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)

img_0296-2

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

&nbsp

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

&nbsp

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

&nbsp

 
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

&nbsp

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

&nbsp

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.

IMG_1952

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.

IMG_1953

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.

IMG_1973

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.

IMG_1972

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.

IMG_1977

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.

IMG_1991

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

IMG_1985

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

IMG_1979

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 photo posted 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.

M1

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

Nowhere to Run poster-logo's added
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)

IMG_1651

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.

IMG_1664

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

A photo posted by Core Productions Ltd. (@core_productions_ltd) on

 

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.

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 10.30.56 PM

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 10.31.22 PM

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.”

 

Kannywood Awards 2016

IMG_1769

Nazifi Asnanic and Ali Jita on the red carpet at the Kannywood Awards 2016, 12 March 2016.

I had the privilege to attend the 2016 Kannywood Awards held at the NAF International Conference Centre in Abuja  Saturday, 12 March 2016, the third incarnation of the awards organized by Sarari Klassique Merchandise and Halims Entertainment Galleria. (See my post on the 2013 awards.) I was impressed by the space, which was in a well-decorated and sophisticated auditorium. The red carpet TV presence included Rayuwa TV, Noma TV, Unity Entertainment, NTA, VOA, Voice of Nigeria and others.

IMG_1766

on the red carpet.

I dislike taking pictures in conference settings under muddy lighting, and the flash on my camera is broken. Therefore, almost all of my photos are pretty bad. I’ve seen some amazing ones on Facebook taken by photographers like Sani Maikatanga. You can see more photographs at Kannywood Scene. I’ll post a few here, mostly for people who asked for copies.

IMG_1777

Director of the Kano State Censorship Board, Afakallah at the Kannywood Awards, 12 March 2016. (Quite a change from Rabo…)

The awards were MC-ed by Waziri Zuaibu of NTA, and Aisha Mohammad of the EFCC (!). Memorable moments include a tribute to the late Aisha Dan Kano; a stylishly-dressed Nafisa Abdullahi’s touching speech thanking her mother after she won Best Actress for her role in Baiwar Allah, and Sadik Sani Sadik kissing the ground when he received his award for best actor in Bayan Duhu, a 20+ minute speech (I was recording) by the minister of Information, and a short and sweet speech by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, Vice Chancellor of the Open University, following a really fantastic little 3-4 minute documentary on the beginnings of Kannywood.

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 12.23.14 AM

Tribute to the late Aisha Dan Kano.

I was impressed by the efforts to make this a unified Nigerian affair. Indeed the theme was “Patriotism through Entertainment.” In the musical soundtrack, I heard (pre-recorded) music by Ziriums, Sani Danja, and Jeremiah Gyang (a Christian Hausa singer.) There was an opening prayer by a Muslim and Christian, and, in addition to the various ministers and representatives of governors, there were representatives from Nollywood and even of an Ijaw youths association. Emeka Ike, the president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria gave out awards and spoke out saying that the stakeholders meeting recently held in Lagos (which invited no one from Kannywood) had been “hijacked” by outside interests. In one of the musical performances, Sarkin Waka sang “Mu Zauna lafiya, we are one,” and was joined on stage by many of the stars.

There were also performances by  Ziriums, Abbas Sadiq, and Nura Bond.

IMG_1810

Ziriums performs at the 2016 Kannywood Awards, 12 March 2016 (c) Carmen McCain

IMG_1809

Ziriums performs at the Kannywood Awards, 12 March 2016. (c) Carmen McCain

IMG_1852

Abbas Sadiq performs at the 2016 Kannywood Awards. (c) Carmen McCain

Three special awards were given at the beginning of the ceremony: The special Kannywood Merit Award, went to His royal Highness Malam Awwal Ibrahim, the Emir of Suleja; a Posthumous Life Achievement Award went to the late Tijjani Ibraheem; and another Kannywood Special Merit Award went to Malam Sunusi Shehu Daneji, a scriptwriter and magazine publisher who coined the term “Kannywood” in 1998.

