Saturday, January 28, 2012

Globalization And The Impact Of Dislocation And Population Movement On The Creative Process

This paper was presented in a panel discussion in 2004, for a conference organized by women writers of African descent, "Yari Yari Pamberi: Conference of Black Women Writers from all over the Globe" (October 12-16).  The venue was New York University.  I was invited to participate by one of my aunties, Dr. Rashidah Ismaili AbuBakr.  I was as usual, very much embroiled in the "busyness" of everyday life, but given that I love and respect Aunty Rashidah, I agreed--with trepidation.  Why trepidation?  I am not what an old, good friend calls a "Lit Crit", her shorthand for literary critic and creative writer.  The panel discussion was to center around "The cultural interaction and adjustments of writers in exile and writers who have immigrated to other locations."  I felt therefore obliged to channel "Lit Crit" type energy and write a short story.  This is not a true story but a pure fictional treatment derived from imaginative story telling.  Afterall, I listened to many stories while a child in Nigeria.  

I also felt ambivalent about designating myself an exile.  In fact, I could only be considered an economic exile because the vagaries of the international political economy and the effects it had on Nigeria had marooned me in the United States, making me wonder, can I go home anymore?  Don't get me wrong, I am always traveling to Nigeria, so, I am not talking about going home in a literal sense.  My musing is instead about whether or not home remains the same for a sojourner.  

This is a subject that I take up in my contribution to the newly published book, West African Migrations: Transnational and Global Pathways in a New Century. Edited by  MojúbàolúOlúfúnké Okome and Olufemi Vaughan and published by Palgrave Macmillan.  You can click on the following links to see the book on the Palgrave website in the UK and the Macmillan website in the US respectively:  

Here's the table of contents for those who don't want to bother to click on any links:

Chapter 1:  West African Migrations and Globalization: Introduction - Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome and Olufemi Vaughan 
Chapter 2:  "You can’t go home no more," Africans in America in the Age of Globalization - Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome 
Chapter 3:  Transnational Identity Formation as a Kaleidoscopic Process: Social Location, Geography, and the Spirit of Critical Engagement - Samuel Zalanga 
Chapter 4:  What to Wear? Dress and Transnational African Identity - Elisha P. Renne 
Chapter 5:  Insurgent Transnational Conversations in Nigeria’s ‘Nollywood’ Cinema - Peyi Soyinka-Airewele 
Chapter 6:  Centripetal forces: Reconciling cosmopolitan lives and local loyalty in a Malian transnational social field - BruceWhitehouse 
Chapter 7:  Towards an African Muslim Globality: The Parading of Transnational Identities in Black America - Zain Abdullah 
Chapter 8:  African Migrant Worker Militancy in the Global North: Labor Contracting and Independent Worker Organizing in New York City - Immanuel Ness 
Chapter 9:  Transnational Memories and Identity - Titilayo Ufomata 
Chapter 10:  Arrested Nationalism, Imposed Transnationalism and the African Literature Classroom: One Nigerian Writer’s Learning Curve - Pius Adesanmi

The cover image is by Stephen Adeyemi Folaranmi "Four Friends and Me", 2006, acrylic on canvas

My chapter's title:  "You can’t go home no more," Africans in America in the Age of Globalization" explores many of the issues considered in this attempt at fiction.  I have a disclaimer:  Nothing in the following story is to be taken as a factual representation of the life of anyone, living or dead.  It is purely the product of my imagination.

I began my presentation thus:  

The topic of this panel immediately brings to my mind, the words of Psalm 137, reiterated in Boney M’s “By the Rivers of Babylon”. By the Rivers of Babylon is a hymn of national mourning, according to a Jewish source from the evidence reproduced below.  It is also evident from reading the Psalm that this is an expression mourning, a lament about exile.  So like many other writers, I decided to use Babylon as a creative device to speak of the exile of Africans and the toll that the ongoing diasporization could take.

The destruction of the state and the Temple and the exile to Babylonia (6th-5th centuries, B.C.E ) were traumatic experiences that produced extensive literature expressing desires for revenge, stirrings of repentance, expressions of anguish and lament, and a yearning to be reconciled with God and restored to the land of Judah. Outstanding in this literary outpouring is Psalm 137 (best known by its opening words "By the rivers of Babylon"), a hymn of national mourning.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, sat and wept, as we thought of Zion.
There on the willows we hung up our lyres,
for our captors asked us there for songs, our tormentors, for amusement,"Sing us one of the songs of Zion."How can we sing a song of the Lord on alien soil?If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither;let my tongue stick to my palate if I cease to think of you,if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory even at my happiest hour.Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem's fall;how they cried, "Strip her, strip her to her very foundations!"Fair Babylon, you predator,a blessing on him who repays you in kind what you have inflicted on us;a blessing on him who seizes your babiesand dashes them against the rocks.

Psalm 137 has been attributed by rabbinic sources to the prophet Jeremiah, placing him "at the rivers of Babylon" either at the very beginning of the exile or at the very end; many modern scholars refute this view. In his scholarly article on Psalm 137, James Kugel discusses the complexity in pinpointing this poem's authorship and period of composition.[1]Several scholars have claimed that the harp-playing weepers by the rivers of Babylon were not an abstract personification, but the levitic singers, whom their captors forced to join the other exotic court orchestras that the Assyrian and Babylonian kings kept for entertainment. After the return from Babylon, these orchestras served as the prototype for Temple music established in Jerusalem. Music as a sacred art and an artistic sacred act was gradually given its place in the organization of the Temple services, but not without a power struggle between the levites and the priests. It has been suggested that the descriptions of the numbers and performance of the levitic singers may have been exaggerated so as to afford prestige for the levitic singers, and for the same reason, the poem "By the waters of Babylon" may have been inserted in the collection of Psalms.


