Chapter Nine: Life Behind the Colonel

** Disclaimer***

The story below is based on mainly fiction with a hint of history and some controversies surrounding the character in question. This post in no way represents the political opinions and beliefs of the authors. It is also not a complete representation of any of the real life characters involved. Some issues mentioned in this particular post may be triggering so please be advised.

Get up, Rania!!

Get up!

I jolted up from the bed at the sound of that voice, checking the time.

It was 2:00AM.

I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep ever since I joined the Haris al-shebi training camp. Everyday we were woken up at odd hours in the night, instructed to bath, apply makeup, style our hair, dress up in camo or our other official uniform and rushed out for our inspection parade all in a span of 15 breathless minutes. Initially it all seemed like madness, but as the days and weeks passed by, I had adapted… almost to the point it felt normal now.

I wonder who is coming to see us this late at night.. I thought as I rushed through my usual routine. I hope it is someone interesting this time… like the Colonel… it had been a while. My heart began to race at the thought.

I hadn’t seen him up close ever since I was selected a few weeks ago. He had walked up to me in the recruitment line, smiled and whispered in my ear “you will do” in husky Arabic. The rush I felt then was indescribable. .. He had chosen me (well and a few others that day) but still with me, it felt different… it felt special.

Me, Rania.

Rania of Gharyan.

In Gharyan where I had spent most of my life helping my mother to farm olives and saffron in the mountains. Every other week, she would send me to Sirte to sell our goods at the local market. It was during one of these trips that I had stumbled upon the Haris Al-Shebi. These tall, beautiful yet strong women made me feel insignificant.

I wanted to be like them. I wanted to feel important, special and not just be a nobody from Gharyan. These strong women had one of the most important jobs in Libya: they were the Colonel’s perfect entourage and protection. It was then I made my decision. I wanted to be just like them. To have meaning, be noble, be an Amazon as they were popularly referred to by the West.

No smiles ladies…

My mother strongly opposed my decision. She had never really liked the Colonel and thought him to be extreme, eccentric and brutal. She had never bought into his Green Book philosophy and usually criticized him (in secret) which was quite unusual for women in Gharyan. I had never paid her any mind though. She was just a simple farmer up in the mountains… who was she to criticise our Brotherly Guide and Revolutionary Leader. The noble, brave and outspoken man that I had grown to admire and respect.

And He had selected me… I smiled to myself at the thought.  

Here I was now, one month after enduring the brutal training of the Haris al-Shebi...enduring the extreme martial arts, firearms drills and living under an oath of chastity. I was one of the new girls in a camp where trainees would either be selected as Amazons or female soldiers, however the camp was rife with rumours.

We were all from different parts of Libya and spoke different tongues but the few of us who understood and spoke Arabic were able to speak to each other. From the rumors and stories, it was clear there were two camps. Those who admired the Colonel and volunteered to be part of this group (like me) and those who claimed to be coerced by one situation or another… like anyone could coerce to enlist in such a noble cause.

For example, one woman, Fauzia claimed she had been forced to join the group to recover a debt owed by her father.

There were even extreme claims of some of the girls disappearing..of some dark things happening with the girls but no one ever shared those details.

Those that eventually made it back were usually different …very reserved, lost and always oblivious to what was happening in the camp.

To me, these were exactly what they were, stories. Stories being made up to discredit the Colonel and his work. Stories with no backing and triggered by people who did not support the Colonel.

The Haris al-shebi is and will always be the safest space for women in Libya, I thought proudly as I stepped out of the tents, dressed and headed to the parade grounds with the other girls. All the guards and female soldiers lined up for inspection, eager to find out who was visiting the camp so late in the night.

Tall, beautiful and bold


Just then, a phalanx of black cars began to pull up through the gates of the camp. Then a ceremonial car flanked with two Libyan flags pulled up with a convoy of black cars in tow. Then I saw the Commanding Officers of the Haris al-Shebi get out of the car following the ceremonial car.

Libyan flags, commanding officers, too many black cars…It could only be one person.

It was Him!

I almost jumped out of line, in excitement as the officers rushed to open one of the doors of the ceremonial car, and He stepped out.

The Colonel was here! He was really here!

Garbed in the most beautiful clothes as ever.

I stood ramrod straight and proud, admiring our amazing leader as he walked towards the parade flanked by the highest ranking officials in Libya including his sons.  Here He was. Our Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution. Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council of Libya.

The Colonel , Muammar al-Gaddafi

Just another day behind the Colonel


He began the initial inspection and I was so sure he would recognize me. I stood proud, bold and made sure I was perfect for inspection to ensure this. From the corner of my eyes, I watched him as he walked through the lines, glossing over every single detail of each woman present that day.


He called out a few women who forgot simple things like mascara, nail polish or even forgot to tuck all their hair into a ponytail. I wasn’t worried though. I was perfect. I thought to myself smugly

Then his eyes rested on me. He stared at me, taking me in from top to bottom. I fought so hard not to meet his eyes. Not to try to figure out what he was thinking. Did I do something wrong? Did I forget something? My mind began to run nervously.

Then he smiled… well a half smile. And leaned towards me whispering something that was almost inaudible to anyone else but me… PERFECT!

At his words, I was bursting with glee and pride. Then the Colonel turned to one of the commanding officers and said something to her. She glanced at me and nodded in response to him.

The Colonel walked away and continued the rest of the inspection.

My entire being was beaming with pride and excitement. I was still processing  what had just happened when I noticed the Colonel had completed the inspection and was at the podium ready to address the parade.

He smiled at everyone and spoke in fluent, husky Arabic:

My lovely future al-rahibat al-thawriyyat (revolutionary nuns). I, your leader and guide, greet you. I am proud to be here today to observe all the beauty and skills present. I am here today to select the new cadre of bodyguards for my upcoming visit to the UN Assembly in September.

This meeting is important to us.. To Libya, because it is my opportunity to remind the world of the truth.

That no matter how the global media portrays me, I am an international leader, the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam of Muslims, and my international status does not allow me to descend to a lower level.

In my earlier years of rule, I was a hardliner with regard to colonialism, which had occupied Africa and large parts of the world. We were waging an armed struggle, then and therefore, one had to be strong. But now, no one asks for weapons but for economic aid, which changes your position.

These are the kinds of conversations I hope to bring to the UN assembly.

I want them to get us. I need them to get us.

The world doesn’t understand the system here. The authority of the people.

For 40 years, I have not been the ruler – the authority has been with the people.

You are the authority and I am the mouthpiece and as your mouthpiece:

My presence is merely to instigate and incite the people, you all, for any change they want, and for not having a change that they don’t wish to do.

So now your mouthpiece needs you. I need you. I need you wonderful women to show the world who we are… why this calibre of what the call Amazons or Amazonian Guards is unique and an example to all. Why you are all perfect…

I want the world to see that there needs to be limits… there needs to be an end to all materialistic conditions hindering woman from performing her natural role in life and driving her to carry out man’s duties in order to be equal in rights.

They need to understand that women cannot do both. That only when women like you give up their natural role: of being a mother and take up oaths of virginity; then truly can they be very effective and powerful forces to reckon with. So I am urging all of you that will be chosen today, to seize this opportunity.

Be the representative that your nations needs. Represent your nation, our nation, our Libyan Arab Republic to the world. Let us put these international media claims to shame. Let us put the falsehood of brutality and mistreatment to shame.

Help me to represent you.

With that, He open his hands in an exaggerated wave and stepped down.

His words had struck me at the core. Yes he was noble! Yes! He was brave! Yes! He was honorable.

He had just been misunderstood by so many people, the West and even my mother.

As he walked towards his car, the commanding officers began to tap some women in the parade. All around me, left, right, people were being tapped and gestured to move towards a van which suddenly appeared at the rear of the entourage. I was so confused at the commotion and events unfolding that I didn’t notice I had been tapped. It wasn’t until I was pushed by the commanding officer in the direction of the van, did my mind register what was happening and my legs begin to move.

Where were we going? What is happening? I tried to ask all those heading to the van with me but no one answered. Everyone was as confused and afraid as I was. I glanced back to the parade and my eyes locked briefly with Fauzia, the older woman who claimed to have been coerced. She just stared blankly at me. Not smiling. Not happy. No expression, but her eyes… they were troubled. They looked sad and broken.

I didn’t know why but that look troubled me. I felt a cold shiver ran through my spine as I stared at her. Something in her eyes told me that she knew something. Something that her eyes seemed to tell me, I will found out very soon….

Watch out for part 2!!

What will happen with Rania??!

Comes out soon!

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Chapter Eight: The Rebel Granny

Ring! Ring!

I shifted nervously, perched on the edge of my seat…..ears angled, searching for the source of that sound.

Ring! Ring!

There it was again… then I felt the buzzing on my thighs – the sound was coming from me.  Who could be calling at this time? I wondered, looking around awkwardly, numerous stares piercing my back. No one enjoyed having their speeches interrupted by a phone ring. Heck, not even me, I thought. I smiled apologetically to the lady next to me and motioned for her to move back a bit, as I slowly made my way out of the auditorium. After a few shoves and steely glares, I was finally out in the hallway of the National Museum and House of Culture. I turned on my phone screen to find out who had been calling so persistently… It was my mother.

My mind began to race with numerous questions and concerns. She knew I was at the TedxDar conference today because that was all I could talk about over the last two months. I couldn’t stop rambling on about how excited I was to have a front row seat to witness some of the most inspirational minds share their insights and tips on issues that could save me and my crumbling music business.

