciting new African stories are about relatively privileged Africans living in Diaspora—stories more like her own than the stories of traumatized children she is so determined to squelch.

As I point out these contradictions, I do so self-consciously, because I recognize myself in Evaristo’s impatience, in my own tendencies to review books published abroad before those published at home. I too am implicated because in London, I too did not make the effort to follow up on my cousin’s mention of the school attack. Another shooting? I thought. It has become too common. I don’t want to know about it right now. I just want to enjoy all of these great debates about African literature.

It is perhaps for this reason precisely why it is so problematic to have the “gatekeepers” of what stories are heard centred in London or New York. Because even a writer like Helon Habila, who has written such beautiful novels about the humanity of Nigerians who laugh and love and write amidst  conflict and poverty, now, from his professorial position in the West, jumps on the band wagon of complaining about how Africa is perceived in the rest of the world. But should not the focus, as Ngugi wa Thiong’o has long stressed in books like Moving the Centre, be instead on one’s immediate audience, expanding beyond that only when the story has been first heard at home?
Satirist and Caine Prize nominee, Elnathan John mentioned on several occasions during various interviews that he was still trying to get used to this talk of the “African writer” or the “African story.” He was writing, he explained, about northern Nigeria. His nominated story “Bayan Layi” was a northern Nigerian story, which he wrote shortly after the election violence of 2011, in which he was thinking about how to explain the nuance and complexity of the event to a Nigerian audience.  Author of The Spider King’s Daughter, Chibundu Onuzo touched the heart of the problem when she challenged Evaristo’s assumption that such stories were meant for publication in Britain. “Why do African writers need to be published here?” Shouldn’t the focus, she asked, be on building up publishing institutions in Africa, so that editors and publishers on the continent make the decisions on what kinds of stories are the most important and export them, rather than always having the most famous African writers be those first recognized in the West?

This, indeed, is one of the most central problems in discussions of African literature based in the capitals of what literary critic Pascale Casanova calls the “World republic of Letters.” Only rarely was there mention of the irony of such a festival being held at the centre of the former colonial empire, and there was more talk of “development” of African writers by Diaspora-based writers than I was comfortable with. However, I did think it was encouraging that Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s “The Whispering Trees,” from his short story collection of that name, made the Caine Prize list.  The Whispering Trees was the first title published by exciting new Nigerian publisher Parresia, and the story selected by the Africa-based “Writivism” Facebook group as their Caine Prize winner. As Africans continue to tweet, blog, sell books through homegrown digital distribution like the phone-based okada books, and develop their own prizes, there is hope that the “centre” will move south to the continent itself.

 

African Literary Prizes: Where are the translations?

Last week, in my discussion of the Africa Writes Festival, which was held on the 5-7 July in London at the British library, I followed Kenyan author and language activist Ngugi wa Thiong’o in calling for “moving the centre” of the discussion about African literature to Africa itself.

As fantastic an initiative as the festival in London is and as impressive as the Caine Prize, the Commonwealth prize, the Brunel Prize for Poetry, the recently announced Moreland Writing Scholarship, and other such initiatives to reward African literature are (may they flourish), the healthiest state of African literature will be when the infrastructure to support African literature is developed and hosted on the continent itself.  As Caine Prize shortlisted writer Elnathan John pointed out at one of the first Caine Prize events in London on 4 July, “I think it is a shame that we are in London having this. I think all of us should be in Nairobi or Ghana or Lagos… Is the Caine Prize useful? Of course. It is among the best things that has helped African writing. But could the interaction be more equal? Yes. You don’t want us to just sit down be getting. We also want to interact and add value to the entire process, and I hope that as time goes by we are able to contribute more to that process.”

There are changes in this direction. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Helon Habila both regularly hold workshops in Nigeria funded by Nigerian banks. The Kenya-based (albeit with European and American sponsors) Kwani Manuscript Project just awarded its first three authors and plans to publish other submissions from its short and long list. The Ghanaian-based Golden Baobab prize, founded in 2008, awards and helps publish African children’s book manuscripts. The Nigeria-based Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature, founded in 2006, is awarded every two years to a work of African literature, cycling through a different genre each time. The NLNG Prize, though open only to Nigerians, similarly cycles through different genres and at a whopping $100,000 is one of the most financially rewarding African literary awards. The most recent Africa-based prize is the £15,000 Etisalat Prize for African literature that was founded in June 2013 to award first novels. Similar to the Wole Soyinka Prize in its pan-African scope, the Etisalat prize, which has its first submission deadline 30 August 2013, seems to go beyond some of the other prizes in infrastructure building. Its website mentions that “Entries by non-African based publishers will require a co-publisher partnership with an African based publisher should any entries be shortlisted,” and Etisalat commits to purchasing “1000 copies of all shortlisted books which will be donated to various schools, book clubs and libraries across the African continent.” Although the prize still looks north in offering the winner a U.K.-based fellowship at the University of East Anglia (and mentorship by British author Giles Foden) (why not a residency in an African location with an African writer?), the infrastructure building for African publishers is important. The most glaring deficiency to the prize, however, is this: Although the United Arab Emirates-based company Etisalat also gives a prize for Arabic children’s literature, the criteria for entry in the African Literature prize specifies that books are only eligible if they have FIRST been published in English. Now, the other prizes I’ve mentioned also specify English-language submissions but most also accept translations into English from other languages. Yet when I tweeted the Etisalat Prize’s twitter handle asking them if they were indeed excluding translations, they confirmed, “At this time we are only accepting books originally published in English.” Ironically in the photos of the Lagos gala event opening the prize, there were photos of steps honouring African writers Naguib Mahfouz, who wrote in Arabic, Okot p’Bitek who wrote in Acholi, Assia Djebar who writes in French, and Mia Cuoto who writes in Portuguese, all of whom are accessible to English-speakers only through translation.

