Monday 9 April 2018
Tuesday 17 January 2017
Wednesday 30 November 2016
Monday 7 December 2015
I'm speeding through the French countryside enroute to Paris. Looks very much like the English countryside: windmills, supermarkets and their grey parking lots. That is the thing with globalisation. We look more and more alike and understand less and less of each other.
I've eaten so much chocolate on this journey, to descend from the contemplative to the banal. Even though there is of course a link. The cocoa in my chocolate (Green and Blacks, 37% Cocoa) came from somewhere outside Europe. My packaging reassures me that it was 'traded in compliance with Fairtrade Standards, total 72%,' perhaps to salve a middle class conscience.
What does that 'total 72%' mean? That 28% of my chocolate bar is unfair? I have now eaten too much to work out how many squares there were originally in the packet but lets say there were 40 squares. Then somewhere around twelve of the ingested squares would be unfair, traded in some dingy room of exploitation, cacao beans unfairly weighed and paid for. As I have roughly about twelve percent of the chocolate bar left, I have not eaten the entire 'unfair' portion.
My chocolate bar also 'meets the Soil Association' standards for organic food and farming.' This is to inflate a middle class consciousness with smugness I suppose. There are people who must read the information on the back of packaging or else it wouldn't be there. Once upon a time, I suppose, it was enough to know you were eating a bar of chocolate, with no nuts, if you were allergic.
I am still not finished on the theme of globalisation because of course there are things to feel guilty over about eating an item of food made with ingredients brought from so far. Of course nutmeg and sugar travelled far to enter the English palette, with the latter making a particularly bloody journey but at least the ships that brought them were wind powered, with no harm to the polar ice caps or polar bears or dolphins. Although considerably more damage was done to respectable middle class consciences by some items shipped to England. Like sugar. British women stopped buying sugar to end the slave trade. Some of them anyway. They should have stuck to honey all along. Apparently it has more sugar in it than sugar. Or more calories. Or something like that. It's true I read it on the Internet.
Anyway, the air miles or sea miles on the cocoa in my chocolate is enough to keep somebody with good heating and a comfortable bed awake in somewhere like Winchester or Cheltenham, which apparently was built on slave money.
We are pulling into Paris now. A lot of graffiti by the tracks. I don't notice it in London anymore. Tower blocks. I wonder if this is council housing here or just ugly housing. I overheard some funny things on the way here but I forgot. A woman in front of me asked a child she met on the journey what she wants to be when she grows up. She replied, 'Home.' With the way the housing market is going, we'll all want a home when we grow up.
Opposite me, are a British woman and child, talking to a Brazilian performer of some sort with a Nigerian writer eavesdropping and taking notes with a Mitsubishi pen in a journal probably assembled in China with Indonesian trees. I wonder if my paper is fair trade.
Written on the Euro Star, somewhere between France and England.
Thursday 6 August 2015
Monday 22 June 2015
Fine Boys’ in almost one sitting, turning the pages of the novel into the early hours of the morning, desperate to discover Ewaen and Willy’s fate. The 90s were a particularly unattractive time to go to University in Nigeria and Imasuen does not shy away from this. The teargas and strikes of the decade are depicted, as well as the cramped classrooms and terror of being forced to ‘blend’ into a cult. Yet, the book still left me nostalgic for the camaraderie of a generation that for the most part ‘alutad’ and continued to tell the tale. I forced the book on a friend who prides himself on not having time to read fiction. He returned my signed copy a few days later, dog-eared and thumb marked. “That was my life,” he said, a little unnerved by how spot on Imasuen had been.