I had dared to start something new.

To venture into the unknown and difficult area of taarab pop, and it wasn’t turning out as good as I had hoped. We had so few people with true talent in this province and I had come to Dar es Salaam to forget my troubles and refind my passion for my profession.

And here my mother was, calling me in the middle of my mini retreat.

I took a deep sigh as I pushed open the grand doors of the main entrance and dialled my mother’s number.

Hello? Mum? I said repeatedly, unable to hear what my mother was saying on the phone. I moved further away from the doors until I was standing outside the museum, still yelling Hello?! on the phone. It was only then I heard her voice: “My dear, I am so sorry to take you out of your conference but Aadila just passed by and dropped off her resignation notice. I know she was one of your best and had to tell you immediately.

My heart sunk at her words.

Aadila My last female singer, had just decided that I was no longer good enough to represent her.  Overcome with emotion, I burst into tears. I wept, with my mother still on the phone. She tried to reassure me, but I couldn’t take it.

This was just too much.

I could feel my dreams being snatched away from me. After what felt like a lifetime of crying, I uttered a weak “I will call you back Mama, I need some time to think now.”  She responded with a soft “okay Busara, don’t give up. I love you.”

Then I hung up.

The National Museum and House of Culture

I stared out at the open space before me. So many people were going about their normal day. No one saw me. “Am I that insignificant? Am I really nothing?”

I trudged down the museum staircase, defeated. Was it really over?  Lost in thought, I almost ran into an older lady sitting on the staircase, humming to herself.  Flustered, I looked down to apologize to her as she turned in my direction. It was only then that I realized who she was. She was none other than the Queen of Taarab and Unyago herself – Bi Kidude! The Little Granny!

And – she was smoking?

The only Embassy I recognize, comes in a pack.

I burst out in a soft laugh, more amused than shocked. Everyone in Tanzania and Zanzibar knew about Bi Kidude’s infamous love of cigarettes, She was still smoking at 91 or so years! But here she was, just relaxing on the museum staircase, puffing laconically like an unknown figure – this Zanzibari Empress of Taarab. Our very own living icon!

She smiled, summoning for me to join her on the staircase. I nervously obliged, still unable to process what was unfolding infront of me. I knew Bi Kidude would be here for the final performance, but I never expected my first encounter with her to be on a staircase.

I politely accepted the cigarette she offered, and smiled as she lit it for me. A cool, relaxed feeling came over me as I dragged the smoke in. I hadn’t had a cigarette ever since I decided to quit a few years ago, but today I couldn’t be bothered to say no. I wanted to let go. I wanted to be free and forget all my troubles. No thoughts! Just me and this cloud of smoke. I turned to look at Bi Kidude and found her smiling at me.

She asked, “mtoto wangu, habari? Nini mbaya? ” , meaning my child, how are you?, what is wrong? in Kiswahili.

I responded defeatedly in Kiswahili, suddenly tired of holding back, “Bibi (grandmother), I feel like my world is crumbling down. nimechoka ( I am tired)… How do you do it? How do remain so happy and hopeful? Here I am not even willing to think of tomorrow how much more my future… everything is so dark… Sielewi (I don’t understand)”

She took one draw of her cigarette, placed her small hand on my shoulder and – beaming – replied in Kiswahili:


You remember my song Kijiti, even with Siti Binti Saad’s pioneering Taareb singing by women in the 1920s, you would think in this day people may be more welcoming to it but it is still almost as bad as it was in the beginning.

I still perform Kijiti using the drums, shaking my waist and leading unyago ceremonies. People still stare at me in amazement but it is because they don’t understand. They don’t understand how important it is to do what makes you happy and makes you free. What I do in public is nothing like the unyago ceremonies we do in secret…

Did you ever do unyago?

I shook my head and added “No, never had the opportunity. You see I am yet to marry.”

Bi Kidude then let out a loud exclamation and continued in Kiswahili:

Oh! Then you have never experienced being a free woman. Learning about sex, the positions, learning about taking control of your own body.

Knowing your body intimately.

The things that the big people nowadays say are too intense for public consumption, but we all know it is what makes us free. That is why I twirl my hips and sing even now that I am 102… or is it 110?

She laughed heartily because no one knew her true age; it was almost like the age itself was mythical. Just like she is, I thought warmly.

This is how we unyago… can’t touch this!


That is why I cannot stop singing – music is my life. If I stop singing, how do they expect me to survive”,

She added.

I couldn’t help but smile. This woman was breaking barriers even at such an old age. I still couldn’t get why it had taken us so long to appreciate her – she was such a treasure.

She was always giving and helping others. It was even rumored that once in Stone Town, her hometown, many people came knocking on her door with problems to be addressed, and she gave them so much money that in 10 days she was penniless.

Why did we have to wait for rumors of her death during an overseas tour before we noticed what a diamond she was? How could we have ignored such a generous and unique soul?

Beating it up!!!!

Bi Kidude began to stand up slowly and motioned for me to join her up. Then she stretched out her hand and said: “ Join me” in the warmest Swahili I had ever heard.

I took her hand gladly and we began to twirl around slowly as she broke into one of her famous songs: Alaminadura.

She sang with so much passion, in such a gravelly voice, that it sounded almost magical. The universe was round as we twirled, and so were we.

I felt like I was being transported to another time, another place, another galaxy – a peaceful space. She sang for what seemed like a lifetime, but was really just a few minutes. Then we settled back down on the staircase.

I say move your waist! We are moving it Bibi.

She took another cigarette from her Embassy pack and went back to smoking as I stared at her in amazement and admiration.

Then two event reps rushed towards us to tell her that she was up next.  

It was just then I realized that the Tedx event was almost over. I had lost track of time and missed almost the entire conference here sitting and singing with Bi Kidude. But it was totally worth it, I said to myself smiling.

She smiled at me with her worn and aging lips and added, Shall we? I got up and helped her up and we both made our way back to the museum for her performance. But at that time, I had no idea that that would be one of her last public performances ever.

But wow! What a performance it was!!

YOU ARE FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS FATIMA!

REST WELL LITTLE SINGING GRANNY!

REST WELL BI KIDUDE!



Guess who’s back!!

Hey everyone,

we back

We know. We know. It’s been toooooooooo long!!! We apologize for the silence! Life happened and threw us off track for a while…(yes 2 years is a while! ).

Anyways…. we are coming back strong and promise to bring you more exciting adventures, meetups, reflections as well as some great twists and turns!

Watch this space for new content and an exciting re-vamp to our rendezvous!

New post comes out next month!

Your favorite history lovers,

The A.P. Team

Aside

Welcome 2017!!!

Phew!!

Finally 2017 is here! From the entire AccraPlanes team, we are wishing you all a great and exciting year. Get ready for greater and very innovative stories on your favourite African historical icons, enemies and even frenemies from your favourite Afroblog… erh US, obviously!!

Thank you all for your continued support and hope you continue to join us on our journey in discovering more African rendezvous.

2016.png

Signed,

The AP Team

Chapter Seven: The Black President

“I really shouldn’t be doing this…”

That was all that kept running through my mind as I followed Nneka past another building. It was dark and poorly lit in Lagos but here I was, sneaking out into night, away from the safety of my dorm. “Nneka wait up!” I called out as loud as I could without drawing attention to us. She turned for a quick second, flashed me a smile and gestured for me to hurry up as she dashed around another corner.

You really should have stayed home I muttered, slowly regretting my decision to join Nneka in her visit to one of Lagos’ most notorious quarters. Nneka had been telling all of us in our dorm about her first time in the Kalakuta Republic, the famous compound that had housed the Chief Priest, his family, band members. She even shared her first time in the Shrine just some months back before it was attacked by Nigerian Soldiers. It was also the first time she had witnessed the unique aura of the Chief Priest. As she recounted her experience, she couldn’t help but smile, giggle and even slip into a distant daze every time she mentioned his name. She shared with us how she had spent hours twirling and grinding in the cannabis-infused smoke that was rumoured to be always present in the Shrine. With every word she spoke, my curiosity and need to visit the Shrine grew… I wanted to feel what she did. That sense of abandon that I had never felt at home with my strict parents. I needed to feel it even if it would only be once in my life…

 

kalakuta-attack

Nigerian Soldiers vs. Kalakuta Republic… Guess who won.

So I hadn’t hesitated when she snuck up to my bed just a few minutes ago and asked me to join her at the shrine. I hadn’t hesitated when I was putting on my tights and loose top or when I put on a dash of powder and lipstick on my face.

No, I hadn’t even thought of hesitating. But now, here I was, about 10 minutes away from the former Kalakuta commune, panicking and anxious as we dodged the numerous military patrols that were now a common sight every Lagos night.

But I was going to see him… to feel him… and at that thought I shook off whatever fear that remained and set my eyes on my destination: The Afrika Shrine.

After what seemed like forever, we finally arrived at Kalakuta area. I knew this because besides the signboard that still hang in the destroyed commune, there was a certain change in the atmosphere on entering. It was like we just entered the land of the free. It was also then that I noticed the throngs of young people that were trooping into Kalakuta area. Some seemed to be students, others the average unemployed Lagosian, and some dressed in clothes that you only saw in movies but they all appeared comfortable and filled with a sense of excitement. Some were smoking, others were laughing and others were chatting. Everyone seemed at home. Content. FREE.