Although certain moments like the (actually quite informative) speech by the Minister of Information dragged on, the audience kept themselves amused with photo taking,selfies, and wandering around chatting.

IMG_1800

photo-taking (c) Carmen McCain

IMG_1795

Abbas Sadiq working the aisles. (c) Carmen McCain

 

IMG_1833

Filmmaker, author and publisher Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino (c) Carmen McCain

IMG_1865

Producer and scriptwriter Nasir Gwangwazo at the end of the night (c) Carmen McCain

The winners of the awards (alongside the other nominees) are as follows:

Best Film

Hindu, produced by Garba Saleh – WON

Gwaska, produced by Falalu Dorayi

Baiwar Allah, produced by Naziru Dan Hajiya

 

Best Cultural Film

Na Hauwa, produced by Kabir Ali Mpeg – WON

Hindu, produced by Garba Saleh

Malam Zalimu, produced by Abba El Mustapha

IMG_1804

Na Hauwa, produced by Kabir Ali Mpeg wins Best Cultural Film. (c) Carmen McCain

IMG_1835

Kabir Ali Mpeg holds the award for the Best Cultural Film that he produced. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Director

Ali Gumzak, for Baiwar Allah – WON

Adam Zango, for Gwaska

Ali Nuhu for Da’iman

 

Best Script

Yakubu M. Kumo, for Bayan Duhu – WON

Yakubu M. Kumo, for Baiwar Allah

Shafiu Dauda Giwa, for Ban Gantaba

 

Best Actress

Nafisa Abdullahi, for Baiwar Allah -WON

Jamila Nagudu, for Na Hauwa

Rahama Sadau, for Halacci

IMG_1855

The Minister of Information presents the Best Actress Award to a teary Nafisa Abdullahi, 12 March 2016.

Best Actor

Sadik Sani Sadik, for Bayan Duhu -WON

Adam A. Zango, for Gwaska

Ali Nuhu, for Nasibi

 

Best Supporting Actress

Fati Shu’uma, for Basma -WON

Ladidi Fagge, for Da’iman

Fati Washa, for Hindu

 

Best Supporting Actor

Lawan Ahmad, for Da’iman – WON

Sadik Ahmad, for Nasibi

Ali Nuhu, for Rumfar Shehu

IMG_1868

Lawan Ahmad (middle) with his award for best supporting actor in the film Da’iman (c) Carmen McCain

 

Best Comedian

Sule Yahaya Bosho, for Rumfar Shehu – WON

Sule Yahaya Bosho, for Gidan Farko

Rabilu Musa (RIP), for Dangas

 

Best Villain

Haruna Talle Mai Fata, for Farmaki -WON

Adam A. Zango, for Hindu

Tanimu Akawu, for Kasata

 

Best Child Actor

Maryam Baba Hasin, for Basma  – WON

Ahmad Ali Nuhu, for Uba da Da

Shema’u Salisu, for Anisa

IMG_1826

At only five years of age Maryam Baba Hasin wins best Child Actor Award for her role in Basma.

 

Cinematography

Mr. D’mej, for Hindu – WON

Mr. D’mej and Ismail M. Ismail, for Gwaska

Murtala Balala, for Baiwar Allah

 

Best Editor

Ali Artwork, for Gwaska – WON

(no name), for Mulamat

Husseini Ibrahim, for Baiwar Allah

IMG_1864

Ali Artwork poses with his award for best editor and me.