The midrash offers us another insight: "Why did Israel see fit to weep along the rivers of Babylon? R. Yohanan said: The river Euphrates killed more people among the Israelites than the wicked Nebuchadnezzar had killed. For when Israel had been dwelling in the Land of Israel, they drank only rain water, running water and spring water; when they were exiled to Babylon they drank the water of the Euphrates, and many of them died."[2]Writes Prof. Kugel: "This explanation, perhaps rooted in reality a well as biblical texts (see Jeremiah 3:18), connects the weeping in Babylon with that weeping's cause: there was where we sat down and wept because it was there, at the river of Babylon, that more of us died than had died even at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. It is to be noted that such a reading not only justified the emphatic 'there,' but gives new meaning to the psalm's opening words 'al naharot bavel' meaning not so much 'by' or 'beside' Babylon's river as because of Babylon's rivers we sat down and wept, for they were the cause of our greatest suffering."[3]

And a Biblical reference at:  Psalm 137 :: King James Version (KJV)

There are also songs that give a melodious interpretation.  Below are two versions, one by The Melodians and the other by Boney M.

And now I return to the topic at hand:  Globalization And The Impact Of Dislocation And Population Movement On The Creative Process: The cultural interaction and adjustments of women writers in exile and writers who have immigrated to other locations.

Where do I begin? What do I say? How can I express it? What does it all mean? It was a New York Fall morning. It was just after rush hour on the number two line going uptown in Manhattan. A young, beautiful, well-dressed black woman came out of the train. The train sped off. She crossed to the opposite side of the tracks, looked toward the direction from which the train should come, saw a train speeding toward the station, and promptly jumps onto the track in the path of the oncoming train. The train screeched to a stop inches from her. The driver jumps down. Hands reached down to the track and pulled her up. She looked dazed. Inside, she was disappointed because she had hoped to die. The train operator kept asking her, Why? Why? Why did you do this? She remained mute. Finally, an ambulance arrived and she was led away. She spent the next month at a psychiatric hospital. This young woman was en route to the university where she was a Ph.D. student. She was married with one child. She lived in a middle class suburb of New York City. She was loved by her entire family. She had completed all the coursework for her degree and was studying for the comprehensive exams. Her grades were well above average. What happened? What was wrong? What could possibly make a woman with such a promising future decide to do something so destructive? This was what the psychiatrist tried to tease out of her for the entire month that she was in the hospital. By the time she left, neither the psychiatrist nor herself was any wiser as to the whys and wherefores. She still regretted not having died.

The young woman was an African immigrant that had been in the US for three years. She was deeply unhappy every single second of those three years because she felt like a fish out of water. It wasn’t the food and it wasn’t the people around her. It wasn’t the pressure of school work, as a matter of fact, that was a welcome relief. It was everything. She constantly wondered, what am I doing here? She dearly longed to return home. For her husband who was very supportive and loving, how could they possibly afford to pay for the airline ticket on their meager resources, which would be better spent paying for necessities like rent, food, clothing, childcare, school fees and transportation? Some patience, some perseverance, some more sacrifice, and they could finish school in flying colors and go back home in style, having garnered the precious golden fleece like the heroes in one of those tales that were first recorded in ancient Greek mythology, tales of course, that as educated Africans, they knew better than their own ancestral tales that were passed down by word of mouth, a treasure trove of orature, but only the truly educated could possibly know this, not the mis-educated products of postcolonial African educational systems.

The young woman knew all this in her head – home was something that had to wait. Much preparation and sacrifice was still to be endured. Her heart however, did not understand it. She wanted her family, a loving, supportive community that extended beyond the nuclear family of husband, child and herself, a culture wherein she was understood and accepted, contradictions and all. She wanted to go home. Being in America, the land of opportunities was for her, imprisonment, exile, misery personified. Her creativity was stifled, although she still passed all exams. Her heart was broken. She had no support system to speak of, and lost the capacity to articulate what the problem was. She turned within herself and began to converse with herself. She even argued vociferously with herself. She could no longer sleep well. She could no longer eat. She was tormented and conflicted. Her whole life up to this point had been consumed with getting a good education. She had planned to become a tenured professor before she turned thirty, and was determined to accomplish her goal. However, now, life had lost all meaning. All former purposeful actions had become irrelevant. She was broken.

Getting to the heart of what caused all the problems ended up taking up to two decades to sort out. In the meantime, our young immigrant woman graduated with her Ph.D., got a job right away, published books and articles, got tenured, became respected in her field. She also tried to commit suicide four times. She took years of this anti-depressant or the other. She tried the talking cure. She prayed fervently to God to show her the purpose for her life. Why was she spared? What would it take to be happy? She was now able to go home on visits. She noticed that she anticipated the home-going passionately and felt elated and at peace while back at home, only to be deflated and miserable when she returned to "God’s own country". She realized that she was in Babylon and was stuck. She was a captive in a strange land and could not possibly sing the Lord’s song as entertainment to those who held her in bondage. But how could this woman rationally be said to be in bondage? She was accomplished, gifted, talented, educated, liberated, the epitome of today’s hybridized global citizen.

What had brought our young woman to America? She came for education, in search of the proverbial “golden fleece”. She chose this university because she bought into the hype about it being one of the finest institutions of higher learning in the United States of America. Everyone was nice, but nobody was warm. She made no friends, but had plenty of acquaintances. The professors were polite but not interested in mentoring her. This is what brought the first self doubt – she wanted to apply for a fellowship. This is a classic "rivers of Babylon situation". How can a person be happy, fulfilled, and creative in a strange land? Creativity necessarily demands centeredness, belongingness,

This necessarily brings up one of today’s most used buzzwords: globalization. Our young woman eventually figured out sans therapists and psychiatrists that she was driven to come to America by the powerful draw of globalization. She was kept there by globalization and she self-liberated from globalization by re-connecting with her source, her origin, what makes her unique and special – mother Africa. The reconnection is not unproblematic, because going home, time and again, she discovered that it is true what Lou Rawls and George Benson’s lyrics say: “you can’t go home no more, your past is dead, dead and gone, they tore down the house where you were born.” Most of the things she longed for in her nostalgic desire for home had either lost their appeal, or they’d changed irreversibly, and she was forced to figure out what exactly made home home. To bring things away from the personal to the general, what is globalization, and how does it affect the creative process?