They were all moving into the old Empire Hotel building a few meters ahead and there it was… the Afrika Shrine. The Shrine had a very “natural” feel to it with a few macho men posed at its entrance.

new-africa-shrine

The Afrika Shrine 2.0

They stood scanning through the crowd for any notorious or suspicious characters that could disrupt tonight’s event. We were finally doing it… We were finally about to see the Chief Priest. The Black President himself.

Within seconds we had made our way into the shrine. Nneka had not been joking about the cannabis and smoke in the shrine. It was everywhere but for some strange reason, it didn’t bother me. Rather there was some calming effect that it brought with the dark room and a well-lit stage.

The mixed scents of the shrine wiped away any lingering doubt or anxiety i had from earlier. I was completely open. My mind was clear. All my thoughts of disappointing my parents, all the financial problems I was facing, all the pressures to succeed in university, all the pressures to be good, were all gone. In the Shrine, I was just Seyi, a young lady trying to live. And Seyi was ready. I was ready. Yes I was ready for him.

Suddenly the crowd went quiet…. I looked up to the stage and noticed the lights had now dimmed. The show was about to start. A colourful young man walked on the stage followed by a throng of background singers and musicians. His background dancers or His Queens as they were popularly called, were doused in makeup and wrapped in beads and unique Yoruba cloth styles with much of their legs and tummy exposed.

fela-and-dancers

The young man took the mic said  “Evening everybody, I hope ona ready oo. Na today the Chief Priest don land in the Afrika Shrine. Oya make ona give am a warm welcome oo.. The one and only King of AfrobeatFela Anikulapo Kuti!!”

With that the crowd burst into loud screams and shouts. Everyone cheered and jumped as a cloud of smoke swept across the stage.

Then he appeared… OUR BLACK PRESIDENT

sun-fela-kuti-spin-dot-com

Barechested with beads around his neck, he came on stage dancing to the music and  clad in only tight pants with white marks across over his face.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Right before me was Fela. The notorious and open-minded Fela Kuti. Our counterculture icon who never fretted in the face of danger and continued to live an open life criticising the government and everything in between no matter the cost…. And he was strangely very attractive also.

Fela raised his hands and everyone went silent.

Then he smiled to the crowd and said:

People… Today I no fine o. Na so many things dey worry me. Why all ona politicians be vagabonds like that? Riding in big cars while we all suffer for here…

And with that he launched into one of his famous Yabis (roasting sessions) recalling many of the incidents that he had encountered under the Nigerian government from being jailed and charged numerous times to being beaten up and the attack on Kalakuta as well as the fatal injury Nigerian soldiers gave his mother who was thrown out of the commune in the attack.

yabis

The King of Yabis himself!

I followed the sessions intently both amused and irritated and strongly angered. He spoke raw and free but he was real.

He then signalled to his Africa 70s band and they began with the background music of one of his hits, V.I.P. or Vagabonds in Power

vip

“Very Important Person”
Mean say na power
Mean na sole sole power
Him be special person

But everybody get him power (Everywhere!)
Everybody get him power (Everywhere!)
I say, everybody get him power (Everywhere!)
Everybody get him power (Everywhere!)

….

Him no know hungry people
Him no know jobless people
Him no know homeless people
Him no know suffering people

Him go dey ride best car
Him go dey chop best food
Him go dey live best house
Him go dey waka for road
You go dey commot for road for am
Him go dey steal money

[Chorus]
Na “Vagabond in Power”!

Him be wrong man”

Then he moved on to another hit which focused on the effects of foreign countries in Africa, I.T.T or   International Thief Thief

itt

Well well, na true I want talk again o

Na true I want talk again o
If I dey lie o
Make Osiris punish me
Make Ifa dey punish me o
Make Edumare punish me o
Make the land dey punish me o
Make Edumare punish me o

….

Before them come force us away as slaves
During the time them come force us away as slaves
Na European man, na him dey carry shit
Na for them culture to carry shit
During the time them come colonize us
Them come teach us to carry shit
Long, long, long, long time ago
African man we no dey carry shit
Na European man teach us to carry shit

[Chorus]
Say am, say am!

Many foreign companies dey Africa carry all our money go
Many foreign companies dey Africa carry all our money go
Them go write big English for newspaper, dabaru we Africans
Them go write big English for newspaper, dabaru we Africans

I read about one of them inside book like that
Them call him name na I.T.T.
I read about one of them inside book like that
Them call him name na I.T.T.

Them go dey cause confusion (Confusion!)
Cause corruption (Corruption!)
Cause oppression (Oppression!)
Cause inflation (Inflation!) “

I swayed, jumped and danced as I listened to the playful but serious words his music proclaimed… Was it true?? Had we really lost our Africanness because of foreign companies? No wonder he got on so well with the late Thomas Sankara and even allowed him into Kalakuta once. They were so alike.. I noted proudly. I just wanted to be like them.. I needed to be brave as they were…

fela-and-san

Fela then shifted even deeper into the battle with foreign religions with his song Shuffering and Shmiling

shuffering

Suffer, suffer for world

Amen!

Suffer, suffer for world
Enjoy for Heaven
Christians go dey yab
“In Spiritum Heavinus”
Muslims go dey call
“Allahu Akbar”

 Open you eye everywhere
Archbishop na miliki
Pope na enjoyment
Imam na gbaladun

[Chorus]
Archbishop dey enjoy
Pope self dey enjoy
Imam self dey enjoy
My brother wetin you say?
My brother wetin you say?

My sister wetin you go hear?
My sister wetin you go hear? “

Just then the music stopped.

Fela turned to his singers and gestured for one of them to join him.

Then he turned to the crowd “Ah see this fine woman. See African woman. She no fine??” The crowd yelled in response “She fine oo” He added “but this no be what some of ona women want. They don’t want to even be called African woman. Na lady so them want… Make I tell you all something about one lady….”

The music started again and it was another one of his songs Lady

lady

If you call am woman
African woman no go ‘gree
She go say, she go say, “I be lady, oh”
She go say, “I be lady, oh”

…….

Call am for dance
She go dance lady dance
Call am for dance
She go dance lady dance

African woman go dance
She go dance the fire dance
African woman go dance
She go dance the fire dance

She know him man na master
She go cook for am
She go do anything he say

But lady, no be so”

As he sang, he turned and danced with the singer. Grinding his hips with hers closely and allowing her to be free on stage. They danced so intimately and in tune that I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

fela-dance

I felt a pang of jealousy course through me as I began to wish that I was her. That I was dancing with him. That I was one of the supposed 27 women he had chosen to be his Queens…

fela-queens

The song ended with him giving the lady a quick kiss on the cheek and a wink. He paused. 

fela-kuti-14-450pk021610

Just when I thought the show was over he turned to the crowd and launched into one of his most notorious songs and the song that got Kalakuta republic burned.. ZOMBIE!

I had only heard this once in a bar that I had entered with Nneka some months ago. Infact many of Fela songs had been banned  from the radio with even the current leader of Nigeria, General Oluwasegun Obasanjo accusing Fela of destroying the lives of Nigerian Youth.  Fela had famously replied that “yes he was destroying  Nigerian youth, but only the kind of mindless, pliant youth that a dictator craves.”  Now that was one insanely bold response.

fela-playing

It was really no wonder he was always a target but he still stayed in Nigeria throughout. The Chief Priest had stood firm in the face of elites and never abandoned his shrine. He truly refused to be a ZOMBIE….

zombie

Zombie o, zombie (Zombie o, zombie)
Zombie o, zombie (Zombie o, zombie)

Zombie no go go, unless you tell am to go (Zombie)
Zombie no go stop, unless you tell am to stop (Zombie)
Zombie no go turn, unless you tell am to turn (Zombie)
Zombie no go think, unless you tell am to think (Zombie)

Tell am to go straight
A joro, jara, joro
No break, no job, no sense
A joro, jara, joro
Tell am to go kill
A joro, jara, joro
No break, no job, no sense
A joro, jara, joro
Tell am to go quench
A joro, jara, joro
No break, no job, no sense
A joro, jara, joro

…..

Attention! (Zombie)
Quick march!
Slow march! (Zombie)
Left turn!
Right turn! (Zombie)
About turn!
Double up! (Zombie)
Salute!
Open your hat! (Zombie)
Stand at ease!
Fall in! (Zombie)
Fall out!
Fall down! (Zombie)
Get ready!

Halt!

Order!

DISMISS!!!”

And with that, he fell to his knees with his hands raised. The crowd burst out into uncontrollable cheering and shouted “ BLACK PRESIDENT!! BLACK PRESIDENT!!”

Nneka and I joined  the others in cheering, amazed at the outer-worldly performance we had just witnessed.

I was amazed at the boldness that was FELA. The honesty that was FELA. The rawness and realness that was FELA.

That night something changed in me.

That night I knew I could never keep silent on any injustice that I witness or am privy to.

That night I changed. That night, I had my first ever #FELAREVIVAL

MY FIRST #FELABRATION!!!

fela-hands

Learn More About Fela

Fela’s Music is the Weapon Documentary

Fela Kuti – The Chronicle of a Life Foretold

Fela’s Greatest Hits

Finding Fela

Chapter Six: The New African

It had been almost six years.

I could still remember the first time I stepped off the Charlotte III steamer and  onto the shores of my new home.

America.

I remember the harsh, cold chill that stung my face and the sigh of relief I heaved, appreciating God for bringing me across the ocean to the land of dreams and opportunities.