 

Best Visual Effects

Muhammad Ali, for Hindu – WON

Musa Zee Moses and Muhammad Ali, for Anisa

Ali Musa Dan Jallo, for Bori

Best Sound

Suraj A. Ibrahim and Mustapha Auwal, for Gwaska -WON

Fahad Abubakar, for Fansa

Bello Minna and Mukhtar Dauda, for Hindu

Best Music

Umar M. Sharif, for Uba da Da – WON

Umar M. Sharif and Isa Gombe, for Gwaska

Nura M. Inuwa, for Hindu

 

Best Set Design

Tahir I. Tahir, for Hindu – WON

Muhammad Sani G., for Bakin Mulki

Saif A. Nuhu and Ishaq Ahmad Nuhu, for Halacci

 

Best Costume

Jibrin Cha, Sunusi Shamaki, and One Eye, for Hindu -WON

Umar Big Show, et al, for Gwaska

Sunusi Shamaki, for Bakin Mulki

Best Makeup

(guess which makeup artist won….?😉 )

Alhaji Suji, for Hindu

Alhaji Suji, for Bakin Alkalami

Alhaji Suji, for Nasibi

 

 

 

My Interview with French Magazine Grazia about contemporary Hausa Novels ” Boko Haram et les noces de papier”

This afternoon the internet at the university was working so I decided to do a little googling.

A Hausa novelist called me yesterday a bit frustrated that a few international journalists had called her over the phone to interview her but had never sent her the link to their article after it was written. I told her I would keep an eye out for any articles with her name in them and forward them on to her. (Incidentally, despite my kvetching about how Hausa literature has been covered by armchair journalists in the past few months, here is one of the best articles I’ve seen. A feature on Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu by Femke Van Zeijl on Al Jazeera.) So, this afternoon after teaching my class of the day, I began to google.

Imagine what I should find among all the sensational headlines I talked about in my last blog post … An interview with myself in a French magazine Grazia from October 2015 that I did not know had been published. My French is not fantastic, but with the help of google translate and the wonderful hover function that allows you to read the original in French alongside the robot-generated English translation, I was able to read the interview. It had been translated into French from an email I had sent a journalist back in September in answer to a few queries for background information.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 4.32.20 PM

Screenshot of my interview with Grazia. Featured photograph by Glenna Gordon shows Firdausy El-yakub reading a Hausa novel while waiting for the university to go off strike.

From the very beginning let me address a couple of embarrassing errors. If I understand how I am being represented in the introduction correctly, I am not “LA”/”THE” (in all caps) global specialist on Hausa culture. People have been writing about Hausa culture for centuries. If you want to talk about THE global specialist on contemporary Hausa popular culture, I would give that honour to Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, the recently appointed Vice Chancellor of The Open University, Nigeria, who has written dozens of articles and a few books on Hausa literature, film, music, and other aspects of popular culture. I have mostly written about Kannywood, the Hausa film industry, but I have also been researching Hausa novels and literary culture since 2005 when I was in Sokoto on a language course. I hope to publish more on the novels in the future. Of course, many scholars preceded me in this interest. The second issue is one of translation. There is at least one spot where I have been mistranslated,  which I will try to clear up here. (I wrote “at the same time,” and it was translated “paradoxically,” completely changing the meaning and tone of what I was saying.)

Now about the interview, the journalist had sent me an email in September 2015 asking if I could answer a few background questions on Hausa literature for an article she was writing on Glenna Gordon’s photographs, which were later published as Diagram of the Heart. Grazia was planning to go to press with the photographs and the article soon, she said, so I needed to get back to them within a few days.

I spent a few hours that evening answering her questions in an email. I thought it was just for background information for an article about the photographs, and that she would quote me here and there on points of information. I did not realize it would be published as an interview, especially when in response to my long email, she let me know that the project was on hold. I was a little annoyed that I had spent so much time answering the questions to meet a publication deadline that looked like it wasn’t going to happen. But that was that.

Now that I find it as an interview, I’m honoured and gratified that they published a good chunk of what I spent a few hours to write up (that time was not wasted!). I’m also happy to see my own words published at length rather than used out of context in the sort of sensationalistic articles I critiqued in my last post. But I’m also a little alarmed, as I had not realized that what I wrote would be published as an interview, and bemused that I am only just finding it now via google.