There are a few possible effects, but they cannot be homogenized. The effects are determined by a woman’s class and race, and possibly status. What does this mean? It’s possible for globalization to cause not dislocation, but re-location. Some African women are a part of the chosen few, those who are actively sought-after and recruited to take well-paying jobs and prominent leadership positions, and they can pick and choose which opportunities to pursue. Other African women are not at this stage yet, but they are in training for becoming desired. Our young woman whose abbreviated story I told left Africa in hopes of becoming prominent. Yet other African women can only hope to move, not anywhere in the world, but to some other African country and some of these are recruited too. Another group of African women would leave the continent “by any means necessary” and they are willing preys for well-paid staff of multilateral organizations like the United Nations, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund as candidates for domestic service. Another category of these same women are daily recruited into the international sex trade as trafficked persons. Yet another set are drug couriers. There are also African women who are dislocated by war and conflict to become refugees in just about any country that would take them. One more group is imposed by those who flee from political oppression and persecution by the state. They become exiles, and again, would go anywhere there is refuge. There are finally, African women who never leave home but are still dislocated by globalization, a relentless economic force that changes the nature of home and hearth, that causes both poverty and affluence, and if they are afflicted by the former effect, poverty, they are forced too, to survive “by any means necessary”, and they do, every living moment.

What are the effects of globalization on the creativity each of the seven categories of women? The first, the desired category of women may very well jump into the global fray eagerly and land on their two feet and immediately begin to produce creative works of art, literature, and so forth. They don’t miss a beat. The danger for them is that their creativity is bounded up by the demands of the job, the grant, the workshop, the conference, the career. They produce, may be prolific, may be recognized worldwide, but should rightly lament and mourn. “by the Rivers of Babylon” should be their theme song because they are studk in a strange land and must sing in response to the demands of those who carried them off into captivity. Of course, these gifted and desired women are not knocked down and dragged at gunpoint to take their important jobs. They’re instead wooed and attracted, bound by silken cords to the oppressors’ realm. The “desired in waiting” category of women could become successful and become what they wish for. They could also run into problems as our beginning story so clearly illustrates. The same possibilities await them as those for the successful women.

Women who are forced to move to another African country because they are not in the “A” class of the desired may experience the fate of the first group, but may not yet be able to more quickly find a niche that nurtures and rewards their creativity than if they had been pushed to the West. They may also find as Nigerians and other Africans do in South Africa that they are resented and rebuffed. One possibility not raised thus far is that hostility and brutality can and do strengthen people. As the Yoruba say, “Adanilóró f’agbára kó ni,” that is: one’s tormentor teaches one to be strong. They may rise above the compulsions and hostilities that marginalize them and be creative in spite of and in response to marginalization.
What are the possibilities for those who leave Africa “by any means necessary”? As some one else’s domestic servant, what happens to creativity? One could rise above adversity, realize one’s hopes and dreams and challenge all the stereotypes about what one’s ultimate hopes and dreams should be. This would be the experience of a minute minority. As a sex worker, what are one’s possibilities? As a trafficked person, what are they? There are some stories of "successful" sex workers who build fabulous mansions in their villages or towns of origin and themselves become independent madams who recruit other women into the trade. Yet others, and these others are the majority, make no headway, succumb to sexually transmitted diseases and all that this entails, and suffer all manner of indignity.  Can they go home?  Can even the "successful" sex worker go home?  What might that home be? 

For a refugee, exile, and a dislocated victim of globalization, what happens? The possibilities cannot be predicted a priori. The only right starting point is as a first step, to resist oppression by refusing to entertain the tormentors, the oppressors, the brutal dominators by not singing the Lord’s song in a strange land. If they don’t sing the Lord’s in a strange land, are they thereby silenced? No! It is actually succumbing to singing the Lord’s song in the strange land that is a desecration because it would be a gratification of the desire of their oppressors for reducing sacred hymns of worship to songs for sheer entertainment. As suggested by the very first reference to “The Rivers of Babylon in this paper, resistance and fighting back are the right responses.

This means African women who are dislocated, re-located and moved from home must necessarily dig deep to excavate and rehabilitate their connections with home. They can create support systems through making new friendships and forming new kinds of family that draw upon African indigenous systems of building family and friendship. They must build new institutions that foster and support creativity. They must be willing to recognize, acknowledge and assist fellow exiles and write songs of freedom in the multiply possible forms that exist – poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction, textbooks, monographs, paintings, protests, memoranda, arts, crafts. They must ensure that they make an impact on the world and effect change. Since globalization is an inexorable process, they must use its innovations to project their voice and to build new transnational communities that cannot be bound, cannot be controlled, constrained or curtailed by Babylon. This of course is easier said than done, but that being said, it is not impossible. To connect with creativity in spite of being captive in Babylon is the sweetest revenge. As our young woman’s story demonstrates, this is a treacherous path. As her story demonstrates, it is not an impossible path to successfully traverse.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Governance, Politics and Women’s Participation in Politics: Implications for Current and Future Leadership by Nigerian Women

 Continued from January 26 blog

Respect for good governance is not alien to Africans.  This is also demonstrable historically.  Again, I will use the example of the Yoruba who were so intolerant of tyranny and absolutism that they called upon tyrants to commit suicide by presenting any such ruler with a calabash into which his/her head is expected to be placed in short order.  This is of course, extreme and inhumane, but it may be boiled down to the essential philosophy of rejecting tyranny and absolutism, and thus, refashioned and re-cast as a fundamental commitment to good governance-the rule of law, due process, etc., and made a fundamental part of our emergent democracy instead of the current situation when we speak democracy and act tyranny, or on the other hand, we import any and everything that is faddish from the outside, with no consideration fo rmaking such institutions acceptable and understandable to our people.  Many of our leaders, female or male, fail to realize that they must act in ways that enable them to capture the imagination of the people, that they must sell themselves to the people instead of acting in subversion of the system by buying votes, rigging elections, stealing ballot boxes and using thugs to maim, intimidate and kill their opposition.