A lot had gone into making this trip successful. I had given up so much in the months leading to my journey here. I had saved every penny from my  low-paying secretarial job in the Gold Coast to purchase my one-way ticket on the Charlotte III. I also had to deal with my mother’s heartbreak and the disapproval of my friends when I announced my departure. The news took all of them by surprise. A woman unwed at 21 was a huge disappointment to my family and now I wanted to travel to the  land  across the ocean alone. Now that was preposterous  and completely unheard of.

ss09_neptunia

A solitary tear streaked across my cheek as I remembered the despair that seemed somehow tattooed on my mother’s face in the few weeks leading to my departure. My mother wasn’t a woman of many words but ever so often I caught her sighing and once in a while she muttered a few sparse words of advice regarding my trip but she never cried. Not to my face.

Regardless of how she felt, my mother still helped me pack and prepare. Through it all, I could feel her heart break… her only daughter had just chosen to leave her for a land where she knew no one. I was all she had after my father passed away a few years ago and she was all I had… and now she was losing me too.

This made me question my choice. I doubted myself, my strength to survive alone. I had numerous restless nights both contemplating the craziness of my actions and filled with fear with what lay before me. But every morning after that, I woke up more convinced I had made the right decision. Soon, the nights became more bearable and my stance became more resolute. YES! I WAS LEAVING TO AMERICA!

The fear didn’t hit me again till I stood on the deck of the Charlotte III as it prepared to set sail from Takoradi Harbour. My mother was in the crowd, fervently straining to wish me farewell. Her short hands were lost in the sea of people who had gathered at the docks, but still she fought to make sure I saw her. It was then I saw the tears she had tried so hard not to shed. They were streaming down her face. My mother was BROKEN. That was when I lost all self-control and crumpled on the deck in tears. My vision was still blurred with the tears streaming down my face as the Charlotte III blew its final horns signalling our departure. What am I doing??? What am I really doing?? A wave of panic and fear rushed over me and I began to hyperventilate. My palms were sweaty and my mind was racing with so many unanswerable questions.

I turned towards the crowd to try to catch a glimpse of my mother again, and it was then I noticed she was raising a small placard, which read “BE STRONG COMFORT. I’LL BE HERE WAITING FOR YOU”. A certain calm came over me after reading that. Somehow I just knew I will be fine. That we will be fine. With that, I blew her a kiss and turned to face the vast sea that lay before me. The sea that hid the vast secrets of America from me. Yes! It was that sea I was about to conquer.

And conquer it I did. I had never imagined that finding the American dream would have been so difficult for me. I thought that once I got to the US, everything would figure itself out, but was I wrong. With nothing but $50 to my name, I walked off the deck of the Charlotte III on a harsh winter’s night in 1956 right into homelessness and struggle. Every day was a fight to stay alive. So I did anything and everything. I washed dishes at sloppy diners. Cleaned seedy hotels. And with every tough situation, I was forced to grow, learn and adapt.  I became smarter, stronger, independent.. free.  The type of freedom, I would have never gotten back home.

Everything I did was to make some money to survive and for my family back in the Gold Coast, sorry Ghana I mean. You see, barely a year after I left, my country gained its independence and was renamed Ghana. I couldn’t help but swell up with pride when I watched from  the public televisions in one of those seedy hotels, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah up on the podium that day in March of 1957 surrounded by his right hand men, proclaim to the expectant teeming masses of the newly minted nation;

Ghana!!! Our Beloved Country is FREE, FOREVER!!

kwame-nkrumah

There was so much excitement that day in Ghana. Everyone cheered, danced and even I could feel the excitement hundreds of miles away. We were free!! I believe that year was generally a great year to be Ghanaian because it was right after Independence that I landed a job with Marlon’s Papers, a black-owned local newspaper in the Bronx. Even though Marlon’s Papers  was a small operation, it was increasingly popular among African immigrants and other Blacks in the Bronx because it not only focused on local news but also the wave of independence that was coursing through the African continent at that time.

I had been with Marlon’s Papers for about 4 years when one day, Mr. James Marlon (my boss) received an invitation to attend a reception in New York for the entourage of a celebrated African leader who were in the country working on a business deal – Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. All the news sources were abuzz  about the visit and the hydroelectric project with Kaiser Aluminium.

Finally, he is living up to his promises. I thought proudly remembering how throughout his early days in government he had promised to begin an industrial revolution in the country, that could only really take place with good and reliable energy. Even US President Ike Eisenhower had appreciated the need for such a revolution and assured Nkrumah of US support and now he was back to claim it.  I smiled to myself… smart man.

nkrumah-funny

I knew I had to find a way to be part of the reception. I had only known Jim for just a few years but he was almost like family to me but I was still nervous. This was a huge favour to ask of my boss. Right when, I was about to ask the question plaguing my mind, Mr. Marlon turned to look at me and said,  “Connie, you’re Ghanaian so I know you would be very interested in this reception, mind tagging along with me?” It took all the self-control I could muster not to burst into a quick dance and yell YES! Instead i opted for a more reserved but equally excited “YES!! Mr. Marlon Sir, I would like that very much sir.”

Even though the reception was a week away, this excitement radiated from me until I was seated in the conference room, surrounded by some of New York’s prominent black owners and scholars waiting for Osagyefo‘s arrival. Every few seconds, my eyes would dart to the doors, worried that the moment I took my eyes off it, I will miss his great entrance.

Fontomfrom drums… the popular drums of the Ashanti people reverberated through out the chamber, two young ladies clad in beautiful kente, beads  and gold accessories entered dancing to the rhythm of the drums. With poise and skill, these ladies danced adowa with each step and  gracefully moved to the rhythm of the fontomfrom with our president in tow. Dr. Nkrumah had shed his typical business suit and even his political suit for a more regal traditional attire, a beautiful kente cloth on a white jumper.

Kwame Nkrumah, Wife And Chieftains Dance

People roared and cheered as Osagyefo and his entourage came in. Dr. Nkrumah waved  and shook hands of the people closest to him. His face lit up with childlike glee as he also followed the fontomfrom beats with some adowa moves of his own as if accepting the beautiful welcome the ladies were bestowing on him.

Finally, the man of the hour reached the podium and turned to face the audience before him. Suddenly a hush fell upon the room…then someone shouted “kom yɛ” (meaning silence is good)

nkrumah-speech

With a smile, Nkrumah responded “Thank you! Thank you! and Greetings to you all from Ghana and from Africa as a whole!”

The crowd replied with a mix of Akwaabas and Welcomes!

Then he continued,

It is great being back in the land that greatly inspired my desire  to fight for freedom in Africa. Just a few months back I had the great pleasure of meeting your president, John F. Kennedy and I must say, you’re all extremely blessed to have such a great and forward thinking man for president.

As most of you already know, I am here to finalise the  energy deal for Ghana and though this trip has been filled with tough decisions and compromises, I am still optimistic that this dam will fuel the much needed industrial revolution in Ghana and in Africa as a whole.  

Africans must work hand in hand for the entire continent to develop. Rather than foster hatred and bitterness against your fellow countryman, it is in our hands to join our strength, taking sustenance from our diversity, honouring our rich and varied traditions and culture whilst also acting together for the protection and benefit of all of us.

This principle is important because then we understand that we  do not face East or West, but rather we must face forward. Forward-thinking. Progress. That should be our goal whether it means receiving benefits from both sides. We must move beyond being puppets and take advantage of our unique position to carve out our own African story.”

kennedy-and-nkrumah

His words permeated every fibre of my mind

YES! OSAGYEFO! YES!

He continued in a lower and more contemplative tone,

People say I have changed. That I no longer believe in democracy. That I have become paranoid and this has made me a bit autocratic. Maybe they are right. Maybe I can’t afford to leave our precious fight for progress and revolution in the adulterated and neo-colonialist hands of some of my officials.

I do not believe in democracy, not when such would mean the loss of our freedom. If democracy is really about allowing colonial hands to rope us back into mental and economic slavery, then democracy can go kill itself. If my nature of governance is unappealing to your superpowers or to your ever-so complicated world politics, then forget your world politics.

Why can’t I just be free? Why can’t my people be free? Allow us to be free. No matter what some of you might think, it is far better to be free to govern or misgovern yourself than to be governed by anyone else.  We should be allowed to make our own mistakes.

Only then can we grow as a people, as a continent. Africa is one continent, one people, one nation.

I looked at the faces around me. Some were nodding in agreement, others were quiet. I wasn’t surprised since many people were staunch supporters of democracy but Nkrumah’s words though painful held an essence of truth that even some of the greatest supporters of ‘democracy’ couldn’t deny.

nkrumah-serious

With a deep sigh, he looked around and as if willing us to understand his words,

Africans are really on our own. We must fight for our own progress because our colonial masters do not want that for us. We cannot always use their solutions and often biased advice to understand our issues.

It is clear we must find an African solution to our problems, and that this can only be found in African Unity.  Why? Well, because then such a solution becomes ours. We own it and that pride of ownership will cause us to safeguard it and make it dynamic and more relevant to our livelihoods. We can’t succeed without being one. We must unite now! or perish!!!

I am sure, some of you are saying, but I am not African. I do not even know where my ancestors came from but let this be known to you today. 