Journalists need to do better about sending their sources links to articles they write with information that sources have given them. I have ranted about this on Twitter. But I realize, with some guilt, that this includes myself, as I am not always wonderful about staying in touch with all of my contacts either. I realize people are busy going on to the next story, and as a journalist reminded me on Twitter, they don’t always know when articles will be published. However, it seems to me that something as big as the publication of an interview deserves notification.

To clear up any English-French translation issues or places where context I gave was edited out in Grazia, here is much of the original email I sent (in English), lightly edited for clarity and grammar….

Just quickly before I spend time on the other questions, the Boko Haram angle is just a hook. The novels have nothing to do with Boko Haram, and women (and men) have been writing and self-publishing (and joining publishing cooperatives) since the 1980s. As far as I know, Boko Haram has never made any threats against novelists, and (although I am doing research for my own book in this area) I don’t know of any novelists who have directly referenced Boko Haram in their work. There probably is someone somewhere who has, but it would be a bit dangerous for them.
Yes, I guess you could say that the books are being sold in the same markets threatened by Boko Haram, but that is just a random connection. There are many things being sold in markets that have been targeted by Boko Haram. As far as I know, Boko Haram is not targeting novels. Also as for the censorship of the novels, that was only really very relevant during a censorship crisis in Kano from 2007 to 2011, and even then, there was only a very brief showdown between the novelists and the censors board before the Association of Nigerian Authors negotiated an arrangement whereby writers would register with the Kano branch of Association of Nigerian Authors, which would then send their list of writers to the Kano censor’s board. (For more description of the censorship crisis, see my article here and on my blog). Anyone looking to be outraged by “Islamic censorship” is about four years too late. As far as I know, very few novelists send their novels to be censored right now, although one novelist I interviewed a few weeks ago said she would send her novels there for editing.
 
–          Can you tell me more about the writers of this love literature ?  Are those writers representatives of their society / community ? Or are they exceptions (they can write and read, when just half of the young women are literate) ?
There are hundreds of novelists, both men and women, and thousands of novels. Also, although women writing romance novels are the writers that journalists love to focus on, there are also plenty of men writing, and there are some great thrillers, detective novels, historical fiction, fantasy adventures, etc. out there too. And although the novels frequently feature “love,” they are not always “romance” novels as Western audiences would think of them. A lot of it is the sort of family drama that one also sees in Kannywood films (the Hausa film industry). One of the best selling Hausa novels was Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino’s In da So da Kauna, which told of star crossed lovers, a rich girl and a poor boy who fought the disapproval of their families to find love. It sold over 200,000 copies. Popular novels are regularly read over the radio, so even people who cannot read or write can still often access the stories. I would say the novelists are probably fairly good representatives of their society. Of course, they would be among the more educated members of society, but some of the most famous writers, including Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino and Balaraba Ramat Yakubu became literate during adult education. Scholar and novelist Yusuf Adamu notes that many people learned to read because they wanted to be able to read the novels, and other novelists and booksellers have told me the same thing.
–          How “famous” are they in their country (are some of them famous ? how popular are littattafan soyayya?)
The novelists are quite well known to readers. They are not well-known among Nigeria’s literary elite who write and read in English, but to those who read in Hausa, they are famous. The numbers of novels that novelists sell depend on their popularity. Some sell as few as 1000. Others sell more than 20,000. As I mentioned, Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino actually sold over 200,000 copies of In da So da Kauna. Novelists often receive “fan mail,” telephone calls, and gifts from their readers. The novels are sold in markets all over northern Nigeria and into the Niger Republic and travel with the Hausa diaspora as far as Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. As I mentioned previously, there are also radio shows in Nigeria and Niger where they read out the novels and call novelists in for radio and sometimes even TV interviews in Hausa. However, since Nigeria’s most well known authors (such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chika Unigwe, Elnathan John, and others) write in English, much academic and journalistic coverage of Nigerian literature covers only English-language literature. In my own scholarship and journalism, I try to bring more focus to Hausa-language literature and one of the most thriving literary scenes in the country.
 