This dismissal of translation, particularly from African languages, by those who desire to promote African literature is a shame, considering that translation has been the major way “world literature” is transmitted and studied between cultures. In Germany, the “International Literary Prize” awards the best German-translation of an international work, which was won this year by Christine Richter-Nilssons translation of Teju Cole’s novel Open City. The Nobel Prize has been given to writers of dozens of different languages including small ones like Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Japanese, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Swedish, and Turkish. Yet translations from and between African languages are rarely rewarded or recognized even by Africa-based prizes.

It was this sort of exclusion that Ngugi wa Thiong’o challenged at the “Africa Writes festival” in London two weeks ago. During the 6 July panel discussion “African Literature Prizes and the Economy of Prestige,” he asked rhetorically, “Can you seriously think about giving a prize to promote a French writer but you put a condition that they write in Gikuyu?”  He was concerned that “the abnormal has become normalized” when African languages, incredibly still called “tribal” languages by some festival attendees, become almost invisible in discussions of African literature.

Obviously, as Bernadine Evaristo, founder of the Brunel Prize for African poetry pointed out, there are logistical problems with prizes that accept entries in multiple languages, such as finding jury members who can adequately judge in submissions. While there are fewer such logistical problems with translations, Billy Kahora of Kwani and Caine Prize administrator Lizzy Attree pointed out that submissions in translation are rare.

In a later appearance, Ngugi spoke passionately of his “deep concern at what we are doing to the continent and this generation.”  “It pains me, in a personal kind of way to see the entire intellectual production of Africa—the one that is visible—in European languages” as if “Africa can only know itself—be visible—in English.” While qualifying that he did not begrudge anyone their prizes, he repeated his call for translation, not just between African and European languages, but between African languages themselves.  He pointed out that people should focus on whatever language they inherited and then learn others. “Why don’t we secure our base economically, politically, linguistically and then CONNECT with others. […] If you know the language of your community and then add all the languages of the world to it, that is empowerment.”

It is not as if literature in African languages does not exist or even flourish. The day before, Ghirmai Negash, Mohammed Bakari, and Wangui wa Goro spoke of translating into English, Gikuyu, and Swahili Gebreyesus Hailu’s Tigrinya-language novel The Conscript written in 1927 about the experiences of Eritrean men conscripted by Italy to fight in Libya. In Nigeria, there have been novels and poetry written in Efik, Hausa, Igbo, Tiv, Yoruba, and other languages. In Hausa alone, there are thousands of published novels and a voracious reading public. Though it seems to have been stagnant for a few years, there have been three editions of the Engineer Mohammed Bashir Karaye Prize for Hausa Writing, which awards Hausa prose and drama. Yet, as far as I know, not one of these award-winning or nominated works has been translated into any other language, and judging from the lack of interest in translation at the level of “African literature” it is unlikely that they will be without the intervention of bodies interested in supporting translation.

Fortunately, there are some venues interested in publishing translated work. Last year, the Indian publisher Blaft published Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s Hausa novel Alhaki Kuykuyo Ne translated into English as Sin is a Puppy… by Aliyu Kamal and are interested in other such translations. The translation journal Words without Borders recently contacted me looking for African women’s writing translated from African languages. The problem is that there are few literary translators, and even fewer financial incentives within the continent.

Now, one solution is to protest this purposeful exclusion of translation by the Etisalat Prize, which you can do by tweeting them at @etisalatreads or emailing them at contact@etisalatprize.com. But judging from the experience of prizes like the Caine, even if Etisalat changed the rules, would there actually be any translations submitted? Another, perhaps more practical solution is to work on building up resources and training for translators through existing structures, like the Ebedi Writers Residency or to start new residencies to for writers and translators to come together to work on projects. Another incentive would be to start a prize for African literature in translation to focus on making the wealth of literature in Africa languages available to the world. Any lovers of literature out there who want to help make this happen?

As Ngugi said, this is his challenge to the next generation, “Connect. Let us choose the path of empowerment.”