I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me. So as long as you feel that call to African unity and the spirit of the African struggle, I invite you to join us as we take back our continent and make it the new Africa!

nkrumah-and-queen

With that Dr. Nkrumah, turned to head out of the conference room. As he walked, people swarmed to him, struggling to pass through his security just in order to get some sort of interaction with him. His entourage evidently annoyed, fought through the crowd to provide a clear passage for Osagyefo out.

I was completely awestruck as I watched him, the man who I had held so much admiration for over the past couple of years. I also pushed my way through the crowd. I had to meet him. I just had to. I needed to. I just had to know he was real. That my eyes weren’t deceiving me.

I was a few inches away from him when he turned my direction as if sensing my gaze and my need to connect with him. I froze as his eyes connected with him, suddenly struck with an unsual shyness. He smiled and took my hand in his palm, asking “And who may you be my dear?” … I replied shakenly “Comfort, I mean Connie, from Marlon’s Papers… and also Ghanaian, sir.”

“Comfort…” he said warmly, “so are you awake now? “. Baffled at the question, I stared blankly at him. Well yea, I wasn’t sleepwalking now was I… but with a quizzing brow and hint of sarcasm I replied “Yes, I guess I am.”

He laughed softly and tightened his grip on my hand while he added

Good!! Now don’t you ever fall asleep again.

We will not sleep again. Today, from now on… You & I! Yes You, Connie. We are part of a new Africa!…

There is a NEW AFRICAN IN THE WORLD!

With a wink, he let go of my hand and walked right out of the conference hall into the lobby leaving me staring at his back and repeating the statement he made… never to forget it, not even in the years that followed.

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY OSAGYEFO!!!!!! GHANA FOREVER THANKS YOU!!!

osagyefo_dr-_kwame_nkrumah_of_ghana_picture

 

Learn More

Biography

Independence Day Speech

The End of Kwame Nkrumah’s Era

Africa Must Unite

Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism

 

 

Aside

Mic Check: 1,2,3.. Leadership in Africa

Hi Everyone,

This post is a bit different from all our previous ones. In all our first five posts, we went on and on about the greatness, flaws and posthumous regrets about some leaders and exceptional people in Africa. We educated. We informed, but for what purpose.

Even though we have more to come, this is just a short monologue on leadership in Africa and why we are where we are…

This is an open conversation so please share your thoughts and ideas.

Much love,

The AP Team

Does great leadership even exist in Africa?  How do we recognize it? Is great, democratic leadership really leadership of the people, by the people for the people? How is that even possible when as citizens we tend to be fickle, flighty and inconsistent.. turning our backs on those we once spoke highly about.

African leadership is a prime example of the power of a support system. We have had the great ones taken down by the fear and reality of losing local support… Great ones overrun by the pressure to please the public, to listen, even when the public is spewing lies.

We have lost so many great ones, whether they began”correctly” through an election or rushed in through a coup. Now they are only praised when they are dead and gone… when it’s too late.

How can we still talk about great leadership when we have allowed them to be killed, murdered, disgraced and turn their hearts away in fear. How can we talk about great leaders when we have turned our backs on some of the greatest to ever walk on African soil.

Now we praise them? Now we try to reconcile with their families? Now we talk about raising the next Lumumbas, Kenyattas, Nkrumahs, Sankaras, etc… after we have showed the world how little we cherished them.

We cry when we are abused by harsh leaders. We cry forgetting that we allowed them in. We cry because we realize our mistake and recognize we need a saviour. So we reach out for one only to torture them again and trade them for another.. and another … with our lips, our minds…our entire beings.

We are flawed, like many others all over the world.

So really who can save Africa?… We the people can. We the support system. We are our own great leaders. We have the power to turn the hearts of any leader and mold them into what we want them to be. We are more powerful than we think.

Yes great leadership exists but a great leader without an appreciative and concerned support system is a lost one.

So let’s use our power and stop crying out for saviours which we will never even cherish anyways….

*drops mic.

Chapter Five: The Emperor’s New ‘Clothes’

 

We can’t pay! No to the Emperor!

We won’t pay! No to the Emperor!”

Those were the chants that rang out across the main street of Bangui as scores of students marched along in protest against our ‘Emperor’. We were a little over a hundred in number but the frustration and strident defiance in our voices made it seem like we were over a million. Even though we were just “children”, we were also tired and angry with this self-proclaimed Emperor who with his iron fist had ruled our Central African Republic for over a decade. This Emperor that had selfishly stolen our once bright dream of independence.

Yannick, who was a few months shy of his 19th birthday, turned to face the crowd, urging us on as he shouted loudly clad in his all-black getup.

No to the Emperor!

No to Bokassa!

The crowd cheered early and picked up the chant. We surged forward. Eagerly I yelled as loud as my voice would allow me. As if my voice could somehow bring change. As if it could somehow bring back the CAR I had known for just a few seconds as a toddler. I was barely a baby when David Dacko became the 1st President of the newly independent CAR. I have no recollection of the stories of growth, communism and reversion to a one-party state that I often heard my parents talk about.

My life had been dictated by one man, and one man alone.

The Emperor.

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Uneasy lies the head, that wore this glittering orb crown

And The General.

Bokassa_colored

Who with every action he undertook, directly impacted my life.

I was a child when General Bokassa had come into power during a military coup that overthrew Dacko, with support from the French. Bokassa had been a soldier in the French army so securing their backing was not hard.  Plus the excuse he used was “overly” simplified.

Dacko took a loan from Chinese. He MUST be Communist, so I (Bokassa) must take over. With French help of course. And just like that he was in control.

Looking back at that, I cannot help but laugh because now the Emperor himself has his own communist friends, friends like Nicolae Ceaușescu, Romania’s President and North Korea’s Kim Il Sung.

Bokassa_with_Ceausescu

Bokassa and Kim II Sung

Oh this Kim guy! Okay fine, I will give you some gold

mobutu & bokassa

Mobutu, does Zaire have this many troops? I don’t think so!!

 

With that all our troubles began.

Unlike Dacko, Jean-Bedel Bokassa or General Bokassa was not really concerned about a one-party state. He did not want a party. He wanted to be president for life, and by any means necessary. My most earliest memory was not the tinkle of my parents’ laughter, it was my first encounter with how great of an extent General Bokassa  (at that time) would go to be President for life.

I was barely walking when he sent orders for the capture and summary execution of his co-conspirator Alexandre Banza on trumped up grounds of treason. Banza had his arms broken by soldiers with Bokassa lending a hand in beating him and slashing him up with a razor. I had the rather unfortunate privilege to see Banza’s still breathing body while playing innocently near the army barracks as he was being dragged through the streets of Bangui before being shot. I remember faintly how bloodied his ripped clothes were and how swollen his battered body was. My mother had rushed to my direction and carried me away from that sight. But it was already too late. I was only 5 years old but that image had been seared into my mind. The image of what happened to anyone who dared to cross Bokassa, including his friends.

And more images followed. The frenzied killings didn’t stop there. Bangui’s streets bled. It was the Inquisition and the Witch hunt minus the religious oppression.  The blood of opposers, activists and anyone Bokassa did not like. Bangui’s streets also dripped with sweat. The never-ending labour of the locals in former french equatorial guinea who were forced to seek employment in a crippling economy or risk being jailed. But Bokassa’s palace dripped in gold and honey.

Over the decades he flaunted and floundered about with the country’s wealth investing in luxury orchestras, hotels and over-the-top parties. We were working to suit his lifestyle. To suit his image of a luxurious CAR but only for the president and his faithfuls. We couldn’t even beg to feed ourselves because it didn’t suit his ideal CAR. My family always had to find other means. We all had to do all sorts of menial jobs to survive. That was just how we lived. to survive.

The world did not really pay us mind. No, Not even when he declared himself Emperor Bokassa I and spent over 50% of the country’s budget on one of the most expensive coronation ceremonies while we the people looked on painfully. He also renamed CAR, Central African Empire.

bokassa-on-throne

My train is just about right… Train so long that I had to construct rail tracks for it

bokassa and family

Yea… I got kids… Lots of ’em and they all wear shirts with my face on ’em

 

Sleeping crown prince

Must.Sleep.So.Bored

 

photography-dot-a24media-dot-com1

Rolling up to Dad’s Coronation… Royal Style

 

My family and many others could barely fend for ourselves but the Emperor was able to hire thoroughbred horses and luxurious Mercedes benzes to flaunt “his” imperial wealth.

And the world looked on.

Yes the French even wined and dined with him that day, while my family and I walked away from that ceremony with nothing on our mind but how to get our next meal.

men marching for bokassa coronation

All dressed up for the one and only Emperor Bokassa… Yes! Work it boys!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And you think that would have been enough.

Ha! Now he has brought his extravagance on us children.

I, Hissene had never thought I would  be here 15 years old and protesting against the “most” powerful man in the country. But I am today because I am angry. Angry that after all that, the Emperor wants us, children to wear expensive uniforms made by one of his wives because it has his face on it. Expensive uniforms that we are all supposed to buy on our own. First they were optional but when he saw no one was buying them, he decreed, in his infinite imperial wisdom that anyone not wearing it will not be allowed in schools.

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Disclaimer: This may not be the real thing but its close enough.

No! I refuse to use my family’s hard earned money to fuel this man’s ego.

No! i refuse to use my last francs to buy a uniform with the face of the man i despise the most in the country!

I refuse to live like my parents anymore and tip-toe around this man!  No, I will be a merchant of change! We are the winds of change in CAR and with that I yelled  even louder,

“No to the Emperor! No to his Ego!” in reaffirmation as I marched onwards with the crowd.