I read about Molara Wood’s ‘Indigo’ on twitter. She was very discreet, tweeting in passing that her short story collection was out without even urging us to ‘grab our copies!!!’ Nevertheless, I hurried to Amazon and downloaded the book. I’ve never encountered Ms Wood’s fiction before and so I approached with curiosity. It can take me months to read a collection. I hate the unevenness of the things. You read a brilliant story, only for you to rush to the next one and discover it’s a dud. Ms Wood has no duds. Obviously, all fingers being unequal, some stories are more brilliant than others. ‘Night Market’ which has the unlikely ingredients of an ex-Sango priest, an American wife and a returnee, is one of the most satisfactory pieces of fiction I have read, a world in a short story. It was so complete, I wondered why any writer wastes paper on a novel?
And then of course Igoni Barrett’s ‘Love is Power orSomething Like That.’ I found the title a bit unwieldy and I wondered why in a collection of delightful numbers such as, ‘My Smelling Mouth Problem’ and, ‘The Shape of A Full Circle’ Barrett and his publishers should have chosen such an amala bolus of a title. Well I read it and discovered why. I found myself chastised by this very nuanced portrayal of that oft caricatured individual: the Nigerian policeman. It’s a fluid piece of fiction that slips into your consciousness and remains there long after it is over. Barrett is also doing something very interesting with language. He’s writing in Nigerian English, not pidgin, which Eghosa Imasuen, does with flair but in Nigerian English: that curious, convoluted, verbose, ungrammatical, profound, lyrical way we have of speaking ‘English’ to one another.
Lastly, the discovery of the year for me was the Congolese French writer, Alain Mabanckou. His semi-autobiographical novel, ‘Tomorrow I’ll Be Twenty’ may very well become the definitive coming of age tale of a generation. Communism, dictators, coups and suspect diamonds all feature in what still remains a very funny novel, thanks to the earnest lens through which the young narrator sees the world. I read the book to the end and so saddened was I by how quickly I’d consumed it, I went back to the beginning and started again. It was that good. These four books I’ve mentioned are that good. So grab a copy of each one. Grab your copies now!
First published on YNaija.
Wednesday 29 April 2015
Tuesday 28 April 2015
Here's a summary of what my talk will be about:
The West African Student’s Union was a London based group, which existed from 1925 to 1966. The W.A.S.U was born out of a very prosaic need: the need for bed and breakfast. Landladies in the 1920s were not partial to black lodgers so the W.A.S.U’s hostel, founded in 1933, served as a shelter for African students seeking lodging in a hostile city.
Yet, the W.A.S.U’s founder, Chief Ladipọ Ṣolankẹ, also had a vision of the Union as a centre for debate and discussion, a place where student could eat good African home cooking as well as meet with the black icons like Paul Robeson, who was a W.A.S.U patron; a place where these students would begin to think of themselves as future leaders. It wasn’t long before Whitehall began to take note. For as independence movements developed on the African continent, the question arose: who would rule when the British had departed? Who else but these young, eloquent, well dressed, confident young men and women who peopled the rooms of the W.A.S.U hostel in Camden Square.
Catch em’ young, became Whitehall’s strategy. Keep them sweet. The W.A.S.U met with Lords, politicians, intellectuals. Union members dined with the great and good. The hostel’s running costs were subsidised by the Colonial Office and complaints about British policy in West Africa were carefully responded to; you didn’t want the Communists to get them.
And yet, little is known about the W.A.S.U today. The flame of many African independence movements, was kept burning in a now forgotten building in Camden Town. Kwame Nkrumah passed through the W.A.S.U. Jomo Kenyatta was affiliated with the W.A.S.U. They went to lectures. They took the tube. And all the while, a continent was waiting.
Full details below.
TRANSATLANTIC HISTORICAL APPROACHES: A KCL-UNC GRADUATE WORKSHOP
Location: S8.08 Strand Campus
When: 11 (10.00) – 12/05/2015 (20:00)
If you wish to attend a panel, the entire workshop, and/or the keynote, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday 11 May, King’s College London, Strand Building, S8.08
Panel 1: 10.00 – 11.30
Patrick Griffith (KCL) and Corey Ellithorpe (UNC-Chapel Hill)
Commentator: Peter Heather
‘The Orchestration of Propaganda and Ideology within the Roman and Post-Imperial Worlds.’