            Beginning with the premise that a constitution need not be written to exist, it is also obvious that many African peoples had constitutional rule before colonialism and in contradistinction with the present order where most people have no idea what the constitution says about ANYTHING, those unwritten constitutions were better known and understood by the people governed under those political systems.  Does this call for equitable balance between men and women imply that once we have a good constitution, a critical mass of women in politics, respect for the rule of law and property rights, due process and the like, we have a nirvana on earth?  Of course not.  The rest of my talk will focus on the implications of meaningful women’s participation for good governance in Nigeria.  But first, how do we get more women into office? 

There have been many policy and numerous mechanisms and methods taught and otherwise disseminated.  According to experts, a mixture of proportional-type representation and quotas (that may be temporary) have worked in other countries, including some in Africa.  Given these challenges, the recommendations on tactics for women’s agency include public action, affirmative action in legislative bodies, political party and electoral system reforms, action by women’s organization, the establishment of alliances, consultation with role models and targeting young women. [i]  Discussing the use of role models as a strategy, the argument is that the mass media plays a particularly crucial role.  There should be practical and constant discourse by woman leaders and women’s lobbies and the news media to draw attention to women’s leadership as well as to ensure that there are news reports on programs and initiatives to address gender imbalance.[ii]  Some electoral systems are believed to be more amenable to enabling women’s inclusion in the candidate lists that political parties draw up, and also enhance the possibility of electing women.  Nordic countries and other African countries that have had significant increases in the number of elected women to the legislature depend on proportional representation[iii] rather than a first past the post type electoral system, as found in Nigeria.

Affirmative Action is enshrined in the constitution of some countries, and combined with methods that ensure that for each male candidate, a female candidate is also presented by a political party (zebra strategy in South Africa and 50-50 strategy in some other countries).  Uganda, Norway, India, and Seychelles are just a few of he countries that have used the Affirmative Action strategy, and all attest to its effectiveness in guaranteeing an increase in the number of elected women.  The chapter on gender justice in Nigeria’s constitution recommended the achievement of a minimum of 30% of all political appointments, as advocated in the Beijing Platform for Action in order to redress the gender imbalances in the political systems of states members.[iv] 

The desire to accomplish this goal of increased women’s political participation has made both proportional representation and quotas attractive and popular.  There is nothing wrong in this.  However, do increased numbers of women change the tone, nature, and character of politics?  Not necessarily.  If we observe that past instances of women’s participation in governance did not benefit women as a group, we should be clear that this is not due to anything pernicious about African culture but may be attributed to  the isolated existence of these women in male dominant political structures.  Indeed, some scholars base the recommendation of a 50/50 or 30% affirmative action strategy on this situation, and give as rationale for their recommendations, the need for a critical mass of women in politics, a situation that they expect to generate changes in policymaking and implementation in developing countries where elected women represent women’s interests (Thomars, 91, Byrne, 97).

The Research on Women’s Political Participation in the 2007 Elections

In our research report, we observe the following conclusions by scholars of women’s participation in politics:  For Lovenduski and Pippa Norris, women parliamentarians in the UK are believed to introduce a new set of values “to issues affecting women’s equality in the workplace, home, and public sphere” (4).

Diane Sainsbury considers that since 45% of MPs in Sweden are women, there has been a redefinition of women’s issues “as a demand for gender equality,” leading to the transformation of women’s issues from small, special minority issues to “major party issues.”  Therefore, there are now changed conditions for substantive women’s representation.
Gendered demand for increased democracy produces the strategic conversion of political women from a small minority within each party to majority of citizens.  This is a potential boon for better representation (4).

Shettima tells us that it is quite possible for women to be politically enfranchised and for them to still suffer de facto disfranchisement through the use of unfair qualifying conditions, discriminatory administrative rules, and through the mobilization of bias – where by virtue of the ability to set the agenda, men monopolize power and exclude women from decision-making. 

Bearing in mind the scholarly analysis above, it becomes important to answer the following questions: 
  • What does women’s political participation mean?
  • What happened in the precolonial period with regard to women’s political participation?
  • What happened in the postcolonial period? A diachronic analysis of six phases in Nigeria’s political history:
For ease of analysis, it is necessary to divide Nigerian history into the following phases.  However, this cannot be done right now. 
  1. 1950s to 1966 – Nigeria’s first republic and budding political participation in Western democratic institutions:  Nationalism and the struggle for inclusion.
  2. 1966-1979 – Military rule
  3. 1979-1983 – 2nd republic
  4. 1983-2000 – Military rule
  5. 2000-2007 – 3rd republic
  6. 2003: first post-authoritarian election
  7. 2007:  second post-authoritarian election + first civilian-to-civilian transition  