–          In this part of the world, oral tradition is still the rule. What does the apparition of this literacy imply?
 
People have been writing in Hausa for centuries. Among the most famous Hausa writers is Nana Asma’u, the daughter of the reformer and founder of the Sokoto Caliphate Usman d’an Fodiyo. During the early 1800s, she wrote poetry, as well as historical and religious texts in Hausa, Arabic, Fulfulde, and Tamachek and also did translation work between those languages.(For more information you can see the books of Beverly Mack and Jean Boyd). She was also the founder of a system of Islamic education that focused on training women and girls in Islam and literacy. The oral tradition has certainly affected Hausa writing (and for more on that you can see the scholarship of Ousseina Alidou), but the appearance of popular literature in Hausa is by no means a “sudden apparition.”
Hausa novels have been written since the 1930s, when the colonial government held a writing contest to inspire people to write materials they could use in educating people in the new “roman” or “boko” script (as opposed to “ajami,” Hausa written in Arabic script). Some of the most famous early novelists in Hausa were Abubakar Imam (whose novels included a lot of fanciful stories gleaned both from the oral tradition and his wide reading of literature from other places, perhaps most significantly The Arabian Nights and other tale collections), Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa (Nigeria’s first prime minister who wrote the historical novel Shaihu Umar about the trans-Saharan slave trade) and others. Novels/plays up until the 1980s were largely published by government publishers and were usually meant for the classroom. Writing contests were held occasionally, and the first Hausa woman to publish a novel was Hafsat Abduwaheed, who won a 1979 writing contest. Her novel So Aljannar Duniya was published in 1980. It tells of an Arab-Fulani romance between lovers, who were haunted by a jealous jinn.  In the 1980s, as Yusuf Adamu and Abdalla Uba Adamu have pointed out, the upsurge of UBE (Universal Basic Education), implemented in Nigeria in the 1970s, and the advent of personal computers meant 1) there were a lot more readers and people ready to tell their own stories, 2) more avenues by which to publish them. This upsurge of readers and writers happened in the 1980s about the same time that IMF-imposed Structural Adjustment Policies were crippling government infrastructure. Government publishing companies stopped publishing new novels, focusing on their stock list already selling to schools. The young people writing in the 1980s began forming cooperatives (see articles by Graham Furniss and Abdalla Uba Adamu) and self-publishing their novels. Sometimes they would sell the rights to their novels to the marketers (people who owned bookshops in the market). Other times they would just give to marketers to sell the novels for them and the money would trickle back to them that way.
 
As I mentioned, this is no sudden apparition of literacy. This is an environment where historical and religious writing in Arabic and Hausa goes as far back as the 1400s. However, the popular upsurge of popular writing in the 1980s and 1990s formed a thriving reading culture of young people. Readers often became writers or would start writing clubs where people could rent the novels. The novels re-entered “the oral tradition” by being read over the radio to listeners or sometimes by being adapted into films by the Hausa film industry.
 
–          Can you tell me how they write their books, alone/with friends, with notebooks/computers? Do they self-publish or ask for publication by government-subsidized publishers) ?

I cannot speak for all Hausa writers, but I know novelists who write their novels by hand in notebooks, which they later have typed. I also know novelists who write directly on their laptops (which can make for some tragedies when hard drives crash etc). There have been some writers who have sought out government support. Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, for example, initially tried to get a government publisher to publish her first novel. They kept asking for so many changes, however, that she eventually self-published. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were some writer’s clubs which provided support to members as far as feedback, editing, and sometimes publishing assistance, but most people self-published. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes writers would approach book sellers and sell them the rights to the novels in exchange for a lump sum. Others would try to maintain the rights to the novels and get reimbursement for the novels sold. Through associations like the Association of Nigerian Authors, people often seek feedback and editing. The most influential writer’s club I know of right now is the Mace Mutum women’s writer’s association, which is active on Facebook and has a stall in the Kano market. It has also published one collection of short stories by women in the cooperation.