Patrick Griffith: ‘Barbarians and bishops as lawmakers: post-Roman political communities and their relationships with the legal ideology of Empire.’
Corey Ellithorpe: ‘Tokens of Subjugation: The Use of Numismatic Symbolism during the High Empire.’
Panel 2: 12.00 – 13.30
Laura Forster (KCL) and Lindsay Ayling (UNC-Chapel Hill)
Commentator: Richard Vinen
‘Contested Memory: English Positivists, Artistic Polemics, and the Paris Commune of 1871.’
Laura Forster: ‘Forgotten Friends: The English Positivists and the Paris Commune.’
Lindsay Ayling: ‘A People Massacred, A Civilization Destroyed: Artwork and Polemics in Dueling Narratives of the Fall of the Paris Commune.’
Panel 3: 14.30 – 16.00
Chibundu Onuzo (KCL) and Mark Reeves (UNC-Chapel Hill)
Commentator: Vincent Hiribarren
‘The West African Student Union and African Independence.’
Chibundu Onuzo: ‘The West African Students’ Union: An Introduction.’
Mark Reeves: ‘Nnamdi Azikiwe, the West African Students’ Union and the 1943 Press Delegation.’
It'd be lovely to see you there.
Thursday 22 January 2015
Monday 12 January 2015
There was a terrorist attack in France a few days ago and a lot has been said about how Nigerians and the Western media have focused on this incident and paid little attention to what is happening in Baga. But I think we need to be honest with ourselves: a terrorist attack in France is news. A terrorist attack in North Eastern Nigeria is no longer news. When a Boko Haram attack breaks on my twitter timeline, I hurry past, rushing to the next banal tweet: a Nigerian comedian's latest gaffe, or an APC/PDP devotee waxing on the virtues of their chosen candidate, or more often downplaying their short comings. A speech delivered at a Presidential rally gets more airtime than a bomb blast because convincing speeches from our leaders are so rare, and explosions are so common.
Sometimes you want to make sure that you're still normal and it is not because you think white lives matter more that you immediately knew what the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag meant but you had to google #bringbackourgirls when that campaign was born. So you try empathy. Empathy is the fruit of an imagination and imagination is something that writers usually have in excess. So you picture yourself in Baga. 2,000 dead they said, though they never agree. When the 'they' is government, 2000 becomes 100. When it's an NGO, add at least one '0' to the government figure. They all say they are lying.
Fact of the matter remains, whether 2,000 or 200, there are a lot of dead bodies around Baga. But then this is not empathy, to walk through Baga like a journalist, taking photos of nameless corpses, stunned by it all but still one step removed, still composed enough to remember that my editor will want both a gruesome shot and a milder image, that I must find survivors to interview, that perhaps a translator must be arranged.
And so I enter Baga again, and try to become someone born there, someone raised there, who went to the local school, when girls still felt safe going to school. And then these dead bodies are no longer dead bodies, they are my friends and teachers and pastors and imams and brothers and sisters and parents. And then I think it is time for me to jump off this careening empathy wagon because the image of a row of people I know, corpses, bent at unnatural angles, faces destroyed with bullets, is one that I do not want to dwell on. Just from this small exercise in empathy, my face is twitching and my eyes are watering.
So I can still cry for Nigeria. Of what use is that to the people of Baga? None perhaps but it is of some use to our country. The fact is we have put up a wall between ourselves and what Boko Haram is doing. How do you function otherwise? How do you have a job, and go to school, and make your deadlines if every time an attack happens, you bring your life to a standstill? And yet we are lost as a nation if we cannot mark the passing of 2,000 Nigerians. If their dying makes no clamour in us. Tears fix nothing, build nothing, repair nothing but we must still shed them so they can water our resolve, which has withered in these arid conditions. We cannot let Nigeria disintegrate on our watch. We must not. We will not.