The point of drawing upon Nigeria’s precolonial history as done previously is to underline and foreground Nigerian women’s political participation as a historical and well-documented fact.  This being said:  it is important to stress that colonialism created a radical break in the sense that whatever political and social advantages women had under the old order were either eroded or totally eliminated.  Let me hasten to say that men were by no means better off, since they too were otherized, excluded from power and emasculated.  The process of gaining the rights of citizenship under the new “modern” political system was attended by the sweat, blood and tears of those that defied the new overlords.  As Frantz Fanon astutely put it:  the colonial world was a Manichaean world, and while its Janus-faced state turned its kind, gentle and humane face to the white colonial minority, its harsh, brutal and punitive face was inclined toward the colonized African majority.  Worse still, this was constructed as a “civilizing mission” and it is a marker of its success that the great majority of us postcolonial Nigerians are still firm believers in the superiority of the West.  We crave all things western – the clothes, language, education, culture, religion, name it…
As Ngugi wa Thiong’o put it, our minds have been colonized.  Once again, Fanon is relevant.  He told us that the colonial condition is a “Nervous Condition”.  We still manifest elements of that selfsame nervousness today.  We have little self confidence, no pride in our rich culture, no understanding of our place in history.  Let me once again, quote Fanon – “Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it.”  What is the mission of this generation of Nigerians?  What is the mission of this group of women leaders?  What grand narrative have we constructed to give meaning to our existence?  To what end?  Now let us switch gears again.  We ought to celebrate.  As flawed as it is in its original design, Nigeria is now 47 years old.  This is not a minor achievement.  In three years, we’ll be fifty years old as a nation.  As we celebrate, we should also ponder – what do we have to show for the 47 years?  What have we contributed that will stand the test of time?  How will posterity remember us? 
NDI and WRAPA undertook a study of women’s political participation in Nigeria.  Our findings constitute part of the situation as seen by women from 12 states, two from each geopolitical zone.  In the first place, the report demonstrates that even in the difficult days of colonialism, Nigerian women forced the colonial state to reckon with them.  The Aba women’s war is legendary, although many of us still use the colonial language and call it the “Aba riots”.  The women in Abeokuta wre mobilized by Funmilayo Ransome Kuti to fight against the combined forces of Alake Ademola and British colonial government.  These women essentially demanded inclusion and participation where there was none. 
It is less well known that after the Abeokuta women’s Union was founded, again, by Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, a Nigerian Women’s Union was created which made the following proclamation:  This assembly shall be known as the Federation of Nigerian Women’s Societies [FNWS], where the voice of all Nigerian women will be heard and known”  Mrs. Ransome Kuti and Mrs. Margaret Ekpo were part of the 400 women (who represented Nigerian women’s organizations in 15 provinces) who participated in a “parliamentary” conference in 1953.  the significance of this goes back to my previous statement that those who do not learn the lesson of history are doomed to repeat it.  I also find the saying relevant that history often replays itself, once as tragedy, and then as farce.  Although the NWU claimed to be non-political, it expressed distinctly political goals. 
(1)   Achievement of the franchise for women.
(2)   The abolition of electoral colleges
(3)   The allocation of a definite proportion of representation to women with women being allowed to nominate their own representatives on the local council, which should not be headed by traditional rulers.[v]

In 1952, Elizabeth Adekogbe founded the Women’s Movement in Ibadan.  Nigerian women also participated in most of the indigenous pressure groups and political parties formed in the nationalist era: the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), Action Group, National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM).  Prior to this, Nigerian women formed western-style political pressure groups early in the 1900s.  Indigenous women’s groups such as the Lagos Women’s Market Association, led by Madam Alimotu Pelewura, preceded these western-style institutions. 

The Lagos Women’s League, which was founded in 1901, and led by Mrs. Charlotte Obasa, was an example of the modern pressure groups.  Their trailblazing efforts were developed in the 1940s when under the leadership of Mrs. Kofoworola Abayomi; the Nigerian Women’s Party was formed (on May 11, 1944).  The formation of the Nigerian Women’s Party in 1944 was a reaction to women’s marginalization in the male dominated political parties, which for Mrs. Oyinkan Abayomi others, had demonstrated that they were not interested in women’s issues and allowed for no women in their leadership.[vi]  Similarly, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) in 1949, and the organization became the Nigerian Women’s Union (NWU) later that year.
 If we are determined to learn the lessons of history, we would know the goals and objectives of these women’s organizations intimately, so that at the very least, we would not thing that we are reinventing the wheel, and we can calmly and deliberately build upon the legacies of those who went before us.  The larger lesson here, I think, is that we should always insist on our rights, as I am happy that many of the women here gathered have done.  When we insist on our rights, we should not only do so gently, but loudly and contentiously if need be.  I like Frederick Douglass’ saying:  that power is never conceded.  As women interested in political power, we must always bear this in mind. 

How does one struggle loudly and contentiously for the inclusion of women in this day and age?  In the first place, by insisting on government, political party and society’s commitment to creating a critical mass of women in elected and appointive positions.  Negotiations, memorializing and demonstrations should be undertaken to accomplish this agenda-setting initiative.  If anything should galvanize and unite the women of Nigeria and compel them to cross party, ethnic, religious and class lines to fight for a common cause, this is as good an issue as one can find.  However, once we demand increased participation, what do we do with it?  The question of whether or not elected women represent women and promote women’s interests is not a frivolous one.  If women legislators purport to represent women, is this unfair to the male members of their constituencies?  What policies devolve from this representation that positively impacts upon women as they live their lives?  What is the impact of women in politics upon the poor and marginalized, whom I do not have to tell you are the majority of Nigerians?  What relationship exists between women’s activist organizations and elected and appointed women?  What commitment has either group demonstrated to the well-being of Nigerians? 

The point I am making here is that if indeed women politicians and appointed officials want to claim that they are different from our run of the mill politicians in Nigeria they must proactively set an agenda that reinforces such a political stance.  This is important for many reasons.  In the first place, many ordinary Nigerians are cynical and skeptical when it comes to government of any branch.  They have experienced many atrocities and have come to expect more of the same, whether it be from women or men.  How do we inspire such people to once again, have confidence in the government?  To women already engaged in politics, I say:  to the extent that we have had and still have women of honor and valor who have contributed so much to our politics, their trailblazing efforts should not have been in vain.  They should have women dedicated to living by their example.
 We should quickly go back to Adedeji and Ayo’s six principles of good governance: 
1.      Putting the people first/ENGENDERING POPULAR PARTICIPATION
If the people came first, they would not be “marginalized, alienated, and excluded.  The vulnerable and the impoverished, the uprooted and the ravaged, women, children and youth, the disabled and the aged, the poor and the urban poor …[would not be] treated as the ‘invisible’ informal sector,” that is:  they would not be considered “economically and politically invisible, [since] a divided society where the less fortunate… are hurt, damaged, and discounted by public policies which jettison social justice and sacrifice the common good cannot lay claim to being a true democracy.”  As well, government is totally meaningless if it’s not “rooted in the tradition and culture of the society so as to ensure community empowerment and development (2).