–          I read that some of the tales are about how to live life as a good Muslim and a good wife, some others are subversive. Why subversive? How? Do they criticize such things as polygamy, forced marriage, etc.?

For more information on novels, you can read Novian Whitsitt, Brian Larkin, Abdalla Uba Adamu, myself and others. Many novelists claim to “teach” and “preach” how to live a good life in their novels. There are novels, like those of Bilkisu Funtua Ahmed, for example, whom Novian Whitsitt points out, try to encourage women to have good marriages by pleasing their husbands. At the same time, she also encourages women’s education. The novels of Balaraba Ramat Yakubu that I have focused on in my research tend to be subversive by pointing to the unhappiness women in polygamous and forced marriages face and overall pointing fingers at the hypocrisies of men who are righteous on the outside but cruel, corrupt, and neglectful with their families. I have read other novels by other writers that dwell on similar discontent with the current state of affairs in family life in northern Nigeria. I have also read novels that romanticize marrying as a second wife. So, it really depends on each writer. Writers have their own voices and their own preoccupations just as French, British, or American writers do.

–          Most of the writers of “littattafan soyayya” live in Northern Nigeria, a region well known for being the cradle of Boko Haram, how risky is it ?
First of all, as I mentioned before, novels have been written in Hausa since the 1930s. The popular novels known as “littattafan soyayya” have been written since the 1980s. By contrast, Boko Haram did not really become a widespread threat to most of northern Nigeria until around 2010, although it has its roots in northeastern Nigeria in Borno State since the 1990s. I would say that as long as the writers do not directly write about Boko Haram, and I have not yet heard of any that have, they are no more at risk than any other normal person is. When you live in the north, you tend to go about your day to day life. There may be a bomb or attack that you cannot predict, but unless you are in the areas that Boko Haram has captured in Borno State, Yobe State, Adamawa State etc., you tend to go about your daily life and just try to be careful.
–          Not only do the writers face off with Islamic censors, but they also sell their books in markets that often hit the headlines for being targeted by suicide bombers…
 
As I mentioned before, this is an incidental point, and I would not make too much of it, if I were you. Novelists and booksellers have not been targeted by Boko Haram. Boko Haram is more likely to attack a public transportation hub or a cattle market or a cloth market (I am using examples of well known attacks on markets) than on a bookseller. If booksellers have been caught up in any suicide attacks, they were caught in it just as the sellers of plastic-wear, cloth, or electronics.
 
The most flagrant attacks on Hausa novels have not come from Boko Haram but from overzealous politicians. In 2007 and 2008, A Daidaita Sahu, the Societal Reorientation Directorate set up by the politician Ibrahim Shekarau during his 8 years as governor, organized several book burnings. One was held at a girl’s school, where school officials had raided girl’s hostels and brought out Hausa novels girls were reading to burn. A Daidaita Sahu gave them didactic novels they had sponsored writers to write. This only happened a few times, though, and A Daidaita Sahu was disbanded when Shekarau left government and the new governor Rabi’u Kwankwaso came in. So all this has much more to do with politics than Islam.
–          How much is it important for women in Northern Nigeria to be able to escape – even in just their mind – the reality of conflict ?
Life in Northern Nigeria is far more than “conflict,” and as I noted earlier, Boko Haram is still a fairly new phenomenon that people are still trying to get used to. The last time I visited Kano in July [2015], very few people were talking about Boko Haram. But people were talking about movies, and marriages, and funerals, and the new Shoprite shopping centre that had opened, and the end of Ramadan, and food. Readers approach the novels like a reader in France or the U.K. would approach popular literature. I’ve seen girls reading in taxis, at home, and at weddings. I’ve seen young men reading on film sets, in studios, and at home. People read to “escape” daily life, but in my research and conversations with writers, they often mentioned that they wrote about things that happened to them or things they felt needed to be discussed in society. So novels are seen as avenues not just of “escape” and entertainment but also seen as avenues for “advice” and “instruction.”
If you have any other questions, please let me know.
Carmen