We had only taken a few steps when a swarm of soldiers surrounded us. Taken aback, we froze anxious about what actions the soldiers planned to take. Yannick motioned to all of us to keep calm and not make any sudden movements. The military troops were about 200 and had guns aimed at us, us a couple of children.

It was then I understood why Yannick asked us not to move. It was becoming clear what their orders were. It seemed they were to dissolve or capture us at any cost. In the midst of the soldiers, we saw the Emperor’s car, a posh Rolls Royce pull up. Murmurs spread through the crowd as the troops stared on at us for another two minutes when suddenly some children in the side flanks who were downright infuriated with Bokassa picked up stones and began throwing it at his car.

The Emperor barked a command at the troops from his car and they began to proceed, shooting blanks and throwing stones at us. I watched on as one of the soldiers took our squad leader Yannick, slapped him hard across the cheek and dragged him to a waiting transport van. I watched on as the soldiers began to round us up like sheep one by one. Some were dragged, others beaten, others kicked around but all were loaded in the transport van.

Bring school children to justice

Hurry along kids! you think we’re here to play?

For a split second, I lost myself in the sight unfolding before my eyes.  All around I was seeing children, some not even 14 years being dragged and bludgeoned like mules. Then i ran! In my haste, I almost tripped over another body. The sudden impact knocked the wind out of me.  Shaken and winded, I slowly looked up, only to be met by the eyes of a crying and frightened child. He looked barely 10 years old and was bawling,sitting on the dusty ground. He seemed lost, confused and afraid. I knew I had to help him. I had to do something.

So I quickly grabbed him from the ground and run towards the nearby street corner with him in my arms. Just as I neared the corner, I saw one of my friends Gael from school who was also heading in that direction. I turned to see what was happening behind me and saw one of the soldiers gaining in on me. His features seemed to be contorted with silent rage and mere annoyance and he seemed determined to grab me!

Without thinking twice, I called out to Gael  who was a couple of steps away and yelled “ Gael!! Catch!!” He turned at my voice and I signalled to him as I tossed the young boy into his waiting arms. Gael, a few inches taller and bigger than I was, caught the little waif with no problem. I flashed him a tired and nervous smile and gestured he go ahead. His face was riddled with worry but he nodded and run around the corner into the nearby forest.

Just as he disappeared, I felt a pair of heavy hands grab my soldiers and whip me around. My face connected to a fist.

I vaguely remembered being carried but when I woke up in a dark room with what seemed to be over 80 more schoolchildren from the protest, I knew I had been captured. Even though the room was dimly light, I could make out children who had been hurt, bleeding or cut of some kind. I could also hear groans of people in pain and crying. Some were also yelling and cursing their bad luck in being captured. The room was so packed there was no space to move, much more sit comfortably. There seemed to be no escape.

In the midst of all the noise of suffering, I could hear humming. A calming faint humming. It was a tune my mother used to sing to me when I was younger. The tune of our national anthem La Renaissance. Slowly, I joined the humming.

Meditating on the warmth the words brought:

O Centrafrique, ô berceau des Bantous!

Reprends ton droit au respect, à la vie!

Longtemps soumis, longtemps brimé partous,

Mais de ce jour brisant la tyrannie.

Dans le travail, l’ordre et la dignité,

Tu reconquiers ton droit, ton unité,

Et pour franchir cette étape nouvelle,

De nos ancêtres la voix nous appelle.

Au travail dans l’ordre et la dignité,

Dans le respect du droit dans l’unité,

Brisant la misère et al tyrannie,

Brandissant l’étendard de la Patrie.

Oh! Central Africa, cradle of the Bantu!

Take up again your right to respect, to life!

Long subjugated, long scorned by all,

But, from today, breaking tyranny’s hold.

Through work, order and dignity

You reconquer your rights, your unity,

And to take this new step

The voice of our ancestors call us.

To work! In order and dignity,

In the respect for rights and in unity,

Breaking poverty and tyranny,

Holding high the flag of the Fatherland.

anthemThe words reminded me that even though I may have sacrificed myself to save that young boy who was crying on the street, my efforts will not be for nothing.

As I looked around at the children suffering around me, I felt a sort of glowing peace, seething through me. peace knowing that that young boy would not have to suffer this inhumane fate.

“He really did even determine my final moments” shaking my head in disgust, “First my earliest memory, now my most-likely last memory”.

Resigned and tired, I closed my eyes and I prayed. I prayed that my fate would not be to be served as lunch to others as the Emperor’s cannibal rumours suggested. I prayed that my fate will cause something to happen. That no matter what happened I will find peace. That if I am supposed to die at this young age of 15, my death will mean something. Our protests will mean something. That it will cause the world to stop being passive and blind to our fates.

Someone would react. And maybe, just maybe they finally launch Operation Barracuda.

Just at that moment unknown to me, somewhere across the Ocean, my prayers were just about to be answered.

napoleonic bokassa

Central Africa’s own le Petit Caporal

 

 

Learn More

About Jean-Bedel Bokassa

Notre Ami, Emperor Bokassa I (Video)

Operation Barracuda

“Good” ol Days under Bokassa

Chapter Four: Dancing With Snakes and An Mbande Warrior

I was tired.

I had been running for what seemed to be forever. My flailing limbs were weak with exertion, my chest burned and the sound of rushing blood seemed to flood my ears but I still continued to run. The alternative was worse. I could not land in the hands of slavers.

They had attacked our village with guns and fire last night.

Many of our neighbours had lost their lives in their sleep. And they were the lucky ones. The others, were not as lucky for they had been taken. Taken towards the big river.

I had heard stories of what happened to people that the slavers caught. How they were taken across the big river.. the river of many deaths…surrounded by deep water and powerful currents and how they never returned.

My little village had always been under the protection of Queen Mwongo Matamba and we had been assured that our allegiance would guarantee our safety. Matamba had promised to protect us from slavers. They promised to fight for us. But when we were being decimated and taken as prizes by slavers, the Matamba army was nowhere in sight.

A frisson of fear ran through me as I thought about what could have happened to my parents. In my haste to escape,  I had forgotten my parents who were in the neighbouring village. Would they be next? Had they already been taken? Were they on the run like I was… or were they….

My eyes widened at that thought and I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t move. I had to do something. I was Sudika, named after one of the great thunderous twin heroes of our Mbundu people. I couldn’t just ran away in fear. I had to do something. I had to fight the slavers, those monsters just as my namesake did thousands of years ago. I had to save my family. I had to save them.

sudika

 

Just as I begun running in their direction, I noticed a set of bright lights in a distance. They were not from the south where my village was but rather, north. At first I thought these lights could be one of the many hidden villages in the forest but then I realised they were moving… they were moving towards me.

In panic, I turned to the east in an attempt to head towards the village where my family was when I saw another set of lights. I turned west, and there was another there. The only option was to turn south… back to the burning village I just escaped from.

Horror washed over me as I realised I was surrounded. There was nowhere I could escape to that wouldn’t mean a certain type of death…whether by bullet or by losing ownership over my own body.

So I did the only thing I could. I prayed. I prayed to Kianda, the goddess of the sea. Yes, Kianda will save me on that big river. She will deliver me from my fate across the river. But even if my fate was inescapable,  I prayed that she will at least grant me a painless reprieve in the bosom of her great depths.

kianda

With every twirl, comes a redeemed soul.

I broke into a cold sweat and broke down to the ground.  Tears threatened to trickle across my cheeks as I realised that no amount of running could save me now. Now I was really doomed.The lights were now closer and towering men now surrounded all of the fleeing villagers. Tall dark men. And they were speaking a language very similar to my tongue, Mbundu.

Were our own people now slavers??” I thought with a mix of disgust and shock as i leaned in closer, trying to hear what they were saying . Then my gaze fell on one woman who was at the centre of this group of men, also dressed in warrior cloth. Her body was marked with white paint and her stare was just as menacing as the men she was surrounded by.

She looked… powerful.

She had this aura of authority, of strength that overshadowed the rest. An aura of true power. She wore the most decorated cloth around her waist and had a string of long beads around her neck that danced with every step she made.

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The cloth around her waist seemed to teased us with every sway of her hips as if announcing her authority with every step while a decorated spear and arrows peeked from her back. Her waist was bound by a band which hid a dagger at each side of her hips.

This woman was dangerous.

She shouted at the men to bring the other escapees closer. They obeyed swiftly and soon I was surrounded by 20 more people, a few I recognized from my own village.  I was still on my knees staring at the group around us as the woman moved closer. Her piercing dark-brown eyes roved over my body lingering on every crevice my body had dared to hide.

I felt exposed.. open and terribly vulnerable.

Then her eyes rested on mine. For a second I thought I saw compassion flash across her eyes. Impossible.. I thought as I shook my head in disbelief. She was must be a warrior. One of those ruthless kinds we always heard about running wild across the Ndongo-Matamba area.

Then she spoke in a voice, soft enough to be compassionate but powerful enough to be respected.

Greetings allies of Matamba Kingdom…                                                                                                          I am Queen Ana Nzinga Mbande, The warrior queen and ruler of Ndongo

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We all stared at her in shock.

Now it made the familiar tongue I had heard made sense. She was the mighty queen of the nearby kingdom Ndongo… the scheming and ruthless Mbande warrior queen rumoured to have jailed or was it poisoned her brother after he sent her to negotiate a treaty with the Portuguese, which they eventually broke. It wasn’t as if he didn’t deserve it. After all he had sterilised her and killed her only son out of spite, then begged for her help when he lost a battle with the Portuguese.