2.      Insulation of the bureaucracy from partisan politics;
In essence, this is a call for rational decision making that derives from making decisions based on the merit of given options, and with some thought to the development of the nation, rather than based on personal or sectional gain.  It goes without saying then that the bureaucracy must be composed of “educated, [experienced], knowledgeable and skilled personnel.”  Integrity, dedication, transparency, and accountability are also important (238).  As legislators, women must insist on the very highest standards for recruitment of personnel into all levels of the executive branch.  Since they demand the best from others, it goes without saying that they too must be excellent in all respects.

3.      Preserving the coherence and organic nature of local government areas;
The design of the political structure is fundamentally important, and there is need to pay attention to “the tradition, culture and community solidarity of local government areas.  The rationale for this is to better ground our democracy and ensure that they are rationally designed, efficient, and are served by committed and dedicated personnel.  This would reduce the apathetic response of the populace to politics as well as reduce conflict.  

4.      Strict observance of the principles of fiscal responsibility and accountability;
Internal generation of revenues are a crucial aspect of this requirement.  Also, there should be no place for corruption and graft in governance

5.      Encouraging and promoting innovation and inventiveness in grassroots governance;
In a federal system, there is no need for total uniformity.  Instead, we should take seriously the motto:  “unity in diversity” and also realize that “governance begins at the community, village or town level (239).  Development through the formulation of plans, mobilization and allocation of resources; and representation, accountability and empowerment – meaning that the right (authorized) persons must take decisions, and they must do so in a transparent, rational manner, and by following due process.  The participation of the people is also a crucial requirement, thus, the traditions and culture are very important grounding or foundational elements to effective governance that includes the grassroots.   Since traditions and cultures may vary, there should be room for diversity.  This fosters innovation and inventiveness (243-244).

6.      Restituting the traditions of partnership in governance. 
The focus here is to create a connection between the people and their government by considering the challenges of development and nation building as a collective effort to which all can contribute (246).  There is no use in a system where the state apparatus is suspended above society and disconnected from it.  People should be able to bring their hopes, aspirations and dreams to the attention of the government, and the government owes them the duty of responding in a rational, effective manner. 

Finally, it is clear from the individual and collective experience of those here gathered that leadership is extraordinarily difficult but greatly rewarding.  This being the case, Nigerian women must engage past and present creatively and imaginatively to inform their struggle to gain power from a political system that is not necessarily committed to their advancement into meaningful public leadership positions.  They must realize that without serving the common person, women and men included, they are not realizing the promise of good governance in our move toward democratization in Nigeria.

Resolution by 400 “parliamentarians” representing Nigerian women’s organizations in 15 provinces at a 2-day conference organized by the Nigerian Women’s Union in Abeokuta (August 5-7, 1953).[vii]

[i] Lina Hamadeh- Banerjee and Paul OQuist, pp. 4-13
[ii] ibid, p. 13
[iii] Karam, op cit., p. 23.
[iv] Jadesola Akande “Affirmative Action: Theory and Practices in Nigeria” in Affirmative Action Strategies: Perspectives and Lessons from Around the Globe. CIRDDOC Nigeria 2003, p. 47.
[v] Ibid, p. 101
[vi] Margaret Strobel, African Women Signs, vol. 8 number 1, (Autumn 1982, pp. 109-131; Cheryl Johnson Odim
[vii] Cheryl Johnson-Odim, Nina Emma Mba, For Women and the Nation: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria, p. 101.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Governance, Politics and Women’s Participation in Politics: Implications for Current and Future Leadership by Nigerian Women, Part 1

I  almost decided to take a break today, just to celebrate the receipt of the advance copies of one of the two books co-edited with Olufemi Vaughan, Geoffrey Canada Professor at Bowdoin College, Maine.  The book:  Transnational Africa and Globalization.  NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.  The project began many years ago.  It's great to have brought it to fruition.  The table of contents is as follows:
Chapter 1:  Transnational Africa and Globalization: Introduction; Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome & Olufemi Vaughan 
Chapter 2:  Africa, Transnationalism & Globalization: An Overview; Olufemi Vaughan 
Chapter 3:  Black Internationalism and Transnational Africa; Rod Bush 
Chapter 4:  What About the Reciprocity? Pan-Africanism and the Promise of Global Development; Mora McLean 
Chapter 5:  Transnational Africa: Un-Pledging Allegiance: The US Nation Must Make the African Connection; Melanie E.L. Bush 
Chapter 6:  Pan-Africanizing Philanthropy: Toward a Social Theory of an Emerging Sector; Jackie Copeland-Carson 
Chapter 7:  'I am the bridge between two worlds': Transnational connections among Darfurians in Maine; Lacey A. Gale 
Chapter 8:  The Changing Face of African Christianity: Reverse Mission in Transnational and Global Perspectives; Jacob K. Olupona 
Chapter 9:  Gendered Migrations: African Identities and Globalization; Anthonia C. Kalu 
Chapter 10:  A Matter of Habit: Unraveling the Teaching/Learning knot; Namulundah Florence 
Chapter 11:  Undocumented Labor Migration from Morocco to Europe: An African Perspective; Moha Ennaji

The cover image is by Stephen Adeyemi Folaranmi "We All Gathered" soil on board. 2003.
See the book at the Macmillan site in the US  Transnational Africa and Globalization, Edited By Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome and Olufemi Vaughan
and at the Palgrave site in the UK,

Copies can also be found in most bookstores and their online websites, and very soon, in many libraries.