We had all heard of her,  how she had wined and dined with the Portuguese. How she had gotten baptised as Ana Sousa. How she had traded even in slaves with the Europeans and profited. How she had later abandoned her Christian faith for the Jaga warriors from the South Kwanza plateaus when the Portuguese had disappointed her. And how she had further solidified her place with the Jaga  by arranging a ritual marriage with the Jaga chief, Kasanje.

But  why had she and the Jaga surrounded us. Did they really plan on attacking us?

Queen Nzinga continued

I know most of you are wondering why the Jaga and I are here in the forest with you. First of all , I am no longer with the Jaga. These men are my loyal followers and trusted soldiers.  Let’s just say, the Jaga weren’t as reliable and strong as I had anticipated.

You see, we were betrayed and also attacked by the Portuguese. They attacked my home, Ndongo and took some of my people as slaves, breaking our treaty. Soon they will try to enslave Matamba. I came here to ensure they didn’t. They have already began by sending slavers to your village on the outskirts of the Matamba Kingdom.”

Then she added

My people have already conquered your weak queen, Queen Mwango Matamba and she didn’t even put up much of a fight. Is that really the kind of ruler you want leading you against the Portuguese? You already understand the power of women. You appreciate the strength and intelligence that women bring to leadership. Even your traditions attest to this with you historically being led by women.

But still in a way, you’re like me… outsiders among your own people. Left to suffer alone at the hands of slavers, almost like bait. Thats how my brother saw me with negotiations. Yes I was a strong warrior but still just a woman. So he like my other African peers undermined my value and capabilities. The White men with the pale skin are no better. 

But their blindness, is my strength. They forgot and keep forgetting what you all clearly acknowledge… that my prowess in intelligence, negotiation and manipulation is notoriously powerful. 

So let me help you. Let my people help you. Let us make you powerful again. Let us take you off the sidelines.

This war is not just Ndongo’s war. It’s OUR WAR.

We are all at risk. You.. Me… Your family. Everyone.

So join me… and i promise to make you all greater, more profitable and safer than Queen Mwongo ever could.

Her words seemed to echo across the forest, carrying a promise and certainty that we had never come across.

Ann_Zingha

I was Ana De Sousa, queen, warrior and Christian when it suited me.

But how could we trust her.. I thought.

Yes! she was a excellent military strategist and negotiator. Yes! she offered sanctuary to both runaway slaves and the Kimbares (Portuguese-trained African soldiers)  but she had also set up camp with the Europeans once. First the Portuguese and there were whispers of there being one with the Dutch soon. The Europeans had failed her so she ran to us. The Jaga has disappointed her, so she came to Matamba. Will she just abandon us also, when we also fail her.

Unable to keep quiet any longer, I shouted in anger “Who are you to promise all of this.. Are you better than any of the slavers. Were they not your allies once? Did you not solidify your allegiance with them by being christened Ana de Sousa? Do you not deal in slaves yourself? Did you not worship this pale White god? Yes you protect the escaped slaves but what about the ones you captured in battle? If we had been with our queen when you captured her, will you not be on your way to sell us too!!? What if we can’t give you what you want, what next?? Answer me!

Just then, one of her men rushed towards me and struck me hard across the face “DON’T YOU DARE TALK TO OUR QUEEN LIKE THAT!!”

I spat the blood from the bruise in my mouth at his bare feet, and stared into his eyes with a brazen defiance.

Queen Nzinga turned towards me and gently touched the man’s shoulder. His scowling expression softened at her touch and he slowly moved away from me.

Then she knelt right in front of me and held my chin. My jaw stiffened as I stared back at her but she didn’t speak. She just looked at me. Her breath was warm on my skin. Her lips a few inches from mine. Her hand firmly holding my face as her thumb brushed across my cheek.Her silence seemed to will my thoughts to obedience. Her body.. Her breath ..Her gaze all commanded obedience from me. I struggled to fight it. To fight this overpowering urge to submit.

Who is this woman.. I thought baffled but somehow amazed.

As if she had read my mind, she drew me closer till we were cheek to cheek. Her slow breath washed over my ears and in a soft whisper she said,

I am who you think I am, Sudika

Do you think I am the goddess Kuanji (Goddess of the Hunt) incarnate? Am I your enslaver or rescuer? Am I  the bringer of your freedom or your destruction? You tell me…

One thing is for sure though, I am not one of those pale devils. I am the one they should be afraid of. Why? Because I am their worst nightmare.

She let out a soft laugh.

You see, I am not afraid to lure them in to get what I want. I am not afraid to learn their dance… their rhythm… their religion… their ways… to gain their trust… to show a sign of good faith right before I strike. 

These men, Africans, Europeans  you name them really undermine me… like you just did. Some say it is because of my gender but you are an ally of Matamba, you should know better. You believe in the tradition of women leaders but limit them. You seem to think just because my brother and all other countless “kings” failed… I surely must.

But thats where you’re mistaken. I am not my brother. I am ruthless. I am dangerous but I know exactly what I want and how to get it. So sorry, if my methods don’t work for you. Sorry if my dancing with the snakes makes you uneasy… but don’t you ever question my integrity.

So yes, maybe you can’t trust me but no one will ever go to the depths I will just to secure the freedom of my people, my kingdom.. for your freedom.  I want this war to stop. I want our oppressors to see us as a true, unified Kingdom of Ndongo-Matamba and I want us to be able to reap the benefits that come with it.

If that makes me a bad person, then so be it.”

With that she pulled away and smiled at me mischievously.

I just looked at her, lost in a mix of shock and confusion. Her words and the fact she mentioned my real name all startled me. I never once mentioned it but she just used like she had known me for a long time. I could also feel the deep conviction in her words… the danger in her approach to her European fight. This danger that seemed to promise sweet redemption.

Gently she pulled me to my feet and gestured for me to follow her as she headed deeper into the forest with commanding strides.

Queen-Nzinga-50

so… are you coming or nah?

And I followed her, confused…

The other captured were still on their knees. Their expressions plagued with unanswerable questions. I shook my head, amazed at how lost I was about  what was happening but somewhat excited about where I was heading.

All I knew was that I just had to obey. I wanted to be part of that danger. To reap that sweet absolution. Then I realised that to do so, my life as Sudika, the normal villager would have to end…That I will no longer  be able to own myself.. That I will no longer own my service. My fate was forever about to change.

Because my life will now belong to her.

I, Sudika will now belong to this mysteriously dangerous but alluringly intelligent woman.

I looked up towards the glowing moon, covering its nakedness with a sliver 0f cloud, obscured by the towering forest trees and smiled at the thought…

Yes, that suited me just fine.
forest

 

Learn More about Queen Nzinga 

Biography

Nzinga, Rejected Princesses

History of the Mbundu People, Angola

Chapter Three: The Man who didn’t fear death

It had stopped raining.

Finally!”

I thought to myself as I laced up my work worn boots and prepared to head home.

Night time in Elizabethville was heralded by the incessant chirping of birds in the nearby forest. Everything tonight seemed rather serene… peaceful, like nothing had changed.

The entire province had undergone tumultuous change.  First Elizabethville and now Katanga at large were all autonomous from the Congo. We had seceded.

Moise Tshombe’s shocking declaration. Not everyone was happy about it, clearly and most certainly not me because of the forced curfew, rising tensions, growing shortages and other looming issues i could reel off my hands. But the Belgians most certainly were. Soon after the pronouncement, they had swarmed into Katanga under the banner of lending helping hands to maintain this so-called ‘independence’.

For the average Katangan though, it meant sneaking out late at night. Even with the massive army presence in the province, those of us who had to stay working late, had no choice than to lurk in the shadows and wait for patrols to pass before we headed home. So I uttered a quick prayer, made the sign of the cross and plunged into the darkness, ready to face another night of fearing being caught.

I was turning into one of the major streets in Elizabethville when i nearly ran head on into a group of soldiers headed my way. They were all garbed in green camouflage with mud-splattered boots toting their AK 47’s. Quickly ducking behind a tree, i tried my best to hide in its shadow. Silently willing myself to shrink..fervently hoping quietly that I wouldn’t be detected and waited..for what seemed like an eternity.

From my hiding spot, I could make out this group dragging someone along. “Must be a prisoner of war” I thought. But why so many soldiers for this one person? He must really be top-level kind of important. I continued to stare at this mysterious person, face covered by the black hood thrown over his head. From the physique, I could tell it was a man. His hands were bound up and the soldiers jostled him violently, shoving him, often causing him to lose his steps and fumble on his already bare feet. His bloodstreaked shirt splattered with mudspots.

lumumba captured cia

As they passed by, I waited to find out where they were heading. My breath caught when I realised they were going up to Brouwez House. The place notoriously known for its penchant to make people disappear without a trace.

I felt pity for this man – but mostly a foreboding sense of dread. He was being dragged towards one of the worst places in Elizabethville, if not the worst. Though I felt pity, I was also curious. I kept wondering who he was and what he had done to deserve such treatment.

My eyes followed them as they got to the entrance and were greeted by a mix of Belgian and Katagan guards. The guards murmured something in French to the soldiers as they handed over the prisoner who was then escorted in. The soldiers then headed back in my direction towards Bila drinking spot down the road.

As they passed, I overheard one say “Finally we got that Soviet appealing bastard. I wonder what that Belgian commander and Tshombe have planned for him. Hopefully he loses a limb.. or maybe all his limbs” he added in to the raucous guffaws from some of the soldiers. The others joined in as they strode away.

The wind was filled with the sounds of their taunting laughter and remained even after their voices trailed off.

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oh my, did the Soviets love him.   A Black man on a Russian stamp. Almost unheard of!

 

I scouted the area around the tree to make sure it was safe to continue my journey home – a rather arduous task at this instant. However, as I prepared to set off again, the pity I felt earlier returned and with it a certain feeling of guilt… or was it  curiosity. It must have been a mix of both because now my eyes kept drifting off to Brouwez House.

I had so many questions about the mysterious prisoner’s identity, why so much secrecy, and what Tshombe, Katanga’s self-appointed president had to do with all of this. And the Belgians were in on this too? The whole situation reeked of ardent betrayal, a labyrinthine game of deception and manipulation. Very soon, we might even have Mobutu here too, I thought drudgingly.

Before I knew what had taken over me, i felt my weary limbs plod on towards Brouwez. Racing in the darkness to avoid detection. I felt a rush of adrenaline and my head was spinning but I was still headed towards Brouwez’. Yup! I’m really crazy, I thought as I drew nearer to the place where I could easily be killed.. and for what? Curiosity. an openly festering curiosity to know this man’s fate.

Finally, I got to the side of the house which was surprisingly unguarded with my heart racing and blood thundering loudly through my ears.  I tried to listen in through the concrete walls. At first I heard nothing just boots shuffling and murmuring.  Then I heard a scream… It was so piercingly loud that I half-expected the neighbours to run out of concern. But no one appeared. No one even opened their windows to peer out of curiousity… It seemed such screams were normal on this side of Elizabethville. The screams had become like lullabies, I thought in disgust.

Slowly, I lifted myself up the window to catch a glimpse of what was unfolding inside. The room was dark but lit with a few candles. I peered in just in time to see a Katanga guard hack at the shoulder of the prisoner. His head was uncovered this time. When he lifted up his head in  agony, my breath caught at who he was.

Bound up and breathing raspily in the midst of the darkness, was our revolutionary. our missing prime minister,

Patrice Lumumba. 

patrice-lumumba  

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When you’re fly with that head parting but still gotta rule a country…. Flicka the wrist!

And he was being tortured.

Around him was a motley assemblage of Belgian and Katanga soldiers yelling orders at each other or happily chatting about their new capture. Oddly enough..one thing stood out – there were two Western looking men dressed in normal clothes but that seemed to command an air of authority.

They didn’t speak French, but rather American English. Unable to completely comprehend what was unfolding before me, I froze and  half turned away from the window. Americans were also involved? What is the world coming to? The screams didn’t stop. Another came. Then another.. then another.. then another…

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I tried to drown out the sounds in my ears. But it was next to impossible. Tears rolled down my face  as I replayed what I had just seen. After what seemed like forever, the screams stopped. I turned to see them moving him towards the window I was hiding by and drop him still bound, hard on the floor. He groaned out in agony as one of the guards kicked him in the groin before they exited the room, leaving him unguarded.

Even though there was a concrete wall between us, I couldn’t fight the urge to help him. To reach in and comfort him. I wanted to clean his wounds and wash off all the blood but I couldn’t. It was impossible. Helplessly, all I could do was stare in.. through the glass.

Unable to accept such defeat, I slide down into the grass right below the window and stared off into the forest beyond for what seemed to be minutes. I felt despondent, weak and downright sad.

Lost in thought, I failed to notice a tiny hole in the middle of the concrete. Then I heard a tiny croaked whisper saying “Don’t be so down my dear, it’s not that bad

I jumped back in shock as I slowly narrowed my eyes to peer through the gap. What I saw was Patrice’s best attempt at a smile, even with a cut lip and swollen face bruised in blotchy shades of purple and blue. He moved his head back a little so he could see through it clearly and asked weakly “What are you doing here?.. it’s not safe”

I replied assuredly “It doesn’t matter, I want to help. What can I do…

He sighed in response and said painfully “I’m a lost cause my dear. I have already accepted my fate. What you see here is a walking corpse…it’s just a matter of time”

I responded disbelievingly “I can’t just leave you here… There should be some way I could help.. Just tell me please” I pleaded.

Patrice gave me a tired smile with his split lip and groaned in response.

He closed his eyes and replied softly

You could help by answering one question honestly… After just three months in office, Did I really make an impact… I really want to know.. Was all this for nothing.. will my death be for nothing?…”

I could tell from his voice that he was struggling to speak and that he was battling regret. I wanted to reassure him that he was a remarkable father for the Congo.

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As I stared at him, trying to compose my words, I couldn’t believe our own people could do this to such a man. Leaders who claimed they had Congo’s future in mind. Leaders who claimed revolutionaries were backward. While it was them that teamed up with colonial forces to engage in medieval actions such as torture. And for what? Because Patrice wanted a better future for the Congo and Africa as a whole? Because he refused to allow colonial forces to dictate his actions? Why because he believed in Congolese? in Africans? Why? 

Such a great man.. and here he was battered and stained, lying on the concrete floor. Tired but still able to smile. Exhausted but still thinking about us… His Congolese.. His Africans.

I wiped off the tear that sneaked up on my face and gave him my most honest smile as I replied

Patrice, It was an honour to see you rise up and become the first black prime minister of such a tortured country.

You took up the mantle that most feared and amongst all the tensions, colonial pressures, all the hatred and insults…You did your work .You bore everything and looked straight into the face of death and shouted Bring it On!..

I doubt there will ever be anyone as brave as you but I do pray your life serves as a testimony for other great Africans especially Congolese…

lumumba

Shaking my head sadly, I whispered,

I read that last letter you sent to your wife… You spoke about the distorting of the truth and how Africa will write its own history… but how are we supposed to do it without you? What about your wish for our country to have its own right to an honourable life, to spotless dignity, to an independence without restrictions? 

I keep asking myself why the United Nations didn’t heed your call for assistance… Why they stepped back to watch us destroy ourselves while Belgian colonialism and their Western allies pulled the puppet strings… Patrice, if you leave, Congo is doomed for sure… I.. I…. I..”  

…unable to continue as tears rushed down my face.

It was a silent cry. Riddled with questions on how such injustices could take place..

From the other side of the concrete wall, there was silence which I didn’t notice initially because of my tears. Had Patrice passed out or worse…. My eyes widened in horror at the thought.

Then I heard a deep sigh and,

He replied weakly

my dear woman, take heart because the future of Congo is beautiful… and it is up to each Congolese such as yourself to accomplish it. I am but only one man. But imagine what we can do if we all commit to our sacred task. This sacred task of reconstructing our independence and our sovereignty… Remember, without dignity, there is no liberty, without justice, no dignity and without independence no free men…

No brutality, mistreatment or torture has ever forced me and will ever force me to ask for grace. I prefer to die with my head high, my faith steadfast and my confidence profound in the destiny of my country. I’m ready to meet my maker, I just never thought I would be a mere 35 years old when I did. But I guess that’s the consequence of taking up such a great mantle as leading the Congo.

So do not weep for me, my dear stranger. I know that my country which suffers so much will know how to defend its independence and liberty… Africa will write its own history and it will be to the north and south of the Sahara… A history of glory and dignity.

Long Live the Congo! Long Live Africa! 

With that he gave another tired smile and turned away to leave me staring at the back of his head.

His words resounded in my mind. I felt a strange ray of hope coursing through my body. Yes, Africa will rise.

Just then, I heard the door swing open and a shuffling of boots as the guards picked up Patrice and dragged him out. Then there was silence. Then I heard the main door swing open. I fell into the grass, pleading with it to grant me some kind of cover and stared as the guards and some soldiers headed into the forest with Patrice in tow. His face was exposed and even though I couldn’t see his expression from afar, I could see his head held high.

As they dragged him into the darkness, I thought for a split second he turned to look my way. I thought I caught him winking at me before he finally disappeared into the darkness. I could have been mistaken but something deep down told me I wasn’t.

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No tears, no emotions, no regrets… A true master of the blank stare

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Insert an inappropriate joke here.. Can’t do that with Patrice, Sorry.

I stared off into the shadows for what seemed like minutes before I remembered that I had to get home. Slowly, after making sure there was no other patrol in sight, I headed home.

I was a jumble of emotions. Sad, broken, fulfilled, hopeful and introspective… still replaying the conversation I had just had and the message I had just received.

Then from a distance I heard a loud BANG!!….

Then a couple of seconds later, MORE SHOTS RANG OUT THROUGH THE AIR.

Then a flight of birds rushed out of the forest trees frantically.Noisily. Like the sound of a whirlwind.

Like the spirit of the departed, hurriedly exorcised out of a person.

Then silence…..

Shaken and rocked with the raw pain of grief, I crumbled to the ground in the corner of the street.

Then I cried.. because I knew.

No one had to tell me that with the flight of the birds, went the life of one of the greatest Congolese to ever live.

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Thank you for loving Africa even when we didn’t love you!

Thank you for believing in us even till your death

Happy Birthday Patrice Emery Lumumba!!!!

Learn More

Patrice: A Documentary

Patrice Lumumba: The Movie (Independence Day Speech)

Article about Patrice’s Assassination

Video about Patrice’s Assassination