I made the presentation below at The Women’s Summit in Obudu, October 2-6, 2007

Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, Ph.D.
Professor of Political Science
Women’s Studies Coordinator
Brooklyn College, CUNY

If politics is defined in the popular imagination as the art or science of determining who gets what, where, and when, or in more scholarly parlance, as “social relations involving authority and power, ” governance relates to the praxis of government.  In brief, it is about governing.  In much of its usage, the term is combined with an adjective – good, which implies that it could be done well or badly.  Good governance could then be said to be expected in a well-ordered political system.  According to Adedeji and Ayo in their book, People-Centred Democracy in Nigeria?  The Search for Alternative Systems of Governance at the Grassroots, the six principles of good governance are:

(i)                 Putting the people first;
(ii)              Insulation of local government from partisan politics;
(iii)            Preserving the coherence and organic nature of local government areas
(iv)             Strict observance of the principles of fiscal responsibility and accountability;
(v)               Encouraging and promoting innovation and inventiveness in grassroots governance; and
(vi)             Restituting the traditions of partnership in central-local relations (235).

While Adedeji and Ayo focus specifically on local government, their analysis and conclusions are applicable to governance at any level.  One just needs to replace “local government” with “government.”  Similarly, Gani Fawehinmi tells us in his article titled:  “Imperatives of good governance and the rule of law,” that governance is virtually meaningless unless it is directed at ensuring the welfare of the populace as a response to the needs of the common woman/man.  While Fawehinmi like most Nigerian scholars, uses gender biased language that favors the male dominant ethos of current Nigerian socio-political analysis, his observations are cogent, and I will take the liberty of quoting him at length:      

Good governance to the man on the street means that the affairs of state are conducted in such a manner as to give happiness and security to the people.  The expectation of the man on the street in this respect corresponds to or tallies with the constitutional requirement that the primary purpose of government is security and welfare of the people.  But there can be no welfare where:
a)      The man in the street cannot find employment.
b)      The man in the street cannot have access to good education.
c)      The man in the street is denied good health delivery system.
d)      The man in the street cannot be housed.
e)      The man in the street is denied good infrastructures (sic) (rail, road, waterway and other essential things for his business and other needs).
f)       The man in the street is thrown into darkness and there is no power for his business and other needs.
g)      The man in the street does not enjoy National Minimum Wage and when he is out of employment,
h)     The man in the street cannot have employment benefits
i)       The man in the street when he is weak as a result of old age, cannot get old age care.
j)        The man in the street is not allowed to determine who should govern him and to make those in governance accountable to him
k)     The man in the street is inhibited by no locus standi in a court of law to question other acts of mis-governance.
l)       The man in the street wants stability in the prices of petroleum products.
m)   The man in the street is not safe even in the street

The welfare of the proverbial man in the street can only be guaranteed by government that cares about employment, health, education, infrastructure, unemployment benefits, good housing, cheap and nutritious food, national minimum living wage, old age care, pension, gratuity, security of life and property, free and fair election, transparency in the conduct of affairs of state and access by all to justice in a court of law.[i]

As a long term observer of the Nigerian political system, one cannot help but see the applicability of realist analysis of international politics to Nigerian politics.  The international system is conceptualized by classical realists as an anarchical system, a self-help system where in the absence of government, states give priority to the imperative of survival.  In this system, might is right, states compete in order to at least, survive, and at best, thrive.  Cooperation is still a possibility in a realist international system, but it derives from the enlightened self-interest of the actors within the system.  This seems to be a good description of Nigerian politics.  Our politics is gladiatorial, and sometimes approaches Hobbes’ war of all against all.  Self help thrives and actors scramble to predominate, one against the other.  Good governance is left in the dust.  Perplexed citizens become cynical about the very survival of the nation. 

To quickly bring women’s participation into the mix, again, in the popular imagination, this is about increasing the numbers of women that engage the political system there are six fundamental principles of good …governance enhancing the quality of their interaction.   There are of course, a myriad of ways in which political participation can be gauged – voting and all the activities that could possibly be encompassed under the umbrella of civil society – forming and joining associations, pressure groups, lobbies, writing memoranda that challenge or laud government policy, protests, demonstrations, public enlightenment campaigns, popular mobilization, etc. 

Women’s political participation involves all of the above, but relates too to the depth and breadth of democracy in a political system.  In this presentation, I will concentrate on women’s representation in the political system as elected officials in the executive and legislative branches of government and also somewhat touch upon their appointments into official political positions.  According to Anne Philips, the arguments for women’s political participation can be grouped into four categories
(1)               Successful women politicians are role models
(2)               In order to have equity and justice between men and women, women’s numbers as elected representatives must match their share of the population.
(3)               If women are not represented, some of their interests would be overlooked in the political system.
(4)               Genuine democracy implies matching participation with representation (Bauer and Britton, 3).
In essence, it is “patently and grotesquely unfair”
(a)    If men are to monopolize representation
(b)   If the composition of representation is changed,  democracy is enhanced and increased, and
(c)    Women’s needs, interests and concerns are more adequately addressed.  There is more argumentation over whether increases in the number of elected women would create positive role models.

What difference does increased women’s political participation make?  This is the most important question at the crux of most discussions about increasing women’s participation.  There is a need to differentiate between descriptive/demographic representation, which concerns feminine presence in politics, and substantive/strategic representation, which concerns feminist activism.  Even descriptive/demographic/feminine representation is important because:

(1)    Exclusion of any group denies society of the benefits of their talents.
(2)    The unrepresented have special perspectives which if denied, impoverishes the public debate.
(3)    If they have different policy priorities, their non-inclusion is both a lack of representation and non-representativeness of the priorities of the legislature (Maitland & Taylor, 1997).   One should not make too much of the difference between descriptive and substantive representation.  The latter can be considered a continuation of the former in the move toward institutional transformation (Goetz & Hassim). 

Another crucial question:  Are there specifically women’s issues or interests?  Both of these questions have been answered in the affirmative by some scholars and experts (and we document this in the research report produced after the study on women’s political participation).  The problem with most scholarly research however is that there are few to no efforts to offer rationalizations that draw upon African indigenous thought, basically due to the tendency to believe that democracy is a Western phenomenon.  However, contrary to much of the analysis out there, not only is there robust evidence of democracy in Africa’s precolonial history, but there is also a justification for women’s political participation to be drawn from philosophies of life in many African ethnic groups where the idea of the complementarity of males and females is believed to be crucial for social harmony, well-being, and productivity.  Instead of drawing and building upon such positive examples of progressive and humanistic sociopolitical relations, we have mostly come to accept the negative portrayals of African culture as regressive and ideologically barren, and tend to
a.       Look to the West,
b.      Studiously avoid the evidentiary record of history
c.       Ignorantly accept male dominance and discrimination against women as the norm.

This accounts for the curious situation where many experts flat out reject any kind of notion that women played any important roles or wielded any power in African history.  Confronted with the evidence that some women indeed, had executive, legislative, or judicial power as part of the institutional design within their polities, the knee-jerk reaction is that these women were exceptions rather than the rule, they were aristocratic, they were not committed to women’s empowerment, women’s situations did not improve during their tenure.  Africans tend to write off their own history as irrelevant to either their present or future, and struggle, each to outdo the other, in demonizing and excoriating their forebears and kin as barbaric, ignorant and cruel.  Instead, we tend to fall over one another to study and imbibe what we perceive to be the cutting edge trends of Western civilization, conveniently forgetting that we were brutally pacified, colonized, and prior to this, enslaved and always exploited by the West, and that such exploitation continues today.  If Africa is written off as irrelevant to the mainstream of world affairs by the West, one can understand the rationale from the perspective of the West which seeks to dominate Africa by denying in the first place that it had any history prior to its contact with the West, and then, condemning its culture as barbaric and retrogressive, and finally, convincing its people through “education” and Christianization that these are immutable facts.  Once a people are convinced that they are worthless and have contributed nothing much to world advancement, colonization through physical presence and compellence through the imposition of physical privation becomes unnecessary.  They will police themselves better than you ever could.  This is how I see the situation in Africa today. 

            You must now be wondering:  why is she haranguing us?  What is the relevance of this to women’s political participation?  In brief, the relevance is that if we refuse to learn the lessons of history, we are bound to repeat it.  Specifically, we cannot make any progress, whether it is in politics in general, or in relation to women’s political participation and empowerment in particular, if we do not begin from a contextualized reading and application of our history that celebrates our worthwhile contributions while criticizing and rejecting the negative aspects.  As we also seek to draw upon the progressive elements of Western political structures and institutions, we should do so with an eye to history.  In brief, women’s political participation is not alien to indigenous African culture, neither is good governance.  A look to history demonstrates this.  To restrict ourselves to Nigeria, we have, thanks to the path-breaking work of Professor Bolanle Awe, Jadesola Akande, Nina Emma Mba and others, evidence of the institutionalized power of women in the public sphere.  The truth is that there are still examples of women rulers in Nigeria.

            The truth is that there are still women traditional rulers in contemporary Nigeria.  However, since they are traditional rulers, we tend to write them off as irrelevant, especially since they have since colonial times, been denuded of much other than ceremonial aspects of their powers, and have since that time, been subject to the power of the modern state.  As mentioned previously, many reject these examples outright as irrelevant for reasons stated before.  Are they truly irrelevant or is there anything that they could possibly contribute to our inquiry on women’s political participation?  No one can argue with the fact that compared with the modern state, traditional political institutions in Nigeria have been domesticated and made into toothless bulldogs.  Has this always been the case?  When such powers were exercised in precolonial times, were they ubiquitously or overwhelmingly punitive and unjust?  When the political structures that accompanied these institutions held sway, were they engaged in good governance?  What can we borrow from these systems, structures and institutions that could be added to the repertoire of innovations that we are so familiar with from the workshops, conferences and courses that we attend? 

As I said before, complementarity and balance are central to the ethos and philosophy of African societies.  To bring such an ethos and philosophy up to date, gender imbalance would be unacceptable.  We see elements of this in the shared leadership of males and females in some of Nigeria’s ethnic groups, in various Yoruba polities where a woman must crown the Oba, in the enduring institutions like Iyalode, where women hold and exercise power.  I want us to focus both on the exercise of power and inclusiveness.  Both of these principles imply women’s participation as well as the equitable access to positions of power.  Was there a strict insistence on parity and total equality for women in these systems?  No.  Is this a sufficient reason for us to reject them?  No.  we can begin from the principle that for there to be social balance and equity, men and women must be represented in numbers that are commensurate with their size in the general population.  Understanding and drawing upon our history in a contextualized manner means that we can

a.       refute both at home and abroad, arguments that gender sensitivity is alien to African culture.  
b.       Look at the discourse on women’s political participation as resonating with essential parts of our culture that have been lost due to the vagaries of history.
c.       Embrace both our culture and that from the West as part of what makes us all a part of a common humanity.
d.       Even learn these elements of our culture and tell the world about it in demonstration of the fact that Africa too has something worthwhile to teach the world.

[i] Gani Fawehinmi “Imperatives of good governance and the rule of law,” Being excerpts from a speech delivered by Chief Gani Fawehinmi, (SAN) at the annual luncheon/mid year meeting of the board of fellows of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, FS Politics, Financial Standard, Monday, July 2, 2007, p. 68.

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